Fet Gede: Highlights and reflections

Saturday morning I awoke with a slight headache. Determined to prevent it from blossoming into major pain, I immediately took two Advil, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down in front of the computer to check for messages.

I had not been online long when my friend Slinky messaged me. She’d woken up with a cold, and told me she might not be able to attend the fet. She thought the timing of her sickness was odd, but neither one of us were sure what that meant, if anything. She decided to wait and see if she felt better later in the day, and would let me know by 5pm if she was going or not so that I could catch a bus if necessary. (She ended up not going.)

In the afternoon, I bathed and spent about an hour in meditation, clearing out my chakras and opening up my channels in preparation for the fet. One cannot force a possession, but one can attempt to be open to the lwa and their energies.

I arrived downtown early, and stopped at Uwajimaya to buy some bottled water and food for the potluck. I found a package of sugar-free blueberry bread that looked good. Then I made my way down to First Ave. Shortly after I passed the two sports arenas (Safeco Field and the horribly renamed CenturyLink Field, formerly Qwest Field), I paused at an intersection and my friend Greg was suddenly standing beside me. Greg went with me to my first Fet Gede in 2009, and I was glad to see him. Together we walked the remaining blocks to the studio.

Because I’ve described the past two Fet Gedes in detail, I won’t include a long description of the ritual here (interested readers can read my posts on the 2009 and 2010 fets). Prior to attending the fet I decided that I would try to be fully immersed in the fet and less of an observer.

There were a handful of people I recognized and a number of newcomers. Mambo C and Houngan D led the ceremony, assisted by at least two initiates and a few other regulars.

One thing that was great about this year’s attendees is that everyone danced for at least part of the evening. Before the first break, no one sat on the sidelines.

There were some obvious possessions and some instances where people were either lightly possessed or just very engrossed in the energy. During the songs for Damballah, V (an initiate) was walking in the center of the circle of dancers, carrying Houngan D’s snake. She had a very blissful expression on her face, and several of the women in attendance were dancing in a tight circle around her, including one newcomer who I think was of Haitian descent (I overheard her mention Jacmel later in the fet, and she knew the lyrics to a number of the songs. She was a fluid and natural dancer, and had a lovely singing voice). Shortly after that, V was lying on the floor, possessed by Damballah, while Mambo C and several other people held a white sheet over her. A few of the women who had been dancing around V were also kneeling and lying under the sheet, but I really could not tell if they were possessed or not.

Mambo C was possessed at least once during the evening, but I am not sure by whom. So was another young woman whose name I don’t know—she seemed to be somewhat incapacitated by the energy and was guided to a chair by several attendees.

There were another group of possessions in the middle of the evening; again I am unsure about the identity of the lwa, but I am guessing that it may have been Ogoun. This was another instance of several people occupying the center of the dance circle, including one middle-aged muscular guy who I have not seen before. He was tattooed and could easily pass for a biker, At first he was led around the inner circle by Houngan D, and then he stood in the center making a rhythmic grunting sound to every other beat of the drums. With him were three or four of the young men who tend to dance wildly at the fets, so wildly that at times I cannot tell if they are possessed or just dancing. I will note here that the wild dancing possessions, if that is what they are, do not resemble the possessions I’ve seen in films about Haitian Vodou. However, I have been wondering since the fet if the way in which a possession is manifested depends on the body of the particular horse (possessed person). This does not always seem to be the case, as strong possessions by some lwa have very identifiable characteristics (such as Damballah’s writhing on the floor or Bossou’s bull-like fierce charges).

There were at least three Gede possessions. One of the regulars, a young man who I’ve seen at several other fets, was dancing and holding the cane out in front of his crouch (typical gede). A young woman also seemed to be possessed a bit later in the evening and also danced with the cane, but less lasciviously. The third gede possessed the body of another regular, a woman of African descent who might be around my age (40s). For part of the time, she was walking around the studio and in the dance circle casually smoking a cigar.

As for me, I find I am having problems letting go while dancing in the circle. Part of the problem is that I sometimes get sandwiched between a couple of the wilder dancers (I try to avoid them, but it isn’t always possible) and proceed to get kicked, nudged and hit as I dance. Again, I do not notice Haitians flailing so much in the videos I’ve seen (unless they are possessed), but we are not in Haiti. So I deal with it the best I can. Part of the time I danced with my eyes half closed, and this seemed to help me focus better. Perhaps I did something right because at one point Houngan D sprayed me and a few other dancers with rum.

