225+10

•August 24, 2016 • 3 Comments

August 14th was the 225th anniversary of Bwa Kayiman, the initial meeting and ceremony among enslaved African that began the Haitian Revolution and ultimately created the first Black republic and Black ruled country in the world. It’s still on the books as the single largest and most successful slave revolt ever undertaken. In addition, Bwa Kayiman is an actual place you can visit in Haiti—it’s in the north, about an hour and a half south of Labadie. I haven’t been there (yet) but I imagine I’ll get there some day, as it’s a pretty big pilgrimage site.

Bwa Kayiman is really important, for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the most obvious.

BwaKayimanAndreNormil

Andre Normil

1. It was the powder keg moment that began the TWELVE YEAR Haitian revolution. The story goes that, at the time, there were roughly 50,000 whites on the island as a whole (it was not yet divided, really, into Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and close to 500,000 enslaved Africans. History says that there were French who saw it coming, but colonialism is colonialism and no one wanted to touch the idea that enslaving people was a bad fucking practice that should be undone. Profits would be lost, territory surrendered, and the world could potentially end. So, no one in power did anything.

The enslaved Africans, though, had well and truly Had Enough, and probably for quite awhile. Word was put out that there was to be a gathering in the north to plan a revolt, and people showed up. Popular history said that it was led by Dutty Boukman and Cécile Fatiman, named as the houngan and manbo respectively that led the ceremony, but I think that’s misleading and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Regardless of who ran stuff, it happened. If the accounts recorded are correct, a Haitian pig was slaughtered and some lwa stepped forward for the first time—namely Ezili Danto (or, more accurately, Ezili Je Wouj/Ezili Red Eyes, Danto’s furious and bloody sister) and many of the Ogou only known in the New World. They extracted promises from the enslaved Africans present, and in return promised aid and strength for the fight to come.

The enslaved Africans said yes, the lwa said yes, and by morning the north of Haiti had started to burn. In about a week, the entire northern coast and upper third of the island was controlled. Within a year, half the island belonged to the Africans who said ‘no more’. This lasted for twelve years. A TWELVE YEAR revolution where enslaved Africans never gave up and never backed down. I don’t know about you, but there are very few things in my life that have been unending and constant for twelve years. I don’t think I have ever done anything for twelve years.

History notes the eventual success, where the French were ejected and very few white folks allowed to remain on the island, and the first nation established as a result of a successful slave rebellion. This is still celebrated today on January 1, the official day when victory was declared, and Haitians and adherents of vodou mark it sometimes with ceremony, but almost always with soup joumou, a special food linked with celebration and victory.

Bois-Caiman_24-x-36_1250 Solange Jolicoeur

Solange Jolicoeur

2. It was the moment that solidified what vodou was and made it undeniably Haitian. This is where I think it is incorrect to label Boukman and Fatiman hougan and manbo in Haitian vodou. Prior to the revolution, there were a ton of different religious practices on the island based around where the enslaved Africans were from. There wasn’t, however, a uniform practice or a common religious ‘language’ spoken. Bwa Kayiman changed that and basically set down the roots for what vodou is today. When we talk about different nasyons/nations of lwa—Rada, Petwo, Kongo, Ibo, Djouba, Nago, Wangol, Makaya, and on—we are really talking about lwa who largely came from specific regions in Africa, or Haiti. What Bwa Kayiman did was bring all that together and find a common way to speak a ceremonial ‘language’ across individual groups, families, and lineages. If I go to another sosyete that uses the asson, I have a basic understanding of what will go on and how to participate as a priest there. Even though it is a separate lineage from asson, if I walk into a peristyle that is in the tchatcha lineage, I will even understand a little bit there, too, since we also use the tchatcha in asson houses. Basically, it pulled all of these spirits and practices together and made something that could be spoken anywhere. This didn’t happen over night, of course—it took time and practice—but it was the beginning.

