Archive for the Possession Category

2013 begins: a fet, a farewell and renewal

Posted in Animals, Legba, lwas, Ogoun, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I apologize to my regular readers for not posting for a while. I have some catching up to do, so this will be a lengthier post which I have divided into sections. The content should explain my absence.

2012 ends with a blah

I will  preface this section by saying I haven’t been really sick in about two years, which is amazing for me as I am susceptible to all kinds of lung-related problems (to which I credit allergies, a past bout of pneumonia and being a former smoker). During the fall and winter I was becoming really unmotivated with sculpting, feeling tired, overworked and generally blah. At one point I asked Legba to help me overcome my lack of motivation and I realize that, in retrospect, perhaps that was not such a bright idea.

Keep in mind that one of Legba’s aspects is that of Trickster. Consider this account from Houngan Hector’s website:

Legba is a trickster too! He has been known to play quite a number of tricks on people, some nice and some not so nice! I know a woman, who after doing a service to Legba for money, got into a terrible car accident, broke two of her legs, and then got her money – from the insurance company! She is alive and well now, but that definitely wasn’t the way she wanted to obtain the money! (This is another reason why one should serve the Lwa under the guidance of a Houngan or Mambo)

So, after making my rather whiny request I came down with a light cold about a week before Christmas. The girlfriend (Anne) had already had it, and it had run its course pretty quickly with her. I hoped for the same, and by Christmas eve when we attended a celebration at her mother’s house, I felt almost normal. All was good.

And then suddenly it worsened. I ran a fever, developed a  hacking cough, and got so ill I went to the doctor the day after New Year’s. I got antibiotics and almost was well again a week later when I developed a sore throat and went through the entire cycle again (although of shorter duration as I appear to be on the upswing again, let’s hope it lasts). During this very annoying and exhausting illness, I was forced over and over again to sleep and rest, as it seemed to be the only thing that helped. Rest, even though I have major art deadlines looming in March and April. Even when I wanted to work, coughing made detail work difficult and the fever left me very tired.

However, I am now cured of my lack of motivation. Be careful what you ask for. Plus it probably helps to be more specific.

A farewell

During my unmotivated fall and sickly winter, my Siamese cat Snowman became increasingly ill. He suffered from severe weight loss over the summer and had been to the vet in the fall and diagnosed with cancer. He was an old, independent and proud cat, and I did not want to put him through surgery that would likely not cure him at his age (over 17). So we treated his symptoms and waited.

He was treated with antibiotics, anti nausea meds and Vitamin B injections, and eventually he gained weight and some of his strength back. But as the holidays came and went, his abdomen became weirdly bloated and one of his front paws swelled up (apparently in cats, cancer metastasizes in legs). So I made an appointment with a vet who does house calls to assist him on his way. She was very gentle and compassionate with him, and he went amid love, much petting and tears from myself and Anne, and his favorite salmon treats.

The bill for helping him cross over at home was not cheap, but I have no regrets. It’s the least I could do for a friend who, like Puck, saw me through many difficult years. And, unlike Puck, Snowman was often stuck in the “second banana” role, as he was not as silly or attention-getting as Puck or my remaining cat Luna. What I realize, now that he is gone, is that I did not love him any less than them. He was my rock.

An amazing fet

The evening before Snowman’s crossing, I attended a small fet at a friend’s house. There were around a dozen of us there and, in spite of a late start and a mishap (a painting on the altar fell, resulting in some spilled water and broken glass) the energy was incredible. It may have been the best fet I’ve been to locally (the one I attended in Philly at Sosyete du Marche was also incredible).

Papa Ogoun made an appearance and actually claimed one participant as his daughter. Another Vodouisant announced abruptly that she needed to go outside (I would find out later that she had no memory of what she did out there). I made it a point during this fet to worry less about what was going on around me and instead focused more on the drumbeats and sending energy to the lwa. I was able to let go of more of my self consciousness thanks to a couple of shots of rum during the break. The fet ended with a couple of baths, one for letting go and one for luck.

So the baths were brought out and the presiding mambo took hers first. Then I had mine, and stepped aside. I remember my friend Slinky going up for her first bath and making a comment about all her hair. Then I briefly blanked out. Then I remember “Renee” going up for her bath. Again I blanked out. The part that was odd to me was when I opened my eyes and saw Renee getting up from her bath. I was really, really confused for a minute. I thought Renee was Slinky, and it took me a bit to figure out what was going on. Then I wasn’t sure if Slinky had the bath and was squinting at her to see if her hair was wet. Now, I often daydream and can go into light trances fairly easily, but am never this confused when I come out of them.

