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Putting the Right Foot Forward: A Personal Experience Starting Out in Vodou


The first thing I said when I read what “Haitian Vodou” is – I told myself, “I am never going to do this ever!”  Little did I know this was a part of my destiny.

The spirits for me didn’t show up in my dreams or in my life. It all started with an intense feeling that I have to put up a altar to Legba.

Getting it wrong: Before I knew what Vodou was or how to serve Legba correctly

I was doing everything wrong and doing things that go against the reglemen (even though to this day I don’t exactly know it), meddling with things I shouldn’t.  I started serving Legba in a way that was not correct, and also picking which spirits I choose and not the other way around.  At that time I was serving spirits that was I had no business serving, like Ayizan and Loko. Other spirits I chose because I liked them for the facade that the internet created for the spirits.

I never really understood what simple was because I always want to run and do it fully instead of starting small, simple and slow.

Getting it wrong: spirits I have no business serving, with incorrect offerings.

I met through the interwebs a wonderful spiritual parent who has taught me so very much.  I had gotten a reading from him which not only revealed where I needed to be but also what the spirits had in store for me.  It was a reality check.  And it brought forth the important messages and advice the spirits had for me.

Receiving these messages opened up the door slowly of which the spirits entered my life. My first experience with a spirit to this day I remember was a particular spirit showed up in my dreams.   I knew which spirit it was, and went to my Papa he confirmed it right away what this dream was. So far this has been a powerful and a beautiful thing for me to experience.

Getting it right: providing Legba with the correct offerings and accoutrements according to the reglemen of our house

As  time went by my spirits came more closely into my life and have revealed so many things and have laid before me a path of which I chose to walk on. The lwa have really helped me so very much. whenever I call to them they come. whenever I had a problem they saw it and it was solved within days. They saw I needed help and came to my aid. To this day I have had a great and positive experience, and even so the spirits show me sides of them that you wont read in any book or in any video.

My advice to anyone that doesn’t know this tradition is don’t judge it because you don’t understand it. Research this tradition. Look for a reputable priest and a Vodou house, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

 

This has been a guest blog post by Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale member Christopher Tromp

A Tribute to Mambo La Belle Deesse

August 23rd 20171, a great tree fell. Not just a great tree, but the greatest tree we’ve ever known. Labelle Deesse Senior, spiritual Mother of Houngan Liam and Houngan Aliastair, the greatest Mambo they have ever met; began her journey to Allada.

Labelle Deesse was remarkable. She had such love, such compassion, such knowledge and such wisdom. She was kind, but knew how and when to put her foot down. She loved her Spirits fiercely, and they loved her. She was a force in Vodou, seeking unity and fighting for Vodou to have it’s place in a world that didn’t understand it.  She opened her home and her heart to all her children, whether they were of her body or her spirit; and her love reached acrossoceans to touch the hearts of Vodouwizan all around the globe.

Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale send our love and prayers to Labelle Deesse Junior, Patience Soulager Minfo Bonmanbo, and all of the children and grandchildren of Labelle Deesse Senior. No matter how much we loved her and how close to her we were – your loss is so great, and we want you to know that our prayers, our support and our love are with you.

To all the Vodouwizan in Haiti and around the world, we feel keenly the same loss you all do, as a great unifying figure has disappeared from us.  The loss of our mother is a loss for all of Vodou.  Allada can rejoice, because a great Mambo is coming home, one whom the spirits love and who loves them in return. Her beauty will continue to be a light in the Spiritual World, but here we will need to dry our tears and learn to look again to see that light.

Woukoukou

Who Owns My Head?

One of the most common things that I hear on the various groups that I moderate is something along the lines of “someone told me that Yemaya is my Oricha/Deity,” or, “someone told me that I am a child of Chango.”  Of course, we hear this for the various African Diaspora Traditions other than Oricha as well… “I was just told that I am Erzulie Dantor’s Child,” or, “I feel that Danballa is my Lwa Met Tet.” 

One of the things that I wonder first when I hear this is, why is it always the most well known and most documented spirits that people say claim them?  Almost never does someone from outside the religions say, “someone told me that Inle was my Oricha,” or ,“I’m pretty sure that Mama Zila is my Met Tet;” because no matter how ‘divine’ the intercession that revealed this information, it is always limited to information that is public, well known and easily found online.

The very next thing is of course, “I’d like to know how to set up an altar to her/him, how do I do it?” or, “I’d like to start to work with this spirit, how do I set up an altar to them?”  My very first response is, calm down.  Please!  In the ADRs there is a system, and progressive series of steps that really needs to be followed for you to have a successful relationship with these spirits.

This information is not new… Santera/os, Houngans and Mambos, Babalawos, and other Priests of the ADRs have been putting this out there on the internet for years, but unfortunately the information sometimes gets lost in the noise of the “do what thou wilt” folk; who are not a part of the ADR community and who can no speak for the spirits of Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean. 

With that being said, I thought it may be beneficial to lay out some facts in an easy to understand format, which will hopefully resolve some of these questions and leave people more confident in their dealings with the ADR community.

