Ngame, Mother Goddess of the Akan


The Name of Ngame translates as "Shining One".

Ngame, Mother Goddess of the Akan
Creatress and Queen

by
Linda Iles, ArchDrs., Prs. H

Ngame and the Fellowship of Isis

My search for more information on the Goddess Ngame of the Akan people of Western Africa began some years ago. I had heard of Ngame through study and use of the Fellowship of Isis Liturgy, and in descriptions of the Temple of Isis at FOI Foundation Centre, Clonegal Castle, Ireland. FOI co-founder and ArchPriestess, Lady Olivia Robertson has mentioned the goddess Ngame in her writings and in interviews. A temple dedicated to this Goddess, located in Nigeria, was created by a Nigerian FOI ArchPriest. Olivia has written that FOI members from Nigeria and other countries in Western Africa make up about one third of the total membership.

Situated within the main sanctuary of the Temple of Isis at Clonegal Castle is the High Altar within the Holy of Holies. On this altar is a statue of Isis of Ten Thousand Names holding the sun disk between the horns of the moon. The statue of Isis stands within a golden canopy topped by a Marian crown that once formed part of a church shrine to the Virgin Mary. The altar is situated in the main area of the temple sanctuary.

Altars on either side bear images presented to the Temple by FOI members from Nigeria. Queen Tehani, of gold and ebony, ruler of the lost continent of Mu stands on the left, and to the right is a wooden statue of Ngame, Creator Goddess of the Akan people of Nigeria.

Jonathon Cott, in his book “Isis and Osiris: Exploring the Goddess Myth” features a quote from Lady Olivia Robertson about the statue of the Goddess Ngame in the Holy of Holies. She says of the statues of Queen Tehani and Ngame:

"The former goddess is covering her breasts, the latter exposing them as a sign of queenship …You know, my second cousin Robert Graves, through a series of psychic happenings, was inspired by the Goddess Ngame to write "The White Goddess". And in doing so, he himself inspired the creation of a great temple of Ngame in Nigeria, run by the famous healer and writer on the occult, the Right Reverend Archpriest Michael Okoruwa, of our Fellowship of Isis priesthood. About eight hundred people attend Michael's healing rituals every Sunday in his temple courtyard, with its two large statues of Isis and Ngame. Oh, that Lady knew what She was doing, getting through to Graves!"

In the book "God the Mother, The Creatress and Giver of Life" written by FOI co-founder and ArchPriest Lawrence Durdin-Robertson is found this passage about Ngame:

The African goddess Ngame has the aspect of Cosmic Creatrix. According to Graves: "Ngame is said to have brought forth the heavenly bodies by her own efforts and then to have vitalized men and animals by shooting magical arrows from her moonlike bow into their inert bodies.

Archpriest Okoruwa writes of her: "Also associated with Her are the two water jugs with the outflow of water which symbolizes the water of life - 'Let the firmament (abyss) divide the waters from the waters, the waters above the firmament and those below the firmament' (Genesis). Also Ngame is shown with one foot in water and one on dry land, bridging the abyss.”

The second paragraph of the above quote, is attributed to FOI ArchPriest Michael Okoruwa of Nigeria, founder and head of the Isis and Ngame Temple. His Sunday meetings draw over 800 people, he has over a 1,000 members in his ministry and he is renowned as a healer. This book was published in 1984, and so we know that Mr. Okoruwa had already been made an ArchPriest by Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and his sister Lady Olivia Robertson several years before the FOI ArchPriesthood Union was formed.

The Goddess Ngame and Robert Graves

In the back of his book “The White Goddess” can be found a section titled “Postscript 1960”. It contains the following passage describing how Robert Graves first encountered Ngame:

“While engaged on my Argonaut book, I found the White Goddess of Pelion growing daily more important to the narrative. Now, I had in my work-room several small West African brass objects - bought from a London dealer - gold-dust weights, mostly in the shape of animals, among them a humpback playing a flute. I also had a small brass-box with a lid, intended (so the dealer told me) to contain gold dust. I kept the humpback seated on the box. In fact, he is still seated there; but I knew nothing about him, or about the design on the box-lid until ten years had gone by. The I learned that the humpback was a herald in the service of the Queen-mother of some Akan State; and that every reigning Queen-Mother (and there are a few reigning even today) claims to be an incarnation of the Triple Moon Goddess Ngame. The design of the box-lid, a spiral, connected by a single stroke to the rectangular frame enclosing it - the frame having nine teeth on either side means: ‘None greater in the universe than the Triple Goddess Ngame!’ These gold weights and the box were made before the British seizure of the Gold Coast, by craftsmen subservient to the Goddess, and regarded as highly magical.

