Sunday, August 24, 2014

And now a word from our sponsors...

I just received this from Brill Publishers this morning. 

It's the cover of an anthology on African American Religious experience. I am very honored to be included in the work. My piece is on Esoteric Writing in Haitian Vodou. I compared the art of veves to sigil writing in Western Ceremonial work. The commonalities are far to close to dismiss out of hand.

The gestures of blessing, the veves themselves and the proper way to actually draw them (as opposed to slap-dash method I see many folks doing) is a ceremony in and of itself. I was taught that to draw a veve is a dance - moving slowly and deliberating clockwise around the artwork. The houngan who showed me this was named Jean Vale. He would arrive each morning at the peristyle, a cigarette dangling precariously from his lip and a large plastic bag of cornmeal in hand. Eyeballing me and my husband, he'd gesture us over, and through creole accented English, with a voice thickened by smoke and phlegm, he gave us the finer points of writing "the words of the Lwa." The ever present cigarette never strayed from his mouth, while he spoke.

Jean particularly like Don, and spent an hour each day, showing him how to "write" the veve properly.  Bent from the waist for an hour at a time was hard on the legs, but the artwork was stunning.  Jean showed us how to use other materials - coffee grounds for instance -- to color a veve so it would have depth and vigor.  He even drizzled clarin (Haitian Moonshine) over an Ogoun veve one night, then lit it on fire. A spectacular piece of artwork, he then made all the girls present dance over and through it -- said he was heating us up for love later one. (That Jean, quite the ladies man!)

When we worked with Papa Edgard, he was very impressed by Don's artwork, nodding and complimenting him. "Hmm-hmm, tres bon" he would grunt, as Don finished the details on a rather complicated Danbala piece one night. Taking a bottle of rum, Edgard then "foulye" the drawing to enliven it (sprayed rum over it in a fine mist).

I was taken by the artwork I saw, both in person in Haiti and in older books. The floor work was spectacular - huge lacy patterns, some that filled the floor of the peristyle. You couldn't help dancing on the image - there was literally no where else to stand. The hours spent drawing these beautiful pictures was mind boggling. Bent from the waist, with nothing but cornmeal, the houngans would drizzle the cornmeal out in thin rivulets, all the while holding the image in their mind. Sometimes, we couldn't even see the whole piece from one side - it was a 360 degree artwork, meant to be seen from all sides, and enlivened throughout the night with rum, water and candles.

Today, I see Veve's all over everywhere - on artwork, on jewelry even on myself (I am tattoo'd with Legba's veve on my upper arm - the same arm I use to hold my asson.)

The humble veve has moved out of the Haitian temple and onto the world stage. I do hope the Lwa are pleased - after all, they are the ones who chose to enter the world of non-Haitians. Surely they picked the sites and places where they can best be seen and understood. I am always amazed by where the Lwa have landed - from my own simple household to the places as far away as Norway and even Japan. Some day, I hope to draw a veve for them on each land mass of the world. But for now, I am pleased to do it here at Sosyete du Marche. I know they are, too. Ayibobo.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Vodou Garden

I have been swamped with writing and Kanzo these past four months. My apologies to everyone who follows me on this blog. But there's just so many hours in the day, and a mambo's work is never really done.

I am hosting a one day class on Vodou herbs this September 14th. (go here for details) We will walk the property here at the houmfort, look at weeds and things, then get down to business. Due to the way a distiller operates, I can only make a small amount of hydrosol in an afternoon, so we will vote on either make a mugwort or a spearmint hydrosol (it's also the most prolific on the property, as well!)

I am also working (frantically) on my herbal compendium. It won't be ready the 14th, but I thought I could wet everyone's whistle by posting the occasional tidbit now and then here on my blog. And since my favorite plant produced an abundant crop of flowers this year, I will begin with the Aristilichia Trilobata or Dutchman's Pipe, also known as Tréf  Carayib in creole.

The Dutchman's Pipe is a reference to the shape of the flowers as they bud - like a Sherlock Homes pipe, with a large bowl bottom and curved top. They open into these stellar looking purple faced creatures, with a gaping throat in green and yellow. I know the bees find them irresistible, but they can be rather off putting. They have a simple scent that the honeybees adore, and the blooms last about two days before quickly fading and dropping off. I have found the vine growing in other places in my gardens, so I think it's capable of reproducing itself easily in a sunny location. This plant needs full-on sunshine. It spends the summer here in Philly outdoors in the front yard, where the sun comes up like the star on Crematorium in the Riddick movies, and burns just about anything I put out front save geraniums, roses and now the Dutchman's Pipe.

The Dutchman is a vine, with heart shaped, lemon scented leaves that display pale green markings. A vigor vine, I don't think its hardy here in Zone 6. Friends in the south tell me that it's a nuisance vine there, growing wildly and freely over anything it encounters. My Dutchman is babied in the winter, lounging window-side in the dining room, where it climbs all over the blinds, hunting for full sunlight. The US plant data base says its a perennial, so I guess if you don't have harsh winters, you could have quite the plant in a few years outdoors.

Houngan Ray Malbrough associated this plant with the Ghede and he is right to do so. The lore surrounding this plant is that it grows spectacularly in cemeteries in Haiti. That location, combined with its lemon scented leaves and ugly purple face blooms, make it the perfect "breaking" plant for taking off attachments -- spirit or otherwise.

The plant that actually grows in Haiti is Aristolochia cordiflora mutis. A true tropical, it is not available here in the USA. This plant is known as Fey Kadav Gaté or Poison Breaker.  Also a vine, it's blooms are smaller, and far less ugly than the Trilobata. It's uses are much the same - added to bathes to remove negativity. This plant is also said to remove bad luck, reverse witchcraft and is used in certain guards.

If you can find a Trilobata, I promise you won't be disappointed by it. As a green plant, it's pretty much a weed that can't be killed. And if it does bloom, you'll have quite the conversation piece.  Easy to grow, lovely to look at and handy when needed, the Dutchman's Pipe should be the center piece of any Vodouisant garden.