I didn’t think much about my confusion until later, when Slinky and I were comparing notes. Slinky mentioned (and I vaguely remembered) that someone remarked about “a roomful of half possessed people.” Slinky said she felt a bit different too. She felt a shift in her dance style, and also felt tipsy until after taking the baths, after which she felt very alert. At the time she wrote it off to just being tired, as she had not slept much the night before. And for the record, she drank only one small shot of rum during the break, not enough to be tipsy. I remember coming fully alert after the baths as well. Slinky also told me that she seems to remember seeing me wearing a straw hat and either khaki or olive-colored clothing, or there being someone dressed like that standing near me. (All of us were dressed in red and white.)

I feel very blessed to be at this particular fet and also grateful for the lave tet I had last year.

Final thoughts

The high of the fet followed by the pain of losing Snowman was quite a contrast, but the nasty cold/flu thing I had was in some ways a blessing. Much of the time I felt so rotten physically that I was mostly focused on taking care of my health and was somewhat distracted from fully mourning. It helps that I don’t view death as the end, just a transition and temporary separation. I think Snowman is hanging around because I have not felt the awful gaping hole in my solar plexus that I felt when I lost Puck.

Losing Puck marked a milestone in my life, as wanting to commune with the dead was part of what led me into Vodou (as well as Legba showing up during a chat with Puck on the other side). Now Snowman’s departure seems to be heralding more change. This recent illness (and perhaps the bath) not only has cured me of my lack of motivation but also seems to have cured me of my death wish. I usually obsess over death on a daily basis; it doesn’t always relate to depression, it’s just a matter of habit. I’ve been so focused on getting well so I can work on projects that I seem to have broken the habit. At the moment, I am just enjoying small things: being able to taste my food, sleep through the night without coughing to the point of back pain, and having a healthy young cat on my lap. These are wonderful gifts.

Ayibobo.

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Philadelphia Part Three: A fet and a lave tet

Posted in Agwe, Art, Damballah, Dreams, Ghede, La Sirene, Legba, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Note: These events took place on August 25-27, 2012. Please note that any errors contained herein are those of the author and not of Sosyete du Marche. The author generally does not take notes during fets and lave tets, and relies on observation and memory, neither of which is perfect.

The day of the fet and lave tet was a Saturday. I woke up around 8 a.m. and headed down to the hotel bistro for some breakfast. As I sat waiting for my order of scrambled eggs, a family sat down a few tables away. A mother, young daughter, and two boys–identical twins. I rarely see twins, but their appearance the day after my reading made me think of the Marassa again.

I had several hours to kill before heading over to Sosyete du Marche for dinner. I used that time to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum is amazing. From its historic exterior to its interior design (which changes depending on which section you are visiting), the place is not only aesthetically pleasing but impressively huge. This was like a real life review of my art history classes back in my college years. Seeing originals by such favorites as Degas and de Chirico was inspiring. Other cool highlights: a reconstructed European courtyard with a fake sky that looked like a movie set (if you stood directly under the ceiling, it was easy to convince yourself that you were outdoors under an overcast night sky), reconstructed Asian temples, and an Asian art section to die for. The Hindu, Tibetan, and Chinese statues were beautiful, and there were quite a few lions and lion people pieces. It felt appropriate for me to be there that day, as the night before both mambos and Legba reminded me that I needed to do more ancestor work. The only negative part of the experience was that, for some reason, I picked up a nagging headache at the museum. I usually carry Tylenol with me, but of course did not have it on me that day.

I was able to take some Tylenol before heading over to Mambo Pat’s, where all the attendees ate dinner and then got to know each other a bit before the fet, which was in honor of Met Agwe, La Sirene and La Balenn. My headache kept nagging me, so I took some more pills. Then we changed into our white clothes, wrapped our heads, and sat around the poteau mitan while Mambo Pat led us through the priyes.