  1. When it comes to Oricha, a person can not simply ‘know’ which Oricha rules your head.  The Oricha do carry many human traits, so sometimes we might look at an individual and think “they are a lot like Chango,” or perhaps, “they are a lot like Eleggua;” but this does not mean that they are the child of that Oricha.  No, the only way in which your ruling Oricha can be identified is through a very specific kind of reading.  This reading can be done by an experienced Santera/o (priest who specialises in divination, called an itelero),or a Babalawo.  This particular reading is not something that one rushes into in Santeria/Lukumi traditions.  Instead, the revelation of which spirit rules your head will generally wait until you go before Ifa (the supreme divination system of the religion) in preparation to be crowned as a priest/ess of the religion.  Up until that point there is not really any need to know what Oricha rules your head.
  2. Similarly, when it comes to the lwa of Haitian Vodou, you can not ‘guess’ or ‘feel’ the lwa met tet, or the lwa that rules your head.  This lwa is often very secretive prior to initiation, and is only revealed inside the djevo, which is the initiation chamber of Haitian Vodou.  The lwa, like the Oricha, have very human traits; and often when we look at someone we will see those traits manifested.  But we, by our very nature, are not two dimensional.  While one day you might meet me and see me dressed in white, in a calm place where I experience what ever the world throws my way with a detached calm and acceptance, you may look at me and think that it is Danballa that rules my head…  Yet the next day you might come across me wearing lots of colour, and with my Spanish passion dominating!  That part of my personality reacts to EVERYTHING, and on that day you would swear me a child of the Petro…  And if you see me when one of my family is in need, you might start to wonder if I were a child of the devil himself!  You see, we are multidimensional, and what traits we see one day might not be the traits we see on another.

What can you deduce from this is that no one with any certainty can simply come up to you and say, “hey, your a child of *****,” because they can not know this.  They might guess, but only through consultation at the correct time with a Priest/ess of the religion will you know this for sure.  And to be honest, there is no need to.

The Oricha Ochun

What often accompanies this idea of, “I’ve been told I’m a child of ***” is the statement, “and I feel a deep connection with him/her.”  It may sound harsh to say, but this ‘deep connection’ is often imagined.  In most cases the person knows very little about the spirit involved, and what they do know is superficial at best.  A classic example here is the Oricha Ochun.  She is the Oricha of all things sweet.  She is beauty personified, and she is the Oricha of wealth, health, love and all that makes life sweet and worth living.  Many people ‘feel a deep connection’ with her, but forget that she has many sides and many aspects.  Yes she can be sweet, she can dance with abandon in the forest, or sensually in the city as she draws love to her and around her; and so also to those who are beloved of her, but Ochun has many faces and many moods.  Just as she can be the light of any party, she can also be the Witch – the manipulator of magic who will take all sweetness away leaving you cold and bitter.  Her laugh may roll across the valleys inspiring joy wherever it lands, but when she is laughing is also when she is most dangerous, for that laugh can hide her most destructive magic.

This is why these religions are passed down; from teacher to student, from parent to child, because it’s kind of like learning maths.  When we first begin to learn maths, we begin with the very basics, the foundations that will allow us to build and get to know the system of numbers. 1 + 1 = 2, 1 x 1 = 1, etc., and as we learn the system of numbers and the rules of maths, we build upon those basics to learn more complex maths.  Sometimes the maths we learn later seems to follow a different set of laws, yet as we understand it more we realise that it is all based on the same basic system that we found in the beginning.  This is the same in the spiritual world of the African Diaspora.  The information that is available to the public is at that very foundational level, the very basic essence of the spirits and their aspects, but you will need to go through a lot of learning to understand and build upon that foundation of knowledge, which is passed down through lineage.

What typically comes next is the request for information on how to work with said Oricha or Lwa.  Now, this is not an unreasonable request, but remember, these spirits come from a complex history and there is no guarantee that they will have any interest in working with you.  The justification that someone ‘feels’ this spirit close to them, even if accurate, is still not justification that you will be working magically with these spirits.  To begin with, magic in these systems is fundamentally different from that in folk magic, in other religious systems, or in Wicca, Paganism or Ceremonial Magic.  Magic in the African Diaspora Religions is prescribed based on knowledge of the spirits, the herbs most closely associated with them, and the herbs that form the foundation of the herbal lore or the Caribbean and of their African nature.  Also, ‘magic’ (and I am using this term for lack of a better word), differs between the Oricha systems and the Lwa systems.  Yet what they share in common is that they are both what I like to call ‘prescription based’.

What I mean by ‘prescription based’ is that spiritual work in the African Diaspora is much like going to the Doctor.  One begins by sitting down with the Priest/ess of the religion (Santeria/Lukumi, Yoruba, Candomble, Vodou, etc.), and discussing what is wrong.  From there the Priest/ess will give their feedback, and then consult the spirits to determine what the best remedy/solution is.  In Oricha traditions this done through consulting Odu, the corpus of the Yoruba faith, through the oracle known as the diloggoun.  Diloggoun is a selection of cowrie shells.  By throwing these shells, the Priest reading them is able to see the full picture of the situation the client has brought in front of them.  They will then use Odu alongside their own spiritual knowledge to flesh out the solution to the matter at hand.  This can take various numbers of throws of the oracle and will sometimes bring to the surface the foundation issues of this life.  The solution may be as simple as a candle, or as complex as requiring initiation.  In some cases the client may be able to complete the solution (which we call ebbo) themselves, while in other cases they may have to return to the Priest/ess with various offerings and money to have the Priest complete the ebbo for them. 

Ebbo for Eleggua

One should not see this is a bad thing.  Even initiated Priests of the Lukumi tradition will go to their godparents or others for readings to get advice and have ebbo performed on their behalf.  Often they will go to another Priest/ess for spiritual cleansing and in some cases for a second opinion about something in their own lives.  It may also be that there needs to be an ebbo made to an Oricha that they have not received el fundamento (meaning they have not received that Oricha’s secrets through initiation), and so need to go to a Priest/ess who has that Oricha to make the required offering. 

