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The emergence of the Bwiti culture takes its roots at the turn of the last century during the period when Catholicism and Mysticism were merging together. Iboga was perceived as the Tree of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve had plucked and eaten the forbidden fruit.
The Bwiti movement reached its peak during the World War I spreading across Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and Zaire. Due to active persecution by the Catholic mission the cult remained a secret.
According to the Bwiti religion, the psychoactive plant Iboga had been discovered by the pygmies in the midst of the jungle. Later, the pygmies transmitted their knowledge to the tribes Apinji and Mitsogo whom were the first to start to perform the rituals. The religion started to spread across southern Gabon.
At first, the practice of Bwiti included human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism but very soon these were abolished in favour of sacrificing young chickens.
The accusations for criminal witchcraft and so-called diabolical illusions were always associated with the Bwiti and Tabernanthe Iboga, and to this day these are part of the Bwiti history. Between 1920 and 1940, the persecutions of the Bwiti were espeсially active. Many temples were burned and many Bwiti priests were killed but the cult still managed to remain intact.
The majority of Bwiti rituals are based on a religious calendar which resembles the Roman Catholic calendar. All rituals are performed exclusively at night and involve the use of the hallucinogenic Tabernanthe Iboga plant. Ceremonies are commonly held from Saturday through Sunday and during Christmas and Easter.
Rituals are also performed when the initiation of a new member of the cult is about to take place. The initiate is given a large dose of Iboga which induces trance during which the initiate’s awareness transmits itself into the mystical worlds where he is consecrated by the Gods.
The initiation ceremony begins with the confessions of one’s sins. In case the initiate lies or conceals his sins such as a murder the mystical journey may not take place and Iboga may punish him with a painful death.
The initiation ceremony is a lengthy process and can take up to three days during which the initiate gradually takes in Iboga root bark. All this time the initiate is placed in the middle of the temple under the supervision from his ritual “mother & father”. Apart from the ritual “parents” there are also other members of the community whom are meant to help facilitate a smooth mystical journey of their brother.
During the ceremony night other participants may also consume Iboga. The initiate’s consciousness usually undergoes intense changes resulting in the detachment from reality. To ensure that the initiate is completely separate from the outside world a certain degree of nociceptive pain is caused. If the initiate doesn’t respond to the pain than it is assumed that he is going through a climax in his experience. This very moment represents the dialog of the initiate with God.
During his journey the initiate travels to the land of the dead whom are considered to be intermediaries with the Divine Essence. It’s possible for the initiate to encounter his ancestors or relatives in spirit.
The hallucinations that accompany the initiate during his trip are full of deep symbolic significance – the jungle world with its trees, plants and animals acts as an experimental foundation for visions. The sacred entity that the initiate meets during his journey will announce him his new consecrated name.
On the third day of the ritual, one of the participants is summoned to help the initiate to return. There are occasions when initiates die during the ritual. According to the priest, a death indicates that the initiate held harmful thoughts and was not willing to wash away his sins before the mystical journey.
Baptising with Iboga, just as Catholic baptising can take place at any age.