Very well: put it down to coincidence. Deny any connection between the hump-backed herald on the box (proclaiming the sovereignty of the Akan Triple Moon-goddess, and set in a ring of brass animals representing Akan clan totems) and myself, who suddenly became obsessed by the European White Goddess, wrote about her clan totems in the Argonaut context, and now had thrust upon me secrets of her cult in Wales, Ireland and elsewhere. I was altogether unaware that the box celebrated the Goddess Ngame, that the Helladic Greeks, including the primitive Athenians, were racially linked with Ngame’s people - Libyan Berbers, known as the Garamantians, who moved south from the Sahara to the Niger in the eleventh century A.D. … Or that Ngame herself was a Moon-goddess, and that the White Goddess of Greece and Western Europe shared her attributes. I knew only that Herodotus recognized the Libyan Neith as Athene … By ancient tradition, the White Goddess becomes one with her human representative - a priestess, a prophetess, a queen-mother.”

Robert Graves mentions the Goddess Ngame in his book “The Greek Myths” (Volume I). Two quotes found in his book are presented below:

“While the right-handed swastika is a symbol of the sun, the left-handed is a symbol of the moon. Among the Akan of West Africa, a people of Libyo-Berber ancestry, it represents the Triple-goddess Ngame.”

“…the Moon is worshipped as the supreme Triple-goddess Ngame, clearly identical with the Libyan Neith, the Carthaginian Tanit, the Canaanite Anatha, and the early Greek Athene. Ngame is said to have brought forth the heavenly bodies through her own efforts and then to have vitalized men and animals by shooting magical arrows from her new-moon bow into their inert bodies. She also, it is said takes life in her killer aspect; as did her counterpart the Moon goddess Artemis. A princess of royal line is judged capable, in unsettled times, of being overcome by Ngame’s lunar magic and bearing a tribal deity which takes up its residence in a shrine and leads a group of emigrants to some new region. This woman becomes queen-mother, war-leader, judge and priestess of the settlement she founds.”

In “The Greek Myths” Graves makes a connection between Prometheus as fire-bearer and the Akan goddess Ngame. And in “The White Goddess” he writes of Ngame not only as a Goddess of life but also as a Patroness of Creative Inspiration, and that the Moon Goddess in many cultures often operates as a muse.

Another quote from the writing of Robert Graves on Ngame comes from the introduction he had written for an edition of the “Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology:”

“A typical case-history of how myths develop as culture spreads: Among the Akan of Ghana, the original social system was a number of queendoms, each containing three or more clans and ruled by a Queen-mother with her council of elder women; descent being reckoned in the female line, and each clan having its own animal deity. The Akan believed that the world was born from the all-powerful Moon-goddess Ngame, who gave human beings souls, as soon as born, by shooting lunar rays into them. At some time or other, perhaps in the early middle Ages, patriarchal nomads from the Sudan forced the Akans to accept a male Creator, a Sky-god named Odomankoma; but failed to destroy Ngame’s dispensation. A compromise myth was agreed upon: Odomankoma created the world with hammer and chisel from inert matter, after which Ngame brought it to life.

These Sudanese invaders also worshipped the seven planetary powers ruling the week — a system originating in Babylonia. (It had spread to Northern Europe, by-passing Greece and Rome; which is why the names of pagan deities — Tuisto, Woden, Thor and Frigg — are still attached to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.) This extra cult provided the Man with seven new deities, and the compromise myth made both them and the clan-gods bisexual. Towards the end of the fourteenth century A. D., a social revolution deposed Odomankoma in favor of a Universal Sun-god, and altered the myth accordingly.

