Fet Gede 2015 and Transformation

•November 27, 2015 • 1 Comment

This past Saturday was Fet Gede at my Manmi’s house and, for me, it marked a year since things started moving at the speed of HOLY SHIT for me with the Lwa. I’d previously been kicking around and getting very good at being a bystander while pointedly ignoring the fact that the Lwa were knocking on my door pretty loud. I really believed that I was just sort of supposed to observe and learn what I could without making any sort of solid commitment, and I was quite happy with that–I have never been a big joiner and after about eight years of being sort of a lone wolf in my spiritual practices, I was content to maintain that and tie myself only to myself.

That got blown to tiny bits at Fet Gede last year. Agwe came down and asked me for maryaj and washed me and my Manmi’s hands together, which sort of sealed me as a responsibility of Manmi’s and put the weight on me to listen to her and get to work already. That wasn’t enough, though, and Gede came down and sort of read me out for not doing what had been made clear to me. It was a very gentle and congenial chastisement, for which I was and am grateful, but I got the message. If I wasn’t right with Gede, I wasn’t going to be right with an other Lwa–He would shut the door and I would be D-O-N-E until I appeased Him. I really try not to be told more than once, so that was the boney foot in my ass I needed and I started doing what I was supposed to.

I stopped avoiding the Lwa and went for the leson/reading with Manmi that I had been avoiding for over a year. I’ve sat for a lot of divination before, but never with someone who can read like she does–she pulled out stuff that I had not said aloud to anyone, and then she started on my Lwa. I can’t really describe the creeping sort of horror that I felt when she started chuckling–this tiny, terrifying [in the best of ways] Haitian woman looking at her cards that I had no idea how to read and laughing is about the most horrifying thing ever, because I know what it means when I start to giggle when I read for people–it means shit is about to get real in a totally unavoidable manner. She started off with ‘I don’t know how you don’t know this already, but…’ and the rock just started to roll downhill from there. I left with a list of Lwa and a head full of things that were about to change, and wouldn’t you know that every single thing she said has come to pass in the last year, down the most ridiculously specific detail. It’s scary, really, and it not only burns away any doubt that This Stuff Is For Real, but it solidifies that my Manmi is not to be trifled with–she sees clearer than anyone else I have ever met, and I don’t want to mess with that. I joke sometimes that she could go to war with a bottle of Barbancourt and her asson and be just fine, but it’s not really a joke.

After sitting on it for a bit and having the Lwa tell me over and over that I was behind in what They wanted me to be doing, I said yes to maryaj and things changed. The Lwa started coming around a lot more and it was exhausting–for a solid month, I was not really sleeping for two nights a week. Instead, I was off cavorting with the Lwa while my eyes were closed. When I was around the drums or the asson, my whole head seemed to throb and it was like the air was rippling around me with the reverberations. It still feels like that, but I think maybe I have adjusted to it since it doesn’t leave me feeling like I want to fall over all the time. The Lwa danced in my head a little and Agwe and Damballah became my miracles in that They took away the majority of my chronic pain.

Then, They shook my world up again and told me that They wanted me to kanzo, which was something I decidedly DID NOT WANT to do. I have this pattern that when a divinity drops a big life change in my lap, I tailspin with it for a minute, and having my Lwa demand kanzo really pushed the limits of my ability to function in that tailspin. I fell apart for a good long while because, while I don’t know all the specifics, kanzo is a permanent and far reaching life change that I would never be able to go back on or undo. I also knew that I was sort of backed into a corner, in a really unintentional way. The Lwa weren’t trying to make me miserable, but I was really in a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation because my situation was [and is] pretty dire–it was made clear that kanzo is needed to save my life and saying know would have pretty awful consequences since I would not have the Lwa to protect me and to mitigate what was coming for me. In some ways, the Lwa were the intervention of last resort in that kanzo was the best, fastest, and most complete way to ensure that I would be safe and protected.

As luck[?] would have it, I had the entire summer to mope around and be fatalistic. I go told that I needed kanzo at the end of May and fairly soon after, Manmi left for Haiti for the summer which left her out of reach for me. So, I moped and cried a lot and wrung my hands and went to my other divinities to ask Them what They thought.

Unsurprisingly, every single one of Them said this was the best possible choice I could make. Eshu noted that it wasn’t the only choice–there were other ways to achieve the same results, but they would be more invasive and ‘creative’, which is not something I want to entertain from Him–but that it was the one choice that could protect me the best and leave Him able to still aid me and protect me Himself. It would, however, undeniably and unavoidably change the make-up of my spiritual landscape, and I spent a lot of the summer mourning that and trying to figure out if what changes I could see–versus all the changes that were going to happen–were at least tolerable. What I can see is better than what would happen if I said no, but it still is not lovely and sunshine and rainbows.

When Manmi came back from Haiti, she and I had a long talk and I told her the cold, hard, unpleasant truth: I really didn’t have a burning desire to kanzo and it would never have been something I would have chosen for myself. I never would have gone to her of my own accord and asked to go through the djevo because I really didn’t want to be a priest. I know plenty of priests in initiatory religions and I am a pastor’s kid, so I have a passing familiarity with what it means to be clergy in an established religion and I have wanted no part of that at ALL. It’s one thing to do priestwork for the NTR, which is basically me on my lonesome in my house and doing undercover work for Sekhmet when She asks, but it’s a whole other prospect to tie oneself to a community that has a steep learning curve and high expectations.

That has been the crux of the matter for me–I don’t really love the idea of binding myself to people and community. I am fine with having responsibilities to the Unseen–I’ve been doing that for a long time–but essentially being grafted into a large tree of lineage? NOPE.