In Yoruba Traditions there is also the option of going before Ifa.  Ifa is the supreme divination system of the Oricha Traditions and is read by the High Priests of the Religion, known as Babalawos.  Although the process is similar the methodology is different, as they may read different divination systems.  However, their prescriptions are still found in Odu.

Haitian Vodou is also prescription based, although the methods of divination may vary.  Rather than working through a system of numbers as Odu does, the Mambo or Houngan (Priestess or Priest respectively) may choose any number of divination systems.  The most popular I’ve encountered amongst the Mambo and Houngan I have had the honour of sharing with are: playing cards, scrying either with fire or water or a combination thereof, reading wax, reading cigar smoke, or the most popular is to speak directly with the lwa through the mechanism of possession.  Through possession the spirit will talk with you, guiding you through the situation and it’s real foundation and then prescribe for you how to fix it.  This may be something that you can do yourself, or it may require you, just like in Lukumi tradition, to collect various items, objects, herbs, waters, etc., and return to the Mambo or Houngan or have the work completed.  Sometimes the work is completed by the Priest/ess, while at other times the spirit will come again in possession to complete the magical work themselves. 

Accoutrements for Reading in Haitian Vodou

There is clearly a right way and a wrong way to approach these traditions and the spirits that form them.  It is also extremely important to remember that in these traditions these spirits are exactly that, they are spirits, akin to Saints in the Catholic Church.  They are not gods in any sense of the word.  Our Afro-Caribbean traditions are first and foremost monotheistic.  We acknowledge one God, however He has given us the Oricha and Lwa as intercessors for us.  That means that we can approach these spirits for aid, even if we are not initiated, even if we do not have someone to read for us.  There is always a way to approach the spirits, but one has to remember to do it correctly.  In order to do it correctly in this scenario three things are important:

  1. You must approach the spirit within the context that it is best known.  This means you do not use the tools of neo-paganism.  You don’t cast a circle, you don’t almost set the house on fire by creating fire indoors, ‘cause ain’t no-one going to appreciate that.
  2. Sincerity.  This is vital.  One needs to approach the spirits with a sincere heart.  If one is not sincere then the spirits will not even bother to listen.  Have an honest heart.  Do not approach the spirit with a sense of entitlement, because that is ego; nor should you approach them with a sense of worship, as worship is reserved specifically for God.  They should be approached with respect.  If you have been given advice from a Priest/ess then follow that advice as the spirit will know if you are not, and may take additional offence.  Of course the worst case response for offence is that the spirit will simply not listen to you, nor accept your offerings, but this could leave you open to a trickster spirit.
  3. Location.  Location.  Location.  To many who have been raised on ‘the spirits are everywhere’ this may not seem so important, but remember these are spirits that you do not know, and who you have not been formally introduced to yet.  So the correct thing to do is to go to their place in nature.  Again, this might take some research, and also may vary according to which path you are called to follow.  If you are called to Lukumi, for example, and you want to introduce yourself to Yemaya and make a sincere offering; then you would go to the beach, as her home is the Ocean.  But if you’re following a more Yoruba/Traditional Nigerian branch of Oricha then you would go to the river which is her home in Yorubaland.  For Eleggua you would find yourself going to the crossroads, but for Papa Legba, you would go to your front door or gate.  Remember the Lwa and Oricha are different even when they serve different functions.  If you are looking for Erzulie Freda or Ochun you would go to the river, for Obatala the mountain top, for Danballa a beautiful clear stream.  For the Oricha, because you do not have them el fundamento you will need to go to their place in nature.  For Lwa, you can prepare a simple surface, cover that in a white cloth, and in the centre place a glass of cool clear water and a white candle and make your offering to them here.  You will still need to dispose of the offering at a crossroads once you are done.

Using these instructions you can prepare a small offering for the spirit, take it to their place in nature and call on them respectfully.  In the beginning you will just be introducing yourself.  It is not polite to show up on someones doorstep asking for something, but as you get to know the spirit more, you might make a slightly larger offering asking for their assistance.

Let me lay it out for you though, if you are called by the spirits of the African Diaspora, they will bring you to the care of a Priest/ess and house/sosyete.  You will need to come be correctly introduced to the religion and to the spirits.  You will need to be prepared, make ebbo, have your head washed, receive the initiations that the spirits call on your to receive, and accept what the spirits advise.  Not everyone is meant to be a priest/ess, not everyone is called for initiation, and in some cases only the very early initiations are necessary – those that form your connection with the spirits and the house/sosyete.  I’ve written on the subject of finding a house (and no doubt will again), but do so with faith, trusting your ancestors above all to help you find where you need to be.  From there, you will find an honest place to safety get to know those spirits that walk with you, and who form your spiritual court.

Devan Bondye

Pa Presse Soulage Minfo Edeyo Bon Houngan

Weight Loss and Smoking: Yes We Can Help

Originally published April 12, 2015

I really feel sorry for people who are trying to lose weight and/or quit smoking. It’s tough, your whole body and mind are basically sabotaging your efforts because our body chemistry is loopy, and even well meaning people tend to make you feel rubbish about it. So it’s no wonder that people turn everywhere they can for help, and one of the places that they turn to is hoodoo/conjure/rootwork or ATR/ADR forums and groups.

I applaud them for that. It isn’t easy to ask for help, and these people literally reach out to strangers on the internet who ought to have the expertise to help them within their particular religion/field. But what these people actually get is a lot of unwanted health advice, and stories about how other people quit using such and such a method and how it worked amazingly for them.