While Odomankoma ruled, a queen Dom was still a queen Dom, the king acting merely as a consort and male representative of the sovereign Queen mother, and being styled ‘Sun of the Moon’, a yearly dying, yearly resurrected, fertility godling. But the gradual welding of small queen­doms into city-states, and of city-states into a rich and populous nation, encouraged the High King — the king of the dominant city-state — to borrow a foreign custom. He styled himself ‘Son of the Sun’, as well as ‘Sun of the Moon’, and claimed limitless authority. The Sun that, according to the myth, had hitherto been re-born every morning from Ngame, was now worshipped as an eternal god altogether independent of the Moon’s life-giving function. New myths appeared when the Akan accepted the patriarchal principle, which Sun worship brought in; they began tracing succession through the father, and mothers ceased to be the spiritual heads of households.”

Ngame, the "Shining One"

Her Spiral and Sacred Number

The type of container described by Robert Graves, bearing the inscription to Ngame in “The White Goddess” is known as a Puduo or Kuduo. This type of vessel is made from cast brass. Its uses are mainly ceremonial and ritual, for sacrificial offerings, rites honoring a newborn baby, female puberty celebrations, twins festivals, royal purifications and funerals. Most often the offering which filled the interior consisted of gold dust, but could also be gold weights, pearls, or other precious items. These were commonly connected with rituals related to the soul and were often later buried with the person for whom the Puduo or Kuduo was ritually sanctified during his/her lifetime.

The other brass figures he mentions in his private collected were Akan “gold-weights.” Just as the puduo or kuduo vessels were inscribed with symbols that transmitted messages and inscriptions, so the Akan “gold-weights” are decorated with signs from an ancient Numidian or Libyan writing system, and not simply artistic devices. The markings often cite moral or religious proverbs.

The symbol on the lid of the puduo or kuduo is described by Graves as: “a spiral, connected by a single stroke to the rectangular frame enclosing it - the frame having nine teeth on either side means: ‘None greater in the universe than the Triple Goddess Ngame!’ ”

The spiral in Akan symbolism and art represents the creation of the universe, the spiral represents the Goddess as Genatrix of Creation and the Goddess within the human Queen-mother, who is an earthly representation or vessel for Ngame. The spiral is the revolving path of the moon, the unbroken cycle of life in nature.

The Spiral can be viewed as an intentional model for the growth and birth patterns of nature, for the path of sun, moon and stars. The traditional Akan system used the spiral as a symbol of biological morphogenesis - Ngame the Creatress is ever creating, the act of creation and it’s cycles are never ending, everything is continually ‘coming into being’. The line connecting to the spiral can only be the path of her arrow, shooting life into the heart of the spiral of creation.

The Akan believe that Ngame puts part of Her spiritual essence into human beings, in the form of the human soul 'kra'. This soul is imperishable, unlike the human body. The Akan have a saying: 'Nipa wu a, na onwuee' - 'A human dies, but he/she is not dead'. According to their belief, the physical body may die, but the soul that comes from Ngame is ever living, the Akan believe it will reincarnate. When a child is born, the Akan give the child a soul name, a 'kra din'. This soul name may be the name of the day of the week on which the person was born.

Nine has always been a specially sacred number to the Akan, associated with creation and fertility. The Etsi, the oldest stock of the Akan people, still eat nine eggs while in ceremony, instead of pouring a libation. The Akan calendar includes a series of nine day intervals, of which the first day is either a 'Dabone' (unlucky) or it is 'Fida Fofie', 'Awukudae', or 'Akwasidae', which mark ritual celebrations to supplicate or pacify deities. No work is performed on these days. The rest of the calendar consists of 'Nna' (good days) on which normal, everyday activities can be conducted. There are also nine main cycles in the calendar annually.

The Herald of Ngame

The author Robert Graves also mentions the humpbacked flute player who acts as a herald of Ngame. This is particularly interesting because the Akan language is tonal, like all African languages. The meanings of words spoken are dependent on rising or falling inflections (change of pitch or tone); something like putting emphasis on a word to shade it’s meaning while singing. It has been noted that the cadence and tone of their language can be easily translated by a musical instrument. This may explain the meaning of a phrase used in their culture, that a musician can use his instrument to hold a conversation with people by ‘talking to them’ through his music.