Further, it rooted the spirits in Haiti and made them undeniably Haitian as well. A lot of the liturgy in vodou acknowledges that we have left Africa and can never go back. In vodou, Africa has become l’Afrique Ginen, a sort of paradise-like other place where the lwa reside. We long for l’Afrique Ginen, but we are where we are and so we do what we can here. That rooting in Haiti is what says Ogou is not the same as Ogun in Orisa worship. They have the same or similar roots, but Ogou is undeniably Haitian and is very much the screaming, howling, blood-drinking voice of the Haitian revolution. It is why Ogou Shango and Sango from Yorubaland are not the same. It’s why lwa are not interchangeable with Orisa—even though many Orisa reside in our Nago rite. It’s like a permanent cultural translation that changed the spirits in a particular way. In vodou today, you can see the African influence in a variety of places, but it has been translated through a Haitian lens.

Going even one step further down the line, Bwa Kayiman is what made the enslaved Africans Haitian. In the same way that Africa is spiritually out of reach, the enslaved Africans who became Haitian came to the realization that they would never be able to go back to Africa and that it was lost to them. The island now had to be home and so they had to be something different. As a non-Haitian, I think this is why Haitian cultural identity is so strong now—there is this deep investment in being who you are no matter where you are because Haiti is the roots that grow the tree. Even in the Diaspora, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Haitian self-identify themselves as Black—they are Haitian first and Black is a designation that the US government gives them.

Nicole-Jean-Louis-Bwa-Kayiman-Haiti-1791

Nicole Jean-Louis

3. As it solidified what vodou was and was to be, it instilled revolution as a core part of vodou. Vodou is a living history of Haiti—our liturgy speaks about what happened over and over, and it brings it to the present, where Haiti is still suffering at the hands of colonialism and Haitians in Diaspora must fight white supremacy and colorism at every turn. Revolution is the drum beat underneath everything—the lwa come down screaming and crying and fighting because their children still suffer and there is still so much to do to assure the future. Vodou is a continual process of seeking balance by upsetting the table that has been set for you, and this is the legacy of Bwa Kayiman and the Haitian revolution. We all have to survive somehow, and it’s bloody out there.

This is one reason why vodou is a hard and uncomfortable religion—the bar was set with enslaved people deciding that they were tired of being abused and exploited, and so they made war. That’s the expectation—we will go to war for what we need and what is important to us, and there will be pain and suffering and casualties along the way even with the assistance and protection of our lwa. Vodou is not for the comfortable or for those who are extensively privileged. It is a religion of self-empowerment—you must get up and fight, because revolution does not happen on the proverbial couch or come with a 401K and tax refunds. When you build a foundation on revolution, the fight is in every song, every dance, every prayer, and every offering.

Ernst-Prophete-Bois-Caiman1

Ernst Prophete

4. Bwa Kayiman made vodou an undeniably political religion. This has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with the latest vomit all over the blogosphere about politics and minority religions. It sounds like a joke sometimes when it is said, but vodou really is the original Black Lives Matter movement. It places high value on those who suffer at the hands of life circumstances because of who they are, and it provides the tools to aim towards a leveling of the field…if you put in the work.

This isn’t a unique characteristic of vodou—politics are present in all world religions, and all world religions have gone to war at some point, whether it’s to protect the faith, protect the people, or simply because the divinities are engaged in pissing matches with each other and someone gets stabbed—but what seems to be unique is the embracing of the political as a natural part of the practice. The lwa are unapologetically political in nature—they have strong and decisive feelings about the world at large and know how to move in it.

