Luisah Teish’s Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals is part memoir, part book of magical charms. Well, mostly memoir, quite a bit of charm, and a little magic. Teish combines feminism, New Orleans Voudou, and New Age in her aptly titled book.
Three-quarters of Jambalaya are about Teish -Teish’s grandmother, Teish’s mother, Teish’s father, Teish’s house, Teish’s neighbors, Teish’s college education, and so forth. Her life is filled with magic and folklore. Teish is a pleasant storyteller, warm and friendly. Books about Afro-diasporic religions sometimes come across as angry, scary, and inflexible. Plus there are sensitive racial and ethnic issues to dance around. Teish does not shy away from politics, but she is neither dogmatic nor unyielding. Jambalaya is for everyone. Teish does not demand initiation and appears to value both tradition and divine inspiration.
Teish knows her stuff. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but I have taken workshops and had a reading from members of her Ile. That said, Jambalaya is a beginner’s book. Anyone with a little background in feminism and women’s consciousness raising groups will be familiar with the spirit of Teish’s transformation rituals. There aren’t any new lessons in the sections on creating sacred space, spiritual hygiene, colour associations, or dressing candles, and her spells are fairly simple. My favourite bits were on ancestors and the orishas, but it’s scant and left me wanting more.
I would have preferred less autobiography and more “personal charms and practical rituals”. I’m told this book was revolutionary when it was published in 1985, but by current standards there are no great new lessons to be found here. Nevertheless, Jambalaya is affable and contains kernels of wisdom and magic.