Archive for the Music Category

A song for Legba

Posted in Legba, lwas, Music, Vodou with tags , , , on August 22, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Here is an easy song for Legba that anyone can learn, even if you don’t speak Kreyol. It’s pretty repetitive, so once you get it down it’s not difficult to remember. I sing this one regularly when I give him offerings.

Legba nan baye-a
Legba nan baye-a
Legba nan baye-a
se ou ki pote drapo
se ou ki pare soley pou lwas yo

Translation:

Legba in the gate
Legba in the gate
Legba in the gate
it is you who carries the flag
it is you who shades the sun for the lwa

You can hear the song here.

Dance, trance and music

Posted in Art, Dance, Music, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2011 by cheshirecatman

Tuesday night, shortly after publishing my last post, I ran across a documentary about trances and possession on one of the cable channels. In one of the segments, they filmed a Yoruba ceremony in Brazil. The house members were dancing in a circle, but very sedately compared to the fets I’ve attended. Some readers might be thinking, “Where is the fun in that?” While I think ritual can be and often is fun, the main purpose is to honor and serve the spirits. The narrator commented that the rhythm of the drums and the repetitive movements of the dance served to induce the trance state, which made sense to me.

Also, I wanted to share this amazing music video by Adam Scott Miller that a friend showed me. It’s a little long, but worth it, a beautiful montage of spirit and energy images accompanied by haunting music.

http://youtu.be/ggSLUdF3o0U

Gifts from 2010

Posted in Animal communication, Animals, Music, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2010 by cheshirecatman
My cat Luna with 2 rattles

Luna discovers percussion

I was reading one of my favorite animal communicator blogs, Tales Around the Water Bowl, and this part moved me:

He [Al] was born “accidentally”  when his mom mated with a Shepherd up the road. His mom was a Husky and was set to be bred with their dog – his dad’s favorite dog of all time: Bob. Sadly, Bob died before Al was born, so Al was the chosen one out of the litter to live with the family. He knew from Day One that his dad could never love him as he had loved Bob. He loved his dad anyway, did as he was asked as he grew, and became a much beloved member of the family. But there was always that distance between Al and his dad. Al wasn’t Bob.

Through my animal communication, I taught Al’s dad a lot about Al and the things he had to say. Al was nothing like Bob but his sweet nature is irresistible. With his giant frame, there is a heart as big to go with it.

One day we were walking the beach and Al was at my side. He said to me “My dad loves me now like he loved Bob.” I replied “Really Al?, That’s great!” and he said “Yes, and all I had to do was be myself.”

Although my young female cat (Luna, now 2-1/2 years old) is not the late Puck’s biological relation, I’ve always thought of them as spiritual siblings, both being Devon Rexes in my care. I even suspect that Puck helped me to “choose” her. However, as mentioned in the quote above, there was always a distance between Luna and me.  I fell in love with her from the first time I saw her photo and certainly upon meeting and holding my little girl, but inevitable comparisons with Puck sometimes arose in my mind, and she certainly could not compete with my companion of nearly 15 years, even if he was now in spirit form. Anne felt I did not wait long enough after Puck’s passing to adopt another Rex, and I had to admit that perhaps she was right. Puck passed in January of 2008, and we picked Luna up from the breeder in July of that year.

My other 15-year-old cat (still living, whom I’ll call by his nickname “Snowman” here) could not compete with Puck either, for that matter. Snowman is a flame-point Siamese and we’ve been through more than one life together. In contrast, this was the first go-around for Puck and I, as far as I know. This will give you some idea about the strength of my bond with Puck, that it makes my lengthier bond with Snowman seem diminished.

But in recent months something has shifted. I am loving Luna more and more. Despite breed characteristics, she is very different from Puck: she plays rougher, is shy with strangers (unlike Puck’s in-your-face gregariousness), and loves teasing Snowman. It used to be that when I looked at her, I could not help but also see Puck, but lately I am able to just enjoy her and her alone. We have our own unique interactions now–methods of play and conversation that are only between us and do not resemble interactions with Puck. Luna feels it too, and this is evident by her new desire to be constantly near me.

I am also appreciating Snowman more and more, perhaps because he is getting along in years. He’s always been a more laid-back cat than either of the Rexes, and has a very affectionate, quiet dignity about him–although he is a bit crabbier nowadays than he used to be, especially when being teased by Luna. But he loves the recent increase in attention, and seems happier than he has in months.