Towards the end of the fet, I decided to take a break on a bench near the wall and it was then that I was able to finally let go. I opened up my head and felt the rhythm of the drums and, for a brief time, felt as though my consciousness was starting to go. Whether this was the beginning of a possession or simply a light trance (which I can fall into pretty easily), I don’t know, but it was an interesting sensation. I started to have a light tingling sensation in my head that was accompanied by the impression of sparkling white lights. Unfortunately, the sensation did not last and then the fet was over.

The four-piece drum ensemble (Blake Cisnero’s group) was fantastic, and one of the drummers generously offered me a ride home, even though he had been up early that morning (it was now around 12:30 a.m.) and driven from Bellingham to Seattle and back for another gig. We talked a bit in the car, and it was interesting to hear a musician’s perspective. The terminology he is most familiar with refer to the different rhythms (Rada, Petro, etc.) and he is just starting to learn the meaning of the words in the context of the religion.

I was quite energized when I got home, and did not manage to sleep until around 4 hours later. The following day, I had sore muscles in my lower legs and a very sore neck. I am not sure if I slept funny on it, or if it relates to what I thought might be the near possession (the lwa sometimes come in through the neck area). The pain continues today (Tuesday), although it is slowly dissipating.

While I enjoy the fets, I am feeling the need to learn more about individual service to the lwa. Part of this is because I get easily exhausted from social gatherings. While group gatherings are an important part of Vodou, my personality requires that I find my own path to some extent, while also showing proper respect and acknowledgment for tradition.


8 Responses to “Fet Gede: Highlights and reflections”

  1. I have found that Vodou ceremony isn’t at all like I thought it would be. I have only been to a few, held by a local Mambo, and while they were nice and interesting, it’s hard to get into the rhythm of things without knowing any of the songs. And, of course, since I am not part of that Mambo’s house, I have no one to teach me — but like you said, I work better alone anyway. I don’t want to be obligated to be part of a house and all that comes with it.

    A lot of things I was told about Vodou turned out not necessarily to be true.

    I don’t need to sit through an entire round of songs and prayers to lose myself to possession, especially by Ghede. ESPECIALLY on Fet Ghede.

    And they don’t teach you that there are layers of possession (which you mentioned also). Most books will tell you that it’s all or nothing. Maybe for some people, but I have had hands, feet, pelvis, eyes and mouth possessed at different times by different spirits. Not that full body possession doesn’t happen — granted, it has never happened for me in a ceremony. (But then again, I am not particularly prone to being possessed by spirits like Damballah.)

    I am still recovering from Fet Ghede also, though mine involved less dancing. 🙂

  2. cheshirecatman Says:

    Thanks for your input. I like to hear about other’s experiences. I expect that if a group were to perform all the songs and dances correctly, then perhaps there would be more full possessions.

    Also, I will be catching up on your blog as time allows 🙂 Thank you for adding my link to your site; I will add yours to mine as well.

    • I expect that if a group were to perform all the songs and dances correctly, then perhaps there would be more full possessions.

      Oh, likely so. Especially if everyone/most people in the group knew the songs and dances. The more energy that can be raised, the more likely to be taken with a spirit, I would think. It’s like ringing a bell. The louder and clearer the bell, the more people are going to hear it and potentially respond.

      Thanks! I found it interesting to read yours since while I consider myself a Vodouisant (granted, I am more Louisiana Voodoo than Haitian Vodou), I also work with some Orisha and the Egyptian pantheon. So your blog was right up my alley, basically.

  3. cheshirecatman Says:

    I really like your analogy of ringing a bell. It’s simple and very descriptive.

  4. the first time I worked with Lwa, my throat started shutting down, along with pressure at the top of my head.
    having had some mediumship training, I recognised this as the feeling when someone is trying to come through, but I shut it down. I don’t entirely feel I can let go when I’m the only person there. or when there is a risk that the other person around me might think something horrible is wrong with me. I’ve requested politely that they hold off until I’m in company I feel safe letting go around, who I trust to understand and to look after me.
    so far this seems to be respected, but I’d be fascinated to see what might happen if I do let go.

  5. Greets! Ash here. Unfortunately, I missed the fet. It would have been great to participate and see you, but I was out of town.

    Thank you for sharing your personal account of the evening with us. I admire your willingness to impart your thoughts and feelings and enjoy your observations immensely.

    The final paragraph, in particular, caught my attention, as your words seem to parallel my own state of reflection regarding Vodou. If you are interested in discussing this (or anything else), you are always more than welcome to send me e-mail.

    Hope our paths cross again soon. Take care.

  6. cheshirecatman Says:

    Nice to hear from you, Ash. I am not sure if I have your email, however. Could you send it to me at cheshirecatacombs@gmail.com? Thanks.

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