Having politics be entwined with religious practice is what seems to trip up outsiders who are interested in vodou. It surprised me a bit when I first showed up, but my religion has always been political—as someone who Western society continually tries to make illegal, I can’t afford not to have my religious practice support how I move in the world. What happens most often with outsiders coming in—and it is what is happening now as people try to build movements out of separate non-cohesive practices by applying cultural concepts to a non-existent worldview—is that there is this desire to put vodou/religion in a box and take it out when necessary. This is not how it works, nor is it maintainable. The essence of Bwa Kayiman as the spark of revolution is ‘if you’re in, you’re in. If you’re out, you’re all the way out’—vodou and religion in general are infections, in the best of ways. Vodou permeates everything, all the time. There is no halfway. You can’t keep vodou/religion in a box. To try and say that politics do not belong in religion is to deny the fights that the ancestors—blood or lineage—engaged in to keep the religion alive, to deny the autonomy of the spirits and divinities to have a deep investment in how the world works and how we move in it, and to engage in the Western privilege and long-standing modern church practice of keeping religion on a shelf and out of the world. It is the whitest of white people problems, and I just can’t understand it at all.

And, since vodou is a culturally based religion made up of primarily dark-skinned folks, you have to be good with all that entails. There is no room for your racism and unexamined white privilege. There is no room for your ethnocentrism and shock and/or revulsion when ways of living are very different than what you are used to. There is no room for your offense when people will not speak English for you, or when the color of your skin is a factor in how you are treated. If you can’t lift up the lives of those who suffer and get out of your own way to do so, your time in vodou will be very, very hard.

So, today—225 years and 10 days after Ogou and Ezili Je Wouj came down screaming and soaked the ground with blood—I think about the revolution and how Bwa Kayiman lives every day in those who serve the lwa. I think about how kanzo is an indelible tie to that blood-soaked ground. I think about stamping my feet on the ground that my spiritual ancestors set on fire, and I think about the ancestors who fought to oppress those they would keep subjugation. I think about the revolution that was my kanzo, and how Ogou lit everything on fire around me to allow a new life to take root. I think about how it’s not over for me and for all my Haitian brothers and sisters. I think about their every day fight in Haiti and in the US, and I think about how it will never be over for them or for me. Mostly, though, I think about how revolution is an act of love—for my lwa, for my brothers and sisters in the religion, and for me—and what it means to be loved in such a rooted, bloody way. I wish that it was easy to translate what that really means into words, but, like vodou, it is something that happens to and with you.

If you’re in, you’re in.

I Miss Haiti: A Tiny Photoset

•August 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I looked through the very few photos I took in Haiti (I was busy…) and suddenly realized how much I miss being there. I miss the people, the drums, the early mornings, and even the Haitian Parent Loudspeaker (ask me about the Haitian Parent Loudspeaker).

So, have a few photos:

1

I had started taking photos of some of the gorgeous new art in the new Petwo peristyle/temple, and some of the kids saw the camera. Haitian kids LOVE having their picture taken, love looking at the photos you take, and love telling you who to take photos of next. In this photo is Shu-Shu, the sassiest five year old ever, Tyema, the most grown ten year old ever, Kiki, my godmother’s son, and a sweet girl who loved having her picture taken but who was too shy to tell me her name.

2

Shu-Shu, sassiest five year old ever. She was the only kid brave/sassy enough to walk in the blan’s (post-kanzo) room and play, at first. We played catch with an empty water bottle until I was tired of being a jungle gym.

3

Pictures were also needed in front of every saint in each temple. In front of Gran Bwa, we have my tiny-but-exuberant entourage, plus Zing-Zing, cutest toddler ever (and she knew it).

4

Lakou Manbo Maude. Outside of the main compound, with a family crypt, some houses in the back, and just out of frame to the left, The Tree which is the seat of Manbo Maude’s ancestral spirits and Very Important. This picture was one pf few times I was allowed to set foot outside the main compound unaccompanied. Might have been the only time, actually.

Funny Thing.

•August 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There has been this interesting phenomenon since I have gotten back from Haiti. To be truthful, there has been a LOT of interesting phenomenon, but this one makes me tilt my head and squint a little bit.

Apparently, me going into the djevo and coming out the other side means I am no longer a polytheist and have no connections to any other divinities and the other parts of my spiritual practice have been chucked in the garbage.

