Breathing Underwater

•November 11, 2017 • 2 Comments

This is an important and poignant time of year for me. A handful of years ago, fresh out of a relationship and not really sure where I was going in life, I took an old friend who I had recently come back into contact with up on his invitation to attend a Haitian vodou ceremony at his initiatory mother’s house. I had almost no personal interest in vodou beyond a general ‘I have never seen this before, might as well expand my horizons and learn how other people live’.

I attended, and the ceremony held no great awakening for me. It was good to expanding understanding of what other people did and it was fascinating to watch, but it wasn’t for me. I went to leave after the fete had ended with the sun rising, and found myself face-to-face with the Dead Man still in the head of the priestess in charge. I have been with you for a long time, he said with a serious look on his face. It’s about time you came to see me, and I’m happy that you’re here. Will you come and see me again?

When faced with what looks like a polite invitation from a spirit, it is best to answer with equal politeness. Of course, I said. It would be my pleasure.

I left knowing that I had been backed into a corner. Gede is invited to every ceremony which meant that, if I were going to honor my promise, I needed to keep showing up. The Dead Man plays the game better than most, but despite my continual attendance at ceremonies that year, I was resolute that I was just there to observe. I had no desire to practice and I did everything in my power to ignore my dreams and not lift a finger in the direction of developing a practice.

The following fet Gede, I found myself in front of the same Dead Man. He looked me in the eye and gently read me out for ignoring him for the previous year. Until you get right with me, you have nothing. I left that party feeling a bit like hamburger–this was the same fete maryaj had vigorously been proposed at–and arrived back to my apartment to find the door and surrounding wall covered with moths. Like, a blanket of moths. I stood there counting until I got to 100, and then I gave up and went to bed knowing that Gede was not fucking around.

I got right with him quick and what happened after was really the blossoming of one of the most beautiful relationships I have ever hoped to have. The Dead Man (and a few Dead Ladies) has become my staunchest advocate, my closest friend-consort, and a devoted parent. At every turn, I find him. On every corner, he waits for me. In every moment, I can hear his dry-as-a-bone cackle, if I listen.

As I got closer to kanzo, he was there more and more. He kept me out of the grave before I got in the djevo, and helped secure the funds to make sure it was not an impossible task. He kept me laughing–one of my fondest dreams is Gede showing up as a recently-dead Prince in the Purple Rain outfit on a purple motorcycle, asking me if I wanted to go for a ride–and kept me moving when I otherwise was hoping I would just be struck dead before I failed to get to Haiti.

After kanzo, he visited in a dream, appearing at a picnic that he attended in a perfect three piece suit complete with matching bowler hat and cane. You were a pain in the ass to get in the djevo, he said, eyeing my newly re-born self, but that’s all over now!

I owe him everything.

+++

It is transcendent to have your existence completely resting in the hands of your spirits. There are these moments of paralyzing fear that pop up and then melt away into the calmness that only comes when you know that the only way out is through their maneuverings. Divine providence provides a terrible sort of reassurance, but it is freeing in its own way. Everything I have comes from them, and they will continue to provide because none of my sacrifices have ever proven to be in vain.

There’s a lot in the air for me. After two years of continuous upheaval and a complete nuclear destruction of my life in pursuit of a life, I am working to put puzzle pieces into place. It’s not easy. In fact, it is one of the harder things I have done, probably second only to pushing the big red button that brought about my own personal apocalypse pre-kanzo. I walked from a career-defining job because the lwa said to,and recovering from that professionally is a challenge, especially in a specialized field. The job market is rough because a fascist three-yearold holds the highest office in the country, and funding is being hoarded in case he eliminates an entire branch of social services. It’s tough, but no one every promised me easy. I trust you, I tell them. I trust you because I have always trusted you, and you have never led me astray. Tell me what to do next.

We have a plan, they whisper back. Don’t worry.

The vigilant waiting is hard.

Sometimes I give in to the gnawing of the tiny gremlins. Everything is awful, they say, and you are drowning. When it is like that, I look back to who brought me to the door of the djevo and flung me inside, who has never left me without comfort, even when comfort took the form of painful truth.

