Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Vodou Meditation - Day 14 of Forty

Yesterday was not a good day. Between chasing Bodhi around the house, cleaning up after him and being bitten (in a friendly way, but still bitten) I was close to considering putting him on the curb with a sign that said free to a good home. (Just kidding.. but I can still think it, can't I?) That is not fair, he's just a puppy and this is what they do - they bite, they eat, they vomit, they poop in the house. Usually not all at the same time, but I guess yesterday was a good day to test the theory - and my patience. Which means, I did my prayers at my desk instead of in the temple.

I know how that sounds - how much effort does it take to go down the stairs and sit for ten minutes. Well, if you've ever had a toddler who is teething, then you know what I am dealing with. Bodhi is now 35 pounds of love and muscle. And he's five months old. We have at least another 7 months of "puppy" stuff to deal with. Yesterday I found a tooth in his water dish and one on the carpet. There's blood on my couch upstairs from his drool, and I now have six pairs of pants with holes in various unmentionable places. Between his muddy paws, his bloody mouth and his poop on the carpets (walked on by the other two dogs and then spread around), I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. But then, Bodhi comes over with that silly face, kisses me all over and hugs me. (Yes, poodles actually hug when they love you. Chelsea has been getting love hugs by the dozen from Uriel.)

So once I settled the mayhem yesterday morning, I sat here and did my prayers. It wasn't a bad thing, really. I had a clear sight on all three dogs. The pup was secured in my studio, gnawing on his bone. So I did the prayers here, asking Legba to open the door for a calmer afternoon. He must have taken sympathy on me - Bodhi slept for the rest of the day, the other two parked themselves in the front window and I got some actual work done. Amazing.

So now, I am setting my little altar space here for the duration. After all, how can you really concentrate when all you hear is yelping, barking, mad feet tearing around the floors and the smell of distress fills your nose? I am sure the Lwa would much rather I sit quietly and actually concentrate, rather than break at every line of prayer to yell at the dogs to be quiet.

I will keep to my schedule. And I will find a way to make it all work. That's my real job actually. The Great Mitigator of Craziness. At least, until The Donald gets home. Then he can take over for a spell.

Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria...

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 12 of Forty

I am enjoying my time with the Lwa. I've been saying my three Our Fathers and Three Hail Mary's - they seem to flow easier off my tongue now. As I lit candles for the Lwa this morning, I looked at the drums. Think I will begin sanding them on Saturday.

I always feel super-charged when I first get something for the Vodou house. Then my life interrupts and I get way-laid by things both large and small. This weekend, I was going to work on the drums. But the dogs were particularly persnickety, especially the little guy wanting out every hour or so. I'll be so happy when his teeth are finally done cutting in. Between the biting, the chewing and the intestinal issues, its a wonder anyone gets a puppy at all. But -- in between his bad behaviors, I can see the dog he will become and so its worth the muddy pants, marked up hands and chewed paper (lots and lots of paper -- he discovered the toilet tissue roll Saturday. Eesh.)

I have been studying the styles and colors of various drums I find on the Internet. Some are multicolored. Others solo color with writing. Papa Frisner had a gorgeous set he had made in Haiti -- red and blue (like the Haitian flag), with the drum veve painted across the center. Actually, I think his dad made them for him.  I remember that the young man from Troupe Makandal, Morgan Z played them on top of Frisner grave -- It was this trip that Frisner crossed into Ginen. I admire that young man for playing the drums for his Papa. And I believe that is the beauty of Vodou. It give sus the power to move on through our pain and our anguish, to see the other side of the waters. Ayibobo Morgan. Mesi anpil -- you did your Hountor proud.

I want to paint ours red for Legba, and then put the roses on the front. James wants me to put our logo as well. I am inclined to do so, but when we get the final third drum for the repertoire. We are missing our boula, the small drum that keeps the beat in a vodou performance. I have been looking for one, but money is an issue at the moment (at all moments lately, it seems). But I am sure when the time comes, it will be here and I will have the funds to purchase it. Meanwhile, I have sanding to do. When I get the final product done, I'll be sure to post pictures.

M di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria. Have a good ay y'all.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day Nine of Forty

I spent some time last night talking with a dear friend who is also a Vodouisant. I was sharing my inner stuff with her, when she gave me this wonderful piece of advice -- sometimes, one hits a plateau in the work. The real gift is to push through it until you begin your ascent again. That simple statement made all my pondering fall neatly into place this morning with my meditation and prayer.

