Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Your Dead at Fet Ghede
Fet Ghede is a more than just a weekend celebration. In Haiti, the holiday is celebrated for the entire month of November. Families take care of graves and family plots; the demembre or family land is celebrated with song, food and drink; and the dead get to party with the living in close proximity. I have heard it said that the dead speak out of thin air in Haiti, and I totally believe it. When you think about the number of deaths the island has witnessed -- 350,000 Africans dying annually for 100 years; the multiple wars fought by the Europeans - Spanish, French, English, Polish; and the countless Native peoples who died at the hands of the Spanish -- to say the island is haunted is an under statement of epic proportions. In fact, death is the number one guiding principle of Haiti. It colors everything in life from holidays and national celebrations to family gatherings and worship services. It's no wonder the number one saying in Haiti is "After God, the ancestors..." meaning, the dead.
But Fet Ghede is also a time of joy. It is a reminder that life is short, and death is just a passage into another realm. The dead do not depart so much as stand and observe from a different vantage point. I recently wrote an essay on the life of land in Haiti. In it, I shared the philosophy of the Dogon people who work daily with their ancestors. If they need to access the dead, they simply go to where they were buried and through body trance, download whatever information they are looking for. The Dead are seen as an endless repository of information that can be called upon at a moment's notice. That same practice is held at the core of Vodou work. One doesn't go asking stray Lwa for answers -- you go to your Dead, your personal Ghedes, to find what you need.
This week was a particularly rough one for us. Don's pacemaker was making noises - yes, his chest was making the sound of an ambulance siren. And to top that off, he was rear ended at a stop sign by someone who was texting. I stood at the ancestor altar, made my offering of frankincense and coffee and requested that this nonsense stop now. The result - the pacemaker just needed to be reset in person at the hospital (more on that later), the fenderbender was a minor scrape and we're back on track again.
And that is the other clue to Fet Ghede. The Ghede are always personal -- sometimes, too much so. I know we get all caught up in the gyrations and silliness of the party, but the Ghede are something of a rare opportunity to check in on your family. They are truthsayers - the Ghede never lie and why should they? They don't care about your feelings, or if you will be put off by what they say. They are DEAD and refreshingly so. So when you come upon a Ghede willing to focus on you or your question (and that's the real challenge) you will get an honest to goodness answer. It might not be what you want to hear, but by God, it'll be what you need to!
Our Ghedes are great fortune tellers -- I am never sure of what they are saying or willing to say. Yes, they tell the truth, but they also like to play games. So the truth might come wrapped in a paradox or an enigma for you to work out. They do that since everyone is listening. They will happily share the details of your sex life (they love sex and all its proclivities), but they will couch the delicate answer to a private question so that only you will get the answer. They love being the center of attention -- they often are -- but they do take care to give someone the answer they deserve when asked a painful question.
Ghede are also lost souls. They are the forgotten ones, the dead who have never had the rites of consecration to help them cross the waters. Again, how many billions of people died and are in the soil of Haiti? How many native Taino, Carib and Arawak people died at the hands of the Spanish and are in the soil of Haiti? All those who died at the hands of abuse, tropical disease and overwork on the plantations? How many foreign soldiers, merchants, trades people from the same causes? How many children? All these souls are in the soil of Haiti. And all of them are Ghede. Think about that for a moment.
I have to sit back and wonder at the people I know who feel they can call upon Ghede to do work for them. Ghede is word with many meanings - it means the dead literally in Kreyol. It means a specific soul - Papa Ghede or Ghede Nibo. Or Ghede John LaKwa. And it can mean plural as in many dead souls -- The Ghede. Given the knowledge that these souls died under horrific circumstance, what makes someone think they can command this soul to do anything? From a magical stand point, it's hubris at best to think you can command the Dead. They are Dead, and they answer only to God. Do consider that when calling upon anyone who has crossed the veil.
The Dead are very willing to work with you, provided they are YOUR Dead and not a stray Ghede. There are many souls wandering the earth all the time. In Vodou, we believe that you have a specific amount of time on Earth as an incarnate being. Let's say you and God decide you should be here for 180 years. Now, I did not say you would be alive for those 180 years, did I? I said you'd be here, meaning earthbound for 180. You end up dying young at 40.. But your ticket back is punched at 180, so you need to stay around for another 140 years. It's those 140 years that are the most important. Why? because on the otherside, you have knowledge, what we call Konesans in Vodou. You have access to all the Dead who have ever crossed -- all their knowledge, experience and training. Their answers and observations. And your family has it too, through you. Each successive generation, your kin, can call upon you for help, inspiration, answers, knowledge, faith, love. The dead are not gone -- they have simply moved to another level. And it is there, that you gain your greatest champion, you strongest protector, your perfect teacher. It is your beloved dead who can filter the answers of the universe down to you for the asking. But we never seem to ask, do we?
And so the dead wander aimlessly, waiting to be engaged, waiting to be asked. And for all those souls in Haiti, who asks? Who engages with them? Who puts them to work? No one, and so they are stuck between here and there, waiting for the proverbial bus to go home. Those who are related to you have a vested interest in you. They are the 'safe' ghede, those ones you can count on to actually be of service to you. The others less so - they are not related. Some maybe angry about being forgotten, others may be demented by their long stay or by the circumstance of their death. The dead are not so different from the living -- they mirror the human condition quite well. And that is why one chooses family over strangers, blood over water.
And that is why I always say feed your Dead on Fet Ghede / Samhain / Day of the Dead or however you choose to call this holiday season. There is a reason for these days being so strongly celebrated. The egregore of this time is ancient and powerful. Engage with it, wade into the energy of it and feel it's potential for change. That energy stream is the most dynamic when it is fed by your own bloodline. To stand in another stream unrelated to you, is to reduce the amount of potential that is available for yourself and your family. So dive on in and celebrate the day.
After all, for this one day, it really is all about you!
Kwa! Kwa sen bo!