Archive for Ritual

Beautiful Vodou images

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

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

Pelerinaj Vodou by Les Stone

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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.

Lave Tet follow-up and other updates

Posted in Divination, Dreams, Ghede, La Sirene, Legba, lwas, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2012 by cheshirecatman

I haven’t been posting much about myself recently because there haven’t been any earth-shattering things going on around here. It’s been fairly low-key for the past few months.

I hadn’t been feeling any dramatic effects following my lave tet back in August, or at least I thought I hadn’t. But effects can sometimes be subtle when it comes to metaphysical stuff, and true to form they manifest very differently from what I expected.

I’ve been strangely unproductive since August, dragging my feet on art projects and other tasks that need to be done. I didn’t really associate this with the lave tet until I had an unrelated conversation with Mambo C. During that conversation, she explained that when a person attends ceremonies and performs other activities that bring them into close contact with the energies of the lwa, things can get uncomfortable.

This isn’t a bad thing—in fact it’s quite the opposite. Vodou services expose us to energies that help to balance us, and sometimes this attempt at balancing can feel uncomfortable and awkward until the balance is actually achieved.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I need to make changes in my life, but I am procrastinating. Procrastination can be the bane of people like me who lean towards perfectionism. We want to do things right; we want to fix everything at once. Then we get overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start. And then end up doing nothing.

For example, I know I need to simplify my life and get rid of items that do not help me along my path. The problem is I have so much stuff—in the closets, in the garage, on my bookshelves. (I am a bit of a pack rat due to having been pretty poor at various points in my life.) I also know I need to prioritize how I spend my time and, if I continue dragging my feet, the powers that be may lose patience with me and start taking away the distractions. Recently I was planning to load a game I bought months ago into my PC (read, “major time-waster”) and then my CD-ROM drive spontaneously stopped working. I’m still trying to fix it and think I’m getting close, but am now having second thoughts about loading the game.

As I travel deeper into Vodou, I am going to have less and less time to waste. And the body dislikes change, even if it’s change for the better. As my friend Shannon Knight likes to say, the body views all change as death. It gets scared and resists. It’s that whole “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” thing.

But not everything has been struggle. I am happy that the energy around my shrine cabinet seems stronger since returning from Philadelphia. Sometimes I can feel the energy pressing against my head the moment my thoughts turn towards making an offering. I wanted to add more lwa to the shrine but the shelves were full. So I found a hanging candle holder at a thrift store for a couple of dollars and hung it on the inside of one of the cabinet doors. Then I scanned a few of the cards from Sallie Ann Glassman’s NOLA deck and hung them above the candles. Voila, three new mini shrines.

Also recently I received a message from Legba, who told me “If you feel like you should go, you should go. If you feel like you should stay, find the high ground so you can fight for what you love.” I think he was referring specifically to my preoccupation with death (and it warrants mention here that the Ghede showed up in the reading I had with Mambo Pat back in August, although I chose not to mention it in previous posts). I may elaborate more on this in a later post after I work out some issues for myself.

In other lwa-related news, it seems that La Sirene wants something more of me too, and has turned up in at least three readings I’ve received in the past several months. I am working on serving her better so I can figure out what that is.

And my dream life has been pretty active, with a lot of time spent wandering around old buildings in the astral realm. Sometimes I am looking for shoes, undoubtedly to help me find my way along this path.

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!

An excellent article on Esotericism in Vodou by Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo

Posted in Haiti, Religion, Ritual, Walk-ins with tags , , , , on October 13, 2012 by cheshirecatman

This excellent article by Mambo Pat is similar to what she discussed at the recent Esoteric Book Conference (minus her lovely songs). Enjoy!

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.

New Vodou film: “Real Voodoo”

Posted in Haiti, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by cheshirecatman

I’m so excited, I’ve been waiting for this for months! Yesterday my friend Sandra Whiteley informed me that her film, “Real Voodoo,” is now available on DVD!

This hour-long documentary, directed by Whiteley with music provided by the talented Jaffa, provides a much needed unbiased glimpse into this beautiful and much misunderstood faith. You can read a review of it here, or visit the website where the DVD is now available for order. (I plan to order my copy soon.)

Sorry I cannot give you my thoughts on the film just yet, but I haven’t actually seen it. However, I did love this line from the linked Montreal Gazette review: “Filmmaker Whiteley has achieved a good balance, giving herself a presence in the film, without making it all about her, as some documentary filmmakers tend to do.” Much as I loved the footage of the rituals and interviews with Haitians in Richard Stanley’s film (“The White Darkness”), I did find myself getting impatient when the director spent too much time on camera.

Hope you enjoy “Real Voodoo” as much as I anticipate I will. I will be adding it to the Bibliography/Filmography page soon.

Ayibobo!