I guarantee you, everyone who has tried to lose wight or quit smoking has heard every crash diet, hypnosis theory, quack medical treatment, exercise regime, visualisation technique, and ‘detox’ regimen. They’ve probably tried at least half. The people who come to a hoodoo or ATR group for advice do not want to hear the experiences of others quitting smoking cold turkey in two weeks, or dropping weight using cider vinegar and cinnamon. They have tried that stuff. They want the advice they actually asked for: how to use hoodoo or the ATRs to help them quit smoking/ or lose weight.

It can be a bit of a tricky one, because both hoodoo and the ADRs came together as traditions way back before we knew that smoking was bad, and obesity was worse. Considering that these traditions sprung from slavery, the use of tobacco and being able to have enough food to put on extra weight was seen as a good thing, signs of wealth and status. When you take that into account, there are no traditional workings that you can do to make weight loss happen or to make someone quit smoking, because they are modern problems.

You have to break it down more holistically, and look at the whole problem. Smoking is essentially a bad habit and addiction. Hoodoo has plenty of different kinds of work that can be done to break bad habits and addictions. Often those works focus on breaking a gambling addiction, but there is no reason the same roots can’t be repurposed to help break a smoking addiction. Similarly with weight loss: you can break the bad eating habits.

If you approach someone in one of the ADRs for help, you’re most likely going to be prescribed a bath. Hoodoo does baths too, and taking a bath to cleanse away any negative thoughts and habits is probably the absolute best thing you can do to help quit smoking or lose weight. The next thing you need to do is to clean out your house. Chinese Wash is brilliant for that, as it removes any negativity from the home. Then all you need to do is replace the negative habits which have been cleansed away with good ones.

As I said, there are no traditional formulas for losing weight or quitting smoking. The closest we come is an old method for gaining weight, whereby you buy it from someone else in a monetary transaction. If you can find someone skinny who is willing to buy a few kilos off you, then great. Otherwise, you need to look at building up good health. For weight loss, you could be prescribed a bath for good health, you could carry a mojo hand* designed to help you make good food choices, you could work a large candle to help your weight slowly melt away. You could carry a mojo to give you the mental strength to overcome your addiction to smoking, or a root like Master Root or High John the Conqueror wrapped in a petition to give you the strength and self control to quit.

There is a lot you can do within our traditions, even if we have to create new ways of working within those traditions to deal with modern problems. If we can do things within these traditions, then there really is no excuse to offer unsolicited health advice to people who are asking for an entirely different kind of help. Yes, hoodoo/conjure/rootwork or Vodou or one of the other ADRs or ATRs can help you. Yes, you can ask for help from a rootworker or a member of the priesthoods of one of those religions, and you should receive the help that you ask for.

Let’s stop judging, let’s stop telling people to ‘visualise’ or ‘detox’ or whatever, and let’s start actually helping. Our traditions have moved into the modern age, and it’s time we shared our knowledge with those who are dealing with modern problems and give them they help they are actually asking for

*We actually make and sell a weight loss mojo hand in the webstore.

Egg Cleansing in Hoodoo

Originally published February 4, 2015

The internet has had a detrimental effect on many traditional aspects of hoodoo, I’m sad to say.  On the one hand, it has helped spread the traditions and kept them alive for a whole new generation, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to learn even half of what I know without it.  On the other, it has become very easy to spread misinformation, which is then copied and passed off as ‘ancient’ or ‘traditional’.  One aspect of the tradition where I see this a great deal is with egg cleansing.

I often see the practice referred to as ‘limpia‘ or ‘egg limpia‘, which is not the corretc term at all.  The word ‘limpia‘ is simply the Spanish word for cleansing.  Hoodoo isn’t a Latin American tradition, Spanish is not the language in which we talk and pray and practice, so we should stick to the term ‘egg cleansing’.  It’s simple, uncomplicated, and sums up exactly what is happening.  No mystery, no fancy foreign name, jut plain and simple rootwork.

Egg cleansing in hoodoo is incredibly simple.  It’s very practical, very easy to do, and once it’s done it’s done.  Egg cleansing in other traditions can be more complex, and some of this had leaked into and been passed off as hoodoo.  Some people fel the need to invent whole new backgrounds for the tradition, particularly in the case of a book claiming egg cleansings originate in Mesoamerican shamanism.  Uh…  No.

The practice of egg cleansing in hoodoo derives, as far as I can tell, from two different traditions.  One is the grimoire known as ‘The Black Pullet’, a European book which was very popular in the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition, and contributed greatly to the hoodoo ideal of the magical black hen.  The second is the African practie of using a surrogate to take in all the negativity of a person, and destroying that surrogate.

In hoodoo, the egg used for cleansing should come from a black hen.  The egg is taken and rubbed down the body from head to foot, while prayers for cleansing and purification are recited.  Psalm 51 is commonly used for cleansing in hoodoo.  After the egg had been rolled down the body, it is thrown into a crossroads or at a tree.

People are talking a lot about divining the egg yolk at this point, but thats not a thing in hoodoo.  Some African Dispora Religions do divine the yolk, but that is not a part of the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition at all.  There is one yolk divination performed in hoodoo.  Once the egg is thrown at the tree or into the crossroads, it is examined to see if there’s any crap inside it.  If there are hairs, blood, black stuff, bits of baby chicken, or other grossness then teh cleansing is not complete.  In which case, you grab another egg and go again.  If the cracked egg looks normal, the cleansing has been successful.

