Ancestral worship is seen by many Black people as the fabric of the African people. It is seen as part of culture. The deceased are viewed as part of the living and the sacred connection to God. When a woman is said to have “a calling” in African traditional religion she is seen as one who is blessed to have a direct access to the ancestors — something that many who believe in the practice view in high regard.
When one who has been given this sacred gift goes and abandons it, she is frowned upon and such an act is seen as betraying her people; betraying her family and rejecting her calling.
In her book Called Out, Mpho Thulo shares how, in her childhood, she suffered from many sicknesses that could not be diagnosed; her experiences as a trainee inyanga, (traditional healer also known as Isangoma or umprofeti) and how God miraculously delivered her and gave her new freedom in Christ.
Mpho Thulo was born in the North West province, in a small town called Makwassie and in 2015 the family relocated to East London. She has two siblings (a younger sister and a brother). She is the only one who struggled with spiritual unrest (inkathazo).
When she was about five-years-old Mpho had her first real encounter with the spiritual world as she began to dream of her dead relatives who spoke to her. When she shared her experiences with her grandmother, she was told she was having such dreams because she had a calling from the ancestors.
Mpho comes from a lineage of diviners. Her father was an inyanga. She grew up knowing that the spiritual realm is real. At home the family would practice traditional ceremonies as well as go to church on Sunday.
She struggled with many ailments while growing up. The doctors could not diagnose what she was suffering from. She had migraines, numb joints, burning sensations. At times she would struggle to walk or hold things. She would have a burning sensation in her feet which she would cool down with cold water. She had horrifying nightmares and open visions which her doctor thought could be due to psychosis.
She says: “I suffered heart palpitations and anxiety, sometimes suicidal thoughts. At one point I lost a lot of weight. I struggled with low blood, emotional torments and hearing voices. These manifestations did disturb my studies because sometimes I would not attend school. After all, the doctor would book me off sick. But I never failed or dropped a grade as a result of those things.”
The sicknesses worsened when she was in grade 9. She was taken to consult an inyanga who confirmed that she was sick because she was called by the ancestors. The inyanga said that they could do a moketi, which is a ritual to appease the ancestors. The ancestors were asked to wait for Mpho until she finished high school and college. She was told by the inyanga that the sicknesses would continue until she accepted her calling.
“That is how we started the ritual of ukuthwasa which is a process of getting you ready to train to be an inyanga. Ithwasa is a trainee who practices ukuphahla (a ritual to consult ancestors).”
At the training the inyangas gave Mpho articles that she needed to have at home for practice. Every time she entered her room she would call upon the ancestors. She was taught that she needed to call the dead spirit, all the river spirits. They were the ones who would guide her, she was told. She should also go to a graveside with a candle and traditional beer (umqombothi) and burn impepho (incense).
Sharing on her experiences, she said: “I would sometimes dream of my past relatives — especially my grandmother and my aunt. I was given a choice between my ancestors and this gentleman sitting on my bed. I remember when I looked at my aunt and my grandmother there was this terrifying feeling about it, and I couldn’t choose them. I chose this calming spirit with this gentleman. He had, like a light, a glorious robe and then I will see myself being drawn to a river. I will see myself walking towards and then there would be a reed next to a river and every time I got close enough to go into it, I would wake up.
“I was searching for God, but I didn’t know how to get there until I listened to this preacher who made it clear that the only way to God is through Christ Jesus.”
Thulo received Jesus Christ 10 years ago through watching a Christian television broadcast. The preacher invited people to give their lives to God by saying the sinner’s prayer. After she said the prayer she sobbed as she felt the weight and the burden that she had been carrying for years leave her.
“As I was listening to the preacher, he was teaching mostly about things that I was doing, like consulting the dead, and having your own high place, which is the thing that God does not want us to do. I remember having this fear in my heart that I needed to search the Scriptures: what is it that I am doing that God was not happy about?
“I took all the articles of ukuthwasa, and I took a shaver and I shaved my head because I wanted to renounce the practice. It was like a new beginning for me.”
Since leaving the life of ukuthwasa she has faced backlash and rejection from certain people who have accused her of abandoning her African roots. Her relationships with some members of her family suffered as they did not support her decision to follow Christ.
Her mother was worried that her daughter would suffer endless torment for renouncing “the calling of the ancestors” as has happened with many others that have done so. In time, Mpho’s mother saw the positive changes in her daughter and the grace of God in her life. After witnessing her daughter’s transformation Mpho’s mother gave her own life to Christ.
“When I accepted Christ I managed to find my spiritual healing that I was longing for. As a person I felt really liberated, like I was taken out of prison. So now, instead of thinking what I used to think, I am thinking what the Word of God says concerning my life, what do I need to do that is pleasing to God. The Bible says it’s only by faith that I can please God not by works; not by rituals; not by calling ancestors or appeasing them or giving them sacrifices. It’s only by following what the Word of God is saying that I can live a new life”
Her testimony has been featured in various print, television and radio platforms, including Youtube series, Your New Life Journey and Christian Broadcasting Corporation (CBN) South Africa.
Mpho says God has brought about restoration in her marriage that suffered because of her sangoma training. He has restored all the years that the locusts stole, as the Thulos are now more in love than ever. She says: “Family is my first ministry.”
Jesus says in His Word that He came to set the captives free and Mpho can testify to the saving grace of our Lord. She has found new life in Christ, a life of freedom where she is no longer bound. Since giving her life to the Lord she has not experienced any sicknesses in her body.
“I’m about to be 39 years now but I have never been in and out of the doctors’ consultation room like I did when I was only 14 years old. I have never had a day where I would experience those unexplained mysterious ailments in my body. Not only that my faith in Christ declares that by His stripes I was already healed. I’m not under the dead spirits’ will anymore; so no dead spirit can ever control or terrorise me.”
Her message to the body of Christ is: “The gifts and callings come from God, as the Word declares. We are tasked to use our abilities to glorify God and nothing and no one else. I believe this is the season for us, the body of Christ to educate ourselves, more especially when it comes to dealing and addressing African spirituality.
“Often people who are struggling with spirituality are isolated and they are called demonised instead of being taught principles that will bring them deliverance from their strongholds. When the Church fails them they are then embraced by cults.
“We need to reach beyond the four walls of the church and teach people who are seeking for answers that the only way we can be whole is to receive our healer, Jesus Christ. He is the only way to God, not appeasing and consulting the dead.”
She ministers in different denominations, at mission trips and through publications and media platforms. “What I want people to take from my experiences is that we need to manifest spirituality that is supported by the Word of God and to know that spirituality without being led by Holy Spirit is wickedness in the eyes of God.
“My prayer is for readers to know that there is healing to any kind of unrest, whether it be spiritual or otherwise and it is only found in Jesus Christ, our only mediator.”
She says her book will help people identify their calling, learn how to develop their God-given gifts and ultimately to live out their purpose.
“Baal Perazim” is how Mpho Thulo described her recent book launch in East London. Baal Perazim means the Lord of the breakthrough! It is where David defeated his enemies, the Philistines. The account is written in 2 Samuel 5:17-21.
Mpho Thulo indeed has a testimony of how, like David, she has defeated her enemies with the help of the Lord, The Lord of the breakthrough. She was Called Out from darkness into His marvellous Light.