Done and done.

•February 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

By this time this evening, I will have passed through the ceremony needed to give my assent to the Lwa who have offered me the opportunity for maryaj Lwa. I will likely be home or on my way home to decompress before heading into work with the weight of what I’ve just committed to on my head and shoulders—a lifetime of service to my Lwa, ritual celibacy on particular days, and some binding agreements to Manbo and her house.

It has been a week of mental preparation and taking care of some practical matters that I needed to put to bed before I entered the temple. I took care of one of those matters today—getting some simple divination done to ensure that all things regarding the maryaj and me accepting the proposal for such were as they should be, and I got a resoundingly positive [possibly the most positive I have had in a long time] message back from my diviner. It is super good and it will be super good for me.

Earlier this week, I approached who I call my fairy olorisha—the santera who so graciously gives me guidance on matter related to my Father, Eshu/Eleggua. I asked her is she could consult Him for me to make sure that He was onboard with me doing maryaj and that all was well with Him in this matter. She went to Him for me on Monday, which is His day, while I had my own small shrine to Him lit up with a candle and fresh offerings.

His response was also positive, albeit in a very Eshu manner. The most prominent reason that He wants me to do maryaj is because it is going to save my life. Literally, this is going to keep me from dying. This isn’t at all unusual in Diasporic religions—many people initiate or go through particular ceremonies to maintain their life or the life of someone in their immediate family. I knew my health was tied up in this, but I wasn’t aware that the situation was so severe. Of course, it’s not the only reason I’m doing maryaj Lwa but it’s a really, really, REALLY important one that has come to light in the last week.

If I wasn’t to do it, there would be a much larger, much more expensive, much less ideal intervention required to keep me alive and, given that this option has been illustrated as much less idea for a variety of reasons, there’s no telling how alive I would want to be at that point. One of Eshu’s gifts is that He sees all paths and knows all outcomes, and chooses the best one to reach the desired goal, so maryaj in this sosyete with this manbo is the best possible choice to make given what the situation is.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I am not terribly happy about this. As I said above, I knew my health was tied into why I need to do maryaj [thank you, Lwa, for making that clear], but I had no damn idea that the stakes were so high. The reason that I am being pushed to commit to this now and go through the ceremony to solidify that commitment is because my health is going to get pretty challenging fairly quickly and the ceremony will grant me some manner of protection against that. I have no idea if I will have to do the actual maryaj ceremony as quickly, but I’m hoping not simply for monetary reasons, but if They say it needs to happen immediately and the money falls out of the sky, I’ll be going to the proverbial chapel as soon as I can.

I’m not very scared about this, surprisingly. I think I would be more scared if They just told me that I was going to get very ill and perhaps die, period, but I have been given the solution to the problem. It’s not that I am suddenly going to be in the best of health, but whatever is wrong with me won’t kill me [just like Manbo said in her reading] and the Lwa will work for me to get me with the best doctors and treatments for whatever ends up being wrong. My health has been getting steadily worse over the last few months and, as someone who has been deeply affected by a variety of as-yet-unexplained symptoms, the possibility that there could be a divine shove into finding me a label for what is wrong is a bit exciting in a terrifying sort of way. I don’t want to be sick, but if I have to be, I’d rather be sick in a known way that can be treated. That’s what I’ve been praying for lately—if I have to be ill, please let the doctors find what sort of ill it is so that it may be treated in whatever manner works out to be best.

I believe strongly that I wasn’t supposed to know this in great detail—it is one thing to know that your health is tied up in a particular ceremony, and it is another to know that not doing the ceremony could kill you. As a friend mentioned today, if I had known this was a reason I was presented with the proposal, it would have created a biased environment—how could I possibly say no to such a thing if I knew from the get-go that I would die without it? The Mister is all about fair play, so it’s no wonder that this couldn’t come out until I had already made up my mind and told Him what I planned to do. I also don’t think He wanted me to be unnecessarily terrified, either, which would present another sort of pressure in making a decision.

However, my Eshu cuts like a knife and, if I can count on Him for anything, I can count on Him to give me the straight shit—to tell me things plainly and bluntly in a way that I can conceptualize, even when it hurts like a motherfucker. I didn’t ask Him about it until recently, but I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have heard this from him any earlier, either. In true Eshu fashion, I received this news from my fairy olorisha while I was in the middle of dealing with two separate and complicated situations a half an hour before I needed to leave from work. I had eight hours to sit and stew on this before I could throw myself at Him to cry and, by the time I got off work, I was too damn tired to cry. Instead, I went home to sleep and had another Lwa dream, of course.

Once I knew what the score was and what was riding on this maryaj, the Lwa got really, really busy. I have had more dreams this week about Them than I have in the past few months. I got instructions on some magical work that needs to be done, one of my Lwa stepped forward in a way that has necessitated Manbo going to Him to ask what it is that He wants, and Damballah gave me a gift wrapped up in a lovely white box, which is a bit perplexing. I’m not sure what to make of all this yet, but I’m working through it in hopes that it will make sense sooner or later.

I’m exhausted, in all senses of the word. I sat with my Lwa this morning after giving Them plates of fruit [for Rada and Petwo] and spicy chocolate [for Ghede] and told Them so—that I felt like I was running on empty and was basically rushing from one emergency to another without feeling much reprieve from the inherent stress of that sort of living. I told Them what I need to do what all of my divinities want from me—the bare necessities being stable and affordable housing, a stable job that pays all my bills with a little extra and with good benefits, and for my car to run reliably—and asked that They help take care of that while I get busy trying to keep my health in line as best as I can. I’ve spent this week evaluating what I need to do to streamline my life in such a way that I can be sick without everything falling apart and working to assemble my new team of providers, as some of my old providers weren’t working out. That has taken most of my energy and focus, and I’m feeling pretty low from it. Also, because this is my life, I’m down with some sort of cold again, which is perversely fitting—I am going through a ceremony to maintain my life because my health is going to go to hell and I am sick.

When I called Manbo earlier this week and told her about the divination from my fairy olorisha, she was quick to tell me that this wasn’t out of the ordinary and that my Lwa were lining things up to protect me, which I knew but it was nice to hear. In her no-nonsense way, she told me to stay calm, take some deep breaths, and that we would pray about this so that things don’t get so bad. My nerves are mostly because I feel like I’m signing a contract without knowing what the fine print says and because I hate signing blank checks.

But, I trust Manbo, I trust the Lwa, I trust Eshu, and, moreover, I trust the Mister, Who has clearly been working for years to make all these pieces fall together—I met the person who brought me to vodou ten years ago and first got told that I needed to meet the Lwa almost four years ago. I am continually floored by Their care and love for me and how hard They work to make sure my life turns out as best as it can with what there is to work with. There will be no repaying Them for what They have done, are doing, and will do for me because the debt is insurmountable. I don’t understand why I deserve all these things—I am so very small and will exist for only a blip in time, and They are so very large and will see forever—but I am grateful and can only hope that my devotions convey how very blessed I feel for having Them literally preserve me.

Modupe Eshu for loving Your child enough to wield the sharpest, most painful knife. Mwen di mesi nan Lwa for offering Your protection and care to this outsider who bumbled about for months before getting the message. I kiss the ground at the Mister’s feet, He who blesses me so completely despite my flaws, failings, and ripe humanity.

I am so lucky, so blessed, and alive to see another day.

Best Laid Plans

•February 14, 2015 • 5 Comments

In my last entry, I wrote about the process of what would happen with my maryaj proposal going forward–namely, that there would be a small ceremony in March on the afternoon of Fet Damballah where I would officially say yes. It’s not a huge ceremony from what I understand, but it sort of officially ties the threads together. This was the plan laid out by Manbo and it sounded good to me.