Here are the steps again:
1. Take a fresh egg from a black hen
2. Roll it dwn the body of the person beaing cleansed from head to foot, while praying Psalm 51 or similar cleansing prayer
3. Throw the egg hard and far away, at a tree or into a crossroads
4. Check to see if the cracked egg is clear or dirty.
5. If the egg doesn’t look normal and has gross stuff in it, repeat the process until the egg is clear.
And that’s it.  It’s very, very simple.  A lot of hoodoo is very simple, very practical, and very accessible.  I understant why people would want to make things complicated: sometimes it’s just hard to accept that something could be so simple and yet so effective, so we feel like there must be more to it.  Well, there’s a lot more to cleansing in hoodoo, and there’s a lot more regarding black chickens, but that’s your basic egg cleansing.

Don’t go buy the book, don’t go find a teacher or egg limpia guru, just grab some black hen eggs and get to it.

“Just Burn Some Sage” … Spiritual Hygeine Part II

Originally published January 15, 2015

 

From watching the various groups on Facebook, and the various comments I get on my instagram account, it is clear to me that most people are not well educated on maintaining their own personal spiritual hygiene. Perhaps that is why this subject is so close to my heart, and why I feel the need to speak on it so often. It certainly comes up in my day-to-day life enough to keep me inspired to talk about it, and as long as the spirits keep putting this subject in front of me, I guess I will keep talking about it.

In most online communities that I belong to, I see people asking for advice on spiritual cleansing. People say that they feel they are cursed, that someone has claimed to have cursed them, they just feel unlucky, like there is a spirit in their home, negative energy, that their home is not peaceful, that they are surrounded by arguments, etc. It does not seem to matter what the belief in the cause is, the answer on most groups seems to be the same: “smudge yourself”, or “smudge your home” or “smudge everything”. It would appear that the idea of “smudging” with sage has become a cure all for even the most difficult problem. The dead have been sent to torment you… No problem, you can just smudge them!

This idea of being able to smudge away all of one’s problems is not found in Native American theology. While the very act of smudging with sage as a form of purification certainly does stem from certain tribes, it is not a “cure all” and nor should it be treated as such. To do so is worse than cultural misappropriation, because instead of just taking a piece of their culture and using it according to ones own ends, in this case it has been completely stripped of the spiritual foundation on which it was created and given power beyond any that the tribes that use smudging ever attributed to it.

From the Native American Pow Wow @ JSU, http://www.jsu.edu/news/july_dec2004/powwow.html

The act of smudging is a spiritual ritual in and of itself, and the ritual begins when the white sage is harvested. During the act of harvest, offerings are made to the white sage bush, and it’s task explained to it. It may then be mixed with other ingredients such as cedar and sweetgrass, or it may remain by itself; but you honour the sage by making it into the bundle that will be used for the smudging, either in silence, or with certain sacred songs. Once that bundle is prepared and prayed over, it is given to the medicine man or woman (or an elder who has been trained), along with a sacred fan which is prepared with many beads. This sage bundle is then lit and through sacred breath it is brought to a ember which can then be smudged.

The act of smudging is not a solo affair. There is the person to be smudged, the one that will do the smudging, and at least one drummer. The smudge is placed into an earthern bowl, or a bowl made of wood, and the fan moved to circulate the smoke. As this is done the medicine man or elder will sing the chants to Mother Earth, the various beings on the planet, the four legged and the six legged and eight legged, those with tails and fins, the stone people, and the ancestors. The drums will play, their sacred songs assisting to cleanse away all that is not a direct blessing from the Great Spirit.

As the smudge of the person is finished, the medicine man begins his sacred dance around the lodging, cleansing the space around and thanking Mother Earth for his time to stomp. With his smoke and his chant and his drum and his prayer bundles which he ties to the roof he makes the space anew, and he brings in the many blessings of the Great Spirit. With tiny medicine bundles he transforms old into new, and as he pours his final libations to Mother Earth and the spirits he does so knowing that the medicine is taking effect and change has occured.

What’s certain here, is that even for the cultures where smudging originated, it is not as simple as taking some white sage, or purchasing a premade “smudge stick” from your local new age store and wafting it around. As you know from reading my other blogs on this subject, even if you do manage to clear away whatever you are clearing, you still need to fill that space, that energy, with something new and beneficial.

The act of smudging is not limited to sage, nor is is limited to Native American culture. Certainly in Native American culture sage is not the only herb to be used when smudging. Different tribes have different formulae, although the most common I’ve heard of is sage with cedargrass or sweet grass. This combination is also excellent for welcoming back the beneficial spirits, or the good medicine, once the negative has been driven out. In hispanic cultures the act of smudging has continued with tobacco or cigars. A priest or priestess of one of the ATR’s, or an espiritista (a gifted medium) will take a cigar, light it, and once it is going they will reverse the cigar, place it it their mouths lit end first, and blow the smoke out of the clipped end. This smoke can be blown over an entire person, statue, or even room or home. This form of smudging can have many purposes, to cleanse, to protect, to empower, to bless and to heal.

Ogou Feray in possession of Houngan Liam using Tobacco Smudging as a form of healing.

What empowers this work, or this kind of smudging, is the spiritual force of the one performing the work. It’s not as simple as just blowing on a cigar. One must have absolute control of their spiritual force, what in Haitian Vodou we call Fos, and they must direct that force in accordance with the goal they are seeking to achieve. That is why this kind of treatment is performed by the spirits themselves when they come in possession.

