Philadelphia Part Two: Chatting with Legba
Note: I realize I mentioned in my last post that this one would be about the lave tet, but there was too much material to cover to fit it all in one post. So the actual lave tet will be discussed in the next installment, so that I can keep events in somewhat of a chronological order.
I arrived in Philadelphia late Friday afternoon, then headed over to Sosyete du Marche for dinner. There were already maybe 7 or 8 people gathered around the table when I walked in the door, as well as two dogs roaming the dining room–a handsome black standard poodle and a cute little shih tzu whose hair was clipped short for the summer. And finally, I got to meet Mambo Pat, who exudes the same warmth and good-natured humor in person as she does online. I sat down and shared a wonderful meal of pasta, salad and bread.
Normally, I am very self-conscious in unfamiliar settings with people I don’t know very well, but this time I was surprisingly relaxed. This was more than a Vodou group–it felt like I was a new in-law or not-too-distant relative at an informal family gathering. It turned out there would be nine of us receiving the lave tet, and to reduce her work load on Saturday, Mambo told us she would read the cards for the three of us who were at the dinner that night. The reading is included with the lave tet, and reveals which lwa are currently walking with you. While I waited for my reading, I helped out in the kitchen washing dishes, which can be meditative for me.
When it was my turn, I went downstairs into the hounfò. It’s a beautiful room, with two long altars set up along the back wall, one for the ocean lwa: Met Agwe, La Sirene and La Balenn, and one for the Petro lwa. In the center of the room, in traditional style, was a square poteau mitan, complete with a low altar platform built around it. Several assons (rattles used by mambos and houngans) hung from the column.
I sat in a low chair next to the center altar, with Mambo Pat facing me a couple of feet away. A houngan and a mambo also sat in on the reading and occasionally offered advice and suggestions. Mambo handed me the New Orleans Voodoo tarot deck and told me to shuffle the cards until she said stop, which I did.
Now, I am not sure exactly when Mambo left and Legba arrived, but at some point very early in the reading, I was aware that he was there. Mambo’s voice changed, taking on a slower relaxed cadence and an accent. The usual alert look in her eyes was replaced by the confident gaze of an old man. The other mambo handed him a cigarette, which he enjoyed while we talked.
It’s an amazing and deeply moving feeling to speak physically to a lwa. I am not going to describe very much of what was in the cards, mainly because it was a personal reading and would not be of use to anyone else. Of course, Legba showed up in the cards, in the met tet position, although it was his Petro aspect. What was really surprising is that none of the ocean lwa showed up in the cards. This was highly unusual. In previous readings I’d had with Mambo C and Mambo Racine, the suite of cups were all over the place. I still believe Met Agwe and La Sirene are with me–my current thought on the matter is that it was a nine card reading, and perhaps it was more important at this time for other lwa and information to come through. Four new lwa are now with me, including the Marassa (whom I mention here because of something that would happen the following day). I had no clue how I was going to come up with altar space for them, and made a mental note to seek Mambo C’s help once I returned to Seattle.
After Legba explained the cards, he asked me if I had any questions, and of course my mind went momentarily blank. I tried to think, as who knew when I’d have an opportunity like this again. I thanked him for his patience with me, and he commented that the world is a loud place, but they (the lwa) keep trying to get through. And then, me being me, I said, “I know you love dogs.” (And as soon as the word ‘dogs’ passed my lips, we could hear Mambo Pat’s dogs start barking vigorously upstairs.) “What about cats?” I had to ask this question, because when Legba first appeared to me, Puck was with him.
Legba looked at me with his relaxed steady gaze, and took a drag from his cigarette. “Sure, I like dogs,” he said, and then went on to explain that he values not just dogs, but all creatures. He expressed great displeasure towards those who treat animals with disrespect.
He also scolded me a little for spreading myself too thin, telling me I needed to choose one path. And he was completely right about that. Throughout my adult life, I’ve scattered my energies all over the place, which has not helped me progress at all. We talked about art a little, and I will never forget what he told me. “When you create something you are truly satisfied with, God smiles.” To me, this means that the creative process is, in a very real sense, an offering of great value. I just wanted to share that with the artists, dancers, writers and other creative types who read this blog.
The conversation was over far too soon, but Papa promised he would talk to me the following evening. And I was left with an even deeper love for this lwa. Ayibobo.