•May 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

giftsgiven

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

“Big Pharma” & Privilege: Or Why I Wish Allies Would Stop Using This Phrase

•April 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Alex:

All of this. As my own diagnostic spiral focuses in on what seems to be some soet of neurological malfunction on a massive level, I find myself at the butt end of too much of this bullshit.

Yoga leaves me unable to walk properly for a day or two because my muscles shut down after too much work. I would love to eat what might be considered a more healthy diet, but I can’t stand up for as long as it would take me to prep and cook a meal and doctors appointments and medication eat up a lot n of cash. I’ve been in therapy for years and all of my providers think that I wouls feel better if I, you know, felt better.

My attitude is that if one of my providers thinks it would be good to try a thing, I try it. However, I bristle at the yoga/eat only purple things/shadow work/pray more solutions offered because if that shit fixed what was wrong with me and others like me, i’d be all over it like white on rice. Can yoga cure MS? Will that eliminate the lesions on the brains and spines of an MS patient?

What offends me most is assuming my medical stuff is because I am too dumb to try ALL THE THINGS to be better or because I choose not to chase down every single thing some random idiot on the internet suggests, like copper bracelets, foot detox baths, and fucking swimming with dolphins and becoming one with my inner indigo child. The internet does not hold an MD.

Originally posted on Foxglove & Firmitas:

A friend posts an article on Facebook about how the United States’ medical system does not meet the needs of those with chronic pain. This is a reality that I have experienced. This is a reality that I regularly speak to others who experience chronic pain have also experienced. About a month ago when I was at the doctor’s office for my annual exam, I overheard 2 medical workers talking about how they hate when patients say they’re in pain, because they know they’re over-reacting. I was horrified, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone in the medical field say something like this.

When we talk about chronic pain, and disability in general, inevitably someone pops up to say something like the following:

I think chronic pain (and other illnesses for that matter) should be tackled with a holistic approach. Putting our faith completely in the medical system…

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Fet Damballah 2015

•March 17, 2015 • 2 Comments

It has been just about 48 hours since fete Damballah ended. It was emotional in a very unexpected way and I am still trying to sort out how I feel about it and why I feel particular ways. Out of all the fetes and all the rites and rituals, Damballah’s fete ripped me open in ways that I absolutely didn’t expect or, to be very honest, desire. However, I now have commitments to the Lwa and stepping into the spotlight of those commitments is consent for things to roll along, regardless of whether I have grasped the intricacies of what will happen and why.

My preparation for the fete began mid-week. I hadn’t expected to be held to the standard of ritual purity that vodouisants who have been made are, but it was very clear by the rising level of anxiety in my life when I made plans NOT to be ritually clean that I was absolutely supposed to keep that standard. It’s a deceptively simple process—abstain from sexual activity and stay away from spicy/hot food. Of course, I had a date planned in there which had to be rescheduled for mundane reasons but it was pretty clear that had I gone ahead with the date and the planned sexy times, I likely would have been in some trouble.

Two days before the fete, I had a dream where I was informed that I needed to do a bath before the fete. Spiritual baths are a fairly common thing in vodou and many of them can be self-administered. No big deal, really. I try not to bother Manbo prior to fetes, since she is being yanked in eighty billion directions at once, so I called my houngan friend [HF] who is her initiatory child to ask Him if I should do the bath that I usually do. Being that I have commitments and will be going under ceremony in the near-ish future, he directed me back to Manbo because he didn’t want to prescribe the wrong thing and get us both in trouble.

Manbo and I had a quick phone call where it was clear that she was already being run ragged and we decided that I would do the bath at her house just before the fete, since it would save me a trip into Boston and her from having to try and schedule something between shopping trips and other preparation.

I had taken the night before the fete off to get a good night’s sleep since I would be spending all day Saturday helping get everything ready at Manbo’s house and then be up all night at the fete. I went to bed at the decadent hour of 12AM and slept for exactly four hours before being wide awake and scowling at my ceiling. I knew what not being able to sleep meant—I would be up for at least 24 hours straight [turned out to be more like 28] and that’s just not good for me, but what are you going to do?