Except. Except. Except.

The exception is that I knew–despite my general unhappiness–that I was placed in the right community, with the right community of priests. I know that more than I know anything. The Lwa said it over and over–you need to be here in this house, those other places you are going won’t help you–and I felt it in my bones. I knew/know that this particular community can give me the tools to have a better life, which is what keeps me chugging when I want to burn it all down and run screaming for the hills. I knew that I would come out on the other better than when I went in. I knew that this is the door to a better life and all that comes with it.

Before I went to see Manmi, I told my not-Lwa divinities that I was going to say yes, with one important clause–that if she said she would only make me as a manbo, I was out and that I would walk without any reservations.

She didn’t say that, of course, because I am in the right place at the right time with the right priests. I told her that I could not go through with it if I was made a manbo, she asked me why, and I told her, and she just shrugged and said ‘then I’ll make you a houngan’. I expected to have way more issues with trans things, but I haven’t–someone sat with her and explained it in a way that she understood, and there’s never, ever been an issue. She occasionally asks questions, and I answer them and we get on with things. Haiti doesn’t have the medical infrastructure to support any sort of trans healthcare, and there isn’t really a trans community down there, so it’s been a learning experience for both of us.

I asked her three different times if she would make me a houngan before I made a decision, and each time she said yes. Each time she said she didn’t care what other people would say. Each time she didn’t look away when I asked her, and each time she didn’t try to gloss over the subject or change the direction of the conversation. So, I stopped asking and said yes, since there was no longer a reason for me to say no or delay otherwise.

I said yes three times–once to her in conversation, once in front of my altar to all my Lwa, and once in her temple in front of the host of Lwa that the sosyete serves. I reminded Them all of the promise Kouzen made me–that if I said yes, the money would come–and told Them that I would hard wherever They put me to do my part, but that They needed to do Theirs. Not three weeks after that, I got a job offer for a dream job that I would never have been able to land if not for Their assistance and care.

I was super positive and joyful going into Fet Gede this year, after all of that, because I knew I was doing what They wanted and what would best benefit me, and because They had blessed me so much and I couldn’t wait to tell Them thank you. That, and Gede will always have a special place in my heart and my life. He has been with me a long time, kicked my ass when I was being lazy, and is always the one who makes me laugh when things are hard and who takes away the pain on my heart when I feel like crumbling.

Gede made sure I worked to get there–all of my transportation plans leading up to the fet basically fell apart and I was running to make sure I actually got there. It was hard to want to go for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with Gede or the sosyete, but I knew once I got to Manmi’s house, I would be fine..and I was. One of the big gifts that vodou has given me is a sense of belonging and family. I don’t have a very good relationship with my family of origin and I don’t have a lot of spaces where all parts of me are welcome, but Manmi and all the members of the sosyete have answered that need. In some ways, it’s deeply uncomfortable–growing up in chaos and dysfunction has left me notably deficient in knowing how to deal with people liking me without expecting to be compensated for their emotional affection–but it’s good.

I realized about halfway through the fet–which was lovely–that my whole orientation to them had changed. Before, I would be excited to go the fets to see my Lwa and, while that still excites me somewhat, it’s no longer the focus or primary goal. I have other ways to access my Lwa on my own without needing Them to come down during a party. It’s super convenient when They do, as it’s a very easy way to conduct business, get immediate feedback, and look Them in the eye while They are embodied [can’t put a price tag on that], but that is just not as important to me anymore. I wanted to be there to make sure that Gede had the best party possible, that the Lwa who came down where happy, and to help out Manmi and others so they didn’t have to do so much work. One of the great things about being a layperson is that I can do all the little things that take the attention of the priests away from the heavy lifting that I can’t do. I can set up chairs and sweep and do laundry and iron moushwas/scarves and bring plates of food down to be set on the altars and answer the door and run errands, and that means that Manmi can rest and relax before the fet and that her initiated children can do all the things I can’t. I realized that this was very, very important to me and I really enjoyed making that possible. Hilariously, if all goes well, time is ticking on the ‘I am just a layperson’ category of existence.

When Ogou came down, I got up the nerve [driven by ‘I am not content to be nervous any longer] to go greet Him and ask for His help in getting to Haiti for kanzo. He, in turn, wasn’t interested in talking about that and told me to talk to Gede about it. It was sort of amusing in a very sardonic way–Ogou Feray terrifies me because He comes down so strong and hard and loud and, at times, violently in Manmi’s house and just intimidates the hell out of me–and the first time I manage to push myself to the front and demand that He pay attention to me, He’s not interested in discussing the matter at hand. But, I did it and I know I will be less nervous to do it again in the future.

Feray perfectly illustrated why He intimidates the hell out of me, though. He put three generations of a family that were at the fet on their knees and laid into them for something they had done that upset Him greatly. Almost half an hour of Him practically foaming at the mouth and laying into them with words and machete [they each got a literal spanking from Him with His blade, which is always about sending a message and not actually physically hurting anyone] and humiliating them for their serious, serious transgression. I like to think I know better than to do things that displease Ogou, but I stood there and thanked all my divinities that I have not yet done anything to warrant that sort of response, though I am sure I will disappoint Him someday.

The worst part was that when He was done reading them out, He was inconsolably upset–screaming and sobbing and crying–because He was so hurt that they had done wrong by Him. He comes down in a huge bluster, but Feray is really quite sensitive and His feelings get hurt really easily when people do not live up to what He believes is in their best interest. There is nothing quite so heartbreaking is watching Him sob and cry until He has to be held up because He is so torn up inside.

