Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou by Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo. And on my second attempt, I found what I was looking for.
Much of the time, when I am directed to learning something by Vye Legba, I am given a rather oblique and general communication on the subject. Point in case, he wanted me to do some research relating to my previous post and adding celebrations to my religious calendar. His exact wording for what he required of me on this search? “Pick up the book and read what you need.” There really wasn’t a lot to go on when it came to this. I had to decide which book he may be talking about and hope that I was correct. The first book I chose was wrong. Since I had no compulsion to open it until two days after I decided to utilize it for the research necessary, I rather figured it would be a failure on my part. And it was, but I still had to double and triple check that intuitive knowing that I had chosen incorrectly. I stared at my bookcase, thinking long and hard about his instruction before thinking of what I needed and what books I hadn’t read as thoroughly. Maybe he was talking about something I haven’t delved into as heartily as I have with some of my other voodoo books? It would make sense that whatever he wanted me to learn would be in a place I haven’t found it yet, hm? So, I grabbed
The thing is that I’m pretty sure he wanted me to pick up this book for numerous reasons. It wasn’t just the research he’s asking me to look into relating to calendar related items, but also because there were other items I needed to read and learn. And this book really helped me with that in a way that I wasn’t expecting. This particular epiphany related to the Guédé, of all nachon to be epiphany-ing about. And was thoroughly unexpected. (Yet more proof, to me, that Papa Legba is the string puller in the background.) The other thing relating to this book is that a lot of the items she mentioned when discussing the nachon of the Guédé was not something I had heard before and was not something the Bawon found particularly pleasing, either.
While I have done as much research as my little typing fingers can convey and as much reading as my thirty-year-old eyeballs allow, there have been a lot of items that have slipped through the cracks. A large part of this isn’t just my own human frailty but also the fact that there are just going to be things that I am simply incapable of learning because I have not been inducted into a society. I have, mostly, made amends with the fact that the information I have is going to be anthropological in nature – so couched in the terminology of a lot of theories and possibilities – or based on a single person’s practice. While anthropological tomes are pretty damn important to the Kemetic part of things, a lot of my practice with the lwa can be simply stated as “UPG.” I may not know what it is that I am doing, or the specific why of the matter. Sometimes, later, I find out that there is actually a word for what it is I am doing or that there is a specific action that is relating to what it is I have already been doing to serve my spirits. But, for the most part, I’m being pushed and prodded in a way that is completely outside of a standardized frame of reference, or so I believe. While this is, obviously, a problem in numerous arenas – I mean, really, can you imagine talking to a practitioner about some of the shit you do as a non-initiate and not being laughed at because of it? It’s something that I find easier to do because of the Kemetic background that I have.
What it comes down to is that I like the structured reliability of a community to fall back on. However, because I have a functional gateway of communication between myself and the various OTHERS™ who have entered my life, I don’t necessarily require it.
This isn’t to say that whatever I end up with is the proper choice. I can only go so far with rather vague instructions – please see Papa Legba’s commentary above – before I come to a stopping point. But there are days where the fact that I can surround myself with the lwa is infinitely more preferable than having to stop and learn under the tutelage of a human being who is as fallible as myself. By surrounding myself with the lwa and by embracing their entrance into my life – as much as someone as caustic as me can anyway – I think I have it a lot easier. While I know that many established practitioners would read what I write and scoff heartily or would shake their heads or accuse me of something or other, I feel a certain type of safety in these kinds of moments. In learning based on what the lwa themselves desire and have in store for me versus the tried and true message. And as Papa Legba is so fond of telling me over and over again, “Sometimes, you just have to go and fuck up the status quo.” While I’m not quite sure what that means to Papa Legba, I can see what he means. Sometimes, the tried and true methods take a good deal longer than the lwa are willing to wait on.
Something of interest that I found in this section of the book related to how the Guédé and the honored ancestors need to be kept apart when you honor them. This really made me sit back and pay attention to something that had been niggling me in the back of my head. The thing is that when it comes to the akhu veneration that I do, I tend to consider all that I do, from the grave-tending to the minor rituals in home, as a part of that. I also tended to view what I was doing for the akhu as part and parcel with what I was doing with the Bawon and the Guédé. The statements relating to this within the book made me sit back and seriously take stock in the various aspects of my practice and how differentiated they actually are.When I am grave-tending, this is in honor of the Bawon, Maman, and Papa G. I am not doing this for myself. This is how I offer them service each week. This is also why much of what I do when I am in a graveyard stems from bits and pieces I’ve put together in my readings relating to the Guédé. All of the offerings, everything I say, and how I go about what it is I do in those cemeteries is a carefully created Guédé-related blanket that I have sewn together based off of my readings and based off of things that the Guédé have asked of me. When I enter the graveyard, I announce myself, which is something that Bawon requested that I do. When I enter a graveyard, I pay my way with pennies at the sentinel grave nearest the entrance, which is something that I learned from another Vodouisant. The offerings that I leave are based entirely off of things that the Guédé have asked of me or based off of things I’ve picked up here and there in either blogs or books. Every aspect to what I do when I go to the cemetery to honor the locals here is one-hundred percent something relating to the Guédé. This is why I have had a difficult time trying to mesh my Kemetic practice into the grave-tending because, damn it, there is nothing Kemetic about it outside of the occasional cone of incense or the fucking flowers I leave.
And that’s it.
This made me realize that my constant failed attempts at blending the akhu veneration with the service for the Guédé is never going to work. I had a feeling that was the case because, well, every time I go to the cemetery and try to stay in a Kemetic frameset, Bawon comes on over and chews me the hell out over how silly I’m being. I was doing him a sever disservice and doing myself one as well by attempting to blend the two. They have no requirement to be blended. The work I do for the Guédé, the forgotten ones in those cemeteries, has to do with Bawon, Maman, and Papa G. They are not my akhu in the way that this book made me realize: they’re not my fucking relatives so I need to stop inviting them over when I’m doing the Kemetic akhu thing, damn it, because as special as they are to me, their being special has nothing to do with my Kemeticism. That special has to do with the voodoo portion of what it is I do.
Why it has taken me this long to realize this is incredibly stupid and silly and ridiculous. All I can say is that I am a stubborn son of a bitch.
Another item that was of particular interest to me was about how the Guédé and the rest of your lwa need to be kept apart. I do understand this, actually. I know how the rest of the lwa tend to feel about the Guédé. I’ve read enough to know that most of the lwa will leave a Fet if the Guédé show up, unannounced. There are different reasons for it – in this book, there was mention about how Freda will leave when they show up because the Guédé are incredibly tactless and truthful. I understand this, of course, but I have to admit that my Guédé altar is right in the center of my altars for the Marassa and Papa Legba. And of course, wasn’t it interesting that Bawon was a lot less lively around me after I had placed him up there…?
I thought about this a lot. There are some issues that I have relating to the “you have to” in this stuff. A part of it is the fact that a lot of us non-initiated don’t have a lot of time, energy, or space to have the types of altars that the Guédé may want. I know exactly what Bawon wants and I know exactly what he would like on it. I’ve seen it. He’s shown me exactly what he’s hoping to have, one day, in my home. In the interim, what he is looking for is going to have to wait due to a serious lack of space. I live in a very tiny apartment. Every available wall space has been taken up with things like furniture and altars and living space. What bits I have been able to appropriate as functional altars (such as my Anup and akhu altar that sidelines as a filled DVD case) are very small and not very functional. I had to go from a full sized apartment and all of the furniture that furnished that place into a place that is half its size. For fuck’s sake, the living room is 10×14 nook off of the dining area. So, while I understand that the lwa don’t like the Guédé and don’t want them around, there are some things that just have to give.
And that means the Guédé end up smack dab in the middle of two other lwa.
While thinking about how I hadn’t heard anything from the Bawon since I made the decision to add the Guédé to the other lwa‘s home, I felt a brush on my shoulder. It wasn’t really like… it wasn’t like someone was stroking my shoulder to tell me I was doing all right. But it wasn’t exactly not like that either. It was almost a way of saying, “There’s other stuff going on right now and I’m not angry about it and if anyone else is, they can take it up with me so don’t worry about it.” It was soothing, more than anything else, and it helped.
Again, I know that what I’m doing is probably wrong in a lot of other established practitioners’ eyes. However, I have to make do with what I got. And if that means that I’m going to have to put the services I wish to have for some other lwa, most notably the Marassa and Gran Bwa, on hold until things can be maneuvered around properly, and then that’s what I’m going to have to do. It’s not very much like I asked for them to come to me, anyway. They showed up to me, for whatever reason, and I kind of have to believe that means something to both them and to the services I am intending on implementing for each.
I think what really threw me for a loop was this quote, “I was taught that unless you have The Baron in your constellation or were born on his day (November 2) then you do not serve Him. He is too dangerous to anyone He has not chosen for himself. Even those of us who do serve him, must pay the price in the end of that service.” While I agree that nothing is given for free and that we must all, ultimately, pay the price set for us when it comes to the services we offer to the lwa and the Guédé, I’m not quite sure why people should not offer the Baron services. She hints that he is a dark and sinister figure. And while I agree he has his moments, nothing I have found anywhere has ever intimated that he should be left alone. Obviously, each Mambo and Houngan is taught in a different way from one another, which is why there is no unified “this is how it is” in voodoo. But, this statement bothered me a lot.
Yet another downfall of being an uninitiated prat? I have no one to turn to when it comes to this shit.
This was a problem up until I fell asleep when I went to see the Bawon. (Side note: whenever I dream of the lwa, they are in a forest. I know what forest, specifically, they are inhabiting, but I always find it weird that I am, without fail, in a forest and surrounded by forest noises.) He was holding reign over his Guédé and smoking a cigar. And he was quite angry with the much of the items I had taken away from that chapter. At one point, he slashed his hand in a rather sinister manner and said around his cigar, “Don’t you be worrying, baby girl. You do what I tell you to do. That’s what you worry about.” I have to say that I have never seen the Bawon as angry before (and as I told Tumblr this morning, I do not recommend seeing him angry). But he was pretty pissed off with a lot of the ideas and thoughts I was having because of this.
The lesson here (remember there was one) is that just because I find something of note or interest in a book doesn’t mean that the lwa and Guédé whom I offer my services to are going to be pleased with what I pick up. Remember that rambling monologue earlier on about how I get a lot of direction from the lwa and the Guédé because I have a functional godphone? That’s the lesson. The lesson isn’t just that I may find things that the spirits I service disagree with. The lesson is that I’ve spent so much time relying on books, blogs, and other people to tell me what to do here. When all along, I’ve been doing a damn good thing by listening to the lwa and what they’ve wanted of me.
This hearkens back to a conversation I had with Papa Legba recently about Gran Bwa. I’m going to leave off with it here.
Papa Legba You need to honor Gran Bwa. He come to you and you don’t do nothin’ for him.
Me I failed the test he gave me, remember? I figured we were just kind of done. Besides, how the hell do I honor him?
Papa Legba Haven’t you been doin’ that all ready?
Me What? No. I’ve been honoring the land spirit and leaving– Wait.
Papa Legba You been doin’ this whole damn time and you don’t e’en remember what started all that.
Me Oh, fuck.
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