The name “De Laurence” causes some older Jamaicans to cringe with fear. De Laurence is associated with obeah, witchcraft and necromancy (seeing the future by communicating with the dead). Therefore this reaction to De Laurence is perfectly understandable.
Yet, despite the fears, many can’t seem to know enough about De Laurence, in order to give details.Is it a person? An institution? A religion?Just what is De Laurence?
The De Laurence phenomenon is shrouded in secrecy. Those who indulged in its practices and those who claimed to be its victims help to maintain the secrecy.
The many grim De Laurence stories come mainly from rural areas. Some say that their clothes have been shredded to bits even while hanging in the wardrobe. Others speak of stone throwing attacks on their houses, with no view of the stone thrower. And others speak of rain falling only on a particular house in a district.
Some strange stories speak of rain falling on one particular house.
Even recently in the Media, there was a report of a house in the Corporate Area on fire, and the witnesses which included neighbours and the fire brigade unit which rushed to the scene, could not offer an explanation as to how the fire started. The house on fire had no stove, no lamp and no electrical connection. And no one was at home at the time. Some speculated a "high science"connection.
The rationale for strange acts such as these were usually one of the following: (1) The victim had offended someone and the person offended consulted De Laurence to take revenge. (2) The victim owed De Laurence money.And according to some, if you owed De Laurence money, you could just place it in an envelope and address it. It would go through the postal system without any chance of being tampered with and go directly to its destination.
But apart from these accounts, what is recorded about De Laurence?Informal studies done by Erna Brodber revealed that the name De Laurence is associated with a man who published and distributed books through the De Laurence Company. But even now some people are still confused as to whether De Laurence was/is a man or a set of books.
Her research shows that the books gave tips about how to successfully relate within the social and psychological world. Interestingly, she also found that the books were secretly read by a wide cross-section of Jamaican men. They claimed that the books gave a lot of well-needed spiritual strength, and that they were too powerful for women to read.
The “De Laurence books” were many and varied. Those that were widely read in Jamaica included "Albertus Magnus", "The Six and Seventh Book of Moses" and "The Magic Key". It is said that only the last one was actually written by Mr. De Laurence.
However, as the practice of De Laurence was illegal, the books were banned in Jamaica during colonial days. This reaction was not surprising because like obeah and other mystical phenomena, the whites always feared that this practice could be used as a weapon against them. Yet, despite the ban, it is believed that people continued to read the books secretly and integrate the information into their medical and religious practices. Many local and religious leaders were said to be among those who read the books.
Though not talked about as often these days, De Laurence was once a powerful force in the lives of local peasants. This "high science" drove fear into the hearts of many people. Perhaps this is still the case.
Source: Brief Notes on De Laurence in Jamaica by Erna Brodber in "ACIJ
Research, Review #4" (1999)