Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11 called me to Priesthood

(This is a reprint of a note I wrote on Facebook four years ago. I feel it is still pertinent to this day - Mambo)

I watched filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet haunting film "9/11" last night. I was mesmerized by the images -- especially since I was supposed to be there that weekend.

I was still living a bi-polar existence at that time. I was a well respect media producer/technical director by day, leading some very important teams through their paces for a variety of Fortune 100 companies.  And by night, I was a priestess and acolyte of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki.  I helped plan her teaching schedule here in the US and was also doing my SOL lessons, having been elevated to priest by her in 1998. A double agent, as it were.

In 2000, I spent two weeks atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a mile above Manhattan, producing a Goldman-Sachs annual meeting. I rode the ear popping elevators up and down, shopped below ground in the stores and parked myself in one of the huge windows with other techs, as we ate lunch and stared out at the world from above. I remember doing the Ferris Bueler move -- standing on tip-toe in the window with my forehead against the glass, the vertigo-inducing visual making me giddy and delightfully dizzy.

In 2001, bedazzled by my brilliant talents -- or just looking for an extra body to run a computer -- Goldman called me up to ask if I would be in attendance at the their meeting, once again atop the World Trade Center. I could hardly resist, it was such a great experience the year before. But before I could pack my suits, I got another call, cutting me from the team due to the budget. Oh well, next year I thought.

Then Dolores called, and we made plans for an Egyptian Master Class here. I got whirled away with her tour, classes, airplane tickets and all the stuff that was required to make her trip a success. We did the class and she returned with us to our home in PA, to rest up before leaving for California.

The next morning, Michael (her husband called) and said he was sorry for what was happening in NY. I thought what's happening, turned on the TV and saw the second plane fly into the North Tower. I couldn't believe what I saw.

Fast forward ten years, and last night, I still couldn't believe what I saw. The brothers have edited and added to their original film. They also showed the new memorial -- a very beautiful park surrounding the original footprints of the towers. I am glad they stayed with a sacred monument, instead of a crass commercial offering. The ground there is consecrated not just by death, but by the valiant efforts of the NYFD, NYPD, and hundreds of volunteers who stayed, searched and gave their own lives over to seeking for the deceased. I thought the water fall monument with engraved names a very beautiful and emotional symbol. A water road to Ginen for all those souls who left so unexpectedly.

Many of my friends did much work to help that day. Manbo Shakmah and the SEED priestesses did their work to help the souls cross. I prayed and lit candles for weeks -- I lost friends in the Towers that day. And Don gives thanks that I was cut from the team. Because otherwise... I don't know. I guess Legba closed that door and opened another.

What I do know is that day marks the moment when I made the decision to go to Haiti and become a mambo. I saw in that instant how life could end in a moment. How things can be changed irrevocably and pointlessly. That if you do not seize hold of your life and make it what you will, you will lose the chance to do so. Some one or some thing will snatch it away and then -- nothing.

I spent 23 years waiting for a phone to ring, with some one on the other end asking me to go some where or do some thing for them. Not for me, for them. I went for the money or the glory or whatever. But I seldom went for myself. After 9/11, I decided I would go for myself from now on. I will choose my destiny, not some one else.

I changed everything after that day. I sold everything I had to, in order to raise money for an initiation that I felt compelled to receive.  I packed up my husband and we went to Haiti. And initiated. Came home and started a church. I left Dolores to another who does an even better job of planning her trips than I did. I left friends behind who did not understand my choice to become a mambo. I left a job behind that filled my wallet but not my soul. And I never looked back.

I also brought things with me that were worth having. I brought my Donald because i cannot live my life without him. I brought my brother and sister along, because I cannot live without them in my life, either. I brought along my friends who did understand my choices and decided they wanted to try this new path with me. And I continue to find others who feel as I did that day.

That I would not lay down because of the terrorists. That I would not stop being who I am (defiantly and proudly American). And that I would seek a way to find communion with all people, regardless of color, creed or nationality. Because if 21 diverse nations of Africans could find a way to rise above their station, praise God above and seek Ginen, then so would I. And if that meant leaving behind some things for the betterment of myself and others, then so be it.

One of my favorite films is Gattica, about a man named Vincent who wants to be an astronaut and can't due to his physical size. He goes through hell to change in order to realize his goal. When telling his brother why he did this, he relates a story from their childhood. How they used to try to swim out to an island, but never made it. Until one day, Vincent does make it. When his brother asks him how, his answer was "You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back." Meaning it was the island or drown.