This is a huge assumption to make (and we know what we say about assumptions) and it’s a terribly incorrect one. My other spirits and my gods did not sign off and crawl into a hole, and I did not give them all the grand middle finger. Some of them showed up before kanzo to remind me of my obligations (looking at you, Kemetics) and some showed up for me while I was in the djevo, since I brought all my non-vodou spirits and gods with me as the whole human being that I am.

It’s true that things are quiet with many of my other divinities, but that is largely because I am spiritually quarantined right now and also because I just did a month of having me head spiritually blown open and I need a damn nap. The lwa do not give one damn that I have outside commitments, contracts, relationships, and responsibilities, provided I hold up my end of our bargain. They are endlessly pragmatic and modern, so I do not get shut in box and locked up.

I find it super interesting that it’s not vodouizan that are getting twisted over this, it’s pagans and polytheists. Largely, pagans and polytheists generally rip off a whole lot of shit from vodou and other Diasporic and Traditional religions, but fail to have any understanding of how it works out in the world. Your beliefs and divinities may be exclusive and vaguely monotheistic in bent, but mine are not (despite being a priest in a monotheistic religion). Because I do not buy in to the latest round of Polytheist Charades does not mean my core religious beliefs have changed.

Liminality and Waiting

•August 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I am doing no better with reintegration into ‘civilian’ life than I was a few days ago. I feel very unsettled in a very unsurprising way–I feel like all my insides have been shuffled and yanked out and rearranged and shoved back in, which they were–and it is hard to find equilibrium. I am exhausted most of the time and am having trouble being around unexpected people, which is Complicated because I am, for all intents and purposes, homeless and living on the generosity of friends who are hosting me. I don’t have my own space so it’s hard to shut the proverbial gate.

I’m not working at the moment (but am actively looking) and despite literally having less than a dollar to my name, I am grateful that I have this time to settle. I’m not sure what it would be like to work right now, especially since I have not yet ventured out of my whites and am tying my head now and then even when I am indoors.

The last few months have all been about liminality. The fucking death march that was the trip down to Haiti–over 24 hours in airports and no sleep for 48 hours–was about liminality. I basically abandoned my life and moved on, and sort of hung in the balance for a very stressful full days.

Kanzo was a liminal space. Once I entered the djevo, I died and went under the water for nine days.

Coming out of the djevo didn’t end that, it just changed the parameters. I am no longer dead, but I still hang in the balance until my quarantine period is over. I am feeling every bit of it, too. My main jobs at the moment are to firstly protect my head and, as a distant second, find some work. It is exquisitely hard to write cover letters when all you want to do is lay on the floor and stare at things. I feel so foggy so much of the time.

In some ways, this is sort of a reflection of my entire life. Liminality should be my middle name–I’ve never really had two feet anywhere at any given time, and I’m not even sure I do now. One foot here, one foot in Ginen. But my kanzo experience and my quarantine experience is sort of a giant ball of ‘This Is Your Life’. Every single part of who I am, from my gender to my professional aspirations to the spirits who have made themselves significant parts of my life, is about liminality and boundary bending in some way. My brain doesn’t know what to do with that yet.
I have a lot to do and a lot to think about. I need to start writing about Haiti and things that happened so I don’t lose them, or lose how they felt. It still doesn’t feel real, though, and if I didn’t have a pot tet staring me in the face alongside an array of govi and paket kongo I’d probably think I dreamed it all up.

Beginning at the End

•August 6, 2016 • 2 Comments

I have been back in the US for three days and, if I am completely honest, I hate it. I don’t necessarily want to be back in Haiti, but things were monumentally easier there. It was easier to maintain the sort of headspace that I need there and easier to explain my desire to sit in a chair and stare out at the world.

I have physically been out of the djevo for just about two weeks, and, as a result, about two weeks into what my manmi calls my quarantine period. Immediately post-kanzo is a tenuous time, and so we have a lot of restrictions that keep us safe until we are a bit more stable. There are things I cannot eat, behaviors I cannot engage in, times of day/night that I cannot be out during, and even the way I sleep is pretty drastically altered for the moment.

