The traditional beliefs and rituals of Africans are quite varied and incorporate many different ethnic religions. These customs are typically oral rather than written, handed down through folklore, music, and festivals from one generation to the next. They include adoration of the deceased, belief in ghosts, worship of a variety of higher and lower gods, as well as traditional African medicine. It is possible to categorize most faiths as animistic with varied polytheistic and pantheistic elements. Most people believe that humanity’s purpose is to balance the natural and supernatural worlds.

Traditonal African Religion like most other ancient traditional religions around the world, were based on oral traditions. These traditions are not religious principles, but a cultural identity that is passed on through stories, myths and tales, from one generation to the next. The community and ones family, but also the environment, plays an important role in one’s personal life. Followers believe in the guidance of their ancestors spirits. Among many traditional African religions, there are spiritual leaders and kinds of priests. These persons are essential in the spiritual and religious survival of the community. Similar to shamans, there are mystics who are in charge of healing and “divining,” or fortune telling and advising.
These ancient healers must be summoned by gods or ancestors. They receive rigorous instruction and pick up numerous useful talents, such as how to employ natural herbs for healing, as well as other, more esoteric abilities, including the ability to locate a hidden object without knowing where it is. In traditional African religion, relatives who have passed on are still connected spiritually to their ancestors. Ancestral spirits are typically benevolent and compassionate. Ancestral spirits may harm people in order to warn them that they are on the wrong road by inflicting minor ailments. Native African religions emphasize the veneration of ancestors, the concept of a spirit world, the existence of supernatural creatures, and free will (unlike the later developed concept of faith). In the afterlife, there are still living humans, animals, and significant things that have power on or can interact with the physical world. Before Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were introduced, polytheism was practiced widely over most of ancient Africa and other parts of the world. The brief monotheistic religion founded by Pharaoh Akhenaten, which made it essential to pray to his own god Aton, was an exception. The following Pharaoh of Egypt reversed this major alteration to the old religion of Egypt. 


Religious traditions in West and Central Africa typically take the form of collective rituals or divinatory rites in which participants are roused to the point of meditative trance by rhythmic or driving drumming or singing and are then overwhelmed by force (or ashe, nyama, etc.). The Okuyi is a religious event that numerous Bantu ethnic groups participate in in Gabon and Cameroon. Participants embody a deity or ancestor, energy or state of mind by performing distinctive ritual movements or dances in this state, which, depending on the region, may be accompanied by drumming or instrumental rhythms played by revered musicians (each of which is specific to a given deity or ancestor). Practitioners are acquainted to a way of considering the pure or symbolic embodiment of a specific mindset or frame of reference when this trance-like state is seen and understood. This develops the ability to distinguish between the sentiments that this attitude elicits and their situational manifestations in day-to-day living. Participants are better able to control and accept their emotions when they appear in everyday situations thanks to this separation and the subsequent analysis of the nature and origins of pure energy or sensations. This enables more effective control of these forces and their transformation into constructive, culturally appropriate behavior, thought, and speech. 


Traditional African religious adherents offer prayers to a variety of spirits as well as to their ancestors. This encompasses the spirits of animals, nature, and the basic elements. Between strong spirits and gods, there is frequently little distinction. The majority of African societies hold a wide variety of “great gods” and numerous lesser deities and spirits to be real.
Additionally, some religions only acknowledge one supreme being (Chukwu, Nyame, Olodumare, Ngai, Roog, etc.). Some people acknowledge dual deities like Mawu-Lisa. The majority of traditional African faiths generally hold to the notions of an afterlife, one or many Spirit worlds, and ancestor worship as a fundamental element. Through the influence of Islam or even Hinduism, certain African religions adapted new beliefs.



There are more similarities than differences in all traditional African religions. The deities and spirits are honored through libation or sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, semi-precious stones and precious metals). The will of the gods or spirits is sought by the believer also through consultation of divinities or divination. Traditional African religions embrace natural phenomena – ebb and tide, waxing and waning moon, rain and drought – and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture. According to Gottlieb and Mbiti:

The environment and nature are infused in every aspect of traditional African religions and culture. This is largely because cosmology and beliefs are intricately intertwined with the natural phenomena and environment. All aspects of weather, thunder, lightning, rain, day, moon, sun, stars, and so on may become amenable to control through the cosmology of African people. Natural phenomena are responsible for providing people with their daily needs


Virtue in traditional African religion is often connected with carrying out obligations of the communal aspect of life. Examples include social behaviors such as the respect for parents and elders, raising children appropriately, providing hospitality, and being honest, trustworthy, and courageous. In some traditional African religions, morality is associated with obedience or disobedience to God regarding the way a person or a community lives. For the Kikuyu, according to their primary supreme creator, Ngai, acting through the lesser deities, is believed to speak to and be capable of guiding the virtuous person as one’s conscience. In many cases, Africans who have converted to other religions have still kept up their traditional customs and practices, combining them in a syncretic way.


Since Africa is a large continent with many ethnic groups and cultures, there is not one single technique of casting divination. The practice of casting may be done with small objects, such as bones, cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood. Some castings are done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground (often within a circle). In traditional African societies, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Diviner (also known as priest) are also sought for their wisdom as counselors in life and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.


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