Vodou fucks everything up.

•January 3, 2016 • 12 Comments

Or, y’all don’t know what you’re missing.

It’s no secret that, as a young adult, I cut my spiritual teeth in paganism and polytheism. It was easily accessible to me and it made sense, in some respects, since I am of mostly European descent. The church of my youth did not want me and did not fulfill me, particularly after some really terrible experiences with an offshoot of the main church that engaged in some very cult-like practices. Despite me not having the language to describe what was going on in the depths of my soul, I needed something bigger than myself to throw myself at, and paganism and polytheism answered that need.

I was never really a good fit for paganism, at ALL. It didn’t give me the fulfillment that I was seeking, left more questions than answers in an unpleasant way, and gave me serious pause because the feeling that there was something bigger and better out there for me didn’t go away. Instead, it grew more hungry and chewed on me in an almost painful way.

This isn’t to say that the relationships I had and maintain with my non-vodou and non-Orisha divinities are in any way bad or unfulfilling. I hold those relationships close and value everything They give to me, but I see Them differently now. I really see Them through the lens of vodou, and that has changed expectations and actions in a very positive way. It has made me a better devotee, a more effective servant, and an all around better human to be dealing with, with more tools at my [and, by situation, Their] disposal.

All of this has led to a massive, MASSIVE pull-back on my part from pagan and polytheist communities. The more I get involved with vodou, the less I find I have in common with those who seems to speak the loudest in those communal settings. When I watch how people talk to each other, about each other, and about their respective divinities, I thank all my divinities and stars and stuffed animals and anything that will stand still that Those who have walked with me since the beginning saw fit to pack me off to vodou. Had They not, I think I might have packed my shit, given the larger pagan and polytheist communities the finger, and disappeared off to parts unknown. It is that noxious, that toxic, and that goddamn unpleasant to be around. It is not surprising at all that many of my dearest pagan and polytheist friends—the ones who basically made sure I didn’t die in the first handful of years that the divinities blew my life apart and that who are along for the amusement ride that my life has become, even if they don’t understand it—have felt similarly and done just that; disappearing into private practice until things become palatable again, if ever.

That said, I am still a polytheist and I don’t see that going away any time soon. It doesn’t conflict with my vodou, nor does my vodou community see it as a conflict for me. That, however, does not seem to sit well with some of the pagans and polytheists I talk to or whose writing I read. I’ve had long discussions about this and it really seems to boil down to one stark, blunt fact: pagans and polytheists are not comfortable with, as my dear soon-to-be elder brother put it recently, subversion made manifest and, as I put it, a thriving, vital religion that lives in and embraces liminality as an ideal space. Vodou exists as a living conflict, with ideas and practices that run at each other head on, with little care for whether it makes sense or looks right or causes any level consternation for those that would seek it’s counsel. Paganism and polytheism does not embody those same things, at least not anymore, if they ever did.

Now, before you run screaming for your pitchforks and torches, hear me out. I promise I don’t hate pagans and other polytheists and don’t want to burn other people’s religious practices to the ground [mostly—some of y’all test me].

All of this has been brewing for me in the last six months or so, and it started with watching pagans and polytheists talk about privilege, social justice, concepts of authority in religious practice, and what boils down to ‘best practices’ in terms of how to approach and love divinities. It is interesting to watch and I am sure it is a vital conversation for those who participate in it and find it meaningful, but it has been like watching a trainwreck caught in a vacuum. The same things are said over and over, the same things are pointed to as sick and inappropriate practices, and the same divisions expand, all while hot air fills the proverbial room until it is poisonous and suffocating.

The part that has really set my teeth on edge is the sort of speech that holds up ‘ancient’ practices and then proceeds to shit all over the tenets and basic functions of living ancient practices. That blows my mind and short-circuits my brain, but it all goes back to the base realization that pagans and polytheists are not that good with purposeful and embraced subversion in their religion and religious practices.

Over the past few years, I have had a similar conversation numerous times with numerous people. It is a good conversation, and it’s one that has continually allowed me to ask questions of my elders and sharpen my understanding of vodou. Essentially, it boils down to ‘how is it that vodou is so powerful? How do the Lwa move so clearly, directly, and fast in your life?’.

