Archive for drumming

“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.

Advertisements

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.

Rada fet and exploding roses

Posted in Azaka, Damballah, Divination, Erzulie, Ghosts, Legba, lwas, Possession, Psychic, Religion, Ritual, Sekhmet, Spirit Guides, Spirits, Therianthropy, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2011 by cheshirecatman

(First of all, I apologize for the sensationalistic title—I couldn’t resist. The “exploding roses” refers to an energy exercise. Nobody blew up roses at the fet.)

Rada fet for Bossou and Azaka

Last night’s fet was quite interesting for me personally, both in terms of new experiences and things I witnessed. I think I’ve come a long way since last year’s Rada fet.  At that time, my head was more closed and the identity of my met tet was still a mystery to me.

Slinky picked me up at 5. During the car ride, she mentioned that she ran across a chicken not far from her home. She’d had the thought of picking it up and bringing it along to the fet, but then thought the better of it (tongue-in-cheek here). The fowl probably belonged to somebody, and would be missed.

Slinky and I arrived early to help with setup (around 5:40). There was a game going on at Qwest Field, near the fet’s location, so traffic was a mess. We ended up having to pay for parking, but that was okay. The plus side is that there were a lot of people around, so Slinky’s car was less likely to be broken into.

The altar turned out quite nice, I thought. The table was covered with banana leaves, with a satiny red tablecloth on the left half for Bossou and a blue kerchief on the right for Azaka. On Azaka’s side of the table were a framed portrait of St. Isidore and a 7-day candle with his image. Bossou’s half held red candles, a portrait of the Triple Ray Christ, a set of bull horns and a triple-horned figure made from fabric and decorated with sequins. The Bossou side was a bit fuller than Azaka’s, due to Bossou being Mambo C’s met tet. She did her best to make both sides equal (and Azaka ended up with a LOT of offerings before the evening ended), but it’s understandable that she would have more altar items for the lwa who rules her head.

Houngan D brought a spirit “box” that was under construction. He makes several of these a year and sells some of them. Last year I saw one that was a cube with round openings on 5 sides. Small statues were placed in each of the four interior corners representing various lwa. It was very beautiful. The one I saw last night was no less beautiful. It was a ruby-red transparent vase with graceful curves. An image of the Mater Dolorosa was affixed to one side, representing Erzulie Freda. When I looked at the vase from the opposite side, I could see the image through the glass. Setting inside the mouth of the vase was a huge faceted glass diamond.

It was nice being there early. I also got to talk to Mambo C’s boyfriend a bit; he’s an interesting guy, experienced in other magickal paths. He is also Jaxob’s (the tarot reader I met at Norwescon’s psychic fair) mentor. Jaxob also showed up early, and we hugged like old friends. Mambo C drafted her boyfriend, Slinky, another regular attendee and me to participate in the salutes portion of the ceremony, which we rehearsed before everyone arrived.

Between 6:15 and 6:45 more people began to show up. Among them was Ash, who I met at last winter’s Fet Gede (our mutual friend Greg brought him). I thought it was very cool that he came back, even though Greg did not attend. Ash is a tall youngish (mid-twenties to early thirties somewhere, I am guessing) man with a sincere smile and an appealing openness about him. We got to talk for a bit. I found out that Ash attended the March fet, the one that Slinky and I missed. Vodou is Ash’s only spiritual path at the moment. Up until last Sunday I would have said the same for myself, but then Sekhmet appeared (which I wrote about in a recent post). Another very cool thing is that Ash reads this blog (yay)! He was wondering if it was mine, and I confirmed that it was.

The service began with the drawing of the veves and the reciting of the priyes (a prayer in song for the saints and the lwa, sung at the beginning of fets). Lyric sheets were handed out, which was very helpful for the call and response segments of the priyes. As a result, the lyrics were much less garbled than at the previous fet. More guests arrived, including T who has been at most of the fets I’ve  attended. She has African ancestry and, although relatively new to Haitian Vodou, is experienced in another African-based faith (I think Yoruba but am not sure).

We moved on to the salutes that we had practiced earlier, which were led by Mambo C and V (a Hounsi). They would salute the four directions, the doorway, the altar and the drums, and then the four of us (Slinky, me, Mambo C’s boyfriend and the other regular), carrying lit white candles, would perform some simple steps and turns with Mambo C and V. During the drum salute, the four of us set our candles down in front of the drums.