It was interesting to experience how another house throws a fet. While the basic regleman was the same, in other ways this was very different from the fets I’d attended in Seattle. It was a little less free form, focusing more on songs and salutes rather than long periods of dancing. While I enjoy dancing a lot, the more structured format of this fet meant that I did not spend the evening trying to avoid getting hit and kicked by wild dancers, and that allowed me to focus on the lwa and the songs more. And the lwa were very much in attendance.

During his section of the fet, Legba came down into Mambo Pat and he went around greeting the celebrants. True to his word, he came over to me, embraced me and spoke words of reassurance into my ear. Again I was deeply moved to be so close to my met tet, and I felt very well cared for.

I also got to see my first Agwe possession. He entered the head of one of the houngans, and promptly sat down on one of the chairs and began directing the proceedings. Someone placed a black naval hat upon his head and he was kept moist with a spray bottle. One of the mambos went down a short while later–at first I thought it was a La Sirene possession, but I would later find out it was La Balenn. Like La Sirene, this lwa does not speak, so she mostly lay there with people attending her and keeping her moist. We sang and danced for Damballah, and he possessed one of the attendees. Then we took a break. The nine of us who were receiving the lave tet went upstairs and changed into our old clothes. I realized my headache had not bothered me since the fet began. I felt good.

After the break, the festivities resumed and the lave tet got underway. I went first. I was seated in a chair while the baths were poured over my head and rubbed along my arms. I could hear the houngans and mambos invoking the lwa while I focused on problems I would like to leave behind me. Then I was taken to a back room where I changed out of my wet clothes and into fresh white clothing. I was then wrapped in a white sheet and led to one of the low chairs in the altar area where I waited while the others received their head washings.

After the lave tet was finished, we sang some songs for the Ghede, and one of them came down into Mambo Pat’s head. This Ghede then proceeded to tease the various attendees, and at one point many of the lave tet recipients, including yours truly, got either the Ghede’s butt or boobs thrust nearly in our faces (fully clothed, the tone was very much ribald comedy).  Then she went around telling fortunes for a few coins, closing out the evening by asking each of us if we or someone we loved needed healing. If we said yes, she gave us a penny for that person (which now sits on my Ghede/ancestors altar, under a statue that resembles my cat Snowman, who is ill). After Mambo Pat’s Ghede (and another Ghede possessing a houngan) departed, we finished up the fet and it was time for the lave tet recipients to be bedded down in the altar area.

Air mattresses were laid out with sheets and quilts, and we were each assigned a sleeping area. At first I was assigned to the side of the room closer to the ocean lwa altar, but then I was moved next to the Petro altar. My head would be very near the Ghede altar (more on this later).

Prior to sleep, our heads were unwrapped. More things were placed on our heads, and then we were rewrapped and laid down to sleep. My headache, which had been absent all through the fet, was now back, and I looked forward to some dark and quiet. Then it was lights out, and the other attendees all went upstairs.

I had trouble sleeping, in part because of someone’s snoring but also because I generally have trouble sleeping if I share a room with anyone other than my girlfriend Anne. I lay there quietly for a couple of hours. Sometimes I would gaze at the Petro altar, where the statue of a grinning Asian man looked back at me. Other times I focused on relaxing all my facial muscles, which helps alleviate head pain.

After a while, I quietly went upstairs to use the restroom, and grabbed some ear plugs out of my totebag before returning back downstairs. Then I was able to drift into a light sleep. At one point I dreamt that I woke up and several of the houngans and mambos who were at the fet were sitting in the room. I asked them what time it was and they said, “5:30. Go back to sleep.”

A bit later I woke up for real, and could not go back to sleep. Being in the basement, it was hard to tell what time it was, so I just lay there. My headache was gone and I was enjoying the sweet absence of pain. And then, while I lay there relaxed but still awake, I started hearing bits of jumbled conversation. It got so inane and goofy that I was laughing to myself, and started writing them down on the paper next to my mattress (which we each had, to jot down any dreams we might have).

A sample: “I can’t touch my money, can I?” And then, “It’s like when no cat bounces it.” And, “Where can I get such a flash in the pan?” Initially I thought this was just my own mental noise, but it went on for quite a while and was not the usual type of internal chatter I hear.

In the morning, our heads were washed again and rewrapped, and then Mambo led us in a brief action de grace. We enjoyed one last meal together, and then it was back to Seattle.