Well, that got blown to hell today, and I expect that was always the plan.

Dreams are very important in vodou. They are considered a primary way that the Lwa communicate with vodouisants and are discussed and analyzed at length with one’s manbo or houngan to discern messages and lessons form the Lwa. Coincidentally [read: not at all coincidentally], dreams have always been the primary way that that I hear from divinities–I’m quite accustomed to waking up and having the realization that something significant just happened, and rolling over to scribble all the details down before I lose them.

Not too long after my leson, I had a dream where is was very clear that I had Fucked Up. On the day of Fet Damballah, I overslept and got to Manbo’s house much too late to do the necessary ceremony, which I knew was very, very bad. While I sat and made lamp wicks for the fete, the Marassa nan Petwo stood there in all their endlessly old child-like glory with scarred cheeks and stared at me..and then I woke up.

The Marassa appear as messengers and, according to Manbo, the message was that I had been dragging my feet on doing what I should have already done about the maryaj. I asked her if that meant I needed to do the ceremony sooner and she didn’t think so–They were basically putting an exclamation point on the sentence of ‘don’t fuck around’.

That was all fine and good until today, when I had a similar dream wherein it was the day of Fet Damballah and I had decided not to go since I was feeling unwell–completely forgetting that I had a ceremony to do. At some point I remembered and called Manbo to tell her I was coming, as I needed to do the ceremony. She in turn told me that the ceremony needed some preparations to be done beforehand that had not been completed since I told her I wouldn’t be attending, and the clearly stated message was that it would not be happening because I fucked up.

I woke up irritated as hell and as soon as I was relatively coherent, I called up Manbo to talk. I was pretty certain what continually dreaming about screwing this up meant, and I wasn’t wrong–Manbo agreed that They were pressuring me pretty heavily to do the ceremony and that it could no longer wait until March. Being that New England is going to get pounded with snow again this weekend, we’ve got a tentative plan for me to go in next weekend…provided there is no snow being dumped on us. These days, all plans are tentative until the weather makes clear it’s intentions.

I’m not quite sure what to to think about this. I’ve had to make quick turnarounds on decisions for the Gods before, but I was a different person then with a lack of understanding about the ins and outs of making life-changing decisions. I’ve had plenty of time to consider this and nothing has come up thus far to make me say no, but I’m not used to being pushed this hard. I still could say no, but that would be a pretty bad idea for a multitude of reasons.

I’m nervous about why a literal thirty day wait for the ceremony is unacceptable. It could be that I dragged my feet for far too long and They are done waiting, as there is no more information to gather or options to explore. If I am super optimistic, it could be that there is something coming for me and They want to make sure I am as underwraps as possible before it hits. It has not escaped my notice that the cause of both of the dream screw-ups was that I was essentially unwell. Combining that with other dreams about my health makes me a bit uncomfortable.

So, here I am. I’ve got some prayers to make this evening, some deep breaths to take, and some stress to manage. I’m hoping doing this ceremony will take some of the pressure off, but there’s the possibility that it won’t and that it instead will accelerate things even faster. I remarked to a friend today that my experience with the Unseen is working against me right now–if I was brand new and had never had any contact with divinities or experience in spiritual work or divine relationships, I bet things would not be so intense. However, I dragged my feet when I knew that not dealing with something doesn’t make it easier or more manageable. Past assumptions of what my involvement in vodou would be [minimal] are biting me in the ass majorly–if a client had come to me and told me the story of what has been going on in my life with regards to vodou, I would have given them very specific advice that I did not take because, for some reason, I thought it wouldn’t be applicable to me. Assumptions are bad. But, the Lwa are telling me what to do so now I have explicit directions, a religious superior who is prescribing a course of action, and absolutely no excuse to make the same assumptions or mistakes again, and I will do my very best not to.

I think this calls for a long, hot bath and a drink or five.

In for a penny…

•February 11, 2015 • 9 Comments

It has been a very long few weeks. I have sat down to write a few times and what has come out has turned out to be way more let-me-tell-you-a-story than I would prefer, so it has all been scrapped every time in the hopes that new writing would actually read more like reality and less like a picture book.

Between me needing time to sit and chew on things, being a bit lazy, and Manbo going to Haiti for the holidays, she and I didn’t get to sit to talk about the maryaj Lwa until just a few weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, this needed a leson/reading as well, which I am grateful she was able to provide.

In Haitian vodou, readings are done with a modified deck of playing cards and the process was fascinating to be a part of—there were specific prayers and actions, salutes, candlework, and even a way of shuffling the cards that I had never seen before. The cards are read differently than I have seen playing cards read otherwise and she is possibly one of the best readers/diviners I have ever sat with. She’s been reading cards for at least 30 years, so that’s not a surprise in the least.

Some of the leson was not a surprise to me at all—pieces of it touched on a lot of things that I am either intimately familiar with [such as my money problems and dissatisfaction with my dayjob] or suspected heavily [such as the reality that my health is not going to improve much, but whatever is wrong with me won’t get much better—though it won’t kill me].

The majority of what Manbo read and what the Lwa said to her metaphorically put me on the floor—I do not get shocked that often by the divinities anymore and have a good poker face even when I do, but I am fairly certain that I was broadcasting a very loud and bright distress signal in an unmistakable fashion. I spent a good few days just giggling to myself because of how insane it all got in a matter of forty minutes.

One of the goals of the reading was to ascertain what my esko/spiritual escort/group of Lwa that walk with me is. Everyone in vodou has some sort of esko of Lwa who walk with, protect, guide, teach, love and generally care for the vodouisant. In exchange for all of those blessings, the vodouisant provides regular service for Them at Their altar and cares for Them with prayers, singing, gifts, being part of the community, etc. Being that there are hundreds upon hundreds of Lwa, it’s important to know who you should be serving and paying attention to as serving the wrong Lwa or ignoring the ones you do have is disastorous—your Lwa get pissed and jealous if you are not paying attention to Them and other Lwa get angry that you keep bothering Them.

I expected just a few Lwa—enough to provide me balance between the Lwa that are considered cooling and considered hot and that’s it. I have a lot of other divinities in my life and, in the grand scheme of vodou and the sosyete I am a part of, I’m nobody—I help set up chairs for fetes, do what Manbo’s ti fey/children tell me to do, try to sing/dance/follow what’s happening, and maybe catch a body or two when the Lwa who has come down departs. I am, however, kind of an oblivious dumb ass from time to time.

Manbo started giggling when she began to read the cards and see which Lwa were stepping forward for me. I’m not quite sure I can adequately explain how terrifying that was, but I’ll try. Manbo is a very small and petite Haitian woman who is easily the most powerful person I have ever met in my ti fey entire life, bar none. I know a LOT of spirit workers of varying flavors and she makes all of us look like uneducated children who need an adult. I swear, if you gave this woman a bottle of Barbancourt and her ason, she could go to war all on her own without breaking a sweat or messing up her hair. She is also the most humble spiritual worker I’ve ever met, too, and ridiculously polite when she is working—she speaks softly and clearly and has a preternatural sort of calm about her. So, when she giggled, I started to sweat.

The first words out of her mouth [while chuckling] were ‘I don’t know how you don’t know this, but <group of Lwa> are very, very strong with you’. The Haitians I have met are incredibly blunt or, at least, are blunt when they respect you and I have come to value this so, SO much. Given how the rest of the reading went, I suspect this was her sort of cushioning exactly what the Lwa were saying.

