Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Haitian Vodou Tarot Deck

I am working on a new tarot deck. I am tentatively calling it the Haitian Vodou Tarot, with the Major Arcana reflecting the Rider-Waite dynamic of an initiate's journey - only in mine, it's about Kanzo (the final initiation in Haitian Vodou and the ordination rites that make one a priest.) I am pretty happy with the Majors here - a few tweaks for color and style, but the images say what I want, and I am grateful to everyone who gave me permission to use their image or photos.

My Minor Arcana is hung on the Qabala, with four elemental association per sphere. And in place of the court cards, I used the Four Elements as nations of West Africa, illustrating the rites related to each one. Simple, right? Wrong.

I am not a 'drawing' artist - I sculpt. I worked as a graphic designer for 30 years, before I hung up my protractor permanently. And these days I am more of an assemblage worker than sculptor, per se. But still, form is my medium, my muse and my focus. Working in visual medium on this deck is a challenge to me - not that I don't like a challenge. I am a Scorpio after all...

But it has been real job finding the images that say what I want to say, and then getting permission to use them or buying the images outright. I've probably spent close to $500 on royalty free images from Deposit Photos and Dreamstime. Excellent sources btw, but still a huge out of pocket expense for a deck that might not be published until next year. I also dug deep into our own national treasure chest known as the Library of Congress. They are amazing folks down in DC - they take online requests, do all the leg work and best of all - it's free! Their online digital collections are extensive, so if anyone is looking for vintage whatever, I heartily suggest checking them out.

And of course, I am writing the essays for each card; a major under taking in and of itself. No deck gets out there today without a book attached, so I am in fact doing two projects at one time. And I just found out I am presenting a panel on Haitian Vodou in the USA at a very prestigious conference in Montreal this fall.  Therefore, I will not be taking on any new work while I dig into these three projects.

But -- I thought I'd give y'all a sneak preview at the Major Arcana images, since I am probably a year from publishing the completed project. Please, any and all comments, criticisms and compliments are welcome at this stage. Just curious what all comes this way. Ayibobo!

No artwork is ever done in a vacuum. Many hands lend ashe to the work. Here are the folks who helped me make my vision a reality:

Photography Credits:
Bon Houngan, Gro Mambo, Tambouye, Possession, Hanged Man, Jete Dlo, Z'twal were photographed by Kirstin Brug
Empress, Emperor, Justice, The Devil, The Tower, Brule Zin, Asogwe Kanzo were photographed by me, Mambo Vye Zo
Suleliye, Leve Kanzo from my private collection of my 2003 Kanzo in Jacmel, Haiti

Composite Photos:
Wheel of Fortune's sugar mill wheel was licensed from Dreamstime, with the Wheel of Fortune's "Elder Mambo" used with permission from the Riguad estate.
The Hierophant is a composite from a photo by Patrick Souvenir (with permission) and background shot in our yard in 2007.
The Lovers is a composite photo with the couple shot by by Jake Price for the Broward News Times (with permission) and our Petro altar shot by me.
Holy Death is a composite photo with the Red Capped Man licensed from Dreamstime and the background Carnival on the street in Jacmel, Haiti, shot by me in 2007.

La Ren Luminiere - TBD

Monday, July 13, 2015

Simbi Dlo A Ye - Simbi Dlo A Ye!

I had a client last week order a Kongo Paket from me. He simply stated a Simbi paket. I ended up creating it for Dlo, the watery, majestic and brooding father of the group. The Simbi nation hails from the Kongo region of West Africa and currently is enjoying a certain popularity in our sosyete. Seems I can't turn anywhere without Simbi walking up and saying Hello, see me? Let's do some magic!

Simbi is the most magical of all the Lwa. Mercurial, fast, transformative, Simbi carries all the same ideas and concepts of serpents in the occult. He is knowledge: the deep, ancestral kind. He can make change happen very quickly. And he has a particular fondness for the houngan. Recently I wrote about Simbi Makaya on my blog here.  Makaya is showing a lot of energy for some members of the house. It's always interesting to me to see just how unique the Lwa are, and how specific they work. But back to Simbi Dlo here.

When I receive a request, I do a reading, to see how the Lwa themselves want to interact with me. Creation is not a solitary pursuit. I've been reading Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Both are very satisfying to me as an artist. I live a rather solitary life, so having someone tell me I am not crazy (besides the houngan) is very comforting, but more importantly gives me a reason to make more art. So I like to engage the very characters I create -- their added ashe gives my work a particular zing that isn't present for others. I can't claim to be the biggest or best mambo, but I can claim that the Lwa like me and put their energy into what I do.

So I sat with my divination tools -- in this case, my own Tarot deck that I've been working on -- and asked which Simbi this was for. Simbi Dlo stepped right up and claimed my head immediately. I sat for a moment, said my prayer, gave thanks, offered some water and tipsily made my way to the table of arte -- or art, whatever -- and began to tie, wrap and sew his paket. I added his herbs, some perfume he likes, a couple bits of snake skin and some mapou leaves from Haiti.  Wrapped it tight, prayed over it and then dressed up proper.

Then, I actually read the order note -- which said my client had ordered a boutey (bottle), not a paket.

Well, **le sigh**, okay. Boutey it is.

So I wrapped up a boutey I had made earlier (also for Simbi - told ya he's been big on my head these days.) Thought about it for moment, and also packed the boutey. What the heck, I don't need another paket kicking around the houmfort and Simbi was obviously WANTING this to go to the client, so I sent it along.

About an hour later (after said package was out in the mail already,) the client wrote to me and said Oh by the way, I'd like it to be for Simbi Dlo. Well of course you do darling! Mama knows and Simbi got his Boutey AND paket.

And in the way that the Lwa work, the client was very grateful and paid for both. I am very blessed to have the Lwa be so involved and to have a very forthright client. But I would also venture a guess that Simbi had a hand in all this as well.

Mesi Papa Simbi - pou tout rèv nou devni reyalite! (May all our dreams come true!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

July's Reading: Legba Atibon and Nana Bukulu

Legba Atibon is the solar Lwa, whose songs all speak of his fire and power.  He is the perfect herald of the summer, bringing his light and warmth to our house.  Legba Atibon is the poto Legba, the great pillar upon which all the Lwa enter sacred space, whether that space is in a physical house or outdoors beneath a tree.  His songs all speak of this solar energy, being so blazing, not event he Lwa can stand before it:

Legba nan baye!
Se ou ki pote drapo,
Se ou ki parey soley, pou lwa-yo!
Legba is in the gate!
It is you who carry the flag,
It is you who shade the sun for the Lwa.

Brilliant and powerful, this Legba shines forth to illuminate everything.  There are no shadows in the presence of this Lwa. His invigorating energy makes everything begin anew – from plants to gardens and even us.  We take this time of year to refresh and relax. Vacations help us wind down and renew ourselves.  School is out, giving kids a chance to entertain themselves with bike rides, ball games and swimming holes.

Just as dawn is the start of a new day or new beginning, Legba Atibon signals a new start for us.  He straddles the mid-year of midsummer and solstice.  His avatar, St. Anthony has not one but three feast days in June – the 16th, the 21st and the 24th – demonstrating Legba’s talent for moving between spaces.  In this case, he moves from the season of summer, straight into the solar celebration of Solstice and summer.  His arrival is marked by the first harvest of fruits and the opening of the summer season.  That opening action takes place all over if you have the eyes to see.  Here in Philadelphia, public pools open for the season. The Jersey shore opens its summer houses for rent, the traffic that normally clogs the roadways opens up and everyone everywhere senses the great primal energy of the summer sun.  It is a good time to review where we’ve been, so we know what’s ahead. 

Legba opens the way for a good summer of pleasant weather, invigorating happenings and joyous celebrations of the season. And his energy (openings, beginnings, communication, travel, contracts, music and all spoken skill sets) will surmount all things this month.  Now is the perfect time to begin a new project that you have been putting off.  Writing as form of communication is ruled by Legba, so get a glass of summer wine, sit out on the patio and start writing your novel or work on your poetry.  Express yourself through gardening, painting or just walking out into the sun each day.  A daily dose of sunshine will help give you a boost of energy for all those activities you will suddenly have!

But this is also the mid-half of the year and that means we begin the slow descent into fall and winter as well. The sun begins to sink lower throughout the summer, bringing us full circle to the end of the year.  So it is a fitting match that July’s Shadow card is Nana Bukulu. In the old stories, Nana is visualized as the moon. Visible at night but not during the day, she is said to constantly watch over us even though we cannot see her in daylight.

Our closest heavenly body is illuminated by the sun.  Her evening glow is the reflection of the sun, and she shines forth only when the sun is on her face. Just as Legba illuminates us, he also shines on Nana Bukulu.  Legba’s solar light casts a soft glow on the moon, bringing our dreams and wishes into focus.  It is a unique combination for this time of the year. Legba’s solar energy powers the dreams of Nana's moon, making it the opportune time to get your personal ideas off the ground and bring them into manifestation.  Together, the sun and moon, Legba and Nana make a lovely pairing for the arc of the year, heralding a beautiful month of new beginnings.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Heaven's Mirror: Terrifying and Beautiful

The title of this blog is one of my favorite expressions. Not sure where it came from, but I love using it to describe the relationship we have with a Lwa or an angelic or even a demon.

Angels are said to be so beautiful they are terrifying to look at. A physical manifestation of everything at its absolute pinnacle can be enough to drive one mad. I think it means that we cannot comprehend the visual of either, making us terrified of either angel or demon countenance. But I also  believe we are the mirror of heaven - we reflect the angels and demons as they do us. And if that is so, then yes, it is truly terrifying. Read the news of late, to see what I mean. ISIL destroying humanity's heritage; black churches being burnt to the ground; children being arrested for being kids. Heaven's reflection is pretty awful these days.

Of course, you can't swing a wand without hitting someone channeling Michael. Or writing for Michael. Or being Michael on odd days of even numbered months.  This whole walking with Angels thing is not cool at all -- especially if you actually knew what an angel was.  If you look at older works of religious art, you will see angels rendered as dreamy Victorian ladies (never men) in flowing gowns and large swan-like wings.  They drift over nightscapes, sometimes with cherubs in their arms or waft over wintery scenes trailing cascades of snowflakes and crystalline stars. Ick. You never see an angelic being rendered in reality - like say, Vin Diesel in Riddick for example. Now there's a real visual of an angel. A big, bad, brutal force that destroys everything in his path by simply being in the wrong place at the right time.

It says in the bible that angels are sent by G-d to regularly cleanse the world. Honest - dig this:
Psalms 78:49
He sent upon them His burning anger, Fury and indignation and trouble, A band of destroying angels.
- See more at:
Psalms 78:49 -- "He sent upon them His burning anger, Fury, indignation and trouble, a band of destroying angels."  In Psalms no less. Angels arrive to take out Sodom and Gomorrah; they kill the first born male child of every Egyptian household; they destroy the Assyrian army in one night. You could say that the angels are the bad biker boys of heaven. They are given too much power by everyone, including G-d. They are all about destruction when they aren't trying to boink a human female they find comely. 

And they are angry about everything: they are angry they are not human; they are pissed off they are not gods; they hate not being regarded as bad like the demons; and to top it all off, people think they look like dainty schoolgirls.  Trust me on this one -- when the angels arrive you better run for the hills, because they are ready to knock heads, kick butts and take names for later beating sessions. Gustav Davidson, author of a Dictionary of Angels says quite simply never invoke an angel unless you are ready to be scare witless. I agree. I have a godson in Haiti who shared the story of angelic invocation that was performed in a secret sosyete outside of Port au Prince. "Cho! Anpil, anpil!"  he said - Extremely Hot! And he wasn't referring to the work, but the room temperature when the angelic being appeared briefly. I am not sure I would want to be in that place even for a second - I will refer you back to the story of Lot's wife (she was dehydrated into a pillar of salt by the mere presence of the angels...)

And what of the Demons, the Angels less fortunate brethren?
Psalms 78:49
He sent upon them His burning anger, Fury and indignation and trouble, A band of destroying angels.
- See more at: take down Sodom and Gomorrah with their mere presence. They destroy the Assyrian army. They kill male children in Egypt. They even tried to take down Jerusalem itself, but G-d had to come call them off for that one.And what about their poor counterparts, the demons?

Remember, the word "demon" was used interchangeably with angel for a long time in the old grimoires. Angels and demons were both considered otherworldly, and sometimes its hard to tell who is who in the old writing. Yeats often wrote fondly of his demon; my own lineage mother Dion Fortune wrote an entire book on her Demon Lover. Even my teacher Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki refers to her Indweller as her personal demon (and I know a thing or two about that as well, I might add...)

It seems to me that there is a fondness for the demon that is not shared with the angelic and for good reason. The demons live here with us. They get down into the muck and mire of this world, swim along in our wretched emotional currents and find solace in our misery.  The demons are like our own personal Emos - they've been so thoroughly marinated in our essences, they have evolved to become more human than they realize. Take the Goetia, for example. Many excellent magicians have been working the Goetic realms now for a couple decades. Folks like Stephanie Connolly, Lon Milo DuQuette, and Poke Runyon have written volumes about the demonic horde, making them feel more like misunderstood outsiders than hell raisers.However, they are still demons....

Lately, I have been overly involved with Gremory. She has proven to be a powerful ally and has done some amazing work for me, as well as a series of clients. Although she has come forward on her own, I am careful not to ask too much, engage her too often and always finish my deal, regardless of the outcome. I am currently working on a commission for a client that is a shrine for Gremory's spirit vessel.  I also made and consecrated the vessel a year ago.  Gremory brought the client a true love and they are expecting their first child.  So you can work with demons -- just carefully.

I think of demons as your biker brother. He's a Hells Angel (literally), and he make everyone nervous at Sunday dinners with his bad manners, excessive drinking and leering at the young girl cousins. But -- he will kick someone's butt if they look sideways at you or disrespect your mother.  You might not party with him on Friday nights, but you enjoy the occasional beer and chat now and then. Demons are like that - entities worth calling up for a purpose, but then putting away from you for a time.

I don't work with demons like Connolly does - no blood offerings or demonic weddings for me. Nor do I take the slightly psychological approach of Duquette. I do it the old fashioned way. I call them up with praise and song. I entertain them and we do our dance together, I ask them to work for me, make my offer of payment but then it's finished. Like the biker brother, I'll happily pay for the beer, but at the end of the night, we part ways in peace. Keeps the temple clean, my mind calm and the house peaceful.

As for Gremory, she's here for now. I found a statue of her that I love and I am going to paint it for her, in payment for something I've asked for. The shrine will be completed this weekend, and sent on its merry way to the client shortly. The client and his partner are naming their new arrival "Gremory."  Hey, we've all got a little bit of demon inside us. This time, its the real deal: a demonic lover that will be his to command now and forever. I wish them all the best - she's a beauty, but her camel can be pretty stinky.

"Midnight at the oasis,
Put your camel to bed..."