I can’t sing, but I can dance.

It’s been a busy little month over here. I’ve been preoccupied with settling into my new place and enjoying all the awesomeness it has to offer, as well as keeping busy with lots of art-making and crafting and writing. I’ve definitely been a bit of a hermit, as I really haven’t seen anyone buy my roommate and coworkers since I moved, but that’s been good for me on multiple levels and particularly so since my health has once again been difficult.

This past Saturday night was Fet Damballah, though, and I had made plans to go as soon as the manbo of the sosyete had released the date. Not only did I want to go just because, but I also made a promise to Papa Ghede that I would come back and see Him. To me, that means I get my butt to whatever fets I can because you don’t break promises to any Spirits, and the Ghede in particular.

My butt, however, had different ideas this time. I’d had the flu the week before and, as with any time I get sick, my chronic health stuff went off the charts. By Friday night, I was unable to walk upright and one of my legs decided that being useful was no longer in it’s job description. I limped off to work full of worry about getting to the fet. I knew that if I got there, I could just tuck myself into a corner in a chair and watch the festivities but the getting there was going to be an issue since it’s an hour drive from my home.

When I got home from work Saturday morning, there was a lot of praying in the form of ‘if I’m supposed to go, please help me manage my pain and functioning’. I took the assortment of pills that are rumored to keep me useful and went to sleep. I woke up in the evening without any pain and with the most mobility that I’d had in at least a week. I was rather gleeful about being able to at least get there, so I showered, shaved my head, and suited up in my whites before hopping in the car and heading towards the fet.

I won’t do a play-by-play of the evening, since that would be long and no one wants to read all ten pages it would turn out to be. There were a handful of really lovely and poignant moments, though.

The fet began as all fets begin, with the priye. It begins in French with traditional Catholic prayers and adorations and then moves into Kreyol. I have a hard time following it, since I don’t really have more than ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Kreyol right now, but I manage to clap in the right places and mumble the call and response. The priye was a little different this time around, though, as about three quarters of the way through, the manbo gave every fire-and-brimstone preacher I have ever sat through a run for their money. She went free-form and brought the Powers AND the house down. I’ve never heard prayers like that and it got all church-y up in that basement, with people lifting their hands and breaking out the fans and tons of extemporaneous exclamations. The energy was off the damn hook.

Then, the drumming started and so did the dancing. There were four drummers this time and way more people interested in dancing, so the place was literally jumping—there were people dancing in the bathroom, on the stairs, and almost out the back door. There’s no way you can really sit still at a fet unless you’re trying to be bored—the drums really coax you to get on your feet.

Dancing at a fet is pretty much my only means of participation. All of the preparation is done by members of the house and I don’t speak enough Kreyol to really sing the songs with everyone else, so I dance. I figure that the Powers are so damn good to me that the least I can do is shake my butt at Their party. Plus, it IS a party—a religious party, but a party nonetheless. You’re supposed to have a good time and it’s kind of poor form to stay in your chair unless you’ve got a good reason. The Lwa want to have fun, too, so me doing my awful dancing up against the wall while the drums go to town and the Haitian folks put me to shame with their fantastic dancing is my way of contributing.

After the temperature of the room was brought up significantly and everyone was in the party mood, they began to sing for the Lwa. They sing for a whole lot of Lwa, but a few really stuck out to me.

Ayizan was sung for early on. As She is the first manbo, She is honored with a pretty specific salute done by all the priests and initiates of the house. It largely involves a particular dance and the making of palm fronds while dancing, but first comes the kolyes/initiatory necklaces for priests. The head manbo [who I will refer to as ‘Manbo’ for ease of writing] went back into the side room to get the kolyes. She emerged wearing all of them and did a really beautiful dance to bring them into the space and present them to Ayizan.

For reference, kolyes are about four feet long and made out of a mix of beads, coins, crucifixes, saint medals, and other charms, customized for the priest. Manbo came out wearing about twenty of them. They hung almost to the floor and she wound the excess around her hands while she danced. It took two people to help her lift them off over her head.

There was a particularly joyful moment when La Sirene was sung for. She is particularly well-loved in the house, it seems, because Her song brought up ALL the voices–everyone sang and danced for Her. Her husband, Agwe, came and rowed around the room, but She didn’t come down to join us.