I have found that to be a deceivingly simple question. The really easy, yet still accurate, answer is this: vodou is an unbroken religion. It has never bowed to conversion, never died, the Lwa have never slept only to awake and move in the world when a group of interested parties come knocking, and it has never lived on the page—the record of vodou is almost entirely oral, with books recording more about culture than actual practices. This speaks to that subversion made manifest; when the world has slammed down a barrier to vodou on the right, vodou has dodged left. When the Spanish and French imperialists demanded that traditional African practices cease among the enslaved Africans they brought to Hispaniola [later Haiti and the Dominican Republic], vodou was birthed in the bellies of those who believed and brought into the world when those who forged Haiti in their hearts came to the decision they had suffered enough. Some Lwa came from Africa buried deep in the skin and bones of those who would call Them forth on new land, and some were called into being from the bodies and spirits of those crushed by colonization in this new place. Some sprang from the knife and the blood spilled by the imperialist, some rose from the water with open arms for those who screamed for Them under the lash. Some rose from the dead, some rose from the dust on the road. All came because there was [and is] work to do, and the people needed [and need] them.

That is the first subversion and mental car crash of vodou—it is a religion born out of pain and rebellion, and that legacy has never gone to sleep. Vodou has a long memory and the reality of it’s roots can never be forgotten, because it forms the foundation of the religion.

In comparison, traditions upheld by many pagans and polytheists went fallow for hundreds to thousands of years to the point of the death of those religions. Whether by conversion, conquer, disinterest, or otherwise, what is became what was, and stayed that way for quite a time. Did those gods die? Who knows, but Their active practice did. A revival of these things is not necessarily bad, but it changes things dramatically. In stark comparison to vodou and other unbroken religions, these practices never had a chance to evolve—they existed, then went away and were regarded only through the eyes of Abrahamic observers or anthropologists sifting through the sand for remains of what was. Now, there is new blood for these divinities and yet there is a desire for things to be what they were, for a resurrection and recreation of how those religious ancestors loved those gods. There is this idealization of these ancient polytheisms, yet an utter denial that what is no longer can be what was and putting those practices and people on a pedestal in a ‘it was better than because they did it this way’ is ensuring that the revival of these traditions will ultimately wither again, because it is unsustainable.

Second mental car crash: vodou is ancient in the sense that we still do things the way our spiritual ancestors did them and can trace direct lines back to the very beginning, but vodou is incredibly modern with a deep understanding of the world it moves in. It constantly changes through the process of shared community understanding while maintaining that the roots must be fed and respected if vodou is to continue to embody the immense amount of power it has built through the generations. The ason, a ritual rattle conferred through kanzo, has it’s origins in many different African traditions but lives as a tool that does the work that is needed now. It is the old that carries the new into being, in a literal way, and it brings the voice of the ancestors into the room.

The Lwa act in this way, too. They have old origins, but boy do They understand modern needs. When you tell a Lwa that you need money to do what it is They have outlined, They nod in understanding and then provide the opportunity to gain that money. They know what it means when you say ‘I need money this month to make sure my child has food and shoes without holes in them’. They know why it is you might need to pass on feeding them this month, because your dick of a boss cut your hours and you have to pay rent first. They get that and They roll with it, because the Lwa not only move in this world, They are of this world, in a very literal sense. One of my favorite stories is from when air travel became a commonplace thing, and Haitians began to have access to it. All of a sudden, numerous unconnected sosyetes were reporting a similar occurrence; an Ogou who no one had ever met before was coming down at fetes and ceremonies. He told people His name—Ogou Panama—and taught the same general song to call and praise Him with. Why did Ogou Panama show then? Because more Haitians were taking to the skies to travel and the Lwa go everywhere with Their people, so it makes sense that there would be an Ogou who was a flight captain and who could assure the safety of His people as they ventured forth in this new way.

Modernity is a good thing in vodou, because it keeps people alive and keeps the religion alive. If the religion could not be modern, how could it meet modern demands? This idea that modernity is a poison to religious practice is born from longing for good ol’ days that didn’t exist, really, or that we have no proof existed because the tradition we point ceased to exist before our grandparents’ grandparents were born.

