Mambo Sallie Anne Glassman has published a detailed review of the recent Vodou episode of CNN’s “Believer” TV series.
Archive for Vodou
“Max Gesner Beauvoir, the “Ati” or supreme leader of voodoo, Haiti’s traditional Afro-Caribbean religion, died Saturday afternoon, aged 79.”
Video posted on the Daily Mail site
Today Houngan Max Beauvoir joined the ancestors. He passed away at 1:00 pm at Le Peristyle de Mariani, founded in 1974 in Mariani, Haiti.
I had the opportunity to sign up for an online class related to my various spiritual practices. I really wanted to take this class, and it was being offered at 1/3 of the usual price. I still could not really afford it and hesitated, knowing that it would make finances very tight for the next couple of weeks, and that I would have to postpone some bills. With a resigned sigh, I said to Legba, “If you think it would be good for me to take this class, any financial help would be appreciated.” The discounted price was only offered for a very limited time and I was up against the deadline, so I took the plunge and registered for the class. This was last Saturday (July 18). That same day we had a grocery delivery scheduled.
Now, Anne and I are city dwellers, and have not owned a car for over a decade. To reduce trips to the grocery store (and to avoid having to haul heavy items like cat litter on the bus), we regularly use a grocery delivery service. We select a delivery time, usually in the evenings or on a weekend. Most of the time the service delivers on schedule, and even when they are late, they are good about letting us know. In the 3 or so years we’ve been using them, I’ve only had to call them about late delivery a handful of times.
Grocery expenses add up quickly, and last weekend was one of the larger orders we’ve placed (over $200). So, the scheduled delivery window came and went, and about 15 minutes afterwards, I phoned the company. The customer service rep was very courteous and told me that they had been having a lot of delays that morning. She briefly put me hold while she tried to contact the delivery driver. When she was unable to reach him, she apologized and said that she would immediately refund our order. She then said that if the driver did show up we could keep the groceries free of charge.
What? I was kind of floored. Our deliveries have been late before, and I’ve never been offered a full refund. The downside: if the groceries failed to show up, then Anne and I would need to go shopping that day and I would be either hauling cat litter on the bus or ordering from another delivery service. I was really keeping my fingers crossed that the delivery showed up.
And it did, only about 30 minutes late. Which was not a big deal to me, and I would have been fine without a refund. We just wanted our stuff. As it turned out, we got over $200 worth of groceries for free, which was wonderful and kind of weird.
And then I remembered my comment to Legba. And realized that my share of the groceries came up to around $135, which was about the same amount of money that I was lacking to pay for the class and my bills. Whoa.
I also thought about how he brought about this windfall using situations that were already at play in my life. Not that the Lwa can’t bring results from unexpected sources, but I think they are practical and have no qualms about working with the tools most readily available.
So Saturday evening, I lit candles and thanked Papa. Ayibobo.
(continued from Part One)
Saturday night’s service was of the fiery Petro sort, in honor of Simbi Makaya. The sosyete’s drummer had other commitments, so we would be singing a cappella, with only our hands and assons for accompaniment. There were ten of us present: the Houngan and Mambo of the house, five other mambos, two sevis tets, and a hounsi Kanzo (yours truly).
We began, as always, with the Priye Ginen. It did not take long at all for the room to heat up. We sang for everyone’s met tets. Legba and La Balenn came but did not take anyone’s head. The Houngan then started to go under, but was told to “pass it on,” so he touched foreheads with Mambo Vye Zo, and then she was gone.
Enter Simbi Makaya.
Two of the mambos immediately attended to him, and tied red and black moushwas onto his arms. His throne had been set up prior to the fet, and he settled into it with the air of a man who is at once both regal and street smart. Mambo likes to refer to him as the godfather of Vodou, and that seems to describe this Lwa about right.
He wanted his Dewar’s and cigarettes immediately. He would smoke and drink throughout the evening. Those of us who were not attending to his needs sat or knelt around his throne. Then he immediately focused on Mambo CH, whom he’d recently visited in a dream. He was charming and tender with her as they talked. He could not resist asking for her hand in marriage, but the mambo politely declined. He bathed her feet, her hands and her head. When Mambo CH rose to her feet, she vired (performed a series of turns that is a salute), and Makaya was pleased that she was “well raised.”
