Archive for the Wicca Category

Thoughts about possession and white guilt

Posted in Art, Legba, lwas, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou, Wicca with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2010 by cheshirecatman

I am nearly finished reading “Drawing Down the Spirits” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera. It’s an interesting book, although I find I have mixed feelings about it. The book discusses possession from both Afro-Caribbean and modern Pagan perspectives.

Before reading the book, I had no idea that modern Pagans were even practicing possession. I haven’t been in touch with the Pagan community for well over ten years (and even when I was in touch, it was only marginally), and apparently a lot has changed during that time. I was taught that, whatever you did, you did not allow yourself to be possessed at any cost. And now it seems that some Pagan groups are practicing deity possession as part of their rituals. This appears to be mostly a positive thing. Pagans, like Vodou practitioners, can benefit greatly from intimate contact with those they serve.

I particularly enjoyed the section in Chapter 3 titled “Pagan Perspectives on Gods and Spirits.” The authors describe modern western Neo-Paganism as “less a coherent faith than a collection of vaguely similar faiths all trying to fit under one umbrella.” They go on to define the three major belief camps: polytheism, pantheism and archetypism:

Polytheism is distinct from pantheism in the sense that in polytheism, deities are highly distinct . . . Although a deity may appear under different names, all love goddesses are not one goddess, and so forth . . .

Pantheism is the belief that although there may be more than one manifestation of deity, they are all part of one larger Godhead . . . The simile often used to describe pantheism is that the Godhead is like a many-faceted jewel: the kind of divine being that approaches you is based on which facet is turned to the light…

The third point of this triangle we refer to as archetypism. This is a form of atheism (or, perhaps in some cases, agnosticism) that believes that divine archetypes are either psychologically rich internal structures that are spiritually useful for self-improvement or specific flavors of universal energy that can be “worked with” or even “commanded” in order to gain personal power . . . Archetypism also tends to be found where Neo-Paganism borders with demographics interested in psychology, self-help, and New Age spirituality, although the last group also tends to be high in pantheism.

When I was Wiccan, I fell into the pantheist camp. If I was still Wiccan, I think I’d be leaning more toward polytheism these days. In my Vodou studies, I’ve heard the lwa described both as energies and as specific entities with individual personalities.  I subscribe to the latter description, although it is my subjective opinion based on my own experience, and the experiences of others may differ. The five lwa I currently serve are each very different from the other. I am particularly fond of Papa Legba, and have difficulty thinking of him as an aspect of a Godhead, an energy form or an archetype. He is, quite simply, Papa Legba.

I mostly enjoyed this book, but do not like it as well as Filan’s “Haitian Vodou Handbook.” I think this is partly due to my personal preference for Filan’s writing style (although for having two authors, this book flows pretty well). Also, the use of the word ‘horse’ to describe Pagans who host deities during possession rituals bothered me a little bit, although I suspect the word was used for practical reasons (why have two words to describe the possessed when one will do). The use of the word ‘horse’ for the possessed is very specific to Vodou, and using it in a Western context felt a little like appropriation. But since I can’t think of a better alternative word, I’m not going to dwell on that.

Here’s a marginally related side note: Filan has a blog in which he discussed “white guilt.” I’m not going to discuss his blog per se (if you want to read it, Google is your friend), but I got to thinking about how much I don’t like that term. A person should not feel guilty because they are born white, and that’s what the term suggests to me. While some  white Americans may be descendants of those who committed atrocities against people of color, I don’t think those individuals should feel guilt about that exactly. Shame and horror, yes, but shame as a nation and not as an individual.

I propose to replace the word “guilt” with “responsiblity.” So then you have “white responsiblity,” but that still doesn’t quite work. So then I propose to replace “white” with “American.” And there you have it.

Everyone who lives in a society should take responsibility for shaping that society. So rather than feel guilt, we instead acknowledge the shame of past mistakes, learn from them, and take action to create a better society. All members of a society should set good examples for each other, and this certainly is not limited to white people. This can be accomplished by working for positive change and simply by treating each other with decency and respect.