The message I am trying to get across here is that cleansing and spiritual hygiene take work. They are not things to be taken for granted, and nor are they simple. A quick waft around of sage will not keep you spiritually clean. It will not remove negativity from you or your home, nor will it get rid of ghosts or other nasties… Sorry to burst that bubble. Combined with prayer, fasting, songs, and a strong will it may help, but that will very much depend on the skill of the practitioner.

So, having been so mean to the idea of a smudge fixing everything… What can I suggest to help you keep your home and environment spiritually clean? Well, the first step is for things to be physically clean. You can not be spiritually clean when you are surrounded by mess and clutter. It is very important that your home and environment be clean and well cared for. You can make the work of spiritual hygiene a part of your regular cleaning schedule. When you wash your floors, throw in some pine needles and lemon juice with the water and detergent. You can use a product like Chinese Floor Wash… I have to admit we use this in our house for everything. We have it diluted in spray bottles that we use for dusting and cleaning surfaces, we have it in it’s original form for cleaning stainless steel, and we put it in buckets of hot water for mopping floors. We will even spray it lightly on the carpets before vacuuming. The great thing about it is that it smells divine, and as soon as it’s cleaned out all the nasties it brings in good luck. It’s combination of Asian grasses is designed to bring luck and prosperity. Chinese Floor Wash is available from Kiwi Mojo… We believe in this product so much that we use it ourselves: we make it right here, with a lot of prayer.

If you don’t have the money to purchase products or herbs, another option is to head right to your pantry, pour a handful of salt into a bucket and get to cleaning… If you have a lemon tree add a couple of lemons as well, and your house will smell fresh. Just remember that while you’re cleaning you need to be focused on the cleansing… You need to get that mess out, and you need to be praying. A great prayer is to recite while you’re cleaning is the 51st Psalm. You can create your own prayer, or even a song. Just get in there, stay focused, use your force, build up a sweet and you’ll find your home spiritually clean and happy.

 

Spiritual Baths … What?

Originally published on January 4, 2015

Ayibobo la Sosyete,

One of the most common ways in which a Houngan or Mambo [a Preist or Priestess] of Vodou will perform treatments, healings, clear away ill luck, bring good luck, or perform many other works of magic will be through the performance of spiritual baths.  These baths are so second nature to us, that sometimes we forget that they are new to other people.  What we take for everyday knowledge is in fact not something that is that well known down here at the bottom of the world.  So, although we already have a page on the website which talks a little about spiritual baths, I thought it might be better to get into some of the practicalities of the bath, the hows and whys, so that those who are hearing about this form of magic for the first time can get some idea of what to expect.

I guess the place to begin is to explain what a bath is.  A bath is a mixture of herbs, waters, perfumes, colognes, flowers, fruits, and other items that are brought together to be administered to achieve a goal.  The goal of the bath may be cleansing, or the goal might be to bring luck, it might be to instill confidence, strength, or to wash away emotional issues, such as comittment phobias, it can be to bring love, or to help with a current love life situation, or it can be for healing.  There are other purposes as well, but this is a simple introduction.  Each bath is made from appropriate ingredients, sometimes recipes have been passed down through the Vodou family for generations.  We are lucky at Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale to have inherited many recipies from our spiritual mothers that have been used for Vodou for well over 200 years, and these recipes are still powerful and work well to achieve the end.

Contrary to the name though, a bath might not always be liquid.  There are two main kinds of baths.  The first is “dry baths” or those that do not involve water or liquid, but instead are made by using dry ingredients.  These may include putting certain ingredients, such as coins, various cuts of meat and other ingrediants into a brown paper bag and rubbing this over the body, there are baths where individual fruits are rubbed up the body starting at the feet and ending at the head, baths that involve various kinds of nuts and items such as toasted corn, and many others.  There are of course the baths made of waters and colognes, which are the “wet” baths.  Wet baths are the ones which will contain colognes, perfumes, alcohols, the juices of various fruits, often times various herbs, and oils.  These are administered over the body, however most do not require the recipient to be naked.  They are generally welcome to wear some light coloured clothing while the bath is administered.  They then remove those clothes, allow themselves to air dry and then dress in fresh new clothes of an appropriate colour.  There are exceptions to this rule, but they would be discussed in advance.

So, what can you expect when you come for a bath?  No matter what the bath is for, generally we will begin with some kind of ceremony.  A veve [ritual drawing to invoke the lwa] will be drawn on the floor, and opening prayers will be sung.  The Houngan or Mambo that is running the ceremony will welcome certain lwa, and then the bath itself will be created.  in some circumstances, such as if the Houngan or Mambo is coming to you, this will have been done in advance and the Priest will just bring the required bath that they have already made with them.  During the ceremony itself the bath will be created, with the various ingredients being added and mixed together.  This can sometimes take some time, as certain numbers of songs for various spirits must be sung to ensure that the bath has what we call “heat” or “fos” which is another word for spiritual power.  The herbs are crushed by hand, and waters and perfumes are added, altough some may have been partially prepared if the ingredients need to sit.  Typically we will ensure that the bath is warm as there is no need to take a cold bath.

Once the bath is prepared, the recipients of the bath will generally be seated outdoors weather permitting, in a private area.  The Houngan or Mambo administering the bath will then come with the bath mixture and say various prayers.  They will then administer the bath.  There are times when it is best that the lwa [spirits that we serve in Haitian Vodou] administer the bath themselves.  When this is required the lwa will possess the Houngan or Mambo and will then perform the bath.

So how is a bath administered?

