Category Archives: Ancestors

The Holy Trinity

Originally published on November 1, 2014

Kwa Simbo!

Happy All Saints Day to All!

All Saints Day, November the 1st, is the day which marks the beginning of the Ghede season in Haitian Vodou. It is also the time where devotion to our ancestral spirits is at it’s peak. In the Catholic Church, November is the month of Souls, a time when we pray diligently for the dearly departed, those who have fallen asleep in the peace of Christ, and those who have not. To that end, each day of November, my household offers the rosary for our ancestors, those who we can name, and not name, those remember and those forgotten, those called and not called.  Although during this month we will feed our ancestors, we will make additional services to them, and we will work with them, we also want to pray for their spiritual elevation, and we can do this, in part, through the Holy Rosary.

Today we offered the Luminous Mysteries at the altar of the ancestors.  The Luminous mysteries for those of you that are not Catholic [or lapsed a little] are an addition to the rosary that came from His Holiness, Pope St. John Paul II.  As I was reflecting on the mysteries here though, the last bead of the first decade struck me.  You see in the first decade we are reflecting upon the Baptism of Our Lord by St. John the Baptist and the institution of this as a Holy Sacrement of the Church.   The meditation of the 10th bead however is the most interesting:  “The Divine Trinity is manifested:  The voice of the Father is heard as the spirit [in the form of a dove] descends upon the Sun.”

The theology of the Holy Trinity was not created by the Catholic Church, far from it.  The trinity finds it’s roots in the African traditions.  One of the most classic examples is found in the Yoruba people who define the Holy Trinity as Oloddumare, God the Great Archetect who created all things in the Universe, He is the manifestation most like “The Father” in Catholicism.  Then there is Olofin, the part of God who is closest to the Earth and who is experienced as God manifested in Ifa, who is most akin to God the Son, Jesus.  There there is Olorun, the part of God that encircles all things, the Holy Spirit if you like.  Haitian Culture has no problem in accepting the tri-nature of God, although in Haitian Vodou we talk less about that and rather insetad focus more on the generic “Bondye” or “Gran Met”, while realising that these are actually two different manifestations of God, just not needing to define it so much. But while I’ve always shared with my students the theology of the trinity of God, I never stopped to think about its manifestation in scripture.

We know that Jesus spent time in Africa and Egypt and that while in those areas it is most likely that he experienced certain religious instructions of at least saw the practices of the Priests of the African religions.  Although a jew, is this where the doctorine of the Holy Trinity found its roots in Christianity?  Is this Father, Son and Holy Spirit actually just a direct take from an African religious tradition transported directly to the Christian Faith?  If the moment of the Baptism of Christ is the first manifestation of the Holy Trinity, then is it not likely that it was a manifestation designed to pass on a piece of theology God wanted us to embrace and more fully understand?

I mentioned above that in Haitian Vodou the concept of the trinity is not lost.  God the Father, the part of God that is most abstract to humanity, that is furthest away from us is known as Gran Met, the Great Master, and sometimes as the Grand Archetect, a term most likely taken from the Freemasons.  The part of God that is closest to the Earth and encirles the Earth is Bondye, that part of God that we experience most often as the Divine Spark manifested within the Lwa and within each of us, what we call Fos, or what the Yoruba call, Ache, and then there is the God who is closest to manifestation, and this is where it gets complicated as for some Haitian Vodouwizan that is Jesus Christ, while for others this is another manifestiation of the Divine, and for some is the manifestation of O’dan.  Neither is right nor wrong, it simple will depend on the house and the theology that has been passed down through that house.

This knowledge of the trinity is the knowledge of God, and is the foundation of theology.  This is also why I do not beleive in removing the Catholic elements from Haitian Vodou.  You see, I do not beleive that the Catholic elements are there to fill somethingthat was missing when the slaves brought their religions from Africa, and I do not believe that it was added to “hide” Vodou from the slave owners.  Rather, I believe, and certainly everything I have learned seems to coincide, that when the African people were introduced to the Bible, they were not been given new information.  It is believed after all that Moses himself was a Hounon, a Priest of the Spirit Odan who in Haiti is now often served as a part of Danballa, the serpent Spirit, and his tales were not new to Africa, after all, he travelled through African soil, it is there that he met God, and it is there that he learnd his magic.  The same is true for many of the prophets of the Books of the Law, these people were already a part of African tales, their theology already present in African religion, except while the Christians had lost the magic that those early priets and saints carried, the African people had also maintained the magic.  In the BIble, and in the theology of the Catholic Church they saw their stories, their history, and they simple reclaimed it for themselves.  What did not fit with thier history they did not embrace, because it did not matter.  In Haiti, the reclamation became Haitian Vodou.