I’m not actually an idealist, this minor spike will wear off momentarily. *smirks*

On a final unrelated note, I found out yesterday that I sold another sculpture at my art show. So that brings the total  pieces sold for this show to 7.  Ayibobo!

Saturday: Dreams, dinosaurs, snakes and tolerance

Posted in Dreams, Haiti, lwas, Religion, Spirits, Vodou, Wicca with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2010 by cheshirecatman

This post is a mix of topics that don’t really fit together, but I’m going to toss them together anyway instead of creating several brief posts on the same day.

I woke up late Saturday morning after some silly dreams. In one of them, I am hiking in a beautiful canyon park with Tom Hanks and a young man who is supposed to be his son. (I have a lot of random actors in my dreams, I think because some of them are so familiar they feel like old friends.) Suddenly we are chased by a dinosaur. The three of us take off in different directions. As the dinosaur gets closer, I see that it is a herbivore (a small brontosaurus-type), but for some reason it wants to attack or eat us. I make it to the edge of the park and run into a narrow alley between two apartment buildings where the creature can’t follow.

Later I dreamt that I am driving while sitting in the back seat on the passenger side of a car. My girlfriend Anne  is with me. As we climb a small hill, I have to stretch my neck to see  the road over the front seat and the dashboard. The windshield on the passenger side has some kind of brochure or sign partially obstructing the glass, so I move over to the driver’s side of the car (I’m still in the backseat) and resume driving from there. Of course, in the craziness of dreams, it never occurs to me to climb into the front seat, or to wonder why there are two steering wheels in the backseat.

I often have dreams about driving cars from the backseat. Some might think this is a literal play on the “backseat driver” theme, indicating a desire to control others or pull strings behind the scene. For me, I think it indicates that I feel a lack of control or direction, or uncertainty about the path ahead (the future). As I sit here writing this, however, I realize it is probably related to some irritation I’ve been feeling lately at some artist acquaintances of mine. I’ve curated a few group shows over the years, and there’s a core group of artists (friends and friendly acquaintances) that I invite to participate in these shows. Of these ten or so artists, only three of them have ever returned the favor, and of those who haven’t, one of them curates shows frequently. So I think the dream symbolizes my working behind the scenes for these folks, and the fact that it does not seem to be getting me anywhere.

As for the dinosaur, who knows. As a child I had a lot of monster dreams as a result of watching too many horror movies. These days, the dreams are more thrill seeking/adventurous than scary. *Shrugs*

Onto more Vodou-specific topics.

In one of the discussion groups I belong to, someone asked if it was possible to practice Vodou without all the Catholic trappings. (My thoughts on this are that it is possible to minimize the Catholic material in one’s personal practices, but one has to tolerate them in group rituals.) I remember when I began seriously studying Vodou. Coming from a completely non-Christian, Pagan background, I was not very comfortable including Catholic prayers or saints in my personal rituals. Last year I began serving Erzulie Freda and now have an image of the Mater Dolorosa in her shrine. I’ve become accustomed to the image and quite fond of it. I think the Lord’s Prayer is an elegant piece of poetry. A few weeks ago, Anne and I were looking for a history center at a Mormon church and walked into a Catholic church by mistake, and we were in awe of the beauty of the cathedral with its stained glass windows. Years ago, I went to a Catholic wedding with my mother, and I remember it was very long but also very ritualistic and beautiful.

Also recently I was at a friend’s art show and someone there was talking about being called by the Holy Spirit. Before Vodou, when I was Wiccan with a sometimes bad attitude towards Christians, I would have scoffed at this, but not now. Now I know what it’s like to be called by someone (in my case, Legba), so who am I to say that someone else wasn’t called by another spirit?