Are you there, Dead Man? It’s me, Bonkira.

Under the big rock, he says with a toothy grin. It’s me!

The touch of death can be tender and gentle, like the care of a lover who finds you on the floor at 3AM because your boss is an asshole, the bills are too many, and that sushi was bad. I pray, and he fills me with grace and blessings. The suffering does not go on forever, he reminds me. You asked for big things and that takes time. He stands over me with calm patience, and lets me use him like a ladder, clawing at his suit to leverage myself up. You can’t know how much you don’t see right now.

It is human to feel terror beside the knowledge that everything will be fine and that you have the biggest insurance policy that money cannot buy. He knows humanity, and still has the taste of it in his mouth. He knows suffering, and can share it.

I don’t know what comes next, I tell him. Sometimes I am wobbly like a toddler with brand new legs. What do I do, beloved? Show me the way out.

The dead have answers for days. An answer to suit every occasion. An answer that matches every hat and comes with it’s own pair of broken sunglasses. An answer that opens every door, and answer that can turn the key in the lock and close off everything. An answer to make you scream and an answer to make you moan and an answer to make you laugh.

This is who I am, he says, and shows me things. This is how you love me.

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Upcoming opportunity: All Soul’s Novena

•October 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

On October 25th, I begin a novena for All Soul’s Day. A novena is a 9 day series of prayers for a cause or particular divinity, and my novena for All Soul’s Day is for the dead of all sorts. I couldn’t find a prayer format that I liked, so I wrote my own last year and updated it this year (and I’ll post it closer to the beginning of the novena if you want to pray along with me).

This year, I am offering the opportunity to have your beloved dead or dead that you want prayers offered on behalf included. There’s no charge or anything, you just have to speak up.

These are the designations for each night of my novena:

Day 1: the newly deceased (anyone who passed in the past year)

Day 2: the unnamed dead (anyone who died without their identity being known, who died without a name, or who was buried without any identifier)

Day 3: the forgotten dead (those who died and have been forgotten by their loved ones or who no longer have any living family and friends, and whose names have been lost to time)

Day 4: the martyred dead: those who died at the hands of colonialism–people who died while enslaved, as a result of being colonized, or from the effects of colonialism

Day 5: the martyred dead: those who have died at the hands of police and state-sanctioned murder (particularly people of color murdered as a result of a racist police state)

Day 6: the martyred dead: those who have died as a result of hate crimes focused on sexuality and/or gender identity

Day 7: the ancestral dead (family of origin, family of adoption, family of choice–I will absolutely pray for your family members)

Day 8: the lineage dead (those dead who are part of a spiritual lineage or are of spiritual significance)

Day 9: all souls who have passed

If you would like the names of your beloved dead or dead that you would like remembered, all you need to do is let me know their name and what day I should pray for them on. You can submit their name anonymously to me over on Tumblr and submit as many names as you feel need to be prayed for. If you aren’t sure what category may suit them best, I can help you figure it out or they can be included in the last night of prayers, which is for all souls who have passed.

You don’t need to follow any particular belief system (or have any beliefs at all) to participate, and I don’t confer anything onto the dead in a religious sense–I only offer a blessing for their peace and evolution in whatever afterlife (or lack thereof) that is most suitable for them. Again, no charge or obligation for anything to have your dead prayed for.

If you have business with Gede, I will be doing a novena later in November for the nasyon of dead in Haitian vodou and will make a separate post for that closer to when that is to happen!

Feel free to reblog this, and I will reblog between now and October 25, too!

The Way Leads On to the Way

•September 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a busy couple weeks over this way, and a lot of stuff is happening both rapidly and slowly.

Last weekend, we mounted lave tet in Boston, which made for a long weekend Doing Stuff with family. It was a really lovely and intimate experience for me with some of my siblings, and it was good to spend time with them without the hustle and bustle of a big ceremony going on around us. Ceremony of any sort leads me to and leaves me with new understandings of the spirits and how they move in the world, which is a blessing I am grateful for.