I have been deep in conversation with Legba these past nine days. I recite my prayers and then, I sit, listening. It takes time. His voice is soft, and I spend a lot of time sussing out if its me or him speaking. That's the hard part. I personally believe that self-examination is and should be a practice for anyone claiming to be a priest. After all, we don't need any more demagogs in the world. But its one that leaves me at least, wondering and fussing.

But the idea of a plateau is not unusual, in any kind of work. I am an artist. It has taken me a long time to get ramped up again, to create artwork without the impetus of a client or need. To sit down and just allow my inner Muse her voice, and spend the day listening to music, as the art flows off my hands has been amazing. But getting to this point has been a journey to say the least.

Oakland ceramics in 1970 - my UConn days  looked just like this group
 I was trained in ceramics (sculpture was what they called it in the 70s, but its ceramics, nonetheless.) This photo is from California, but it could easily have been UConn in 1975.  I also minored in graphics which saved me -- no one was hiring itinerant ceramicists in the 70s when I graduated. Form and function took a back seat to shape and shadow. I studied metallic glazes, which was more chemistry than art, and hand lettering for signs. I have been blessed to have had an amazing career as a graphic designer. But that was another life ago.  Now, I make art for myself and the Spirits. I don't worry about who likes it or not. The Lwa direct the pieces as they see fit.  Don and Chels find much to be amazed at as well.

So why am I questioning myself so much? I guess when one gets to my age (58, to be 59 this year), the lack of oversight suddenly gains importance. After all, I am without supervision. Sounds corny I know, but who do I go see about my stuff, when so many come to me for theirs? When did I become the grown up?

I figure as long as I question myself, I should be okay. My mother used to say its okay to question -- just don't answer. And the Lwa are more than willing to step up and hammer me should I get off track. Legba is always saying "eyes on the prize". I am not sure He means a "prize" per se. More like goal, a much more attainable thing in my view.

M di twa Pater, twa ave Maria - and back to the table,  my clay is calling and I have Pez totems to build. Yes, Pez, the candy containers. They are the current aesthetic from the mind of my painting teacher, Michael Demeng. Demented, woozy, crazy man -- but fiercely talented. And more than willing to share his stuff with the world. My guess is he probably questions himself daily, given His current aesthetics. And he still makes glorious art, teaches all over the world and finds time to be husband and a father. I can find much to emulate with him. Pez. Check. Later. Ayibobo.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day Seven of Forty

Today is Papa Don's birthday. I have been wishing him a happy birthday for 30 years now. Doesn't really seem all that long. He left for work this morning with his usual smiles and hugs. I am a lucky girl for having him in my life.

I met Don on a blind date. Yes, those things do happen and yes, sometimes, serendipity goes along for the ride. We met in June, started dating in September and he asked me to marry him 30 years ago on this date. It was in a small tavern in Vermont - we were skiing for the weekend. The entire bar went silent, as he got down on one knee and popped the question. No pressure there! When I said yes, we drank for free for the rest of the night.

So as I said my prayers this morning, I thanked Legba for opening the door for us to meet. After all, Don is from Florida. I was living in Connecticut. What were the chances that a Southern boy and a Northern girl would get together, much less stay married for 30 years?

I could feel Legba smiling. I am a risk taker. Not one for letting a chance go by to experience something, I always jump first and asked later. Don is a risk taker, too, but he likes to hedge the bet, as he says. So it's a good match -- the free wheeling crazy artist paired with the critical thinker/analyst.

There was a TV commercial for Hertz rental cars that pretty much sums up our relationship (and we did go to Mexico for our Honeymoon, and experienced this for real, too...):

Today, as I sat with the drums and Legba, I am grateful to have my Brake. Otherwise, I am sure I'd have gone off the cliff by now. And I would not be here, writing about it for all of you. Ayibobo.