Later on, Freda came down. I don’t really connect with the pink-and-perfume sort of femininity, but She was radiant and engaging. She asked two men to marry Her and spent time with one of Her husbands, who came with a huge vase of flowers for Her. After that, She began to move through the attendees to give blessings via pouring Lotion Pompeia, Her preferred scent, into their hands.

When the Lwa are walking around, I tend to stay out of the way for two reasons. First, They tend to want to greet house members and Haitians first and it would be rude for me to get in the way of that. Also, if a Lwa wants to talk to me, They will make Their way to me—I don’t need to get up in Their face and hang on Them while waiting. That’s just poor manners all around.

So, when Freda started moving towards where I was standing and giving blessings to those I was near, I hustled out of the way. There were plenty of Haitians who wanted Her attention and I wasn’t about to step on any toes, as I am a guest. She kept coming and I kept moving until I was pretty much cornered in a group of people who were holding their hands out to receive a blessing. If you’ve ever seen footage of the Pope moving through a crowd and people reaching for him to just touch him and receive blessings via that contact, it was very much like that.

I tried to move out of the way and I tried to be invisible, but Freda was having none of that. She reached towards where I was and I thought She was going for one of the sets of hands reaching out from behind me, but I was wrong. She motioned for me to cup my hands, so I did and She poured Pompeia into them. A friend remarked later that She must have thought I needed some invigoration and a breath of fresh air in my life and I laughed, because that’s very, very true right now. If you haven’t smelled Lotion Pompeia before, it’s a very strong smelling cologne. The scent lingered on my hands even after a shower.

After Freda left, it got even hotter in there. I’m told that the Petwo Lwa don’t often come down for what is mostly a Rada rite but boy did They show up that night. Bossou came down and ran around the room at full speed, which is what He does being the Bull. After He had His fill of that, He began to run at people at full speed and butt them with His head. He sent some folks flying into chairs, walls, and other people dancing.

The Ogous started to come after that and it was getting really late at this point—just about 7AM. One Ogou came and flung His horse’s body over three rows of chairs before He began to beat on the wall with His fists. I wrote after Fet Gede that the possessions were way more violent than I have seen in other contexts, but this really blew that out of the water.

The last Lwa to come for the evening/morning was Ogou Badagris. I have quite honestly never seen Anyone arrive like He did. Manbo was His host and she had already been pretty beat up that night—about a dozen Lwa came down and she was used by at least three-quarters of Them. She sat in a chair up against a wall and all of a sudden you saw her body arch out of the chair in that stereotypical from-the-movies this-person-is-possessed posture.

Ogou came in screaming at the top of the horse’s lungs and throwing His horse’s body all over the place. Not hurt-screaming or scared-screaming, but I-am-fucking-pissed-and-I-am-coming-to-tell-you-all-about-it screaming. The horse’s body was launched over three or four people before several priests got to Him and pulled Him upright. His feet and the floor before Him was sprayed/asperged-by-mouth with rum, which makes seating in the horse easier, and He was finally fully there. It should be noted, by the way, that Ogou Badagris is considered one of the most personable and congenial Ogous.

He jumped up and danced a bit before taking up His machete. He immediately began hitting His face and forehead with it. Then, He bent it. I don’t know if you have ever had the occasion to see a very petite Haitian woman’s body bend a machete, but I never had before. He danced a bit more, took His bottle of rum, and began to greet attendees.

I have heard tales of the Lwa taking people to task when They come down, but I had not seen it before. Ogou Badagris had one woman sobbing down on her knees in the middle of the room because she had failed to do something He had advised Her to do. He outright snubbed another woman by refusing to do the traditional greeting with her because she has put off kanzo for longer than He believes is acceptable. There were lots of heated conversations and He’s big on making deals—lots of things were agreed to and sealed with a handshake.