This new closeness with my living cats is helping me to live in the moment (always a hard one for me, due to my dreamy nature), and  I am finally feeling my grief for Puck dissipate in a substantial way. The downside is that I feel his presence around me less often now, and while I don’t relish that idea, I think it’s a good thing. I know he will never abandon me, but I also know that he undoubtedly has other things to do in the spirit world besides look after me all the time.

The second gift I recently received came from a drummer friend of mine. It’s always been amusing to me that, for the past 25 years or so, I have a tendency to become friends with musicians (without knowing they are musicians at the time), especially drummers. This may be due in part to a past desire to be a music journalist, but mostly I think it has to do with similar energies attracting each other. This friend (I’ll call him Lance) and another drummer friend (“Ben”) and I used to work together at our day jobs and, although that ended around 2000, we’ve remained close friends for the past decade.

We had breakfast together yesterday and exchanged holiday gifts, and Lance gave me an awesome maraca and goat toe rattle.

I am not the easiest person to buy gifts for, and this year Lance outdid himself. I’d been meaning to buy a maraca for ritual use all year. I’ve looked at many, but just never found one that I was compelled to buy. So I was very surprised and pleased to see this colorful little thing. The small size is great too, as my shrine area is getting a bit crowded.

Lance thought about giving me ankle bells instead of the goat toe rattle, but I am glad that in the end he chose the goat toes. I like the clacking tone of them better than I like the lighter sound of bells.

2010 has been a mixed year. The most difficult event was the loss of Anne’s stepmother Marie to cancer  in February. There have been some very positive highlights too: we bought our first home together and moved in over the summer; I am making progress in Vodou (and Mambo Racine read the post I wrote about the met tet reading she did for me, and liked it, which made me happy), and, almost as a counterbalance to the loss of Marie, Anne’s aunt (who has been courageously battling breast cancer for years) just found out last week that her cancer has gone fully into remission!

On top of all this, the recent gifts are a wonderful end note to remind me of what I am grateful for: the friends in my life, both bipedal and furred.

Petwo fet

Posted in Dance, lwas, Music, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Last night I attended a fet for the Petwo lwa with my friend Slinky. It was held at Mambo C’s house in the north end of Seattle. She has a huge backyard, which worked well for the fet.

The invitation requested that attendees arrive between 6 and 7pm. Slinky and I got there around 6:45, and there were only about 4-6 other people there, some of them members of the drum troupe. We were a little dismayed, wondering how the fet would go down with such a small group, in the event that no one else showed up.

During the next 30-45 minutes, more people arrived; most of them regulars who attended the last two fets I went to.  We had time to talk with many of them prior to the ceremony, and it was nice to learn some names to go with the faces. The Mambo’s friend showed up, an attractive and pleasant young woman whom I met at the previous fet.

The service started around 8:00.  Mambo C handed out lyric sheets for the opening call and response songs, which was helpful but I still garbled many of the words. Slinky did better, but she is good at that.

After the songs, the drumming and dancing began, and what followed was a pretty wild night of possessions. V, an initiate whom I’ve met at the other fets, was possessed at least twice during the evening. One of her friends commented that she has “a very open head.” One of her companions was also possessed two or three times, once quite forcefully by Erzulie Dantor. He was squirming and struggling as three to four people restrained him and kept him away from the fire (which was lit about halfway through the evening). Houngan D greeted Erzulie in Creole, and instructed others to talk to her and see what she wanted. Later he said that Erzulie Dantor had shown the possessed man a “roomful of fire,” and that was quite an intense experience for the psyche.

One of the first-time attendees (new to this group but I am not sure if she is new to Vodou) was a young woman dressed all in white except for her long flowing red head scarf. During the evening she came close to a full possession, and Houngan D was walking around the circle of dancers with her. A short time later, he was physically supporting her and another possessed devotee (the same man who would later be possessed by Dantor), one under each arm. Fortunately, the Mambo and others were there to assist and relieve him of his double burden. The Mambo’s friend had some sort of experience with Gran Bwa…at one point during the fet she was walked around the circle by Houngan D and then they went off to a corner of the yard together. Next time I see her I hope to find out more about her experience.