It turns out that almost no one else in the sosyete did much sleeping, either—Manbo crashed on her couch at 2AM and was up at 5AM to start prepping, HF only got a few hours sleep, and the houngenikon who does most of the singing AND the cooking didn’t sleep at all. By the time I rolled up to Manbo’s house, the kitchen was in full swing—there were pots and pans on every surface, all the spare electric burners had been hauled out and were going full bore, and Manbo was brewing her famous coffee. HF was passed out on the floor and woke up when Manbo told him to get his hounsi butt in gear.

After coffee, HF and I went off on errands. We hit the fabric store, the liquor store, and he took me to a Haitian botanica where I bought lots of things I can’t otherwise get outside of Haiti. As an almost after-thought, I bought a blue glass rosary for Agwe, Who had asked for one for the fete a few weeks prior. I had ordered one online, but it didn’t reach me in time and He was insistent that I have one. He had been very, very present during the week via popping up with ocean and ship-themed things every single place I turned [since when do grocery stores carry replica buoys?] and after I got to Manbo’s house, He was practically crawling up my spine.

It was a bit unsettling in that I am not used to that level of attention and affection—He was basiscally whispering sweet nothings in my ear all day and, while it was very sweet, it made me squirm in a restless, uncomfortable sort of way. It’s unsurprising that He is so present—He has made it clear that He, out of all my to-be Husbands, is leading the maryaj and that He loves me a lot. I’m not good with receiving love and I know yet another thing I am supposed to learn with maryaj is how to do that.

After errands, we spent the afternoon and early evening getting the temple ready. HF was mostly responsible for the altar while I offered encouragement and input from Ezili Freda, Who was getting a table at the main altar at Her request. In truth, I was trying to rest a bit—I had done quite a bit of walking and standing and, over the past week, my leg has become more and more useless. Given that I would be expected to stand to greet any/all of my to-be Husbands and other Lwa and dance most of the night, I felt justified in sitting quite a bit. Between the useless leg and being severely underslept, I was really worried as to how I was going to get through the fete intact and still be able to get home. My request to the Lwa is to always leave me well enough to drive home, and that’s it.

Manbo gave me my bath in the early evening and it was FANTASTIC. She had prepared the bath in a basin and ushered me into the bathroom after giving me instructions on how to use it. I love her baths and all the baths I do under the direction of the Lwa because the effects on me are immediate. I had barely started to do it and I was flying through the clouds and giggling like a mad man. The bath was intended to strengthen me and shore me up and it did it’s job in the extreme. I’m super grateful the Lwa told me to do it—the giggly, stoned-vodouisant feelings didn’t last all night, but without the bath, I would have been in much worse shape.

The party started late and Damballah was the first to come down. My rule for fetes and other possessory rituals is that I don’t crowd the divinity—if They want to talk to me, I know that They will seek me out in one way or another or, if I need to speak with Them, I will be patient and see if They are willing to give me Their attention. However, HF booted me in the butt to go salute Damballah, since I will be marrying Him and have never saluted Him before.

When He comes down, Damballah writhes on the ground like a snake and is immediately covered with a clean white sheet for privacy. To salute Him, you must go under the sheet with Him. He doesn’t speak with words in possession, but He does speak in vodouisant’s heads and, when He sort of firmly rooted my hands at the end of my salute, I got the distinct impression that He was telling me that everything was going to be okay.

It was an unexpectedly intimate encounter. I know the woman He was riding, but He had changed the shape of Her face to suit His preference and looking into His eyes was like staring into an abyss that stared back into your very soul. It felt like that, in the ~15 seconds I was with Him, He had seen all of who I am, have been, and will be. In it’s own way, that was very comforting.

It was not without it’s ironic hilarity, though. I hate snakes. Like, phobia hate snakes. A friend keeps a harmless cornsnake and I won’t sleep in the same room as it’s tank because it freaks me out so much. And yet, I am marrying a divinity that comes down as a snake and that hissed at me when I stuck my head under His sheet. My life has become a series of perversely amusing divine situations.

Agwe was sung for not too long after that and, when it looked like He wasn’t going to come down, I realized that I had been holding an expectation that He would. As a rule, I don’t hold expectations going into fetes or possessory rituals. It’s a bad habit to have that always, ALWAYS leads to disappointment and this was not the exception.

