Unmasking.

•August 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I chose you to marry.’

•August 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

How do you quantify the most touching spiritual experience of your life and communicate exactly what it meant across a screen?

I’ve been chewing on this for a few days, and I don’t know that I have a simple answer…or any answer at all. Description in words is a cheap substitute for actual meaning in the ways that off-brand soda is a cheap substitute for champagne. It would be easier to shake my brain into yours and give you the picture of what was, in emotional technicolor and spiritual splendor. Memories are not like cornflakes, though, and no hinges exist on my skull. So, I write.

Kanzo gave me big things. Through the grace of my spirits, the work of my mother’s hands, and the support of the community, my life was saved. I gained a mother. I found a family. I solidified some spirit relationships as they relate to being a houngan. I have value and a purpose in a way that my brain can conceive of. None of these things are small or are to be overlooked.

However, these things pale in comparison to my maryaj lwa. Marrying my husbands was probably one of the most profound and spiritually significant experiences in my life. Kanzo is a community endeavor, maryaj is personal and solely for the individual. No one but my husbands can hold me accountable for my part in our maryaj, while the community and my mother and my godparents and my siblings can come down on my head if I am not living up to what they placed upon me and what I promised in exchange. It is strictly between them and me.

I really wasn’t the nervous ahead of the maryaj. My husbands made the lead-up rather easy for me, at least compared to everything that happened ahead of kanzo. Truth be told, I sat down in front of my table in early 2017 and told them that I needed this to be non-stressful and that I wanted to arrive in Haiti happy and excited to be getting married. They largely delivered on that and paved the way to the peristyle door as best they could.

The night my maryaj happened was heavy in all possible ways–the air was thick and chewy with unspent rain, the temple was full and sort of pregnant with anticipation (an admittedly odd-looking blan–one who looks kinda like a woman, maybe, but doesn’t wear a dress or cover their head–had returned and was now marrying an array of lwa in the first ceremony of the summer), and I could feel my husbands all around me before we even started. As the presiding priest prayed and blessed me with incense prior to the beginning of the service, I got goosebumps. They were there already, and they were there for me.

A maryaj proceeds like an elaborate fete. The regleman is adhered to, and the spirits are called. When the spirits who are to marry their spouse are called, they typically come down in possession and a pretty standard marriage ceremony takes place, complete with vows and rings and cake and champagne. I had been prepared for this, but was not ready for how intense a spiritual experience it would be.

It’s hard to really communicate the feeling of your heart being ripped open and love being placed deep inside. It’s hard to really find the words to describe the joy you feel when your spirits whom you have spent years developing relationships with arrive ecstatic to see you and proclaim their love for you loudly and without reservation. It is hard to describe the moment when reality tips and you suddenly see the mystery for all that is really is, in all it’s enormity, and it all clicks into place. It is hard to really describe what it is to know, without a doubt, how deeply you are loved, in public and in front of others.

The husbands came in force, and they came SERIOUS. Maryaj is big, serious business and they treat it accordingly. There is essentially no free spiritual lunch, and so they lay big conditions on the blessings they will give. Litearally: if you betray me/our oaths, I will kill you. If you do not respect my days (the days set aside for only them–no sexual activity otherwise), I will kill you. If you betray your mother, I will kill you. Ogou Feray–the screaming, howling mercenary soldier–took it one step further and placed the edge of his machete on my tongue–if I betray with words, he will cut my tongue out. They mean it, too–it is not hyperbole. It took me a minute and a discussion with my mother later to realize that this is standard maryaj talk and that I had not somehow committed a huge act of betrayal already.

And yet, in balance with such intense messages, they came full of passion. In some ways, the crowd was not even there and it was it’s own intimate encounter left between myself and them. Feray passed rum from his mouth to mine through a kiss. Ogou basically fellated my finger to put the ring on me–stuck it in his mouth and then slid it down my finger. Agwe all but climbed in my lap, and then made the bottle of champagne opened for him ejaculate all over me (really–the cork hit the roof and I wore about half the bottle, much to the delight of Agwe and amusement of the crowd), and then poured the rest over me himself. They all kissed me over and over (no tongue..get your mind out of the gutter) and I even kissed one of my best friends, who held one of my husbands in her head. And of course Gede showed up and graphically detailed what my duties as essentially his boyfriend (we don’t marry the dead) are, and then proceeded to refuse to place the rings on me until we danced the banda together. Several of them bathed me (over my clothes/on appropriately exposed body parts) and it was incredibly tender.