During a break in the festivities, I got to talk to one of the drummers, a man of African descent who had not been at the last two fets. He had words of encouragement for both the Mambo’s friend and myself, telling us that he could see we had potential that was trying to get out. He said he used to be the same way, and that he would do his best with his drumming to help us reach that potential. He was quite an amazing drummer; his playing had subtleties that I don’t remember hearing at the last two fets. Also around the break, another of the regulars showed up, the African American woman who was possessed at both of the other fets I attended. I very much wanted to meet her, and was glad to have the chance to talk with her. She is warm and seemed to connect well with Slinky.

When the dancing ended, we enjoyed some delicious red beans and rice that Slinky made, along with some fruit, humus, chips, bread and cookies.

After the fet, Slinky mentioned that there were times when she was close to letting go, and then Houngan D would ask her to do something, as if he sensed she was not ready for full-on possession and intentionally interrupted the process. For myself, I did not sense much energy this time and have had very few physical after effects, not even sore muscles. I seriously suspect that I am hard to possess, and am more firmly attached to my body than I would like to be. There are a number of reasons for this, which may be the subject of a future post. So while I did not add to my direct experiences with the lwa at this fet, I was grateful to attend and interact more with the other attendees. The better I know the group, the more comfortable I will be with them. Being comfortable with those around you can contribute greatly to your willingness to let go. And letting go of my self-consciousness and suspicion of others is one of my largest hurdles in this journey.

Recent discoveries

Posted in lwas, Music, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Ever since I attended my first fet back in November, I’ve had part of one of the songs stuck in my mind. I heard those two verses again at last month’s Rada fet during the Damballah segment, and wanted to know what the song was about. However, since I don’t understand Haitian Creole, it was difficult for me to identify the lyrics to even ask the mambo about them.

Then recently I ran across the following passage in Karen McCarthy Brown’s book, Mama Lola:

Zo li mache, li mache, li mache. . . Kouran li mache, li mache, li mache. . .

I recognized the song immediately and was pleased that McCarthy also provided a translation:

The bone, it walks, it walks. How it walks, it walks.

She goes on to explain that if the translation is accurate, it can be viewed as a comment on the life energy that persists in the bones of the ancestors.

I hope to some day learn some Haitian Creole. Mambo C says that a lot of information about the lwa is provided in their songs.

At last month’s  fet I was able to purchase a white head scarf from Mambo C. In Vodou, head scarves are worn to keep out negative energies while allowing good energies (such as contact with the lwa) through.

Recently I wore it while making offerings to the lwa, meditating, and doing a tarot reading for myself. When I sense energy, it often feels like a magnetic force to me. Well, during that session with the lwa, I could feel a noticeable magnetic force around my head. I wore it again yesterday while feeding them, and found that I felt calmer and more focused.

Fet Gede: Fun and surprises on All Saint’s Day

Posted in Dance, Haiti, La Sirene, Legba, lwas, Music, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Uncategorized, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2009 by cheshirecatman

Much like Day of the Dead, the Haitian Vodou holiday Fet Gede is celebrated every year on All Soul’s Day. It’s a day to honor the Ancestors and the group of spirits known as the Gede.

At the head of the Gede family is The Baron in his many aspects (Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Baron Cimitiere, and Baron Kriminel to name a few) and Maman Brigitte, the mother of the Gede. Together they reclaim the souls of the dead and transform some into Gede lwa, thus the Gede are innumerable. Papa Gede Nibo is the oldest and foremost Gede – said to be the oldest ancestor of the human race.

The Gede are much loved and they are the life of the party when they appear. They’re known for their bawdy and irreverent sense of humor, for dancing the banda – a dance which parodies intercourse, but also they are known for their great ability to heal the sick, give advice and prophesy the future. They have a special fondness for and are protective of children. In all, they embody the mysteries of death, fertility and birth. (source: www.dadamancer.com)

Note: What follows is my personal account of the events of that day. I did not take written notes at the Fet (a bit difficult when one is dancing). So, any inaccuracies described about the ceremony are likely errors of my memory and not of the actual ceremony.

The Fet Gede celebration that I attended last weekend was held on Sunday, Nov. 1 (All Saint’s Day) rather than Nov. 2 (All Soul’s Day). I am not sure if it was held on Nov. 1 due to people’s work schedules or another reason, but it did not seem to make a difference. The spirits were in attendance.