Yesterday was Michaelmas/Feast of St. Michel Arcange, and one of my husbands walks with St. Michael, so I began a novena for him several days before lave tet began which was an interesting challenge for myself. Several nights had ceremony ending in the wee hours, which meant I would begin my prayers in the wee-est of wee hours since I prefer to make most of my big prayers right before I sleep. Some nights I was too exhausted to do anything but the main novena prayer, so I owe Agaou some rounds of rosary-saying.

Today was Haitian dance class, which meets weekly here in the city, and while I have been before, it had been a long time since I had been. One of my brothers was teaching, though, so I wanted to go support him and I really do need to lean how to dance. It was so, SO much fun. I joked later that it usually takes me a plane ticket and a passport to enjoy sweating profusely so much with my friends, but LORD it was good. We danced a little yanvalou, parigol, a whole lot of Djouba and Nago, and ended with a bit of banda.

As soon as the drums started,I really felt alive–I live for those damn drums because they are the heartbeat of the spirits, and it is so joyful to hear the rhythms. I didn’t do too badly, overall–there is some stuff that I am really not good at yet (my spine does not yet want to move like my brother’s, but it will get there), but I picked up the footwork and could get it going. I love me some Djouba and Nago dances, though, and it was really amazing to start to learn how to move my body like the spirits do when they are down in possession. I really can’t wait to go back.

Today is also the 120th anniversary of the death of St. Thérèse of Lisieux/ Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She has shown up for me in a big, big way after kanzo, and it’s likely because of my pre-kanzo praying to her. Part of my bargain with my spirits to get to Haiti and into the djevo was that, if they would help the money come, I would attend Mass weekly. The church I attended Mass at had a votive altar for her, and I knew her to have the reputation of being deeply faithful and possessing a lot of internal spiritual strength and fortitude–she entered the cloister at 15 and never left the convent after that, eventually dying of tuberculosis inside the walls. So, I prayed and asked her to grant my strength to do what I needed to do to fulfill my promise to my spirits and to have faith in their plan for me. They were prayers of desperation, honestly, since things were burning down and I had no idea how I was going to make it all happen. To be frank, if my mother had told me that praying to the light bulb would have helped me, I would have done it. She didn’t tell me to go speak with Thérèse, but I decided that nothing was off limits so to  Thérèse I went.

Imagine my surprise when she started talking back, after I had settled down from kanzo. I have dreamed her over and over where we sit down and talk about things or where I find things that have her image on them. Hell, right before kanzo someone gave me a statue of Thérèse. I wondered out loud to my mother why a saint known to be a very Catholic-y Catholic would start talking to me, and my mother looked up from her task and said ‘because she was listening’. Duh.

Thérèse doesn’t seem to have any sort of issue with me–despite me being the worst version of a Catholic you have ever seen, complete with my happy living in sin of various sorts and the whole trans thing and on and on–and even seems pleased with my attention. She outright doesn’t care about the vodou thing, which was super surprising, and the more I read about her, the more I understand how she and her philosophy of devotion fit within my spiritual sphere and personal development. Once I get settled into my next home, she wants a space of her own and I guess since I was screeching at her pre-kanzo, she is exempt from my ‘absolutely no more spirits’ declaration I made post-kanzo. So, she’ll get her shrine.

Her attention and presence has coincided nicely with a request from one of my husbands to attend Mass regularly, which, in the dream he gave me that informed of this in a ‘why don’t you attend Mass more? why don’t you participate?’, resulted in my dream-self sort of telling him off (’the Church doesn’t want me and I don’t want it’). My mother’s take on all of this was super pragmatic–if your husband is telling you to go to church, you probably should get your ass to church’. So, I have been bouncing around to a variety of churches to find one that I like. Tomorrow, I go to Mass at the chapel at the local Carmelite monastery for a special Mass in honor of Thérèse, since tomorrow is her official feast day.

