Local mediums, psychics look to advertising
Many Jamaicans still remember ‘Miss Cleo’, a Florida woman who used a fake Jamaican accent to urge television viewers who wanted to have their fortunes told to “Call Now!”, as a telephone number flashed across the screen of popular cable channels.
Locals who say they are psychics, mediums or practitioners of obeah have not yet broken into television advertising; but they are increasingly turning to newspaper advertisements. Some even have websites, like 29-year-old Professor Aba who says he is an occultist – a notch above the traditional obeah man.
He has built up such a large client base from his ‘House of Power’ in Montego Bay that he plans to eventually expand his business to the United States.
Aba’s popularity has come from frequently-placed newspaper ads, which list his website address, and the word-of-mouth generated by his growing clientele that has spread beyond the island’s shores to Miami and New York.
“People have a lot of complaints these days. Jobs, relationships, money – those three things – and health issues demand a lot of my time; and I have to be prepared to deal with these people on a daily basis,” he says.
Aba estimates that more than 1,000 persons from every socio-economic class and background have sought him out over the past year that he has offered his services from rented office space along Barnett Lane in Montego Bay.
In addition to Aba’s ad, the astrology section of the classifieds in a recent edition of the Daily Observer included:
. opportunities for free psychic readings between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm. There was no name supplied.
. Kojo’s promise that he would use God’s gifts to help solve callers problems related to insomnia, court cases, interpreting dreams and relationships. He promised ‘bath/healing protection’.
. Rev Grace, on the other hand, guaranteed that she could “remove strong evil influences” and “restore lost nature”.
Unlike the old-time obeah man who relied solely on word of mouth, these modern day self-proclaimed soothsayers and healers obviously understand the value of advertising their product, even if the ads are small.
Aba said paying for the ads, maintaining his website, covering his rent, as well as the cost of obtaining the various oils, potions, candles and other tools of his trade, run him about $120,000 a month. His clients pay at least $1,000 for each visit.
He shied away from questions about his net earnings and only spoke in general terms when pressed for details about the business side of his operation.
“It’s very expensive to operate House of Power. I think it’s one of the most expensive businesses here in my field,” he told the Sunday Observer during a recent interview in his office.
“I import 98 per cent of what I use – pendants, talisman, billfold, handkerchiefs – these things are very expensive. And you face the difficulty of helping people that don’t have any money. I never turn back anybody,” he said.
He added that his daily tasks include preparing, packaging and sending potions, talisman, handkerchiefs and other items that he has ‘blessed’ to those who seek out his services.
This, along with counseling and prescribing ‘cures’ for up to 20 persons a day, earn him hundreds of thousands of dollars each month, much of which, he said, goes back into covering his basic expenses.
At first glance, Aba conjures up memories of the wizards seen on the pages of children’s books. During the recent visit, he was draped in a dark, blue robe and matching turban with white prints of the stars and moon. He refused to have his picture taken, or to provide the name on his birth certificate. He would only say his first name is Michael.
He said he did two years at a wizard school run by a high priest in the US. But he refused to supply the name of the school or even the state where it was located.
And even though mainstream religion frowns on much of his practices, Aba does not believe he is doing anything wrong – at least not from a spiritual point of view.
“If you ask me if I am an ungodly person, I definitely would tell you no,” he said.
But one Kingston pastor who frequently teaches on the subject of obeah in church seminars and conferences, said businesses like Aba’s will thrive in Jamaica as long as the law and the church continue to turn a blind eye to them.
“The majority of the churches in this country do not take seriously the whole area of the occult world or spiritual warfare,” said Donald Stewart, the pastor of Covenant Community Church in Portmore.
“These are spiritual realities. There is a God who we can’t see, but you also have demonic spirits. I’ve discovered that many of the (church) ministries in this country are afraid to confront anything that has to do with spiritual warfare and demonic activity.”
Obeah has been illegal in Jamaica from as far back as 1760 when any Negro or slave found engaged in the practice would be put to death. These days, the punishment is far less severe. Those found guilty of practising witchcraft, obeah, or myalism as it is sometimes called, are “liable to imprisonment, with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding 12 months”. The sentence may also include a flogging.
But none of the court officials interviewed in a recent Sunday Observer survey of the Resident Magistrate’s courts across five parishes could recall any such conviction over the last decade.
A huge billboard outside Aba’s office describes him as a “dealer in occult products, talisman, amulets, good luck charms, oils, rings, chains, magic dolls, candles, books, incenses, roots and herbs”.
He said he has had an interest in the spirit world from age 13. He received further mentoring from a high school teacher who provided literature and helped him enroll in a privately-run wizard school in the US, he explained. Now, he said, he interacts with spirits – especially during late-night rituals when he is casting spells.
Inside his candle-lit office there was a four-foot voodoo doll made of black cloth. There were pins stuck in the doll’s crotch and heart.
The walls were splashed with black hand-painted drawings of owls and wild cats, along with strange part-human, part-animal creatures. The largest of these was positioned directly over Aba’s head. It appeared to represent a source of influence to the occultist, who flatly refused to supply the name of the creature.
Beside his office were two other rooms.
There was a small office for his two attendants – a male and female in their late 20s – and a large room in which he keeps his supplies, including shelves upon shelves of large coloured candles and labeled bottles. Some of the labels read:
. Luck in a Hurry,
. Success Incense,
. Better Business,
. Uncrossing Separation,
. Do as I say Incense,
. Money Drawing, and
. Dragon Blood.
During the Sunday Observer’s visit, three persons sat in the waiting area – two men and a woman. They appeared to be in their 30s. One of the women cuddled a baby in her arms, and the man appeared to be waiting for his mother, who was with Aba. None of them wanted their pictures taken.
According to Aba, he chooses his clients carefully and there are some things he just will not do for money – like murder.
“Money don’t control my life,” he explained. “There was one particular lady that wanted to do something of that sort because she wanted the woman’s husband. She offered me $100,000.
I told her no. I don’t do anything that I would go to my bed and think about.”
Sometimes, he said, he is asked to remove demons from houses; but this can be dangerous.
“I remember one time I went to Westmoreland to cast out some demons by myself and they actually attacked me. There was a lot of that but I was prepared and I’m not scared. I just did what I had to do,” he said. “And I remember one time I went to St Elizabeth to cast out some spirits, because there were some spirits there throwing out some crows out of a house. I controlled the situation very well.”
The parish with the greatest challenge is Clarendon, he added.
“A lot of people that I work for in Clarendon have curses on them of some sort that need clearance before I actually do my work,” he said.
“Because I don’t really work for people unless I cleanse them – sometimes with baths or certain rituals which includes dolls and chants – because (the curse) actually takes away the power from the thing, and the person don’t really get the result they want.”