Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Devil went down to Virginia

Recently I got turned on by the stuff coming out of the old Czech republic. Artists like Max Pirner, Hanu Schwaiger, Gabriel Von Max and his monkeys as well as others who were all part of the Bohemian Renaissance.  They viewed Death as glorious, gorgeous and unfettered by the usual doom and gloom that is associated with death portraits.  Witness Von Max's moneky calmly checking out the skeleton on the right here. A stunning piece, wonderfully detailed. The monkey's face is so expressive and serene. It's as if the monkey is us -- checking out the end of life in a detached, yet honest manner.  All the Bohemian artists used this remote manner in their work. They showed Death in a very different light - rich, colorful and honest in a frighteningly real way. I was reading over Marilyn Houlberg's Obit the other day. She was unfazed by Baron as well. She asked her assistant to build a glorious altar to Him in her studio. The assistant was also nonplussed about it, and did a fabulous job - check it out here. Perhaps, we all go to the Baron in the end willingly. Like a lover who has woo'd us our entire life, we succumb to his eternal kiss and swoon into his embrace at the end.  I am probably procrastinating here, but I am not doing well in the 30 day challenge. I have a wedding to officiate this week, then a client's commission to complete. and the Lwa are begging for more of their own art. I may have to fold due to unseen circumstances - literally unseen. I noticed the leader of this challenge has withdrawn from Facebook, the better to concentrate on the Great Work. I applaud his self-motivation. Wish I could say the same. But I have an on-line course happening shortly, and I still have four videos to complete. Not to mention the second book manuscript that is in the works (175 pages down, 125 to go!). Where does the time go?

My Baron Badji is nearly done for the client in Las Vegas. (How ironic is that one?) I did the exterior a la DeMeng again.

I did a better job with the underglaze than on the Ghede shrine. I used plain old DAP caulking. I slathered the surface with it, then use a piece of hard plastic to "stucco" the material across the surface. By dragging the plastic, I get a smear that leaves lots of bumps and ridges for the paint to pool in.

The sides and back look particularly fetching, in a decayed and morbid kind of manner. I did the colors in the Baron's style of blacks and violets. There are spirit arrows flying over it, and the crosses are stylized florals, with lots of edgy squiggles. A wash of cream and gold to give it the "rusted" look of an old tomb. I am still working on perfecting my 'verdigris' effect for that lovely mossy look I saw on the graves in New Orleans. Hell, maybe I should just glue moss directly on it - hmmmm.....

I used my black glitter for the interior. I love glitter -- I think I was a crow in another life. The black does a good job of adding depth to an otherwise flat black interior. The bits catch some light, giving it an other worldly glow. With just a dab of light, it looks very space like in overall appearance. Works.

I love my little demon, hanging in space, playing his fiddle. And I am very happy with his Neo-Bohemian cornice, all awash in blues and violets. But it's still missing something. I think I must go find my skull box. Yes, I have a skull box and I am not talking about decor. It's filled with skulls. I go a little nuts at Halloween, collecting them. I stash them away, until I need something like now. Perhaps, a small gaggle of those bad boys at the bottom will help anchor the floating fiddle player.

Off to hunt down my Halloween stash - ever since I cleaned, I can't find anything. But I can't work in disorder, so it's fitting that I am doing these shrines at the moment. The Baron is an orderly dude. Most folks think he's all crazy, decaying and stuff falling off everywhere. Not. He's dapper, a dandy, the very epitome of decadence and morbidity. I will find some additional details to add in. Meanwhile, I have a wedding ceremony to polish, clothes to pack and a chime to locate.

Mambo's work is never done. Kwa!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The 30 Day Challenege - Prep Day One

Spirits are as cantankerous as us, did you know that?

I spent a lot of time in prayer yesterday. My French prayers are getting a serious work out. I sat before the Baron's altar. Yes, I already have a Baron altar. It is a rather imposing black cross with lots of purple and beads. Kind of like a funeral director's dressing area but for a funeral drag show. I sat quietly, thinking about Boston. And the two suspects. I thought about how someone as young as 19 can become so disillusioned they resort to this kind of tactic. How extreme. My mind went to a very morbid place – I've walked that area in Boston. That could have been me. Or Don. Don is traveling a lot these days. He goes in and out of Toronto Airport twice a week. The lump in my throat starting getting bigger. Some how this challenge seemed very small compared to the events the world was experiencing.

The Baron sat staring back at me. I don't need a huge evocation to bring up His energy. He's always there. Like I said, I walk with him. In every Afro-Caribbean practice, the diviner usually freaks out, because Death shows up in the odu or the shells or the cards. Every time. I try to reassure the person that I know this, that I was born in November, I am a Scorpio whose sign is the Death card; that I share my birthday with Fet Ghede, the Day of the Ancestors in Haiti. That I know Death walks with me, I've seen Him since I was a little girl. Never works. They freak anyway – wash the shells, tell me to do all sorts of weird ebos. I just sigh and move on.

I stared back the Baron. You're pretty busy right now, huh? He nodded slowly. Then he turned and glanced at the Petro altar. I followed his gaze. My eyes landed on my bottle for Bossou. Ah, the bull. The other one that has been dogging me all my life. At 16 I went to Paris, City of Lights, land of romance, perfume, art. I went shopping. What did I bring home? A bull. A small, stuff bull I bought at the Gallerie Lafayette, the most upscale store on the Grand Rue. It is silk ( it was Paris – no crappy stuff there). But of all the things I could have bought, I bought a small, stuffed silk bull. Because He wanted to come home with me. He said so very clearly.

I looked back at the Baron. Bossou? The Baron nodded and then looked at his watch. I realized I was keeping him. I thanked him, and he faded off to some other pressing task. I turned back to the Petro altar. Picked up a fresh candle and lit it in front of the Bossou bottle that once was Marilyn Houlberg's. "I need something" I said quietly. I need to do this, so we can connect fully. I know you are there, but in a peripheral kind of way. He simply looked back at me. I swear, his tail was twitching. I will work with you and you alone (oh for pete's sake Legba, of course you are involved…) For the next thirty days. I will make art. I will try to make an art object a day for you and the Baron. A thirty day invocation of clay and stone, glass and paint. And when I am finished, I will mount it somewhere, so you can feel special.

Legba is giggling. I can do this, I say. Legba nods vigorously, and then prances away – another door to open/close, another pretense to diminish. "Hey" I call after him, "You'll help right?" He turns now, serious. "Always" he replies as he departs. Ok, then, well -- I have to go procure some things. Baron and Bossou, you will know me because you will see me rise. Ayibobo.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The 30 Day entity Challenge

I have decided to join some folks over on Andrieh Vitimus's blog, to a 30 Day Entity Challenge. The idea is to create a permanent link to a specific deity or spirit. It takes about 30 days to build a new neural pathway in your brain. I like the idea of being able to manifest a physical change in perception. I felt very different after my Forty Day Sabbatical with Prayer. So with this challenge, I am following through to the next logical stage - a deep connection to a specific spirit.  I will be blogging daily about this process on Andrieh's blog, as well as here.

For the next 30 days, you can find me at Yes, you read it right, I am working with the Baron for the next 30 days. I've had not one, not two, but three clients contact me for artwork specific to the Baron. It's like the movie Beetlejuice. When the name of something is said three times, you must answer. And as a Legba child, I am fine tuned to triplet responses. I wouldn't be surprised if this thirty day (3 x 10) yields a triplicity of things for me to share, or do or deal with. Wouldn't be a Legba moment if not.

So when the Baron was mentioned thrice, and then, the Boston Marathon bombing happened, and a friend called to tell me three people he knew had died, well... sometimes, ya just gotta wade in the water and see what bites you in the ass. Hopefully in a metaphysical way. Andrieh has some very smart things to say and share about this work. I highly recommend reading his blog. And for all you armchair occultists out there (and you know who you are), get off yer butt and jump into the deep end with me. The water's fine.

Right now, I am off to do research. I will check for Baron bites later. Kwa!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Ghede Shrine - Part 2

I was stalled on my shrine until this morning. As I said my prayers for the Boston event, I was hit by a huge idea. I ran from the temple to the studio and began painting. Not quite like a drunk monkey, but more like a caffeinated fiend.  I cracked open the Aves, mixed my myself a fat handful and sat down.  Four hours later, here's the interior:

There's cemetary-ish cornice, in front of which stands an angel of death. Bowed head, hands in prayer. Big fat wings (naturally). And behind her, Ghede pierces the back wall, his hands wrapped in snake-like elements, his one eye peering into this world.

I still need to paint the cobble stones. They are just glass stones from a floral supply house, but I will moss them up, and make them ancient.

Ghede will get his usual treatment of white and black, with hints of purple. And my client will have the first shrine of my new aesthetic. I've been doing bottles but now I think I will attack a larger format.

I just ordered some things on line and and I am hoping they will arrive soon. I found a bevy of new containers to morph into spirit vessels. My online shopping is to enhance their appearance.  I am giddy again with creativity. It took a few weeks for this one to work out, but I got it finally. The changes in the cornice were many. There are many permutations of color on it, but that's all warranted - its supposed to look old and mangy. And the angel was a late addition to the piece, But she came at the right moment as well.

A few more shots of the exterior for your visual enjoyment.I added an All Seeing Eye ball to the drawer and door centerpiece. That was when I heard Ghede say, " I can't see!!" and realized I needed to add the interior piece as well. It all works though. My brain is exploding. Forgive me while I go sketch some ideas down and catch the dog. Bodhi has stolen a skull off my worktable and is chasing Uriel with it. This is my life - Angels and Saints, colliding with Demons. Ayibobo.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Creative Tug of War

I am squandering time. Wasting my life staring at headless pictures in the Library of Congress archives. (Did you know you can access them ALL on line now. I may never get off the keyboard...). Lolling about, intoxicated with dogs and coffee and Aves Apoxy Clay. I even have a commission and I can't seem to finish it. It hurts to just let it sit there. I did the exterior a la DeMeng - plastered it, antiqued it, white washed it, then layered my dark, dank colors over the top. It looks terrific.  But I also have to do the interior. And that's where I am stuck. I used to offer up a clean, simple interior. A picture of the saint aligned with the spirit. Some silk flowers, maybe a rosary or a holy card.

It's a Gede shrine. You'd think I could knock this out of the park. I mean, really - purple and black. A couple skulls, a St. Gerard chromo and there ya go. So simple.

Not. It's Michael DeMeng's fault. His damn classes have cranked up my fire and now I can't help but make bizarre things. My aesthetic has changed completely. The Ghede stepped in and they are leaving a trail of cigar ashes, empty rum bottles and dirty socks. My muse has departed, leaving her panties behind on her walk of shame out of the house. I am spending all my time cleaning up after the Ghede. They are like bad house guests after a frat hazing - stinky, smelly and lazy. That's me - without the stinky, smelly part.

DeMeng has inspired me to collect tchotkes to glue all over my stuff. But my aesthetic comes out, regardless.  My work is all spiritually oriented. I make saint statues - but they don't look like anything the Catholic church has in their archives; in fact, I am pretty sure they exorcise what falls out of my head these days. This one is my interpretation of St. George and his dragon: it's Ave Apoxy Clay over a Pez dispenser (Michael's idea, not mine, though I love his warped sense of art.)

And I find the most appropriate things in the most inappropriate places. I was digging through a bin of broken toys yesterday at the thrift store, my cart full of things like bent candle sticks, broken clock cases, dirty baby dolls and a bag of barbie heads. A nice older woman heard me giggling over the bag of barbie heads and asked what I was doing with them. I looked up from my deranged place of creativity and said,"Shrunken head memorial!" She skittered away, fear framing her face. I shrugged and went back to digging. My inner Demon is having a field day.

The wall of inspiration behind me now looks like a Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities. Baby doll faces stare blankly at me from assorted containers. Dinosaur glow-in-the-dark bones await resurrection as chest pieces on Pez Containers. I've become that kid tearing wings off flies, only I do it to angels and cherbs. God will be sending his fiery Seraphim after me soon.

I am painting on anything and everything I can lay my hands on. This is a new world for me - I was trained as a sculptor and ceramic artist. I mean it when I say I am painting like a drunk monkey. Or Van Gogh on a binge. I just reordered some of my paints in 24 oz sizes. A freakin' QUART of paint for god's sake. Don bought me a wonderful collection of brushes and I giggled over them, giddy to begin destroying them by painting the Aves apoxy clay onto the paper tomb I am building for Gede. Back to the Gede shrine. It needs...something, but I don't know what just yet.

I used to make these shrines by the dozen. They looked like this one below -- sort of Disney-esque, a little too graphic. I was a designer, doing sets and big film backgrounds. You'd be really surprised to see how much bad art is done in the name of film making. Anyway, folks seemed to like them. I even did an entire temple of shrines for some Vodoun Gnostic dude in Istanbul, Turkey. His temple now houses some of the most bizarre shrines I ever did -- covered in real snake skins, leg bones of coyotes and vulture skulls. I was so creeped out by them, I never took pictures. I must have been high from the apoxy glue when I painted them. He loved them. I consider them a were a precursor to the work I am doing now.

I will find my way back to Gede. I just read Andrea Matus DeMeng's blog on her Justice piece. I so feel her pain. The shrine waits, leering at me from the work table. It's behind me, so I can write without looking. But it'll be there when I turn around. It's little cluster of Gede faces laughing at me, offering me their grins and grimaces.

Tomorrow I will start again. Right now, I think I'll look up circus freaks in the Library. Maybe that'll get my giddy up going.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Perfumed Working

I am working on my second book in the series of Vodou. This one will concentrate on services. Small ones, actually. It's hard to write about the big ones, so much is off limits to outsiders. But there is enough to tell about the little ones, that I have over 400 pages of notes alone. Not sure how to approach it all, actually. I began by printing out stuff, then became enamored of a list of lamp recipes I have. Before I realized it, three hours had gone by and I was correcting the spacing on a chart somewhere in an odd document.

I was quite taken by the materials used in lamps. And the smell of some sure sounds delicious. One of the more aromatic versions I'd like to offer here. I have made this lamp - and it makes the room smell like dessert. It is made for Sweet Surrender.  You will need a fire proof container. In Vodou, we use little three legged pots called "zins". Here's a pic for you to see what they look like:

If you don't have a zin, then a small cast iron cauldron can work as well. You will need the following items for your lamp:
An egg custard.
One tablespoon of cinnamon
One tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of cornmeal
One cup of vegetable oil
Quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger root
A cotton wick
A discard aluminum soda can
Metal shears
Leather gloves

Put on the gloves and using the metal shears, cut the aluminum soda can open. Carefully flatten it, and cut out a strip of aluminum 2" wide and approximately 4 inches long. It doesn't have to be exact. Using the shears, cut a small slit about half an inch from one end. Slip the cotton wick through this slit. You will be setting this strip on top of the cauldron, to support the wick.

Now, in the order given, place the egg custard into the cauldron, sprinkle the cinnamon on top. Pour in the honey and sprinkle the cornmeal. Add the cup of vegetable oil and dust with the ginger powder.

Take the metal strip with the cotton wick, and insert it into the bowl. You can do a variety of things to help the wick 'float'.  You can make the slit in the middle of the strip and just lay the strip across the cauldrom top. Or, bend the metal strip into an "U" shape, making the slit in the middle of the bend. Insert the wick and then turn the 'U' upside down into the bowl. However you choose, be sure the tip of the wick is out of the bowl, but the remaining strip is submerged.

I always ask Legba to open the door for me to have success. It's doesn't need to be a big evocation - simple ask Legba to open the door so the work can flow in both directions. You want a sweet reward so you are offering this sugary scented lamp with tones of cinnamon and ginger to spice it up a bit. By making this offering, you are engaging the oldest and most well documented effect of magical operations - the scent of success. The belief is that scent is appealing to spirits.

Place the lit lamp where it won't be disturbed. Now comes the fun (hard) part. This lamp is to burn for five days. You will need to refill the oil from time to time. And be sure the kids, pets and partner do not put it out. I usually place my working lamps in the sink in the kitchen (we don't have kids or cats).

At the end of the five days, take the contents of the lamp and discard them at a crossroad, with five pennies. Leave and don't look back.

In five days, your Sweet Surrender should be revealed.

If you have questions about this work, just email me and we'll chat!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pour Water for the Dead

The Missus was up and about this morning. I tend to notice her activity more when it's bright and cheery out. Contrary to the usual ghost stories of gloomy nights and darkened castles, our specter likes the day time sunshine and birdsong. See, our house is haunted. It's not a bad thing - but it can be a bit disconcerting, especially if you don't live here with them. They tend to show up when you least expect them to, scaring the crap out of you.

Our home is old - it was built in 1921. That makes it almost a hundred. The foundation was hand dug, and the stones they took out of the cellar became the walls. The body of the house is brick and mortar, with a skin of plaster. It looks old - my brother says it reminds him of a Stephen King novel. I like it here. The rooms are well proportioned, and the ceilings are high. It's not fancy inside - we've put a lot of the trim and decorations up to make it more elegant. But it had good bones to start with.

I began to notice the spirits immediately after moving in. Never mind the doors that opened and closed on their own, or the lights that came and went. No, it was the actual sighting of The Missus that made my hair stand up on end at first. That's what we call her, The Missus, as I suspect she's the wife of Dr. Jarvis, the man who built our house. Mrs. Jarvis had dementia, and after setting fire in six of the ten rooms, she succumbed to her bodily ills and passed away in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Dr. Jarvis lived here in the wreck and gloom, the porches falling off and the roof caving in until one of his sons moved him out for his own safety. It reminds me of a doomed love story - Jarvis so missed his wife, he choose to live in squalor, rather than leave the house he built her. But I think he knew The Missus was still wandering through the rooms, and so he kept company with a ghost.

We moved in four years ago - and the 'events' began almost immediately. Doors opening and closing, the lights going on and off upstairs (when we were all downstairs). Then the auditory events started. A woman's voice calling down the staircase, saying "help me!"  -- in the middle of the afternoon no less. The third floor seems particularly active. I always hear shuffling feet, doors opening, floors creaking and the occasional "Hello". People who stay with us report the same thing when they overnight on the third floor.

I was surprised when I first saw The Missus. She was standing in a nightgown at the second floor landing, her hair undone. She actually looked more startled than me. She gazed in amazement as I sallied by with the dogs in tow. I can only imagine how she must have felt -- a total stranger with animals in her house!

So now, when I pour water at my altars in the temple, I also pour for her. She's an ancestor of a kind. She lives here on our Lakou. She died here, so her spirit has a tie to this place. Her husband so loved her, he stayed behind to keep her company, until he couldn't be here any longer. If there is such a thing as 'eritaj land in the US, we're definitely living on it. 'eritaj land is the heritage of the family, the place they first stayed on, that tied them to a place. The Jarvises definitely were tied to this piece of property.

Our house is in the oldest section of Norristown, and has oodles of stories to go along with it. Not just with the Jarvises, but also historical events took place here. There is a marker just across the street, stating that Lafayette's army encamped here during the Revolution. That explains the military stuff that goes on all the time. We hear voices at night, men talking low. One time we heard a cannon fire - a cannon for heavens sake. The first time I heard that, I called the police to report it. They laughed at me, saying it was probably a truck. But there's always a lot of activity in the evening that is unrelated to The Missus - who as I mentioned above, likes to stroll around in the daytime.

In fact, I am writing this because she just goosed the dogs into a barking frenzy. Everyone was sleeping, and then Uriel jumped as if he had been touched. Then Bodhi startled, followed by Mignon on the other side of the room. So you will have to excuse me, but I need to go pour water and ask The Missus to leave the dogs alone. I have writing to do, and between her and the poochies, I can't concentrate. It's always something round the lakou.

Monday, April 1, 2013

40 days of meditation - Easter Monday

I finished my meditations yesterday. Papa Don, Chelsea and I laid out a feast for the Lwa last night - stir fry cabbage with mixed veggies over dirty rice; ricotta pie and Italian biscotti; milk and honey; black coffee and blonde coffee; a small kwi of candy and cookies for the Marasa (It was Easter, after all). We sang to them, and lit candles. Poured water and rum, and woke them gently with love and affection. My work for the Lenten season has concluded.

Today brings stressful news. Don's brother is hospitalized, and Don has to go see his new cardiologist. This is never a good thing. His original doctor retired, so we're shopping for a new one. Don has an unusual set of circumstances surrounding his heart and health. He had experimental surgery 18 years ago, and he is not the normal heart patient. Most cardiologists don't know what to make of him. So we're hoping the original admitting physician can guide us toward a new doctor and a new set of protocols. It's always something, I suppose.

On the bright side, we have insurance again. We've been tight rope walking for five months with nothing. Luckily, we're healthy, so it wasn't a huge concern. But seeing specialists is pricey. We put off this appointment, until the insurance kicked in last week. A deep sigh of relief helps us manage the stress of the appointment.

I will continue my prayers. It's pretty obvious they are needed. And the Lwa are happy to have me in direct communication with them. My dreams have been strong, to the point of weird. A mambo on Facebook mentioned odd dreams at this time of the year. I suppose it's the heaven and hell scenario that is in play. As a Vodouisant, I don't claim all of the Catholic viewpoints on Easter. But the reason for closing down the altars is directly related to the 40 days of Lent. Those days relate to the Christ wandering in the desert and being tempted, teased and generally bugged by Satan. The idea is that as we do our penance in Lent, Satan does His thing as well. So my dreams related directly to my communications with Spirit, both good and bad.

Last night, I spent time in trees, in tents and in a mall with a Houngan of my acquaintance. He was teaching classes, and I was making pwen out of plants and chains. I was also being buried as well. I kept telling my embalmers I needed more time, but they said it would all come out in the end. They wrapped me in lace, then linen and finally clay. I dissolved away, leaving an imprint of myself - like mold making that I studied in college. The embalmers broke open the mold, scraped out the clay of my old self, and poured new material. A time later, they opened the mold again, and I emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis, fresh and new.

So today, I walked the dogs early, and now I prepare for the day with calls to hopsitals, to emergency rooms and to the bank. It's all good. I am empowered to make the day mine, despite its dire sounding portents. I will awaken with myself the energy and power to succeed, and to reach out to those in need.

Then, I will return home and paint, my refuge in the noise and energy of the day. It's all good.