This reflects in every day life, too, and further illustrates the inherent conflict of vodou—the Lwa are everywhere, but still reside elsewhere. I see my Lwa in everything and feel Them move in my heart at the strangest times, but They also reside anba dlo/under the water. They are everywhere and in all places, and that’s not weird at all. Heck, They can be in multiple places in the same room, as any person who has been to a lively fete can tell you. It’s not unusual for a Lwa to inhabit more than one body at once in one room. When Gede comes at His parties, it’s not unusual for Him to take lots of people because He wants to have lots of fun [I have seen Him in at least nine different people at once]. Which brings us to another car crash that modern pagans and polytheists have a hard time grasping…

Possession is not special, nor a mark of any sort of status. It’s just not. In fact, it’s sort of a pain in the ass and quite unfun, nevermind utterly exhausting. It does not mean the person possessed is any sort of higher functioning person or has any special abilities. There are things that can be done to make possession an easier process or a person can be an easier tool for the Lwa to use, but, really, it just means you are the nearest hammer for the job the Lwa wish to do in that moment.

In fact, possession can be used to send the message that there are no special snowflakes in vodou. It often doesn’t happen without some sort of crisis that makes it clear the person is not in control—screaming, crying, being thrown around the room or on the floor, and other things are quite common—and it ends similarly, in that more often than not the horse is dumped on the floor or into the arms of someone with a keen eye for how these things go. It isn’t done to hurt anyone—and in fact no one is hurt in the process, as the Lwa know if They break Their tools They will no longer be able to use them—but more to send the message that no one is special or above being treated as any other person. From the lineage head with 30 years of service to the Lwa under their belt to the ti-fey in the corner who is horrified that they cannot stop crying, it is all the same—no one will be treated differently or coddled because of who they are.

So why do pagans and polytheists get all wide-eyed and status-y about possession? Part of it is cultural—many are white and have never been a part of a culture that embraces possession by the divine as a completely normal and run-of-the-mill thing. Part of it, I think, springs from this desire for something deeper. The culture of many religions that fall under the pagan and polytheism died with the religions that were held within them and, no matter how hard folks work, that cannot spring to life again. That particular richness was lost, and likely how the divinities directly interacted with people dwindled, too.

It’s trying to come back, and I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed instances of true, authentic possession of non-Diasporic divinities, and I believe those divinities want that. However, this narrative that possession is special and an honor has created cults of personality and a lot of outright fraud. They point to what they assume must be special preparation by folks who participate in vodou to do the work and use that to puff themselves up as specially chosen, having to do weeks and weeks of preparation to hold a divinity. Know what I did before I ended up with some of my Lwa in my head? I didn’t have sex for a few days and I took a shower. Sometimes there is special preparation to do, but that is often about the person in question more than the Lwa. There weren’t days and days of prayer and ritual or a hugely special or limited diet—there was just me, in my clothes with all my stuff, dancing along to the drums.

That is a hallmark of vodou, though—in many ways, it is low barrier for its practitioners because it has been doing it’s thing for quite awhile without being torn apart. The Lwa have spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out the quickest and easier ways into someone’s head, while the divinities of religions that went fallow perhaps have forgotten how to do that or have been out of practice for so long that They are rusty with Their actions.

If I am insightful at all, there is someone sitting in front of their computer or staring bug-eyed at their phone going ‘how dare you say that? HERESY. IMPIETY.’. And maybe so, if those religions or divinities are hypersensitive.

Here’s another thing about vodou that smashes together those mental cars: the Lwa do not expect or desire bent backs and heads that never utter anything but the most poetic of prayers that praise Them up one side and down the other. Instead, They expect strength of spine and will, and They expect that Their people will not cower or turn into doormats at the mere whisper of Their presence. It is perfectly normal to look Them in the eye, proverbial or literal, and say ‘no, I can’t do that’ or ‘not until You provide the money’ or ‘I need to think about that because You’re asking more than I can give right now’. It is acceptable to argue [within sensible reason—you are dealing with a disincarnate being who has a lot of resources available] and acceptable to make demands of Their service and work. It is acceptable to barter, negotiate, bribe, and otherwise push to have your specific needs or desires met, and it’s not a bad thing or a disrespectful thing, provided you act with at least a modicum of manners and decorum.