There was even a surprise in store for me–my Ezili Freda came down with blessings for me. She is a spirit who shows up big for me, but whom I struggle a lot with. I don’t do well with femininity or really understand it (go figure), and so I end up sort of at a loss with her. She has, however, made clear over and over that she is quite close to me and loves me a lot. She was saluted as part of the regleman, and no one was more surprised that me when she arrived with a big hug for me before she joined me at the niche. She fed me and I fed her, and she added material to the bath that my spirits collectively made for me as part of the wedding. We have Things To Do together.

One husband was unable to come to the wedding for a variety of reasons, but there was a beautiful moment with him later in my trip…and that is a tale for another blog post.

I had no idea how happy this would make me or how it would change my world. Joy is a choice, but also an experience.

And then..

•August 2, 2017 • 1 Comment

I returned from Haiti a few days ago, with my maryaj (and other things) completed.

I married the sea and the sky, the spine that holds up the space between our world and Ginen, the hurricane and the stillness of the deep sea, raving madness and utter calm, work and rest, fire and water, the scream of revolution and the very ground blood is spilled forth on, the resolution to do what is necesary no matter the cost and the reserved calculation that issues directives, and death, while not my husband, stands much-loved at my side.

I have a lot to write about, and a lot to process. The experience was incredibly meaningful and significant in ways that I can’t even begin to understand yet. I am blessed in so many ways.

Now, I sort out everything that went slightly haywire before I left (seems to be a common precursor to a big trip) and catch up on my naps.

•June 2, 2017 • 1 Comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time close to myself and purposefully quiet. Big things are coming, and it feels like I need to be still to soak it all in. Life in general has sort of followed suit as well–the active bit of my dayjob is over, and so I am spending the upcoming month just closing out the site, which necessitates a lot of solitude at the site, and then working a bunch of shifts at my side gig, which is solitude in it’s own as it is largely 3rd shifts.

I have been feeding my fascination with nuns, and have been particularly fascinated with a particular order based in Kentucky. My fascination is largely surface level (I have no desire to be a nun..)–they wear all black, are strictly cloistered, and one of the nuns pictured on their site looks very much like a dear friend of mine (it is not her). I’ve been reading their blog, and they detailed a particular nun’s preparation for her solemn vows, which are basically her permanent vows to be a spouse of Christ in her order. They specifically mentioned that ahead of what amounts to a big wedding, nuns make a 30 day retreat in preparation–a time of quiet and final discernment on what they are about to do.

…oh.

I don’t have the privilege of 30 days of retreat from the world prior to my maryaj lwa–I have SO MUCH shit to do–but it makes sense that this is how my world is orienting itself. I am more than than 30 days out from the ceremony, but that sort of mindset is already in place. I want to do nothing but be still, and I’ll get that in short periods prior to the ceremony, where I’ll spend a few days in extended prayer to essentially make agreements with my to-be husbands about my future.

In the devouring of nun information, I have been watching vocation videos from nuns, monks, and priests on Youtube–they basically detail how a particular person developed in their faith and how they decided to enter their position. One in particular–a man who had been a farmer in the midwest with a large crop yield and associated business–detailed how he asked his god why he had been given all these things (farm, successful business, etc) if he was supposed to give it all up to enter the priesthood. He relays that the answer he received was that he had been in that particular situation because it was the right environment for him to finally be able to say yes to the call to priesthood.

I relate so much to that, in SO MANY ways. All my spirits basically did the same thing–they waited until my life had reached the tipping point where I was able to see that nothing would change unless I did what was presented to me. Had everything been good, I probably would have turned them all down. They really waited until I could say yes because they know how stubborn I am and, frankly, how much I did not want to be involved in any organized religion or have permanent ties to other people. The vision of spirits never fails to amaze me.

