Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Vodou Meditation for Maundy Thursday

Mi di twa pater, twa ave Maria --

Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum and means to declare or state with purpose. It's the root of the word "mandate". Today is the Catholic observation of the Last Supper. At this dinner, the Christ is said to have commanded his Apostles to "Love One Another." As a Vodou adept, I find great meaning and depth is this statement.

We function in the sosyete as a family. As such, there is the usual squabbling and pouting. But there is also great love. I have heard members defend one another over things big and small. I have heard  laughter, confession, compassion and sympathy. But what I always hear is Love. Despite our differences, we have learned to find commonalities and risen above the rest.

When the Christ made this statement, he wasn't commanding a full on orgy. He was saying that through Love, you can find compassion, forgiveness, devotion, communion. Love is the great believer, the totally level playing field upon which we can scrabble and scamper, and still find one another through the dust and dirt we stir up.

Love is the what the great Lwa have for us. I am sure there are times when your Met Tet is just shaking their head and calling for a tall glass of rum on ice. But most of the time, I know They have great love.

If you've been reading this blog, then you know I am devoted to our small pack of loving dogs. Two large poodles and little shih tzu. They rough and tumble all over the house. I am not a dog owner who believes in separating my animals from my life. The dogs have full command of every room, surface and piece of furniture. And it delights me to no end, to watch their antics. I can spend hours just sitting with a cup of coffee and laughing as they chase one another around the dining room table, up the front staircase to the bedroom. There, I hear the bang-boom-crash of their feet as they run over the bed, down the hallway and then down the back staircase. Their sheer joy in life is worth every moment of calamity and every bit of dirt they leave behind.

I feel that's how the Lwa think of us. Like crazy-assed toddlers who whirl and twirl out of control, only to veer wildly back on track, before derailing somewhere down the line. And They do it because They love us. Unconditionally. Unequivocally. Without prejudice and with deep compassion and interest. Like me with my dogs, I can picture the Lwa sitting and watching the human condition, laughing at our choices, empathizing with others and delighting in all it's craziness.

We give the Lwa things we think They want - food stuffs, candles, incense. But the Lwa simply want us. They want Love, Empathy, Devotion -- just like us.

If we truly believe the adage of "As above, so below," then the Lwa are us, just a few steps further along the path. They do not own the world. They each own their own Truth as it were -- Ogoun owns bravery and strength.  Erzulie owns unrequitted Love.  Simbi owns wisdom and intelligence. Azaka owns food, harvest and hunger. And Legba owns the ability to see, hear, touch, feel and understand all these things. When we Love the Lwa and fully engage with Them, we get to share a bit of Their truth. Like a sip of nectar, it nourishes our soul.

The Lwas were commanded as well. When They came into existence, God commanded Them to Love us unconditionally. And so They do. They simply want us to return the favor in kind. Not much to ask, really.

On this Maundy Thursday, I said my prayers before the altars, and closed all the lights. I put out the candles, I covered the altars. I will resurrect them again on Easter Sunday. But for now, I accept and obey the command of Love. I love the Lwa enough to give them a break. And I look forward to working with Them again in the future.

Mi di twa Pater, two Ave Maria....

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Four Circles On-Line Class in May

Long distance learning has its advantages. On one hand, you don't have to get dressed up to attend class. You can do it from the privacy of your bedroom or kitchen. And on the other hand, neither do I.

I've had a lot of folks asking me about long distance training. One poor fellow in the Ukraine has been following me for a year. I finally got all the video pieces completed, and they've been languishing on my computer now for months. I thought I am not going for a Pulizter Prize, I just want to get the good word out about Vodou! So I decided to launch my classes, the world be damned and see what happens.

If you go to this link (, you will find a FAQ on the upcoming class. It's going live on May 15, 2013. There's 120 minutes of proprietary video. There's homework assignments (fun stuff, no papers or lengthy essays, I don't have time to read those!) And a vibrant Yahoo group (still secret, so there''ll just be students myself and my Teacher's Aide) to help make the group feel connected.

Each week, I'll answer questions via a new video I'll post to the secret server. And we'll be able to mark the conclusion of the event via a video conference (I am still working on the details of that one).