I have raged at my Lwa for things They have done or asked for. I have screamed, cried, cursed out, and otherwise behaved in ways that have paled the faces of pagans and polytheists who I have related my experiences to. The inevitable reaction has been ‘how could you’ or ‘I would be too afraid of <divinity> to do that’. My response is that I will absolutely not be afraid of divinities I love and serve. I might be awed or intimidated, but I will not fall victim to this Western idea of fear of the divine because They might step on me. They might step on me anyways and, if the stories people tell me of their divinities are even remotely true, They might step on me because They are feeling particularly asshole-ish that day. Similarly, how could I not speak frankly and bluntly to Them if I love Them? How can I not tell Them when I am livid that They did a thing or did not deliver on something I have worked my butt off for? My first response when Kouzen [whom I adore and who loves me probably more than I deserve] told me I needed to kanzo was ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me’. He didn’t frown or pout or smack me, He just smiled and assured me that the money to do so would show up and that I would be fine.

This idea that the divinities are untouchable, beyond reproach, and, frankly, far too fragile and sensitive to hear true words from their servants is a new, Western thing. The people who claim that monotheism is the root of all that is bad and that they have rooted out this influence in their religious practices are some of the worst offenders, and they don’t see it. They do not see how they are repeating and propagating this inherently twisted idea that respect means a bowed head, long practice praising their divinities, and never uttering your true feelings for fear of a divinity crashing down on your head in displeasure if you do otherwise. Are They really that sensitive? Do They really have such an adolescent understanding of Themselves? I think not, but I also think that when people say they are shedding the baggage of their milk religions, they often have no idea what they are talking about.

Often this is spoken about in terms of devotion and what ‘proper’ devotion and piety is, and it’s horrifically narrow in view. Extensive ritual, prayer, and praise, all done in the privacy of one’s home alongside plenty of dictating that this is the right way keeps getting pushed out like a sour, bitter egg from a chicken that should have been eaten months earlier. It does not facilitate growth, depth of connection, or anything but knowing how to say words and do a ritual. It might work for some, I suppose, but not for all.

Vodou turns all that on it’s head. Vodou, in essence, is about community, versus lifting the Lwa up as awesome, great, beloved, etc. They know They’re awesome, and They don’t need my constant reminder when I sit in front of my altar. Having a devotion-focused practice will leave the Lwa lazy and asleep—They work when you do, and a lot of that work comes in community. The Lwa are not focused on how pious any particular vodouisant is, but how the community supports the work and, moreover, DOES THE WORK. Not everyone kanzos to be a priest in the community, but even those who kanzo solely for the relationship with their spirits do things to further the work. One of my to-be elder sisters is a manbo because her spirits wanted that for her, but she is the only who quietly comes and helps at fetes and out in the Haitian community. She’s the one who makes sure the PA system for the sosyete is up to date, and she’s the one who can be counted on to do work when necessary. Instead of being focused on veneration of the Lwa, vodou is focused on strengthening community and evening the playing field for those who are marginalized, since vodou is a religion that strengthens the disenfranchised.

That sort of brings this back full circle to what spawned this lengthy writing; how social justice and privilege play out in religion.

My elder brother said something very true this week; vodou is the original Black Lives Matter movement. It is a religion founded on the principles of social justice, of rising up against oppressive forces and assuring the best possible lives for all involved. The idea that relatively new Western ideas of devotion trump this or outrank it is ridiculous at best and deeply offensive to the spiritual ancestors who broke their backs and lost their lives to assure that vodou and it’s people would live to see another day and perhaps a better existence. Vodou is out in the world, not solely in prayers and altars, and religion that only lives in those places cannot live in an unjust world for very long. My Lwa are the original activists and justice-seekers. They were the force that, through the people, slaughtered the French colonizers and drove them into their boats and back to France. They are the ones who fed the Haitians when there was no food to be had. They are the ones who kept the rafts and boats afloat when the Haitians took to the sea in search of a different life, and the ones who kept people as safe as possible when Duvalier’s tonton macoute death squads roamed the country. They are the ones who sustain Haitians caught in MINUSTAH’s cholera epidemic and who dry the tears when loved ones die.