All in all, she detailed thirteen Lwa who were stepping forward and asking for my attention, spread across every nayson of Lwa commonly served in most sosyetes. Every time she pronounced another name and gave me a sentence or two about what they wanted, I felt like I was about to turn into a pile of goo just a little more. As I said elsewhere and to some other people, in about a half an hour, I almost tripled the amount of divinities in my life. None of them were just sort of peeking their heads in and eyeing me with interest, either. They were all very, very present. I found out later from one of Manbo’s ti fey that, had I gotten my leson closer to when I had shown up to the sosyete, it very likely would have been a smaller esko to start, but since I had waited over a year, it was fairly enormous since they had seen me a lot and knew me. It was intimidating as hell.

She also read cards about the maryaj Lwa proposal. Despite Manbo saying it was basically an impossibility, I had held out hope that I would only need to marry Agwe, the Lwa who proposed at Fet Gede. We had talked about it prior and she doesn’t believe marrying one Lwa is safe in that it doesn’t provide enough balance, nor that it provides enough protection. In her house, people who get proposed to by the male Lwa usually marry at least three of them, and sometimes four. I held onto a tiny string of hope, though, because my spiritual life tends to be anything but by the book. I had very much hoped I would be the weirdo, but, after seeing all the Lwa step forward for me, I had basically accepted my fate.

She laid down cards [more giggling] and SIX Lwa stepped forward for maryaj with me in a major way. SIX. Agwe basically stormed the cards right away and was all ‘about time you turned up. Why have you been ignoring me?’ and one of the others was irritated that I had waited so long since Agwe’s proposal to get going on these things. SIX. Some of them were stronger than others—Agwe made it very clear that He is leading the Lwa He is often married in conjunction with and one of the Ogou’s literally said ‘don’t you dare forget about Me in all this. I get My share’. One of them was there because He needs to be in the ‘formula’ of how maryaj Lwa is done, but that’s not to say He was not present or strong—He’s just not quite as insistent as some of the others. SIX.

After those parts were nailed down, Manbo and I talked about what I would need to do for the maryaj, as it is not a small undertaking [and doubly so for someone who was not raised in the religion] and it isn’t cheap. One of the practical things that makes me happy is that I will only need to wear four rings instead of SIX. Agwe shares a ring with another Lwa, the Ogou’s share a ring, and the other two Lwa will each have a ring. It seems silly to be relieved about something like that, but it was a serious pragmatic concern for me—not only will the rings be a serious investment, as they will need to be real metals and, if I can swing it, real gemstones, but I have very small hands and I already wear one ring full-time for the Mister and another ring part-time for Sekhmet when I do Her work. Too many rings and I will basically jingle at all times, or at all times when I wear them [since wear time varies with each vodouisant].

I told Manbo that I want to do the maryaj. There will be a small ceremony next month on the same day as Fet Damballah where I will officially say yes and then the real work of getting ready begins. Before that, I’ll have one last round of general divination to make sure the Mister is still okay with how everything has fallen out, and then the deal will be sealed. My hope is to do my maryaj within a year, but that depends on how much the Lwa can help with getting the money for the ceremony and for everything I will need for it and how fast and how well I can learn everything I need to learn to do it.

I am incredibly grateful that I got led to this Manbo and this sosyete. She’s the right Manbo and it’s the right sosyete. I was very nervous about discussing the proposal because I was afraid she would balk at marrying me in my appropriate gender, as the concept of transgender is still gaining ground in Haiti and Haitian culture—gender is very much tied to sexuality in Haiti. I barely had the question of wearing pants and using male pronouns in the ceremony out of my mouth when she informed me that we will do whatever makes me comfortable. She asked me a few questions about being transgender and was shocked that my insurance won’t cover any surgery for me and that some ADR practitioners didn’t want me to come to their ceremonies because I won’t wear a skirt. To her knowledge, Manbo has never had a transgender person in her sosyete, nor has she ever married a trans person to the Lwa and doesn’t believe she knows anybody who has. But, she’s willing to do the work and has been more than welcoming and working to educate herself. Right manbo, right sosyete, right time.

The morning after the leson, I got woken up at 8AM by Ogou Feray standing next to my bed and staring at me. I work nights and don’t get up that early on my days off, EVER, so it was more than a bit unnerving to be intruded upon and not allowed to go back to sleep until I had finagled together an altar that the Lwa thought was passable. It wasn’t anywhere near complete—vodou altars are extensive and require a lot of stuff—and it still isn’t, but it’s getting there. I’m not getting dragged out of bed at ungodly hours to Do Things, so I suspect They are at least pleased with my efforts in getting SOMETHING together for Them.

Since then, two more Lwa have shown up via dreams and asking for specific items that only They get which leaves me with more than twenty divinities represented in my home. Once you open the door to the Lwa, They tend to pile through…but I had no idea it would be like this. Their altar-in-progress is woefully too small, but it will have to do for now until appropriate furniture has been acquired. I have practically begged the universe not to send me anymore deities until I am in something of a groove with what I have now. The only answer to that is that I have not been able to put aside any of my ‘freelance’ spirit work—it stands as a reminder that I do not get to put both feet fully in one world, which is an echo of my larger spiritual work and Job.

There’s a lot more new stuff to write about, such as my ancestors standing up in the leson and asking to be a part of my life, but those things deserve their own blog post. Life is so strange sometimes and so weird and unpredictable, but I have been blessed beyond belief and the gifts just keep on coming. I never know what to think of this, but, lately, the right answer has been to throw myself on my knees and give thanks. They think I’m ready for the ride, and I hope I can keep deserving and earning my seat.

Dreaming of Ginen in 2015

•January 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In Haitian vodou, ‘Ginen’ is the name given to archetypal Africa, where ultimately all people and all spirits and divinities come from. Ginen is where the Lwa reside, a realm anba dlo/under the water where They make Their homes and where, eventually, all souls return, at least for a time. Lots of songs in vodou reference longing for Ginen—to be able to go where the spirits reside and where life is perhaps not as hard as it is in there here and now. It’s not that hard to imagine why this might be a common theme, as Haitians have often lived rather hardscrabble lives under colonial or dictatorial rule where widespread poverty and a natural disaster has ripped families apart and tumbled homes. Everyone needs something to hope for and Ginen, where the water is cool and sweet and the Lwa are smiling, is that something.

In the past few weeks, I have felt a tug on my heart and soul that, after quite a bit of discernment, has turned out to be a sort of longing for Ginen of my own. I am not Haitian and have not faced that challenges that many vodouisants have, but the idea of being able to go to a place where my divinities walk among Their people like my neighbor walks down the street is tempting, as is a space where the complexities of my life are not nearly so complex. I am hungry for Ginen, and I can’t wait to get there.

Part of this is because it was identified to me that, if I do accept the proposal of marriage from the Lwa who offered it, it has been pointed out to me that I will need to go to Haiti. That won’t necessarily solidify the marriage—if I accept, I will likely be married to the Lwa here in the US—but it will do all sort of other things for me. In some ways, being able to go to a physical place where some of my divinities are deeply rooted would be a hugely gratifying experience. It is tempting to believe that going to Haiti would make my life easier, but I am not naïve enough to believe that to be true—the ground will not sing and the palm trees will not bow to me when/if I step off the plane there. If anything, it will make my life more complicated. Still, though, it will be warm there and that’s enough to send me running for my suitcases in the 10 degree weather we’re having right now. A trip to Haiti is not happening right this minute, though, so it can go on the backburner.

Part of this longing is because things have been really complex. 2014 was not a bad year, but, as with the year prior, it was a complex year. It was a year of rapid development and fast growth with all the associated growing pains, and I am happy for a new opportunity to continue the work I’ve begun with a fresh slate. I could use a mental vacation, but that isn’t coming for awhile.

