Archive for lwas

Art show Vodou

Posted in Art, Legba, lwas, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Last weekend Norwescon was held at the Doubletree Hotel in SeaTac, Washington. Norwescon is one of the largest regional science fiction and fantasy conventions in the United States. I’ve been showing there regularly since 2005. And I never sell a thing.

Two years ago I came close. Someone bid on one of my smaller sculptures. I got all excited, only to arrive at the art show on the last day to find that the would-be buyer never paid for the piece nor picked it up. So my record of zero sales at this particular convention remained intact.

Last weekend marked the 6th year I’ve been showing up at this con. And this year proved to be different. The difference is that I walk with the lwa now.

Before the convention, I stood before my shrines and asked Papa Legba and my lwa to help me do better at art shows. On Thursday I traveled from Seattle to SeaTac and set up my table and attended the artist reception. And then I went home.

The following day, while I was at work, a friend who was attending the con called me and said I had bids on three of my pieces. Not one, three. Surprise, disbelief, then excitement passed through me in rapid waves.

On Sunday I arrived early at the convention and decided to walk through the art show before hitting the dealer’s room and some  convention events. I had to see the bid tags for myself to make sure they were real. Sure enough, they were.

A few hours later, just before the art show closed, I saw that two of the buyers had picked up their artwork. One of the three pieces was still on the table waiting for pickup. And a fourth piece was gone—purchased via direct sale!

I was flabbergasted. And here’s the kicker: three of the four sold pieces had Vodou themes. (In the photo above, note the three framed reliefs.)

I never had stuff like this happen to me when I was Wiccan. Of course, part of the reason for that could be that I was not particularly good at spellwork. Which apparently does not matter in Vodou. A polite request was enough.

And of course keeping one’s promises. Sunday evening, after a dinner celebration at a wonderful Thai restaurant, I went to the grocery store and purchased various offering foods for my lwa.

I reallly do love them.

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Recent discoveries

Posted in lwas, Music, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Ever since I attended my first fet back in November, I’ve had part of one of the songs stuck in my mind. I heard those two verses again at last month’s Rada fet during the Damballah segment, and wanted to know what the song was about. However, since I don’t understand Haitian Creole, it was difficult for me to identify the lyrics to even ask the mambo about them.

Then recently I ran across the following passage in Karen McCarthy Brown’s book, Mama Lola:

Zo li mache, li mache, li mache. . . Kouran li mache, li mache, li mache. . .

I recognized the song immediately and was pleased that McCarthy also provided a translation:

The bone, it walks, it walks. How it walks, it walks.

She goes on to explain that if the translation is accurate, it can be viewed as a comment on the life energy that persists in the bones of the ancestors.

I hope to some day learn some Haitian Creole. Mambo C says that a lot of information about the lwa is provided in their songs.

At last month’s  fet I was able to purchase a white head scarf from Mambo C. In Vodou, head scarves are worn to keep out negative energies while allowing good energies (such as contact with the lwa) through.

Recently I wore it while making offerings to the lwa, meditating, and doing a tarot reading for myself. When I sense energy, it often feels like a magnetic force to me. Well, during that session with the lwa, I could feel a noticeable magnetic force around my head. I wore it again yesterday while feeding them, and found that I felt calmer and more focused.

Vodou art and books

Posted in Agwe, Art, Haiti, lwas, Possession, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by cheshirecatman

On Wednesday, prior to meeting a friend downtown for Cajun food, I stopped by Edge of the Circle Books in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood. After witnessing all the possessions at Saturday’s Rada fet, I was hungry to read up on the subject. I wanted to see if the store had a copy of “Drawing Down the Spirits” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera, and sure enough they did (I LOVE this store–it’s the only one in Seattle I know of that keeps and regularly stocks a Vodou section). I probably won’t get to read it for a couple of weeks due to some pending art-related deadlines and a few remaining chapters I still need to read in “Mama Lola.”