I didn’t think much about what the post-kanzo period would be like. I figured life would go on and I would feel relatively normal, but boy was I wrong. I feel anything but what used to be normal because I am no longer the person I was pre-kanzo. A lot of things have shifted on the inside and I am not used to it yet. I was very protected in Haiti, and here I am largely on my own. I told my godfather the other night that I feel as if I am made of porcelain, and that’s very true. Everything feels like it could crush me, and some things could if I am not careful.

I am tired a lot and spend a lot of time doing nothing. My godfather cautions me not to do too much or get too tired, and I feel grateful that my quarantine period is enforced downtime. I can’t imagine jumping back into life as usual right away. Of course, I have no idea what life as usual means anymore because the person who went into the djevo is not the person who came out.

Kanzo is both an ending and a beginning. It is a death in a very real sense–who I was before died in the djevo and a new person walked out. It’s like a huge restart button was pushed and the door firmly closed on who and what I was beforehand. There’s no going back. It all tastes like ash.

Significantly, I have very much shut the door on a female identity. I was baptized as an oungan, a male priest, and a large piece of my kanzo was literally purging female-ness from who I am. Significantly, I got my period in the djevo and was almost a week early with it, which never ever happens to me–I am always late. As I prepared to go into the djevo, I chatted with priests in my sosyete about my worry about menstruating while I was inside. A good friend and manbo noted that menstruation is a purging of sorts, and that perhaps I needed to purge things related to my gender. Certainly plenty of men menstruate, but there is no denying the significance for me in that context. I think my friend was right.

And here I am. I have a new name, a new identity, a new course in life (though I don’t yet know what it is), a new family, new responsibilities, and a new self to figure out. I have a LOT to process and write about, and I have a life to build back up. I am currently jobless and homeless (staying with generous friends), and I am largely a blank slate. I showed up in Haiti with nothing to call my own except a few boxes in storage and my spirits and divinities. I have a little more now, but I have a ton of work to do. I got lifted out of a hole and It’s my responsibility not to dig myself back in.
Of all the things I have gained from kanzo so far, the first and foremost has been an incredible sense of gratitude for how the last month has unfolded. I didn’t think I would make it, but I did.

TOOLBOX TUESDAY: Sweet Dreams Oil

•April 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As I prepare for kanzo, I have re-opened my tiny esoteric business to help me along the way. I’ve been selling privately for awhile, and am now offering products regularly at my Etsy page, via my Tumblr, and on Facebook. Toolbox Tuesday will feature one of my handmade products each week, with notes about use and how it works. 

SweetDreams

King’s Conjure & Curio Sweet Dreams Oil, 2016

I like this oil a lot, quite honestly, but that’s easy to say about any of my oils because they are mine, after all. It’s got a great fragrance that is assertive without being overbearing, and I love how the oil looks when bottled with the various botanicals it contains, all suitable for incubating dreams and increasing dream clarity.

What I like most of all, though, is that it works. It REALLY works. In fact, I was a bit surprised at how well it works. It is a cool, non-aggressive oil but, it has got a depth of power in it that I haven’t experienced in other dream or psychic vision related oils. I’ve tried a bunch of them over the years and always got fair-to-middling results–I would dream, but it wouldn’t have the oomph I really wanted it to. Details might be a little bit fuzzy, or I would remember the dream in snippets that didn’t make sense without a larger context. Dreaming is the primary way I speak with my divinities both inside and outside of vodou, and so it’s important to me that my dreams are fostered and given as much backstage support as possible.

For me, having dream support sort of lifts the veil on my sleep, which provides the clarity and depth of vision I want. That in turn allows me to dream with my lwa and other spirits unbothered by the intrusion of whatever parts of me are restless when I sleep.

