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Legba creates my vision

Posted in Agwe, Art, La Sirene, Legba, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2015 by cheshirecatman

Legba walkingI am coming up on the first anniversary of my Kanzo with Sosyete du Marche. Thus it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the past year and what has (and has not) changed about me and my life.

Outwardly, there is not a whole lot of visible change. I am still at the same job. I live in the same place, in the same area of town. I haven’t gotten a spiffy new haircut nor remodeled my home.

Not all of my bad habits have changed. I still stay up too late on weekends, and have a tendency to procrastinate. I have an impatient streak, but it’s one that I continue to mostly control. I can be messy when I get busy or tired, especially when facing art deadlines. I still am fascinated with the afterlife, although in a much more positive way than I have been in the past.

What has changed outwardly is the official acquisition of my new family, the Sosyete. This is no small thing for me—my birth mother crossed over nearly three decades ago, I never knew my father and the one living relative I do know is permanently estranged. Now I have parents and many siblings I can turn to for love, advice and support. I took great delight in sending my initiatory mother a small Mother’s Day gift, something I have not been able to enjoy for many years.

So what about the less-obvious changes?

Many times I thought about writing this post but kept putting it off, uncertain whether there had been any changes interesting enough to discuss here. Apparently the changes kind of crept up on me. Some people’s experiences are more dramatic and obvious, but the majority of mine tend to be more subtle. My Lwa often speak softly, and in the language of images.

In March and early April I was engrossed in my usual springtime art frenzy, preparing to participate in a local sci fi/fantasy convention’s art show and another show at a local shop. I had quite a few pieces planned that were Vodou-related, including two sculptures of Legba, La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe, whom I’ve never sculpted before.

The first Legba I finished this spring was the Old Man walking along a road with one of his dogs, although I sculpted both Legba faces at the same time, and was very happy with them. This was a sharp contrast from the struggles I sometimes have with faces, which can result in me becoming so frustrated that I will toss them in the garbage and begin anew. I was particularly pleased that both of the faces resembled Legba as he appeared in one of my dreams.

Sculpting clothing is not always super easy for me, yet when I worked on his jacket and pants, I kept having what artists call “happy accidents”—my hand would move and create a fold or movement of the fabric that was unplanned, but looked good. Now, normally, I would never consider putting one of my own pieces on my altars, because I would sit there and obsess over the flaws and shortcomings. This time, however, I was so happy with the completed piece that I thought about keeping him for my altar if he didn’t sell at the convention. Also finished for the convention was a La Balenn piece whose face turned out unusually lovely. I received a lot of compliments on both of them when I showed them to friends.

La Balenn did not sell at the convention, but Legba sold immediately after to a couple of friends who saw him in the art show there. (They tried to buy him at the show, but due to a change in the art show hours, they were not able to purchase him before it closed.) It makes me smile to think of Legba in their home.

Then my focus shifted to finishing the pieces for the shop show. I decided to do a Native La Siren, as that is how she appeared to me the one time that I saw her. I was not sure exactly how to sculpt Agwe, so I had a loose plan to create him as a merman wearing an admiral’s jacket. However, he had other things in mind. I kept receiving flashes of images in my head, and realized that yes, he did want to be portrayed as a merman, but rather than the uniform he opted to have coral extruding from his back and crowning his head. Although I was working on my pieces up to the last minute, I never really got stressed out. It seemed that every time I got stuck on something, the answer would pop into my head and I was able to move on. Sometimes my hands felt guided, to the point that I don’t feel that I can take all of the credit for the way the art turned out. It was more of a collaboration between the Lwa and me.

When Agwe was completed, he also received many compliments. During the artist opening reception, one of my regular buyers whom I had never met before came in and bought the entire marine Lwa set (La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe). He wanted the seated Legba piece I had there too, but a friend had already spoken for it, so this gentleman commissioned a new one. (I have to smile when I think of Legba and the 3 marine Lwa displayed in his home; I won’t be surprised if they all start showing up there.) Another previous buyer whom I had never met came in and purchased a Sekhmet wall piece of mine. During the following weeks when my art was on display, a couple of local Santeria folks saw Agwe and loved him so much that they commissioned one like it.

Overall, this is probably the most successful art show I’ve had to date, as far as sales are concerned. I reflected back on the nom vayan (“valiant name”) that my initiatory mother gave me at my batem (“baptism”). It translates into “Legba creates my vision,” and he certainly has outdone himself this time.

If you haven’t already read it, my lovely initiatory mother has written a wonderful piece on magickal names in Vodou, which explains them better than I can here. All’s I can say is it certainly worked for me! Honor to her, Papa and the Lwa. Ayibobo!