Gede came not too long after, and it was fun to watch Him enjoy Himself. When He was done dancing, He went up into Manmi’s house to speak with people privately and I got a few seconds to speak with Him. It’s not a fet for me until I cry, so I found myself in tears while speaking with Him. I asked Him to help me get to Haiti because I really want to go and want to keep my promise, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get the money together. He listened to me intently and like my sadness made Him sad, but just said ‘okay’.

After that, I went and was teary in a corner–can’t stop the waterworks once they start–and He ended up calling me back over to tell me to go light a candle and talk to Him. So, I went and hid in the backroom of the temple and basically laid every single thing that was bothering me on Him, from worrying about getting the money together for kanzo to the fact that it has been getting progressively harder to ignore the dysphoria that has really reared it’s ugly head in the last six months. He did what He always does for me–He listened intently and then swept away a lot of the pain I was carrying at the moment.

I have no idea where the money for kanzo is going to come from, but I know Gede keeps His agreements and that His ‘okay’ carries a lot of weight. It doesn’t take away the stress, but it means that He is paying attention and that it will come together somehow if I put in work. Amusingly, not long after He and I talked, a friend told me that she would like to pay for my passport, completely unprompted by me. I’ve never had a passport and, while it is not enormously expensive, it is Just One More Thing and having the cost knocked off my list is nice. It’s a reminder that Gede is smoothing my way. Small things add up to big things.

Sometimes it gets buried in all my stress and worries about managing logistics of getting to Haiti, relocating to be closer to my new job and Manmi, and life in general, but I am so deeply grateful and appreciative to how the Lwa have helped to transform my life in the last year. I really do live a life beyond compare–They have essentially given me everything I have ever wanted or desired and have loved me and put up with me when I am an utter pain in the ass, and I can never thank Them [and my other divinities..] enough. I absolutely believe I would be on my way to being dead right now had They not seen fit to step in and aid me, even when I didn’t know I wanted or needed the help. I had really no conception of how much I was hurting emotionally until They started rearranging the proverbial furniture. They placed a huge choice in front of me–stay the way you are or get up and fight–and I figured out how to get up and fight. I don’t believe I am that strong–especially compared to Them–but, in the last year, I have learned how I can be strong and how, when I behave in ways that support that, They back me up and lend Their strength to my work to help me achieve my goals.

I love and am loved, and am blessed beyond compare. May I continue to earn what They have entrusted me with and laid at my feet, and may I always remember that there is nothing that I cannot do when my divinities have my back.

Welcome Aboard

•September 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I finally got to see Manmi after she got back from spending most of the summer in Haiti. She’s been back since early August, but I figured she was going to be bombarded by everyone who couldn’t reach her while she was out of the country so I waited a few weeks to call her. I wasn’t wrong—she told me that she was getting phone calls the day after she landed asking about when kanzo would be in 2016 [she just finished 2015..] and asking for all the things people have needed while she was away. Before she left, I told my Lwa that anything that wasn’t an emergency would need to wait until she got back and was available, and that’s part of the reason why the summer was quiet. I had a week of intense dreams prior to her leaving, and the day I knew she was back in the country I started dreaming with the Lwa again. What was I dreaming? Seeing Manmi, talking to Manmi, and then seeing Manmi some more. It got to the point where I would wake up from one of these dreams and tell my ceiling that I would be calling her as soon as I was able and seeing her as soon as she was available.

That was this weekend, so I got in my car and headed off to see her after way too long. It was nice to catch up without there being the impending pressure of something to do right away to appease my spirits because they were kicking my door in.

We talked about a lot of things, but mostly kanzo and what that might mean for me. I was pretty straight with her about where I have been at with the Lwa repeatedly beating me over the head for the last six months that they want me to go to Haiti and go into the djevo—I am not thrilled about this request/demand and it is nothing that I would have gone to her asking for just because. Interestingly enough, she related that she had basically had the same experience and reaction as I have to being told I need to kanzo—she was told that she needed to do maryaj, and she did, but the Lwa told her during her maryaj ceremony that she must kanzo. She says she cried for days because, like me, she thought doing maryaj was going to take care of what needed taking care of. It was nice to know that I am not the only one who reacted like a cat being thrown into a bathtub when the spirits said they wanted kanzo. I appreciate that my Lwa didn’t tell me while I was marrying them, as I doubt my reaction would have been anything less than violent.

We talked a lot about what kanzo means in the immediate moment leading up to and while doing it, as well as what happens from then on. It is a lot less restrictive at first blush than I thought it would be [though forty fucking days of sleeping on the floor is..unpleasant], but I absolutely know I am not getting the full picture right now. We talked a lot about what I have been chewing on all summer and how that the decision for me to do kanzo was the right one and that it was the decision I was going to make.

Saying yes doesn’t take away any of the fear and reservations I have—if anything, it increases them—but I know without a doubt that it is the best possible decision and best possible outcome I can hope for right now. I told her this, and told her that part of my thought process is that I can hem and haw forever, since I am really quite good at putting off big decisions, but it won’t change the situation and the Lwa won’t magically say that I don’t have to do it anymore. I know that if there was a better option or one that was less invasive, it would have been presented to me at some point. Delaying and delaying and delaying will only make me suffer and possibly irritate them, so it doesn’t make sense to keep putting things off and especially if I need to do it soon.