Very few Vodou baths actually involve soaking in a tub.  You may be standing or sitting in a chair, and using a large white enamel cup, we will pour the bath over you, either begining at your head or shoulders, and going down to your feet, or beginning at your feet and moving up to your head.  The bath will be administered with a great deal of prayer and singing typically, and in some cases you may be given bunches of herbs to scrup with, or in the case of a dry bath, you may need to rub these into your body.  You will most likely to asked to focus on something particular while the bath is being administered as well.

When the bath is done, you will generally be shown to a private area where you can undress.  We then encourage you to air dry if this has been a “wet bath” before putting on the fresh new clothes.  There may be other instructions, but the Houngan or Mambo will give these out according to the bath.

Generally we will end the ceremony when you return with more singing.  Then the remains of the bath are collected up into a bag.

What happens with the remains?

This is very important.  In some cases, such as cleansing baths, you will be instructed to take the remains to a certain location and dispose of them in a certain way, other baths may require disposal in any number of ways, at a river, a crossroads, the beach, a forested area, or even burying in your back or front yard.  Sometimes the Houngan will dispose of the bath for you, but sometimes you must do it yourself to take full advantage of the bath.

What if I can’t come to a ceremony?

Some Houngan and Mambo will prepare baths for you that you can take yourself at home.  These are bottled and sent to you wth instructions on exactly how to take the bath, how to dispose of the remains, and any other instructions that might be relevant.  These baths are very good, although not as good as receiving the baths in person from a Houngan or Mambo.  If you are in a situation where you would like to take a bath, but can’t be present, then please let us know and we can discuss the options with you.

Some baths, such as cleansing baths, should be taken regularly.  For example, some people take a cleansing bath every month, or even more often, a Houngan or Mambo may teach you a recipe for this if you are a member of their house, or you can purchase regular cleansing baths from them.  Just remember that some baths require follow up baths, so a cleansing bath should always be followed up with the luck bath, to fill the areas you have cleaned out with luck.

Baths are a great way to maintain our spiritual and physical health, but, like our general physical health, they are not one off events.  A single cleansing bath is not going to keep you clean forever, because we are living being, interacting with the world.  A single luck bath won’t bring luck forever, because we collect ill luck from our environment.  In Vodou we combat this with our annual Christmas Baths.  Vodouwizan typically gather together on Christmas Day to undergo a series of cleansing baths that wash away all hinderance from the year gone.  Every ill thought, every negative emotion directed at us consciously or unconsciously, every negative experience, every bad thought, we wash them away, preparing for the new year.  On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th we typically get together for our annual good luck baths which sets us up for a year of success.  Of course, according to our encounters in life we would top these up … if I’ve worked with a particularly negative client, or if my husband has had an argument with his boss, then a quick cleansing bath might be in order, followed by a simple 3 or 7 ingredient luck bath … these top ups, like going to the doctor when you feel a cough coming, keep us spiritually happy and well and keep things running smoothly in our lives.


The Bath is prepared with initiated hands. All of the herbs are rubbed into the waters and perfumes by those whose hands have been prepared and heated through the sacred rites of Haitian Vodou initiation, called the Kanzo. Although these rites are a strict secret, what can be known is that the hands of the initiated are prepared to hold magical heat which in turn ensure the success of the magical work.

 

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

Poppets/Doll Babies in Hoodoo

Originally published September 11, 2013

 


Although hoodoo is a tradition that is primarily African American in its origins, the concept of poppet magic is actually European in origin. The concept was adapted from Germanic practices, and has had local herblore and personal concern concepts added to it to make it an American, hoodoo style piece of conjure.

You ideally take an article of clothing belonging to the person you’re working, and sew your poppet together from that. Poppets were typically always made from the clothing of the target, particularly used clothing and preferably from a sweaty smelly area of the body. If it’s love/lust work and you can get used underwear to make your poppet with, then yay you! If worn unwashed clothing was not an option, then plain fabric like calico was used, or whatever scrap fabric was to hand. Red flannel would also be common.

You then take the poppet and stuff it with Spanish Moss and any herbs you might want to use. If you manage to get personal concerns of the person you are working, but don’t have an article of their clothing to make the poppet with, you stuff them inside as well. If you have their clothing but it isn’t enough to make a poppet with, or if you want to be more discrete, you can stuff it inside the poppet instead of making the poppet with it.

The most important step is to baptise the poppet and bring it to life. You baptise it in the name of the person you are working, usually by saying, “I baptise you <name of the person you are working>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” repeated three times. This is accompanied by drops of whiskey, Hoyts Cologne, or holy water to properly baptise the poppet. This process of calls the person’s spirit into their proxy: the poppet.

From this point on, anything that is done to the doll is done to the person it is baptised for. You talk to it and tell it what you want. You can cradle it and stroke it and keep it close to you if you want to draw in your target. You can torture the poppet if you want to punish your target. You can bathe it and surround it with other works for healing or cleansing. You can place it somewhere safe for protective work.

When done, you can dispose of the poppet in an appropriate manner. Burial in your yard if you drew in a lover and he/she stayed, throwing it in a river if you want the person carried away from you, at a crossroads if you were doing bad things to it.

Now here’s what poppets/doll babies are NOT, because there is some confusion.

They aren’t voodoo dolls. Vodou doesn’t use proxies the same way hoodoo does, nor does Vodou use dolls the same way. Dolls in Vodou are commonly given to particular spirits as offerings, or made into repositories for a spirit. The common fallacy of the ‘voodoo doll’ is entirely non-African in its origins. As stated above, it’s European.