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An interview with playwright Shawn C. Harris

Posted in Art, Legba with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by cheshirecatman

crossroads_theatre_project1

On occasion, I like to feature artists, writers, filmmakers and other creative people on this blog. Today’s focus is on theatre.

Shawn C. Harris is a playwright from Richmond, VA who has written, developed, and produced plays in NYC’s indie theatre scene. A passionate advocate for improving diversity in theatre, her works consistently feature strong roles for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.

Shawn’s plays include ENCANTA, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME, THE ROSE KNIGHT, and a variety of short pieces. Her work has been featured at The Cell Theatre’s Blackboard Plays reading series and WOW Cafe Theatre.
Since 2008, she has been writing essays and sharing resources about theatre, social justice, and diversity on her blog, Love’s Labors Lost.

In 2010, Shawn founded Crossroads Theatre Project to develop plays that challenge assumptions about what African diaspora theatre is and what it can be. Through Crossroads Theatre Project, Shawn’s full-length play, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME, received its world premiere at the 3rd annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

Crossroads Theatre Project is currently developing her next play, ENCANTA, for production.

Thanks for being here, Shawn. In one of our conversations, you mentioned that the Crossroads Theatre Project was named after Eshu/Legba/Ellegua. Can you tell us a little bit about that? It seems fitting, Legba being the lwa of communications, among other things.

The way I make sense of it is that Eshu builds connections and exchanges between people, places, words, realities, and ideas. This can make him complex and sometimes paradoxical. Sometimes helping, sometimes harming. Sometimes fun, sometimes terrifying. I think that many times people simplify that by calling him a trickster, but I prefer to think of him as a guide into new ways of perceiving and understanding. Simply by being what he is, he challenges fixed notions of identity and perception.

It is likewise with Black identity. Black people, and therefore Black theatre, are not just one thing. Blackness is often seen as monolithic, so that tends to mean that people often simplify what Black humanity, and therefore Black art, is or can be about.

Crossroads Theatre Project is my way of giving space to the spirit of what Eshu represents while also rooting it in Blackness and in the intersections of Blackness and other identities.

I really love the way you just described him. You’ve obviously done a fair amount of research into African Traditional Religions. Is there one particular branch that interests you more than others, and do you see yourself one day traveling down that path?

I’ve committed to another path, but one of the things I wish to bring to my current practice is a sensibility rooted in African spirituality such as diunital cognition.

Let’s talk about your latest project, “Encanta.” I was trying to think of how to describe it and came up with romantic fantasy comedy with a touch of swashbuckler. How would you describe it? It doesn’t fit neatly into one category.

“Romantic fantasy” is a good way to describe it. I don’t particularly worry about how to label it genre-wise. I prefer to say what the play is about and let that speak for itself. Once people get to the part where the play is about a pirate and a sorceress falling in love, I hope it’s pretty obvious that I’m not dealing with a slice-of-life drama.

I love the humor throughout the script, even during the more dangerous scenes. Was it originally conceived that way or did you ever consider writing it as straight drama?

It was originally conceived to be lighthearted and funny.

At the beginning of the script, you mention that all parts can be played by trans and genderqueer people. I take it you put that right up front to keep that prominent in any potential director’s mind?

I wrote these characters so that trans and genderqueer people could play them, so that trans and genderqueer people can imagine themselves in these roles. A director grasping that point was a secondary, but still important, consideration.

For the record, it was not a Herculean task to make these roles inclusive of trans and genderqueer people. It wasn’t even difficult. So anyone claiming that it’s oh so hard to write roles for trans and genderqueer people is making excuses.

In your scene descriptions, you cast we the audience as part of the crowd on the street, or neighbors across the street, etc. We are participants in the world of the play. Is there a nonstandard way you visualize producing this play? Would you prefer to produce it in, say, a large room rather than the standard stage which separates audience from the cast? What inspired you to do this?

I don’t see it working well with a proscenium stage. I’d prefer something a lot more porous that combines the art with, say, commerce. A black box theatre can do that, but I would honestly prefer to stage this play outdoors in the midst of some arts and crafts fair or something.

Natural elements play a key role in some scenes. How do you visualize presenting those in your play, especially if you are in an outdoor venue? Would you use props, rely on dialog, or some combination of both?

There are ways to do it, but that’s the director’s job. It won’t work the same way it does in film, where the camera tells you everything. On stage, you’d have to use your imagination more actively.

One of the things I love about theatre is that the power of suggestion is much more potent. So you can take mundane objects like, say, a bath towel, and sort of transform them into other things. That same bath towel can be a superhero cape, a wig of long hair, a baby wrapped in a bundle, or something else entirely.

I really like the way romance and love is presented in this script. Women love women, men love men, and it’s just the way it is without any social stigma. The woman/man combo is not presented as the norm. Does your desire to contribute to a more accepting world affect the type of setting in your work (i.e., fantasy rather than contemporary)?