Today, I pick up the last two rings for the maryaj. I’ve already seen the bodies of them without the stones, but I will see them complete today and bring them home to my spirits, where they will sit on my table for the lwa until both the table and the rings get packed up.

I am so excited.

Going to the peristyle…

•May 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

…and we’re going to maaaaaaaarried.

Things have gotten super interesting ahead of my maryaj, and it’s sort of turning my interior world upside down. The overriding message largely seems to be ‘you’re gonna learn how much we love you, one way or another’, and it is super awkward for me because I default to ‘they are humoring their slightly brain-damaged perpetually yapping shelter dog along because he does stuff now and then’. What they are saying in reality is ‘you are important to us and we love all of you, just as you are’.

Fet Kouzen was sort of an evolution in my experience with Kouzen Zaka, the lwa of agriculture and work. I don’t hear from him that often, since he is always working, and I don’t ask him for much, because I can always work harder and do more before asking him to take on my burdens. He was the one who drew the short straw among my spirits and had to tell me that I needed kanzo or I was going to die, but he was also the first one to be joyful with me when I finally said yes–he came to me in a dream crying happy tears and welcoming me home. I worked him heavily before kanzo to help bring in opportunities to make money, and he came through..and then he probably needed a vacation from my screeching, so he has been off to Ginen doing his thing.

He came down BIG at the fete–at one point, we had four Kouzen in the room, ranging from a Kouzen who loves to dance (and mowed down on some watermelon) to a more Petwo Kouzen who comes and manifests symptoms of a type of skin syphilis, which has him scratching and burning himself to relieve the pain. He wanted to make sure he had *HIS* party, and so he came and stayed for hours and hours.

The job of a priest in the house hosting a party is to really make sure the party goes off–we facilitate the experience for the community and make sure the spirits have what we need, so, unless I have pressing business with the spirits, I keep to the side and make sure it all goes well.

Kouzen was having none of my shadow-dwelling. He came up to me with a big grin and blessed me a few times over, telling me he would take care of me. He basically elected me his pipe-keeper, so every time his pipe was empty of tobacco or went out, I got summoned to re-pack it and re-light it, which was super amusing to me on so many levels.

There was a moment where he swaggered up to me, grinned and then summoned me closer, only to lean in and whisper something I couldn’t actually hear into my ear. I leaned in a little closer and he said, in heavily accented I-am-talking-so-you-will-listen English, ‘you look good’. I laughed and said thank you, and then had a moment of ‘is my future spirit husband really flirting with me in a temple full of people? Yes, yes he is!’

I did look cute, though, if I do say so, and it’s nice to be appreciated for my fine self. All this testosterone is doing it’s thing!

He did the same thing again later, and whispered that he loved me like we were exchanging secrets in the middle of a crowd of people. He fed me several times to the point where it got a little embarrassing–I at tchaka off his fingers and then he selected choices bits of his legume for me to eat when he wasn’t letting other people touch it. As I grow older, I grow more conservative about the affection I am willing to have in front of people, and so it was super weird for me. Like, I adore my Kouzen and I am so glad he is happy and content and I value my interactions with him, but in front of all these people? STAGE FRIGHT.

Even my mother’s Kouzen got in on the ‘holy shit, we’re getting married’ thing and, while he was in the middle of negotiating some serious business, turned and flashed me a big grin before getting back to the task at hand.

Compared to where I was at this time last year (i.e.: purposefully burning down my life), things are much calmer and much happier and enjoyable overall. I am grateful that they basically granted my request to have this be a happy experience, rather than a stressful plane crash of a preparation period. There’s still lots to do (move my life into storage pre-Haiti) but it will all come together. They shower blessings at my feet, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

What I do on my weekends:

•May 25, 2017 • 2 Comments
Salye Ezili Freda avek Houngan Tim, Fet Kouzen, Kay Manbo Maude/Sosyete Nago nan Boston.

Salye Ezili Freda avek Houngan Tim, Fet Kouzen, Kay Manbo Maude/Sosyete Nago nan Boston/ Saluting Ezili Freda with Houngan Tim at my spiritual mother’s house in Boston for Fet Kouzen.

