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Article ID: 14151
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Crick [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: October 17th. 2010
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One thing that is notable about Neo Paganism is the habit of looking primarily towards their European roots when it comes to the mystical arts. By following such narrow parameters, one is depriving themselves of a wealth of information in regards to the mystical arts and the experiences that such a varied discipline offers. This practice is utilized in particular when looking at various forms of divination. For instance Tarot and Runes are generally the two most recognized forms of divination within the Neo Pagan community. It could be argued that Tarot originally had Arabic roots (the Arabic game of Tarok) , however it has since taken on a decidedly European slant. However there are literally hundreds of other forms of divination, some of which are found in non-European roots. For instance in Africa one can find the roots of Geomancy (khatt al-raml) (a form of divination that I personally teach) as well as Hakata, of which this article is about.
In general Hakata are pieces of bone, ivory or wood that is used by Shona (or Karanga as they were once known as) witch doctors for divination. These witch doctors are known singularly as N'ganga ngombo and Banganga in the plural. They are used to divine such issues such as the source of illness or personal misfortune. As with many forms of divination there is also a subset of specialists within the Hakata form of divination who were known as Nganga kiluba. These specialists are the ones who expose liars and thieves, using male and female figurines along with a pot of clay as instruments of detection.
However, moving on, the Hakata (akata, or ditaola) dice consists of a series of four small tablets, made of wood, ivory, or bone. Each hakata has a distinct design motif, which is inscribed on one side. They are distinguished from one another by their individual name and features. Two of the Hakata have notches at the bottom; these are considered the junior tablets, the male, which is commonly called "Lumwe", has one notch. The female, which is called "Ntakwala", has two notches.
The remaining two, or senior tablets, are marked as either female, which is called "Kwame" and is marked by the incised picture of an eye or a house on the upper side. Or as the male, which is called "Chilume" and is marked by the picture of an axe or a spear. The Hakata are cast upon the ground by the witch doctor who then interprets their meaning. There are sixteen possible throws, each of which has a name and a range of interpretations.
Hakata are generally handmade by each individual diviner. This lends to some variations among the tablets, but a typical set consists of a zigzag border on the front side of each tablet, thus marking it as the front of the dice. The N'ganga uses one of two methods of divination. The first involves spirit possession. Any statements made by the inquisitor are considered to be from the spirits inhabiting their bodies at the time of the throwing of the hakata dice. The N'ganga achieves this spiritual connection by way of a trance like state. This trance state is in turn induced by “bishimba” which is a powerful tonic imbibed by the diviner. The ingredients of a bishimba consist of animal, mineral and plant materials and vary in concoction from one N'ganga to another.
The second method is when the spirits speak through the hakata dice themselves. When the Hakata are cast, the ones that fall face up form a configuration that are then interpreted into positive or negative answers to the questions presented by the N'ganga. The origins of Hakata are as varied as are those who practice this form of divination and so one will have to decide for themselves as to which school of thought one wishes to adhere to. For instance a four-tablet form of divination was recorded in 1616 CE in a report associated with the famous trial in which Father Gonçalo da Silveira (the first Christian missionary to the Shona royal court) was sentenced to death by the Mutapa (king) in 1561 CE.
There is another school of thought that suggests that Hakata is a sophisticated form of the Tsonga form of divination, which is also known as Hakata (except that it is interpreted as nutshell oracle) . The nutshell oracle consists of four unmarked and unnamed nutshells whose interpretations are subject to the whim of the diviner. And of course there are those who clamor for an Arabic connection. This view comes about from examining the Arabic root “hqq” (translated as “truth”, “speaking the truth”) , which when pronounced produces the sound Hakat.
One can see the associations attributed to both words in regards to divination or soothsaying if you will. There are of course other schools of thought in relation to the origins of Hakata that I will leave to you the reader to research. As pagans of whatever path, our ultimate goal should be to achieve the highest level of spiritual growth that we can aspire to. This goal is accomplished by the accumulation and at times the application of such knowledge as it pertains to the mystical arts.
As pagans in general and as a witch in particular (speaking from my own comfort zone and not elevating one path over another) we would do well to realize that there are in fact many avenues by which to arrive at our personal spiritual goals. I am fully aware that Neo paganism is in a state of transition in which it seeks to define itself as a mystical/magical discipline. One has to only look at the many different groups out there, each vying for validity over all of the others who are engaged in a similar free for all. And thus we have the numerous approaches that one finds in these days and times in regards to the umbrella under which neo paganism exists.
Yet by reinventing the wheel if you will slows down and hinders such a transition. By being willing to look around the world, often outside your comfort zone, such as ones European roots, you may come to realize that there are vast resources of knowledge just waiting to be utilized.
Many forms of paganism or another has been around since the beginning of time. It did not begin in the 1950’s. And so perhaps it would serve the Neo pagan community well to place less emphasis on the validity of this group or that and more on actually learning that which has been waiting for us for centuries. At any rate, Hakata is but one more form of divination to add to the popularity list.
This article represents my personal opinions and is not intended to be a conclusive review of the subject matter at hand. Your opinion may well vary from my own…
Location: Manheim, Pennsylvania
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