With all this in mind, how could I write off social justice as second to Western-defined devotional practices? Social justice IS devotion to my Lwa, and especially as a white person in a Haitian religion. It cannot be divorced from vodou, nor can it play second fiddle to what Western religious society thinks is right and true. When I seek to open doors and provide options for the clients at my dayjob, no matter their background, I am doing the work of the Lwa out in the world, and that is holy and good. When I use my voice as a white person to cast light on the appropriated practices of other white people that harm minority religions and people, I am doing the world of the Lwa out in the world, and that is holy and good. I may not sit in front of my altar for days at a time, but that doesn’t mean I am not praying and am not devoted to my divinities—my prayers and devotion come from my heart through my hands, in answer to how the hands of the Lwa have moved in my life. Divorcing that and placing it second to Western ideals is missing the point of vodou.
That point gets missed a lot. A lot of white folks come to vodou and think the work gets done in front of an altar in prayers. They see that as devotion and eschew the community work—however that is played out for them—as lesser or separate. This gets called disrespect for elders, but, in reality, it is privilege at play and thinking that one can bring in Western practices to a culturally-based religion, or that Western ideals somehow apply when they spring from European practices…from the very cultures that sought to shut down vodou. This manifests in a variety of ways, from privileged statements to denouncing the necessary need for authority figures in vodou to polluting vodou with practices that have no place there [applying Qabala to the prayers that open services, using Tarot to attempt to speak to the Lwa, asserting authority that only belongs to the Lwa]. If you are taking Western concepts of religious practice, authority, and what constitutes right interaction, you are missing the big, glaring point.

So, what to do with all of this? I don’t know. For any of this to mean anything, the people to whom this applies would have to be able to hear it and then look critically at what they have been saying out in the world, which requires humility and a long view. Tied into this has to be the realization that paganism and polytheism in and of itself is only subversive in as much as it’s adherents are willing to be subversive, which means removing their paganism or polytheism as the center of the world or as the most subversive religious action. Doing that assures that Western [and, let’s face it, white] ideas do not play as the supreme narrative on what religious devotion looks like, nor does it allow this false history of identity and lineage to manifest when the only unbroken histories and lineages really exist in Caribbean and continental African religions. It’s okay to fill gaps, but the first part of being truly subversive and acting against the common narrative is to admit that there are gaps and that they cannot be filled with an unending litany of pronouncements of what is or is not correct in a tradition that has only recently risen from a long fallow time.

These car crashes are the gifts of vodou, if we can only get out of our own way to access them. Vodou fucks up the pagan and polytheist idea of devotion because it decentralizes a European-centric voice as important. Rejecting the rising narrative of a one appropriate way that discounts minority and indigenous religion, except as it is useful to illustrate how pious one is, is rising in polytheism and paganism, but it misses the mark. One of the lessons of vodou is that the roots cannot be tended by an individual only—the lone practitioner does not survive, particularly if that practitioner locks the door on growth and vitality by making pronouncements on things that exist past the end of their nose. When we speak from our ego and with the goal to change what others do by pronouncement [versus example], we poison the blood in the root and ensure that our legacy is only one in books.

Sim salalam, sim salawu. Pa salam, pa salawu.

•December 19, 2015 • 1 Comment

You in, you in. You out, you stay out.

I have a rather extensive spiritual history with a whole host of outside-of-vodou divinities in my past and my present. My primary spiritual identity has been as a polytheist–I believe that the divinities are unique and individual in nature, desires, needs, and agendas–and that has held up through all of my spiritual evolutions. I’ve been rather lucky that all my divinities regularly conspire together to assure that I have the best possible present and future, provided I put in work and deliver the effort needed to achieve our mutual goals for me. It’s really a good thing and has changed the way I view myself, my life, and my potential future.

There are very few things I have been forbidden from, either outright as a demand from my divinities or as a result of actions/inactions on my part. For the most part, I am encouraged to do what I want and venture where I would like, in the spiritual sense. That’s something I earned, though, after a series of serious missteps when I was younger and much stupider.

The long and short of my more naive, ignorant self was that I painted myself into a serious corner early on and got myself entangled with a divinity that I found to be an absolutely ruthless and merciless being that would be content to suck me dry in pursuit of goals that needed to be achieved in Their agenda. With the help of a divinity or two, I managed to get myself rescued from that situation–with the notation that if I ever got myself into trouble like that again, I was on my own in terms of getting out of it–and made some agreements and allegiances that protected me. The outcome of that mess was the edict that I would not ever reach out to that divinity for myself or on behalf of a spiritual client, and that if I ever found myself occupying a space with that divinity or Their people I would act with utter and complete courtesy if I could not politely remove myself. It was basically ‘leave Them alone and They will leave you alone, and don’t you dare fuck it up’ agreement, and I have never once screwed it up, to my knowledge.