Then the songs, drumming and dancing began in earnest. During one of the Legba segments, Mambo C felt Legba coming into her head. She surprised me by grabbing my head and pulling our faces together with enough force that it was actually a bit painful when our heads connected. I found this amusing though–I figured a child of Bossou is not going to be super gentle when butting heads. And I thought afterwards about the phrase, “no pain, no gain.” In this case it was very literal. (V also stomped on my foot accidentally when dancing, and it was kind of painful as well.) When I asked Mambo C about the head thing later, I found out that she was trying to pass Legba into my head. It didn’t quite happen this time.

As the fet continued, Houngan D proceeded to pull various people aside and either walk them around the circle or deposit them outside the circle where they either sat down, lay down or went up to the altar. Among the people he pulled out during the evening were various regulars, Ash and a few of the new attendees). For the first time in a service, he pulled me aside, and brought our heads together in the center of the circle. He splashed an herbal mixture on my head and then took me over to the altar, telling me that I have Azaka. As you may remember from an older post, Houngan D thought that Azaka might be my met tet. I am not sure if I feel Azaka is with me or not, but it is entirely possible. Mambo C told me later that when one has Legba as met tet, one can have a lot of lwa walking with you. (And now I’m worrying over limited shrine space *grins*.) But I have not forgotten my bee sting last year, and the subsequent research I did that revealed that bees are associated with Azaka.

There were a fair number of possessions throughout the evening. Not surprisingly, Mambo C became possessed by Bossou, and proceeded to lift at least three people, including Ash, who is a lot taller than her. V and her friend also became possessed during the evening, although I am not sure by whom. Houngan D was possessed by Damballah, who I believe is his met tet. There were a few times through the night when several people were in various states of possession at the same time.

T became possessed by Erzulie. I find T’s possessions interesting because they are not the same as those of other attendees. I remember her possession at my first Fet Gede, when she sat frozen with her arms in an almost dance-like pose. Last night I saw her holding Houngan D’s Freda vase and staring down into it. Shortly after that, she sat in a chair, her arms frozen in the gesture of a woman brushing her hair while looking in a mirror. (Afterwards, when T, Mambo C, Slinky and I were talking, T said she was surprised that, prior to possession, the lower half of her body felt frozen. This actually sounds very similar to some of the possessions that Maya Deren talks about in her book Divine Horsemen.  When she became possessed, Deren describes how one of her feet became rooted to the ground.)

Prior to attending the fet, I’d been curious how the chakra and energy work I’d been doing with Angel and Shannon would affect me during the ceremonies. Last night I did notice that my head felt more open than ever before. Early in the evening, a mental image of a small glowing donut-shaped ring popped into my mind, which I thought might represent my crown chakra. Throughout the evening, I was aware of this ring, which changed color from vibrant orange to mixed blue and green, to purple and black, to solid black, then to orange again.

Near the end of the service, during a dance for Azaka, some of the more spacious dancers (by spacious, I mean that their style of movements requires a lot of room) were going wild. I got sandwiched between two of them, where I could not move forward or backward without getting struck. This aggravated a shift in me (in therianthropy, a “shift” is when one’s personality, energy body, consciousness or spirit form changes into one’s animal form). This is the first such shift I’ve had at a fet, and it felt a little weird. I continued to dance for a bit, while my thoughts became less word-oriented (I tend to think in words, being a writer) and changed into a very visual, sensory and present-moment sort of consciousness). I left the dance circle and stood on the sidelines while the beat of the drums pulsed within my being and watched the spinning moving forms of the dancers as through they were primates with puzzling habits. I’ve playfully coined this feeling “leopard-head” because it felt mostly that my head had shifted and not so much the rest of me.

The drums at last subsided and Mambo C came over to check on me. I told her I was fine, but I felt a little funky as though I might get sick to my stomach later. (I never did get sick. This seems to be a somewhat normal reaction for me to strong doses of energy.)

One thing I always wonder about at the end of these local fets is why the lwa don’t interact with the congregation more. It seems to me that, along with accepting their offerings, they would want to take advantage of a flesh-and-blood body to communicate with those who serve them. Most of the possessions I’ve seen so far mainly involve the individual, with the lwa and that individual receiving most of the benefits. Possessed people flail about, lie down, laugh or, as was the case last night, eat. (We had about three Azakas eating food from the altar near the end of the fet. None of them spoke to the congregation, to my knowledge.) Slinky thought that perhaps our services are not strong or skilled enough yet to bring forth that powerful of a possession. And that made sense to me.