November is the month of the Ancestors and the Ghede … and in this month I think we really should reflect as a community on what makes Haitian Vodou Haitian.  It is the ancestors of Ayiti, those who fought and died for her freedom, those spirits who made the trip with the slaves across the transatlantic, those spirits that were found on the Haitian soil and all those who became ancestral spirits as a part of the process.  It is their wisdom which brought together the rites of the Dahomey, Yoruba, Allada, Djoumba, Congo, and all those others, together with the reclamation of thier history found in Catholicism that gave us Vodou, and to change it, to reject the Catholic now because of some preconceived notion of oppression I think is a disservice to our ancestors.

Kwa sou Kwa!

Houngan Liam

Elevating Our Ancestors

Originally published May 12, 2012

Ayibobo la Sosyete:

Today I spent some time at my egun shrine [a pot dedicated to my ancestoral spirits] talking to them and asking them to continue to embrace my mothers spirit.  This month also marks 2 years since the death of my sister, and according to family tradition, this is the month I will begin her first elevation ceremonies.

Ancestor elevation is most often thought thought about in November when we celebrate the Ghede, as aside from being the time of the Ghede, and All Saints, but also November 2nd is the Feast of All Souls.  Ont he Feast of All Souls the Catholic Church begins a month of prayer for our ancestors.  November is not the only time when we can and should elevate our ancestors.  It is not just our ancestors that benefit from the process of elevation, but we do as well.

So what is involved in an ancestor elevation ceremony? Well, the first step is to make a commitment.  This is not a one time affair, but rather a commitment to several days of work.  How many days you dedicate to this work can be up to you, however the most common is 3, 7, 9 or 21 days of prayer and work to bring your ancestors closer to Heaven where they may dwell at the feet of God, not just elevated as an individual, but by extention, elevating the spiritual nature of the entire family, from every generation.

Some people like to begin with a simple ceremony to elevate the ancestors.  One of the ways that I like to elevate my ancestors regularly is through a Novena of the Holy Rosary.  If you already have an ancestral table [often times called a “Boveda”], then you would perform the elevation at the ancestral table.  If you do not have an ancesttral table, set aside a small surface, cover it with white cotton and place a glass of water in the centre.  Next to that place a white candle.  You may also want to place a cross or crucifix in the water goblet to represent the blessings of God upon the house.  As you place each item upon your ancestors space, present the item to the East, West, North and then South.  [In a future blog I hope to talk more about the formal construction of an ancestral table].

It is best to begin you Novena of the Holy Rosary on a Monday.  As with most Novena, you will repeat the prayers and actions each day for 9 days in a row, so you will complete the novena the following Tuesday.

So, how do we go about the Novena?

On the first day, set yourself in front of your ancestral table of boveda, light a white candle, offer your ancestors fresh white flowers [or flowers that your ancestors were fond of in thier lifetime], and any foods that they particularly enjoyed.  Speak with you ancestors, and tell them that for the next 9 days you will be praying for their elevation.  Talk form your heart, with honesty, and with faith.  Explain to your ancestors that your goal in performing the elevation is to bring them closer to God, strengthening them, empowering them for their well being, and that they may further empower and work for their family left behind.  Prepare yourself for an extremely powerful ceremony that will transform your relationship with your ancestral Spirits.

Once you have finished your prayers to your ancestors, ensure that the water on your ancestral space in clean, fresh and cool.  You may wish to add a splash of Kananga Water or Florida Water to the water if you can get it.  Take up your rosary, and pray! pray! pray!  If you don’t know how to pray the rosary, you might benefit from this page http://www.newadvent.org/images/rosary.pdf

Once you have finished your prayers, leave your ancestors to enjoy the light and progression that they receive from the candle, water and your profound and heartfelt prayers to God.

Each day, return to your ancestral space and repeat the above.  Before beginning your prayers, pour the water from the glass [or all of yoru glassess if you have a boveda] outside your front door.  Refill your glass with clean fresh water and ensure that your surface is perfectly clean.  Take care of your candle to keep it burning brightly.  This gesture of refreshment is also your offering your ancestors refreshment.