Next, he called up one of the sevis tets, and they talked for a while before Makaya dabbed some of the bath water on their
At some point after Makaya’s arrival, Simbi Andezo arrived in the Houngan’s head, and sat down next to Makaya. Andezo is not gregarious like Makaya, so he was mostly quiet. When he did speak, it was not loud. I wasn’t close to him so did not hear much of what he said. I was sitting with a couple of the mambos a few feet to the opposite side of Makaya, trying to be small and invisible. I knew that Mambo CH really needed to speak with him, and figured I did not need to take up any of his time. My ploy was about zero percent effective.
“Azouke! You think I don’t see you? Silly man.”
I jumped a bit when he said my name. He gestured me forward. I don’t remember what all we talked about, but I do remember him complimenting me on my creativity and my hands, and that inspired me to promise him a sculpture. This pleased him a great deal. He said that God gave them (the Lwa) many things, but physical form was not one of them. He also told me he watches the redhead that I live with. I wondered to myself how she would feel about that. Anne, the former atheist. Sometimes Vodou scares her a little, but she takes it in stride and believes. When we were finished, he dabbed my forehead with the bath water, I vired and returned to my chair.
Makaya then proceeded to do all the gads himself. Originally there were only four of us who wanted them, but during the service more were inspired and also asked for them. The only people who did not receive one were those who already had them. When the final gad was done, he asked if there was food, and was served a piece of a chocolate cake that one of the sevis tets had baked for him. Then we all were served cake, and someone offered the Houngan a piece. But the Houngan was still out, and Andezo said dismissively, “Do I look like I want cake?”
After the cake, I kind of expected Makaya might leave, but instead he asked us if we had any questions. The room was silent, but he was having none of that. “So, no questions? Everyone knows everything!”
One of the mambos asked him if he got the scratches on his face from Dantor. Makaya smirked and replied, “No. But I should show you my back sometime.”
I asked him what he looked like, and he gave me enough of a description that I could start building my mental picture of him. (I will not share this now, but will post his sculpture when it’s complete.)
There were more questions, and more discussion, and then the Houngan was back and telling Makaya that it was time to leave. Mambo Vye Zo returned to us, exhausted and hungry. It was an amazing service, and the most time I’ve ever spent in the company of a single Lwa. I hadn’t expected to like Makaya so much. In some ways we are kindred spirits—we both have a realistic (and not always flattering) view of humanity, we both like ‘women who fight back,’ and I like his no-nonsense way of dealing with things. At one point during the evening, he’d stated, “Nobody fucks with my people.” As I’d mentioned in my previous post, I had not worked with Simbi Makaya before. Mambo Vye Zo thinks I may be mistaken, that we may indeed have worked together, just not in this life. After meeting Makaya and discovering how easily we interact, I am inclined to think she may be right.
Sunday evening, on my flight home, I received a text from Anne: “Some kind of disaster happened in the backyard in [annoying neighbor’s] unit. Firemen are there for a long time and appears like a hole is dug up. There is caution tape.”
What we know: Around 8 pm Sunday evening, Anne thought she heard a few explosions. A little while later, there was a fire truck and about ten firemen by the neighbor’s unit. Their fence on one side is so badly burned that it will need to be replaced.
Now, there are times when my skeptical brain would write this off to coincidence, but not in this case. Look at the timeline of events: Saturday afternoon, neighbor’s kid is climbing over our gate into our patio, potentially damaging it. Sat night, during service, Simbi Makaya says he is watching Anne. Sunday, the neighbor’s patio is burned. I was and still am kind of floored by this. I had not asked Makaya to deal with the neighbors, and had not even been consciously thinking about them during service. The only thing I can conclude is that he meant it when he said he was watching over Anne.
Mambo says that Makaya tends to be very “tit for tat.”
And the punch line? Each of the patios in our condo complex is separated from the patio next to it by a wooden divider wall. The divider separating the annoying neighbor’s patio from the next patio is only burned on the annoying neighbor’s side.
Gotta hand it to Makaya, he strikes with precision.
So now, I need to set him up some altar space, buy him a bottle of Dewar’s, and get busy on that sculpture.
On a final note, I would caution that it’s not a good idea to approach Simbi Makaya to work with him. This is clearly not a Lwa to mess around with. If he wants to work with you, he will let you know.
If you’d like to read Mambo Vye Zo’s thoughts on these events, click the links below:
Outwardly, there is not a whole lot of visible change. I am still at the same job. I live in the same place, in the same area of town. I haven’t gotten a spiffy new haircut nor remodeled my home.
Not all of my bad habits have changed. I still stay up too late on weekends, and have a tendency to procrastinate. I have an impatient streak, but it’s one that I continue to mostly control. I can be messy when I get busy or tired, especially when facing art deadlines. I still am fascinated with the afterlife, although in a much more positive way than I have been in the past.
What has changed outwardly is the official acquisition of my new family, the Sosyete. This is no small thing for me—my birth mother crossed over nearly three decades ago, I never knew my father and the one living relative I do know is permanently estranged. Now I have parents and many siblings I can turn to for love, advice and support. I took great delight in sending my initiatory mother a small Mother’s Day gift, something I have not been able to enjoy for many years.
So what about the less-obvious changes?
Many times I thought about writing this post but kept putting it off, uncertain whether there had been any changes interesting enough to discuss here. Apparently the changes kind of crept up on me. Some people’s experiences are more dramatic and obvious, but the majority of mine tend to be more subtle. My Lwa often speak softly, and in the language of images.
In March and early April I was engrossed in my usual springtime art frenzy, preparing to participate in a local sci fi/fantasy convention’s art show and another show at a local shop. I had quite a few pieces planned that were Vodou-related, including two sculptures of Legba, La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe, whom I’ve never sculpted before.
The first Legba I finished this spring was the Old Man walking along a road with one of his dogs, although I sculpted both Legba faces at the same time, and was very happy with them. This was a sharp contrast from the struggles I sometimes have with faces, which can result in me becoming so frustrated that I will toss them in the garbage and begin anew. I was particularly pleased that both of the faces resembled Legba as he appeared in one of my dreams.
Sculpting clothing is not always super easy for me, yet when I worked on his jacket and pants, I kept having what artists call “happy accidents”—my hand would move and create a fold or movement of the fabric that was unplanned, but looked good. Now, normally, I would never consider putting one of my own pieces on my altars, because I would sit there and obsess over the flaws and shortcomings. This time, however, I was so happy with the completed piece that I thought about keeping him for my altar if he didn’t sell at the convention. Also finished for the convention was a La Balenn piece whose face turned out unusually lovely. I received a lot of compliments on both of them when I showed them to friends.
La Balenn did not sell at the convention, but Legba sold immediately after to a couple of friends who saw him in the art show there. (They tried to buy him at the show, but due to a change in the art show hours, they were not able to purchase him before it closed.) It makes me smile to think of Legba in their home.
Then my focus shifted to finishing the pieces for the shop show. I decided to do a Native La Siren, as that is how she appeared to me the one time that I saw her. I was not sure exactly how to sculpt Agwe, so I had a loose plan to create him as a merman wearing an admiral’s jacket. However, he had other things in mind. I kept receiving flashes of images in my head, and realized that yes, he did want to be portrayed as a merman, but rather than the uniform he opted to have coral extruding from his back and crowning his head. Although I was working on my pieces up to the last minute, I never really got stressed out. It seemed that every time I got stuck on something, the answer would pop into my head and I was able to move on. Sometimes my hands felt guided, to the point that I don’t feel that I can take all of the credit for the way the art turned out. It was more of a collaboration between the Lwa and me.
When Agwe was completed, he also received many compliments. During the artist opening reception, one of my regular buyers whom I had never met before came in and bought the entire marine Lwa set (La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe). He wanted the seated Legba piece I had there too, but a friend had already spoken for it, so this gentleman commissioned a new one. (I have to smile when I think of Legba and the 3 marine Lwa displayed in his home; I won’t be surprised if they all start showing up there.) Another previous buyer whom I had never met came in and purchased a Sekhmet wall piece of mine. During the following weeks when my art was on display, a couple of local Santeria folks saw Agwe and loved him so much that they commissioned one like it.
Overall, this is probably the most successful art show I’ve had to date, as far as sales are concerned. I reflected back on the nom vayan (“valiant name”) that my initiatory mother gave me at my batem (“baptism”). It translates into “Legba creates my vision,” and he certainly has outdone himself this time.
If you haven’t already read it, my lovely initiatory mother has written a wonderful piece on magickal names in Vodou, which explains them better than I can here. All’s I can say is it certainly worked for me! Honor to her, Papa and the Lwa. Ayibobo!
Dr. Karen McCarthy Brown, theologian and author of “Mama Lola,” departs this world for Ginea on March 4. Link to the full memorial below.
By J. Terry Todd, Associate Professor, Drew Theological School