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.