Archive for fet

A new year, Bain Noel and Four Circles class

Posted in Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2015 by cheshirecatman

So we are here in 2015 and I need to start posting regularly again. There are some topics I meant to post last year after Kanzo and I need to get those written. With the shortest day of the year behind us, it’s time to look forward to spring and growth.

Last night I participated in a small Kings Day fet. There were only ten of us present, and half of those had never attended a fet before. As a result, things were a little rough around the edges, but we still raised a good amount of energy. I am not the most energy-sensitive person in the world, but at one point during the Petro section I become uncomfortably hot, even though we were in a basement and had not been dancing enough to raise a sweat. Others felt it too. The presiding Mambo gave us the Bain Noel baths. We parted ways happy and the newcomers plan to return for the next event.

In other news, Sosyete du Marche has started up its Four Circles Year One class again. This is the 101 of Vodou and you have until the end of January to sign up for this quarter. More information here.

Ayibobo, and here’s to a prosperous 2015!

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2013 begins: a fet, a farewell and renewal

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

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

2012 ends with a blah

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

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

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

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

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

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

A farewell

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

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

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

An amazing fet

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

Ayibobo.

Priye Ginen CD

Posted in Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Last night I was visiting various Vodou sites and noticed that Mambo Pat (aka Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo, author of “Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou“) has a CD available for order on the Sosyete du Marche website. When I saw the title of the CD, my heart leapt for joy: “La Priye Ginen: The Prayer of Africa.” (Scroll down under the row of photos.)

The Priye Ginen is recited at the beginning of Vodou services, and consists of prayers and songs to Bondye, the Saints and the Lwa. The CD description reads:

The opening prayer of a Vodou ceremony, LaPriye is the call to the Spirits of Sosyete du Marche, to come join in celebrating life’s journey with us. The CD opens with the classic Catholic prayers in both English and French. From there, it transitions to the French hymns that set the tone of the prayer. Following what is known as the Catholic Litany is the Djo (pronounced “d-jo”). Sung in both Haitian Creole and English, it lists the Saints in the order of reglemen followed in Sosyete du Marche. The Djo then changes to the order of Rada Lwa, followed by Djouba and then by Nago nations. The coda is sung between segments, to help differentiate the lists. The Rada portion is followed by the Gede nation and finally the Petro spirits.

Sung both in English, Haitian Kreyol and French, Mambo leads the listener deeper into the beauty of the prayer with clear pronunciations and by singing each segment three times, so the listener can learn as they sing.

The Priye Ginen is the foundation of Haitian Vodou. It orders the service and allows each person to find their own path within the framework of a service. Listen to Mambo, as she leads us in the basic prayers of Vodou.

At this point in time, I’ve attended a number of services and participated in the priye many times. However, I am just beginning to learn a bit of Kreyol and I still garble many words. My tongue just can’t wrap itself around all of the pronunciations just yet. I’ve known for a while that what I really need to do is sit down and listen to the various sections of the priye over and over again while I follow along with the printed copy. And this CD is exactly what I need.

Bless you, Mambo, for offering this CD to the public! Ayibobo!

Post fet energy

Posted in Agwe, Erzulie, Marassa, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Last night I attended a local fet for Erzulie Freda. It was a lot of fun. I saw some local Vodouisants I haven’t seen in a while, and met three new people who were pretty damn cool. The format of this fet was pretty similar to the fet in Philadelphia.

I’ve written at length about fets before, and don’t plan to again unless something really unusual happens. While this isn’t the first time I’ve felt energized after a fet, this is perhaps the first time that it left me unable to sleep for hours. This may not seem unusual for most people, but it is for me. I’ll explain.

I find socializing draining, even when I like the people. My friend Slinky and I met around 12:30 to join another friend for lunch. That lasted over an hour. Then we went over to the fet venue and helped the mambo set up. There were maybe a dozen people at the fet, and it lasted until midnight.

Now, I did wake up late yesterday morning, but with all the socializing I should have been exhausted when I got home. Instead, I stood up until nearly 5 a.m. I didn’t even feel particularly energized, but apparently I was because I had no desire for sleep for hours.

For a long time now I’ve believed that Freda was in my escort because she is married to Agwe. A discussion with a friend earlier today helped me understand that there could be another reason as well. Years ago, during a therapy session (before I decided that talk therapy is not for me, although I acknowledge it may help others), a therapist told me that “this life is just never good enough for you.” I think he said that after I made the mistake of opening up about some of my unconventional beliefs. The statement does seem to be true though; I am always searching for more and am often dissatisfied to some degree. And Freda is often dissatisfied. So we do have that in common.

I am also developing a theory why I now have the Marassa, but am not ready to discuss it at this time.

Philadelphia Part Three: A fet and a lave tet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Real Voodoo” — A review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Remembrance” and why we serve the lwa

Posted in African culture, Haiti, lwas, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by cheshirecatman

A couple of months ago a few friends and I were discussing Vodou books, and how we’d like to read more that are written by Haitians. Mambo C recommended “Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou” by Jerry M. Gilles and Yvrose S. Gilles. The Kreyol version is titled “Sèvis Ginen: Rasin, Rityèl, Respè lan Vodou.”

This book really delves into the history of Vodou beliefs and practices, largely via language. Words are traced back to their African roots, often identifying precise regions. It was also fascinating to read about African historical figures who became lwa. Some have songs written about them that are still sung at fets. For example, one song I’ve sung a number of times is written about the Kongo King Antonio who inspired Gangan Vita to start the Toni Malo movement in 1704 to restore the Kongo to its past glory (discussed in Chapter VIII). It’s nice to understand the history of the song:

“Toni rele Kongo, Toni rele Kongo, Toni rele Kongo, Santa Maria Gracia.”

This is translated as “Toni calls for the Kongo, Toni calls for the Kongo, Toni calls for the Kongo, By the Grace of Saint Mary.”

The book also contains one of the best explanations I’ve seen about why we serve the lwa. People new to Vodou sometimes wonder if we serve the lwa as a way of bribing them to do us favors. This is simply not so:

The principle of offerings is based on reciprocity. If good will is shown to the Lwa, good things will happen. Today in Haiti, the Lwa are thought to reside in a world beneath our own and are served as a means of showing appreciation for the support that they provide. A show of appreciation keeps their memory alive and keeps them interested in our lives. When the Lwa are ignored, they go away. (p. 185)

I tend to think of service to the lwa as maintaining a relationship. If I never talk to my friends except when I want a favor, then how likely is it that they will even care about what I need? Service to the lwa is a way of maintaining a relationship that I care about.

I enjoyed this book very much, although it is not one I would recommend for the beginning Vodou student. It really helps to have some familiarity with the lwa, Vodou terminology, the reglemen and some of the songs before diving into this book. While the translation is written very clearly, the sheer volume of information and new words could be overwhelming to a new student. However, I am happy to have it in my library and know I will be referring to it again.