He started talking to every single person left in the room at this point—even the annoying drunk dude who was inappropriate all night—and He finally came my way. Our conversation started in the same way my conversation with Papa Ghede had—Ogou Badagris said He was very happy to see me. I returned the sentiment and He noted that I have a lot of work to do. My inner snarky over-tired asshole said ‘yeah, no fucking shit’ but my outer polite and well-mannered self said ‘yes, I do’. He said I needed a lot of knowledge and I asked Him what I should be doing. He said that all the places that I have been going won’t help me and what I needed to learn would come from the house [the sosyete that hosted the fet]. He got yanked away by someone else at that point, so that was the extent of our conversation. My translator says I should talk with Manbo, which is something I have been putting off for months for a variety of reasons, so I have a phone call with her later this week which will likely lead to a visit and a reading or two.

As I told a houngan friend after the fet, every time a Lwa greets me with ‘I’m happy to see you’, I want to rip of my headwrap and run for the door. It’s a blessing that They even acknowledge me, but that sentence is like the soft-shoe entrance for ‘here’s another life change coming for you’ and More Action Required.

This latest direction has me very, very nervous. There is a limited amount of things one can learn in a sosyete without some level of kanzo and, while kanzo did not pass His lips and I haven’t spoken with Manbo yet, it is tickling the back of my mind. That would be a huge, immense undertaking—a requisite trip to Haiti, a not-insignificant amount of cash, and a massive life change, as kanzo doesn’t just slip into your life. It would also create an irrevocable bond to the house and Manbo and I don’t know how I feel about that right now. I don’t like bonds and oaths to mortals that much—I prefer to keep those with the Divine unless absolutely necessary.

There’s going to be a lot of divination coming up on this. I suspect Manbo will need to read extensively on what I need to do and what that’s going to take and I’ll be getting a few outside opinions, as I have a rather high suspicion of anyone, mortal or Divine, who tells me that I must do a thing and the only way to do it is with this one specific person or place. That has ALWAYS been a huge red flag that has led to nothing but pain, and I have no desire to re-live those kinds of experiences.

After the fet, I came home and threw myself in front of the Mister. I had a great big ‘what the fuck is going on’ at Him and cried a bit, because I’m actually pretty terrified of this and not just because it was a huge curveball. I very much want a face-to-face with Him about this, but I doubt that’s going to happen so I’ll settle for meditation and prayer and ranting at the foot of His altar until I gain some sort of clarity, one way or another. I’ll also be having similar discussions with Eleggua and Papa Ghede, too. I’m side-eyeing Papa Ghede pretty hard, as this has the taste of a glorious set-up all over it.

I went to bed after my tired what-the-fucking and of course I have a Sekhmet dream, because everything absolutely should pile on at one time. Make hay while the sun shines and all that, I guess. I’m not upset, angry, or anything like that, but more resigned to the fact that the path my life is taking is, and always will be for the foreseeable future, out of my hands. I have wiggle room up until a point and I can pick out what kind of car I drive, but the spacing of the rest stops and the route in general is in Their hands. It’s nothing I haven’t known and come to terms with awhile ago, but every now and then I get a punch to the face to remind me of the dotted line that I signed on closing in on ten years ago. I’d sign it every damn day if I had to, because my life is so much better for it and I love my Powers above all other things, but it sure does make things interesting. They never promised me boring, after all.


~ by Alex on March 26, 2014.

5 Responses to “I can’t sing, but I can dance.”

  1. Part of the concern I have about searching out a sosyete is financial as well as how much responsibility I would need to bring to court. One day, I won’t be able to hide behind that though.

  2. I tend to think if you are meant to Kanzo, then the lwa will help you find a way when the time comes. That does not mean it will be easy though. As a friend of mine said, “It’s not meant to be easy.” Also keep in mind that in Haiti, many people serve the lwa without undergoing Kanzo, and there are also non-Asson lineages.

    • Oh, I agree. Nothing worth doing is easy and no one every promised me easy.

      re: non-Asson lineages. Most of them don’t accept non-Haitians, though, rightI regard less, between conversation and dreams, the Lwa have made clear that this is the house I am to be at, so here I am.

      • True about the non-Asson lineages. My reply was meant more for Aubs Tea and I should have posted it beneath her comment. Kanzo isn’t required or necessary for everyone and is something that should be carefully thought out as it carries obligations and may require travel if the house is not in your area.

        I’m glad you found a good house, Alex. I know of it by reputation 🙂

  3. If there is any way I can offer support as you navigate this please let me know. I have zero knowledge about this kind of thing, but sometimes that’s exactly what someone needs.

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