Before going in to see Manmi, I sat with all my divinities and said the same prayer over and over to each one—that, unless they gave me a really clear omen to the contrary or Manmi dropped a piece of information that felt really off, it was my intention to say yes to kanzo the following day and that they had one night to intervene with omens or dreams if I was heading in the wrong direction or otherwise needed to do more work on discerning if this was the right thing. I got a pretty clear omen almost immediately from one of my divinities—a dedicated novena candle that sits on a particular altar burned hot enough for the wax on the side closest to me to collapse in on itself to basically make a big window/hole between me and the divinity in question. That combined with the sparks that came off the wick and flame gave me what I am interpreting as a very positive omen. No dreams [or no dreams of note—dreaming about Tom Hardy doesn’t count], so there was no reason for me to say no.

So, yes.

We talked about how far I would go and what would make the most sense. A significant amount of the decision about what I will initiate to—hounsi/house member, si pwen/priest who has the asson but cannot confer it, or asogwe/priest who has all liberties and can confer the asson—lays at my feet, as dictated by my own desires and needs. Being a child of a clergy member and having too many friends to count who are priests has given me a lot of insight on what it means to be a priest, and I largely want no part of that. I have no desire for a lineage of my own or to have the responsibilities that Manmi has and, once again, would never have sought this out of my own accord. I know I need the asson, though, and that leaves me with si pwen. Manmi was agreeable to that and it will be confirmed with the Lwa at some point. However, with how my life goes, I am fully expecting the Lwa to come back with the dictate that I must elevate to asogwe. Manmi made a good point in that when there is staying-alive things associated with going into the djevo, she usually recommends elevating to asogwe unless the Lwa specifically object as it means there will be no future demand to return to the djevo and make asogwe after making hounsi or si pwen. Less money overall and less stress.

It makes a lot of sense, but my resistance has moved from agreeing to kanzo to agreeing to make asogwe. I don’t want the responsibility of asogwe, but I also do not want to have to do this twice and pay twice. I fully expect the Lwa to say that I need to go all the way, so I’m trying to at least mentally prepare for that so it doesn’t send me screaming into the sun when/if it comes down.

I don’t know when I’ll go down to do kanzo. Manmi said she’ll let me know when she sets the dates for 2016 and I expect that once she sets the dates and I do all the official saying-yes things, I will find that I must go at the earliest opportunity. Kouzen was the one who told me He wants kanzo from me, but He didn’t tell me whether it was right now or eventually. I expect right now since it is both a matter of staying alive and because I am who I am and nothing ever goes on the slow timeline for me. Kouzen said the money would come once I said yes, so I am trusting that if I am meant to go in 2016, the money for the kanzo fee and the money I will need for all the things that I will require [not unsubstantial]. I know I’m going to have to bust my ass for all of it since commitment is determined by blood, sweat, and tears, but it will come if it’s supposed to.

There’s a lot to do in between now and whenever I get my ass on a plane [oh god]. Once Manmi determines her teaching schedule, I’ll spend a few hours a week in the temple with her learning all of the stuff I’ll need for kanzo and by extension maryaj, which I will still have to do, plus all the hours practicing on my own. My Kreyol needs to be a LOT better than it is now and that’s more hours, too. This is going to eat my life until I am out of the djevo, finish my pilgrimage [visiting nine churches on foot in no more than two days], and get back on a plane. The pressure won’t be off then, as the learning will only really be beginning, but at least the big expenditure of money and time out of the country will be over with, even if I will be sleeping on my floor for a few months.

It’s hard to quantify what will change in my life between now and then. If I am going to even have a prayer of affording and accomplishing any of this, I need a better job and I need to live closer to Manmi. Both of those things are actively being worked on and my goal is to be much closer to her with a better paying job before the snow starts falling. I’ve been going on a ton of interviews and am waiting for the right salary to show itself, so I pray a lot and ask the Lwa to find me the job that will let me meet all my life financial obligations AND pay for kanzo without being utterly destitute. I know it will happen, but I struggle with patience.

I am unsurprisingly dealing with a lot of grief after outwardly deciding that I’m going to kanzo. This is never what I have wanted or expected for my life, and the divinities that pre-date the Lwa seem to feel similarly. It is the best way to preserve my life and strengthen me, but it is permanently altering the course of my life and will take some possibilities, no matter how small, right off the table. That’s how it’s gone with every spiritual evolution I’ve had—there is grief for a future lost, however unknown it may have been, and for every realization that I don’t drive the car in my life. I make decisions, but my fate ultimately lies in the hands of my divinities and will even more so once I enter the djevo. While I can logically understand this as the reality I’ve been living for the last decade, it is much harder to get my not-logical heart to follow. It’s a sacrifice in many arenas, including with my other divinities.

Manmi and I reaffirmed again that she will make me as a houngan. This is mostly for my own benefit, since it’s something that makes me nervous and is probably one of very few things that could make me take back the ‘yes’ were it not to be true. We talked a bit about the blowback she’s going to get for making someone who is sometimes read as female as houngan [versus a manbo], both in the future and in the immediate moment, as I’ll wear pants in the djevo and for all my ceremonies [a pretty big deal—clothing is pretty gendered in vodou]. She shrugs all of this off and notes that she gets plenty of hate now because she will make white folks and therefore, in the eyes of her detractors, has all the white money [she laughs and laughs when she says this because there is not one white person in her sosyete who has lots of cash, and she is not living a life of luxury either]. To her, getting the side eye for making someone as what appears to be the wrong category of priest is really no big deal, and that’s nice.

Of course, if I am to go spend three weeks in Haiti this year, it means my chest reconstruction is off the table. I won’t have enough time off to do three weeks out of the country and a few weeks of recovery. That is, of course, unless the Lwa have other plans. We’ll see, I suppose.

