I've been engaged in a deep study of Frater Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold's work Palo Mayombe, and have been steadily amazed at the deep understandings within it. For a long time I've known some small measure of what Palo is--that it is a worship-centered religion, that it is necromantically powerful. I've also known what it isn't-- Palo is not just black magic, it isn't a club an African/Afro-Latino sorcerer wields to beat people over the head. That being said, engaging in metaphysical contests with it's practitioners is generally un-wise....they don't mess about. Palo Mayombe is a fierce religion, but it Is a religion.
What I didn't know was the true depths of it's Wisdom and alchemical understanding. That's right, alchemical understanding. Palo Mayombe isn't a simple practice. It's a multi-layered and living religious and alchemical practice, and it's grasp of the forces of life are unparalleled. It's spiritual technologies are very sophisticated as well. The divinatory system is empowered, relying on a deep relationship with Spirit, and not randomness/chaos alone. The Nganga itself is a masterwork of combined alchemical and magical understanding, necessary for powerful necromantic work, in my opinion, because working with and manipulating the three Alchemical priniciples is only possible with understanding of their natures. Necromancy, in the end, is alchemical and evolutionary, a metaphysical Art of life. Giving life to the Dead, and creating a communion between them, an Ouroboros of mutual existence and understanding, is a formula of immortality.
A beautiful dance that can be seen in the growth of the Ti-Bon Ange in Voudon through regular expansion and communion with the Gros-Bon Ange and work with the Lwa. In the Western traditions our Spirit-Books have become separated from our Alchemies and our Astrology; in the RR et AC the work of the 6=5 in addressing the Spirit-world (if done correctly) creates this understanding, but how many even make it to this grade? How many orders have a living understanding of necromantic rites, untainted by unsophisticated Victorian ideas? There is a basic understanding of the life-mysteries, of the dance of Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt that has had to be revitalized in the Western traditions but has never ceased in the African Traditional Religions.
Palo has this understanding. It's basic teachings, if translated into Western terms and imagery, wouldn't be out of place in the Hermetica at all, nor among the Tantras. It is applied wisdom, not theoretical understanding, which is a wonder. Like the hidden operative alchemical orders of the West, it is a tradition that requires initiation into it's practice and the understanding of Gnosis; no amount of reading will make you a Palero. This is a tradition that carries the Fire, if one has the eyes to recognize it. Reading of it and it's understandings sent shivers up my spine, of joy and recognition.
The difficulty with coming to a proper perspective of Palo is in it's reputation. It has a fearsome reputation among practitioners, and the plethora of horns and sigils, the skulls and sticks in the prenda....you can imagine how the ignorant Western public views it. Colonialist ideas about all things African abound; I get to deal with that shit on a regular basis. Dark fellows dancing in the darkness, with veve's drawn on the ground and a witches cauldron filled with death, lit only by flickering candle flame...add in rhythmic drumming and devil-horned statues and you've got a recipe for public relations issues.
Much of the problem comes from Western cultures failure to deal with death. It's externalized, othered, and pushed away into the graveyard. The dead are either inert, a ghostly nothing-ness, or a malignant threat. This attitude leaks into our own expressions of necromantic understanding--just take a look at how the spirits of our own traditions have been demonized, at how necromancy has come to be perceived as evil. Our own beloved dead as things to be feared; looking at a cultural religious practice that actively venerates and works with the dead is bound to result in negative association from that perspective.
Nicholaj has written a masterful work that dispels many of these misconceptions about Palo; that show it for the vibrant and alchemically powerful and operative religion that it is.I've read a number of works on Palo, and none hold a candle to the clarity with which the ideas in Palo are expressed in The Garden of Blood and Bones.
Coming into union with Palo is only possible through initiation, but reading this book is literally the closest you can come to understanding of this tradition without knowing a Palero. I would whole-heartedly encourage everyone to read this book. It has a lot to offer Western alchemists and magicians in understanding our own traditions, viewing them through eyes that see the Art through a powerful living tradition.