Not consciously. I just wanted fun, romance, and magic because I’m interested in that. I wanted something that came from my own experience and things I’m interested in without having to justify it.

I was far more deliberate about all the characters being Latino and Afro-Latino and opening all these roles to trans and genderqueer people.

You probably get this question all the time, but what advice would you give aspiring playwrights and other creative folks, especially those who are members of marginalized groups?

I don’t like giving advice. I find that most people have more wisdom about their situation than I ever could. But one piece of advice that has worked for me is to never take on debt to make theatre.

If you would like to read more from Shawn, check out her blog Love’s Labors Lost.

 

 

A beautiful soul leaves this world too soon

Posted in Art, Legba, lwas, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I realized today that I had not heard from one of my Facebook friends for a while. Thinking that I was simply not receiving her posts, I went over to her page and discovered, much to my dismay, that she had crossed over in June. She was only 28.

Some of my longtime readers know her as Saundra Elise Ziyatdinov, the talented artist of Erzulie Red Eyes Art and Spirit. Her Papa Legba painting graces the wall above his altar in my home. I remember when I bought it from her; the price was very reasonable so you can imagine my surprise when it arrived in the mail fully framed. That’s how she was, generous of spirit and kind of heart.

Rest in peace, dear friend, your struggles are over. Much love, until we meet again.

Beautiful new card deck and an online class

Posted in Art, Divination, Psychic, Religion, Ritual, Sekhmet, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by cheshirecatman

For me, feelings of depression or stagnancy are signs that my spirit is malnourished. One of the ways I deal with this is by finding new things to learn.

Nefer Khepri’s Egyptian Lenormand Deck

www.egyptianlenormand.com

My friend Nefer Khepri has just created and published her Egyptian Lenormand card deck. These beautiful cards feature original art hand drawn by Nefer herself using channeled images and colors traditional to the Egyptians. Nefer serves several Egyptian deities in her practice (including my beloved Sekhmet) and has a PhD in Latin American Studies (Mayan Iconography and Epigraphy). She has run her Magickal Musings business since 1998.

The deck is priced reasonably at $33.15 (Price includes  shipping, a clear protective case and an attractive satin draw string bag. Shipping is slightly more for addresses outside the U.S.). The deck can be used with the traditional Lenormand meanings and spreads, but Nefer has included some additional cards and interpretations unique to her deck. The deck is in limited supply and I don’t know if there will be a second printing or not. The last time I heard, it was nearing 50 percent sold out.

Sosyete du Marche Four Circles Online Class

www.sosyetedumarche.com

The wonderful Mambo Pat and Sosyete du Marche have begun offering online Vodou lessons (click the link above). These classes include links to exclusive online video and a forum where you can discuss class material. While classes are not a substitute for attending services or working with a house  in person, there are still many things a solitary person can do to serve the lwa and I think this is a valuable resource for those who do not live near a sosyete. Even though I have a local group, I am planning to sign up for the class anyway because I know there is more I can learn (plus I love Sosyete du Marche, as I’ve said before on this blog). Class begins May 15 and the price is $150, which includes access to the videos and copies of Mambo Pat’s book “Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou” and her CD “La Priye Ginen: The Prayer of Africa.”

Happy learning! Ayibobo!

Beautiful Vodou images

Posted in Art, Haiti, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , on April 5, 2013 by cheshirecatman

A friend posted a link to this site on Facebook. Photographer Les Stone has captured some really beautiful Vodou images from his many trips to Haiti. Enjoy!

Pelerinaj Vodou by Les Stone

Reminiscing on a lion painting

Posted in Art, Sekhmet with tags , , , , on September 27, 2012 by cheshirecatman

My girlfriend Anne is an accomplished artist in her own right. When we first met around 1990, she was showing her animal paintings at coffee houses and restaurants around Seattle. A couple of years later she became a serious sculptor, although she continued to paint regularly.

She painted the piece above maybe a decade ago. It’s small, measuring about 12” x 9” and was most likely created for some show or other. I immediately fell in love with it when she showed it to me. A friend of hers complained that the lion “looked too human,” but that was one of the things I liked best about it. He doesn’t look human to me, per se, but he does appear lost in contemplation.

I liked the painting so much that she ended up giving it to me, and it hangs on the wall of my studio as I write this. I’ve long been overly fond of cats, but leopards and jaguars tended to be my favorite. However, after reading books by Linda Tucker and Murry Hope and catching glimpses of Sekhmet during meditations, this painting takes on new meaning and I gain a deeper appreciation of the piece, my girlfriend and whatever mysteries inspired her to paint it in colors sacred to the goddess herself.

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.