A very late flight out of Philly resulted in me missing my connecting flight in Chicago, forcing me to stay overnight in a hotel (paid for by the airline). I was so exhausted from not sleeping well the night before and travel worry that I fell into a dreamless sleep. The following morning I boarded an early flight out of Chicago and was back in Seattle around 11 a.m.

It was wonderful to sleep in my own bed that night. However, I wasn’t alone. As I was drifting off to sleep, a voice said very clearly (for a nonphysical voice, that is), “Hell, yeah!” I rolled my eyes a bit, then went to sleep. Then I woke up around 3 a.m. to use the bathroom. As I was stumbling out of bed, someone said, “I can drink your father under the table!”

Things have quieted down a bit in the last couple of weeks, and I am using the time to reflect and decide on adjustments to my altars and service.

“Real Voodoo” — A review

Posted in Haiti, lwas, Ogoun, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Yesterday I received my copy of “Real Voodoo,” a documentary on Haitian Vodou by Canadian director Sandra Whiteley. I was eager to watch it so, in spite of a busy day of work, sculpting and miscellaneous chores, I decided to stay up later than usual and popped the DVD into my Blu-ray player.

This film runs about 52 minutes and was not exactly what I expected. Unlike two previous documentaries I’ve viewed (A&E’s “Voodoo Rituals” and the History Channel’s “Voodoo Secrets”), Whiteley’s film doesn’t follow an academic format. Instead, it has a more personal feel, as though we are visiting the people of Haiti along with her. It is worth noting that Haiti is personal for Whiteley; it’s the homeland of her husband Jaffa (who is a Vodouisant and featured in the film along with his hauntingly beautiful music).

“Real Voodoo” does not include quite as much ritual footage as Richard Stanley’s 2002 documentary “The White Darkness;” however, this film also lacks the annoying self-promotion present in the Stanley film. Whiteley’s narrative serves to add chronological structure to her footage, and she states at the film’s opening that she is no expert.

She does interview experts, however, including Houngan Max Beauvoir, Wade Davis (ethnobotanist and author of “The Serpent and the Rainbow”) and, most prominently, Mambo La Belle Deesse Jr., co-founder of La Sosyete La Belle Deesse Dereale, whose commentary provides a great deal of insight into Vodou beliefs and practices.

The Vodou interviews and footage are interspersed with those of evangelical Christian missionaries working in Haiti. At first I found this pretty annoying, as they expressed grossly inaccurate (and predictable) opinions of Vodouisants as devil worshipers and displayed their appalling lack of compassion by echoing Pat Robinson’s “earthquake-as-punishment-for-making-a-pact-with-the-devil” comments. But later I realized that Whiteley was making a point, which she does by contrasting these comments to those of the Haitians (both Christian and Vodouisant). It’s doubtful that Christianity can ever drive Vodou out of Haiti. A mambo named Mireille has a son (he looked about 13 years old) who is a student at a Catholic school; when asked how he felt about his mother being a mambo, he expressed great pride in the healing work she performed.

Ironically, it is the missionaries who come off as superstitious. One of them, a man named Bobby Boyer,  describes at length how, on his second day in Haiti, he found a Bible facedown on the floor. It was open to Jeremiah Chapter 19. He then quotes the passage about God proclaiming He will bring evil on this place because the people worshipped other gods, suggesting that God sent the earthquake to tell the Vodou spirits to leave. In contrast, Whiteley’s Haitian friend Nancy (who is also Christian) simply accepted the earthquake as a natural force.

Other post-earthquake problems were manmade. Some Christian leaders blamed the 2010  cholera outbreak on Vodou, when in fact it was caused by U.N. soldiers dumping human waste into a river. This unethical scapegoating led to the brutal lynchings of 45 Vodou priests.

One would think that most Vodouisants would hate missionaries, but this was not the case. At one point  early in the film, Whiteley asks a houngan what he thinks about missionaries. Expecting anger or bitterness, his answer surprised her. The houngan appreciated their presence and acknowledged their importance to the future of Haiti’s children.  This, I felt, clearly demonstrated the pragmatic side of Vodouisants—contrary to being blinded by superstition, they are very cognizant of the world around them and the very real problems they face.

“Real Voodoo” is a glimpse into the lives of real Vodouisants as well as a snapshot of post-earthquake Haiti and the recovery work that still needs to be done. I definitely recommend this film and will be adding it to the Bibliography/Filmography page.

