Houngan Matt's Vodou Blog

A City Houngan's Life Among the Lwa
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My New ETSY Store

August10

Check out my new shop!

As many of you may know, I make Wanga pakets, Pwen, and of course offering/libation bottles for the lwa (in addition to all the lamp work and wonderful treatments and readings I get to perform as a Houngan! ;) )

If you’d like to see what all these items look like, take a look at http://www.etsy.com/shop/BeautifulVodou, my Etsy shop!

For the month of August, enjoy a 10% off discount with the coupon code “SummerSale”

An Important Vodou Tip

June16

Here’s a tip…. its a fairly simple one, and a fairly simple lesson about how a core part of Vodou works; We’ll talk about the tip first, then we’ll talk a little bit about how it applies… and then we’re going to talk about why its fairly serious.

Real Vodou maintains the national/tribal identity of the spirits it serves, those spirits we call Lwa (the fon language word for ‘lords’, incidentally… its not related to the French for ‘law’, “lois”, even though they have the same pronunciation.) by dividing the order of service into what we call ‘nancion’, or Nations. ALL of the different component roots of Vodou are maintained as encapsulated pieces, generally identifiable to the observer by the drum rhythms those spirits are called with. This is *intimately* tied to the dances performed as a part of the salutes in the temples… each dance is directly tied to its corresponding drum rhythm, which is in turn tied to the nation of origin for the spirit being saluted at the time.

This is *crucial* to the understanding of Reglemen for the religion… each section of the liturgy and the order in which the spirits are called traces all the way back to where those specific spirits came from; those from Benin/Nigeria (among the fon and gbwe people) take the Yanvalou rhythm and the graceful dance often featuring rolling shoulders and an undulating spine commonly associated with Vodou in general; the Nago, the spirits of the people now called the Yoruba, feature a militant 4×4 rhythm in their drumbeat and dances that are very sharp and angular, with strong arms and militaristic movements. The Kongo spirits feature a flirty drumbeat with a talking-drum sound, a pitch that rises, and a dance that features circling couples rolling their hips flirtatiously… a delicate dance of a great deal of fun. ;) The Djouba nation (all our beloved Zaka spirits) has its own rhythm, and certainly the Ghede are known for the intense Banda rhythm and the racy hip-thrusting dance that goes with it….  There are MANY such instances of the portion of the ritual and the spirits called featuring the rhythms of their home nations and the associated dances, which while serving to show the rituals as a whole serving the different roots that came to Haiti, they very much drive home the national/geographic origin of the spirit being saluted, showing precisely what part of Africa/what original Nation the spirit came from. ;)

Learn to identify the rhythm or dance behind the Salute, and you know where that Spirit’s journey began. ;) Isnt that cool?

Of course many of these individual spirits maintain similarities among themselves in comparison to each other… after all, we inherited the national pantheons of many, many different groups of people…. many different kingdoms, each with their own religion; it only makes sense that several Nations have powers/spirits that do similar things, right?  A good example may be found between, say, Damballah (Da, the principle of First Motion, is *incredibly ancient* and gave it’s name to Daome/Dahomey, a kingdom found in the northern part of West Africa) and the Simbis, water-related serpent spirits that come to us from deeeeeeeeep in the Kongo/Angola basin; noone would assume these two types of spirits were the same spirits (because they’re not; their peoples were separated by some 2000 miles) but there are similarities between them in certain parts of their root characteristics and their ‘areas of expertise’, being snakes related to fresh waters and rains.

Vodou, however, maintains the spirits of both root peoples; thus, we have Damballah (in with the Rada spirits, who come from that area associated with the port city of Alada), and the Simbis (who are saluted in the Petro portion of the rites, MUCH of the Petro coming to us direct from the Kongo/Angola peoples).

I suppose a good parallel would be, say, the Virgin Mary sharing MANY of her qualities with the Chinese goddess Quan Yin; were there to be a Vodou like phenomenon where both religions needed to combine to stay alive, you may picture the songs for the Virgin being heavily influenced by Roman Catholic Church music, while Quan Yin’s songs would have a decidedly Asian air and presence to them… as the music associated with both Powers would very clearly show where they were inherited from.