When it looked like He wasn’t coming and His implements were returned to their proper place, I made a bitchy remark to Him—He had been sitting at the back of my head all day and I could still feel Him there—to the point of ‘You have been all over me all day and You’re not going to come down so I can see you?’. Well, I am a fucking arrogant dumbass.

Not thirty seconds after I sent that up the line, two people dropped with Him on their heads—one in front of me and one behind me. He didn’t stay in either of them longer than thirty seconds and, after He left them, He pushged me hard and left me sobbing. Point taken, lesson learned.

I knew immediately that I had been a selfish, self-possessed jackass who has pushed Him and perhaps screwed up whatever had been planned, if anything. I wanted to see Him? Well, He let me see Him and that was it—I saw, but didn’t get to speak with Him. I remarked to HF that I had pissed Him off and that I knew better than to hold expectations and he sort of smirked at me. When I got home on Sunday, I threw myself in front of my altar and apologized to Him for my poor behavior and bitchy attitude and that seemed to at least assuage the irritation. He got fresh flowers and a bottle of nice cologne yesterday as well, in apology.

Knowing I had pissed off the Lwa that has shown the most interest in me, consistently asked me for attention, and showered me with affection felt pretty shitty, but both life and the fete went on. Had I not been so tired, I expect I would have been more level-headed and not as upset. Now I know what to look for in myself next time to make sure I don’t behave in a similar fashion.

Things went a little off the rails from there. Freda was to be called and She really, REALLY wanted to come since She had been feeling a little bit ignored [though, to be fair, I think you could have a fete every other month for Freda and She would still feel ignored]. She was literally hanging in the air and Her salute was just beginning when a fistfight broke out between two attendees who apparently showed up with an agenda to fuck each other up. Freda took one look at that and basically said ‘fuck this shit, I’m out’ and was gone just like that. HF pulled all the knives off the altar and had me hold them with instructions that if any Lwa showed up, I was not to give Them any blades. I don’t know what he expected me to do if Freda or Someone Else came down screaming and demanding Their knife or sword, but there it was.

Beyond the inherent disrespect at fighting in someone else’s house AND at a religious event [and at a fete for Damballah, no less, Who doesn’t like screaming and swearing and blood], I felt really bad for HF, who is married to Freda, among other Lwa, and who had worked really, really hard to make Her table something She would like. I have also never seen Manbo so upset and enraged. She laid in to the two women who had literally shed blood in her temple for a good five minutes before restarting things.

Unfortunately, they weren’t done—I watched the woman who had started things start taking off all her jewelry and, when she decided to leave, she started hitting the other woman again. If Manbo was angry before, she was absolutely livid now. She stopped the whole fete, threw a bunch of people out, and took everyone who had even marginally been involved to task. After a lot of rapid fire Kreyol and arguing, she went back into the private temple room to confer with the Lwa and then came out and fed the drums a bottle of rum to basically cleanse them of the disrespect shown to them.

It was clear that none of the Rada were interested in showing at that point, so the fete moved on to the hotter Lwa. Legba nan Petwo showed for a few moments and Agaou came down briefly as well. I was pretty spent at this point and was in what I thought was a pretty bad emotional place. I found that, every time we started singing for another Lwa, I was fighting not to end up in tears and sobbing. It was really uncomfortable for me because that is not how I am pretty much at any other time and I didn’t want to cause any more of a scene, what with my earlier sobbing and the drama that had gone down with people behaving badly. I really thought I was having some sort of mental health crisis and I couldn’t figure out why—I was tired and not feeling well, but not in any sort of extreme way and I had done all of the self-care I do for all spiritual events in that I had eaten, was drinking lots of water, had followed all necessary preparations, and had done all the mundane stuff as well.

We began to sing for Ogou Senjak, Who is one of my to-be Husbands, and I started to cry again. I went to hide near the private temple area because I really didn’t want to cause a scene, and told HF so. HF was having none of that and told me that I needed to be out in the temple to great Senjak, as it would look really, REALLY bad if He came down looking for His intended and I wasn’t there.

So, I took a few steps into the temple and I really couldn’t contain my crying. I started to cry, then loudly sob, and then I started to scream and scream and scream. I was absolutely horrified because I couldn’t stop, and then I blacked out for who knows how long. I came to in a way that didn’t feel like I was in my body—I couldn’t feel any part of my body and could only see a little—and found myself head-to-head with one of the houngans of the sosyete. It only took a moment [and I only had a moment] to figure out that Senjak was riding me.