Philadelphia Part Two: Chatting with Legba

Posted in Animals, Divination, Legba, Marassa, Possession, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by cheshirecatman

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.

Vodou, community and communion

Posted in lwas, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by cheshirecatman

At its heart, Vodou is a community religion. In her book Haitian Vodou: An Introduction to Haiti’s Indigenous Spiritual Tradition, Mambo Chita Tann writes: “Haitian Vodou is not a solitary practice overall. While there are things that a person does alone to serve Bondye and the Lwa, the vast majority of Vodou service is done in community, with one’s family or sosyete, or in large gatherings with other families or sosyetes.”

I remember when I first started down this path, I kept hearing that there is no such thing as solitary Vodou. Before that, I had always been a solitary Wiccan, and feeling ‘forced’ to be part of a group did not appeal to me at all. My plan was to learn on my own, and maybe hook up with a group years down the road. The ‘maybe’ was very vague and noncommittal and, as it would turn out, not taken very seriously by the lwa, who used various channels to hook me up with the local mambo. Now, four years later, I realize the value of a Vodou community.

It’s not that one cannot serve the lwa on one’s own. Obviously one can; author Kenaz Filan did for many years before he was initiated, and I know other Vodou and Voodoo (two spellings to differentiate between the Haitian and NOLA traditions) practitioners who are solitaries. But there are some things that you simply cannot or should not experience on one’s own. For instance, one should not attempt possession by oneself, and talking to a lwa via a physical vehicle (a chwal, or horse) is not going to happen when you are by yourself.

Personally, I love my home altars and talking to my lwa one-on-one. However, I also love the infectious rhythms of live drumming that command my feet to dance.

I remember when I agreed to attend my first fet, and feeling uncomfortable about the whole group thing. Losing myself in dance and service is no easy task for me, and one that I am still working on. It’s getting better with time. Something else I am getting out of the group activities: my singing voice is starting to improve a little. I am still not a good singer, and in fact not even a decent one, but it’s getting easier.

There certainly are better tools out there available for solitary Vodouisants these days, the most recent being the above quoted book by Mambo Chita Tann. The book includes very detailed instructions on how to make a Vodou lamp which one can use for illuminasyon or wanga (I plan to try this soon). However, there are other things that I still have not seen in books and would not know about if I had never attended a fet. For instance, how to properly do salutes (you can see this on some YouTube videos, although sometimes it’s hard to see exactly what they are doing, and no one narrates it).

When one is new to Vodou and becoming attuned to the lwa, it makes sense to pay attention to your intuition and those subtle nudgings. But intermingling with other Vodouisants and attending services is also very important at this stage. As my friend Ian recently commented: “…it’s a given that pretty much everything in Vodou is UPG (unverified personal gnosis), at least initially.” He then pointed out that one of the reasons to attend public Vodou services is that it’s one of the only ways to verify UPG, by communicating and communing with others.

It really helps too to be able to talk to houngans and mambos and hear their perspectives on things. Vodou is not the same as Neo Paganism; it’s not a reconstruction but a faith that has been practiced continuously for centuries. And in my opinion, the lwa are not thought forms or energy vibes who are satisfied with having our love and our gratitude in the form of ‘thank yous.’ They expect service from us, and it seems to me that the closer we are to them, the more they demand of us. Initiates have very specific duties that they have to perform, and the higher up you go, the more responsibilities you have.

My Vodou practice is far less “free form” than my other Pagan practices. Why? Because the ways to work with the lwa are established and there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. I do put my own spin on things to a degree, but one must find that balance between personalization and respect for the regleman and other established protocols, especially when one is new to the faith (otherwise we risk falling into that nasty cultural appropriation trap). Also, as I mentioned above, I do not believe that the lwa are energy vibes, thought forms, what-have-you. I believe them to be their own entities with autonomy and free will. And some of them have bad tempers. They have their own tastes, and it is not for us to redefine those for them.

During the past several months I have been noticing a closer connection with the lwa and with spirit in general. I can feel it in my head; something shifts when I approach my altars, sing to Legba, light a candle. I know that my progress would be much slower without the experience of the fets and other gatherings and the help of Mambo C. And I am grateful. Ayibobo!

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

Fet Gede: Highlights and reflections

Posted in Ghede, Ogoun, Possession, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by cheshirecatman

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.