Roses

This morning was my second session of the Intuitive Bootcamp with Shannon Knight. She taught me how to visualize roses and use them for healing and divination. It was a lot of fun and, surprisingly, came fairly easily to me (I say surprisingly because most things energy-related have not come easily to me in the past). The “exploding” part is visualized as part of an energy releasing process.

I also told Shannon about Sekhmet’s appearance during last week’s session, and she mentioned that I have Egyptian energy about me, and that the guides (not sure if this was from hers or mine) told her that I was skilled at manipulating energy in past lives.

On a funny sidenote, I was reading an article recently. It said that the more intelligent a person was, the more likely they were to believe bullshit. I didn’t totally agree with the article here–although I can see how an intelligent person might fall for a scam because they are too cocky to do their homework, I would not consider belief in the paranormal or ghosts as “bullshit” (at least not in all cases).

Many of my intelligent friends believe in ghosts or the paranormal, but not because they’re gullible. Their intelligence means that they are curious about things and their research helps them to understand unusual phenomena. And sometimes they believe because of personal experience. Plus, if believing in the supernatural means you’re gullible, then everyone with any type of spiritual faith can be defined as gullible, including Ghandi, the Buddha and Mother Teresa. Which would be insulting if it weren’t such a silly assumption.

So, on that note, so long for now from yours truly, the gullible author 😛

More conversations with the other side

Posted in Agwe, Animal communication, Divination, Legba, Ogoun, Psychic, Religion, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2011 by cheshirecatman

On Thursday March 3rd, at 3:30pm, I had another session with my friend and animal communicator/medium, Tracy Ann. I love these sessions with Tracy, not only because I get to converse with loved ones who have crossed over, but also simply because I love the woman herself.

Back in January I’d been feeling very depressed. Then I realized the reason why: it was the anniversary of Puck’s passing. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for three years. Unlike two other cats I lived with who crossed over years before Puck, the passage of time does not seem to affect how often I think about him (daily). It had been a while since I’d last spoken with him, so I decided to set an appointment with Tracy.

As the session began, Puck came through immediately. Tracy said that his presence was so strong that it was almost tangible, as though she could reach out and touch him. Puck said that he’s been busy working with, around and through me, and that things are starting to move faster. I was not sure which things he was referring to, but I am guessing he means life in general. I certainly have been feeling that time has sped up lately, and have had problems keeping up with it and accomplishing the things I need to get done.

Puck said he’s been moving through our place fast. He showed Tracy an image of him running through the condo. This was interesting, because a couple of weeks before that, while Anne and I were eating dinner, I thought I saw a small cat-sized figure rush by my feet in a blur of movement. (Both of our cats were upstairs at the time, in the bedroom with the door closed.)

Puck said there are surprises coming my way (not bad ones). Tracy saw these as gifts. Puck said that I won’t have a lot to do; to just sit back and relax. He also said that he’d been waiting for me to call him [through Tracy], but knew I was waiting for the right time.

When I asked Tracy to tell Puck that I love him, Puck sighed and replied, “You always say that.” I had to laugh. Animals don’t need to hear things verbally the way we do. They know we love them by our actions and our emotions. The fact that he is so sure of my love that I don’t have to tell him means a lot to me.

Via Tracy, I also talked to Snowman and Luna (our two cats), as well as a few other animals who have crossed over.

I talked with Anne’s late father, who kept showing Tracy a gold key on a gold chain. Both Anne and I are puzzled about this, and hope the meaning will become clear later on.

I talked to Marie a little, asking some questions on behalf of Anne’s mother. Most of that conversation is for Anne’s mother only, so I won’t go into details here, but it was nice to know that Marie is doing okay.

When Tracy asked me if there was anyone else I wanted to talk to, I reminded her of how Legba first spoke to me through her in one of our sessions. I asked her if she would see if he had anything to say. Instead of approaching him directly, she asked if there was anyone who wanted to say anything.

Almost immediately, she began hearing a drum. A big, deep, bold drum. She thought it had a Norse sound (as opposed to a Native American sound, which she is more familiar with). I thought perhaps she could be hearing African or Afro Caribbean drums, which can be very powerful. She was not sure about this though, as she is not familiar with those styles.