I blacked out again and woke in the middle of the temple with the houngan doing some sort of dance with my body that I was not in control of at all. I couldn’t feel the rum they spit onto my feet or, as I was told later when I was wondering why my neck was all sticky, the back of my head. I couldn’t feel it when Manbo tied Senjak’s moushwa onto my arm and I couldn’t feel it when Senjak started to do whatever He started to do when I blacked out yet again. I felt like I was suspended in Jello and it was then when He took my eyes. I could feel things, but I couldn’t see or hear at all. I felt the houngan holding my body up and then I felt my body start to fall and it felt like I was falling down miles into the black abyss. In reality, I fell backwards onto the floor with the poor houngan, who I probably had at least seventy pounds on, was trying to hold me up.

I woke to him trying to haul me to my feet and I had trouble telling Him that I was okay, even in English, and that he shouldn’t try to stand me up. They realized I was back and blessedly took Senjak’s moushwa off me and yanked my clothes back into place. I totally had a horrifying fat guy moment—my shirt had rode up and the houngan yanked it firmly back down, which was the first thing I had felt in my body when I was back—but I guess I’ll learn to deal with that if the Lwa are going to take my body like this.

I knew prior that one of the tells of an Ogou possession coming on is crying, sobbing, and screaming, but I didn’t think for one second a Lwa would take my body so I assumed I was having some sort of breakdown brought on by lack of sleep. I remarked to HF afterward that I didn’t understand why He had taken me when there were so many other people who didn’t have all the work to do that I do and he responded that not everyone needs to be a perfectly clean canvas for a Lwa to take their head. He also reminded me that possession can be multi-pronged—not only do They come down to speak with people, but occasionally to do work on the person being ridden—and that He also has a claim to me, being that I’m to marry Him.

I sat for awhile and ate some Marassa candy since I was shaking, but had to get back up when Ogou Feray [another to-be Husband] was called. Feray is really, really strong in my sosyete and you can’t sit when He shows up unless you want to feel the wrong end of His machete. I started to cry again but He blessedly did not take me and instead came howling into Manbo. He beat His chest and beat some other people’s chests and we all go on our knees until He lifted us up.

I wanted to sit, but I also wanted to salute a Lwa I am supposed to marry. By this time, I was exhausted, emotionally ripped apart, and my leg was almost entirely useless. He looked at me a few times, but decided not to greet me. HF and another friend from the house tried to console me, but I wasn’t really upset that He hadn’t paid attention to me—instead, I was upset that I had to stand up for fifteen minutes only to have Him ignore me. HF remarked that it reminded him of the story in Mama Lola of how Ogou ignored someone who was to marry Him until she effectively said ‘fuck this’, to which He replied ‘I’ve been waiting for you right here’.

That pissed me off because I don’t play those sorts of games in any relationships. I don’t chase or any of that, especially when I have officially confirmed my interest and even made a monetary deposit on my ceremony to prove that I am serious. I had a moment of serious insecurity after that—He showered some affection on a woman He apparently is marrying, via making a big show of pointing at Her ring finger, twirling her around, and giving Her a big kiss on the cheek. In my uprooted state, all I could think was that He was paying attention her because it is more acceptable for Him to show that sort of affection towards a woman than it is to someone like me, an aberration in the vodou community as a trans man. That was a really, really shitty moment and I was grateful that He left soon after that so I didn’t broadcast my displeasure and upset to Him and everyone else in the room. I doubt that this is a logical feeling—it’s more likely that I was exhausted and spent from having Senjak throw me around and destroy my emotional understanding of myself. I’ll talk to Manbo about it, but I’m pretty sure the answer is going to be ‘you were exhausted and over-emotional’.

The fete wrapped up after that—it was about 6AM and we were all beat to hell. After Manbo was back, she sat in a chair and sobbed for about ten minutes, which was awful to watch. It was a mix of her deep disappointment that the fete had not gone off as well as had been desired and that Ogou had spent a lot of time in her head. One of her ti fey helped her upstairs and a few of us trickled up as well.