So that’s that. I am not bouncing off the walls in excitement about this, but I am also not crying on the floor. When I said I was in for the ride, Manmi just smiled and said ‘welcome aboard’. I may be clinging to the bumper, but I’m on the bus to kanzo even if the road is bumpy. The Lwa will carry me through and my other divinities will hold me up and love me as best they can while I flail through. I may not be the most thrilled about this, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have a different outcome than what already exists for me. Even when it feels like torture, I am blessed.

Without further comment:

•September 3, 2015 • 7 Comments

It is fascinating to watch the general outrage in the pagan and polytheist communities about the destruction of historic temples and holy places in the Middle East by those who desecrate and destroy in the name of Mohammed, may his name always be blessed, and twist a holy book to suit their desire for domination. It is a terrible thing, for sure, and very sad.

And yet…

Where is all this attention when indigenous religions get destroyed? How come there is no mass outcry or group workings when tribal groups with unique religious practices have their sacred  rainforest homes slashed and burned? Who is working against the Christian extremists who are advocating for and actively stoning and assaulting Candomble practitioners in Brazil, including children? Where was the massive upset and outcry when it was revealed that UN peacekeeping forces had exploited and raped women and children in Haiti, many of who rely on vodou for income and protection? Who speaks out when organizations will only render aid if indigenous practitioners put down traditional beliefs and practices (it still happens)? Where are the calls to action on behalf of First Nations groups and tribal cultures who are having their sacred sites seized by the United States government and destroyed?

Is it because these religions and practices are still alive and are not assigned archaeological or historical value? Is it because they don’t use terms that pagans and polytheists use to describe what they do or because they are not readily available to pagans and polytheists? Is it because the forces that are engaging in these abuses represent American interests and/or directly come from the US government? Is it because the perpetrators don’t look like extremists and don’t do things in front of cameras for videos that the busted news media in the West replay and replay and replay?

I don’t have the answers for any of these questions and I don’t expect anyone else to come up with them.

I keep seeing ‘this concerns all of us’ and this is true–the desecration of holy sites by religious extremists is concerning–but where is the concern for cultures and holy sites that this has been happening to for decades? That should concern all of us, too, especially when there are people who are being destroyed right along with holy sites.

If you’re going to talk the talk about preserving and defending holy lands that belong to one pantheon, then walk the walk and talk about preserving holy lands and living practitioners who belong to others. It leaves me with such a sour taste when landmarks are valued more than living, breathing people and, despite really not wanting to open the particular can of worms, once again, indigenous religions get ignored by modern practitioners.

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil

•July 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

After telling on myself via my blog post about my terrible case of spiritual bitchface, I’ve sort of sat still in some regards. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, not a lot of writing, and a lot of staring at altars and shrines.

I got my ass back in the saddle like I intended to by lighting up the Lwa’s altar and plopping down in front of it for a come-to-jeebus talk, of sorts. I apologized for being largely absent and very neglectful since May, and explained to Them why. First, what They see is what They get—I am nutty in my own ways and when I am under stress, the first thing to go still is my spiritual practice and doubly so when that stress is directly related to the comings, goings, and demands of the Unseen. It’s super dysfunctional and not helpful to me at all, but I am at heart an introvert and my processing time usually involves me in my metaphorical blanket burrito not talking to Anyone or Anything until I either figure shit out or pull myself together enough to be able to deal with Grand Central Station in my living room.

I also got really, really honest with Them in a way I haven’t before [though I suspect They knew what was on my mind anyway] and said aloud some things that I had been scared to before and haven’t talked much about with other people. Namely, at Fet Kouzen, more than one of Them told me They want me to kanzo/initiate due to the sort of work I need done on me. This isn’t news, really—it’s been a tickle for the last year or so and I have steadfastly refused to entertain the idea.

I was not happy then about this and am still not happy about it, and told Them so. Further, I told Them that I have zero desire to kanzo at the moment, have never really wanted to do so, and the idea makes me want to run screaming for the hills. I also told Them how generally pissed the way They couched Their desire has made me. I got the exact same line about how I needed to do the thing to help me, preserve my life, and protect me when maryaj was proposed, and I said yes to that because it felt like the right thing to do and my other divinities agreed.

Now, though, I feel fucking double crossed and like I have had the rug pulled out from underneath me. I agreed to one thing to address this problem and now the problem cannot be addressed that way and needs an international trip, a whole lot more money, a few weeks off from work, and a binding commitment to people and community? Nope. I logically know that this is very likely NOT a double cross and I am not being toyed with, but my logic talk the rest of me into this at ALL.

So, I’ve been pissy and distant while I fight the impulse to throw all Their stuff in boxes and put it on the corner in an effort to save my persona washing machine, but I’m trying to quell the pissiness so I can at least fulfill my responsibilities in a helpful and non-confrontational manner. Going to Them in full-on bitch mode won’t get me anything but push back and I need that like I need fifteen more divinities moving in.

I’ve had a lot of outside divination in trying to sort out what is going on from the perspective of my other divinities and none of it is particularly heartening because it sets me up between a rock and a hard place in terms of what the ripples of my decisions will be. Eshu says that kanzo is the best and fastest way to protect me against some things, but that there are other ways. I haven’t asked what the other ways are yet, but if it involves initiation into other religions, I will be punching air in frustration.

A big part of the issue right now is that I don’t have enough information. They dropped this on me at Fet Kouzen and then Manmi was basically unavailable between then and when she took off to Haiti for the summer. I’ve basically been left to dangle and spin on my own, which is nobody’s fault—it’s just the way things are. We have a lot of talking to do when she gets back about how far the Lwa would want me to go and, if that’s still not palatable to me or would affect my other divinities in ways I don’t like, what my options are. Things are too cut and dry for my taste and the moment and I know that there is a middle ground somewhere—there always is and the Lwa are nothing if not eager negotiators—but I can’t find it until I have more information available to me. I thought maryaj would be the middle ground as it often is, but that’s apparently not so.