All of this keeps being drawn together in one fat care package for me of ‘things you need to work on’ from my spirits. I was not raised Catholic, but grew up in a fairly religiously combative Protestant household with involvement in what amounts to a Christian-flavored cult and am a pastor’s kid. I have a lot of baggage to unpack there and they are making sure I get to it. In a lot of ways, it is circles just being looped in tighter and tighter to form one whole, which, basically, is me. It’s nice, in it’s own way, if not completely comfy.

The title of this post is part of that idea of tightening circles, kind of. One of the big misconceptions that a lot of folks have about kanzo is that once you’re out, you’re good. Like, things are in place, life will be smooth, you don’t have a lot to keep chugging on, and I sort of laugh at that because I totally see where that comes from–you’ve essentially just climbed a huge spiritual mountain complete with ice crevasses and sheer cliffs. Surely this means Done, right?

Nope. For me, I got lucky–I didn’t even have the time/space to consider what came after kanzo as the world was basically ending on the date I was scheduled to head to Haiti. Anything after didn’t matter and I didn’t think about it, so it wasn’t that huge a deal when it was clear that, oh no, kanzo is really just a beginning of the work. In that framework, the way leads on to the way. There is no finished and no good enough. There will never be a point where I can point to something and say ‘yeah, I got that’. There is always a way to make something a little better or a place to learn a new thing or, at the very least, a new challenge from the spirits.

In that vein, priests never really retire, in any sense. There will always be spirits to tend and feed, always stuff to do, always ceremonies to put on, always clients to help, and so I will always work, in many spheres. The way leads on to the way. I will always needs to have income, if only to make sure my spirits stay happy, and I will always need to develop myself as a person so that I can be the best priest-tool and best version of myself for my spirits. There is no sitting still, only moving forward, even if I am crawling.

So, the way continues to unfold, and I am glad for it. It means I am not dead yet and that I have purpose at my finger tips, even if all I want to do is scratch at the walls when things are uncomfy.

Lots of stuff coming up for me, too! A book I wrote a piece for on queer magic in vodou will be coming out in April which is super exciting. I will be doing an AMA/ask me anything on Reddit as soon as I get myself together and submit the post (and I will link it here if anyone wants to go read) and have a day where I am not running around doing a million things. I am starting to plan for top surgery in the not-distant future, which means I have a lot of things to plan out and work to do since this will not be a small undertaking at all. More stuff is on the cusp of coming to fruition, and it’s all good.

Things are good in general, and I feel blessed to wake up every day and feel gratitude for all that has transpired in the past few years and gratitude for all that my spirits have done for me. All that I have descends from them–my hands may have done the work, but it is by their grace that it all has come to be. These days, I can only pray to know their will for me and to see their faces out in the world and on the inside–they take such excellent care of me, and I am so damn small and inconsequential.

It is rainy and overcast here today, which I love, and I hope you are having as satisfying a day as I am!

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

•September 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment


If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Rev 3:20

I have written this post at least five different times and thrown out each version because it misses what I want to write about. At the same time, I don’t know if what I want to communicate is actually able to be written about. How do you put into words the exact moment something drastic shifted as a result of the smallest, most gentle interaction from the most unexpected place? Does translating experience and thought into something that is read take away it’s importance and meaning and leave it impotent? I have no idea, to any of that.

What I do know is that this maryaj of mine has brought about a lot of big changes, little insidious changes, and shaken a lot of shit loose. In some ways, it has done bigger and more expansive things for me internally than kanzo did, because it has flipped my relationships with my spirits upside down and inside out and backwards/forwards/sideways, all in the best of ways and all in ways I couldn’t predict prior to having them put a ring on it. I knew going in that this was significant for me and it’s own sort of initiation, but even then I knew that, like all initiations of all sorts, I couldn’t see or touch those mysteries until I was on the other side and, even once I was, had a little time to really digest what had happened and how I felt about it. A lot of seemingly unrelated stuff got pulled in, and it has started manifesting in ways that continue to undo me and lay me bare. Initiation isn’t finished once the ceremonies are over, it continues on forever and evolves as we evolve.