A few of us crashed out in her living room and ate tasty Haitian food. It was a rather amusing picture—all of us in our whites [and Manbo in her fabulous sparkly karabela dress] mowing down on Haitian rice and beans, griot, fish, and amazing beet salad while there were old UFC re-runs on the TV. Everyone was too tired to do a damn thing besides just sit there, though, for quite awhile.

Eventually, I had enough legs to go put on street clothes and talk to Manbo for a minute, who wanted to make sure I was okay to drive and let me know that we would talk soon. I drove home listening to ABBA and show tunes because I am just that queer, and then passed out in my bed for ten hours complete with a dream where Senjak came like the wind and said a few things.

I’m still tired and my body is still trying to pull itself together. I have bruises in weird places and my head must have hit something while Senjak had me because I woke up with a sore temple and swollen eye. I’m not unhappy that He took me—it was also a surprisingly intimate experience—and I knew it needed to happen at some point, as I was made aware years ago that I needed to learn how to hold a divinity in my body. What it does mean is that I will have to prepare more carefully for fetes in the future so that, if I am ridden again, my body will be a useful vessel and I will not be a pile of goo afterward. I also won’t freak out so much if I start to cry and scream in the future. I’m sure I will still feel horribly self-conscious, but at least I won’t think that I am experiencing some sort of psychosis. I adore my friends in the sosyete, who assured me that it was both a textbook Senjak possession [even after I knew what was happening, I was still scared that I was somehow experiencing a mental health crisis] and that it was beautiful to watch.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about my impending maryaj before this fete. It was very much a needful thing and I was perfectly okay with that, but the emotional aspect was mystifying to me as I am not good with romantic love or affection. That didn’t change overnight, but I got a taste of what it could be like and how my Lwa love me and how it feels to be loved by the Lwa through intimacy that is strictly between me and Them—no one else can hear Agwe whisper to me, no one goes under the sheet with me to greet Damballah, and no one is in my head while Senjak rides me. Even though what They do may benefit others, it is really between me and Them in a way I hadn’t considered before.

I don’t know what I have done to be this blessed, really. It is impossible to express my gratitude for how all my divinities love me and how They transform my life at every turn. I never expected my life to be like this and never thought that every breath I took would have new meaning. They crack my world open at every turn and, even when it shakes me to the ground, it a wonderfully terrible and beautiful thing to experience. Each tiny death brings me to life even more and I have hope that, someday, I can be what They have shown me is possible. Life is fractured and complex, but ultimately more beautiful than I could ever have created on my own.

Adoro te devote

•March 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It has been just over a week since I went through the ceremony to say yes to the maryaj Lwa proposal I received back in November and to set the terms of what has to be done to make it happen. I was more anxious than I thought I would be and was unpleasantly sick for that entire weekend.

The ceremony was deceptively simple. Manbo prepared some simple food offerings [even though I asked her if there was anything I could bring!] and we spent some time making ti mesh/handmade wicks for the lamp that was part of the ceremony. Despite my relatively clumsy fingers and difficulty using the right fingers [index fingers are not used while preparing certain items], I managed to produce a few serviceable wicks!

Manbo opened with the prayers that are becoming increasingly familiar to me, and then left me to speak to the Lwa alone. They showed up when I didn’t expect Them to, which is foolish really–Manbo basically dialed the 1-800-Bring-In-The-Lwa number and They came. The room felt full despite me being the only incarnate being there and the lamp burned so brightly that it really became the ultra-beacon that it is supposed to be. I had to remind myself that face-planting into it was not part of the ceremony.

I told the Lwa what was on my mind and asked for the help I’ll need to pull this ceremony off without having to sell a vital organ or mortgage a piece of my soul. I kept it short and to the point–despite my verbosity in blog posts, I tend to paint things with the fewest brush strokes possible when I talk to my divinities. I tried to hit all the points Manbo suggested I speak on, but I will admit to being a bit worried that I left a gigantic hole somewhere that is going to come back to bite me in the ass. Time will tell there, I suppose.

Afterward, Manbo and I sat in her kitchen and she served me up a delicious plate of Haitian food while we talked about Things and Stuff. One of the things I admire about her is that she takes me seriously, despite my comparatively short time in vodou [she has been doing this since approximately when I was born, maybe a little less] and my busted Kreyol and incessant questions and the fact that I am yet another person who has been dropped on her doorstep. She treats my spiritual work, experiences, and opinions as vital and important, which is a change from past experiences with religious leaders in and out of Diasporic religions and communities.

