Vodou’s Response and Responsibility in the Face of Oppression

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

Isaiah 62:1

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the horror that is Charlottesville. I am disgusted and horrified by the racism and terrorism being perpetuated by Nazis and other white supremacists.

The Abrahamic faith that is Christianity says that when someone injures us, we are to “turn the other cheek”.

Haitian Vodou, though it has some roots in Christianity (namely Roman Catholicism), has no such tenet. Make no mistake, Haitian Vodou was the original Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about freedom from oppression and slavery, and a faith born of revolution. We Vodouizants do want to live in a peaceful world, but we also recognize that for most of history that hasn’t been possible.

Our spirits believe in revenge. They believe in justice, and if you ask them for those things, they will be granted to you.

I, as a white American woman, constantly work to unpack my own baggage having been raised in a racist society. I know that my largely English family (on my mother’s side) owned slaves in Barbados and brought them to the U.S. I must constantly remember that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and I have to be better than they were.

The lwa demand that we be strong, and that we stand up to evil and oppression. We who practice this religion, especially those of us who are white, have a responsibility to speak out and act up. Because if you don’t stand up for your lwa, your lwa won’t stand up for you.

 

 

Get to Know a Lwa: Ogou

Bonjou zanmi! Today is Wednesday and so it’s Ogou’s day. I thought we’d talk about my Papa, the head of the Vodou house I belong to.

This is Ogou St Jaques, one of many members of the Ogou nation.

Ogou is a Nago spirit. This group of spirits came from the part of Africa that is now Nigeria. Some of you might be saying, “Hey, isn’t there a spirit like this in Lukumi?” Lukumi has an Orisha called Ogun, who has some similarities with Ogou: they both are associated with iron and metal. Ogun is more of  a blacksmith, whereas Ogou is more of a soldier.

Ogou is indeed every inch a soldier: brave, fierce, protective, and he expects nothing less than your best effort. Many Ogous carry a machete, but some favor a sword. His colors are red and blue, but some Ogou take additional colors: Ogou St. Jacques takes red and khaki. Remember: if you can’t afford anything else, you can use a white scarf to salute any spirit.

Ogou’s day of the week is Wednesday. The saints associated with him are St. James the Greater (that’s his picture above) and St. George the Dragonslayer. Most Ogous take rum as their drink, but depending on the Ogou they may take a different type of rum. Some like Barbancourt three star, some like five star, and so forth. Some Ogous like red wine. Your Ogou may want a different drink altogether.

He likes red beans and rice, and typically likes Florida water as a cologne. He also loves cigars. He will often blow smoke on people to give them blessings.

There is no better protector than Ogou. He will use his machete to cut away all evil and sweep your enemies away. But he is also a tender and loving Papa. I’ve seen him cry when his children are in pain. I’ve also seen him spank people (myself included) with the machete when they misbehave.

Ogou loves the ladies and he is one of the most commonly married lwa.

Awocher Nago!

 

Off to Haiti!

Bonswa zanmi! I’m leaving tomorrow for Haiti and will return on 7/29. During that time I will have little to no access to email or the Internet. Feel free to email me and I will resume readings and work when I return. Many blessings to you.

How to Spiritually Clean Your House

Hi everyone! I hope the summer is treating you well.

Spiritual hygiene is very important. We all attract spiritual “gunk” just by interacting with the world, and we can pick it up from other people. I’ll be posting a separate article on how to spiritually cleanse yourself, but this post is going to focus on your home.

Even if you live by yourself (as I do) it’s important to keep your home spiritually clean, in addition to being physically clean. Yes, I know, housecleaning isn’t the most exciting thing to do, but keeping a sense of order and cleanliness in your most personal space will be the best environment for your spirits to live in. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I physically and spiritually clean my house.

Here’s how I generally clean my house. Gather the following supplies:

-bucket of warm water

-Pine Sol (pine oil is a traditional cleanser spiritually, and Pine Sol has real pine oil in it)

-sponge or cloth

-regular cleaning supplies (like for the toilet and counters)

-Van Van or other spiritual cleansing type oil

-one tea light candle per room in your house

-straw broom with a wooden handle (optional)

PRO TIP: Add a few drops of the Van Van or other blessing/cleansing spiritual oil to all of your cleansing supplies and shake up the bottle, praying that your home will be cleansed and blessed.