The other thing that is really leaving me less than happy is community response. This all unfolded in such a way that a lot of people were privy to what was going on directly before the fete, thanks to some really illustrative dreams, and during/after. The absolute assumption has largely been that of course I am going to kanzo and I don’t like it in part because I haven’t made a decision yet and likely will not for quite awhile. I also don’t like the idea that I am going to create social discord if I say no. It’s not my problem if people get ass-y if I decide not to kanzo, but I really like the friends and community I have and don’t want to lose them. Like, they’ve already been telling me things about what I would need to do in life after kanzo and I just don’t fucking need to know. The less I know in that arena, the better—knowledge is dangerous to have. None of this is malicious at all and I haven’t spoken up about it because I haven’t had the opportunity to. I’m not angry or anything, really, but am just feeling put upon.

A piece of the peer pressure is really interesting in an exhausting sort of way. No one can find any record or even word-of-mouth account of any trans person being initiated as their appropriate gender, ever, and this is a Big Deal. Manmi’s house is rich in anthropologists and people who study vodou professionally and they’ve all been digging for me to see if anyone in a legitimate lineage in Haiti or the US has ever done this before, but there is absolutely nothing to draw on. I’ve been corresponding with an anthropologist who has specifically studied queer folks in vodou in Haiti and she’s got some work forthcoming, but there is really no history to draw on or anyone to talk to.

I hate this in particular because I hate being in the spotlight and I hate being anyone’s first anything. My anthropologist vodou friends are excited and I understand why, but I very much am NOT. Manmi has already said that if I kanzo, she would absolutely make me as a houngan, but I don’t think she has any idea what she is getting into—the blowback for her in Haiti would be huge. I brought this up to her and she basically said she gave not one fuck, but I’m not sure she understands exactly what it would mean.

My plan right now is to do nothing new and to move forward as quickly as I can manage with the maryaj in the hopes of taking some of the immediacy away from everything. I am in the middle of a huge life-changing job search that is going to relocate me back to the city and closer to Manmi. It sort of dropped on my head as an excellent idea a couple weeks back and I have run with it because I have been super stagnant and financially busted where I am now. A lot of the jobs that I’m qualified for in the city come with a significant pay raise, which would let me pay for maryaj and associated stuff in a much more expedient manner than I am able if I stay where I’m at. The idea of moving back to the city I used to live in/near excites me and gives me a sense of joy and happiness that I haven’t had in awhile, so I am trusting that this is the right decision and will pan out as it needs to.

Even in my pissiness, I am grateful. The Lwa have done so much for me, as have all my divinities, and I am lucky for Their presence in my life. One of my sadnesses right now [that I’m not sure is based in reality] is that I am afraid They will be hurt or ditch me if I say no to kanzo and that would be heartbreaking for me. I don’t think the leaving is likely, since I have promised to marry Them and They promised to marry me, but my neurotic and addled brain always reverts to that when things are complicated.

I hear the Mermaid’s song, though, and feel the ebb and flow of Agwe’s tides. He is ever-present and His cool and gentle presence relieves the heat that screams in my head. Manmi’s Dantor brought me to cool water once, too, and held me to Her chest, telling me* that everything would be okay and I would be okay. Despite my pervasive bitchface, I believe that. There is no crisis of faith, just displeasure on my part, and it will be tempered by water, Their love for me, and my own will not to be a fucking bitch at all times.

Big things are on my horizons, on all sides, and the path is as yet unseen but the adventure is on and I have the tools to rise to the challenge. I love and am loved, and, at the end of the day, I am content with that.

*Some Dantors speak—usually the young ones who are very tied to Haiti, apparently.

Current Mood: Ugh

•July 18, 2015 • 1 Comment

Things are okay, I suppose. I am about as busy in all aspects of my spiritual life as I usually am during the summer, which is to say it seems to be a bit lighter than it is during the rest of the year.

In vaguely tracking my past few years, it is entirely unsurprising that Sekhmet has gotten louder during the summer—She seems to do that with some regularity for me. Of course, She’s been louder since January-ish and I haven’t really been responding. The past few months, though, She’s solidly shown up and brought friends in the form of Her consort, Ptah, Sobek, and Sekhet.

I will admit that I have not been terribly gracious, at least inwardly and due to things I’ll mention in a minute, and my reaction has largely been ‘are you fucking kidding me?’. I know, not very welcoming of me, but I really didn’t expect or, honestly, need Her and Her crew crashing into my life at this very moment. My house is already crawling with altars and shrines and I really need more divinities peering at me like I need a shotgun blast to the foot, which is to say not at all.

But, They have shown up and been patient enough not to beat my impertinent, surly ass so it follows that I should do something, yeah? I mean, I could not but I don’t need the Lion-Headed Lady roaring in my ear so I guess I can be hospitable and sociable. Conveniently [or not at all], Wep Ronpet is calculated to be in just under a month from now for my location which gives me the perfect opportunity to do something nice and hopefully with the appropriate attitude. I don’t yet know what it will entail beyond installing an altar for all of Them in my living room and trooping out onto a hill at fuck-off o’clock in the morning on Wep Ronpet to say some prayers and make a few offerings.

In another unexpected twist, a variety of dead have shown up in force for me and I am feeling at least a little less bitchy about this. My blood ancestors have been making some noise and I need to step up my game in that direction, especially since They have been lending some manner of protection to me these days. They don’t seem to care how I step up my game, but please won’t I?

