Simbi survived the Middle Passage from Africa and arrived in South Carolina’s Low Country, where this family of water spirits promptly slipped into some water and made themselves at home. In the nineteenth century, both before and after the abolition of slavery, white folklorists, geologists, and land surveyors began recording cymbee stories. Interviews were conducted orally; interviewers spelled the word as it made sense to them: cymbee. Cymbees are Simbi spirits, but the spelling is now used to distinguish South Carolina manifestations. These written reports tend to emphasize that local black people were frightened of the Cymbees, but it’s crucial to keep this in context.
Cymbees were secret, sacred lore: it was not considered wise or beneficial to discuss them too openly. (Cymbee spirits are sensitive to what they perceive as disrespect.) Some of the earliest recorded stories were told as warnings to men sent to brick off a spring or otherwise trouble the waters. These stories were recorded and fascinated other white men, who began collecting them, often emphasizing what they perceived as the ignorant, superstitious nature of their sources.
Each spring or small body of fresh water has its own Cymbee, which has its own unique appearance, size, and habits. Individual Cymbees have names, some wonderfully evocative like “The Great Desire of the Unrotting Waters.” Plank bridges placed over the water serve the Cymbees as seats.
Whether in America or Africa, Cymbees are guardians of water. The Middle Passage and the conditions awaiting in South Carolina did not improve the Cymbees’ tempers. They are fairly volatile spirits: any disturbance of the spring or disrespect toward it angers them. They show their displeasure via water phenomenon: waters are described as roiling or churning. They also have the power to raise storms. They Demonstrate anger by removing water: springs drying up are interpreted as the departure or disapproval of the Cymbee.
If you have a spring- or freshwater pond, then you may have a Cymbee, even if it has been lying low. (Alternatively, if you seek one, you can invite one.) In addition to guarding the water, a Cymbee may serve as a personal or family guardian. They bring prosperity, good fortune, and abundance, including fertility, in their wake. Sit quietly near the water (not necessarily too near) and see whether the Cymbee will reveal itself.
Cymbees are proportionate in size to the water source they inhabit and are described as vaguely human in appearance. Some have webbed feet or are full-blown mermaids complete with fish tail.
Always consider their water precious and sacred, treating it respectfully. Small gifts (shiny trinkets, libations, traditional offerings for mermaids) are appreciated as well.
- Mami Wata
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.