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day Five of Forty

Its been a tad busy around here the past two days. Between the water heater tank splitting open, the upgrades to the computers and the usual mayhem that seems to reign with three dogs, I've been off my game. I have still meditated, though. It's interesting - I still find time to squeeze in a five minute meditation even with all the brouhaha happening around here. In fact, that's what I'd like to share with you -

As some of you may know (and others not), I live with three dogs, one husband and one goddaughter. This may not seem like much of a crowd, but judging by our trash, the volume of dishes that get loaded nightly into the washer and the laundry, you'd think there was a small army encamped in this house. I am also a mambo asogwe in Haitian Vodou.  That means, I live a life of service. Between monthly Prayer Services and Setting Lights in the temple with around 6-8 folks, forty people every other month for the fets, and the usual drop ins, stop-overs and clients, the traffic here warrants a daily vacuuming of the first floor and a wipe down of the bathrooms. And I do all of this myself. Not to mention the banking, the laundry, the shopping and the cooking. So when I have a moment to breathe, I try to do a little writing, some artwork and take a shower. And I am not always successful at attaining all three of those things in one day.

This past weekend saw us complete our annual taxes (personal, business and 501c3), entertain the couple whose marriage we will be officiating at come April and plan a little off time for ourselves this summer. Which means, I did not have time to head down to the temple for a private meditation with the Lwa. I did it in my bedroom, after I showered and dressed, before heading back downstairs for the next round of Let's be a Priest.

I began by apologizing to Legba and Company for my slight in not being in front of the altar for the prayers. I did not rush. I took my time, saying all the prayers three times, in both Creole and French. And I again apologized, saying I was not ignoring them, just trying to juggle a very busy schedule. I had a strong sense of peace accompanied by the usual light headedness I experience when Spirit departs.  I checked to make sure I had all my paperwork in order, picked up my notebooks and headed back downstairs to see the marriage couple. Claire has been a member of the sosyete for a long time, serving as both visionary when I needed her to do so, and as our Medsin Fey for our initiations. She and her fiancee Mark were waiting in the dining room, and we greeted each other with hugs and kisses.

And that's when the magic happens. As we were having coffee, chatting and going over wedding logistics, I mention how happy I was to be involved in the wedding. Claire looked at me smiling and said, "Of course, you are the only one I would ever consider doing this for us." Mark, her fiancee, nodded vigourously in agreement. I had to hold back my tears.

Because even when I feel like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as I can to stay in the same place, someone or something reminds me why I do this in the first place.

I will keep my meditations going. The gifts of this Lenten season have been amazing so far, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me from here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day Three of Forty

It's been a busy morning. Bodhi lost a tooth and bled all over my coat that he's chosen to sleep on. My new coat. My soft, furry, beige coat, of course. I climb down the stairs to put it into the washer and glance over at the altars. Legba waits, patiently. I do the rest of my usual chores, then head down to share rum and thoughts.

I sing through Legba's songs. The drums ring to my voice. It's eery how they do that, but I am not frightened; I make a mental note and keep going. I sing for Hountor and the drums really ring. Ok, the way is open.

I am easily distracted today -- my Lwa bottles are going well, and I promised myself that when I finished my morning tax work, I would spend the afternoon painting. I focus back into my mind and do the breathing exercise from my shamanic days. In, hold, become aware of that stop; out, hold; become aware of that stop. Three times through and I shift again to the dogs moving upstairs. Again, refocus. This harder than I thought. Breathing, thinking, listening.

Legba once said if "you want more, then I expect more." I thought he was kidding. Honestly, I did. I didn't put any kind of terms on it, I just said I' like to be known for something before I die. Done, he replied, with the cavaet of "wanting more." I should have known better, but I was young, I had just come through my Saturn return -- what did I know of bargaining with Spirit?

So now I sit in a beautiful temple, with a pair of new drums I am trying to consecrate through these 40 days of prayer and I keep letting stray stuff wander through my mind. What kind of priest am I? Can I be so easily led astray if I can't even focus for 10 minutes a day?

Ugh. Focus. Breathe. I begin the three Hail Marys, and the three Our Fathers. I do them in English, as I have a better rhythm for saying them that way. I sail through Mary and then I launch into the Our Father -

"Notre pere, ki ou dans ceil"....wait a minute, where did that come from? I try again, to say it in French and I actually mange to get to the "donne nou aujourdhui notre pan de se jou" before my brain farts and I lose the thread. Damn. But I get the message. Learn the French, so you can keep the focus. Got it.

I make a mental note to keep my book downstairs. I will read those prayers every day, three times a day, until I can do them off book. Mesi Legba. I tip rum and give thanks. Pat the drums and head back to the computer. I can do this. Yes, I can.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Mediation - Day Two of Forty.