For us, study the music and the way the dances move, and you pinpoint the exact spot/home kingdom the spirit came from.

But…. that adds some wrinkles in public Vodou education; lemme explain why and how.

Lets look at one of Vodou’s single most beloved Lwa…. LaSirene, the Queen of the Ocean.

LaSirene’s rhythms and dances are actually all Kongo; while she’s saluted towards the late middle of the Rada grouping (immediately after Agwe, who is seen as her husband… though he is pure Rada and saluted with Yanvalou rhythm) her songs and dances are all in Kongo rhythm, pointing to her coming direct to Vodou from the MamiWata spirits of the Congo/Angola basin. She rose to prominence in Vodou over the other female marine spirits of other Kingdoms due to our huge influx of Kongo peoples and was paired with Agwe in his portion of the rites, but maintained the rhythms that show what part of Africa she was brought to Haiti from.

This presents a certain problem in public Vodou education…. and *her* name is Yemaja.

Yemaja, the Orisha of the Sea (and also a Queen of the Ocean figure) comes to the religions that maintain her from the people now known as the Yoruba (who Haitians call the Nago); a different nation and a different pantheon. Yemaja stayed prominent among the religions drawn from Yoruba/Lukumi practice (such as Santeria in Cuba and Candomble in Brazil) but didnt have the numbers to push her to the top in Haiti (where the Kongo LaSirene occupied the same “seat” of Queen of the Ocean). The two ladies have *very* different personalities, LaSirene much more seductive and capricious than Yemaja, who is motherly and loving; the little secret is that Yemaja survives in Vodou, hidden under one of her praise names instead of her outright name, located deep in the Nago rites (which are usually known best in most houses for the Ogou spirits…. many of whom are also the Orisha, transformed ever so slightly by the voyage and assimilation into Haiti… Ogou Shango = Chango, Ogou Batala = Obatala, and so on…. There’s a great deal more to the Nago nation than the Ogou brothers; study the lesser known spirits who arent popular in American Online Vodou and you learn a great deal more about the people who brought their spirits to the island.)

Vodou never lost these spirits; they’re just hidden deeeeeeeeep, very deep, inside old songs and old rites that while VERY well known in Haiti and in the temples just dont seem to make it into American consciousness. There are a few reasons for that, and sadly none of them are nice…. as anyone who’s been around the online Vodou community can plainly see, there are *many* people who make quite a bit of money selling vodou practices, service kits, and whatnot to interested people… usually from within the Pagan community, but not always…. but those people find it easier to present a simpler image, “dumbing it down” for the consumer, than presenting the reality of the religion in all of its complex beauty. If you seriously hunt around and look deep into the Nago portion of the rites, weed through the songs and learn what they say, you will find Yemaja hidden under one of her old praise names, a title of what she is rather than naming WHO she is…. but, on the surface level, when you see LaSirene saluted you hear the Kongo rhythms and see Kongo dances… which only drives home the point that these two Ladies have *never* been the same spirit. Forcing them to be the same lady is a lie… one told either by people who want to present something simple in American-sized bites, or told by people who just dont know the truth about these spirits. Neither camp is one I would trust to be an authority on such matters.

Study what they say and how they say it, but pay especial attention to the things they dont say and how they cover up the holes in their knowledge. Dont fall in.

Calling LaSirene and Yemaja the same lady is nothing more than saying Quan Yin gave birth to Jesus.

Milocan

June16

 

So… Its been a while since Ive tossed a service lesson into the blog mix, and it might just be time to do so. ;) If you’ve been following the blog here for a while I *do* hope you’ve been keeping up with your practice and seeing some results from your spirit work (and if not, you’ll want to start here and get cracking…  http://blog.vodouboston.com/2011/07/empowerment/ or start at the oldest posts in this blog and work your way forward…. there’s a lot of practice information in posts not tagged under the beginning vodou lessons tag. Its all free)

Its time to add another wrinkle, another little layer of complexity, to your table and your practices, and we call it Milocan. Milocan is the kreyol word that means “the thousands in the camps”, from the French ‘mille aux camps’, and for us, its an extremely important part of ritual liturgy and practice.