Tracy got the sense of thunder and lightning, which prompted a joke on my part about the time I was almost struck by lightning on my way to work. Her voice got softer as though she was speaking from a distance:

“But you call it to you. Lot of power. Interaction. Be careful what you say. We are always listening. Gotten better at that. Tempest. Temple? Storm. Drive or need got stronger. Storm. Within you, calling the drums, rhythm. That calms the storm. Gonna be your challenge. Emotions will rise that you are not used to. Challenge is taking charge, being master of emotions. Your last, final test/hurdle.

“Be aware you are not thinking too much about it. Become instinct. Natural. Turn hand right side up. Has to become second nature and it will. You will get too in head, too nervous. You’ll be able to do it. Like mastering spitting.”

The spirits were laughing now. Tracy hears the drums again–not Native American—bigger. She thinks of a clan sitting around one drum, bigger, rhythms like a heartbeat. “Listen to heart beat in drum. Way of calling all ancestors. Have that wild magic. Wild magic running through veins. You understand that. Are able to call it as well. Start practicing that. If it starts to feels too heavy, call on feminine energy.”

Regarding the feminine energy, Tracy sees letters. A name?

H E R M O T PH E

(Letters probably in that order, but there may be other letters in between. If anyone recognizes this name, please let me know.)

At this point, Tracy heard the sound of an opening door upstairs in her house, although when she briefly went upstairs to check, her dogs were not barking and were relaxed.

Tracy then sensed another name: “Odin, Ogen?”  She heard more drums, hearing them along with storms. Storm clouds, announcing someone. Association with thunder and lightning. I thought immediately of Ogoun, and then of Agwe; both have been associated with thunder and lightning. Tracy did not think Agwe seemed right.

Now here’s an interesting note: This session, although it started late, was scheduled for 3/3 at 3:30pm. When we were originally scheduling the session in early February, Tracy said she liked those numbers.

Last week, a local Ifa practitioner sent out a group invitation for a service for Oggun (the Yoruba equivalent of Ogoun). The service was scheduled for March 3, at 3:33.

In closing, I just found out that there is a Rada fet next Saturday. I am not 100 percent sure that I am going as I write this, but I hope to attend.

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.

My second Fet Gede

Posted in lwas, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Saturday evening I attended my second Fet Gede. Several of my friends also attended, including Slinky, Robert and Greg (who attended last year’s Fet Gede), and my friend Jacob. Jacob and I used to work together and, although he is a lot younger than me, we get along well and he is curious and open to new experiences.

Slinky agreed to pick Jacob and I up at my place at 6:30pm. Earlier that evening, it was pouring down rain, but fortunately it let up a bit before Slinky came over.

Prior to the fet, I took a nice hot bath and then sat with Papa Legba in front of my altar for a little while, sharing some rum with him. Then I changed into purple and black clothes and went downstairs to wait for Jacob and Slinky.

The fet was held at a dance studio south of downtown Seattle. We arrived close to 7:00. As we were carrying our offerings and potluck food toward the entrance, Mambo C waved to us. She’d just arrived herself and was unloading supplies from her car.

The Mambo was running late, so we helped with the preparations. Slinky and Jacob helped hang fabric and purple lights behind the altar and prepared the tub of basil water that would be used for blessings later on. Slinky also arranged flowers in vases while I helped position the items on the Gede altar to make them visually pleasing. Houngan D placed a spirit box that he had made upon the altar. It measured perhaps 12″ x 12″ square, and was quite beautiful. The outside was a metallic red and all of the surfaces (except for the bottom) had circular openings cut into them. Once he lit the candle in the center, you could peer inside. There were small mirrors attached to the inside of the surface, and a figure of a lwa sat in each of the four corners. One of them was Papa Legba.

The crowd this time was more diverse than at the other fets. Of about 30-40 people, four of them were of African descent: Robert, one of the drummers, and two women (one of whom attended the other fets I’ve been to). Then there was me, the sole Asian/Native guy. There were also some new people, most of them on the younger side.

Prior to the start of the service, we were allowed to place offerings to the Gede and the ancestors on the altar. The day before I’d baked some corn muffins based on a Native recipe and gave them, along with a pair of sunglasses with one lens popped out for the Gede.