Bodhi woke me this morning by climbing into bed and catching his toe on the cage in the process. Between the howling, the peeing (from being frightened by the toe catch) and the licking of my face for rescuing him, there was no sleep at 2AM. After cleaning up the bed, walking him outside and bedding everyone back down, I couldn't sleep. So I took off for the temple to meditate. Why waste the moment.

I sung for Legba, and then Hountor, asking that he be with us, the drums and Jim's hands. The energy was clearly present in my body. I touched the drum heads, and they were vibrating all by themselves. I must admit, this was a thrilling moment as I have been having one of my wandering the dark times lately.

Having spent a full year working hard, celebrating fets, leading marriages, teaching, performing acts of grace (like Lave Tets) and solving client issues, I am still left wondering if I am doing this right. After all, no one told me how to do all this. Yes, I learned the Reglemen of Vodou, but the rest? All that I have spent 28 years figuring out on my own.

It's not like I haven't had good teachers, I have. It's just that they had many, many other people to be concerned about. It is the downside I suppose, to being a part of a large organization. I was in the Servants of the Light, an occult school located on the isle of Jersey, in England. My teacher wasn't exactly a hands-on leader. She is a brilliant occultist.  There were lots of lectures on esoteric topics both exotic and strange.  Plenty of far out esoteric rituals and dramatic initiations. But actually getting down to "leading" a group? Zilch. Probably because she didn't actually 'lead' a group. She was a teacher, a leader of knowledge and the mind, not the body and soul.

That's where Mambo Shakmah comes into the picture. She did lead a group - a fantastic collection of men and women who were superb at ritual, commanding in ceremony and who supported Mambo Shakmah by following her lead in all that she did. From Shakmah, I learned the arts of leadership, commanding spirits, directing a group in wondrous ritual and combining it all to make Magick occur in conformity with Will.  Shakmah was the real deal.

But Shakmah is gone. I am alone in my temple. My congregation is far across the globe (okay, country). And I sit, singing by myself, to the altar that is dark at the moment. The Lwa are resting. One small light remains in front of Legba's place, between the drums.

I tip rum onto the floor and ask Legba to open the door for me. And I invite Hountor to come forth and sit with me.

The drum heads continue to vibrate beneath my hands. I lay down a small, steady beat. Nothing as glorious as James can do - he is the master. I am not even a student. I am a false player, a n'er do well in the world of drums. But I can do this one beat. I learned it from Babatunde Olatunji. He called it his walking beat. I play; the drums respond. I play a bit more (I don't want to wake Don or the dogs). The drums vibrate and I can hear the bell tone Jim dislikes about these new heads. I smile - the drums are singing to me.

I sit with my hands on the drums, feeling the heads vibrate, feeling Hountor as He plays through the heads, until He departs, leaving me with just the scent of rum and the ringing in my ears. I dogwe to the altars, leave one candle lit and head back upstairs. It's time for bed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Mediation - Day One of Forty.

I've decided to blog about Lent. Not because I am Catholic (I was raised Catholic, then took a left at Joe Campbell and went off to seek myself.) No, I am going to blog about doing 40 days of Vodou penance.

Not mushwa penance. Folks have been very good about not taking mushwa of late. I am going to do forty days of meditation, prayers and offerings to the Lwa. And share my experience with you all. I should be able to do what I tell others to do. It's only fair I do it as well. And as an Asogwe my penance ought to be, more public, shall we say? No flogging or hair shirts, but at least coffee, rum and a song each day.

I began today by lighting candles for the krewe de Vodou down in the temple. The place is a mess -- we still haven't taken down Legba's table as yet. And I have drums to re-finish. Hmm...ok, I have lots of penance to do. Plus, the water heater died last night. No hot water. Made me think of a story about Mother Theresa's sisters asking to have their water heater removed, as they wanted to live like the poor they were serving. I am not that holy. I need hot water - especially since I have this little 5 month old pup who still pees in the house.

Ok, so the water heater crew has left and I can go do my Vodou penance. I kept it simple. I lit a candle to the drums and set out a cup of coffee for the them. Legba in his guise as St. Anthony is still mounted in the centered. I like that place, actually. I sang for Legba and then for Hountor.  Felt calm and sweet.