Any time a whiff of that divinity has appeared in my life, I have basically picked up and run to a diviner I trust to make sure it is complete coincidence or otherwise something that I have not inadvertently initiated. Until recently, that has only happened once and it was complete coincidence that got a lot of careful treatment from me to assure that I did all the right things.

Last Sunday, I had a pretty extensive dream that included that divinity as a central figure. They had stepped forward and asked me to paint a portrait of Them. True to awake form, when I figured out Who was asking this, I zoomed off to see the divinity that had basically negotiated my freedom when I had fucked up in the past. I asked Him if this was something He was aware of and approved of, and what He would like me to do with this.

True to form, He didn’t give me a helpful direct answer and only said that I was a different person than I was when things had gone to hell before and that the situation was now different as well. I spent most of my dream painting and revising the design to the Intruder’s specifications, over and over until I woke up and went ‘FUCK’.

Because I am a lucky bastard and because I don’t dare fuck around when stakes are high and I risk displeasure of my divinities all the way around, I contacted the diviner I most like to work with outside of vodou things. She is a damn saint incarnate who is patient, willing to get dirty while digging into whatever I bring to her, and is owed at least a bit of my soul at this point, for all the the shit I have dropped at her feet.

I had some ideas of what was going on before she and I got down to work, but none of my ideas were right and were in fact quite wrong. Very wrong. Incredibly wrong. So wrong that I was wrong enough to go past being right and enter wrong territory a second time.

Turns out this Intruder never really lost interest in me and had only decided that I wasn’t worth the fight way back when. They had shrugged and gone off to do whatever it was They do until I got more useful. At this point, I am useful enough to Them that They showed up and made an offer that They didn’t want me to refuse. Very directly. this Intruder showed up and offered to essentially buy out all of my spiritual contracts. In business parlance, I am being headhunted to come work solely for the Intruder and abandon everything I have been doing for the last almost-ten years. No spiritual or religious anything unless They brought it to my door. In specific, I would be left to be a divinely-inspired artist for the rest of my life.

I had this completely predictable reaction when this was all laid out for me. Shock and surprise first, then outright anger, then disgust and creeping horror.

I want nothing to do with the Intruder. I don’t believe what They are saying for a second–I find Them to be the least trustworthy divinity I have ever come in contact with–and, compared to what the Lwa and other divinities have brought to me, They are offering me absolute shit to the point where, after I get over the anger and disgust, I am both offended and amused. If this was a job offer from a possible paycheck employer, I wouldn’t even bother to tear up the paper it was written on because it’s that ridiculous. It’s like a shitty part-time job for two cents over minimum wage and no benefits, versus a full-time salaried position that requires a lot of work, but has great benefits AND a commission and bonus schedule on top of regular salary. I’m worth way more than what the Intruder offers.

The answer will be no, but ‘no’ is a process with the Intruder. I have done this dance with Them before and I fully remember how my ‘no’ didn’t mean a whole lot until another divinity stepped in and essentially told Them to fuck off. ‘No’ won’t stick until I make an irrevocable, unbreakable oath which means I am going to be fighting the good fight until I catapult myself into the djevo. I hate that. It’s like having that not-friend who wants to be your buddy wanting to hang out at every possible moment no matter what you are doing, whether it’s pooping or grocery shopping or talking to your actual friends.

I had a long talk with Manmi today about this fully expecting her to sort of look at me sideways, but she didn’t even flinch and named it what it was–temptation. She told me how the Lwa had tempted her and how really hard it was to turn down what was presented to her at times. It was really helpful to hear that, especially since I was FURIOUS with the Lwa after this all came to light. Like,I said I was going to kanzo and my word means something, so why the fuck are you standing by while this happens? But, in the context of making sure commitment actually exists before I sign the final and permanent contract makes sense even if I find it maddening.