The day started out with an unexpected surprise. I was chatting online with a good friend of mine (whom I’ll call “L”) when she said she had a surprise ready for me and wanted to bring it over that day. She was pretty adamant that she bring it that day, which piqued my interest. So, about an hour or so later, she presented me with this lovely spirit box:

legba_box

Note that the veve for Papa Legba is handpainted by L on the top in red, one of his colors. There were three pennies for him inside. Veves are complex and I was touched both by the thoughtfulness of the gift and the time put into it. L is a talented individual in her own right, and works regularly as a henna artist. I presented the box to Legba the following day, and it is now displayed prominently in his shrine area.

Of the four friends I invited to accompany me to the Fet Gede, only two (Greg and Robert, not their real names) were able to make it. Both are new friends that I haven’t known long, but both  have very good energies about them. I met them through our mutual friend Gayle, the owner of the wonderful Gargoyles Statuary. Greg called me earlier in the day, suggesting we meet aournd 6pm somewhere before the ceremony. This turned out to be an excellent idea, as we were able to meet at a sushi bar (the same place where I met Mambo C) for drinks and a light meal. The cocktail I ordered relaxed me a little, which was good because I had been antsy with excitement all morning. After our meal, Greg and I walked over to the dance studio where the ceremony would take place, and met Robert there.

The three of us are very different in appearance; we could be the three leads for a television series that cast its characters with political correctness in mind, LOL. Greg is white with short reddish brown hair and dresses tastefully Goth. He has been a solitary practitioner of Vodou and Hoodoo for a number of years (not sure exactly how long). Robert is black with dreadlocks and dressed casually for the occasion. He is Pagan and somewhat new to Vodou. I am Asian/Inuit with medium length wavy hair and dressed semi-casually, formerly Wiccan and have only been studying Vodou seriously for about a year.

I have to admit that I did my precursory “color head count” of the crowd. I’d love to be color-blind, but like many people who have lived in areas where there are not many others who look like them, the head count becomes an ingrained habit. Plus I have been curious about what a Vodou crowd in the Pacific Northwest would look like. So, for the record, here it is: Total of about 30-40 people. Of those people, 3 of African descent (Robert, one of the guest dancers, and a middle-aged woman), an Asian woman (whom I discovered later is a member of the same dance troupe that performed at the Fet, a group that I would like to see again, Danse Perdue) and myself. Some of the people I’ve mentioned this to are surprised that there were not more people of African descent present, but somehow I wasn’t surprised, it being the Pacific Northwest.

The festivities took a while to get underway, but this gave me time to catch up with Greg and Robert, check out the altar, and say hello to Mambo C. The ceremony opened with a greeting from Mambo C, and then recitations of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary litany. (It may surprise some readers, but Haitian Vodou is heavily syncretized with Catholicism). Following the prayers were songs and dances for the numerous lwas, beginning with the Rada lwa. This includes, among others, Papa Legba and Damballah. Here I was grateful for all the reading I’ve done. Even though the songs were in Haitian Creole, my ears were able to pick out certain terms and names throughout the ceremony.

It took a while for Greg, Robert and I to get into the dancing, although the drumming (provided by the amazing Bill Matthews and Friends) was highly infectious and could not be resisted for long. Greg and I were both moving to the rhythms, although not quite dancing during the early numbers. Robert was appreciative of the music but not moving too much early on. At some point during that first hour of music, one of the dancers, a lithe,  lovely raven-haired vision in white lace, extended a graceful hand to me and drew me into the dance. From then on, for a total of around 3 hours, it was nearly non-stop dancing for me. Greg had started really dancing around this time too and never stopped.

After I’d been dancing for a while (maybe 20 minuntes? I lost my sense of time during the dance), I noticed Robert was gone. Initially I thought he’d gone to the restroom, but soon I saw that he was walking arm in arm with the houngan in a circular path around the dance floor. Afterwards the houngan returned Robert to where he’d originally been standing, and put his forehead against Robert’s. I could see the houngan’s lips moving, but could not hear what he was saying. (The houngan made this circular walk with several participants throughout the night, including the Asian woman, the African woman, and the dancer who reached out to me. When I later asked Robert what the houngan said to him, Robert said, “Nothing.” Robert thought that perhaps he had received a blessing. My guess is that the houngan was possessed at the time, possibly by Damballah, who does not speak. I had heard his name mentioned during one of the songs. Sometime later, the houngan did indeed display the signs of a Damballah possession. He fell to the floor and was immediately covered with a white sheet by several people while the Mambo brought the houngan back to himself.) After the blessing, Robert danced freely for the rest of the evening.