The fet started in the usual way, with the recitals of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. Then we proceeded into the priyes, which are a sort of sung call-and-response  prayer to the various saints and lwa. This takes a while, as there are a number of saints and many lwa who are acknowledged. During the priyes, various attendees would either touch their hand to first their chest and then the ground, or drop to their knees and touch their foreheads to  the ground. As far as I can tell, this is done to acknowledge various lwa who they serve, but  I will need to ask Mambo C  for more details.

Then the active part of the service began, with live drum music, dance, and occasional songs to various lwa. Prior to the fet, Mambo C had sent us a link to a site where we could learn some songs. I  was rather proud of the fact that I managed to learn one song for Papa Legba well enough that I was able to sing along during the fet.

During a segment of the fet dedicated to Papa Legba, Mambo C grabbed my hand and led me into the center of the circle of dancers. She did a series of hand shakes with me, and then lifted my arm and turned me around. Sometimes this technique is used to help along a possession, but in my case it didn’t happen. But I will say that it was a nice feeling dancing in the center of the circle with the Legba energy around me. I am not sure if the Mambo did that to see what would happen, or if she actually sensed the Legba energy around me. Another thing I should ask her about.

There were a lot of possessions at this fet, and I am not going to attempt to describe all of them. The depth of each possession varied, and I am not yet skilled or experienced enough to recognize each of the lwa or to even be sure if all of them were possessions or if some were just near-possessions. But I will describe a few of the more striking ones.

Houngan D had more than one possession, but the one that is most prominent to me is the Damballah one. In a Damballah possession, the horse (the possessed person) lies on the ground, sometimes moving along on his/her stomach. They are often covered by a sheet, which is held above them by other attendees. As Damballah possesses Houngan D regularly, I assume that he is the Houngan’s met tet. It is worth noting here that Houngan D has a snake that he brings with him to some services.

Mambo C also had more than one possession. I am not sure of all of them, but I believe one of them was Bossou (although this time it was not as obvious as some of her previous Bossou possessions) and another was Ogoun. During the Ogoun possession, she stalked out of the circle of dancers and over to the altar, and returned wielding a big machete.

In one section of the service, she and a male attendee were in the center of the circle when Mambo C appeared to be possessed by Erzulie. She became very flirtatious and then she touched the male dancer, who then also became possessed by Erzulie, taking on a feminine demeanor.

Some of the less obvious possessions or possessions that did not completely “take” were interesting. One young man who danced with jagged convulsive moves and regularly shouted during the service, was convulsing quite intensely at one point and Houngan D clasped his arms to support him. Then he was laid down on the floor in the center of the circle while we danced around him. I don’t know which lwa possessed him, if it was indeed a full possession.

Another attendee, a plainly dressed woman with glasses, was bent over double at one point, as though the lwa were weighting her down with what may have been an attempted possession. I found this incident particularly interesting and believable, because the woman did not seem like the attention-seeking type, nor was she a flashy dancer.

Both of the African-American women underwent possessions too, although again I was not able to recognize the lwa. The most amusing possession of the evening, however, happened to V, an initiate who is a regular at the fets. She is married to Baron Samedi, so it was not surprising that she was possessed by the Gede during their section of the service. She went into a trance like state as she danced, then began laughing. At one point she was lying on the floor, and someone must have made some comment about her being vegan. At that point, a very deep male voice issued forth from her lips and said, “She only likes one kind of meat!” That’s the Gede for you—bawdy humor, but always in good fun.

After the service, in the car ride home, Jacob made an interesting observation. It was his first time at a fet, and he did not dance but remained on the sidelines as an observer. During the service, a fire was lit in a censor placed inside a large cooking pot. Jacob noticed that, whenever the drums and dancing intensified, the fire would burn more intensely as well.

After I got home, I stood in front of my home shrine and thanked Legba for a good service. Although I would like to someday be possessed, I told Legba that I understood that I might not be ready for it and trusted his judgment. A sense of gratitude flowed from me; it was so strong that it was almost tangible.

As for physical after-effects, I had a lot of energy after the fet and couldn’t sleep for a few hours, even though I got home around 1:30am. Today, however, I have slightly sore leg muscles and a slightly queasy stomach. I did not have any intense arm pain at the fet like I did last year, but today I noticed a slight feeling in my arms like a residue of pain. I think my body has largely adapted itself to the energy.

Ayibobo!

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.