The catalyst of all of this was not the maryaj ceremony itself, though that was a huge hinge and flashpoint. Instead, it was something that happened after and just before I left Haiti. It was something I asked for, but didn’t expect delivered, and it turned out to be one of the most meaningful experiences of my vodou ‘career’ so far.

Continue reading ‘“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”’

Time for some maryaj photos!

•September 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was looking at some of my pictures from the wedding (more coming soon, as soon as I meet up with my sister, who juggled her camera and my camera during the wedding because she is a saint) and they make me giddy with joy, so time to share! I’ll explain as best as I can what is going on in the picture, but don’t hesitate to ask questions–I am SUPER HAPPY to talk about my wedding!

Continue reading ‘Time for some maryaj photos!’

Five things make a post.

•August 29, 2017 • Leave a Comment

1. I have been purposefully silent lately, and it’s been working for me in a pretty meaningful way. I keep chasing understanding and knowledge on the bonds between humans and spirits, and it keeps leading me to reading a lot of Catholic mysticism and writings on contemplative spirituality. I am not about to run off and go full Catholic, nor is vodou or my understanding of it really that contemplative…but the tools of contemplation and silence are really, really useful. It’s led me to really consider how I spend time with my spirits and how/why I pray. I have zero desire to retreat into spiritual silence, but I am enjoying the time and space in my head.

2. Perhaps it’s a product of focusing inward or perhaps it’s how this maryaj has provided both a container and a capstone for how I relate to my spirits and how things move between us, but I am feeling super, SUPER at peace with all the things in my life. It isn’t that things are peaceful, by any sense of the word, nor are things perfect or easy, but I feel good about all of it these days. I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

3. That exact place is where the spirits put me. They have always and repeatedly given me a safe place to land and smoothed the way in front of me when I am putting in the work to do what they need and want me to do. They have provided everything, from beginning to end, and I know they will continue to do so when I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

4. I wear their rings daily. I have a bunch of them, so I generally rotate depending on the day of the week and who gets that day. A few I wear every day at their request/demand, for Reasons–which is dramatic for me, I don’t really wear much jewelry of my own accord-and only put all the husband bling on all at once when I am working for the spirits, either by doing things for clients or working ceremony. All of my rings are lovely and meaningful, but I have really been considering the importance of the simplest one which, in some ways, is the most important. It is the ring for all spirits, that represents the ceremonial bonds I have with all of them through maryaj, and it is a simple gold wedding band that they showed me ahead of the wedding, in a dream. It’s simple and easy to visibly overlook, since it goes on the same finger as some of the blingier bling, but it is Heavy.

5. In working through thoughts about contemplation and union with the spirits, I have been watching a lovely BBC series on religious and philosophical movements rooted in ancient history. I watched a piece about Confucius tonight, and there was something there that blew my mind open about why regleman/spiritual order and rules is so very important and is really the backbone of the community and practice, both personal and communal. I need to sit and chew on it for a minute but really what a brain breaker in the best of ways and what a gift from the spirits overall. Regleman often gets viewed either (from the outside) as a tiresome burden and why don’t we just cut to the chase, or is not even really considered as something more important than ‘it pleases the spirits’. I have totally thought all of those things at one point or another, but…man. Mind. Blown. I’ll have to write more about it when my brain sorts it out a little and maybe after I chat about it with my manmi.

Unmasking.

•August 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I asked my mother what the spirits think of current events in the US. I asked her this in her kitchen, while she cooked and hovered over a variety of pans bubbling at full capacity on the stove. The act of creating and sustaining through every day process is part of her gifts in this life, and she lifts us up through this quiet, backstage work.

“I don’t know,” she says with a wooden spoon in her hand. “I haven’t asked them.”

I haven’t either, at least not directly. I have sat with them and asked ‘why’ over and over, though. Why are people like this? Why has this country prospered for so long on a foundation of genocide, enslavement, torture, and systemic inequality and racism? Why don’t they do something?

They are quiet in response, in the same way that they were quiet around the miscarriage of an election in November 2017. In the aftermath of the delivery of fascism to the highest seat in government, I took as big a step back from my utter rage and disappointment and asked the spirits why they were quiet. I spent a lot of time meditating on this and trying to see the larger picture for all the piles of stinking bullshit in the frame.