There were two other possessions during the evening (possibly more, but I was only sure of these two). During one of the dances, I saw the African woman seated in a chair near the altar, seemingly frozen in an odd pose with one of her arms arched above her head, the other out to the side, and her torso leaning over to her left. Shortly after that she was dancing in a dazed way, and had to be supported by one of the Mambo’s friends.

The other possession occurred while we were honoring the Petwo lwa, specifically during the song for Bossou, the bull lwa. I knew from speaking with the Mambo that this was her met tet (master of her head), so I kept an eye on her while dancing. And sure enough, he came calling. The Mambo’s face assumed a fierce expression as she snarled. Either she pulled off her headcovering or it fell to the floor, but she made no effort to retrieve it. She began charging into people and continued doing so until the houngan got hold of her and asked the lwa to depart.

The last part of the ceremony was to honor the Ghede lwas and the ancestors. This section was opened by one of the dancers who was married to Baron Samedi. She presented him with a bottle of liquor, which she opened, took into her mouth, and then sprayed over the alter three times. What followed then was another hour or so of crazy lascivious dancing (fully clothed). Near the end of the Ghede section, all of us took turns approaching the altar and leaving offerings for our ancestors. We were encouraged to make requests from them at that time. I left a purple candle for my beloved Puck, requesting his further assistance in my Vodou studies. I know he would assist me regardless of the offering or the request, but it is always nice to ask and show appreciation. And I do so appreciate him–he played and continues to play a large role in my Vodou exploration.

The following Friday, at work, I was grabbing a tea bag out of a box when a little figure tumbled into view. This is one of those tea boxes that sometimes includes little porcelain figures. This particular tea box was given to me by a coworker maybe a year ago and I never noticed that a figure was enclosed. I picked it up. It was a little brown cat. Upon closer examination of the tea box, I saw that there were a total of ten possible figures that could be enclosed. Of those ten, two were cats–the other being a figure of two kittens. So that is a 20 percent chance of getting a cat, and a 10 percent change of getting the solitary cat. I don’t know what the odds are of my co-worker not finding the figure herself or me not finding it earlier.  Make of it what you will, but I took that as a very good sign. Also, the mirror I ordered from Gargoyles came in on Tuesday, and I plan to present it to La Sirene this weekend, along with a pipe that I have for Legba. I will give the little cat to Puck. I also will be setting up a Ghede shrine soon, simply because I am fond of them.

In closing, I was experiencing weird pain at the Fet Gede, although not severe enough to stop my feet from dancing. I will explain this further in my next post.

Looking Back Part 1: The influence of art

Posted in African culture, Art, Dance, Music with tags , , , on July 25, 2009 by cheshirecatman

Since starting this blog I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember what started me down this path. What were the first nudges in this direction? I don’t know if I’m ever going to figure out what the first influences were, but I do know that an appreciation of and particpation in the arts played no small role.

I am a big fan of the art of dance, probably because I am an artist and I do figurative pieces, so I am always looking at musculature and the lines of the body. One of the best places to see a variety of dance performances is at the Northwest Folklife Festival, held each year over Memorial Day weekend at Seattle Center. Most years I attend this event, and for a long time my favorite performers were the belly dancers, the flamenco dancers, and the Indian dancers.

I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point around five years ago I saw part of an African drumming and dance performance, and I was hooked. The dancers were athletic, vibrant, alive. Watching them was like participating in a celebration of life. And the drums had a power of their own. It was not difficult to slip into an altered state of consciousness when listening to their insistent rhythms.

Also around five years ago, I started sculpting. My first attempts were somewhat clumsy, and what was meant to be a lovely mermaid morphed into a bug-eyed monster. As my skills improved, however, I started to notice a tendency for all my faces to look African. During one sculpting class project, a figure that was supposed to be a young Euro woman turned out to be African instead. I liked the face so much that I kept her that way. This has happened many times since then, and when sculpting specific characters I often have to change their features from African to something else.

Looked at separately, none of these occurrences seems particularly meaningful. But these small happenings served to subtly turn me in the direction that I am facing now. Sometimes in life it’s not the individual events that are significant. It’s the overall pattern.