Something I’ve never really discussed regarding the lwa is how very important giving thanks to them is. It’s one thing to not provide thanks to the gods for items they do for you – the relationship is kind of different in many cases when it comes to how we devote to our gods. However, while some relationships with the gods can and will take on a sort of partnership, this isn’t the case with the lwa. They require that thanks be provided to them for things they’ve given you. If you fail to provide thanks to the lwa then things can and will get a lot worse for you after they’ve given whatever it is that you asked them for. I would like to think that I’m getting better at remembering to give thanks to the lwa but sometimes, in a fit of fear that I’m failing somewhere, I end up going up and above the norm in an effort to remind myself, and them, that I truly am thankful for all that they have provided.
There appears to be two separate ways to provide thanks to the lwa, at least as far as my research has indicated. There is the ability to provide an intimate thanksgiving between the servant and the lwa in question. And then there is a larger ceremony known as the action de grace. From the little bit I’ve found regarding this topic, it doesn’t seem like this happens quite often and that it is definitely a ceremony that non-initiates wouldn’t partake in. Since I am not initiated into anything, I had decided that what I was providing was simply my giving thanks and nothing more. While the phrase, action de grace, is how I was gently reminded that I had things to provide thanks for, I don’t believe that the lwa to whom I needed to provide my gratitude for were looking for a non-initiate’s attempt at recreating an action de grace rite. Besides, since that particular ceremony appears to be something that a Sosyete would celebrate without any outsiders, I didn’t really know how to go about something like that. So, instead, I decided that I just needed to give a hearty “thank you.”
Papa Legba, in the last few months more specifically, has given me a lot of assistance on items that I didn’t think he would be able to help me out with. Just as I’ve given thanks to Bawon Samedi for his timely assistance financially last summer – and ended up paying for failing to say “thank you” in a timely manner – I knew that I couldn’t let this one sit. Papa Legba is more patient than most of the lwa, but he is not above messing things about in order to make the point stick. So, I knew that I needed to do something really grandiose and awesome for him while also trying to keep the rite simple and intimate. He really, really assisted me in a lot of ways in the white room that I can’t even begin to detail – and won’t – and he also has just been a sort of constancy as I wander around, feeling vaguely odd and mostly lost. With his ability to be as steadfast as he has been, I decided to give him a surfeit of thanks on New Year’s Day.
New Year’s Day is a day dedicated to Papa Legba in many traditions. The first day of the year is the start of a new cycle, or in parlance that is more easily associated with him: it’s a day about opening the gateway, to bust through obstacles, and to bring new opportunities to people who need them and/or request those new opportunities. While all of these things are super important and things I should probably request assistance with in the coming year, this wasn’t really about me and my needs. This was about him and his needs. As I was thinking about how I wanted my thanksgiving to go the day before New Year’s Eve, I knew that I didn’t just want to provide him my own thanks, but to offer his ability to bust through some shit and bring in some good shit to others. So, I sent out a little invitation to anyone who was wanting to get some aid from Papa Legba. This was a two-fold adventure for me: I was providing him a meal, dedicated to him, in thanks for all he’s done for me. And I was also providing a sort of miniature service for others who needed help, but didn’t really know where to get that help from.
Part of the reason I got the idea is because I’ve found myself, in the last two months, looking forward to and enjoying the services I’ve been providing in the name of others to Sekhmet. It seemed, to me, that Papa Legba would appreciate something as catchy as all of that. And it also seemed like a selfish thing to keep a very wonderful lwa to myself. If he has the capability to assist me with the various projects I have going on, who was I to deny his access to others? And honestly, he’s been such a solid force in my life for the last few months. Since our last interaction in the white room, I haven’t really had much going on with him. And the amount of solid foundation he really provided me within that room is something that I would really like others to be able to feel and to know. If I could open up that doorway, even just a little, for others, then I thought, well, why not? And to be honest, my Papa Legba is very much a flashy kind of lwa who likes to get as much attention as he can (when he feels it appropriate). And if the day of New Year’s wasn’t appropriate, then what day really would be?