This is the second book I’ve bought of Filan’s, the first being his “Haitian Vodou Handbook,” one of the very few Vodou-related books that has any hands-on information in it. I had the chance to talk to a visiting houngan at last Saturday’s fet, and he and the visitng mambo are actually initiates of the same house that Filan is from (Societe la Belle Venus). Mambo C and Houngan D, on the other hand, are initiates of Mambo Racine’s Roots Without End Society. At the moment, the two houses are not getting along, so I thought it was very cool that Mambo C, Houngan D, and the guest mambo and houngan were willing to work together and distance themselves from house politics. My respect for all of them grows.

Lastly, a friend of mine turned me onto the work of Hersza Barjon, an artist from Haiti who paints beautiful portraits of the lwa. I really love her portrayal of Agwe, and of course my curiousity was piqued when I noticed that she mentioned his Inuit counterpart, Kul. I am not familiar with Kul and have only found a few brief descriptions of him online. This warrants more research. In the meantime, enjoy! Divine Haiti: Portraits of the Lwa by Hersza Barjon.

A fet and a funeral

Posted in Agwe, Dance, Legba, lwas, Ogoun, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by cheshirecatman

A new statue for Legba's shrine

Saturday morning I woke up with a mild headache, which wasn’t good since I had Marie’s funeral to go to. My girlfriend Anne and I were planning on taking the bus there, but her uncle e-mailed us and offered to pick us up at 10:30. The funeral was scheduled for 11:00.

St. Joseph Parish is an elegant old cathedral built in 1929-1930. Its Art Deco exterior includes a towering tiered steeple and a circular stained glass window. The interior is no less impressive, with more stained glass, a skylight that opens the congregation to natural light, mosaics and statues of Jesus and the saints. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, my journey into Vodou has given me a new tolerance and appreciation for Christianity, and I enjoyed taking in the intricate glasswork as we waited for the service to begin. The weather had been very rainy recently, yet on Saturday morning yellow rays of sunshine were streaming through the skylight and the windows.

The service lasted about an hour. Remembrances by friends and family were interspersed with musical interludes by a classical guitarist. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react at the service, but as her friends talked I felt the loss acutely and shed some silent tears. Anne, who had been stoic, suddenly lost it about 20 minutes into the service. When it was over, we were both emotionally drained. As we walked out of the cathedral, I had to smile a little though. The pews were full of people all the way to the back of the room. And the crowd was very diverse: young and old, white, Asian, black, straight, gay. Marie, being the force of nature that she was, commanded a full house.

I had to rest when I got home. Had it not been for my friend Slinky agreeing to accompany me to the fet, I might have decided to cancel as I wasn’t sure if I was up to dancing. But I wanted to see Slinky and I had already bought a $21 bottle of Barbancourt rum for the event, so I changed out of my black clothes and into a white shirt and jeans. Slinky arrived and off we went.

The fet was held at a live/work dance studio in south Seattle. Its focus was the Rada lwa, particularly Damballah, Ayida Wedo and Papa Loko. During the discussion session preceding the service, Mambo C explained that Damballah is syncretized with St. Patrick, which is why she decided to honor Damballah and his wife, Ayida Wedo, at this fet. (They are the serpent and the rainbow referenced in Wade Davis’s book.)

Providing the rhythms were the wonderful Bill Matthew and Friends, the same troupe that played at the last fet. The crowd was a bit smaller this time. I can’t resist doing my ethnic report, so here it is: Maybe 15-20 people not counting the drummers. Of those people, 1 African American woman, 1 Asian woman, and me (Asian/Inuit). It’s quite possible that there were others there of mixed blood or Latino background, but mostly a European American crowd).

The service began in the same manner as the last fet, with the recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. Then songs were sung for Legba and the Rada lwa. The energy at this fet was much lighter than at November’s Fet Gede, so I was surprised at how many possessions there were. During the Damballah section, at least two people ended up rolling on the floor. Later Mambo C was possessed again  by her met tet, the bull lwa Bossou. She snarled fiercely and lunged through the crowd. The most dramatic possessions took place during the Ogou section . There were two young men who became possessed and it was not real obvious except that their dancing became quite aggressive. If we were not in the Ogou section I don’t know if I would have recognized which lwa it was. In both cases the houngans placed their hands around the handle of the machete but did not turn them loose with it. The most dramatic possessions involved one of the owners of the studio (who was also a dancer at the last fet, I’ll call her V) and a houngan visiting from another town (I’ll call him Houngan A).