Poppets aren’t offerings to spirits, devotional objects, or things to go on an altar. They are TOOLS. They are made to be WORKED. They are created for a specific purpose, which is to be a proxy for a particular human being. You could make a doll as an offering I guess, but not a hoodoo style poppet/doll baby.

I’m not sure where the idea for making poppets in colours came from, but it isn’t a traditional thing, although the colour symbolism might be. Poppets aren’t made for ‘success’ or ‘money’ or ‘dark arts’. Poppets were typically always made from the clothing of the target or from plain fabric, and they are only ever used to work a PERSON. If they had any decoration at all, it was to make them physically resemble the target of the work. Having fabric ready to go in every colour of the rainbow just in case you needed to make a poppet isn’t something that would have happened in the big heyday of rootwork. Hoodoo originated with the poor, and stockpiling fabric isn’t something most people could have afforded. Much cheaper and easier to raid someone’s dirty laundry, or use whatever scrap fabric you had to hand.

Doll babies don’t work unless you baptise them, they exist solely as a means to work a person without them being physically present. They are an old and powerful form of work, and the concept has become very strongly entrenched in the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition. They rely on the Christian concept of baptism and the idea of sympathetic magic to work, but they serve their purpose well.

Vodou Etiquette 101

Originally published October 29, 2012

Haitian Vodou is built around strong families, strong societies, and strong houses. In order to maintain these strong communities, Vodou functions as a strict hierarchy on a foundation of politeness and respect.

There is a tendency amongst those who are new to Vodou or have found it only on the internet to act in a manner that is highly disrespectful to the Houngan and Mambo who are out there teaching. It isn’t that these people mean to be disrespectful, they often just don’t know any better. Also, western society has different standards when it comes to politeness and respect than does Haitian Vodou. It’s not too different, it’s not too difficult, but it’s often not mentioned or taught.

Here are some ground rules, some examples, and (hopefully) a guide to not accidentally putting your foot in it.

Firstly, titles. An Houngan is called Houngan. A Mambo is called Mambo. These people are the priests and priestesses of their religion. They have passed through the djevo. They have built good strong relationships with their lwa. They possess knowledge, learning and power. So we address them as ‘Houngan (Name)’ or Mambo (Name)’. Never just by first name, as this implies a familiarity and equality. If someone is teaching you, if they are an Houngan or Mambo and you are learning from them, you need to be respectful of their learning and experience. So you address them by title, as they are your superior in Vodou.

The titles ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ are also used in Haitian Vodou, but their use is limited to the particular circumstance of a spiritual child addressing their spiritual parents. The terms ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ are used as a term of respect in the hoodoo/conjure tradition, and it is respectful in that tradition to refer to someone as ‘Mama (Name)’ or ‘Papa (Name)’. Haitian Vodou is different. It is very impolite to call someone who is not your initiatory parent ‘Mama’ or ‘Papa’. It implies a relationship which does not exist. Just like we don’t call the teacher at school ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’, we don’t call our spiritual teachers by parental titles either. Once you are initiated into a house, however, you should address your Mama and Papa as ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’. Because not doing so would be impolite and disrespectful.

You can see why this is confusing to someone coming in from the outside. Once you’ve been living Vodou for a while and get the hang of it though, it becomes second nature.

An example of how Haitian views of politeness and Western ones differ is this: you always say hello to your initiatory Mama or Papa, even if they are in the middle of something. If your Mama is up to her elbows in laundry and talking on the phone at the same time, you still have to go say hello. If your Papa is involved in a conversation with several other people, you still go butt in and say, “hello Papa.” In western society, we would see it as rude to interrupt. In Haitian society, it’s rude not to.

It’s not just the terms you use to address Houngan or Mambo that are important, though. It’s your attitude too. Western society and education might teach us to question what we are told and to challenge our teachers. Hatian society says no! In Vodou, tradition is passed down from spiritual parent to spiritual child. The parent had to learn it the same way. It is passed down complete and intact, a system refined and set down in reglemen. Reglemen is the backbone of Vodou, the rules and the framework around which the practice of Vodou is built. When your spiritual parents or another initiated Houngan or Mambo teach you, they are passing down centuries worth of knowledge. You need to not only respect the teacher, but respect the teachings too. We don’t contradict Houngan or Mambo when they teach about Vodou, because they have knowledge from their family, their tradition and from the lwa themselves. They know what they are talking about. Two Houngan or Mambo of equal rank may debate points of difference between different houses and lineages, but someone ranking lower in the hierarchy needs to listen and to learn, and to thank the Houngan or Mambo that took the time to teach.

Remember that Vodou is a hierarchy. God, the ancestors and the lwa. Houngan and Mambo Assogwe, Houngan and Mambo Sou Pwen, Hounsi, and those that simply serve. Other titles come with other, particular jobs. At fet, everyone kisses the ground in front of the Assogwe. Even Assogwe have to kiss the ground in front of their initiatory parents, and will occasionally do so for those who are not if they have great respect for that person. You salute someone of a higher rank differently. You respect them and their role in the proceedings. This carries over into everyday life. It’s like a military chain of command, everyone shows respect to those who are above them in rank.

What it all comes down to really are a few basic rules. Address Houngan and Mambo by title. Be respectful of them as teachers, and of the subject matter that they are teaching. Be aware that rank exists, and that if you are new, just about everyone is going to outrank you, and act with that in mind. Say thank you when someone takes the time to teach you, help you, or answer your question. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it will in turn help others to respect you.