So, there’s that. Me and Esu are going to get busy this week, since Intruder has clearly been hanging around my house and listening in on what I say in my prayers at my altars. Not happy to have unwelcome and uninvited guests hanging about, and not about to let that stand.

The best part of this bullshit circus is that it has really solidified how I feel about the Lwa and other divinities that would be removed from my life if I said yes to the Intruder, and how I feel about vodou in general. The Lwa have laid blessings at my feet at every turn and vodou has transformed my life. Vodou fits my outlook on the world and I really believe in the vision vodou and the Lwa have for me and the world around me. At this point, I feel like turning my back on the Lwa and vodou and saying that They have not done enough for me would be like cutting out my vital organs and burning them just for spite. There is something about having a look at what life could be life if you were to take a radical left turn from the best possible outcome that strengthens your resolve, sharpens your focus, and increases the gratitude that fills your heart.

Tonight, I am grateful that the universe at large delivered me to where I am right now. I am grateful that I have made the choices that I have, and that the consequences of those choices have brought me great joy. I am grateful for the brain in my head, the heart in my chest, and the logic that lays in both places. I am grateful to have a goal in sight and the knowledge that if I work hard, I can achieve it.

Happier things on the horizon–it’s almost time for Christmas baths and then Twa Wa/Three Kings Day/Good Luck baths. 2016 is looking like a pivotal year and I am so excited to see where my feet, the Lwa, and all my divinities bring me.

No Justice, No Peace

•December 5, 2015 • 1 Comment

This week, the Western media has been falling all over itself covering acts of violence that have happened within the United States. Three mass shootings in one day have made the standard national discourse on gun control, terrorism, immigration, and mental illness a bit louder, but it hasn’t changed anything. Not even a week after a gunman murdered three people and injured many others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the US Senate voted to defund Planned Parenthood in a bid to shut down one of the only clinic settings where all people can get safe and effective reproductive health care and support.

At the same time, various Orisha communities have embarked on a campaign to wear white for 10 days in a visible petition to Obatala to bring peace and understanding down upon the world. Pockets of Orisha worshippers all over the US and internationally have been busy praying and planning for events to disseminate their message, and to great end–if you are even remotely connected to Orisha anything on any social media, you cannot scroll an inch without seeing photos and comments about personal endeavors to wear white and what that is bringing into the lives of each practitioner participating. It has been interesting to watch this all unfold, especially in the face of heightened visible violence in the United States.

Esu has been very present with me this week, and I have regarded Him with a bit of suspicion. Strong presence from Him in my life usually precipitates some sort of big change or stark realization in my immediate future and, while I adore Him, I have learned to be wary and a bit circumspect. His lessons and circumstantial experiences are always valuable and necessary, but boy can they be difficult to chew on at times.

I asked Him if there was something He wanted and His answer was deceptively simple–’Look’.

He kept bringing me back to the act of striving for peace in the midst of violence, and kept pushing me to stretch how I look at things and how I think about them. One of the lessons that all my divinities–not just my Father–have pushed me to constantly learn and relearn is how to think critically from a global standpoint and remove myself from my own emotional experience. My emotional experience is not invaluable–quite the opposite–but it is only mine, and does not extend past my own nose. Esu sees all roads, possibilities, and outcomes free from His own biases and, while I am certainly not Esu nor can I be all that He is, there is a certain expectation that He holds of His children–to get out of our own ways and learn how to see without the messy bias of one’s own opinions. Esu is not immoral, but amoral–He does not carry a human moral compass and instead looks for what the best possible outcome is based on what needs to happen.

With all that in mind, I kept looking at the expressions of violence and desire for peace. Hilariously, I sort of sat with ‘what would Esu do’ and sort of went from there. The question that kept popping up over and over was ‘what has peace accomplished?’. What has changed because of peace? What has peace brought? What has been the fallout of the US living in relative internal peace for the last fifty years?

Short answer: across the board, nothing good.

 

The mistake of peace is to believe it brings calm equality. Praying for peace means praying for upheaval and social change, not the smoothing of the ripples created by structural inequality and hundreds of years of mistreatment and degradation. Peace has never come by sitting still, only by standing up and getting bloody.

