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Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  1,187 ratings  ·  118 reviews
Malidoma Patrice Some was born in a Dagara Village, however he was soon to be abducted to a Jesuit school, where he remained for the next fifteen years, being harshly indoctrinated into European ways of thought and worship. The story tells of his return to his people, his hard initiation back into those people, which lead to his desire to convey their knowledge to the worl ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 28th 1995 by Penguin (first published 1994)
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 ·  1,187 ratings  ·  118 reviews

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May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books I have ever read.
It is about people who have not forgotten what really matters, what is life and... Here in Europe we have lost it centuries ago and now we are trying to make other loose it, too. And we are quite successful in that, unfortunately.
Is there a way back? Malidoma says there is. Thank you, Malidoma.
ndelamiko lord
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the most intriguing, heart-wrenching, compelling narratives... steeped in mysticism and walking the line between the corporeal and spiritual realms. MUST READ.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very special book!
Victor Finn
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is a real treasure. Malidoma is an indigenous medicine man of the Dagara tribe in Africa, who was kidnapped at a young age by the Jesuits and forced to learn to speak and write in Frech. After escaping from the Seminary he was being held captive and "De-Africanized" in, he returned to his tribe and learned his ancestral ways. Then he journeys back into the world of the white man in order to act as a voice for indigenous peoples.

This is the first book of its kind that I've read. I have
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The book is an exquisite document of the initation rites of one tribe in West Africa. However, it was really about change and compromise and how the West/Euro culture could learn from indigenous people if only we would listen. I felt the need to be initiated as I read the book, though I kept wondering about the females and what their initiation looked like. I'm going to have to buy this book so I can have it on hand for beautiful thoughts on death, growing up, ways to see the earth and magic. ...more
Aug 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
I read this book in my first African studies class. It is a great example of the affect of Western values and colonialism on the traditional society and the roles within that society. It also talks about the individual development of man, the relationship between generations, and the respect of other cultures. It's a great read, especially because it comes from something other than a Western point of view. ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an open mind interested in African spirituality
Shelves: my-favorites
this book inspired me greatly and is probably in my top five favorite books of all time...i've read it a few times and will read it again a few more times i'm sure... ...more
A most captivating, mysterious, and absorbing true story! I don't want it to end.

The only bad thing about this book was that it had to end.
The chief declared the beginning of the meeting by clearing his throat loudly. "We are here tonight to water our garden. But this is not like our regular watering, for that which grows in our garden needs far more water than we have believed. A few months ago, this grandson of ours found his way back to his roots, coming out of the wilderness where the white man lives -the one who hunts men. When the spirits have a plan for someone, he survives even the unsurvivable."
Jul 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
I wasn't impressed and I'm sorry, I'm calling bullshit. He was born in 1956. If your people didn't know about the "nipula" by then, they could have just came and asked us who've been in their land since the 1500s. Something stinks here.... and I know bullshit when I smell it! Maybe I'm reading this at the wrong time in life but the writing wasn't good and the story wasn't even close to being believable... and I'm black! I don't know how the ratings for this are so high. ...more
I found Of Water and the Spirit to be an interesting and thought-provoking take on the interaction and conflict between spirituality and academia. Somé is a man who has multiple degrees, undergraduate and postgraduate, so is a very knowledgeable man in that respect, but he also has a great spiritual belief. To me, as someone who is an atheist, it is impressive yet feels contradictory that an educated person can believe so whole-heartedly in the powers of a talisman or a medicine bag.

Somé has imp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sonya Welch-Moring
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Spiritual Questers
This is Malidoma's first book. It recounts the story of his early life in a Missionary school where he was sent by his father at five years old and from which he ran away in his late teens. Back to the village where he underwent a rites-of-passage journey into manhood and subsequently to the USA where he was sent by the Elders. His name means to 'make friends with the stranger' and his life path has been to bring the wisdom of the African ancestors to those around the world who could benefit fro ...more
Kenghis Khan
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
A remarkably fascinating story, this book is written by an African shaman whose duty it is to tell his people's side of things. Despite the author's sincere and eloquent description of the relations to the supernatural his people claim to have, the book is difficult for secular-minded readers to be persuaded by. Indeed, although the author is well versed in Western theology, it would have helped if he would have discussed the attempts (or lack thereof) of modern science to understand his amazing ...more
Susan Rothenberg
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a young boy, Malidoma is kidnapped by some Europeans and taken to a Jesuit school where he spend 15 difficult years as they try to grow him into a “white” Christian. He runs away and is able to find his way home, where he convinces the elders to help him return to his culture. The initiation into his culture is difficult physically and emotionally, but he achieves it, and then is available to help his tribe deal with Europeans.
This book was amazing. I read this book long ago and cannot find another copy for my current library. Wonderful, wonderful account of an African boy's journey from an extended childhood to manhood. Wonderful book! ...more
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
While this book is not the most lyrical, it is real. It reminded me how boxed into a reality I can be and how deep the possibilities of our perceptions really are. The
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, memoirs, favorites
Eye-opening, awesome personal story. Might make you think twice about what the world is and can be.
Jennifer Pletcher
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the author's own story about his childhood in Burkina Faso. Early in his life, his grandfather died - one of his favorite people in the world - and he witnesses the ceremony where his village helps his grandfather pass from this world to the next.