Add the Pine Sol to the bucket of water and pray over it so that blessings and cleanliness will be in your house.

The first step is to physically clean: put away all the dirty laundry, books, papers, empty Domino’s boxes, etc. Get things organized. Then start from the top floor of the house in the back room; you’re going to work from back to front. If your place only has one floor, start in the back of the house. Dust and vacuum. Then use a sponge and the Pine Sol water to wipe down the baseboards of each room. If the room has hardwood or tile floors you can mop in there. But at the very least you should do the baseboards and the inside and outside of each door.

Work your way to the front door, then spend some time really cleaning this area; the front door of your house is where all your blessings enter; you want it to be especially blessed. Wipe down the inside and outside of the door from top to bottom.

When you’re all done with the bucket, take the water off your property and throw it out; don’t dump it down the sink.

Come back inside and get your bottle of blessing or Van Van type oil. Start at the front door and dab a five spot of oil on the inside and  outside of the door; a five spot is like the 5 side of a 6 sided dice:

1     2

3

4    5

Pray as you dress the door that only blessings will enter your home. Do this with all the doors in your house.

Once you’ve dressed the doors, take your tea lights and dress them with the blessing oil. Put one in each room of your house and light them, praying again for blessings.

And you’re done!

NOTE: If things have been icky or bad for you, an additional Haitian Vodou thing you can insert into this cleaning process before you begin cleaning with the Pine Sol water is: use the broom to sweep the whole house, even the carpeted areas, from back to front. Sweep all the way out your front door and out to where your property line ends. Then, break the broom and throw one half to the left and one half to the right. This breaks your cycle of bad luck. You don’t have to take this step every time you clean your house, but if things have been bad or unlucky you should try it.

In a future post I’ll talk about spiritually cleansing yourself!

Vodou for the Holidays/New Year

Bonjou zanmi! This time of year is very important for those who serve the lwa. Christmas is a time for the Petwo spirits, those hot and revolutionary lwa. Think about it: God came down to earth and was made flesh (as Jesus). What more magical activity could there be? 🙂

I’m available for readings (called “leson”) throughout the holiday season; a card reading can give you knowledge of which spirits walk with you and the forecast for your new year. I also do Vodou lamps and candles and can make you good luck baths that you can take in your home. If you live within reasonable distance of Boston, I can come to you and administer the bath for an extra good luck boost! Baths and magic work are priced on an individual basis. Card readings are $60.

Contact me here or email me: manbomary at gmail dot com for more info. Have a blessed holiday season!

Thankfulness

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. Held the third Thursday of November, it’s a day when friends and family get together to share a meal and hopefully be thankful for the things they have.

Today I will be thankful for my lwa, who watch over me and protect me every day of the year.

I will be thankful for my family and friends.

But Thanksgiving has some problems too. For Native Americans, it’s a day of mourning the colonialism that has enslaved and tortured them for generations. Today, I urge you to say a prayer and take action for our Native brothers and sisters. Donate to a Native American charity, such as the demonstrators and water protectors at Standing Rock:

Donate here

I wish you all a happy day!

Get to Know a Lwa: Gede!

Bonjou zanmi:

We come from the ancestors and the dead. They are our roots. They were once alive like we are, and one day we will join them in the land of the dead.

Today is Halloween, a celebration of ghosts, ghouls, and witches (and lots of candy). But tomorrow, November 1, is the Christian feast of All Saints. The next day, November 2, is the feast of All Souls, the day when we celebrate all those of our families who have joined the ancestors. This time of year belongs to Gede (pronounced “Geh-Day”), the Haitian Vodou lwa of the dead.

Venerating the dead and the ancestors is the world’s oldest religious practice. Traditionally, at this time of year, the veil that separates our world from the ancestral world is the thinnest, which means not only that it is easier for us to access the ancestors and dead, but also that it’s easier for them to access us.