Think back for a moment to childhood fairy tales…. many, many problems in the lives of several women of note could have been entirely prevented by inviting *all* the required faeries to a certain birthday party; remember what Im talkin’ about? ;) We’d never have had that horrid incident with the spinning wheel cursed to kill the princess (that the others had to change into a sleeping spell) if everyone had been invited in the first place. THIS is where Milocan comes in handy.

Milocan is for *everyone else*, all the spirits not specifically called to your ceremony…. remember that in real Vodou, we dont jump around and serve just the spirits we want to; in a full ceremony, like most fetes offered for the community, we sing for all the lwa that our house serves (this is why those services dont get finished until 8 or 9 the following morning) in their proper liturgical order determined by Reglemen… but even in a fete where the spirits of the House are all called, welcomed, fed, and sung for, there’s simply no way to take care of each of the thousands of spirits Vodou recognizes (never mind those that just arent a part of the religion), so in both the Rada *and* the Petro portion of the rites, we take a moment to sing for Milocan, everyone we have not named, so that those who need the recognition and service are still able to receive it and noone is upset by being ignored. Milocan makes sure that, say you didnt have time to get through your complete list of the spirits who are walking with you (those you should be serving), that noone gets upset because at least youve taken the time to recognize the whole.

How do we bring this to a home service at your private table? Its actually fairly easy…. in a full fete this is another portion requiring three songs each repeated three times, with the basic salutes (only the saluting team is carrying ALL of the liquors the different spirits take) involved, at home you can make this muuuuuuch easier.

For the Rada section, grab your mug of water and your white candle (if you want a scarf around your shoulders in the appropriate traditional way, for Milocan you’d choose a wildly multicolored one; remember, this section recognizes *everybody*, so everybody’s colors are involved) but white will work in a pinch… do your regular salute the way we learned waaaay back in the lessons about building an altar and saluting (in that ‘empowerment’ link if you’re new to the Vodou blog ;) ) and declare it to be for everyone you have not named.

(if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll recognize that the excercises Ive been having you do have essentially ALL been Milocan service… by saluting all your Rada spirits at once and offering the single big plate of fruit or other food offerings, you’ve been covering your butt since the very beginning with the authentic and traditional way of making sure noone gets mad or feels ignored. ;) If you’ve begun serving individual lwa, after getting that reading to find out who walks with you and who should be included in your service, then you still want to do this one extra salute to include everyone in your thanks and your prayers, even if they arent intimately working with you. ;) It keeps everything balanced and healthy)

For a Petro style Milocan portion, grab your bottle of white rum and your candle and perform the Petro-style salutes (also linked to in that Empowerment post ;) ), making sure to dedicate the action to everyone you have not named. Again, you’ll notice that if you’ve been practicing the lessons as they’ve been written in here that this is what you’ve been doing all along… I wrote it that way to help keep you safe. ;) )

I find it’s good to do BOTH a Rada and a Petro Milocan; when we take the step into Petro, we’re essentially stepping into a wholly different rite/way of working (remember back when we talked about the roads at 90 degrees to one another and why Kafou is the crossroads and not Legba? This is what I meant ;) ) so its good to repeat the Milocan for the spirits in the new rite instead of just leaving it at one…. but one *is* ok if that’s all you have time for. In that case, do the Rada style… but I *do* recommend doing both.

ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT if you’ve been noting a sense of tension at your altar, or if you’ve just begun to tweak your altars into a more traditionally supported form of work; making a careful point of offering a milocan portion to your rites while asking your spirits to forgive your beginner’s blunders can help open that valve and release the tension/pressure. I still in such an instance recommend seeking out a qualified clergy person/initiate to advise you and bring things back to normal, but a well applied Milocan portion *can* help ease the pressure, recognizing *all* of your spirits, not just those you name.