2014 was the year of laying down a steel framework. I spent an astounding amount of time working on personal issues that I didn’t even know existed. In a lot of ways, it was a slash and burn of the land to get ready to plant stuff that will actually grown instead of rot all the way down to the roots. The Mister judged me fit to do a lot of this and my Father decided that it was time to break out the tough, painful love and so I got to work. I also reaped the benefits of that hard work via the Mister sending me to His family so that I wouldn’t be lonely and Eleggua bringing some of His friends around to help out with the undertaking of ‘whip My kid into shape’. There was a milestone anniversary with the Mister in there and also the proposal of maryaj Lwa not that long ago to round everything out. Not insignificant stuff.

After the framework is laid out, it’s time to start building. 2015 is set to be the year of becoming where the shape of the framing begins to get sussed out, and I’ve already started on that. All of the non-traditional divination I’ve needed for myself has been completed, so I’ll be speaking with Manbo this month about what maryaj Lwa means in context and what the bigger picture means for me. That is going to be a big spiritual process no matter how I cut it, so I’m sort of buckling the seatbelt in the back of the van and holding on.

The other major project is something I haven’t really mentioned on this blog at all. I have meant to several times, but the right words have never come together and so I put it off. Almost a year and a half ago, I was released from the taboos surrounding a medical transition related to my gender. The reasons why I had the taboos and was not allowed to pursue transition are many, as are the reasons why I was released from those taboos [and this probably merits it’s own blog post..], but it all came to a head back in February and again when my Father cornered me and laid down the directive that I be whomever I am no matter what that is. I decided in the early spring that this meant that it was time to pursue a medical transition which, for me, will mean hormone therapy, chest reconstruction, and weight loss.

I have struggled with what to write about this decision, if I write anything about it at all, because I both strongly believe that my gender and gender presentation is personal to me and requires no explanation and because I have equally as strongly written about how I do not believe I [or anyone else] must medically transition to live as their true self. I still believe this, which makes it a very complicated conversation and that is compounded by the fact that I am the weird trans* person who doesn’t really do the dysphoria thing at all.

I’ve started doing work on preparing my life for a medical transition—speaking to my boss and my employers and investigating what lengths I am going to have to go to in the hopes of compelling my medical insurance to cover at least some of the cost of the various medical interventions I’ll need. 2014 is going to be some definitive action on this, though—I’m hoping to begin testosterone therapy within the next six months and figure out how I can manage chest reconstruction before 2016 arrives. I’m scared to death, but I’m also Eshu’s kid and I know that He will help grease the wheels in His own way.

And here I am. It will be January 1 when this posts and I will have a quiet day—I will head to St. Anthony’s shrine to make offerings and leave petitions, visit my Father at the crossroads with coffee and coins first thing in the morning, feed all of my divinities something tasty for dinner, and do the yearly divination for myself in the hopes of gaining insight as to what is coming down the road. I have no idea what the challenges will be, but, no matter what the calendar brings, Ginen will continue to call my name and I will dream about warm weather and my feet touching the ground where some of my divinities were born.

May your gods bless you as much as mine have bless me and may 2015 stay sweet on your tongue as the days pass.

Empty Words Make Ugly Statements: A Response to the Covenant of the Goddess.

•December 11, 2014 • 16 Comments

When I wrote about the death of Michael Brown in August, I wrote about my anguish at seeing yet another young Black man shot to death and my inability to do anything about it. When the grand jury decided that there was not enough evidence to send his murderer to trial, I stayed quiet on this blog. I also stayed quiet when the grand jury in New York decided there was not enough evidence to bring the police officer who murdered Eric Garner via an illegal chokehold, despite video evidence of Eric Garner repeatedly saying he could not breath while laying on the ground in said chokehold. I stayed quiet as witnesses to Michael Brown’s murder who testified at the grand jury have turned up dead and I have stayed quiet in the face of a rapidly expanding movement of police officers murdering Black men and women and not facing any consequences.

My silence has been because I am white and my voice is not the most important here. People with my skin tone are not being shot down for having a prescription bottle in their pocket, carrying a toy gun in the store that sells it, or standing in front of a police officer with their hands up. It would be a continuation of the systems of oppression that have driven this epidemic of state-sanctioned murder for me to be Yet Another White Person to express their outrage at these events. Outrage is a privilege these days, as it means I have the space to be angry, rather than fearful that my life will be taken from me because of the amount of melanin in my skin.

My good friend Caer pinged me this evening and asked me if I had read the press release from the Covenant of the Goddess regarding recent events, as she was writing a response to it. I had not, and I went and read it and found myself rendered mute by utter disgust and fury.

If you have not yet read this press release, this is the full text as accessed here on December 10, 2014:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

Today, we the members of the Covenant especially stand together with people who are not privileged by race and class and say to you: Your life matters. We stand with you and work alongside you in ending the systems that disenfranchise you. We encourage and support all efforts by those within our communities to explore the realities of racial inequality and to work to find ways to eliminate these injustices. We hope this will create a wave of introspection and reflection throughout our world, bringing about new levels of understanding and an appreciation for the unique expression of the Sacred we each embody. We stand together with communities seeking nonviolent means of safety and reform, for the unnecessary harm of any person is an affront to the Sacred and is in contrast to our central ethical tenet: An it harm none, do what ye will. May the work we do together today create a peaceful and just tomorrow.

To be blunt, this is a wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, sunshine-and-rainbows, and utterly useless press release. You have failed, Covenant of the Goddess, and you have failed really, REALLY badly.

Instead of stepping up and making a decisive statement that the repeated murders of Black men and women is unacceptable, you speak with ambiguity. You don’t refer to ANY specific incident of ‘inequalities in justice’ and you dance on that neutrality as a way to avoid saying the nasty word of ‘racism’. In essence, you render these people who have been killed as invisible and you downplay the dirty reality of what has transpired…which is exactly what the court system has done and what the systems of oppression that support these horrible events dictates should happen. You have played the poker game just as you should, instead of upending the table that is populated by cheaters and card sharks and declaring that you will not support a system that seeks to subjugate others. You don’t even get an A for effort here.

Moreover, you make a terrible gaffe by saying ‘all lives matter’. That’s not even a heartfelt statement—it’s just another way to stand at the center of the seesaw without committing. Yes, all lives matter, but we are not dealing with all lives, are we? As the last few months have clearly shown without a shadow of any doubt, some lives matter more than others and not recognizing that is a literal whitewashing of the issue. Right now, as more and more Black people die in police actions, Black lives need to be paid much more attention because the inequality is astounding. Saying that all lives matter is a pretty way of trying to kumbaya your way through this and feel good about yourselves on the other side, and it’s sickening.

Further, you say nothing of consequence throughout your two paragraph statement and it is full of dead air. You say you support “all efforts to explore the realities of racial inequality and to work to find ways to eliminate these injustices”, but what does that mean? What is there to explore? Is there a question as to what racism means and, if so, why have you not educated yourself as an organization? You need to WORK to find ways to eliminate these things?

Here’s a place to start: make a definitive statement, period. While it would be nice if you came out as an organization that is appalled at the mistreatment of Black people in the United States, I’ll settle for any clearly worded press release that actually expresses something of meaning, rather than what you must believe is politically correct drivel that isn’t worth the space it takes up. If you want to explicitly say that the decisions of the various grand juries are correct and morally strong [because you have implicitly stated that you believe that, via not condemning either side], then do it. I won’t agree with you and I suspect many of your constituents won’t, but at least be brave enough to say what you really mean. Heck, even ‘we are making a statement because we believe we should but, really, we are afraid to have any sort of strong opinion as it might betray our own biases’ would be better.