I can say then that Vodou has made me more tolerant towards Christianity. And this is a good thing. This does NOT include Pat Robertson and any other nut case who thinks the Haitians are being punished with an earthquake for making a pact with the devil. Those morons can stick it where the sun don’t shine. Vodouists don’t make pacts with Christian deities, unless you count the syncretized saints. Not that I have anything against the devil, mind you. I know some decent Luciferians. But as someone posted elsewhere, if Haiti had made a pact with the devil, you would think the country would be rich with an oil discovery or something. You don’t make a pact to live in poverty.

On a final note, I’ve found that Vodou has helped me get in touch with the Asian side of my  heritage, in an indirect way. I’ve developed the habit of haunting Asian shops for shrine items. The little Asian teacups are perfect for small shrines, and come in a variety of colors and designs. A few weeks ago, I even found a small green snake statue at a gift shop in Chinatown. This past week or so, I was thinking how nice it would be to find a snake statue in white for Damballah. So today, on the way home from Capitol Hill, my girlfriend and I stopped at that gift shop and there was a white snake statue with an interesting Art Deco-looking design. Would you believe each one cost less than $4.00? I love Asian stores!

At this time I am not serving Damballah, but I still like my snake statues. Tomorrow I am planning to go to the nearby Northwest African American Museum and see if I can find something for Papa Legba. He still needs a 3D avatar.

One person’s old is another person’s new

Posted in Legba, Religion, Spirits, Vodou, Wicca with tags , , on August 18, 2009 by cheshirecatman

Last week I mailed about 14 books on Witchcraft and Wicca to an online friend, along with a few miscellaneous craft-related items. She is just starting down the path of Wicca, much as I am at the beginning of my path of Vodou. I am excited for her.

I usually have a hard time letting go of books, but as I sorted through this collection of volumes by Raymond Buckland, Laurie Cabot, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Scott Cunningham and others, I noted that I hadn’t read most of them, and felt rather happy that I was passing them along to someone who would read them. By contrast, I’ve read most of the Vodou books I’ve purchased recently, except for a few of the books that are too large and heavy to tote around on the bus (where I do most of my reading).

I still kept one or two of my favorite Buckland books, plus several books by Sybil Leek, whose writing I enjoy.

I’m still waiting for my Legba card that I bought on eBay. I was getting impatient, so I went back to read the auction info and realized the seller is in the Czech Republic. That explained why I’m having to wait longer than usual. I’m really looking forward to working with Legba. The energy around me right now feels conducive to spirit work.

Looking Back Part 2: The loss of a dear friend

Posted in Animal communication, Animals, Ghosts, Religion, Spirits, Wicca with tags , , , , on August 4, 2009 by cheshirecatman

It was New Year’s Day, 2008, when my girlfriend discovered the lump in Puck’s left jaw. Puck was my beloved Devon Rex, whom I’d had since he was weaned from his mother. Like others of his breed, he was an impish, pixie-faced E.T. creature who made everyone’s business his business. I adored him like no other cat before him.

For a few years prior to 2008, Puck had been having various health problems and could not seem to keep any weight on. I’d put him on homemade catfood, which seemed to help for a time. But this lump concerned me. I’d never felt quite so helpless as when I was given the news that the tumor was malignant. Over the next week or so his health declined. He couldn’t even stand up straight, tilting heavily to his left. I had to support him while he tried to eat.

He became bed-ridden. It was obvious he was getting worse by the day. I stayed home from work to be with him. When his pink nose turned a dark brown, I knew he didn’t have much time left.

Throughout his illness I’d been working with animal communicator Tracy Ann, initially to help with his diagnosis and later to determine whether he wanted to fight his illness or cross over. He badly wanted to stay with me and I was not ready to lose him. He had always been there for me during my darkest moments. It wasn’t until Tracy told him that he could still assist me from the other side that he began to consider crossing over.  After spending one last night with him, I took him to the emergency clinic. I sat with him, and told him not to be afraid, that he was about to go on a great adventure. Then I called in the vet and she gently inserted the syringe into his IV, and he went limp in my arms.