In the end, I think that this is not their problem to solve. It is not a situation that they have created–we are responsible for this in a myriad of ways and, while they grieve our suffering and the loss of lives associated with the addressing of a broken and unjust framework, we made this mess and we must clean it up. We bear responsibility and we must carry it. That is not to say that they are not with us in this–they are–but the solutions must come from our hands.

The history of vodou reflects this expectation of responsibility. It only takes a glance at Bwa Kayiman to see this particular truth. That rite and that beginning was not about the spirits swooping in to save their people, but was the people crying out that they could not take any more and that something had to change. It was only then that the spirits came to the table and offered a solution–do all these things and we will assure your success. An agreement was made and, after thirteen years (a not insignificant number) of bloody struggle, the people and the spirits were successful in liberating the island and ejecting the imperalist colonizers.

I don’t know that White America is at that point. Too many white people are surprised by the sudden exposure of the racist foundation of the United States and the systems that have both nurtured white supremacy, white nationalism, and fascism, and allowed those things to flourish in ways that white folks have refused to look at for a very long time. White folks have been comfortable with these systems and situations because we benefit from them each and every day, in every possible way. Even vodou reflects that–people finding out that I am involved in vodou will often be regarded as quaint or edgy or as me taking a walk on the wild side, whereas a Haitian or other person of color will be regarded as threatening or evil or not to be trusted.

As a priest, I can’t sit and ask my spirits what to do. That’s not what I was made for. Instead, I have to suit up and show up and know that they will have my back. That means a literal putting on of the boots and heading into the fray. When the Nazis arrive in my city this weekend for their masturbatory endeavor aimed at terrorizing people of color, Jewish folks, followers of Islam, LGBTQ+ folks, people with disabilities, women, and anyone who does not fit their perfect Aryan spankbank material, under the guise of ‘free speech’, I will be there as a visible reminder that this white person rejects any ideology that elevates whiteness by crushing and terrorizing others and that this systems of inequality in the US must be dismantled at any cost. I will support the immediate consequences to delivering hate messages and physical intimidation, and, if given the chance, I will punch a Nazi in the fucking face.

At the same time, I will pray protection on all those who show up to stand against fascism, white nationalism, and white supremacy, and especially for people of color who will be targeted above all. I will pray that the spirits of war, of revolution, of blood spilled, of a ravening thirst for destruction will deliver the righteous justice of the people upon the heads of those who seek to oppress, terrorize, and silence. I won’t pray for peace and will instead pray for a revolution that shakes the foundations of white supremacy until they crack and crumble to dust. I cannot do anything less.

In all of this, I continually return to my mother, a quiet and dignified woman who came to this country carrying the hope for a different life for her then-child and children to come. She left Haiti just after the Duvalier regime ended, having lived through state-sponsored terrorism and gaslighting. She immigrated at tremendous personal cause, leaving behind family and friends, some of whom will still not speak to her because of her departure. Once here, she began to work immediately and has not stopped since. She became fluent in her third language, earned three college degrees, raised three children on her own, and created the sort of community that draws people from all over the world to her door. She didn’t come here for any of this bullshit.

I have watched her instruct her natural daughter on how to behave if a Trump supporter should confront her. I have witnessed her tears after the election, and the fear of her daughter who has classmates who come to school in Make America Great Again hats. I have seen her worry about her son and what will happen to him out in a world where cops murder Black men and Nazis march in the streets. I love her, so how can I do anything but act?

I thank the spirits for the blessing of the unmasking of white supremacy in the United States in ways that cannot be ignored or dismissed by those who benefit from systems of inequality. I pray strength and protection upon the hands and heads of those who will not let white terrorism, supremacy, and nationalism go unanswered, and I pray as much safety as is possible for those who are targeted by these white terrorists, especially people of color. May your spirits and divinities feed you, nourish you, and hold you close as this war is fought, and may you find blessings of prosperity and hope among the bullshit and bloodshed.

Talk minus action equals zero. –D.O.A.