Then, do something. Clergy of mainstream religious denominations are getting arrested for offering prayers for the souls of the victims and are participating in direct actions. Members of various pagan and polytheist religions and groups are showing up at rallies. Even those who support nonviolence are showing up with sandwiches and water for active protestors. As a group that bills itself as “one of the largest and oldest Wiccan organizations” and claims over one hundred covens under your umbrella, what are you doing beyond issuing empty platitudes? You list a variety of functions on your website, ranging from chaplaincy to law enforcement outreach to legislative activism. If you truly do all this work, it’s time to put your words into action and get out and aid those who could very well be your congregants.

Two things make this even worse. First, as I mentioned above, the inability to truly commit and say the word ‘racism’ or name the victims leaves the distinct impression that there is some significant part of your organization or governing body that believes the officers or the grand jury are above reproach.

Second, and perhaps more damning, I have heard unfortunate tales that originate within your organization saying that CoG was working on a statement that actually addressed the issues, but that it was quashed by some members in positions of power for fear of dissent in the membership. If this is true, shame on you. Afraid you’ll lose congregants? Well, if you’re worried about retaining members who believe shooting unarmed Black folks is an okay thing, then you have bigger problems than I can even comprehend. If you are a member of CoG who is a voice of dissent within your organization and you do not support the wibbly-wobbly statement issued by your governing body, speak up and support the experiences of Black people in the United States. A schism is a wonderful way to state your disapproval and moral outrage. As of this writing, I am told at least one coven has left CoG in response to this statement–good on ya, whoever you are.

Overall, I am disgusted and disappointed in you, CoG. Your words ring empty and taste of fear and they do not reflect the sense of justice you claim that your unnamed work embodies. You have failed to be a strong voice for your religion and your congregants, you have presented yourselves as unable to commit or address the reality of racism in the United States, and you have not even addressed the righteous dead by name. Instead, you have erased and smoothed over the fact that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford, Rumain Brisbon, and countless other unarmed Black men were killed by white police officers. Even if you cannot speak the word ‘racism’, at least lift up the names of those whose lives were cut short.

I affirm the statement that Caer makes in her most recent blog post. If you, CoG, wish to truly make a difference and work for actual justice, versus issuing statements that make you feel good, you will closely examine Caer’s words and look for your own failings there. You have a choice now, CoG—you can either issue a statement that is supported by your claims of social justice and advocacy or you can cement your legacy as a religious group that chose not only to erase the identities of the dead and whitewash the systems of oppression in the United States. It is entirely up to you and the ball is in your court while those of us on the outside watch and wait.

May your divinities guide your hands and touch your hearts and may your congregants push you to live your stated values of social justice, peace, and equality while accepting nothing less. May you speak the names of those who have died as a result of racist police action and may you bear their pain and the pain of those who loved them, if only for a moment. May your Goddess bless you with wide open eyes and a heart full of compassion and righteous anger. May you seek to empower those who society seeks to strip of their very lives and may you have the courage to speak a firm truth, even in the face of your organizational fear. In these things, may you find the blessings and peace not offered to those cut down by an unjust system.

There, let the way appear.

•December 4, 2014 • 6 Comments

I am on a boat.

Rather, I am on a ship big enough to support the weight of a boat. It even has hand railings and, if I lean far enough over them, I can see the water rushing by and the froth and foam kicked up by the propeller at the stern. It’s a fine ship and it’s a ship I have put quite a bit of effort into building and maintaining via emotional struggles, tears, and pure sweat equity. Roughly half the ownership of this fine vessel belongs to me, with the other half belonging to the Mister. It is our ship and has been built to suit our transient and changing desires. I have learned how to be a ship’s mechanic, how to take up the wheel when the Mister steps away to tend business or otherwise watch me stand firm behind the spoked monstrosity, and how to make sure there is always a hidden away cache of whiskey for when I am literally and figuratively caught with my pants down. It’s a good ship and a good existence and I am comfortable with both of these things.

I am standing on the foredeck and the breeze brings the spray of the salt water onto my skin. I hate deep water, but I love this ship.

“A fine day, isn’t it?”

“Certainly.” I turn to face the Mister-shaped figure behind me, finding Him clad in a suit reminiscent of an admiral’s uniform. I find this terribly amusing and He raises His eyebrows at me. I swallow my smirk. “What may I do for you today, Sir?”

He looks past me into the horizon. “Perhaps you might like to go for a swim.”

I almost roll my eyes, but stop myself before my impulsive, emotional reaction gains me another eyebrow raise. I hate swimming in the ocean and He knows it. I am terrified of deep water and my compulsive tendencies have me twitching about all the stuff in the water with me—all the garbage and creatures swimming around hundreds of feet under me and…the seaweed. Ugh. No, NO, NO. I don’t mind wading into the water [but never past my knees] on the beach now and then and swimming pools are just fine, but throwing myself off our ship into the great deep blackness that I cannot haul myself out of quickly when something unknown brushes my feet? No, thanks. That sort of vastness terrifies me. I am but a tiny, albeit juicy, piece of meat and could be swallowed in one gulp. Nope.

He and I have had this conversation before and I expect it to go much the same way. I will demur, inform Him why I think this is a bad idea, and offer to splash around up to my waist on the beach. He will shrug and not be terribly pleased, but He won’t be displeased, either, and I will be satisfied with that.

“I believe I would find that terribly unpleasant, Sir, and I’d rather not. I could certainly find you another cute boy to go splash around for your amusement and pleasure, though.” I gaze at Him, set on doing the dance of negotiation that He has taught me so well.

He meets my eyes and, with a sinking feeling, I recognize the immovable iron force that has taken up residence just under His skin and it tells me that I will not win this round at all.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

I swallow. “No, you didn’t.”

“Give Me one good reason unrelated to your general distaste for and fear of the deep open water and maybe I’ll reconsider.”

Oh, gods. Oh, GODS.

“These are the boots that You have expressed a fondness for and the salt water would ruin them. I also just purchased this suit and would hate for it to be useless so soon.” I know the moment the words fall off my tongue that He is not going to buy.

He snaps His fingers and, to my dismay, I am nude in the cool ocean air under His glittering, uncomfortable gaze. “Problem solved.” He begins to close the distance between us and I am terrified.

My back bumps up against the railing before I know I had moved. “Please, Sir. I do not swim well enough to swim in open water and I am really, REALLY terrified of something eating me.”

“Nonsense.” He scoops me up over His shoulder and I resist the urge to beat on His back with my fists. “You know how to keep your head above water and nothing is going to eat you. I have put far too much effort into your continued existence for you to end up as some half-digested lump of meat bobbing around in the ocean. Off you go!”

Before I have a chance to protest any further, I find myself flying through the air and the ocean rushes up at me. My skin burns as I enter the water and I am surrounded by cold, inky blackness. My claustrophobia kicks in full force and I find myself unable to breath, which is not a surprise being that I have not yet learned how to make my oxygen-craving lungs breath heavily salted H20.

I am surrounded by pressure and the relative dark and I scratch at the water, as if that will get me back on the ship and out of this nightmare. If anything, I feel more pressure and my body feels squished flat while my heart is doing it’s best to explode from terror.

Fuck this shit.

My rational brain sputters to life and I kick my feet until I breach the surface of the wasteland of water. My lungs burn and I take gasping and undignified breaths while glaring at the Mister leaning against the railing.

“See? No drowning.” He straightens and reaches into His jacket pocket.

“Fuck you.”

His lips twitch in an amused smile. “Hardly.” He produces a small tin whistle and begins to toot out an upbeat version of ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee‘ while I seethe. The water is not nearly as cold as I thought it would be and His ridiculous musical accompaniment to my distress distracts me from the possibility of Cthulu draped in the dreaded seaweed circling my toes.