I had never cared so much about communing with the dead as I did during that month. It was a painful but interesting time. The morning after he crossed over, I woke up with the distinct feeling that he had been perched on the bed watching me.  Another night I had a vivid dream about watching him eat. This dream had a different “look” than other dreams and I was aware that I was dreaming even as I looked down at him. The texture of his fur was so clear, I could see the individual tufts of hair. I remember thinking, “If I can see him like this sometimes, then maybe this isn’t so bad.”

Tracy was a great help during this time, passing along messages from my dear friend. Puck knew that I talked to his photo every night, and even which hand I used when I reached up to touch his urn.

The following summer I brought a new Devon Rex kitten into our home, a female named Luna. She turned out to be a great comfort and distraction for me, although sometimes, when she’d curl up in my lap and I could just see the back of her head, she looked so much like Puck that it made my heart ache terribly.

A few months later, maybe September or so, Puck mentioned through Tracy that he had been on top of the refrigerator and knocked something off of it. I realized I had indeed found one of our magnets on the floor, and I’d assumed the new kitten had done it. Another night, more recently, I was relaxing watching TV with Luna under the quilt and my other cat C.C. beside me. Luna slipped out from under the quilt and I didn’t think much about it, until I glanced down to see what she was up to and couldn’t see her. I was quite surprised when I realized I could still feel her under the quilt.

Now, some people will say this is coincidence, and I can see why they would think that. There were more incidents like this, too numerous to describe here without going compleltely off-topic.

Sometimes it’s our most painful experiences that push us in directions we need to go. Losing Puck sparked my interest in energy work, specifically those involving healing. During an energy workshop I finally made contact with one of my spirit guides, and during meditation the following day I saw his name in my mind’s eye. I say ‘finally’ because, in all my years as a Wiccan, I’d never had a clear communication with a spirit guide like that. This was a major milestone for me, and might be one of the reasons why I became disconnected from Wicca. I think, perhaps, Wicca was never quite real for me.

I do think Wicca is a fine religion, and as a living religion works well for many people. But just as there are many different styles of clothing, there are many different religions and no single one of them is right for everyone.

I’ve never felt that I was a good spell caster, so the idea of assistance from the spirits is comforting to me.

I credit Puck with turning me to energy work, which in turn has started to slowly hone my ability to hear the spirits. Interestingly, while dozing on the bus on my way home from work, I was awakened by the movement of a body in the seat next to me. When I opened my eyes, the seat was empty. When I attempted to doze again, I “saw” with my inner eye a brown-skinned woman with long dark hair wearing a blue dress with a white floral print. I don’t yet know who she is, but am hoping to find out.

What am I doing here?

Posted in Animals, Possession, Religion, Vodou, Wicca with tags , , on July 19, 2009 by cheshirecatman

If anyone had told me ten years ago that I would even be considering converting to Vodou, I would have thought they were full of horsepucky. I didn’t know much about the religion, but I knew the rituals included practices I was staunchly against: possession and animal sacrifice.

Firstly, as a Wiccan, I was taught to never allow an entity to enter my body. This was viewed as an invitation to problem possessions.  Secondly, I am, in some ways, an extreme animal lover. By extreme, I mean that I value some animal life as much or more than some human life. Conversely, I am not a vegetarian. This may seem contradictory to some. My view is that I love animals and respect their way of life. Animals kill to live. I am no better than them, I kill to live. I do not consider this a sin as long as an animal is killed quickly and there is minimal waste. These are my beliefs.

I have since learned that, in Vodou, possession is a desirable thing, a way to interact directly with the spirits. It is also temporary and, in the presence of an experienced mambo or houngan, safe. The possessed person, or “horse,” is not harmed.

Animals that are sacrificed are later eaten, so there is little or no waste. Killing an animal during ritual and then eating it is simply more honest and direct than me purchasing chicken at a local market that someone else has killed. So I have no right to criticize.

At this time I have no plans to sacrifice any animals, and there are certain animals that I don’t think I could kill personally, but if, in the future, I am tasked with the killing of an animal I normally consume as food, I will have to consider it.

The next several posts will review what led me to my current path.