The ancestors that show up for me are all female with one notable exception, all of my matrilineal line, and all hilariously fancy-lady, which I am decidedly NOT in any possible extension of the idea. The most interesting part is the matrilineal part. I basically ejected and divorced my paternal ancestors a handful of years ago after they took umbrage that I wasn’t going to be a woman, wasn’t getting married, wasn’t popping out the babies, and got decidedly nasty about all of this, in the form of trying and almost succeeding in dismantling my career. I told Them that They could either have me as I am or not at all, and They took the not at all option and were summarily kicked the fuck out.

When the Ladies showed up, I sort of gave the paternal troublemakers the eyeball and said ‘want back in?’. They turned up their noses and sniffed in distaste, noting that I wasn’t really of their blood anyway so it was no matter. This gave a big, glaring confirmation to the theory I had been chewing on in terms of my family of origin—I don’t believe my paternal grandfather (the only male ancestor to come for me) was his father’s child, which makes me only physically related to half of that side of the family by a comparative thread.

On the flip side of the family, I am of my ancestors’ blood and carry a lot of the spiritual gifts found there, but I am a changeling and am not technically Theirs, either. However, They don’t seem to care at all. They also don’t care about me being trans or queer or being involved in spiritual or religious practices that decidedly are not things They did in life. So far, the Ladies are pretty cool which is at least doesn’t leave me any more surly. In life, one of Them maintained that St. Joan of Arc talked to her regularly and occasionally ‘lived in her’, and another was instrumental in bringing theosophy to the United States, which leads to a surprising amount of common language between us.

That’s not the only Dead twist, though. I started at a new program site a few months ago that is a huge old Victorian that’s been hanging around for several hundred years. It’s been a program for about 50 years and before that was lord knows what. In my second or third week, I was exhausted and took a nap on the couch during my [graveyard] shift and dreamed of a legion of Dead eagerly gathering around me while I slept. Several of Them came waltzing through the living room while I dozed and scared the fucking bejesus out of me because who expects dead people to walk through their place of employment?

They seem largely benevolent and are thrilled to pieces that there is someone there who can see and hear Them. At least a half dozen showed up in the initial parade and They are incredibly diverse—women, men, children—and OLD. A bunch of the women wore super dated gowns and spoke in a dialect of English that isn’t native to my area and hasn’t been in at least a century. I’m not entirely sure what They want yet because I haven’t asked and haven’t slept there since, but I know that They are horrified at some of the things that have happened in Their home while it has been a program and that it is sort of a Beetlejuice situation—They once lived in the house as a whole, but They have steadily been pushed into the basement and then very specific parts of the basement as a result of some of the unhappy things happening. I get the distinct sense [and had it confirmed] that I am not the first spiritual worker to work as a staff person there, but whomever else They twisted the ear of is long gone. So there’s that.

The Lwa have been more or less quiet this summer, lending at least in part to the fact that Manmi is down in Haiti doing kanzo and other things. I told Them before she left that They really needed to keep Their stuff manageable without her presence, or manageable with the help of one of her children, until she returns.

To be bluntly honest, though, I haven’t gone seeking Them out. I haven’t sought out any of my divinities, really. I’ve done basic tending for some of Them, but this past week was the first time I have lit up the Lwa’s altar since late May, I think.

Why? I have spent much of the summer being a surly and sullen asshole, at least in regards to my spiritual life. There’s no particular reason why I’ve had such a crap attitude—nothing has been especially hard/harder than usual and I am not suffering any more than normal—but I have such a case of spiritual bitchface. There’s no real better way to put it, I don’t think. I’m not having a crisis of faith or a dark night of the soul, just a case of spiritual and religious ‘ugh’. Like, I look at my altars and go ‘really?’. I don’t even want to talk to any of Them or do anything. After close to ten years of knowing that the divinities are mucking around in my life, I think I sort of deserve some spiritual bitchface time, but…

I know this is the road to ruin, so I think this blog post is me telling on myself and making the first move to get back in the damn saddle. I have work and Work to do, a lot of it, and I know I can’t do any of it without Them or while I am being bitchy. It’s time to light everything up and pray for willingness and help adjusting my attitude before I get my ass in trouble. I haven’t been mouthy or purposefully disrespectful, but some of Them are not known for Their patience and I would prefer not to push the envelope too far.

So, that’s why there has been relative radio silence. There’s no use in hoping that things will change because I know that, if things are to be different, I have to change them unless I want Them to grab me by the ankles and start shaking.

Here, have a song [with some NSFW lyrics] in honor of spiritual bitchface by lyrical masters Anti-Nowhere League:

Tears, Miracles, and Love Songs

•June 1, 2015 • 1 Comment
I. Tears

I cry more often these days, and it’s unsettling in that am-I-going-crazy way. I know I’m not, but there is still that high-pitched screaming voice in the back of my head that assures me that I am losing my grasp on reality when the tears start sliding down my cheeks,

In particular, I cry when the Lwa are near. As soon as a song starts for a Lwa, I can feel my insides start to shake loose. By the time the reglemen has gotten to Agwe, there is a better chance than not that I will be sobbing like someone has kicked me in the face regardless of whether He comes down or not. I don’t have to see Him, or any other Lwa, embodied or have Them pay me any attention if They are, but if They are in the air [so to speak] I am weeping.

I had that uncontrollable sobbing when a second round of singing was begun for Agwe at Kouzen’s fet last weekend. For some reason, we had returned to Him and His accoutrements had come out again and I was suddenly sobbing in a way that I found utterly horrifying. I don’t like feeling like I am a spectacle and my very existence in the temple makes me one [to some people], so I don’t need any help. I was guided out of the way while I cried by Manmi, who assured me it was okay, and a houngan of the house cooled my head with a Pompeia-soaked scarf.