V is a gifted dancer, and her possession involved graceful lunges, parries, and turns as she moved around the floor with the machete. When Houngan A became possessed, the warrior lwa came out in full force. Slicing his machete through the air, he stalked around the dance floor. Mambo C, Houngan D and a visiting mambo watched him carefully and sometimes placed themselves between him and the rest of the crowd. Several times I had to move out of the way when he veered in my direction. Although I was cautious, I was not afraid. It was exciting and exhilarating.

There were a few other brief possessions during the service, but I am not sure which lwa they were. I seriously need to learn some of the songs and some Haitian Creole would not hurt either.

Afterwards Slinky and I were wondering about the less obvious Ogou possessions and also whether possessions are sometimes psychosomatic. I e-mailed Mambo C to thank her for the fet and was able to discuss the possessions with her.

She pointed out that one of the female participants had Ayizan (Ayizan is thought of as the first mambo) in her head. Mambo C told me that Ayizan comes as an old woman. The possessed woman just sat sort of hunched over in a chair. I kind of remember that and probably just thought she was tired.

Mambo C also explained why the two young men’s possessions were less recognizable than those of V (who is initiated) and Houngan A. She told me that possession can be rougher on people who have not had a lave tet or are not used to carrying the energy. This makes sense.

Several times during the evening I’d watched the houngans raise someone’s arm above their head, spin them around, and release them just prior to a possession. I did not remember seeing this before, so Mambo C explained that to me. “There are different techniques for getting the lwa in people’s heads. When it looks as if someone is close, spinning them can help bring it on all the way, or pressing forehead to forehead, or shaking the asson near their head can help.”

I am a little disappointed that I am still unsure about my met tet, but will strive to be patient and continue on my journey. (I continue to wonder about Legba, Agwe, Ogou and Aggassou–and it’s hard to find much information on Aggassou). One final note for comparison: my regular readers will remember that during and after the Fet Gede, my forearms ached like crazy and I had a brief bout of vomiting the next day, but no physical soreness in my legs from dancing. Well, this Sunday after the fet, my legs were so sore and stiff that walking was difficult(!), but I have no arm or other weird pain and no stomach problems. My theory is that back in November I was carried along by the intense energy of the fet and thus experienced no muscle fatigue. However, my body wasn’t used to all that energy and thus the arms/stomach problems. I did not ride the energy much this time, and my body is paying the price.  It’s worth noting here that Mambo C commented that she thought the energy was more focused at the Fet Gede.

In closing, I’d  like to add that I presented Legba with his new statue on Sunday, as you saw in the photo at the beginning of this entry.

Small updates and a teaser of things to come

Posted in lwas, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2010 by cheshirecatman

I’ve been feeling pretty happy for the past several days.

It had been a while since I’d heard from Mambo C; several weeks in fact. I started worrying that I had unwittingly said something to put her off, although I was not sure what that would be. She finally emailed me near the beginning of March. As it turned out, she was simply very behind on emails. She also offered her thoughts on the spirit that my friend Angel saw (see post “Confusion, divination and signs“). This spirit had a staff or long object made of smooth black stone or metal and a mask with an animal feel to it. Half skeletal remains lay on the ground by its feet. Mambo C felt this might be a powerful ancestral spirit. The appearance of this spirit is also similar to Simhavaktra, the lion-faced Dakini of India. Note the skull adornments and the human body under her feet. I would love to get a Dakini figure for my future ancestor shrine, but the ones I’ve seen online are not cheap. Who knows, I may end up making my own at some point.