So do let me know what you all think of this, and we'll step into the new fangled world of LD learning for the religion of Vodou. As a Legba child, I guess it was gonna happen sooner or later, and through me!

Monday, March 25, 2013

My Vodou Meditation - Day 34 of Forty

I am late writing - I've been ill, and off my game a bit. But things have settled more or less, so I can begin my writing again. I still did my meditation and prayers, even while sick. Funny, it brought me great comfort each morning. It is such a good routine, that I feel compelled to continue this daily prayer cycle.

But there's been an even more interesting turn of events. For those who don't know, the leadi\er of a sosyete in Vodou is called the house Poto Mitan. That's because all the spirits served in a sosyete often dance in the head of the leader. As I am the defacto leader (along with a big heaping help from Papa Don), the spirits that dance in my head are the ones most often fetted here. And there's been an uptick shall we say, in the quality of service and spiritual zeitgeist at Sosyete du Marche.

The last fet for Loko was a good example. We had a small, tight crew. We sang lustily into the night, and we stayed focused, on point and on time. No need to drag the night along, we hit each spirit's with all the songs we had and moved on the to the next one. The few possession states that took place were given food, drink and allowed to stay - until the next spirit was sung for. No one was chased out, but we decided to keep the Lwa train on schedule. It was a tight, compact five hours of prayer, songs and dance. And when we finished, we realized something amazing had happened.

The group felt incredibly close. It was as if we fell in love with one another for the first time. There was no drama (there really never is, but this night felt especially clean and straight). There was support, love, devotion - in short, everyone present received a numinous experience out of the working. Later, as we sat with coffee and cake, everyone spoke about the connection they felt to spirit, to the house as a whole and to me as the mambo. I said, I think its due to my speaking with Spirit each day.

There are lots of places on the Internet that will talk about the power of prayer. But you do not often see it related to Vodou. Vodou is often (always) talked about as either a system of practice, thus reducing it to it's basic framework and making it sound like folk practices. Or as a beleaguered and outdated mode of animism, which is worse. But no one really know the the truth about Vodou.

Vodou's beauty and power lie within the ability of its adherents to speak directly to the Higher Self. Define that anyway you please - Met Tet, Guardian Angel, Contact, Spiritual Mentor. However you call it, it is the Egregore of Vodou that allows one to commune directly with the "Powers That Be." And in the communion, find sustenance, peace, love and deep connection. When those elements are then presented to the group as a unified whole, through the egress of the Mambo leading the worship, then the connection thrums like a tight cord, bringing Divine revelation and messages directly to the congregation present. Ayibobo - now that's magic in my book!

I have 6 more days to say my twa Pater, twa Ave Marias each morning. I may just keep doing them, once we get past Lent and Easter. I will be setting a big feast for the Lwas next Sunday morning. I invite you all to join me by placing food and drink before your Ancestors, and thanking them for their love, their lives and their on-going life lessons. And I thank my husband, my godkids and my family for their support, their love and their devotion. Without them, I couldn't do what I do either. Ayibobo. Ashe. Amen.

mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Vodou Meditation - Day 28 of Forty

I am deep in commissions this week. Apparently, former clients have passed along my artwork, and are now looking for more. Ayibobo. Thank you Legba for bringing them back this way!

So why do I always feel like I am not doing enough? I just read a blog by someone I follow. He's speaking at colleges, running an on-line class (52 classes, one each week - yikes!). And he's got not one but two blogs and a forum! When does he eat and sleep? I often wonder of this is what I should be doing, instead of painting spirit art and running after three energetic dogs all day. Another friend is running a botannica, directing a large community center for healing arts and still has time to host a vodou service every Saturday night. EVERY Saturday. She makes me feel like a slug...(and she's the same age as me..I feel even more like a slug.)

I do my best, but it seems its never quite enough. I write this blog, I record songs, I've written two books and I have two more in the works (so as to take advantage of my initiate's offer to edit while on sabbatical from her real job); and of course, the ever present nudging of spirit to paint, sculpt and create for them. I feel like I am behind the 8 ball all the time.