Day One - done. Not so hard. See y'all tomorrow for Day Two.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras, Vodou style

The Baron keeps knocking on my head, reminding me that this is the week he strode through my family and scooped up the people I love.  It's also Mardi Gras, and I am off by a week or so. I used to be much more up on these things -- I'd order King Cake, set out my beads and sing When the Saints come Marching. But today I have workmen in the house, the dogs are all fussy (because there are workmen in the house), and it slipped my mind, until I got a Happy Mardi Gras note from a friend in New Orleans.

The month of February is a very interesting time of year for me personally. It's a mix of Love magic, birth charts, celebrations of life, and death memorials.  It all begins with Mardi Gras, surely the reason we all know New Orleans. Mardi Gras is mirrored with the Mummers here in Philadelphia. Only we do the parades, drinking and festivities in line with the turning of the New Year. The Mummers were always a treat for me as a child growing up in Connecticut. I loved seeing the parade on TV (when it was broadcast), and ogling the sequined costumes. All that color and flash was made me woozy with delight. I still watch the Mummers every year now that I live in Philadelphia.

Mardi Gras and Mummers are followed by the Lenten season, heralded by Ash Wednesday. My paternal grandmother died on Ash Wednesday. Such an odd thing to have stuck in one's head -- especially since I was all of 10 when she passed. But somehow the date stuck. And the week that follows was to become a personal journey of enlightenment, sorrow and joy for me.

I married a February baby. His birth date is the 19th. He asked me to marry him on Valentine's Day. So the 14th through the 19th is our personal Love Holiday. But then, there's the 18th in there. I try to offset the oddity of the memory by pointing out to myself, that it was Ash Wednesday and not just the 18th of February. Some years it works - others it doesn't.

Ten years ago, when my dad died, he passed on the 18th of February as well, although it wasn't Ash Wednesday. I remember being in such pain over his death. My husband cancelled an important business trip to be with me. There was no Valentine's Day or birthday celebrations for us that year. However, I did make the mental note of two ascensions on the 18th.

So each year, I am torn at this time. Do I celebrate Mardi Gras? Make a big deal out of my Love's birthday? Or honor the death of my paternal lineage. Hmmm... perhaps its time to do all of it together.

It all comes to roost for me in New Orleans. The Crescent City, river bound, Plutonian ruled, ringed with cemeteries, death and decay. No wonder I am so attracted to that place.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day to feast up, eat up and pig out in general (if you're Catholic). I have decided to make a King Cake for my Parents and Grandparents. I will toast them with Anisette and Coffee (called Coffee Royal in our Italian household). And I will make a big deal out of my love's birthday. He missed one ten years ago for me. I will be sure he doesn't ever have to do that again.

The Baron is nodding. It'll be His time soon enough. Mardi Gras ends to night at midnight and we descend into darkness for 40 days. Time to scrub the temple, wash the altars and tend to the dead. Light candles, leave offerings and be still. I can do this.

But for now, les bon temp roule gang - the Saints will be marching soon enough.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gede in NOLA

Anyone else get all the cultural references last night on the Super Bowl broadcast? Seems like Gede has become the ubiquitous spirit of the world now that he's won the Superbowl.

The evening was set with Stevie Wonder playing a Voodoo priest to Zoe Saldana's slinky self. They reminded me of Danbala and Aida Wedo - Stevie in his white suit and top hat, Zoe in whatever she was wearing. They made quite the pair. They had a Neil Gamin-esque turn to them. Or even a Hellblazer/Papa Danbala like turn. Call it what you will, someone did their homework.

The first showing was a guy going to see Wonder's persona. He makes an offering of a beer to the bartender. Only after accepting the beer, does the bartender open the way for the guy to see Wonder. Nice turn.

The second showing was two men taking a chair to Wonder for luck. Again, the required offering of a case of beer to the Gatekeeper allows the two entry to Wonder's presence. Nice turn again.

But what I really dug was the Ravens team, in their Gede get-up. Black leggings, white shirt with purple and black touches. Very Gede indeed.

And given  hat they were playing in New Orleans was even more surreal. New Orleans (by virtue of its charter as a 'birthdate') is a city ruled by Pluto, the planet of change, decay and renewal. So here we have a team of Gede dressed guys, playing in a city that is basically an underworld, for a trophy of entropy (someone always has to lose, right?) and renewal (and some one has to win). Very Plutonian indeed.

Now if only Wonder had presented the trophy, we'd have had a complete cycle. Can't have everything.