Mambo C also invited me to another fet this coming Saturday (which is the same day as Marie’s funeral, so it should be a really interesting day) in honor of the Rada lwa,  particularly Damballah, Ayida Wedo and Papa Loko. My second fet! I’m so excited. Adding to the excitement is the fact that my good friend Slinky is going with me. Some of you might remember the lovely spirit box that I have sitting on Papa Legba’s shrine. Well, it was Slinky who made it and gave it to me on All Saint’s Day (she was previously referred to as “L”). I am really  looking forward to hearing the Vodou drumming again. It’s powerful stuff.

Finally, the statue I purchased for Papa Legba arrived today. It’s a Kwanza statue of an African man who represents the seven African powers. I promise to post a picture of him soon, probably after I present it to Legba and place it in his shrine.

More thoughts on Ogoun

Posted in African culture, lwas, Ogoun, Religion, Therianthropy, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by cheshirecatman

I’ve been reading Karen McCarthy Brown’s book “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn.” Part religious study, part biography, this book was repeatedly recommended to me and I can see why. It’s a vibrant and entertaining read, and I’m learning a surprising amount just in the descriptions of the rituals and altars. I love this book.

It has a really good chapter about Ogou (alternate spelling of Ogoun, you find spelling variations a lot in Vodou), which I read with great interest since Ogou is one of the lwa who walks with me and possibly my met tet. There are many Ogou. What I like and find interesting about the Ogou lwa are that none of them are all good or all evil. Their characters are well-rounded. McCarthy writes:

Vodou spirits, unlike the Catholic saints whose names they borrow, are characters defined by contradiction . . . The wholeness of the spirits–their ability to contain conflicting emotions and to model opposing ways of being in the world–gives Vodou its integrity as a religion.

Ogou straddles the Rada and Petwo nachons (or nations of lwa). While the Rada lwa tend to be dependable, cooler headed and patient (their power lies in their wisdom), the Petwo lwa are hot-tempered and volatile (their power is their ability to make things happen). In his original Yoruba incarnation, Ogou was associated with ironsmithing and was the protector of hunters and clearer of forest paths. (I found that passage interesting due to my therian side being a predatory cat. It also brought to mind my friend Angie’s vision that I wrote about back in August–see “Doubt, rationalization and unexpected conduits.” The setting of her vision was a forest path.)

In the book, internationally known Nigerian scholar Wande Abimbola describes what Ogou is like in Africa:

…in my country, it is a little different. Ogou has his own priests. And Ogou is not just a soldier. He is the one who clears the way. He opens a path through the forest, you know.

Ogou also works with iron . . .  Ogou is important because he teaches us how to handle the modern world–arms, machines, trucks, all that. Without Ogou, we could forget that the things man creates can turn on him, even destroy him.

In her book, Brown says that the personality of the met tet and that of the devotee tend to coincide. So, for example, someone with Ogou as a met tet is expected to be brave, assertive, loyal, etc. All Ogous tend to be quick to anger, but deal with their anger in different ways–some punish, others withdraw. Brown also notes that diagnosing someone’s met tet is more than a surface labeling of personality types, and that it often works at a deeper level where it zeroes in on significant latent characteristics. This happened to Brown; she was told by more than one houngan and mambo that Ogou was her met tet, even though that did not match her own image of herself.

This made me think back on my reading with Mambo C. She saw Ogou in the cards, but mentioned casually that she didn’t think he was my met tet. I can easily see how anyone who did not know me really well would think this. When I meet people for the first time, I am quiet, polite, and slow to engage in conversation. I’ve also been told by more than one person that I give off a calming, soothing energy. However, when I really lose my temper (which, thankfully, is not often), a contrasting side emerges, one that is aggressive, sharp-tongued, calculating, spiteful and difficult to control. Sometimes when minor things make me impatient, this side partially emerges, and people sense that and back off. Some of them even seem a little afraid of this side, which is humorous because I am far from being a physically imposing person.

Mambo C told me that my path in Vodou might be a difficult one. If this is true, then I am grateful to have Ogou with me, whether or not he is my met tet. I could really use some path-clearing.

Saturday: Dreams, dinosaurs, snakes and tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onto more Vodou-specific topics.

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

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

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

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

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