Prior to this, my body had not been cooperating with the idea of being at a fet and all that entailed–dancing, moving around, standing up–and I was in a lot of pain and was looking at a very long night in pain. When we started to sing for Agwe the first time, I started to pray. I told Him that I loved Him and I very much wanted to be at the fet, but could He make it hurt less? That sounds neat and tidy, but it was really a prayer of desperation as I started to go down the road of pain that would leave me unable to stand or use one of my legs.

He was in my head with an ocean of love, covering me with a giant wave, and that’s when I started to cry, as He passed through my head. It didn’t hurt or anything, but for whatever reason, my kriz Lwa seems to always be crying. Other people shake or contort, but I cry or sob or, if shit is getting real with a Lwa that rides hot, scream and howl. It’s more unsettling to me than anyone else present.

Like the tide, tears wash away what needs to go. HF tells me that perhaps the Lwa are giving me a gift–They compel me to cry in temple, possession or not, because it is easier for me to cry there than to have tears spill over into the other parts of my life.

II. Miracles

After I had calmed down post-Agwe-singing, I realized that all the pain in my body was gone. All of it. Just gone. It was so gone, in fact, that I could feel my other symptoms that usually are completely covered by my pain. Agwe took it because I begged Him to. He took it and swallowed it for me and buried it somewhere deep in His ocean because He loves me.

Me being me, I thought my divine painkiller would only last a little while. In fact, it lasted the whole of the fet into the next day and I am still going fairly strong. There’s some pain here and there, but not anything like I usually experience and not even enough for me to eye breaking out the not-divine painkillers.

This has left me sort of staring slack-jawed at Agwe. All I had to do was to make a desperate prayer? So noted. He is far better to me than I deserve, by as many leagues as His sea holds.

Later on, after I saw Kouzen, several Ogous came down furious and more angry than I had ever seen any of Them. They were hitting anything they could reach–walls, floors, doors, people who had angered Them, the heads of Their chwals–with Their machetes. It was truly terrifying in a way that left me unable to look Feray in the eye when He started to make the rounds. He was screaming and then He was sobbing [there is no heartbreak like watching a divinity you love sob in the arms of a priest] and then He was in front of me, perfectly calm.

That’s the miracle–if He had come in front of me screaming or crying, I probably would have folded. After difficult conversations with Kouzen and watching Feray scream and cry, I had been doing quite a bit more crying of my own and I felt like I was made of paper. He didn’t scream or cry at me, though. He looked at me and saw that I was hot mess who was scared to death of Him in the moment and just smiled when I greeted Him in my busted half-Kreyol [‘Bonswa, Papa Ogou. Mwen so happy we ou.’]. I don’t know if it was a smile of pleasure that I am picking up words and phrases or a smile of ‘oh, look at the puppy trying to do a trick’. Regardless, it was a smile and it settled down the irrational fear that He was going to open His mouth and eat me alive.

That didn’t mean our conversation was all unicorns and pink clouds–that’s not Ogou and that’s not my life–but He says hard things because He loves me and wants me to be and do well, not because He wants to terrify me so that I ruin my whites. I walked away from that conversation supremely frustrated and unhappy in the moment, but, after sleep and emotional space, a new plan to get shit done and take advantage of my inner strength.

III. Love Songs

Several years ago, when Manmi was getting the first wave of non-Haitians into her house, two of her ti-fey sat down with her and recorded her singing many of the most common chante Lwa. There’s thousands of songs for the Lwa, but there are probably a hundred or so that are used as the first line of chante when the Lwa are called. Non-Haitians or Haitians that didn’t grow up in contact with vodou needed a resource to learn the songs, so the unofficial house Dropbox was made and it gets passed around to new members called by the Lwa as needed.

I listen to the songs with some regularity to learn them, but also because they are prayers and calls to the Lwa in their own right–there is no one purpose for anything in vodou. The undercover purpose, though, beyond being songs, being a way to call a Lwa or a specific aspect of a Lwa, and being prayers is that each chante is a love song, in it’s way.

Nowhere is this more clear than listening to the sosyete’s Dropbox and hearing Manmi sing each of the songs she knows by heart for innumerable Lwa. She sings and the Lwa perk up and look at me [while I fiddle on my phone to my find my favorite songs..]. Even though I can’t sing all of them yet and usually can’t get more than a line or two out in my own voice before I forget what comes next, they are my love songs, too, because learning them from Manmi has paved that road for me. They are not just words, they don’t just have double meanings, and they aren’t just a beacon down Gran Chemin for the Lwa. They are intimate in a way that’s hard to communicate, like a letter between close friends or lover is. It it sung by more than a hundred people at a fete and by thousands upon thousands daily and in history and it it still a personal letter between the singer and their Lwa.

Vodou is about many things–more things than I can possibly understand these days–but one of those things is love. Vodou is about how the spirits love the people and the people love the spirits. It’s expressed through service and favors and promises made and kept, but it is love through a Haitian lens spread into the diaspora. Haiti can be a hard place and vodou is a hard religion–it won’t coddle you and it will challenge everything you know to be true, but the spirits love their people as fiercely as the sun is hot and the ocean is deep. They meet you at the back of the mirror and under the water when you sing for Them and They sing back to you with the hope that you return better than you arrived.
This is a miracle, too, and it’s one that I didn’t expect to experience. How could spirits from Ginen love someone like me? The roots go deep.
Agwe o!
Siyen lod o!
Jou’m angaje, map rele
Agwe o….

•May 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment


For prayers answered, gifts given, and because I said I would.


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