I managed to put a quick menu for the meal together very quickly. This, in all honesty, is one of the big lures with voodoo. It’s not all of it, but a large part is the fact that it’s about what you have versus what you need. While I attempt to balance myself properly between the gods and the lwa, I sometimes feel like the lwa appreciate who I am, what I have on hand, and what I can pull out of my butt with those items more than the gods. In many instances, I feel that my gods need a bit more in order for my success. It’s possible that I’m building too much into something that isn’t even an issue, but occasionally, I feel more powerful and successful in the minor rites I create alongside or for the lwa than I do for the gods. In either case, Papa Legba told me to plan out the menu based on things he knew that I knew he would enjoy and to add one single special touch: he wanted me to find chocolate that had orange rinds in it or that was orange-flavored. I looked up the meaning for orange peels in one of my herbal books and found that it is associated with “general good luck.”
This gave me the grand idea of where I wanted to go with the petition services I was going to provide. I was going to push out the specific requests, of course, but I wanted it all couched under the auspices of “general good luck.”
There were a couple of other items that I did need to go out and get for him, though. While grocery shopping this past weekend, I kept my eyes peeled for the requested orange flavored chocolate. I ended up finding some on sale at my local grocery store. I also found other items that I thought Papa Legba would like added to this meal on sale. It really felt like things were working in our favor. I was able to [finally] get the requested pineapple and it was on sale! I bought chunks of it versus the actual thing since I don’t actually know how to cut it or skin it. (As a kid, fruits were things that were common, like apples and bananas and oranges and nectarines. We didn’t really move outside our comfort zone when it came to fruits. I still don’t move outside of my comfort zone with fruits because whenever I attempt to, I end up screwing things up or forgetting it’s in the house.) I also managed to find some red beans and rice on super sale and I bought that to go with the chicken meal I was planning.
Everything I was planning here, by the way, had a certain set of symbolism that correlates with my Papa Legba. Rice is something he’s asked of me a few times and he seems to enjoy it. It’s also incredibly cheap and stuff that I usually have on hand. Since the box of red beans and rice was on sale, it seemed like another kind of mini sign post that this was something important. Plus, it had red beans in it and one of his core colors if red. The chicken meat hearkened back to Papa Legba’s symbolism with the black rooster that I read in a book or three. The chocolate is something that all of the lwa have a flare for, but I prefer to get flavored kinds that, again, hearken back to things that they’ve requested of me. While I attempt to use a lot of symbolism in any rite that I perform for any of the gods or the lwa in my life, I really attempt to pay closer attention when I’m planning on something on a grander scale than I normally would provide.
While I waited for everything to cook, I wrote out the handful of petitions I received. I thought about how I wanted to supply the petitions to Papa Legba. Basing it, similarly, to how I provide them to Sekhmet, I ended up writing them down on small pieces of paper. It took me longer to write down the petitions than I had initially thought it would because of how I needed to word them carefully in order to make their requests plain. I also needed to figure out how, specifically, I wanted to metaphorically help these people break through the blocks. I got an idea while looking at Papa Legba’s altar. Once Hekate left the house, she left behind a very nice lantern. Since both she and Papa Legba are of the liminal sort, I placed it on his altar after she was gone. Staring at it, I knew what I wanted to achieve.
In between rubbing out the writer’s cramp I was getting while writing the petitions (my handwriting is very precise, especially when I’m writing out petitions for others, so I have to stop after a while to rub out the cramps in my hands), I continued to set my table service. I had purchased red and white linen napkins the day before. I used these as the basis for the “canvas” I was creating. I placed them in a sort of diamond pattern and then began placing some of the items I have on Papa Legba’s altar onto the table. I placed the candle holder with his vévé on it, the paket that was made for me that is kind of like my “doll” of him, and his wooden bowl on the table. I recreated a little symbolism in front of his “doll” for the petitions I was placing: I added his three dice, three pennies, and three cowrie shells in a sort of pattern atop the wooden bowl I keep on his altar, as well. Finally, I added three keys in front of him, as well.
Once I had finished with the petitions, I set them up first since I still had some time to kill before the meal was ready.
All lit and supplied to the Old Man.
I placed all nine petitions on the white offering plate I have for just such a purpose. I placed tea lights over each of the written petitions, as well. Since I had fewer petitions than I have in the rites I’ve performed for Sekhmet, I was able to “set lights,”
sort of, for these people. Unlike with the traditional hoodoo rite of setting lights, I didn’t use the seven-day candles and I didn’t use candles specific to the purposes each petitioner was requesting. I did, however, dress the white tea lights. I anointed them with some success oil I have on hand. I also dressed the entire plate with herbs that were relating back to the “general good luck” that I wanted to create. I wanted to be able to give the people asking for assistance their own power in finding the way to break through the blocks in an effort to draw the new opportunities to them. Back to my obsession with symbolism: that was why I chose to use the lantern in this rite. I wanted them to have a lighted way through the darkness that blockages of varying sorts can cause in people and if I lit the lantern, symbolically, they would be able to “see” the light and follow it through the blocks preventing them from seeing the new opportunities coming in their lives.