Shortly after his grandfather's death, Malidoma is kidnapped by a French Jesuit missonary to be trained as a priest. He spends 15 years in captivity, and he loses his native language and his past. After pushing a priest out of anger, he is sure
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a difficult but rewarding book to read. It's very well-written, but it was slow going for me for all the reasons that the author covers about how the Western worldview fights with the traditional Dagara worldview he's describing.

In the simplest terms, the book is about the spiritual worldview that the author learned from his grandfather and father and the elders around him, with a sad break in the middle where he is taken away to be educated at a Jesuit school for 15 years. The real me
There is boundless wisdom encompassed within these pages, as Malidoma Somé recounts his dramatic return to the traditional culture and mystical spirituality of his African village in Burkina Faso after 15 years of indoctrination at a Jesuit mission school. Malidoma experiences an idyllic and magical, early childhood among the Dagara tribe, of which his grandfather is a revered elder, healer, and clan leader. Shortly after his grandfather's death, during the waning years of French colonization, M ...more
Kah Fabre
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Malidoma Patrice Somé takes us to a personal journey that answers questions such as: How do you become an adult in a world where adulthood is not measured by your age, but by your knowledge? How can you become a member of your community when they did not see you grow? How do you become part of a community where imposed knowledge and culture does not fit? This well written book about a man that had written in his destiny his abduction, his return and the suffering in between those two, also let u ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I listen to the abridged audiobook, read by the author. It was personal and powerful, although too abridged to fully convey his story, it feels. What is included, his captivity and initiation, hint at the larger story.

As I read, I reflected on his experience, his initiation into his tribal beliefs, latent with magic and spirit, and natural connection between this world and another, not as supernatural, but just natural. I appreciate the focus on ceremony, ritual, and spirit, which connect him t
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book unlike any other. Malidoma, born in a Dagara village was kidnapped when he was four years old by a Jesuit priest. Because of this, he is now a man of two worlds: the white mans culture and his own indigenous culture. This book reveals his spiritual journey from point a to point b and the return to point a-how the assimilation back to his culture was so difficult.

Charged by the elders in his village, Malidoma makes it his life mission to bridge the gap between the Dagara and the western wo
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
2 stars. I picked up this book to learn from a person his story of being kidnapped and taken to a school with Jesuits. That’s mentioned in less than 10 minutes throughout the book. I loved his message at the beginning and in parts throughout this book. But this turned into his initiation process (of which I don’t quite understand would be as powerful as it seems to be for him because he himself says he wasn’t really welcomed back) and I got lost in the imagination and surreal experiences he desc ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: spirituality
This is a beautiful book. Malidoma knits African and European, modern and ancestral, shamanic and religious in recounting his initiation to the knowledge/technology of his tribe. This book reminded me of all the de-conditioning required to "see" à la Castaneda; or rather, how much conditioning the Western mind has against a genuine relationship with the Earth. This book also gave me hope that I could re-learn how to "see". ...more
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I’ve ever read. This book tells the story of a young man who is stuck between two conflicting worlds. As an Afro American I’ve always believed that i was stuck between two worlds. The white mans world and the world of my Ancestors. The reality is that the two contradict each other. This book speaks to me on many levels as Malidoma gives the reader insight on these struggles, journeys, and lessons he has experienced. A MUST READ for anyone but especially my Afro Americans!
Nancy Stephan
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written account of Dr. Some's abduction from his village in Burkina Faso, strict education in a mission school, and reintroduction into his own community after escaping the mission. The telling is so rich that I read it twice. I recommend it to anyone interested in the rituals, magic, and initiation specific to the Dagara people specifically and West Africans generally. I find it quite interesting to see some form of these traditions and practices among the African diaspora. ...more
Kate Massey
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a MUST READ. Everyone has something to gain from reading this book. It would be great in a high school or college class to offer a differing perspective and expand student's worldviews. This book delves into spiritualism and 'magic' without ever expecting you to believe in it. The author offers it simply as a fact, and a part of his life. Whether you choose to believe in it or not is none of his concern, and doesn't affect the true, intense, and riveting story of his life. ...more
Sayon Camara
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have yet to read a book of this as spiritually profound as this one. It really took me by surprise even though I had been warned. The author's ability to describe phenomena is remarkable, considering no words can really do justice to what he has experienced. Every african should have this book in their household.
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Somé holds three Master's degrees and two doctorates from the Sorbonne and Brandeis University. He has taught at the University of Michigan. ...more

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