The “Herald of Ngame” is a musician who, during ritual functions, is guided by inspiration from the Moon-goddess and Creatress Ngame to bring her message into the world. His music heralds her coming, entices her to be present. I have wondered if music might be used in the tradition of the mighty Goddess Ngame, as it was used in ancient Egypt to both placate and honor the Goddess Hathor.

There are two types of flutes that come from Ghana, the modern day locale of the Akan people in Africa. First there is the ‘wia’ a notched flute of Northern and Upper Ghana, which has a very limited range. The ‘atenteben’ is another type, which was originally a three-holed bamboo flute, much like the 'wia', but in the 20th century, musicians added three more holes in order to expand their range of notes. The 'atenteben' originated with the Akans of south-central Ghana, particularly in the region of the Kwahu Plateau. It is held vertically when played, like a recorder. Like the recorder, it can be played diatonically or chromatically. Originally it was exclusively a traditional instrument, most often played in funeral processions. Beginning in the 20th century, when the three extra holes were added, the atenteben has been used in contemporary and classical music. Several players have attained high levels of virtuosity and are able to play Western as well as African music on the instrument.

Why is the Herald of Ngame pictured as a hunchback? Esoteric symbolism makes use of the hunchback to illustrate the effects of burdens, weaknesses and ordeals faced in life. The deformity of the hunchback does not keep him from becoming a channel for direct communication with divine sources. He is a symbol of victory over earthly cares, constraints and human failings.

There is another very interesting insight into the nature of a hunchback in connection with Ngame, Mother Goddess of the Triple Moon. W.B. Yeats in his poem “The Phases of the Moon” from the book “The Wild Swans at Coole” (1919), likens the form of the hunched back to the last or waning crescent of the moon.

“… Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last crescents.
The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
Of beauty’s cruelty and wisdom’s chatter—
Out of that raving tide—is drawn betwixt
Deformity of body and of mind.”

The Goddess Ngame in the Spiritual Tradition of Africa Today

Queen Nana Beakyewa I of Ghana is a spokesperson for preserving of Africa’s traditional religions and a member of the Pan-African Unity movement. She is a Ghanaian Queen-mother. The Queen-mothers, who are seen to be empowered by Ngame, and who are the traditional women leaders in Ghana, are not allowed to participate in assemblies of traditional leaders on a local, regional or national level. During these assemblies, the traditional leaders define and customize civil law. Only male traditional leaders participate in these bodies. But the Queen-mothers are still very active within their communities, their country, and internationally. They make their voices heard through many venues.

Queen Nana Beakyewa I champions the revival of African traditional religions. Of her work and her beliefs she says:

“There is a strong revival of African traditional religion going on at this time. The key to understanding the African is through his religion. He considers God as our universal Father. For the Akans of Ghana, he is also our Divine Mother, Ngame Obatan Pa, a very caring provider. God is omnipotent, Gye Nyame, all-knowing, omnipresent and sustainer of the whole world. In African cultures all revolves around religion which strongly influences the living and thinking of ordinary men and women. In fact, African religion, no matter the level of sophistication or education of the individual, permeates every aspect of life, from seed time to harvest, through the rights of passage: birth, puberty, marriage, death and the hereafter. We have no creeds to recite, as these dwell in the heart, and each one himself is the living creed.

All over Africa, the earth is regarded as the female spirit of Asase Yaa, Mother Earth. One is expected to care for her, nurse cherish and love her Generally one would not till the land without her prior permission. We ask her permission again before we bury the dead so that her child may return to her womb. Thursday is set aside for her. And on that day many Akans will not till the land. Asase Yaa is also known as the upholder of truth and whenever someone’s word is in doubt, he is asked to touch his hip to some soil to become credible.

Before every function and ceremony, a libation is done whereby water or spirit are poured on to the ground while calling the name of God, Mother Earth, and the ancestors, beseeching their blessing upon all present, Some have criticized this practice but that is because they do not understand that every single act or gesture of the Akan has a significance. Gesture and symbol play an important part in African rites. When in a dance a priestess raises her hands, she is delivering a message, “ I am leaving all in the power of God.”

Nyame or Ngame?