 

 

GLBT Pride Month and Love Candle Special

June2

So… by now, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have figured out a couple of things. One is that Vodou as a religion supports people of all walks of life and all sexualities; after all, sex is a private activity but we are all human, all alive, and its a basic need we all share (even if we dont always agree on all points about it). Two, your friendly neighbourhood Houngan is, himself, a gay man (even though he’s married to a bunch of Vodou’s most beloved Ladies, he is in a wonderful relationship with his boyfriend ;)  ).

Vodou celebrates us all; we’re human, we live and breathe and dance and sing, and we all have spirits who love us. We all have ancestors, we all have lwa, and we all deserve that single most basic human need…. Love.

In Haiti, Vodou is often the only option where GLBT folks know that they’re truly and fully welcome; true, there are some lineages where bigotry has been allowed to enter the Temples, and there are very public houngan and manbo who are ridiculously disgusting examples of hatred and fear, either insisting that we have no place in the religion as homosexuals or focusing their rage and fear on the transgender community… but the truth is that Vodou as a whole (minus perhaps those horrid people) recognizes that all, ALL, of humanity has spirits and a welcome place at the Temple (as long as that person can be respectful and do the spirit’s work. THAT is the requirement, not being heteronormative.)

The other major faiths on the island, Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, make themselves harsh environments for GLBT people, who often find that the only place fully welcoming to them as fellow humans are the traditional peristyles of Sevis Ginen/Vodou. Again, and this is a point that cannot be stressed enough… Vodou welcomes ALL PEOPLE; it is never about your/our sexuality; that is but a tiny piece of the human experience. Vodou *is* the human experience, and welcomes all who are able to show proper respect to the religion. (and sometimes, given our often stereotypical eye for design and beauty, we are prized additions to houses and temples that stress making beautiful service…. people fight over temple workers with fine aesthetics and sometimes that competition is FIERCE)

Now that it’s Pride month, however (and even declared so by Prez. Obama!), I thought it only fair to offer a particularly special special… a candle working/love lamp for ALL (I dont discriminate) but specifically aimed at helping out GLBT (and all associated letters) people in finding Love, improving Love, refreshing Love, and blowing fresh inspiration into all aspects of our love lives… new, established, or in the hopes of attracting; its all Love.

For the honeyed month of June, Im setting up a Love Altar devoted to the many spirits concerned with Love, but specifically those who to me represent different aspects of GLBT sexuality and identity (again, straight people desiring a love energy boost are also welcome to hop in, but this project is designed to welcome EVERYONE with special attention paid to those who are often historically underserved.)

7day LOVE magic/GLBT Vigil Candle – $Offer expired

Of all things… I found an *amazing* supply of stunningly beautiful Rainbow-hued 7day glass candles to work with… not the usual 7 sections of different colors, but a full and carefully constructed Rainbow. They’re GORGEOUS, and I think they’re just the thing to give Pride Month a little bit of a magical boost…. dont you? ;)

When you place your order, send me an email at Houngan @ Vodou Boston . com (take out those pesky spaces) letting me know what you want the candle to DO… lookin’ for new Love? Looking to reinvigorate passion with your partner? Looking to create some fresh breezes of inspiration or peace in your relationships? Just let me know… keep it to a short paragraph that I can put under the candles and lamps so our focus is nice and clear. ;)

LOVE is for all people as equals! HAPPY PRIDE!!

The Money Month of May

May6

When I say Money… what do you think? Do you want it? Do you need it?

We all do; Money is HUGE.

I gotta say that the second most popular form of work I do, or the second most popular work people ask for, is for money (the first, of course, being for Love in all of its majesty and splendor)… I LOVE to work for people, and I LOVE to hear back from those folks pleased with the work we’ve done, but I get a special thrill when money work lands on target and does its thing. ;) Its a thing of beauty.

May is the time for one of Vodou’s most beloved spirits, our agriculturist and worker, Kouzen Zaka. Zaka LOVES to work! (a funny thing is that frequently, because of the way I wear my hair and my beard, Im told all the time that I look like Zaka’s chromolithograph… seriously! if you run a google image search for Kouzen Zaka/Saint Isidore, the one that has him kneeling in his field looking up to God looks *just like me* ;) )

Zaka and I set up a KICK ASS prosperity and money altar for the month of May; a special place where we focus his work on making our clients happy/fulfilling their needs (which in this economy we’re all feeling more keenly than ever before), a spot where he and I can work together setting lights, candles, and lamps, to help our clients (YOU! ;) ) get ahead and get what you need!

