Omofolabo Soyinka Ajayi - The transcendental dance
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Omofolabo Soyinka Ajayi – The Dynamics of African Religious dances
From African Dance – edited by Kariamu Weish Asante
Every culture has its means of reaching the divine, means which have been found compatible with the society’s concept of the sacred. There may be different ways even within a single culture to communicate with the sacred being, but invariably, one form supercedes all others in significance and effectiveness. Such a preferred device is usually considered by the people as an exceptional system of communication and appreciated at the same time as a distinctive art form………..Dance is undoubtedly a vital means of communicating with the sacred in African religious practices; it is an expressive form fully integrated within the worship system. Already a favoured art form among the numerous cultures of Africa, it is not surprising that it holds a pre-eminent position among the methods of communicating with the divine.
The anchor point of communication is that area of liminality where the ephemeral nature of dance fuses with transcendental powers. This is the high point of worship. It is perhaps for this reason – the ability to cross over to the beyond and establish a communication between god and man, that some cultures regard dance as a sacred art.
The transcendental dance can be performed by any of the devotees, but quite often, a religious body may find it expedient to have an individual or a group of people specially anointed to be the dance medium between the two worlds. Such mediums are given special titles, among the Yoruba people of Nigeria for example, they are generally referred to as iyawo, elegun, or esin orisa… they are believed to be specially chosen by the ‘deity’ itself either from birth or later in life through frequent and often unprovoked possession by the spirit of the deity.
…. The medium becomes imbued with superhuman qualities and is able to see visions or perform extraordinary feats usually described as ‘magic’…. During possession which in some cases may last from anywhere between five minutes to seven days, the medium is impervious to normal human emotions and sensations especially pain, hunger and thirst….. One of the supernatural acts performed during possession is to dance carrying a pot of live embers pierced at the bottom.