The concept of Goddess Creator, Mother of all people, is common throughout Africa, though Her names vary. In Ghana the Ashanti revere the Goddess 'Nyame', and the Goddess 'Ngame' is sacred to the Akan. J. B. Danquah writes: “The crux decussata or Female Cross (Mberam) (X), in several of it’s forms, is shown as ‘the symbol for Nyame as the creator of the revolving universe’.” The original divine principle of creation for the Akan was a 'creatress' - the Goddess Ngame. Queen Nana Beakyewa I has written that today the Akan see God as the Universal Father and also the Divine Mother. In their society the two co-exist, one masculine and one feminine. The conflicts of the past between patriarchy and matriarchy have been resolved through balance, their deities are paired as the Divine Twins.

While preparing for her doctorate, Dr. Ayele Kumari, PhD. wrote the following on the use of the names Ngame and/or Nyame: "Throughout Africa, some aspect of the creator is related to a variation on the word Nyam. Nyame is known in Ghana and Kikongo. A variation is the name Ngame. Ngame is a primordial goddess in Ghana that has been now masculinized as Nyame. Sometimes they are considered androgynous but the Ga people refer to it as Ata Naa Nyamo (Father Mother God)."

You can learn more about the Goddess Ngame in another article on this site, which compares the common roots of the Goddesses Neith of ancient Egypt and Ngame of the Akan of Ghana through the Libyan Berbers: "Neith, Weaver of the Cosmos"

“Gye Ngame Obatan Pa”

 

Information about the Temple of Isis and Ngame, founded by ArchPriest Michael U. Okoruwa on Fellowship of Isis Central in the Historic Archives section: Temple of Isis and Ngame

 

Sources

Ann, Martha & Myers, Dorothy Imel, “Goddesses in World Mythology, a Biographical Dictionary”, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1995

Bartle, Philip F. W., “The Universe has Three Souls: A Few Notes on Learning Akan Culture”, Afrika Studiecentrum, 1980

Cott, Jonathon, “Isis and Osiris: Exploring the Goddess Myth”, Penguin Books, New York, 1994

Danquah, J. B., “The Culture of Akan” from “Africa: Journal of the International African Institute,” Vol. 22, No. 4, published October, 1952

Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence, "God the Mother, The Creatress and Giver of Life," Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Ireland, 1984

Graves, Robert, “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth,” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1966

Graves, Robert, “The Greek Myths”, Volume I, Penguin Books (Non-Classics series), New York, 1990

Gyekye, Kwame, “The Akan Concept of a Person” from “International Philosophical Quarterly”, edited by W. Norris Clarke, Volume XVIII, No. 3, Jesuits from Fordham University in New York and Berchmans Philosophicum of Belgium, New York and Brussels, 1978

Kumari, Ayele, "Awakening the Sacred Python - The African Primordial Mother", reprinted with permission of the author in the official FOI publication "Isian News", issue 150, 2013.

“The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology”, with an introduction by Robert Graves, Richard Aldington and Delano Ames, translators, Prometheus Press Media, New York, 1960

Meyerowitz, Eva L. R., “The Akan of Ghana: Their Ancient Beliefs”, Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1958

Morgan, Robin, "Sisterhood is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology," section on "Ghana", The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1996

Nana (Queen) Beakyemo I of Ghana, “We believe that the Earth is God’s Gift to Us” from “Hinduism Today,” August, 1992

Robertson, Olivia, “Magical Journey to the Triple Moon. 2nd Sphere” a ritual from the FOI Liturgy book “Psyche, Magical Journeys of the Goddess”, Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Ireland, 1991

Robertson, Olivia, “Magic of Neptune and Ngame”, a ritual from the FOI Liturgy book, “Urania, Ceremonial Magic of the Goddess”, Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Ireland, 1983

Robertson, Olivia, “The Goddess Ngame of Africa”, an oracle from the FOI Liturgy book, “Sybil, Oracles of the Goddess”, Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Ireland, 1989

Robertson, Olivia, “Rite of Isis and Ngame”, a ritual for solitary practitioners from the FOI Liturgy book, “Maya, Goddess Rites for Solo Use”, Cesara Publications, Clonegal Castle, Ireland, 1994

Sarpong, Peter, Rev. Dr., Catholic Bishop of Kumasi, “Sacred Stools of the Akan”, Ghana Publishing Corporation, Accra, 1971

Yeats, W. B., "The Phases of the Moon", a poem from "The Wild Swans of Coole", MacMillian & Co., London, 1919


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