Since the ceremony, things have been comparatively quiet and I have been deeply grateful for that. The lead-up to me doing the ceremony almost made me nuts in that I was basically not sleeping. It sure looked like I was sleeping, but every time I closed my eyes and my body and brain went into sleep mode, I was somewhere else watching a lesson from a Lwa unfold, being instructed in some sort of magical work, or walking through a variety of ceremonies with Manbo. I woke up each day feeling like I do the day after a fete–utterly spent and unable to really do much more than put clothes on and do mindless tasks. For someone who already deals with chronic exhaustion, that was really the opposite of fun.

However, They powered me through my week after I sat down in front of the altar and basically said ‘I’m happy to do whatever needs doing while I dream, but you need to give me enough energy to do all the things I have to do while I am not dreaming and sleeping’. And They did. The dreams came–an Ogou dragged me off to a variety of locations filled with an inordinate amount of people and Damballah gave me a gift wrapped in white paper and ribbon–but They fed me enough so that I could go to work and take care of business.

Since then, I have been laying fairly low. I seem to have put a capper on the extra exhaustion for now, but I have only had one dream this week where I got dragged off to go through some sort of ceremony. The various altars that are eating my apartment have been tended, but I’ve really done the bare minimum. The lack of getting dragged around is likely because the bare minimum hasn’t included do all the ritual work to induce the dragging round, ceremonies, and magical instruction while I dream. I gave myself a week to recover, so this week is pull-it-together-and-get-back-to-status-quo week.

This past Monday, my Father sent me off and running in a dream where, after conferring with my fairy olorisha, it seems that the overall message was that no matter what form my religious practice takes and even if it turns out to be mostly Haitian, He will always find me in whatever paradigm I am working in. He’s got my back in a serious way and the dream was probably the sweetest gesture He has ever given me. It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. He’s good like that.

The Mister is on the boat. He’s never gotten off the boat. In fact, He hasn’t even really walked away from the railing. He hasn’t been quiet in the least, but He has been overshadowed by all my Lwa, which is really as it should be. A good friend pointed out that I am basically experiencing the divine equivalent of NRE–the Lwa are the newest, shiniest additions to my world and I am pouring energy into Them and my relationships with Them. He doesn’t seem to mind that–and He fucking well shouldn’t, since He played a gigantic role in engineering all of this.

He is still the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing I think of before I fall asleep. He is my light and I have followed Him when it seemed that He was only a spark–or, more truthfully, the idea of a spark. I don’t always understand Him, His motives, or our relationship, but His spark has never gone out and His light has never left me. He was the first divinity to save my life and, as a result, gave me the tools to spark my own light to pour into our relationship.

Through all of this re-shaping and re-calculating of my own personal GPS, the divinities are doing work on my behalf that leaves me more than a little slack-jawed. I prayed for an increase in money coming in and, within days, mandatory overtime from now until forever because a thing at my dayjob. I prayed for the right healthcare providers and landed two awesome ones within a week. They don’t always give me what I want [there is no big farmhouse on the coast, I am not making my living as an artist, and I do not have a gaggle of nubile cabana boys to indulge my every whim and desire], but They do give me what I need. Being spoiled is an unattractive look on me, so I’m glad They know best as to how to hand down blessings to this tiny fault-filled human.

I don’t know what’s coming up next for me, besides the obvious maryaj and more vodou, but I do know that my divinities have my back. I know this more deeply now than I think I ever have before. I don’t expect things to be easy [far from it], but I worry less because I know that as long as I do my share and do right by Them, They won’t let things falls to pieces. I don’t know what I have done to deserve such beautiful and generous blessings–I am a small person in all things; a nobody in the grand universal scheme who is a lacking devotee with enough issues to keep his therapist busy for years. I am profoundly grateful that They find use and worth in me, even when I have trouble seeing it for myself, and that They love me, each in Their own way. I am but a small and crunchy meatsack and They are so very big. Their blessings pour joy into my hands and it’s joy that fills all the empty places. My only hope is that I can be the person They see me as and hold up my end of the bargain each and every day.

A throwback from my upbringing that seems apropos.

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.

 
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