When I was filling bottles with Sweet Dreams Oil, I accidentally got some on my hands. Since it’s not an oil I worry about being contaminated by, I just rubbed it into my (bald) head and thought nothing of it. That night, I had the most in-depth, vivid dream that I have experienced in at least the last month. It gave me a lot of details on a situation that I need to act on, and showed me the solution. That alone tempts me to use it every night, but I found that I didn’t need to–I ended up having super vivid dreams all this past week, without another application.

Manbo Mary bought a bottle and I got to watch her open it. She had a sniff, declared it lovely, and then used it later that night. The next day she wrote me a review, saying:

“I bought a Sweet Dreams oil from Alex and immediately I noticed the high quality scent and herbs. When I dabbed some on my temples and throat that evening, I had some very vivid dreams that made a lot of spiritual sense to me. I’m very pleased with the results I got from Alex’s oils and highly recommend them.”

Unsurprisingly, Manbo Mary has shared that she’s been having vivid dreams going forward from when she used it. Very happy about this positive experience.

I apply it directly to my skin, but it could also be used to dress candles burned to enhance dreams and dreamwork, added to a sachet for under your pillow, used in a bath, or perhaps lightly applied to a personal talisman that you keep close when you sleep.

If you’re looking to have deeper and more detailed dreams to gain insight into spiritual or religious practices and perhaps encounter your divine figures, it’s worth giving my Sweet Dreams Oil a shot, available at my Etsy shop, King’s Conjure & Curio, through the King’s Conjure & Curio Facebook (and like my page!), or message me here.

Every Tuesday, I’ll feature another product and it’s uses. All proceeds from sales right now go to my kanzo fund!

In a Dantò frame of mind.

•March 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have been rolling around the idea of writing about Ezili Dantò  for quite awhile, but I’ve hesitated over and over for reasons that seem like a bit of a cop-out, honestly. Dantò is often a quiet spirit for me, but she lives in the pieces of my heart that are the softest, the most bruised and full of pain, and the most distrustful and skittish. After learning that she was indeed one of the spirits who had decided to take up residence in my life, I avoided the hell out of her (and every other female-presenting lwa who showed an interest) for as long as I could but no lwa and especially no Ezili will put up with being ignored for too long.

I have deep-seated issues with femininity in all it’s forms for reasons I haven’t quite been able to sort out. I appreciate it in others and value the important part it plays in many people’s lives, but when it becomes intimately involved in my life? NOPE, not interested. There’s this level of discomfort and dis-ease that makes me want to take my skin off with a cheese grater to feel better. It reduces me to this level of vulnerability that is really, really uncomfortable, and especially when that femininity is embodied in someone who is being nice to me, or maternal, or comforting, or gentle. I act like a kicked dog and hide in the corner and can’t even be coaxed out with the tastiest treat. Throw me in a room with Ogou screaming and howling and vomiting blood and beating everything within reach with his machete and I will be fine. Put me in a room with Dantò just standing there and smiling and I will claw my way up the wall trying to get away from her, leaving my fingernails in the plaster as a sign of my struggle. I deal about as well with upset/angry/irritated women, too. Part of my avoidance of Dantò and all my other female lwa was that I didn’t want to deal with any sort of mother-y aspects, but I damn sure didn’t want to deal with any raging female spirits, either.

However, I am not entirely without common sense and self preservation. When Dantò and other female Lwa showed up, I kept my distance but got them some of the things they desired and set them on my altar and prayed that they would just leave me alone because GOD this would be easier if I didn’t have to open the Pandora’s box of my issues with women. That lasted about as long as it took me to form the thought, though.

Dantò has always been the hardest for me to pin down because she has never been what I expected. Lasiren came as her beautiful, shapeshift-y, mermaid self and threw me into this laughing, joyful ecstasy that fills me with energy and the pounding of the drums. Freda showed up, looked me up and down, and judged me worth her time in some way before ensconcing herself as the head diva in my homo-tastic bachelor pad. Dantò, though, was difficult.