What do Vodouisants believe about death? Most Vodou practitioners are Catholic, so the beliefs in heaven and hell are there. After someone dies, they can become a beloved ancestor and we can pray for them and to them, asking for their ongoing protection and wisdom. But there are those humans that died violently, that weren’t given a proper burial, that have since been forgotten by their families and friends. Instead of those lonely souls being condemned to wander eternity alone, Papa Gede takes them into the Gede family and they have a place in the Vodou pantheon.

You may have heard the name Baron Samedi (and that name is pronounced “Sahm-Dee”, by the way). He’s very popular in New Orleans as well as in Haiti. He’s often pictured as a skeletal man with a black top hat, a white or powdered face, and a cane. Barons (or “Bawon”, to give it the Haitian pronunciation) are the bosses of the Gede family and there are many of them; they all have different functions too. Think of it like the Ezili group of lwa: each Ezili has a different name and they do different things.

The saint that is associated with Gede in my lineage is St. Gerard Majella:

gerardmajella_jpg

Note that he is a pale young man holding a cross, and note the skull in the lower left hand corner. Classic Gede imagery 🙂

During a Vodou fet, the Gede spirits can show up at any time during the fet; after all, death can come at any time. However, we *salute* Gede at the end of the evening. After what can be a long night of salutes, dancing, singing, and prayer, the antics of the Gede can be a lighthearted finish.

Gede is very….irreverent. He is loud. He doesn’t care AT ALL about social convention or manners. He treats everyone exactly the same, not caring for rank, money, or position. He cracks dirty jokes and every other word out of his mouth is a profanity. He dances the banda, a dirty hip-swiveling dance that looks like sex. He humps every object (and person) in the room. He swigs his special drink, piman, (a white rum concoction made with scotch bonnet peppers; most Gede take this drink, but he can drink other things depending on which Gede he is) and rubs the spicy liquid on his face and genitals. He’ll smoke multiple cigarettes at once. He’ll eat glass and fire (he’ll eat most anything, actually; he’s always hungry).

But his jokes hold wisdom. He always tells the truth, but he may tell it in the form of a riddle. If you want the straight skivvy on anything, ask Gede; he sees everything in both our world and his world.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that it’s important to have a reading with a priest or priestess to determine which lwa walk with you before you start serving them. However, since we all die, we all have a Gede walking with us; you may not know which one exactly, but he’s there.

How can you work with Gede? To start, you really need to be working with your ancestors. The ancestors are your first line of defense, after God. Set up a quiet space for them, on a bookshelf or a nice table. Put out a glass of clear water and a white candle. If that’s all you can set up for them, that’s fine. You can add pictures of your dead relatives if you have them (only put out pictures of the dead on an ancestor altar; do NOT put living people there; you don’t want your living loved ones to join the ancestors too soon). Pray there; ask your ancestors for help and guidance. Say the rosary if you’re Catholic. Years ago, I found some old prayer cards with prayers for the forgotten dead and beloved dead; I use those on my ancestor altar.

Once you get a good ancestor practice built up, consider setting aside a separate altar space for Gede. You don’t want him on the same table as your ancestors; trust me, you don’t want Gede telling his dirty jokes around your dead grandma. You can put Gede on the floor or the bottom shelf of your altar, if you have one. Keep him separate from the other lwa. You can give him a bottle of white rum, or you can make a basic piman by adding 21 scotch bonnet peppers to the bottle. Cut the pepper in 4 slices while leaving it attached to the stem, then shove it in the bottle.

Talk to him. Ask him for his wisdom. He takes the colors black, white, and purple. He’ll eat nearly anything, but make sure his food is spicy.

These are just some basics with Gede; if you want more specific info, or want a reading to determine which Gede walk with you, feel free to contact me. Kwa!

Help Sosyete Nago after Hurricane Matthew

Bonjou zanmi: My Vodou house, Sosyete Nago, is located in Jacmel, Haiti. That area was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Matthew. Main roads and bridges were flooded away, which means food and gas are going to be hard to come by for the foreseeable future. Would you please consider making a small donation through my brother Houngan Matt’s fundraising page? All the money will go directly to my house to help them get through the clean up of the storm. Mesi anpil!

 

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