But then, this morning as I did my Lenten prayers, I had a small epiphany. This is what I am supposed to be doing. Some of us minister to the greater public with classes, lead large services and build strong centers where folks can find their place in the world. It seems that I fall in the other camp. I lead a small group, I minister to solo individuals, and I try to help folks one on one find themselves. Niether is better than the other. And both have their purpose in the world.

My mediation this morning was numinous. I felt Legba's presence in a solid, golden way. His energy was pulsating, brilliant and smooth. He gently laid his head upon mine and not so much spoke, as thought into my own mind. The response was personal and gave me great insight. I now know where I am to go and why. The clarity is comforting.

As I work through these forty days, I am amazed at the energy that has built. People said Saturday night, the Lwa's presence was strong and palatable. Partly because we've not gathered in several months. And partly due to me performing this daily exercise. After all, I am the Poto Mitan of this house. The spirits that move here, dance in my head. They reflect like diamonds onto the house membership, but they come through me and my filters. As I've worked through these days of prayer and silence, I feel deeply connected to the Lwa. And They fill me with energy and love.

The works calls to me and I must go to refill my containers of water and assemble my paint supplies. Today, I work on a special commission for a client. I will give my hands to spirit. Let them guide me in making art that speaks to their purposes and desires. It seems to be the more fulfilling way. And the art speaks for itself.

Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 26 of Forty

I am very excited - we are going to be attending the KOSANBA conference in October. It is a chance to be all Vodou all weekend. Rub elbows with folks I have written back and forth with, but have never met. And to reconnect with some very dear family members in the Boston area.

Kosanba ( is headed up by two of my favorite Haitian scholars - Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and Claudine Michel. LeGrace Benson is also a member of the board. I am hoping she will have her book on Haitian art finished by then. Mambo Nicole from the Temple of Yehwe (Papa Max Beauvoir's sosyete) will also be attending. These are the current and living elders of my religious tradition. I will be very honored to meet them and spend some time in their ashe.

As I said my prayers today, I felt the energy around me rise and bring gooseflesh to my arms. It feels like something big is coming. I hope to play whatever small part in, that the spirits designate for me. Ayibobo!

We served Loko and Ayizan last weekend. Although Danbala is the heavy hitter for March, (syncretized with St. Patrick's Day on the 17th), it is also Loko's feast day this month (coinciding with St. Joseph's day on March 19th). But as that date falls during Holy Week, we celebrated it earlier in the month. The herbs are doing well, and the Lemon tree still smells delightful. Hopefully, I can get it out onto the porch by the end of the month.

No earth shattering revelations today - just a reminder of how wonderful life can be when you are following your bliss.

Think I'll take this moment of quiet to pour some rum and give thanks for all that I have.

Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Vodou Meditation - Day 24 of Forty

Grieving is a process, one that cannot be rushed for any reason. I know this intimately - I had both parents and my in-laws follow one another into the light three years running. At times I felt like I was underwater, barely making choices. I would surface for a moment, then grief would weigh me back down like a sinking stone. There were highs and lows every day, sometimes every hour.  In time, I was able to let go of the lows, my grief and my folks, and found my way back to the surface of life. But it took time. I also believe grieving requires a space to happen in, a safe place that allows you to be nutured and supported through the process. That's what belonging to a temple or house of worship should offer you. A sanctuary where you can allow your mind to find ease. That's the goal of our Temple here at Sosyete du Marche, Inc.

This weekend, we served Loko and Ayizan. There were bright flowers, scented herbs, bushy palm trees and a gloriously scented lemon tree in full bloom. We were a small crowd, practicing our singing, laughing and enjoying the day together. Early in the afternoon, one of my housi brought a friend who's husband had died just four days prior. I was assured the woman was in a good place, and that she was processing the death adequately. I agreed to her being here. I thought perhaps a sweet and easy fet would help her frame her grief in a better light.

But this is Legba's house, and one thing the Great Gatekeeper does very well, is open you up to clear out what is no longer required or needed. Legba makes you face yourself, so you can become the best 'You' possible. When that woman stepped over our threshold, Legba grabbed her by the back of the neck and thrust her face down into her anger and loss. She barely made it an hour, before she was overwhelmed by the pain and the grief of her husband dying. I saw her standing on the front lawn looking very brittle, quietly crying, Before I could move on it, she came back in, and with a sobbing apology, asked the housi to take her home.