The whole shebang.
After I had completed that part of the work, I was able to set the meal out. I put the main course out first (with a fork) so that Papa Legba could feast upon that either while he perused the requests before him or after he was finished with it. I added the various other items I had on hand for him: a cup of coconut and orange-flavored chocolate; a mug of hot coffee that was laced with a flavored Bailey’s nip I had been given for Christmas; the last shot of his coconut rum; and the chunks of pineapple that was covered in cheese. The cheese was the only thing that I didn’t associate with him. I provided him the cheese as a symbolic sacrifice. Cheese is a very big and important staple in our lives. We all love cheese in this household. I will buy a pound of American cheese and just munch on it whenever, though I prefer to munch down on extra sharp cheddar more than American cheese. But the point was that I was offering him a sacrifice of one of our most favored items and I was placing it over the pineapple as a secondary sacrifice. I would eat it later and it would be “tainted” with the taste of pineapple (I don’t like the taste of pineapple or of coconut – two items that he does
Once everything was set before him so that he could pick and choose what he sampled, I lit the candles of the petitions first, followed by three spare candles I added at the last minute.
I have a whole host of plain white candles lazing around my house. I added three candles beneath his “throne” on the table and anointed them with the same success oil. I then lit them to provide success to the nine petitioners. The last candle I lit was the one in the lantern. Again, this was a symbolic gesture. The first candles lit were the nine requests placed before him, as a kind of first step to breaching through their blocks and attaining their ultimate goals. The three candles placed directly in front of his “throne” and just in front of the offering plate of petitions was to keep him focused on them. And lastly, I lit the lantern to provide the people, finally, with the light at the end of the tunnel that many of them needed in order to realize their ultimate goals.
While Papa Legba was eating, I sat down beside him and enjoyed a cup of Bailey’s laced coffee with him. While the two of us enjoyed his meal together, I told him how grateful I was for everything he’s provided me in the last few months. I specifically explained to him what I was thankful for and what this service was about. But, I also detailed other things he has given me over the last few years with him in his life. Teary-eyed towards the end of my list of reasons why I was so appreciative of all he’s done for me and how happy I am to have him in my life, I told him that I didn’t think I would have survived all the shit that’s been thrown at me if he wasn’t around. And while I don’t know what-all we’re doing with this camaraderie between us, I appreciated it and wouldn’t trade it for all the gold in the world. I’m not certain of I was able to convey, fully, how I feel about him and how thankful I truly am, but I would like to hope that he received the point.
Completed petitions. Lower right hand candle shows the dark soot.
After our shared cup of coffee, I was exhausted. I felt like I had run a marathon, or as if I had been up for days upon days and was only finally
capable of falling asleep. While I rested, I let the petition candles burn out throughout the night. I was hoping that, in the morning, I would look at them and see that the petition was a success. (I didn’t actually get to look at them until yesterday.) By candle standards go, the petition was
a success, mostly. There was a single candle that burned itself black. Since I had been careful to not allow too many of the “general good luck” herbs I had sprinkled over the petitions to remain on top of the tea lights, I was curious as to the meaning here. In looking at the pictures I took of the services, I do see that there was a thicker bunch of herbs on that candle. So, it is incredibly feasible that what I am associated the blackened condition of the tea light casing (and the petition beneath) is merely a coincidence. However, in looking over the rest of the petitions, it is the only one to have ended up like this and I’m a pretty big fan of explaining away coincidences. I have already alerted the owner of that petition to the circumstances here and hopefully, they are better able to explain it away than I have been.
I learned a lot during what I was providing for Papa Legba, both in the thanksgiving meal and in the petitions I had placed before him. I realized that I actually enjoy doing this. It’s fun and it’s exciting and I feel like I’m able to really assist us others in a way that they may not be able to assist themselves with. I also learned that there is a bit of responsibility that goes along with this as well. Just because I place petitions down in front of a particular being doesn’t mean that they will succeed (as in the possible case of the lone petition that burned so black). And finally, I learned that this is something that I would like to continue to do. I would like to continue to be able to provide these types of services to Papa Legba. It’s not just fun, but it’s also very intimate and very fulfilling in a way that I didn’t realize would be the case.
All in all: A++. Would recommend again.