 

Interlude II

•May 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I am on the floor, and I stare at the ceiling.

It is day #unknown of my post-kanzo period of seclusion, of quarantine, of rest. I don’t count because I don’t want any more pressure. I am supposed to be still and as calm as is possible, after all. The days are long enough as it is, and they don’t need to be any longer. If I was working, they would go faster, but, as both a blessing and a burden, I am not working. My days are filled with resumes, cover letters, cooking so that I may safely eat, and resting, and all of those things are exhausting enough on their own.

I am on a borrowed floor, and I stare at a borrowed ceiling.

I have traded the cool linoleum of my mother’s house in Jacmel for the slightly sticky-with-humidity hardwood floor of a generous friend back in Boston. I lay on my sheet in an attempt to rest after an exhausting afternoon of taking the T to go grocery shopping. I feel like an old man who needs his naps, but also an old man who is constantly on fire and who cannot lay still.

On my last night in Haiti, my mother and I sat in the peristyle near the poto mitan and talked, just the two of us. In the background, my mama hounyo,a  tiny dynamo of a Haitian woman who took care of me while I was in the djevo, fusses and takes care of things that need taking care of while the generator buzzes outside the walls. All of my ritual items are carefully packed in my suitcases, wrapped in clothes and layers of duct tape and prayers that none of them will break or be seized by customs before I get back to my borrowed, temporary home.

My mother and I sit, and this is a rare privilege. In Haiti, she is constantly busy. There are children to see and speak with, much-loved friends and family to welcome, and, above all, so much work to be done. She readily admits that she doesn’t sleep much, if at all,. for the few months she is down there full time because there is so much to do.

The ceremonies are over and the work is mostly completed, so there is a little time. We sit close together, with our knees almost touching, and I receive the information I need to know and instructions that I must follow once I am back in the US. As much as the next 41 days will be rest for me, it will be rest for her, too.

She opens her notebook and hands me a slip of paper with my baptem name on it, as well as the name Papa Loko has given me and the identity of my head. I look at it for a moment, and ask her questions about the names and my met tet. Then, I listen. She goes over the list of things I must avoid and has me recite it back to her. I have been well-prepared for this, and I remember everything. She reminds me over and over to guard my head and tells me how she will be able to tell if I don’t follow the guidelines laid out by her and the spirits. We talk about how to care for some of my ritual items, and she agrees that we will go over this another time, as I know I won’t remember everything now.

After a short moment of silence, she asks me how I am feeling. I feel like I am still inside, I tell her, and nod towards the room that was consecrated as the djevo, and it feels like everything is burning from the inside out. She smiles and tells me that is normal.

I go to bed soon after, just past midnight, and she goes out to the peristyle of a priest who worked my kanzo next to her, for her. When I wake up  at close to 5AM to get ready to leave, she is already awake and ready to bid us farewell.

Inside my 41 days, that burning has not subsided. In the afternoons when I am exhausted from the work of the day (no matter how small–everything is a precious expenditure of energy) and I try to rest, I end up practically writhing on the floor for lack of ability to still the furnace in my belly. I throw myself in front of my makeshift altar and beg my spirits for a little peace and a little sleep, because I am so very exhausted.

They relent, but when I do sleep I dream of fire and explosions and the spirits that come with those things. One morning, I wake up nauseous and tearful, having watched a spirit wearing the face of a beloved family member sacrifice themselves for the good of the family. In the dream, I have refused to watch the ceremony that would contain such a sacrifice, but afterward my mother comes to me dressed in splendid whites to detail what has happened so that I may know. When she tells me how this family member/spirit threw themselves into a bonfire to assure our collective survival, I scream and sob in grief. When I wake, my head is still filled with the smell of burning flesh.

As my 41 days comes to a close, I have slowly learned how to contain the fire inside me. The dreams with fire and explosion still come, but I know what they mean and who stands in the middle of them. The notebook that contains the narratives that unfold behind my eyes nan domi grows full, and I am grateful for their careful instruction.

When I see my mother for the small piece of ritual that closes out my 41 days, I am starting to feel human again and I tell her so. She laughs in a way that tells me all I need to know, and we finish this small piece of work together that is really just another beginning.