As my housi gathered their things for the ride, I stepped out onto the sunroom to say good by. The woman reached for me, but I demured, and said, "No, don't touch me unless you want more of the same." I explained a little bit of what was happening - what the spirit that rides in my head can do to you, if you are not prepared. And that it wasn't time for her to be out and about. She nodded, crying hard and apologizing. She said she wanted to be in a spiritual place, but had no alternatives. I told her there was no need to apologize, and that she was welcome back in a year, after she had done her work. She said thank you, and then left.

We went on for the day. I placed her husband and her into Maman Brijit care. She will need sustenance as she goes forward. And good judgement. I pray for them both - that one go forward into the light where he can do Bon Dye's bidding. And that the one left behind find solace in the children and her work.

And I sang three Our Fathers and Three Hails Marys without a miss. Mesi anpil Papa Legba, mesi anpil.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 20 of Forty

I have been musing over a recent conversation. The individual in question said there is only one ticket to heaven and no one can come along for the journey. I believe they were speaking about themselves. And that any spirit who tries to come along is a hindrance, a 'poison' I believe is the word they used. This gave me pause - why would "poison" be the word for describing a beautiful Intelligence that has been in company with you from your inception as a enlighten soul?

I found myself deeply moved by this conversation - but I have been moving in a certain direction for some time now. I recently came through my second Saturn Return. Read Elizabeth Spring's excellent essay on the second Saturn Return here. Mine has been a firming up of my resolutions and thoughts on the sosyete, my role as a Mambo Asogwe and my part to play in the resurrection of Haiti. I am intrinsically tied to the island, so I must play the part that I was destined for.

My brother Joel recently wrote a post about the role Haiti has for Vodouisants. His thoughts were that being in the history of Haiti or at the very least, understanding Haiti's history can give you a real grounding in why Vodou is the religion of the island. It was a religion that helped the Ancestors survive. It gave the servitors hope, healing and health, when they were mired in despair.

But it is not the religion of slaves, as some people think. If you think that way, then you don't know Haitian history. Because it was Vodou that freed the Haitian people from their oppressors. This is a religion of freedom, power and self-knowledge. This religion speaks to the intrinsic value each human being carries within themselves. This faith speaks to the glories of God; the ability of mankind to touch upon that glory; and the promise of balance, health and healing that we are all deserving of. If we can only agree on one point, let us agree that this is the faith that birthed a nation of free people.

Today, I do not feel badly about the loss. People come and people go. It's the magical egregore of the group mind shedding what is no longer necessary. Dolores (my teacher) once had a fabulous visual she used to explain Egregores. She said that there is only so much room for the spirits to reside in your head. So they routinely clear out the old, the outdated and outmoded, to make room for new, fresh things. That includes ideas, practices and people.

And clearly, as one leaves, four more are coming in. Perhaps, this Legba's way of making room for new folks. So be it. It is His house after all. I am merely the Housekeeper. Today is day 20 of my 40 days of Lent. And so here is my gift - clarity on the role I play in this house and in my life. Ayibobo. Right now, the Housekeeper has chores to get ready for the weekend.

Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 19 of Forty

This was not the Sunday I had planned. The Boyz had been tussling all morning. Like two out of control stunt actors, they had been careening off the coffee table, over the couches and into plants. The rough housing came to an abrupt halt when Uriel began to choke. The three humans in the house went to see what had happened. Long story short, Uri had a nylon stocking he hand nicked out of Chelsea's room and had been playing tug-o-war with Bodhi, when Bodhi suddenly let go. The stocking snapped back into Uri's throat and he forced it down so he could breathe.

This facilitated a slightly panicked run to the vet's and an emergency vomit session, which fortuantely brought the stocking back up. $200 poorer, we returned home to keep an eye on our big boy and make sure he didn't have a repeat episode. All the attention has made him a very loving dog again.

