The Prophet Omega
Friends seen and unseen, people ridin’ along in your automobile, people that are sittin’ at the table I greet you with the holy word Peace.
– The Prophet Omega
In the 1970’s an obscure folk preacher calling himself the Prophet Omega had a weekly radio show on a Nashville, Tennessee A.M. station. His real name was Omega Townsend. He was born in 1927, did some time in the U.S. Army, fought in Korea, and then worked as a carnival man before taking up preaching. Charismatic and charming, he must have learned a lot about people while working in the carnival world. As a preacher, he understood the common man’s deepest anxieties and hopes. He ran a small church out of his apartment, where people regularly came for counseling, advice, healing and divination. Prophet Omega lived a very successful life in his community, and was loved by all until his death in 1992.
The Prophet Omega might have lived and died in obscurity, except that some musicians traveling through Nashville on tour buses started to listen to, and record, his sermons. Omega died without every knowing that he was internationally famous, adored by some of the biggest names in the music industry. He would never know his sermons had been embedded in the recordings of such artists as Melissa Etheridge and Adrian Belew.
Al Kooper (Blood Sweat & Tears) – I think of it as folk art, I really do. Somebody, documents it in some way, shape, or form and then it gets passed around. It just becomes. . . an icon.
Col. Bruce Hampton (Aquarium Rescue Unit) – To me it’s Howlin’ Wolf, it’s Muddy Waters, it’s the same message. And I never even paid attention to the fact that he’s black, or white, or green, or anything. . . he’s one of the great blues singers of all time, is how I see him.
Billy Bob Thornton – You meet people, if they’ve heard Prophet Omega, and they say, “Oh, really? So you know, too,” and you’re like, “Yeah.”
Rev. Jeff Mosier (Blueground Undergrass) – He represents the old style, almost blues-singing style preaching, that came, I think, out of some very dark times in this country.
I discovered the Prophet Omega on Adrian Belew’s Young Lions album, but Conrad Praetzel does a great trance track on his album Receive you can listen to here:
Some of the Prophet Omega’s philosophy:
God Is Greater Than Adversity
If you trust in Him and never doubt, He will get you out.
God don’t like nothing dead.
He can see a black ant on a black rock on a black night.
No problem is too big or too small, for He can do ‘em all, He is on top of it all.
And down there in New Orleans that got those people they call the two-headed folks, and I went down there with one head, amen, and I said I’m better than all these heads and I’m gonna bring ’em Jesus Christ, and God works in mysterious ways, and all those creole folks and hoodoos come knockin’ at my door sayin’ give us some of your spirit, and I said it’s God’s spirit.
For I was healed at the age of 16, and I was healed by a woman. Preacher walked in my room, amen, and turned their nose up on me. There was a woman came in my room, and she prayed for me, and I was healed that instant I was healed that day, and I got up the next mornin’ and I told my momma to fix me a certain amount a food, and I hadn’t been eatin’ nuthin but soup. You tell me God can’t heal ya you tell me God can’t bless ya?
Some a ya’ll listen to me right now: ya have swollen legs, low blood, high blood, stomachache, headache, confused in mind, you tried ever’thing and nuthin did you no good.
For spiritual healin’, whether it’s crossed up conditions, unnatural feelin’, think somebody did somethin’ to ya, and ya tried doctors and they can’t do it no good, then call up Prophet Omega, cuz I pray for those that got swollen feet, swollen legs, swollen ankles.
Some of ya’ll sittin’ around right now say if you had a necktie on, right now, a whirlwind would come along and choke ya’ll to death, that’s how much a bad luck some a ya’ll is. Some ya’ll in such a bad luck right now, amen, ya say ya couldn’t hit a barn with a basball bat. Some a ya’ll in such a bad luck right now, amen, if ya was sittin’ down by a pond, amen, somethin’ would come up and stick ya, ya just in that bad a luck. Some a ya in such a bad luck right now, amen, ya always one over or one under and never right.
A Bridge Between Two Worlds
The Greek letter Omega resembles a stylized bridge. In many ways, the Prophet Omega was a bridge between worlds. A voice in the night, his true identity never known until after his death, he brought the thoughts and dreams of the everyday man to the ear of the rich and famous. In another way, he was a bridge between conventional religion and folk magic. As a former carnival man, he must have spent years developing a deep understanding of the needs people had to solve their problems on a here and now level, to have some control over their lives.
Mainstream pastors in Nashville frowned on Omega’s carnie-like appeal and his faith healing tactics. But the Prophet Omega made it very clear he was not, himself, a “conjure man” but actually in opposition to such people. His references to “swollen legs” and “thinking somebody did somethin’ to ya” are references to cursing spells of the hoodoo folk magic tradition. “Conjurers,” also known as “root-workers” or “cunyuns” or the “two-headed” folk are hoodoo practitioners. For spell-casting among rural whites and African-Americans in the South, hoodoo is a common practice. And so the Prophet Omega was a bridge: if you weren’t sure the traditional church was really going to help you with your everyday problems, but hoodoo was too frightening or disreputable for a church-going Christian, Omega was the perfect middle-ground alternative.
The Prophet Omega was aware, I think, that he was a bridge, when he addressed his audience as “Friends Seen and Unseen.” He probably meant he knew he had listeners on the radio he would never meet in person, but the phrase has a mystical quality to it, as if he also thought he was a bridge between the spirit and the human world, and even the angels were his friends.
References: Quotes and biographical information come from the excellent 30 min. DVD documentary on the Prophet Omega by Demetria Kalodimos and a CD of Prophet Omega sermons, both of which you can buy at her website here: