Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pouring Water for the Dead

I received sad news yesterday. A dear friend died unexpectedly. She was 74 but you'd never know it. With her red hair, sharp glasses and amazing sense of style, Judy-pudy (as I called her) always challenged me to look great at anytime, and of course, at her age. I never quite made the grade, but she didn't care.  And now...I have her shoes to fill.  She left behind a husband of 59 years (and yes, she married him at 15 and stayed married, how about that!), two wonderful daughters who I have known forever and two lovely grandchildren. I was shocked when I got the call. You think it won't ever happen but it does.  It is a strange place to stand. Her daughters are scared of living without her. They feel adrift, cut off from the known safety of their mother. I know this feeling. No matter how far afield I roamed, I always knew, like Dorothy, there was no place like home. But when my parents crossed the veil 6 months apart, I was suddenly adrift, cast off from the safety of their presence and left to my own devices. I wasn't ready to be a grown up. But are any of us? Last night, as we sipped wine with her family, we shared stories of my friend.  We cried, we laughed and we reminisced. It was all good, but there was that strange miasma hanging over us. The sense that we were alone in the world in a way we never had been before.

And so as my com-padres in magic move through their big rituals at an upcoming convention, I will be standing before a gathering of her family and close associates, eulogizing my friend. Doing the work of a mambo - giving succor to the living and pouring water for the dead. Ayibobo.

Monday, January 27, 2014


For those who are curious (and those who are not), I've just polished the sosyete's web site for this month. It's an interesting thing to be designer/web master and writer all in one. On one hand, I like being able to control content and look. On the other, there's a thousand things I should be doing but hey -- it's all in mambo's day of work.

So head on over the website, and check out the new links, updated calendar and refreshed Kanzo pages. Busy year at the houmfort! Ayibobo!
This was our offering table to Legba this past weekend.  We sang, we danced and Legba did his annual reading. I'll have that posted next this week. Stay tuned for more --

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Knitting for Ghede

I went to the hospital today. No, I am not sick. I was dropping off a bag of hats the sosyete knit this winter. And I got way more than I came for.

I spend my time leading this house of love we call Sosyete du Marche. Its a good life. I have my dogs under foot. I have an active and robust gang of folks who come together monthly to sing lustily into the night. But I also have this itch, this hankerin' to serve more. To do more. I will not go gently into the night, only to leave a legacy of throwing fets and baking a mean lasagna. I want to make a difference, no matter how small or unknown.So I come up with ideas that I foist upon my hapless crew and get them to join me in my mad cap adventures. This winter, I discovered I had not one but four huge bags of leftover yarn. Hmm.. a conundrum for me, but not for long. Hats! I will make little beanies and then... give them away! And so will everyone I know!

And so we begin knitting and crocheting with relish. I make three premmie size beanies and begin a fourth, when Papa Don pops his cork and my knitting takes a back seat to worryin'. Fast forward to January this year, and I am swimming in multicolor caps, due in large part to my sister mambo, who can knit like the devil is chasing her, and she's got to finish before dawn. So I do what I do - I make a couple calls, find the right department and get an invite to come on down and drop off the caps. Simple.  Not.

I go to the Albert Einstein Neo-Natal unit on North Broad Street in Philly. I have history with this hospital - Don's cardiologist was here and for nearly 20 years, we dutifully came every six months for testing, trials and tears for fears. Ugh. But it's home (in a way) and so I reached out to them first. As I rounded the corner to the NeoNatal unit, I am joined by four ladies who are Marketing, Volunteer and Admin for the unit. There's a photographer in tow, and the publicist. Those who know me, know I loathe to be put in the spot light. I like to do nice things and then disappear like the genie in Aladdin's lamp. I pose for pictures, holding the bags. I bond with the Head Nurse, who whispers conspiratorially to me, "Can I ask for something?" "Of course," I say. What she then said blew me away.

"We need death blankets. Little ones, and a cap to go along. It for the families, so they can have a memento of the baby." My spirits don't abandon me, so I ask "How little?" "Oh, 18 inches square would be good." I swallow hard, and say "Of course, I'll get right on them." I am shocked back to reality by the numbers that she reels off to me - appalling numbers. 3,000 births a year, with a fatality rate of 60%. Newborns sent home in tee shirt and diaper in 6 degree weather. Drug addicted babies who can't stand being touched, or being in the light or around loud noises. The blankets help block out sound and light, keeping them safe and warm. By the time I get to the car, I am in tears.

And so Ghede pats me on the back and says Just Do It. And of course, I will. Those four bags of yarn are still there. And my sewing machine is running behind me as I write. I will use my skills for more than decorations or pillows. I will help to cloth Ghede's children, so they can go warmly into the light -- be it day or evening. And hopefully, any of you who reads this, can help me too.

If you knit or sew, I am asking for donations. If you are handy witha  pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, then I need newborn and premmie caps; 36" square blankets of any kind. Small 18" blankets for those little angels who've already departed for Ginen. Just send them to me, Mambo Vye Zo at 1615 Dekalb Street, Norristown, PA 19401. I will take pictures and post when I can. Please remember these are for babies, so pale colors, nursery prints and small details are all appropriate. Any 18 inch blanket received will be embroidered by me with the word, "Love".  If you can't knit or crochet, then how about send me fabric or yarn, so those of us in the sosyete who do hand work, will have supplies to use. Anything you give is gratefully accepted, and deeply appreciated. The work of a Mambo is healing - babies, parents or nurses. It's all part of the cycle. Ayibobo.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Oversouls, Egregores and Contacts in Vodou: Part One

I thought I would present some of my other writings here, as a way of sharing. I am planning a book on the more esoteric elements of Haitian Vodou as I see them. This is not common thinking in Haiti, nor is it common practice. Rather, it is my own version and ideas of situations and scenarios as I have experienced them. I make no claim as these being authentic Vodou. This is my own musing, present here for your entertainment and thought. Any and all comments are welcome.

Oversouls, Egregores and Contacts in Vodou
Of the many services I have attended in Haiti and here in the US, the most compelling feature I witnessed were possession states.  Contrary to popular belief, possession is a rare and beautiful event.  The Lwa descend to their partners in graceful turns, speaking with an eloquence that belies the horse’s education and giving out far more than just simplistic blessings.  They also give the gifts of unconditional love, stunning charitable statements and highly sophisticated theological treatise.  Such wonders made me realize there was a strong current beneath the surface of possession that up to now has been subsumed by the more apparent ‘cause celebre’ of the actual state of possession.  Writers spend a lot of time remarking on the look of the horse, the manner in which they fall to the ground, their physical condition.  In other words, the act of possession takes center stage, while the real or deeper cause of possession is being overlooked.

This apparent oversight gave me the inclination to try and analyze the reactions I was witnessing.  I did not want to retreat into para-psychological explanations for the meaning of my experiences.  I am an Adept of the Occult Sciences.  Surely, I could find a better way of explaining the mystical nature of things, than a scientific one!  It was while I was talking to a Haitian friend about their annual family feeding in Saint that I was finally handed the key to the mystery. 

A Ritual of Food for the Gods

Saint Marc is part of the Artibnonite Valley on the Western side of the island, and like all of Haiti, has its own brand of Vodou due to the particular nation of Africans that settled the area.  Called the Arcadian Coastline, some of the bloodiest battles for freedom were raged on these shores.  The people who finally settled in Saint Marc are a shining example of independence, familial bonding and creative life styles. The coast is lined with bustling businesses, large family friendly hotels and the marchands (market ladies) who sell the best peanut brittle on the island.

Here one also finds families serving “djabs” as well as Lwa, and houmforts being led by bokors, who are basically ‘oungan djakouts’ – non-lineage priests who lead the yearly round of family obligations on the family’s bitsaymon or ancestral land.  When a big ritual service is called for, the family hires a Oungan Ginen to come sing the Priye and lead the services.  But the daily round of services falls to the family bokor, who knows the intimate spirits of the lakou and keeps them happy.

My friend’s aunt is the family priest, a Manbo whose job is to keep the family’s obligations intact, and take care of business as best she can solo.  Tanté is beholden to feed the family’s spirits annually.  Such an undertaking is a big and expensive event.  Every able bodied and employed family member is asked to contribute money to the feeding, the rituals and the hiring of a priest for the Priye to be sung properly.  Last year, my friend was asked to provide a substantial amount of money to the cause.  When we talked, he was concerned that the request for funds was out of the ordinary to the actual event.  He also revealed that the aunt had already fed these spirits the year before, and yet, she continued to experience bad luck, ill health and general malaise.  The aunt was convinced the feeding had not gone well and was asking everyone to repeat the ceremonies the following year, in order to appease the spirits.  Her sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, already under the strain of families, schools and work challenges, were not happy at the unending stream of things required to complete the service.  Adding to the upheaval was the request for more money when everyone had already donated the year before.  People were frankly put out at the request, and folks were backing away from the responsibilities.  My friend was not happy either.

What, he asked me, was happening? Why are the same spirits still hungry, when they had just received their feeding recently? And having been fed, why were they allowing the aunt to be harmed again and again?  I shook my head at the time, but later, as I thought about it, I realized there was a much larger concept in action, one that would drive everyone under its influence to do what was necessary to keep the peace on the Lakou.

The Egregore of the family Lwa was in play, driven locally here in America by the Oversoul the aunt shared with her immediately family (including my friend).  This energetic construct was keeping everyone in a heighten state of emotions.  Those emotions were feeding the Oversoul, which in turn was agitating the family, creating a self-destructive loop of emotion with dire consequences for everyone involved.  Let’s talk about this concept and see if it does not give us a clear way of defining the work of being servitors who are in balance with our spirits.

Oversoul: A Definition
Oversouls are a way of saying that when two people came together whether physically, socially, emotionally or even just spiritually, they make "magic".  That magic can generate itself from many sources.  It can arise in the form of a combined personality that is shared by friends who dress similarly or finish one another’s sentences.  It is seen in a mission statement of business partners that is expressed through the relationships built upon the statement.  The numinous awe of a shared religious experience amongst congregants is a very common example of Oversoul.  It can even have a physical outcome such as the child of lovers. In all cases, it is the combined emotions of the two people involved that dictate the kind of Oversoul achieved by the union.

One need not look hard to find an Oversoul in action.  Oversouls demonstrate their presence through a variety of patterns, such as finishing one another's sentences, dressing alike, thinking alike, liking the same things, or being drawn to the same things.  This is not to say that two people become twins - there will always be differences.  But there are more similarities than differences.  And those similarities are what become defined as an Oversoul.

An Oversoul is the natural event resulting in two energies coming together.  For instance, two people, in any arrangement of relationship (friends, family, lovers), share an Oversoul.  If those two people bring a child into this arrangement, then those two and the child will share an Oversoul.  You don’t need to be married, and the child doesn’t have to be born of the couple.  Simply living together and making a life together is the power behind the birth of the Oversoul.

Families often share an Oversoul that can have far reaching results.  If an Oversoul is something that is shared by two or more people, then a Family Oversoul is a deeper bond that mere pairing can create.  You share this Oversoul with your mother and father, as well as your siblings.  This Oversoul is the family vibe that runs through you all.  It descends from your grandparents Oversoul or even further back, giving you a piece of their relationship with which you begin your own.

Since Oversouls are created as a product of the emotion between two or more people, we can say that they are the outer expression of the inner feelings these people hold for one another.  It is the over-arching emotion that brings this concept into being.  The Oversoul is not independent of the people who give rise to it.  The Oversoul only exists so long as the people empowering it are together and in a state of emotion that feeds the Oversoul.

Oversouls also reflect the great rule of the Occult world – As Above, So Below.  Healthy Oversouls are a reflection of the people who give them their power.  Happy, healthy, balanced people generate happy, healthy, balanced energy, which in turn results in an Oversoul that reflects that all that good energy back to those people.  To repeat a well-worn adage, As Above, So Below.

Extrapolating along this line, you can begin to understand how working with people who do good things out in the world, who are balanced in their lives, can give rise to a powerful, balanced energy source, which in turn can enliven and sustain you or your group for a long time.  And that sustenance can last for many generations.

Oversouls exist over time as well as space.  The love bond between two people can resonate down through families or social groups for generations.  Loving parents give rise to loving children, who seek out the same in their own lives.  Great families carry this bond for generations.  Think of the Kennedys or the Rockefellers as examples of generational Oversouls. We still react strongly to photos of John or Bobby Kennedy when they appear.  Despite the gossip surrounding these men, they carried strong, powerful Oversouls from their families that continue to influence and effect us even to this day.  Think not?  Then think back over the death of JFK Jr, and how we as a nation mourned along with his sister and family.  The Kennedy Oversoul is still echoing over us, effecting and emoting energy to us all.  As long as there are Kennedys alive, then their Oversoul will continue to flourish, feeding and sustaining its human counterparts for many years to come.

That story leads me to another point which is that love is not the only driving force behind Oversouls.  Although we are most often aware of and react to an Oversoul at happy, love filled events (like weddings or baptisms), Oversouls can be empowered by any method of energy involving emotions.  Think of any couple you know who fights constantly, yet stays together.  That's the Oversoul at work.  It's not good emotion per se; its emotion and the energy inherent in that emotion that creates and feeds the Oversoul.  

We don't like to see sick Oversouls, yet we are as deeply affected by them as we are by healthy ones.  Sick Oversouls are often the most powerful kind.  The anger and jealousy that fuel a sick Oversoul can rage for years.  Its one reason folks sometimes stay in relationships too long - the Oversoul is being fed by the unhealthy emotions of the couple.  And again, this Oversoul also follows the “as above, so below” rule.  Sick Oversouls reflect down in unhealthy ways to their creators.  People who share a sick Oversoul are often tired, confused, tearful, ill.  They reflect the Oversoul’s condition just as easily as the Oversoul is fed by them.  This self-feeding loop is a strong measure of how powerful an Oversoul can be.

One example would be parents fighting, bickering and never being happy. In occult terms, we would say that these people share a very ill Oversoul.  They fight over things like money or a nosey in-law.  For example, the issue of a Jane Doe’s dislike of her mother-in-law is sickening the very core of her marriage.  This illness spreads through the Oversoul, tainting everything it touches, from the fights that Jane’s children (siblings) engage in, to the issues that strain Jane’s children’s own marriages, to even Jane’s grandchildren (who incidentally, are the most easily touched by this).  The same reason behind working with good people who keep their word and follow through on their decisions is also at play within a family's Oversoul.  If people cannot keep their peace, if there continues to be strife and stress in the family, then one  need only step away long enough to see that an ill Oversoul sickens everyone. “Choose wisely,” as the knight in the Indian Jones’ Grail movie said.  Choose your words, your gestures, your emotions and thoughts wisely, and that is doubly true for families.

To put this analogy into Vodou terms, I would venture a guess to say that many of the inherited ‘djabs’ in Haiti are ill Oversouls that are still resonating down through the lives of families for generations.  Emotion is a strong bond, one that can take years to dissipate from the family tree.  An angry parent, a dissident child, a stubborn relative can all have profound repercussions for ages within a given family.  This is because once you are involved with an Oversoul, it tends to stick around. And this is another key piece to working with this paradigm.  Oversouls can resonate for ages, so long as any of the original emotion is present, in any capacity, in any person operating under the Oversoul’s auspice.

 Let’s return for a moment to my friend’s aunt, Tanté.  Living alone in Haiti is a trial for even the staunchest person.  The country is not suited to older single females making their way in the world.  Fresh water has to be carried in to the house; food shopping is done at the local markets an hour or more away.  It’s a hard life, for even a healthy person with no physical impairments.  Tanté is not a healthy woman.  Diabetes and a host of other ailments common to all of us who age plague her.  To make life even harder, her children live here in the U.S.  There is no immediate family present on the lakou (family compound) to help her with her daily needs. One could make the argument that the rigors of living on the lakou, the annual feeding issues and the seeming lack of support from the family has given rise to a difficult Oversoul.  This Oversoul is fed by the emotions of the Aunt and the family, and continues to effect everyone in the family, via its tainted, sorrowful energies.  It is sometimes easier to say “The devil made me do it”, than to admit you are doing it to yourself.  Hence, the nature of “djabs” or devils in Haiti can sometimes be ascribed to ill family Oversouls.  But there is another paradigm that can also become habitual.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Year Resolutions

Having returned from the lukewarm waters of Sanibel, I am full of rum and resolve. So here forth are my resolutions for 2014 - a Netzach Year by my reckoning (2+0+1+4=7). In honor of the seventh sephiroth, here's my list:

1.) Honor Dantor in all her glory. By my own reckoning, I place Dantor in the seventh sepiroth, the place of Venus and beauty. Dantor to me is a gorgeous woman, full of power and might. Who else could rule the Taurean bull of Venus, and still make a meal for her children. No wonder I've been armoring myself with silver bracelets and earrings - silver is Dantor's favorite color and metal. Dantor is singing in my head. And it's a Kanzo this year.  Dantor plays a big role in Kanzo in our house. Bilolo Mama!

2.) Clean the Temple - not just the physical one, though that has been done thoroughly by my little acolyte Chelsea. But also the Temple of the Body. I've been letting things go -- not eating right, not sleeping well. Straying off the path of wellness as it were. I resolve to do better by my body, so I may be around long enough to be a burden to my initiates -- and Chelsea.

3.) Write - till it hurts. No one remembers Shakespeare because he looked good, threw great parties or had a great sense of fashion. Hell, we can barely agree on whether he actually wrote the stuff attributed to him. I will write - a weekly blog post, finish the three books I have in the works, the contracts I am under and the third installment of the Four Circles Class. Busy bee, that'll be me.

4.) Sing a new song a week. Get ready gang - Mama's on a roll. Between the new recordings I'll be doing with our Master Tambor James D. Armstrong as well as the new missal that will be coming out the end of the year, songs, music and singing will be center stage for the sosyete.

5.) Revamp the Mambo's Mojo web site. Yeah, in there somewhere, I've been s-l-o-w-l-y working on the graphics and interface of the Mojo. Hope to have that puppy done before Kanzo this year.

6.) Finish the Vodou Tarot. I've also been pecking at this too. In between classes, writing and having a life, that is. Ms. Kirstin Brug will be photographing source material for me throughout the year. I hope to galley roughs by Christmas.

7.) Make a weekly offering of scent to my ancestors for their blessings and continued protection. Mama Shakmah always gave something to the ancestors at each meal. I used to wonder why, but now I get it. It's so much easier to place a spoonful of food and a hot cup of coffee on the altar each night than to try to do a big service. They want to be remembered, not once in a while, but always. So I will feed my peeps nightly.

And there you have it. Seven resolutions for a Netzachian year of Beauty, Love and Abundance. We made an offering at the shore to Agwe, that He bring us BLA for 2014 on his ceaseless waves.  Rolling it forward to us, not away. We stood for a long time, listening, and finally took the susurrus sound of his ocean waves as a "yes." Ayibobo. I hope it's a good one for us all.