But it made me realize what's real and what is not real. I spend a lot of time with spirit. I pray, I say the Priye daily. I am alone most of the day - the houngan heads out to work at 7am and doesn't get home until 7pm. That's a long day, with just three pups, myself and the Internet for entertainment. I am human - I get side-tracked very easily. I surf things that interest me (nephilium, imported perfumes, Middle Eastern Qawali singers...I have odd tastes). And I spend a lot of time making art for the public and spirits. Which is to say I spend a lot of time in my own head. Sometimes, the gift is to be brought back down to earth -- at a price I am willing to pay. That's not how I felt about Uriel on Sunday. No, I was not going to pay this price - I will be more vigilant and careful with this life I have taken on.

I had a painful goodby last week, and mourned my loss - until this morning, when a very real moment occurred. As I held my dog in my lap in the backseat, I was running a  loud script through my head - what kind of decisions are we going to have make about Uriel?; will this impact the fet this weekend?; what should I say about the initiate who left?; this episode reminds me of my friend Saum's loss of her beloved horse this week; Chelsea leaving her socks out, Don being gone too much....the same things over and over again. When the Vet came into the waiting room to tell us that Uriel would be fine, I burst into tears. Don murmured something appropriate, the vet nodded, and we left for home.

As Don drove home, Uriel snuggled into my lap, and I held his curly, soft head.  His beautiful almond shaped eyes looked up adoringly at me, and I was hit with a truly numinous moment. A reminder of what's real and what is not; of what's important to me and what is not.

It was like someone had slammed me earthward, planting my feet into the soil, and rooting me to the land. No more Mrs. Nice Guy. I will be more grounded from now on. I will take control of my life and stop waiting for someone else or something to happen before I act. And when change occurs, be it a departure or an arrival, I will handle it as I should -- with clarity and firmness. It's a new day, and I will be the champion of my own soul. Ayibobo.

Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....mesi anpil Papa Legba, pou vi m' chen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 18 of forty

I have been suffering the death of an egregore for the past 48 hours. It's interesting to note that I deal with spiritual death much the same as I do human. I've been weepy, sleeping a lot and not eating. Thankfully my goddaughter made dinner last night or I'd have just gone hungry again. Great for the waistline, lousy for my head.

An egregore is the magical construct shared between two magicians. Or in this case, between initiator and initiate. As I heard my initiate make the choice, I felt as if I had been punched in the chest. And being 59, my first thought was "OMG, am I having a heart attack?"  This thought was immediately followed by my head ringing, as the Lwa descended upon me and spoke loudly in my ears.

I had to lie down, so great was the pain and so loud the voices of Spirit. The Ancestors, needless to say, were not happy.

I poured rum and lit candles. I assured Them things would be fine. It seems that even vodouisants are not immune to the world's wheel of energies and emotions. Mercury is retrograde, a time of poor communication and travel hassles. We just passed Imbolg, the Crone's holiday when she takes all the unfit, the poor in health and the sick or dying with her. Another initiate's best friend's husband is dying. And of course, we are coming up on the Equinox, surely one of the most powerful and magical gateways in the world. Which is all to say that by Saturday night, I had a major migraine.

This is not a surprise to me. I am in the middle of my second Saturn Return. I have given this more thought than is healthy, but still, I have been working on my "stuff". I revisit my choices, I mull over decisions and I pray. A lot. They say that your second return is the time of Harvest. This is when you are supposed to let go of that which doesn't work and taking up what does. I am supposed to be smarter, wiser, a true Elder. So why is this hurting so badly?

Following this line of thinking, perhaps, I did make bad choices in relation to this initiate. I should have been sterner, more like a real hard ass teacher. (but that isn't who I am...).  I should have said no more often ( instead of being soft and easy...) . But that's not a realistic approach to teaching. Each student is a unique individual, with singular needs and special gifts. My true path is to enhance, uplift and bring out those gifts. To make that person see their own beauty, their unique presence in the world. And to help them find that place that makes them feel this way.

If the initiate no longer feels "special", have I failed or have they or has anyone really? If given all the tools to comprehend the world, and the world is not enough, is that my fault? I am not looking to blame anyone here. But the words used to tell me of the exit included "poisonous spirits". That took me aback - I have never said anything in all my years of teaching Vodou that would give a person a reason to use that phrase. This was really out of left field for me. I had to really work hard not to call this person on that statement. And this person had been a servitor for many years before coming to me, so it was a double shock when the call came in. What had I said or not said in regards to addressing this issue?