At the end of your last rosary on the Tuesday, finish by talking with your ancestors and letting them know that you have finished their ceremony of elevation through novena of the Holy Rosary.  This should not stop your daily interaction with your ancestral spirits, but enhance it.  You may want to wait until the following Monday, however you are now ready to perform more magical work with you ancestral spirits.

Zancet yo, ago eh … Zancet yo, ago eh

If you already have an established relationship with your ancestors, and perhaps have performed an ancestor elevation prior to this one, you might wish to perform a slightly more complex ancestor elevation ceremony.  This second ancestral elevation ceremony is more work, and can be performed over 3, 7, 9 or 21 days.  I recommend the first time you perform this elevation you perform it for 3 days, the second time for 7 days, the third time for 9 days and the then you could perform it for 21 days.  That way you will focus on developing your relationship with the ancestors in a progressive way as you develop your ability to work spiritually with them.

You will need some additional supplies for this elevation.  I have listed the required ingrediants as 3, however you will need however many as there are days you are performing your elevation.

3 Shabbot Candles [or small emergency candles]
3 bricks or books [it is best if they are all the same size]
3 small satin squares just beg enough to cover your bricks or books
1 white rosary
1 large pot
1 mirror
Holy Water
Florida Water

Clean the pot thoroughly, and ensure that it is perfectly clean.  Once done, fill the pot with fresh, clean water.  Then pour in 3 splashes of Holy Water and 3 splashes of Florida Water.  Take the pot to your ancestor table or boveda where you will already have placed the empty goblet and the rosary.

Dip your fingers into the pot of water and make the sign of the cross on your body.  Begin your prayers with the:

Our Father

3 Hail Mary

Apostles Creed

Then, take the rosary into your hand, and begin to pray for your ancestors, lifting them up to God.  Pray for those that you know, and those that you don’t know, and call the names of any ancestors that you know, going as far back as you can.  When you have completed listing the names of your ancestors, pray the rosary, all 5 decades.  Again, it is best to start this elevation on a Monday.  If you perform the elevation for 3 days you will pray the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, however if you do the rosary over 7, 9 or 21 days you may want to also pray the Luminous Mysteries on the appropriate days [Thursday].

When you have compelted the rosary, take up the goblet and dip it into the pot of water.  Again you will want to call out the name of each ancestor you know, and as you do pour 3 small libations on the floor in front of you from the goblet.  Then pour 3 dashes of water for each as you say:

“For those whose names are remember, for those whose names are forgotten, to the ancestors who come to me by blood an initiation.”

Refill the goblet with water from the pot, place a brick [or book] on the ground and coer it with one of the satin squares [the darkest of them all] and place the goblet on top of it.

Each evening as you will repeat this, placing another brick or book on top of the previous one and using fresh water each night.

On the last night, you will make a feast to your ancestors.  Prepare all of their favourite foods, drinks, water, perfumes, cigarettes, anything that they enjoyed in life.  Lay all of this out in front of them, you may want to prepare a table especially for this.  You will leave the feast with them overnight, and the following day pack up all of the perishables and take them to the cemetery, preferably to the tomb of an ancestor.  You may leave bottles of alcohol, perfumes, cigarettes and other gifts for them on your ancestral table.

On the day you take the offerings to the cemetery you may also choose to have a mass offered for your ancestors at a local Catholic Church.  To do this, just go to your local Church and request that a Mass be said for your departed ancestors.  You would generally make a small donation [$20.00 is fine] to the priest for this services as well.

Now I still hear one question from you all … you want to know if there are colours that you use for the small satin squares.  Well, YES!  There are … If you are performing a three day elevation you would be working with:

Black
Red
White

If you are working with a 7 day elevation:

Black
Royal Blue
Green
Red
Yellow
Pink
White

For the 9 day elevation:

Black
Purple
Royal Blue
Green
Sky Blue
Red
Yellow
Pink
White

For the 21 day elevation:

Black
Brown
Royal Blue
Sky Blue
Baby Blue
Forrest Green
Olive Green
Green
Deep Red
Red
Bright Red
Orange
Gold
Dark Yellow
Bright Yellow
Dark Pink
Bright Pink
Baby Pink
Silver
Creme
White

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!