Wed | Oct 17, 2018

In the spirit of Revivalism – Part 2

Published:Saturday | June 20, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Revival pilgrims trumping around a flagpole at the Watt Town Zion Headquarters in St Ann, earlier this year.
Spirit possession is a major element of Revivalism.
PHOTOS BY PAUL WILLIAMS The cymbals are key instruments in the Revival rituals.

EVIVALISTS BELIEVE the spiritual and the earthly realms are one. The living and the departed, therefore, can communicate with each other. "Therefore, the living can become possessed and influenced by the spirits of the dead," Olive Senior writes in Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage.

They also subscribe to the holy trinity concept of The Father, Son, and The Holy Ghost, known as the 'messenger' or the 'spirit', who possesses worshippers and converts.

The spirit might be that of Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles and evangelists, archangels, Satan, his assistants, other beings and mystical figures, and the spirits of influential dead Revivalists.

And in as much the same way, Revivalists believe the spiritual and earthly realms are one and the same, in that they can move from one to the other through possession. They don't see a separation between good and evil forces. One force has evil and benevolent qualities, which are called upon to do different things.


"Power derived from the spirit world is used for both physical and spiritual healing and the enhancement of the worshipper's life and well-being," Senior says. However, there is

a general belief that spirits are also requested to perform

malevolent deeds.

"Revivalists are concerned with harnessing the unseen forces of the universe that are not good or bad in themselves, but can be utilised by man for different purposes," Senior also says.

The types of spirits that Zion and Pocomania call upon are very different. Zion invokes sky spirits, such as that of God, archangels, angels, etc. Pocomania Revivalists entreat Earth spirits, such as those of dead acquaintances, and mystical beings, for instance, the river maid is one of their main agents.

"Under possession, she confronts and deals with hostile water spirits who impede the spiritual journey of possessed brethren through a river, her spiritual territory," according to a note in Jamaica Journal Vol. 32 Nos. 1-2.

Possession is the vehicle that transports Revivalists from one realm to the other. To get into the spirit or be possessed

happens after much singing, dancing, clapping, drumming, trumping and praying. The worshipper who is possessed is said to be travelling. Dreams and visions are also portals that connect the realms of the living and that of the departed.

Sometimes the possession occurs for days, when the possessed is said to be in a 'schoolroom', getting instructions from the spirits. "Possession by spirits then is central to Revival worshippers and powerful rituals," Senior states.

In addition to their regular divine worships and prayer meetings, Revivalists carry our special occasion rituals, especially for christenings, baptisms, burials and new building dedications. There are also street meetings for outreach purposes, and 'balm yard' healing rituals in which the afflicted is rid of the charm or 'crosses' that is the basis of the affliction.


Revival rituals can be fascinating processes, especially to the person who is seeing one for the very first time. They are full of colour, artistry and symbolisms that can be easily misinterpreted. The beating of drums and the clashing of cymbals (sometimes) are central. They accompany the singing and set the pace and mood for the message to be carried. There is also Bible reading, preaching and testimonies.

But it is the trumping and the dancing and the 'speaking in tongues' that set the pace for the possession. Revivalists dance and moan in a particular way that gets intense as they trample on unwanted spirits.

"While moving their bodies forward, Revivalists bend, expelling the breath, and utter a groaning sound on the upswing ... a movement that causes dizziness in some persons and facilitates the onset of spirit possession," Senior writes.

And sometimes, the drumming stops suddenly, leaving the worshippers to utter a moaning chant as they go around in circles. "Members will become possessed and 'travel' to the spirit world. Each member imitates the particular spirit in movement and sound, e.g., dove ... the leader himself receives and interprets spirit messages."