Peace is a consolation prize for losing the social and moral battle to do what is assigned as good. In the US, this false sense of peace that communicates a flawed status quo has provided a painted ground cover under which the social ills of injustice and inequality have taken root, gone to ground, and rotted. This cover of would-be social good has only provided the opportunity for gross belief to infect an already-rotten framework, and given strength to plausible deniability by the incumbent, corrupt majority. The desire for peace–a tranquil environment free of conflict and perceived injustice and inequality–has left us with a ruling majority that preaches equality while continuing to feed into systems of dominance that systematically split society along race, gender, culture, and class lines in an effort to keep the power with those equality-preachers. Peace is a lie and the people who preach peace as a blanket solution to social realities are liars.

One of Esu’s lessons to me is not necessarily to tell the truth–sometimes telling the truth will get you killed–but not to lie to yourself. No matter what you put out into the world, you must know your truth, and you must know it deep in your bones. Esu abhors self-deception as much as oil hates water. We can preach peace, but only if we know that it is an inherent falsehood.

Do I fault people who want peace? No. Wanting to smooth the ripples of discontent so that our worlds are comfortable and non-confrontational is a natural, human desire. It is not, however, a helpful one and it too often forgets our own humanity and the humanity of others in the process. We run the risk of whitewashing–literally and figuratively–our differences in pursuit of what we believe to be social equilibrium.

Esu reminds me that He is not peaceful. He does not come with messages of calm acceptance and universal brotherhood. Instead, He comes bearing the knife that strips away illusion and brings forth personal understanding. After all, how could the Owner of all roads and He who embodies the liminality of the crossroads exist if He were not first to know Himself above all things? He reminds me that violence and bloodshed, while exceptionally painful, bring about necessary change and are like chemotherapy for the cancerous soul of society. Would the issues of racial injustice and racial inequality have come up had the lives of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and countless other Black men not been taken by members of the racist and corrupt militarized police force?

If I accept these things as true–that peace is a cultural falsehood and that violence has a useful place in the development of society–then where does that leave me as a practitioner of culturally-based minority religions? This might actually be the root of the actual query that Esu has sent me scurrying after.

My divinities as a whole are not peaceful. Eshu does not preach peace. The Lwa did not help enslaved Africans succeed in the only successful slave revolt by meeting the French colonizers with nonviolence. They do not protect me by laying down Their blades. Justice does not mean free from bloody battle. Asking Them for peace only gets me a confused side-eye.

Have we not taught you well? Did we not assure your safety?

Ogou will not lay down His machete or sword because I cringe from the reality of violence. Ezili Dantor will not stop screaming because I block my ears. Agwe will not calm His tides because I am afraid of swimming. Eshu will never not stab me in the heart with His blade when I need to realize painful truths. If I love Them, I cannot ask Them to put aside the tools that They have used to assure my safety and well-being, and the safety and well-being of all Their people.

Further, the rhetoric of peace treads dangerously close to ‘turn the other cheek’ for those of us who are members of marginalized populations. Preaching peace is a dangerous occupation when the dominant class doesn’t see your life as worth preserving, but expects you not to stand up and meet your would-be murderers, implicit or outright, as the threats they are. This is exceptionally evident in the media portrayal of #BlackLivesMatter and transgender activists–people who stand up and demand equitable treatment and an end to state-sanctioned violence against Black people and trans individuals are painted as terrorists and troublemakers.

With all of these things in mind, I do not pray for peace. I do not set aside the reality of the divinities who love me fiercely and violently. I do not discount how the lie of peace is used to quiet those who seek a better life.  Instead, I pray for justice, be it in my time or in the time of the divinities. I pray for justice, whether it comes quietly in the night or at the cut of a bloody blade. I pray for justice, that those who betray the vision held for us by our collective divinities pay the price for their missteps. I pray for the best possible outcome in the reality that we currently face, not the reality that we sometimes wish we had. I pray not for the Orisha to cover the world in aso funfun, but to bring forth Esu’s vision of the best possible outcome given what we have created for ourselves. I pray for Esu’s wisdom, that He grant me the ability to see myself and my world with His eyes so that I may fulfill His vision for me, and the vision dreamed by all my divinities.

May each of us wake from our individual sleep knowing our personal truths and seeing our world for how it treats each of us, with the wisdom and bloody compassion of Esu in our hearts and minds.

Fet Gede 2015 and Transformation

•November 27, 2015 • 4 Comments

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.

 
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