My patience is wearing thin and I am already getting pruney. “Alright, Sir. Why the fuck am I in the water?” He looks down at me and I notice the tin whistle has disappeared from His hands. Maybe He tucked back in His pocket, maybe He threw it overboard, maybe He shoved it up His ass. I don’t know and, unless it gets me back on our ship, I don’t care.

“You need to learn how to swim.”

“I can swim!”

The Mister leans on His arms once again. “I want a breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly that would leave the Olympic judges needing to change their panties. There’s also the matter of you not being terrified of that which lies beneath.”

I glare at Him, but say nothing. He’s right, per usual.

“And, before you ask, no, I am not leaving you, you silly, foolish, sentimental boy.” The words were said with fondness, not malice. “Now get to it.

–—

The above is largely a metaphor for the past week and a half, though some of the dialogue is stunningly accurate. That, and it amused me to write it which counts for something.

Two Saturdays ago was Fete Gede at the sosyete that has started to become a bit of a home away from home for me. I wasn’t terribly excited at the prospect of taking my only night off in two weeks and spending it an hour away from home and wide awake, but I was very excited to see all my vodouisant friends I don’t see often enough and greet the Lwa and be the awkward white weirdo dancing. Regardless of what does/does not happen, I always have a good time seeing people who See me and value my company and presence.

I had also made a promise last year to come back and see Papa Ghede and you don’t break promises to any Lwa, but especially to Him. Since He can show up at any fete, that means I go to all of them as far as it is reasonable. He did come this time and I got very gently chewed out for spending more time with my other divinities than I did with Him and for slacking off in general. It’s all true and I affirmed that and thanked Him for His correction and patience. With an admonishment that nothing would progress for me until I was right with Him, I promised I would do better and He was off to greet more of His people.

That was the easy, no-stress part of the evening. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it was coming and I’m grateful that He saw fit to pull me up on it, rather than just assigning consequences.

Earlier in the evening, I watched a variety of friends and acquaintances greet the Lwa and go through the ritual movements associated with each of Them. I idly noted that I should perhaps have one of my friends teach me the basics of what to do for the Lwa that most often come down at the sosyete so I don’t look like a fool if one of Them ever wants to formally speak to me. I’ve spoken to a few of the Lwa before, but in rather informal ways that do not leave me needing to do more than shake Their hands and listen carefully to what They say.

Not even five minutes after I had watched my friend spin around several times and land on his knees in front of a paricular Lwa, I got summoned forward by that same Lwa. Everything that I had just watched evaporated, my Kreyol trickled out my toes, and I stood in front of this Lwa looking helplessly at one of my friends, mouthing ‘I don’t know what to do’. I can’t ever remember going so full-on deer-in-headlights before, but there I was.

May all the gods bless my friend and make her prosperous forever, because she stood behind this seated Lwa and mimed all the motions that I needed to go through while I did them. I think I only looked a little ridiculous, but I got through it and ended up on my knees in front of this Lwa no worse for the wear.

This Lwa is not a big talker and, even if He was, my Kreyol was gone. He began washing my hands with Pompeia Lotion, which is this incredibly heavily scented cologne. That was all fine and good and vaguely normal, until He got to my right hand. I was clearly not picking up what He was throwing down as He began gesticulating expansively at Manbo and she stepped up and asked Him a few questions in Kreyol. He nodded and vigorously began to scrub the ring finger of my right hand as she bent down and informed me that He was asking me to marry Him.

I swear to all that is holy that I thought I was going to vomit on Him or pass out or something equally dramatic. I do not get stirred up that often anymore—I’m very much a big picture guy—but I almost lost my shit right then and there. Contributing to this was that this proposal happened in front of almost 100 people, give or take, and I am very much an introvert who is not into being the center of attention.

I managed to tell Manbo to convey to Him that I needed to think about it and He accepted that without issue before releasing me and moving on to His other people. My initial reaction was to scream ‘no’ and run for the door, but I somehow managed to draw on all the logical diplomacy the Mister has taught me. Saying ‘yes’ without any divination or reflection or meditation or communication with my other divinities would be stupid at best and ridiculously offensive at worst, and saying ‘no’ outright to a Lwa is a pretty foolhardy action as well.

After I was no longer in front of Him, I had to get the fuck out of the temple which was a feat unto itself as it meant pushing past the dozen or so people on the stair case to get up into the house. Once free, I paced Manbo’s living room and frantically texted a few friends telling them the basics of what has just happened and asking for divination as soon as they could deliver it and prayers for my continued sanity, as my life had just gotten way more complicated. Had there not been a full three quarters of the fete left, I probably would have thrown on my coat and gotten the hell out of there.

Instead, I sucked it up and Had A Moment, which involved me babbling at a few of my friends there about what had just happened and generally being a momentary basketcase. My houngan friend who had brought me to the sosyete told me that he wasn’t surprised this Lwa had asked for marriage and that marriage was not a gender-specific thing in this house, as women marry female Lwa and men marry male Lwa. I hadn’t even considered how I would feel about the gender thing at that moment, but it was a nice reassurance.

The rest of the night was fairly uneventful for me, save for Papa Ghede’s telling-off, and for that I was immensely grateful. After everything was over, I sat in Manbo’s living room with a few of her children and ate incredibly spicy Haitian food, which was damn delicious. I poured myself into my car not too long after that and managed to get home with only a few tears.

The first thing I did when I got home was scrub my hands. Pompeia Lotion is not my favorite scent and He practically poured half the damn bottle over my hands. The second thing I did was throw myself in front of the Mister’s altar and cry, a lot. I wasn’t angry or upset and I didn’t get the sense that He was, either, but I was incredibly overwhelmed and full of fear. I told Him that I didn’t understand why this had happened and wasn’t sure if His hand was on it or not, but would He please explain to me what the hell was going on?

I passed out and slept fitfully. When I got up, the panic started and no matter how logically I was able to think, it kept creeping in. This is pretty unusual for me, as I can usually talk sense to the crazy pretty easily, but man…this panic and anxiety wouldn’t quit. As I told a friend late last week, I felt every inch of my mental illness for a long set of days.

The problem was that I couldn’t figure out why this had happened. I could reason out why it might be a good thing and what benefits it might have to me personally, but I could not fucking figure out what the Mister’s angle on this was and, if He was telling, I wasn’t putting the pieces together correctly.

He wasn’t angry or surprised, nor was He handing me off to this Lwa. I got the distinct impression that He had arranged this and got a vague sense of why it would be a good thing, but no input that I could read as to why He had allowed it to happen, as He is nothing if not possessive in an intimate way. He never promised me monogamy and I have both never wanted that or offered it to Him, but this was a blow not even out of right field—it came from a ballpark in the next time zone. I would have been less surprised if this Lwa told me I needed to get on a plane to Haiti the next morning, initiate immediately, and that my only means of transportation for the rest of my life was continuous cartwheels while wearing a purple tutu.

I spent most of last week trying very hard not to engage my feelings on the matter while I waited for divination, only to have moments of curling up in a ball in front of His altar and muttering that I didn’t know what was going on but that I trusted Him. I also outright begged Him and my Father to relieve me of the burden of the panic and anxiety as it was starting to render me useless, and I am so grateful that, between the two of Them, They took most of it.

I spoke with a good friend and amazing diviner early this week and she was very patient while listening to me babble about just how much this was fucking me up. She helped me sort out what the actual issues were for me and it’s pretty straightforward—I have an incredible amount of personal baggage around the concept of marriage and romantic love and I am extremely wary to the point of running screaming for the door when it comes to committing to communities of humans.

These are both very true things. Because I am a fool, I have said many times over in the last year that I am not interested in marriage in any form to anybody, human or divine. Most of my reasons are based in the fact that most of the examples of marriage in my life have been extremely dysfunctional and because romance is really not how I relate to other individuals. While maryaj Lwa is done for love and intimacies, that is a secondary purpose in a lot of ways—the big reason to marry one or more Lwa is because They strengthen and balance parts of your personality and help you be a more complete and functional person. Many/most vodouisants who marry Lwa marry more than one. The classic examples are of a vodouisant who marries Ezili Freda must marry Her sister Dantor both for balance of the qualities each of Them brings but also to balance Their jealousy of the other. Those who marry an Ogou often marry Damballah and Azaka—Ogou is hot and Damballah provides balance by providing cooling, while Azaka grounds all of that out.

While my head knows that there is a business arrangement within the maryaj, it doesn’t provide me any ease. There’s also the fact that a maryaj Lwa also makes you a part of the sosyete you are married in and you gain godparents in the process. I have made it this far in my life with very few oaths and responsibilities to other mortals, and I like that quite a bit.

When my friend pulled out her cards, I halfheartedly hoped that the Mister would say quite clearly that this was a moment where Someone Else had tried to step in where They were not to tread, but I knew that was likely a fruitless hope and I was not wrong. As it turns out, the Mister is strongly in favor of me marrying this Lwa.

The reasons why make total sense, but they were still a bit surprising. This didn’t happen as an afterthought—a lot of planning went into making this manifest—and the Mister selected and propositioned this particular Lwa for very specific and careful reasons. In essence, He picked out the perfect Lwa to complement and balance who I am and what I need in my life. It sort of makes my heart hurt because it is very clear that He has done this out of deep love for me and not what He gets out of the deal, because He’s not getting much directly.

This was very much done for my benefit to help me sort out some of my issues and to help me learn things that He can’t teach me and I had a good cry about that, too. It isn’t something that leaves me sad or unhappy or anything, but it sort of reaches into my chest and pumps my heart a bit. It was a happy cry.

There are other less important reasons why He coordinated this, but the Mister masterminded the proposal for me as a gift so that I may sort out my shit and be the best person possible, versus the best boy for Him. He’s not getting immediate benefit out of and is very likely losing a bit on this if I say yes because it means I will have to pay attention elsewhere. He’s not relinquishing any sort of hold on me or sharing what’s His, as maryaj Lwa doesn’t walk on things He holds the reins on currently.

He leaves the decision to me, though, after expressing His desire for this to happen. I haven’t made a formal decision yet, as there is still a second round of divination to be done and that’s before I call up Manbo and ask to talk, which will inevitably lead to more divination. It was noted in this first round of divination that, should I choose not to marry this Lwa, the Mister will likely resort to more…creative means to have me learn and experiences what He sees as necessary. That alone has led me to give the Mister a provisional ‘yes’, contingent upon all the other divination returning with similar results. Overall, though, I trust Him implicitly in that if He thinks that maryaj Lwa will bring me closer to my Self and lead me to where both He and I want me to go, then I will believe Him.

That’s not to say that I am not scared. I really and truly am because I have no idea and no real control over how this will change me, if I give more than a provisional yes. The only things I can say for sure that will happen is that I will end up married to this Lwa and that I am going to get ripped open. The proposal has already left me feeling incredibly vulnerable in ways that I find really hard to cope with. I am very much a private person and I feel very, very on display, which leaves me wanting to flay my skin off.

At the same time, I’m eyeing this Lwa in that ‘I don’t even know You’ way. I have seen Him in possession several times before, but He has never even looked at me once while He was embodied. That doesn’t mean a damn thing, but I sort of feel indignant and all ‘You want some of this? Better get to work, because I am no starry-eyed boy who is going to be a good husband just because You asked’. I’m quite sure that’s not how these things work, but we’ll see.

If I do say yes, there is a staggering amount of stuff that will need to happen. There is an actual marriage ceremony performed by a lay Catholic priest, a marriage contract, actual rings to buy, and a huge party to throw that I would be footing the bill for, with drummers and special clothes and tons of food and all the stuff you need for a wedding. I find that sort of horrifying by itself, but if I decide to do this, I’ve got to do it right—no half measures.

Right now, I’m treading water pretty well and have been considering how to best test on my backstroke without gulping down water. The panic has mostly abated, though I keep wondering when something is going to bite my foot. I am profoundly grateful and in deep awe as to how much the Mister loves me. I have done nothing to deserve this sort of attention and I will never be able to adequately repay or return those feelings. He is so large and I am so very, very small and human in comparison, with my tiny human feelings and my expansive human failings. I don’t even know if I am capable of expressing how much I love Him and how grateful I am that He moves in my life and cares for me. May the work of my hands, the dust under my feet, and the love on my lips continue to please Him until I myself am dust ground under His heel.

In The Air

•September 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

My whole religious and spiritual development as a polytheist has been odd. I have realized that there was never really a bit of ‘pagan’ development for me—yes, my first contact with other polytheists was via a group that defines itself as pagan and celebrates the Wheel of the Year, but the undertone of the group and it’s members was and is that polytheism is largely a given; that the Gods and Spirits are individual entities with individual wants, needs, agendas, and personalities. For whatever reason, as a terrified proto-spirit-worker who had been shoved from agnosticism to a world full of Gods, this made sense and it was never really a question.

In that oddness, I started building a foundation based on what I saw and experienced which has led to some very distinct differences with many of my fellow polytheists and good-neighbor pagans. One of those differences came to light this weekend, when that group that I’m loosely affiliated with held the weekend-long celebration of Mabon.

In that particular community, Mabon is about making sure there is enough to last the winter—enough food, enough warmth, enough community, ENOUGH. Being up here in New England where the winters have been getting more and more brutal, it is vitally important to have enough of all of those life-sustaining things and that is the focus of the Mabon rite proper.

This is also the time when many polytheists and pagans feel that the Wild Hunt begins to ride, when a variety of souls and beings begin to mass and take off throughout the world to gather souls or gather prey or gather whatever it is they and their Leader see fit to amass. There are as many version of the Hunt as there are vaguely Germanic or Britannic cultures and what you assign to it depends on what folklore you are looking at.

This community also hosts a literal Wild Hunt. It is held separately from the more family-friendly Mabon rite, as it is very much an adults-only rite in the sense that it carries a lot of intensity with it, rather than it containing any sort of sexual expression. Individuals who self-select as prey are marked and sent off into the ample woods to hide from the self-selected predators who, at a specific signal, run off to the woods to hunt the prey. There is a large fire built and those who attend who are not running as predator or prey have jobs to do as well, as this is a no-spectator’s affair. There are the Priests, who are coordinating the rite itself and leading ritual drama while the others work. There are the Hearthmakers, who are preparing the ritual meal of beef, beef liver, and a few skewers of vegetables over a cook fire. There are the Firetenders, who make sure that the fire stays huge and hot to guard against the encroaching cold and dark. There are the Artists, who do large pieces in the style of cave paintings to lend sympathetic magic to the Hunt in hopes that it will be fruitful and bless the community with enough to make it through to the spring.

Herne, the Hunter Himself, comes down in possession for the rite. His host is draped in skins and wears nothing else, save for a rack of antlers affixed to their head. Herne is the One Who begins the Hunt and, as the entire acre plus field and woods is dead silent when He arrives, if you listen carefully, you can hear Him growl out ‘ride, My hounds’ to send the predators off into the woods.