After 9/11, I never saved anything for the swim back either. And I do not regret it. It would sully the memory of my friends who died on 9/11. And so, for Bobby, Bill and Wilson, I swam like hell for the distant shore and I made it. I will see you all on the other side one day. Ayibobo.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Disasters, Dogs and Ogoun - oh my.

I make a lot of religious artwork on commission. Its typical of Vodou sosyetes to have specific spirits they work with, and to have their own sets of colors and so forth. I set lights, invoke Legba to open the door for me, and to give me the best possible inspiration for what I do. The great Gatekeeper does, but sometimes, He likes the work so much, its derailed before I can even get it completed. Does He do this on purpose? Am I just not paying attention? I am not sure -- artwork is still a messy business at best. Paint is wet, glue to sticks to everything and everywhere except the place you want it to, and the dogs don't help with their snuffly noses and dirty paws. I start with good intentions, but after a week like this one, I begin to understand how that road to hell is actually paved.  Witness the following disasters, large and small:

I have a new client who was recently initiated into a Makaya house. He has been requesting some very specific work from me and as we've been on a Makaya high lately, this work seemed fitting. I am very happy to oblige him. I set the table of art (or tableau de arte, take your pick) with a prayer, a candle for Makaya and began sketching.  I make several drawings when I work, to help get the kinks out and to focus my ideas.  Paint and glue are unforgiving, so its better to approach with a plan than to wing it and regret it later. Having gathered my ideas and formulated a plan, I took the time to find materials suited to the task and purchased a couple very cool bottles, some new embellishments (flat back sequins and such) and reviewed the incoming requests.

The first commission was a boutey for Ogoun Flambeau.  This particular Ogou is served in my client's lineage with black and small gold highlights. It's a take off on the above chromolith of Saint George fighting the dragon. Saint George is wearing black armor with golden highlights. The correlation made sense to me -  in Haiti the saint chromos are not aligned because of the particular saint themselves, but more for the colors and decoration in the pictures. St. George wears black armor, so a black boutey was the right offering vessel for this fiery avatar of the Ogoun clan.

I had a fabulous bottle I'd purchased and it seemed perfect for this project. It was square shaped, with raised detail that made it seem like armor. I worked very hard on getting all the details just right, with flat back embellishments, tiny gold sequins and just enough bling to echo the look of the armor in chromo. Upon completion, I invoked Flambeau into the piece. Although we were serving the Marine Lwa that weekend, I slipped the boutey downstairs in the tmple and placed it on the Petro altar for the evening. Sure enough, several of the hounsi found it and wanted to know all about the Lwa, who it was for and when would they get one. They'll just have to wait for a bit on that. I also strung a lovely kolye with black onyx, gold highlighted beads on hand knotted silk cord. A fitting kolye for a warrior.

The client was ecstatic with his artwork and commissioned a second one from me. This time, it was for Ogoun Ge Wouj. The fiery hot spirit is served in his house with red and gold highlights. No problem, I had a perfect companion bottle for the first.

I took my time painting it outside. Several light coats of red paint work better than a heavy one. However, I underestimated the pull of Ogoun for the dogs. Bodhi, my canine doppelganger and bonded familiar was very interested in what I was doing. Way too interested. He investigated the bottle thoroughly,  knocking it off the fence post twice while it was wet. Le sigh.  I cleaned his nose, the bottle and got the paint job to look proper.

Once back at my table of art, I started the embellishment. But the glue ate through the paint. I did not figure this out until the gold metal ribbon I was using slid off to one side, taking the paint with it. Add to this the fun of a large, slobber covered ball rolling across the table while I try to work. Deeper sigh.

I locked the dog out of the studio and came back to find all the sequins and crystals had also abandoned their places - the glue was removing the paint on the bottle and the finish was now ruined beyond repair. Argh.

Ok, back to square one. A trip to several of my thrift stores turned up a perfect candidate. Having learned my lesson, I left Bodhi in the house while I painted. He was occupied by the workers outside yesterday and today, so I was able to properly paint the base, setting it up for embellishments. I also made a trip to Home Depot for the right adhesive, and came back to embellish without the help of a snuffly wet nose checking my work. I am very happy with the finished product and have sent pics off to the client to see if he likes it.

As I cleaned up, I went to toss the ruined bottle when I turned it over in my had and saw the sun burst. In my morning meditations of late, I have been receiving very clear information regarding Legba's status as a solar Lwa. He has made several requests that I intend to follow up on, and now in hind sight I realize He wanted this boutey for Himself. Well, jeez, ya coulda told me sooner.

So now I will be in the basement, cleaning off the bottle and getting it ready for my Solar patron. My client will be getting his amazing Ge Wouj bottle and Bodhi will be assigned to study my artwork before I get it all done, so if there is a change, I can make it sooner rather than later.

Ogou Zé Wouj, O! Konsa yo ye!
Bouch manjé tout manjé, Le pa palé tout pawol,
Ogou Zé Wouj, O! Konsa yo ye!
I take commissions on artwork -- shrines, boutey, statuary and amulet jewelry. Please contact me on the page for details.

The Reading of September is Bossou Twa Kon

 Bossou Twa Kon is the manifestation of power and enlightenment.  His name comes from one of the kings of an Old Dahomey fiefdom called Whyda.  King Agadja Dosou (the child following a twin birth) had a son he named Bossou Achade.  As a ruler in Africa, Bossou Achade became Kadya Bossou, and in Haiti, he is simply called Bossou.

Kadja Bossou and Djobolo Bossou are both old Dahomean spirits. They come from a line of kings who ruled a place variously called Whida (sometimes written Whyda) .  These kings all went by the title "Agasou". The eldest and strongest (in terms of conquering the neighboring peoples) was a king named Akaba. When he died, his twin ruled, and then her power was usurped by her younger brother named Agadja. He was a dosou, the child born after twins. Thus his name was Agadja Dosou

Because of his status as a ruler, he is often called Kadya Dossou. His son was named Bossou Achade, and as a ruler, he too became Kadya Bossou. In Haiti, he is simply called Bossou or Kadja Bossou, meaning the "King Bossou". His name is also a reference to having been born with the umbilical cord around his neck.  And to add further mystery to his arrival on earth, Bossou is called a tohosou, a human being thought to be touched by God. When a child was born deformed in some way -- extra digits, hump backed, dwarfed -- or if the birth was unusual -- breach, umbilical cord wrapped around neck, caul on face -- then that child was thought to be very special. Having been touched by God's fire, their flesh visibly melted and molded by His touch, they are revered as something more than human. They become tohosou.  Bossou is recorded as being hunch back, the very image of a bull in his deformed shoulders.

When the Lwa Bossou comes around, it means that you are stuck in your place and cannot find egress to get out or get going. He is literally the bull in the china shop, ready to plow through whatever needs to be destroyed to bring about movement and forward momentum. When he arrives, I know that something big is about to happen for that person.  But he needs a focus or just like a bull that wanders aimlessly in a china shop, he can easily destroy what you do not want to be destroyed!
Bossou is also a liberator – which is another way of saying he can free you from whatever is restraining you.  Just as Kadja Bossou “freed” his kingdom from the slavers, the spirit Bossou does the same thing when he arrives for a servitor.

His colors are red, black and white. I usually serve him with a red scarf, a white candle with a black ribbon. I have actually made a scarf of red, black and white that I use to serve him.  Some folks use red penis candles, available from hoodoo shops. The idea behind the penis is the fecundity and fertility of the bull as symbolized by the phallus.  Use one of the images of the following images as his avatar: the triple ray El Christos, for the three rays emerging from Christ's head.  They represent the three horns that Bossou has.  St. Vincent de Paul is used for all the children he is holding (Bossou's ability to carry with ease, any burden given him is legendary).

The brave and industrial bull of the pantheon, Bossou shoulders the burdens of the world.  Arriving in September, he will lend both the sosyete and you individually with the strength to carry through with your plans.  And just like a bull market, he is aggressive in doing so. If you need the push to get something done, then September is the month to do it – the bull will lend you his considerable strength to get your project off the ground or even finished.

September’s Shadow is the Wheel of Fortune:  This is the card of destiny and possibilities, a reminder that all things shall pass so long as we do not forget the lessons learned. The mambo declares her right to serve the Lwa with her raised hand, the same position taken in Freemasonry as the Due Guard of a Fellow Craft.  It is the primary salute offered in a Vodou house to the Spirits, a gesture that shows both inclusiveness and welcome.  She stands in front of a sugar millwheel, the symbol of oppression, fortune and power.  But this wheel is done.  It hangs as a reminder that the past is gone but not forgotten. And that we must move forward, remembering the past so as not to repeat past mistakes.  In conjunction with Bossou, the bull provides a power to move across difficulties and the shadow says to remember what you did so you don’t do it again.

Financially it means a break in your expenses and the possibility of movement toward a better position or better compensation.  But the Wheel of Fortune needs you to comply as well.  You have a big say in how your life evolves, and the wheel keeps moving, ever forward, bringing around new ideas and new possibilities.