Tanbou Prete Pa Janm Fè Bon Dans (SVP).

A borrowed drum never makes good dancing.

I have often felt extremely discouraged by the practice that I have with the lwa. I think this is kind of normal because I can remember having moments of discouragement, angst, and anxiety regarding my Kemetic practice when I really began working on that side of things in my religious life. However, there have been times where I have felt more strongly, I think, about removing myself from the voodoo that I do than I ever did with my Kemeticism. There have been excessive moments where I have felt that I am completely unqualified and that I shouldn’t work with the any of the lwa in any regard. Quite often, I see (on Tumblr) the commentary about voodoo being a closed system outside of initiation and that, in many instances, people of a very pasty, white complexion such as myself should step away from the religion itself. I have often felt that I don’t belong here because of those comments as well as because it is truly outside of the framework of a hard polytheistic Kemetic from a westernized capitalistic culture. There are days where the difficulties I have to surmount to keep this practice afloat are too much for me to bear, but always I end up with Papa Legba whispering to me, You got this.

The thing is that, unlike many people who are just exploring, I never really considered exploring voodoo. I remember as a teenager being mildly intrigued by the Haitian Vodou I caught in quick glimpses periodically, but I know that I was never overly interested in pursuing that interest. I was interested in the historical aspects of the Haitian culture, but the religious aspect was going to always remain foreign to me (and probably still will remain thus even with my current practice). It was only two years ago that it really began to get hammered out in omens that I needed to do a bit more than a cursory, “Oh, that’s interesting,” kind of way.

The thing about my doubt is that I’ve been upbraided for repeatedly is that I didn’t choose this. Unlike many of those exploratory individuals who find something of interest and incorporate those things immediately, I was chosen by Papa Legba to do… whatever big thing he thinks I’m here for. (I’ve sort of discussed this previously, but I think there’s more than the viewpoint of a solitary practitioner that he’s aiming for and just hasn’t gotten around to telling me yet.) It was only after a lot of hemming, hawing, dreams, portents, and constant oddities that I finally realized I had to at least start somewhere. I actually bought a book about it with the express purpose of proving to myself that all of my omens and portents were completely fabricated thoughts that were coincidences. And then, Papa Legba showed up and hasn’t left me since.

I keep having to remind myself, either with his voice or my own, that I really did not choose this.

I have to admit that in not choosing, I am grossly unhappy. There is some form of freedom, I think, when it comes to the religious practices that we consciously choose. There is a sort of time-honored ability to always say, “no, I have had enough,” and easily walk away. When you have the ability to make those choices, you always have it in the back of your mind that when things get too rough, too tough, too difficult, too upsetting that you can easily just say, “fuck this shit,” and run in the other direction. However, when you come into a religious tradition as a solitary, unknown because you cannot prevent the static build up in your head or to stop the constant dreams of some old dude with a walking stick and a pipe, then you know that walking away isn’t going to be easy… if you even could. And Papa Legba has made it quite clear on many an occasion that while I can take breaks or that I can take a time out if I so need but to the actuality of walking away? That will never, ever happen until whatever it is he wants has completed and even then, probably not.

The static and the dreams and the consistent omens will continue until I have no choice but to get back to it.

And that royally pisses off this Leo.

But, I have to be completely honest here. As often as I tell others to stop holding your practice up to the practice of everyone else, I do this all the time. This is partially why I inform others not to listen to what other people say or do because no matter what, you will never meet up to the standards of others. However, even though I am constantly trying to tell people, don’t do this, I do it all of the damn time when it comes to my voodoo practice. And I think that is something I will always end up doing here. I feel like I am an outsider who is playing with things that I cannot even begin to understand a lot of the time, so I try to compare what I do and how I do with what other people do as a form of validation. And since I will always be an uninitiated head case here, I will always find whatever it is that I am doing as completely lacking, as completely full of shit, and as completely and utterly wrong.

The proverb I chose for this particular entry is appropriate in my feelings on the subject. As it says, a borrowed drum never makes good dancing. And I am constantly feeling like I am borrowing another religion’s drum and trying to formulate myself to that drum beat. The problem here is the fact that, as the proverb indicates, this will never make for good dancing on my part. The thing is that all of this is perception. I perceive that I am borrowing another religion’s drumbeat and that I am attempting to dance to it. I don’t feel like the voodoo part of my practice is as clearly and truly mine as I do with my Kemetic side. Therein lies the problem: I feel like I am borrowing instead of actually becoming a part of.

Now, it’s possible that I feel this way because I am uninitiated. The way that I’ve read it and the way that I hear it is that when you really join a sosyete, you start feeling very different than you would if you were just some Joe Blow, doing things on your own. And I acknowledge that the rule of “no community” as set forth by Papa Legba could be a very real hindrance here. Papa Legba, in our more private communications, has even confirmed that this is something that will be a problem. As someone who has only recently created and etched and become a part of a Kemetic community, I know how important that particularly aspect can be in a religious framework. However, I have been asked to look beyond this hindrance and continue with the job to hand. All right, fine. The thing is that I just don’t know how to do that quite yet. And frankly, I honestly don’t know if it is a lack of voodoo community that is the issue here. It could be any number of things.

Another possibility is that, in a way, I really feel like what the people say (on Tumblr) regarding pasty complected white folks getting down with voodoo is true, in a way. I know that there are white, blue, black, yellow, purple practitioners out there. I know that all manner of men and women have joined communities across America and have gone to Haiti. I also know that it really doesn’t matter what your flesh tones say as long as you are respectful, careful, and willing to learn from experienced people.

However, there are days [on the astral], where I spend hours at a time, comparing the flesh tone of my arm with the darkened color of Papa Legba’s withered arm. And I know that, in a way, I don’t feel like I belong here for that very reason. It is a closed culture in many ways. It isn’t, but it is. And this is a huge problem for someone who works with a pantheon of a dead culture that has suddenly been thrown into the pantheon of a culture that is very much not-dead and has a huge basis from a cultural framework that is outside of my frame of reference because of skin tone, socioeconomic background, and the like.

To sum up, this shit is fucking hard.

Papa Legba tells me, when I cry about this, “get over it.”

I should be used to this type of advice because my mom says the same damn thing.

I really hope that these words do not fall on deaf ears for anyone who has ever been interested in voodoo. I know I don’t talk about the workings I have with Papa Legba – the conversations, the waltzes on the astral, the path clearing, the plotting for future entries – most of the time. And I know that there are people who are very curious as to what I do, how I do, and why I do. All I can tell you right now is that this is hard; this is painful; this is near-on impossible a lot of the time and for many reasons (many of which I’m sure I don’t even understand yet). But, I’m doing this because I don’t have a choice in the matter. I am doing this because I have a job to do. And I am doing this because, in a way, I’d like to make this a little bit more easily acceptable and easier to do for people who will follow my footsteps. I am doing this so that I can teach people who want to know more from a curious perspective as opposed to a doing it perspective.

But above all, I am borrowing this drum beat and trying to make it mine to honor the lwa who came to me with his devil-may-care grin and said, “You’re mine, honey-chile. It’s gonna be a rii-iide.”

And I just have to remember that when I am flooded with doubt, dismay, angst, and discouragement.

Papa Legba chose me for a purpose and now, I just have to live up to that purpose.

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6 thoughts on “Tanbou Prete Pa Janm Fè Bon Dans (SVP).

  1. I’m not going to tell you to “get over it”. I think I get what Papa Legba means when he says it, though….that you belong because he says you belong, and woe betide anyone who says otherwise. Generally speaking, They know what They’re doing. And it could very well be that the work he has for you requires that outsider’s perspective, that it’s just alien enough to “proper” Vodun practices that someone who had gone through the proper initiation wouldn’t be able to do it at all. You’re the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t rather disconcerting when one gets claimed out of the blue. Bast did it to me. :) I felt the hand on my shoulder, and Her voice just said, “MINE.” She made it very clear very early on what she wanted me for, and I sat back and I thought about it for a while. And I said, “Well, this is bigger than what I ever thought I’d be learning. But it is something that I would be inclined to do on my own, had I thought I had the Power.” And Her response was, “Of course you are. I wouldn’t have Chosen you otherwise.”

  2. I can really relate here. I felt like that a lot of the time when I was with Wakinyan. One thing that made it easier was that Waki has a thing for outcasts, crazy people, and those who do it wrong. Still, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a whole lot of people who didn’t want me to be there. That community stuff wasn’t ever going to happen. Even so, I learned a lot from that time. It was hard, but definitely worth doing.

    As for not really having a choice, I hear you there too. That’s more on Ra’s side though.

  3. I struggled with relating to vodou until I held a Sanse Vodou weekend retreat in April. The Sancista explained the relevance of Vodou and connection with our western ancestors really well. In a really summaraised round about way of explaining it in a blog comment, research your ancestors and look at the struggles and hardships they suffered. You can draw some lines of similarities with African slavery in some ancestral paths. These are the energies you can connect into to attain some understanding of the importance of honoring your ancestors and giving thanks to them. And in some ways validates your involvement in honoring the lwa. Probably not articulated well but something that I hope might add to assisting with your struggles :)

  4. Things are changing. In this dimension and on others. The Lwa are interested in being served by other people, and it stands to reason they will start to find new ways for the ones who are from outside Haiti to do it. Even if the Haitians are not happy about , its happening. (And that is a discussion for another day. There are LOTS of reasons why they would not be happy to lose their monopoly on the Lwa :/ ) Look into the teachings of E.A Koetting. He is a Houngan (white) and very powerful magician. I also found this amazing clip on youtube about this incredible old man from Java. Please have look it and listen very carefully about what he has to say about the “Old Ways”…

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