These are the questions I ask myself, as I wait for the pain in my heart to subside. An Egregore is built when a Teacher and a Student unite in grace. When that unity is no more, the Egregore dies, leaving a painful place behind, until the rift seals itself. I have felt this before. I know it will pass and heal. The connection will remain between us, but it will no longer be alive with life. It will be as a cord, laid aside. The cord is tangible, yet without terminal ends, it remains neutral. My cord has been cut and I need to retreat to heal.

Perhaps in the future, I will be able to see this person again. But for now, I cannot. Rejection is hurtful - I need time to heal. And who is to say what I will become when this pain subsides? How can I predict my own future feelings on the matter, when at this moment, I am too raw to speak? Even Teachers need their space to find their footing again.

We will be serving Loko in a week. Right now, I have meals to plan, palms to purchase and a temple to clean. My spirits are calling me, and I respond in kind. It eases my heart and make the pain bearable.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Vodou Lenten Meditation - Day 16 of Forty

This morning, I handle the pups, then took off for the Temple. It smelled of the incense I lit yesterday still. I checked everyone's candles, then sat for a while, meditating. Not reciting anything, just allowing my mind to settle and become still. The house creaked its usual sounds. Even the dogs were quiet, a rare moment these days.

I sat looking at St. Anthony on the altar, then glanced over at the Petro group. There stood my two statues of St. Anne De Beaupre.  We recognize her as being syncretized with Gran Simba in this house. I know that's not what every house does, but that's what Gran Simba asked for when She arrived here. And I have good reason for keeping Her here, as well.

St. Anne de Beaupre is the patron saint of the City of Quebec, in Canada. Mom was Canadian French. For their honeymoon, she and Dad did a tour of Quebec city and Niagara Falls (it was the 50s...). The cathedral was one of the pit stops. The cathedral of St. Anne de Beaupre is very special. It is believed that if you climb the stairs on your knees to enter the chapel, the saint cannot refuse your request. As a testament to this fact, the stairs are littered with canes, crutches and other medical prosthetic. At the time, Dad had a fertility issue. Wanting children, I think they went there specifically to ask for a cure. Dad did the staircase on his knees, and I popped out nine months later.

Dad was very devoted to St. Anne. Every Christmas, he painted her portrait on our front storm door's glass.  This is the only surviving shot I have of that front door, but you can kind of see St. Anne behind the snow and greenery.  When he and Mom began attending mass in the small chapel at Sacred Heart University, across from their home, he made an offer of her portrait to the priest, Father Bill Sangiovani - Bill for short..

By that time, Dad was working in stained glass, so he did St. Anne's portrait in his usual color palette and with a great flourish, presented the work to the Bill at the following mass. Bill seemed to lose his usual loquacious tongue. Expecting a madonna in blue and white, instead, Bill found himself staring at a green and orange draped female. A black female, no less. Dad was beaming - after all, he had painted St. Anne as a dark skinned madonna for nearly 30 years, so he didn't understand why Bill was speechless. I guess he forgot to tell Bill that St. Anne de Beaupre is one of the only Black Madonnas of North America!

Anyway, Bill displayed the stained glass portrait front and center on the altar, and my Dad got to beam at his patron saint for the rest of his days when attending mass. We even used her as the centerpiece at Dad's memorial. Bill keeps her in his private office, as much to remember my Dad, as to have his Black Madonna near him.

I smiled at my two statues. One I bought; the other was a serendipitous gift. Both are resplendent in a  green robe with a burnt orange under gown. The same colors as her statue in Quebec. The same colors that my Dad used for his entire life when rendering her image at Christmas. And when I serve Gran Simba, I use Dad's color palette, to remember not just him, but his devotion and his passion for the saint that gave him the child he wanted. Ayibobo.

Oh yeah, my high school art teacher, who gave me the start down this road? Her name? Mrs. Anne de Beaupre. Go figure. Who says we weren't Vodou from the start? Mi di twa Pater, twa Ave Maria....

For anyone interested, St. Anne de Beaupre's shrine, story and testaments can be found here: