Sévis (SVP).

Service.

A lot of people don’t tend to realize how time consuming servitude can be. I understand. A lot of people tend to see the word “servant” in the realm of voodoo and tend to gloss over that. Or, and this is conjecture, I think they conflate it with a very common word found in paganism: devotee. Someone who is a devotee of a particular god can pull back, can take a break, and can easily just ignore the wants and desires of the god in question. They don’t have to make the sacrifice if they don’t want to. However, in the realm of the lwa ignoring a push from them, as their servant, can be incredibly detrimental on numerous levels. It can cause strife in your relationship with the lwa and a lack of trust. After years of being servant to both Papa Legba and Bawon Samedi, I feel like I am more able to put things off for one reason or another with little push back. They know that I mean well and they know what my life is like – just because I am their servant doesn’t mean I don’t fill their ears with my complaints or woes – and again, I’ve established the trust between us.

I think this is something that a lot of people just have a very difficult time understanding and this worries me.

I see a lot of interest, suddenly, in voodoo. This is understandable. There are a lot of people who think it’s pretty “neat.” It’s been arrested in the background for so long and it’s only been in recent years that there has been a surge of interest in America. I think the interest is a good thing. Voodoo has been a mystery for so long that people have come to fear it. And I honestly believe that demystifying is the first step to bringing a greater understanding. We see all of these movies and images on TV about what voodoo isn’t, but so many people don’t know any better. By such a rich and beautiful tradition coming into the limelight, people are finally able to realize that whatever we see and hear isn’t accurate. It’s all fear mongering and hate speech conveyed in pop culture and mass media. And I really and truly believe that in order for voodoo to survive, it needs to be explored in both anthropological and religious circles. I think, too, it needs to be recognized for all that it has done for the people who have been a part of this way of life for so long.

The thing is that many of the people who show an interest may only think of it as “cool.”

I’ve talked about this before, of course. But it’s a subject that bears repeating: voodoo should never be looked into because it’s “cool” or because “everyone else is doing it.”

I worry that when I get all these questions or when I see new people looking into it that they don’t realize how difficult things can be when you start down this road. As a white person, it’s difficult because it’s outside of my frame of reference, both culturally and religious wise. I wasn’t raised in any tradition that even remotely looks or feels like voodoo. Just because I was raised as a Christian and with Catholic roots does not mean that I even remotely can begin to deal with all of the rich nuances that make up this way of life. And that’s the key, the thing that makes it difficult for me and for others walking down similar roads as me: it’s a way of life. It’s so much a part of the culture of the people who have been raised into this tradition that it is part of their lives. It is in the air that they breathe, the food that they eat, the words that they speak.

I will never understand that. And I don’t know if anyone who has shown an interest in recent weeks, months, years will, either.

But, mostly, I end up worrying because of the lwa.

It’s not that they ask me to worry for them. They’re beyond my ken. They’re more powerful than me in a lot of ways and they’ve been at this a lot longer than I have been at this whole human thing. They shouldn’t need me to worry, but I can’t help it. It’s kind of in my nature to be a worry wort and Papa Legba laughs at me when I broach this subject. He says it’s “cute” and “endearing” but he also assures me that it’s unnecessary. Then, I change tactics and I begin to worry for the people who are interested. I begin to worry that they’ll bite off more than they can chew and end up stuck in something that makes them unhappy. Papa Legba laughs at me when I broach this subject with him, too. He tells me that I’m “worrying for no reason” and that the lwa wouldn’t go to someone that they “didn’t want around.”

But I still worry.

I worry for the lwa.

I worry for the people.

In this day and age, we don’t really have a lot of experience with being a servant. I tend to equate my servitude with what historians discuss in the Middle Ages. They say that it was pretty shitty for people who were living in the castles, providing for the noblemen and the royalty. There were some perks, of course, but over all, their lives were pretty lousy. I have to say that there are some perks to all of this, but it can be pretty lousy too. There’s a thing about repitition that will begin building foundations for you. And that’s a good thing because it will help you to solidify your relationship with them. But we forget about how much sacrifice can go into being a servant. I’ve been doing it for two years now so even I tend to forget how much sacrifice there can be with this. But that is the case.

This whole thing is about sacrifice.

There’s a lot of it.

And I don’t think a lot of people take that seriously or realize what it’s like.

In my first entry about this, I chose the following Haitian proverb, “beyond the mountains, more mountains.” This is exactly what being a servant is like. The first few years can be difficult because you forget about the services you have decided to provide. Or, maybe you don’t do them as often as you should and you start to feel really awful about it. But then you get back on the path and continue that hike up the mountain face. And you’re going and moving forward and you’re okay for a while because the repitition has built enough where it’s almost like you’re on autopilot. And then you back slide because you are sick or because life gets in the way. And then you start to feel your relationship with the lwa falling apart around your ears and before you know it, you have to start back at the very bottom of the mountain and start that hike all over again because you done fucked it up again.

This can, and will, happen a lot.

I came into this with a kind of leg up on the situation. I had years’ worth of fuck ups with my gods and the daily rites I provide for them underneath my belt before I entered the exciting adventure that is voodoo. But not everyone is as lucky as me. There are quite a few people who are searching for anything to give their lives meaning and they think, “Voodoo.” They’ll end up having to climb up that mountain face over and over again until it sticks or they give up. The thing that many people forget and that I never have – due to that whole daily rite to the gods – is that constancy is the key. If you keep on, keepin’ on then you build the relationship, you build the trust. And then the lwa are more likely to show up dreams, are more likely to provide for you, and are more likely to give you things back as you give to them.

But you have to start off somewhere and you have to begin somewhere.

And that beginning is usually tears, sweat, and screwing up.

I worry about the people who want to enter this and they think it looks so “cool,” so “neat.” They see it and they only look at the glitz and polish veneer that Hollywood puts over the false surface they’ve created. And I think that, above all else, is what worries me the most. I am legitimately frightened that people see the portrayals on TV and think that will be it. And that’s nothing like what this is. It’s everything – it is the air, the food, the words, the actions, and everything in between – and people may not be able to give it that everything.

And I worry.

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3 thoughts on “Sévis (SVP).

  1. More than one mambo has told me that offering a little consistently is better than offering a lot inconsistently. I think it’s important for those new to Vodou to start small with service to their ancestors and their Met Tet (if they know who it is). That will reduce the chance of feeling overwhelmed.

    • I know, back at the beginning, I never thought I would be so far in my relationship with either Papa or Bawon. And I honestly think that the small services and the long period I’ve spent building those relationships has given me a great foundation and a true appreciation for what I’ve been doing.

  2. I am currently fascinated with language, the use of words in various contexts, and trying to decipher where and what the differences are. Your post here bring this to mind because: the one word I use to describe my relationships to my gods, if I’m talking about the two I’m sworn to, is ‘devotee’. I don’t generally use the term servant, I don’t think usually in terms of servitude (possibly because in my day job I’m in customer service, and that brings with it all the unhealthful connotations to service, I suppose), but the rest of your post speaks to me, of some of the situations I’ve faced in my long years of being devoted to these two. There’s much within that I can easily empathise with, right down to the worrying about them, and their assurances that they’ve been at this for some time and they can handle pretty much anything, and please do look to my own path instead of worrying so much about how others are faring.

    I’ve been looking a lot at a wide variety of faiths and their folks these past few year with a dawning realisation that, we are all made up of humanity, and so we really all seem to run the gamut in terms of what one can find. Many problems facing the smaller religions or the more obscure, the ones to be found within pagandom and the cousins that don’t quite fit under that umbrella or simply don’t wish to be under it, are not unique at all, are not new. Including those folks who come in and are satisfied with the surface, are satisfied with the bling, are not interested in digger deeper, don’t want to be bothered to learn truth from fiction. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not new to the world, it’s not new to paganism, and it’s not going to go away. I think the only answer to this is to keep on, keepin’ on, as we are: by being those who do dig deeper and by being those who show that we’ve dug deeper, by talking about it, by sharing with each other, by having conversation, etc. We can’t touch everyone, and not everyone is going to be at a place were something more than a superficial understanding in necessary or desired in their lives, and that has to be okay, because we can’t change that.

    Or, my mantra from my days of cat rescue applies there, too. “I can’t save all of them.”

    Thank you, for this thought-provoking post. Thank you for being one who shares.

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