Monday, February 24, 2014

Spiritual Bejiggedity-ness

Working for spirit is a challenge - they can be cantakerous, touchy and outright indignant - sometimes all at once. I have a commission for a client. I need to make a pwen of LaSiren. This should not be hard, I am delighted to work with this spirit. She is the loving, kind, dangerously disciplined sorceress of the pantheon. Not for the faint of heart. She is NOT like Disney in any way. She can be vicious, mean, tough and tender all at the same time. Today, she's being difficult, irrational and to quote a my favorite niece, "be-jiggedity," a word that means all of the above - at the same time.

I gather Siren's thing - perfume, herbs and other ingredients to begin the process of assembling the pwen. Mind you, I am home alone. Siren slams down on me so hard I drop to my knees in front of my apothecary, the scent of perfume so thick its making me gag. My head spins, and because this is the kind of mambo I am, my first thought is 'I am having a heart attack and there's no one here to save me.' The dogs are not helping - I am now at their level and they begin to lick my face as they can smell the contents of the apothecary with it's doors open. Drooling in anticipation of what they think they might get, they are on high alert, snuffling and slobbering all over me. I get the boys under control, and rise unsteadily to my feet.

I check my list and fetch the items out of the apothecary, fighting off the poodles and my dizziness. I sit down at the counter, gather my wits, light Siren's candle and begin to sing for her. She's front and center, totally focused on the work at hand.

Allow me a moment to explain the importance of her presence: everyone, and I do mean everyone thinks Ezili Freda is the Lwa of love in Vodou. Well, she is but not the long lasting kind. And certainly not if you want to keep your mate. Oh, Ezili will get the guy/girl for you. Just not permanently. Want the real deal? Then you must approach the real sorceress in the gang - LaSiren.

LaSiren is often depicted as a dainty little girl, with sparkles for scales and large doe eyes. I am here to tell you this is not the truth - not even close.  Allow me to share a tale - two actually. First me -

I was about ten. I grew up on the shore in Connecticut. I could swim before I could walk - a protection all seaside communities should give their children. I am at the shore, happily digging for whatever in the sand, when a rogue wave takes me off guard and I am sucked under in a split second. I turn this way and that, but there's no up or down - just murky sand and water. It's getting in my nose and mouth, but I keep my cool and ride the swirling action along. I can't hear anything, much less see anything. But I feel - accompanied. Suddenly a large fish comes at me out of the murk. It stares me in the face - it's huge horse eye moving up and down. The mouth opening and closing. I am mesmerized - it's so big and so calm. It turns away from me, and I can feel the surge of the water's movement from it's body, when suddenly its huge tail swoops below me and slams me to the surface. I come up spitting and way off - like half a football field off, I see my mother frantically trying to get out to me. I gag, spit and look around just in time to see the tail of the fish - it's huge, silvery and sparkling - break the surface and then disappear below.  I turn and dog paddle for the shore with all I have left in me. I am shook up for sure, but also more than a little surprised by the fish's behavior. Blue fish are common in the waters I lived near - tuna as well. Not sure what it was, but I now feel it was a form of LaSiren coming in to help one of her errant children who turned their back on the ocean.

The houngan has a similar tale. He grew up on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One day as he was wading out onto a sandbank with his father, he fell into a sink hole - mysterious drops in sandbanks that occur near the shore.  His father was a moment before realizing his son was gone from the surface of the water. Don was so deep in the hole, he couldn't get out - his father had to dive down to pull him to the surface. But he too did not panic - simply watched as a huge silvery fish swam around and around above his head, as if waiting until someone came along to help.

LaSiren is not pretty, dainty or even safe. She is a sorceress, an enchantress and very dangerous. She is half human and half animal - in occult terms, this means she has surmounted her (lower) animal half and is ruled by her upper (higher) human . But she is still half animal - and she can call upon her animistic tendencies when needed. Remember, everything that swims in the water (i.e. intuitive ideas, psychic impressions, emotions in general, inspiration) eats what is smaller or is consumed by that which is larger. In the case of LaSiren, she is the largest -- which means she can consume everything else at will. She will offer inspiration or take away any chance of creativity. She rules emotions, both wonderful and unworthy.  Siren can make your dreams come true or carry out your worst nightmare. As the queen of illusion, Siren is capable of many tricks and can lead men astray easily through her many avatars and paramours. She is not to be trifled with, and best left to those she has chosen as her servitors.

Siren can bring about real love, if it is God's Will, but otherwise, she delights in tearing errant men away from their wives. She is highly defensive about women in general, and protects mothers and infants in particular. But Siren is not to be trifled with. Married to the great Agwe Ta'Wayo, she is considered an ancient river spirit from West Africa.  She is not Mami Wata, and she is not Yemaya.  She is a separate entity with her own powers and protections. Those dedicated to her in Haiti dress in blue for life, live near the water and offer services on the shore to her. They dedicate themselves to the work of helping married women and pregnant mothers. And they are often very artistic and musical. Which brings me back to the pwen.

   I began to craft a traditional pwen - packing it and tying it according to reglemen, singing and spraying perfume all over it.  I smell like a perfume counter at Macy's. But when it came time to seal it, Siren had other ideas. I gathered my satin fabrics, but no, that wouldn't do. This pwen needs a house she said, hard and safe. I dug through my bottle collection and found the perfect specimen - square, spiraling with movement, flat topped. Perfect. Now to dress it in satin - No, no fabric!! Sculpt it - I want texture, surface embellishments, fins, a tail, shells, pearls, sand... ok mama, I get it!
So my client might have to wait, as the Pwen's owner has very specific ideas on how She wants it to "walk" as we say.
I'll keep you all posted...

Collecting for Haiti

It's a new year, and that means new charity drives. I am often asked what can be done for Haiti, and thought the bigger picture eludes me, I do try in small, meaningful ways to give back. Always. So for this month, that means we are asking for donations of the list below for a friend's medical mission.

Marla is an ER nurse at the local hospital.  She's raising a three year old, working as well as studying to be a Nurse Practitioner. She's paid her own way to work for three weeks in Port-au-Prince, and all she's asking for is the following list. She's giving of her time, her money and her expertise to help those in need, as well as help to train nurses in Haiti to do the work themselves.

All of which means, this list doesn't seem like a lot to ask for help with.  Please consider taking a week off from Starbucks and using that money to go shopping at the Dollar Store. Trust me - it'll buy you some serious good karma. Here's the list:

Children's Pedialyte
Batteries (A, C and D)
Benadryl tabs
Folic acid tabs
Iron tabs
Antifungal cream
Bar soap
A and D ointment
Multi vitamins for adults and children
Prenatal vitamins
Infant and Children Tylenol and Motrin
Adult Tylenol and Motrin
Tooth brush, tooth paste, floss
Hand sanitizer - large containers preferred
Lubricating jelly (for exams)
Any unopened medications such as blood pressure meds, inhalers, diabetic meds
Glucometer, with test strips, peak flow meters, or spacers for asthma patients

We Americans have more than we can possibly use on any given day. Give a little of your extra to Marla, so she can minister to the those who have little to nothing, and know your donation is helping. As an added incentive, if you make a donation to Sosyete du Marche, Inc, we will send you a tax donation letter for the amount you sent, and we will do the shopping for you. Looking to get something back from Uncle Sam next year? Then donate. Every little bit helps.

If you want to shop, so much the better. Please contact me at for directions to the hounfo.We will be collecting goods and donations up to March 8th - Marla leaves for Haiti on the 21st, but they need to pack the suitcases for shipping and import paperwork prior to leaving. Making a donation is easy - just hit the button on the bottom of the  Sosyete's web site ( to make your tax free donation. I will take pictures and send you a personal letter of thanks, along with your tax refund letter.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Reading of the Year: February is Les Barons

During our annual Legba fet, Papa Legba directed folks in the house to choose a card - Houngan G pulled this one for the month of February. Mambo Sallie Glassman envisioned the Barons as the unruly gede who stormed the presidential palace in Haiti, demanding money, gifts and cigars. Not even the president would refuse their demands, so great is the belief in their ability to manifest change in the world!

Legba said “These are Kreyol gedes who have no roots in Africa. They help those who wish to be free of bondage. They take away the unclean. Death is not always of the body. Let go of things we don't need. We need room for kanzo."

Traditional meaning: Your house is filled with ancestral dead.  Ask the Barons for difficult things, because they can move mountains. Unconcerned with normal or daily life, they take on the hard tasks. They are sinister only in the manner of their dress and behaviors. They are the undertakers, the ones who remove the old, the decayed or the rotted.  Clean your house (mental/physical/spiritual) in order to make room for new, clean and fresh things.  The universe needs space to doll out its gifts. If your hands are full or the house is full, then where can things go?

Today, I am home listening to the Boyz howl at the neighbors. They don't like these folks - and those of us with dogs know that dogs have a mystical understanding of people. I trust my Boyz - they never make bad choices about people. The neighbors are not what I would call "good" neighbors. They don't acknowledge me or the Boyz when they are outside - perhaps out of fear of dogs, but they could at least wave back to me.  Their garbage is never covered, and ends up strewn all over the yard by the squirrels. Bodhi invariable digs out bones, pizza crusts and other crap he's not supposed to eat, then comes in and vomits it up for me to clean up. Nice. (**sigh**) It's hard to be civil when so much uncivilized behavior is going on. All of this is why I find the scenes taking place so interesting, especially in light of the card and its meaning. The Universe has its own ways of dealing with things. Can't move that car? Won't cover your trash? Watch what happens...

The Barons are the Kreyol Ghedes in Haitian Vodou, meaning they do not have a root in Africa, but sprang forth on the soil of Haiti. They are called in at the end of a service to do a job. Though they kid and make gross jokes, they are there to "clean" up the spiritual trash that invariably goes along with a service. Not all things that arrive in service are good, regardless of how they speak or what they offer. Some come to take part in the dance, while others come to take part of your energy for themselves.  The Ghede's job is to remove the spiritual trash at the end of the night, thus cleansing the house for the next fet. It's not spoken about, because we all love their humor and their grossness. But they do a great service for the temple. This cleansing can also become a part of your own spiritual practice. But you need to begin with the most mundane task of all - housework.

Emptying your life to make room for spirit begins on the physical. Take a hard look around your home, your room or your office. I say this all the time - you manifest on the outside, what you carry on the inside. Is the house a blur of paper, clothes and whatever? If your home is a disaster in the making, Spirit cannot find a place to be with you. Begin by straightening up, putting away and settling things. And not just your altar - but your bed, your kitchen, your living room. If your home office is trashed, do that too. Even your place of business should be neat and organzied. Again, manifest on the outside what you carry on the inside extends to all your physical spaces - your car, your cubical, your desk even.

Having cleaned your spaces physically, now do it spiritually. Make a thurible fire, or light some incense. Walk from room to room reciting the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of Ginen or any prayer you love and find comfort in. You are cleansing the astral space of your home and yourself, chasing away the unwanted aethers and consecrating it for the Spirits. Cleanse your cubical by dabbing a bit of frankincense oil on a cloth and running the cloth around the desk, the chair or the cubical walls tops. Spirit responds to frankincense -- on many levels (a whole other blog post for that one!) Once these spaces are set, then you can approach your spiritual space.

How long has it been since you cleaned your altar? Is the altar cloth clean? If not, time for laundry. Toss out the unfinished candles, incense ash and other dirt. Despite what the media may portray, Vodou altars are always pristine: the cloth crisply ironed, and the candles new and fresh. Wash the dishes, candles holders, dust everything. Light new candles, fresh incense and clean water. Your sacred space is ready to receive its holy guests.

And finally, do the same for yourself. I know we all want to drop those 20 pounds so we can fit into our 80s disco clothes, but it ain't happening, at least, not right now. So try this - do a cleanse of water and lemon for breakfast, a light salad for lunch and soup for dinner. Stay small and quiet for a day -- or a weekend if you can. Cleanse yourself with a salt bath, dress in freshly laundered clothing and anoint your forehead with essential oils of spikenard or frankincense. Now you are ready to approach the altar of the Lwa. Sit, be quiet and see if They speak to your soul, your mind, your body.

The voice of the Spirit is soft. It's hard to hear over the cacophony of daily life. Taking a day or even an evening to speak with them can move your projects, your life and your job forward in amazing ways. Making room for them, to take away the trash of daily life, allows you to receive the gifts that Spirit has. If not, then Spirit has a way of making space for itself.

This morning, the plows were out in full force. The street in front of our house is designated as a snow emergency street. NO cars should be parked when it snows - the plows come along and clean it very well. Right now, the plows have done a magnificent job of covering the neighbors' cars (which are parked illegally on the snow emergency street) with dirty, salty snow, clearing the road for other cars to pass. Like, the dirty salty snow is over the hoods of their cars. And wouldn't ya know - the truck that did it was purple.

Who says Ghede doesn't have a great sense of humor ~ mesi anpil Ghede Nibo!