For the people of the country of Orïsha, faith is very complicated. The divîners’ magical powers are intimately linked with faith in the gods, so religion is one of the central threads connecting divîners to one another and to the past. At the same time, many divîners feel that their faith has been shaken by the horrific events of the Raid and the subsequent hardships under King Saran, when their magic abandoned them and the gods seemed to have turned a blind eye to their suffering. But, as Zélie will discover, turning her back on her belief in the gods and magic is also, in a way, turning her back on her family and community. When she participates in religious festivals, tells stories of the gods, and begins to use her magic, Zélie feels connected to her mother and to other divîners around her. Ultimately, the novel shows how practicing faith and tradition provide powerful ways of connecting with others.
As Children of Blood and Bone shows, there are many reasons to reject faith and turn one’s back on the past. In fact, faith may not seem compatible with the harsh reality of everyday life. Even though faith was central to her Mama’s identity and Zélie’s own early childhood, after the raid, Zélie rejected her faith. Zélie does not believe the gods still exist, because they would have to be cruel to allow so much suffering in the world. Even though some people hope that the gods have turned their backs but will someday return, Zélie thinks she knows otherwise: she believes that the gods died the day of the Raid. By rejecting the existence of the gods, Zélie does not have to do the difficult work of reconciling faith with an unjust world. Instead, she abandons faith altogether. Zélie does not believe in protecting gods; she relies on her own strength to save herself and protect her family. Nobles like Amari also reject the existence of the gods. This rejection is embodied by their use of the exclamation “Skies!” rather than something invoking the divine, to indicate that they do not believe in a higher power. However, this is because King Saran has outlawed such belief. He thinks that religion would threaten his absolute power. In a different way, the nobles’ rejection of faith stems from the fact that gods do not fit into a world of cruel absolute rule. Nobles do not believe in gods; they only believe in their own power.
Another reason to turn away from faith is that it requires commitment and sacrifice, which can be difficult, especially in a kingdom governed by an oppressive regime. In order to preserve a link with the gods and to magic, special stewards of the faith must perform elaborate ceremonies every hundred years. Such acts of devotion are difficult to keep up and easy to suppress. It is important that the tradition is passed down through generations, forging a connection to the past and ensuring that traditions are not lost. In Children of Blood and Bone, gods demand not only complicated ritual, but at times literal sacrifice. In desperate moments, Zélie performs blood magic by offering her own flesh and blood to the gods. This grants her incredible power, but each time she is left physically depleted, even close to death This fantastical relationship is a dramatic version of the more mundane ways in which faith is demanding: Zélie must closely learn the history of the gods, perform ceremonies for them, and trust the gods in critical moments in order to truly benefit from her faith. Faith can be a source of great comfort, but it also requires much work on the part of the faithful.
However, doubtful characters including Amari and Zélie begin to turn towards faith as their journey continues. As they learn more about the gods and the traditions of the divîners, they form new connections with each other and with strangers. Faith also brings Zélie closer to her family. Faith in the gods ultimately brings strength because it connects the believers with one another. As Zélie becomes more closely connected to the gods and the traditions of magic, she also feels a very deep connection to her lost mother. When Zélie dresses like the patron god both she and her mother worship for a festival, Oya, she feels as if she resembles both the god and her mother. For Zélie, who frequently mourns her mother’s violent death, such moments of connection are extremely important. She feels comforted by her mother’s presence and bolstered by the strength of the connection. At the festival, Zélie also feels connected to the many divîners around her. Because Saran oppressed the divîners and outlawed their traditions, Zélie always felt isolated, but now, sharing her faith with others, she is part of a large community or extended family. Reconnecting with the stories of the gods and the traditions of the festival give Zélie a sense of belonging and hope by reminding her of her lost family members and showing her a new kind of family. Previously, Zélie felt kinship with other divîners only because they had suffered the same pain. Now, she sees that they also share joy, hope, and faith.
Despite the many harsh realities of life in Orïsha, and the many reasons to doubt the gods, faith also has an important impact on the community. Faith is bound up in tradition and ceremony and therefore links Orïshans to the past and to their ancestors. Faith may not be able to explain every hardship, but it can help believers to form communities and feel more connected to one another. For these reasons, faith is worth working for even though it requires devotion and sacrifice.
Faith and Tradition ThemeTracker
Faith and Tradition Quotes in Children of Blood and Bone
Deep down, I know the truth. I knew it the moment I saw the maji of Ibadan in chains. The gods died with our magic.
Growing up, Father led me to believe that those who clung to the myth of the gods were weak. They relied on beings they could never see, dedicating their lives to faceless entities.
The children of Orïsha dance like there’s no tomorrow, each step praising the gods. Their mouths glorify the rapture of liberation, their hearts sing the Yoruba songs of freedom. My ears dance at the words of my language, words I once thought I’d never hear outside my head. They seem to light up the air with their delight. It’s like the whole world can breathe again.
The ache that cuts through me is sharper than the blade that cut through my back. It’s like losing Mama all over again.
I don’t want to be alone. Not when tonight could be my last night. Blind faith in the gods may have taken me this far, but if I’m going to get on that island tomorrow, I need more.