Money work comes in many different forms; it could be getting you money that someone owes you, it could be working towards general prosperity and managing risks/seeking financial stability, or it could be money drawing for a quick fix (heck, even gambling spells fall under this kind of work… I dont do lottery number stuff, but who couldnt use a little extra luck?) All sorts of different works fall under the heading of Money Magic… but all of this is the kind of work that Kouzen Zaka does best; a hard working spirit who gets things done.

So lets GET ‘EM DONE!

If you want to hop in and have your work done on our prosperity/money altar, let me know! This is one area where simple candle work is fantastic (and the more people join in, the more the candle flames multiply and the hotter the work gets to be for everybody!) and above all, affordable (Im in this to get YOU the money you need, not take it outta your pocket. ;) )

Let me know what kind of money work you’re after; send me a small/short paragraph, just enough to write on a small index card, about what you need (which gets tucked under your dressed and prepared candle on the Money Altar) to Houngan @ Vodou Boston . com (take all those spaces out, of course)… dont trust the paypal message box; for some reason that’s never worked for me, please send me your petition through an email ;)

Lemme know what you need, and lets get working!

7day Money Magic Vigil Candle with Kouzen – $offer expired

Still Alive

April23

Wow! I didnt realize its been as long as it really has been since Ive written in here…. I promise a LOT of good things to come, and they’ll be here soon. There’s been a flurry of activity in getting a whole bunch of special and fun plans going over the last couple of months, and they’re *almost* ready to reveal…. but not just yet. ;)

Your friendly neighbourhood Houngan is still alive and still kicking… and has some FUN plans in store. ;)

In the meantime, you can always feel free to find me on Facebook (I believe I am the *only* Bozanfe on the entire facebook network) and see what’s been happening that hasnt made it to the teaching blog! ;)

The Community Lamp Project

December13

So… its been a while since Ive published anything on here… I have a whole bunch of posts that are currently drafts, being worked on here and there as I have the time and inspiration, but this one I need to get out while it’s hot in my mind….. I promise the other ones will be finished up soon, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy…..

Read the rest of this entry »

A Deeper Look: More on Vodou’s Cosmology and the public state of Vodou education

October30

Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them:
A fair and balanced look at Vodou education

So, at the moment, there’s a lady online who Ima not gonna name but we’ve publicaly locked heads on many an occasion who’s teaching a Legba service… She teaches that Legba’s colors are White in Rada and Red in Petro, so put both red and white on the table to serve him all at once…. wait, what?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Vodou Boston is a teaching blog as well as a look inside the life of a mostly average city guy who just happens to be a Houngan Asogwe of Haitian Vodou.

My name’s Houngan Matt… my initiatory name and title is Bozanfe Bo Oungan Daguimin Minfort, pitit Antiola Bo Manbo, pitit Selide Bo Manbo, pitit LaMerci Bo Manbo… and so on into time. Im a Houngan Asogwe serving at home in Kansas City and in my spiritual mother’s temple in Boston (and Jacmel, Haiti)… our House is called Sosyete Nago, in honor of the Nago Nation of lwa. Im a typical Bostonian-turned-Midwesterner with a few extra dimensions to his world (tell me, how many Bostonians do you know who serve African and Haitian ancestral spirits through the lens of Haitian Vodou? Actually… more than you may know.)

This is a no holds barred blog; Im not one to limit myself in fear of what you’re going to think. Be prepared for a blog where noone’s gonna pull any punches, and you and I will get along just fine.

I can always be reached at Houngan @ VodouBoston . com for any questions, setting appointments for readings or work, or even just social mail; I am here to serve YOU, and YOU are what is important to me. No person and no question is too small.

Look for me on Facebook, too! Bozanfe Bon Oungan is my username


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