I expected Petwo Dantò, the woman betrayed by her sister and/or the revolution who is filled with raging grief and fire, or I expected Ge Wouj, Dantò’s sister and similarly strong-tempered woman who was all business and was not about to put up with any of your shit. I braced myself for that incoming siklòn/whirlwind, but it never came. I waited and sort of eyeballed her and reached out for the space where I thought I would find her, but nothing was there. I counted myself lucky and went about my business.

My health took a turn for the seriously fucked-up right before Fet Damballah last year, and I was in a really bad way. I was having trouble walking or standing for very long and was at the end of my proverbial rope trying to work 50+ hours per week and keep up with my religious duties. One night in a fit of exhaustion, I asked my lwa if my health would improve if I were to kanzo. I didn’t say I would and I didn’t say I wanted to, but I was basically asking for options. As a result, I was sent on a LSD-worthy dream sequence that answered the question but also introduced me to my Dantò. When I related the dream to my manmi at the urging of HM, who ordered me to write down every detail of the dream so I remembered it all, I told her about a woman I met after I had seen some things on my whirlwind dream excursion to Haiti.

I found myself naked in a shower with this woman who I had never seen before and it was immediately awkward. I am not so big on being naked around people I don’t know, never mind showering with them, and I was mindful that I was in Haiti in someone else’s house…naked in a shower. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever been in proximity to, with long dark hair that stretched past her hips and some of the darkest skin I had ever seen. She was young and gorgeous and smiled at me when I started to make excuses about why I needed not to be naked in a shower with her. She wouldn’t let me leave and instead gathered me in her arms under the cool water, put my head on her shoulder, and her voice was in my head telling me everything was going to be okay.

When vodouisants talk about dreams, we get bluntly specific with details. What was the person wearing? Were they light-skinned or dark-skinned? How dark-skinned? Darker than <person>? Darker than coffee? Was their hair natural or straight? Did their lips move when they spoke? Did they smile or cry? What was going on when you saw them? Did you smell anything? Was it sexual or platonic? I went through all those details with a very attentive manmi who smiled and exchanged knowing glances with her other children present as we dissected my dream.

I had met my Dantò, or at least the Dantò that was most interested in me in the moment. I learned a lot of things that night, but I also learned that there is a Rada Dantò, and she comes as a young, beautiful, dark-skinned woman, often with long, flowing hair. She is Dantò before she was betrayed and before grief and anger and regret became such a well-known part of her. She is not without those things—she knows what happens to her, has seen it, and embodies this undercurrent of sadness—but they are different in her, at least in how I know her. For me, she shows that you can hold grief without it consuming you, that your heart can be hurt and fractured and torn to pieces but that you are not broken, that vulnerability is not always to be exploited but to be nurtured and held and cared for. This Dantò knows she is going to hurt and that the betrayals she suffers are inevitable, but she knows she will survive and come out the other side as an older Dantò with a different sort of wisdom. My Dantò holds the space for me to hurt, from feeling small and vulnerable to sobbing on the floor with a broken heart. She isn’t cruel, but she doesn’t let me turn away from the bits of my heart that rot like a cancer.

This Dantò carries a blade, though, and that is my reminder not to underestimate her and to know that her smile can turn to tears in half a minute and that her knife can still find my heart. She asks me for a blade that she can hide easily—a boot knife or a knife that could be hidden easily in the waist or bodice of her dress (if she chose to wear one—the lady shows up for me all Lady Godiva-like and just covered with her hair)—and it’s not for decoration. She is the embodiment of what is to come, which means potential sings in her skin and that there is only a moment between her and what came for her when her tongue was snatched and her face slashed.

I adore her beyond measure, she who is the mother of the secret places in my heart and who sees me as I am with no preconceptions or prerequisites. She asks hard things, but gives cool water and reassurances in return to the skittish kid who side-eyes her from across the room and only begins to trust when he can see both hands.

Ezili o, ke ou vre..

 
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