If the predators do their job well, they successfully hunt the prey and bring back each captured human to be laid at Herne’s feet. When all the prey have been captured or Herne is satisfied—whichever comes first—He blows His hunting horn, signaling the end of the people-Hunt, and that reverberates through more than one plane. He inspects His prey and, if He finds them acceptable, He ritually slaughters each one by removing what they were marked with, miming slitting their throats with a ritual knife, and pouring an animal-blood-and-wine mixture upon them.

He leaves silently after that, carrying the body He is riding into the woods, and the prey are sung back to life by the community and are fed first, in honor of their sacrifice.

I ran as prey for many years and I remember the absolute terror the Hunt inspired. Here I am, crouched in the woods in the dark with no light, while this massive Deity roams around and His hounds are out for my blood. There were times when I was literally stepped on by a predator and they didn’t See me and there were times when they saw me and I took off running like a scared chicken, but I was caught each and every time and slaughtered at Herne’s hand every year. I remember feeling the slice on my energetic throat and how long it took to heal. I remember the year that I actually manifested a very, very thin surface cut on my actual throat when I know for a fact that His knife never touched my actual skin. I remember the year I lost my voice right after the Hunt, much in the manner I would have had someone cut my throat and sawed their way through my vocal cords.

I no longer run as prey because I am no longer lawful prey, as I have been bought and marked as specific prey to a specific Hunter. Running as a predator would be amusing, but only in the sense that I would probably trip over a prey and fall over while they run like hell past me—my body is too old and decrepit these days to try and locate prey in the woods and bodily haul them out. I choose not to priest for the rite, I can’t cook over a fire for shit, and I am no good for hauling or cutting firewood, so I am always the Artist.

This year was no different—I went to add my magic as an Artist. I packed my backpack with a few things that I thought might be useful from my own supplies [I didn’t end up needing any of them, but I was a Girl Scout once upon a time] and set myself down by the roaring fire to begin to paint the Hunt with my fellow Artists.

I sardonically told my friends there that when you take away my brushes, my artistic talent relocates elsewhere. However, the painting needed to happen so I fingerpainted as best I could. I painted Herne with His broad antlers spotted with blood and I swiped down paint to resemble the prey out in the woods. I painted corn and, at the direction of a friend, a few specific animals that she felt needed a place there. Others added their own renditions of Herne, of prey, of humans hunting, and of themselves.

There have been years when the Hunt was not successful—no prey were captured, Herne was very displeased, and the community was lectured by Him [no small event, as He very rarely speaks to anyone but His hounds—but this year, prey were caught and laid at the Hunter’s feet. After He called the Hunt with His horn, He slaughtered each one, gave them one long look, blessed His hounds, and disappeared into the woods. Amusingly, as He called the Hunt and slaughtered His prey, the nearby-ish neighbors chose that exact moment to set off fireworks.

While He was on His way out, the Artist’s lifted the three sections of our painting and laid them into the ritual bonfire to burn as an offering in thanks for Herne’s presence, blessings, and a successful Hunt. He accepted our efforts, taking pieces of the burning painting high into the sky until they looks like burning lanterns. It was incredibly beautiful.

That’s the Wild Hunt I know—where the Mighty Hunter sends out the hounds to bring Him His due and assure that the community makes it through the long, cold winter. I remember having a moment of serious dissonance when someone told me about Odin as the Leader of the Hunt because I have never seen that—only Herne and the hoards of the Dead and other beings behind Him riding across the sky. It’s not that I think folks who see Odin as the One Who calls the Hunt are wrong, it’s just a vastly different Hunt that I have never seen.

The Hunter Himself is incredible. He is, by and large, the biggest non-corporeal Being that I have been in the same ‘room’ with—bigger than any of my Gods, bigger than any of the Gods of my friends and loved ones. He’s huge and He completely fills the entire property [and then some] that the rite takes place on. I was busy when He arrived, but I knew He was there when I got incredibly dizzy and every single hair on my body stood on end. I turned to a good friend to confirm that the Hunter indeed had arrived and, as he nodded, I saw Him. He walked right by the fire, but remained cloaked in shadows—only the faintest outline of His antlers and His attendant trailing Him were visible—and, as He sent out the hounds, the entire field and woods sunk into total blackness. It was one of the situations where, if you stepped out of the fire light, you were swallowed whole.

I don’t often get wowed by Deity in possession—I have seen enough of Them embodied that it’s not a shock or something completely out of the ordinary—but Herne’s antlers were magnificent. Physically, His host was wearing a moderately sized rack of deer antlers, but Herne turned His head and suddenly it was a massive rack that extended a foot or so past the host’s shoulders. It wasn’t Him going ‘look how big I am’, either—it was just Him.

After the Hunt, I spent time chatting with friends and colleagues that I don’t get to see very often, which was really, really nice. I ate delicious meat and got to be chatty before heading out to my car [where I met a friend who I haven’t seen in too long coming down the road] and heading home.

Participating rites like the Hunt always ends up a little unwieldy to me. As I am mostly moving within the African and Diasporic religious communities these days, it is an utterly foreign and unrelated practice that doesn’t exist with the Lwa or the Orisha or the Nkisi or any other African or Diasporic divinity that I have run into. That’s not surprising, as it is largely European in nature, as is much of the assortment of pagan-flavored holidays in the United States.

And yet, even as it has no bearing on my religious practice, I am a human and I am tied to place. I live in New England, where was have a seasonal ‘wheel of the year’ and I am affected by what happens here. I know what it is to not have enough in the dead of winter, as myself and my roommate went without heat off and on throughout last winter as oil was too expensive for us. I know what it is to look into the darkness [whether internal or external] and swirling snow and wonder whether or not the sun will ever shine again.

Blessedly, we will not freeze this year in our new apartment with gas [read: affordable] heat, and my inner darkness is a lot less scary these days. However, the dark of winter is still dangerous and still needs to be warded against. You don’t make I through by sheer luck.

So, I straddle two worlds in yet another way—being rooted in the place I physically inhabit and rooted in the religious traditions I keep getting kicked into. It’s another bridge that I find kind of awkward, but nowhere near as hard to stand on as some of the other ones I’ve been building lately. That’s a big blessing.

The season has also brought me some unexpected changes in some of my taboos. It appears that I may have been released from my food restrictions or, at the very least, I am being left to self-police what I eat. In the middle of a really, REALLY stressful period a few weeks ago, I was craving a cheeseburger, which has been on the No List as beef was off the menu. I threw myself in front of the Mister and my Father [the two who are responsible for my food taboos] and begged to have a friggin’ cheeseburger.

I didn’t hear ‘no’ or get a message of ‘that would be an unwise choice’, which is what I usually get. I didn’t get a ‘yes’, either, but, as I told Them, I took silence as Them either not caring or giving me rope to hang myself. I wanted that damn cheeseburger, so I took the chance that I was about to hang myself. I acquired my tiny meat savior and gobbled it down, then spent the rest of the evening waiting to get violently ill, as that’s what happened the one time I willfully broke my food taboos in a fit of rebellion.

I didn’t get sick at all. At the rite this past weekend, I gobbled down tasty, TASTY beef and liver [I usually hate liver] and I didn’t get ill then, either, but I usually have special dispensation for eating in ritual space. I had some carrot juice in a drink today and have yet to be ill, too, or get the side-eye from the Mister or Eleggua. I’m not going to test the waters and go wild with a barbeque feast or a pile of carrots or anything, but maybe a piece of beef once in awhile would be okay. We’ll see, I suppose.

I have a lot of painting to do, as I’m hoping to enter a piece in the Orisha Art Show that’s coming up in Toronto, and a lot coming up this week that I hope to write about. If you celebrate the Hunt or find that it has meaning in your spiritual life, may you be as blessed I your observance as I was in mine and may the Hunter cull that which is not needed from your life and replace it with those things that will see you to the spring.

 
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