Out of the Frying Pan.

As of two days ago, I have found myself in an interesting and somewhat unexpected position. Okay, somewhat unexpected may be the understatement of the year, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s not surprising to me, but it was not expected in the least.

I was going about my regular life the other night and was speaking with a friend and colleague about my new business venture that I am getting close to launching. We were chatting about how I was planning on offering some divination services in line with some other spiritual services when it happened. The conversation totally got hijacked by the Powers That Be. It went from ‘I think this is what I might do’ to my friend telling me ‘So, this is what you need to do and, huh, there’s Someone telling me you need to do it’. This is how things tend to unfold in my life—something run-of-the-mill is happening and then it suddenly takes on importance in a way that I neither expected nor asked for.

it was immediately clear that this Someone was not one of the Powers that I usually work with. That in and of itself was quite surprising, as I have essentially been on deity lock-down since I began walking this path. My Patron has seen fit only to let me converse with and Work for Him, two other Powers that I had sworn an oath to at one point, and another Power that had a prior claim. Imagine my surprise when Someone Else came knocking.

Over the course of two days, my friend and I spent about six hours trying to figure out who He was. She got the visions and the conversation and we both sat and revved up Google to try and find a name to what He was describing Himself as. He didn’t make it terribly easy, as He does not appear to be a big talker and because He seemed to find amusement in my frustration, but we worked pretty damn hard and I think we figured it out. I’m not 100% certain yet, but what we managed to piece together both did not get dismissed out of hand by Him and absolutely fits with what He has said and how He presented Himself.

It appears that I have been handed over in some way to an Orisha. There are many things that, if I think rationally about them, are unsurprising. I have been pushed for years to explore African Diasporic Religions [ADRs]. I practice traditional African-American magic. I have had the privilege of meeting quite a few Lwa and Orishas. So, you say, what’s the big deal? It’s kind of lined up for me, isn’t it?

The catch, at least to me, is that I’m white.

It’s certainly not unheard of to see white folks involved in ADRs. In fact, I know quite a few houngans, mambos, and olorishas who have similar skin tones to me. They are by and large integral parts of their religious communities, incredibly learned, and stunningly devoted to their Powers. It would appear that, in their various soseyetes and iles, they are well respected and well loved. As ADRs become more visible, it only serves to follow that members of the faith would be come more diverse as well. It also stands to reason that the Lwa and the Orishas, just like any other Powers of any tradition, speak to and call who They will.

That doesn’t erase the issue and idea of a white person becoming involved in a faith system composed mostly of people of color and that, in some ways, was a product of the systematic oppression of people of color when slavery was a thriving practice in the United States. It’s a damn sticky issue and a highly uncomfortable one at that, and I don’t quite know what to do with it or about it yet.

Though that is a humongous issue, it leads into one that is just as unwieldy for me to hold in my arms. ADRs are initiatory religions and I am not initiated. One does not simply walk in and say ‘hi, I’m speaking with <Orisha> so I’m here to learn’. There is a long and sometimes arduous path towards becoming a practicing member of the faith and it is quite different than a lot of my experiences with pagan and polytheistic practices. There is a lot of knowledge and a lot of ritual practices that are not available to an uninitiated individual and for good reason—ADRs have historically needed to stay hidden due to persecution from the dominant racial majorities. In recent years, some soseyetes and iles have even tightened up on those practices, due to the sudden popularity in pagan culture of ADRs and their practices, and will not recognize that you could possibly be speaking to a Lwa or an Orisha without an initiation. Other soseyetes and iles are a bit more relaxed and recognize that sometimes initiation is not the only doorway through which the Lwa and Orishas speak. Like any other religion, it’s not a one size fits all experience, but it is a bit surprising to work with an Orisha or a Lwa when you are not involved with a soseyete or an ile.

Thusly, I feel like I am in a precarious position. I feel like I am on the doorstep of acting in ways that reek of appropriation, yet I do not place mortal authority above Divine authority and it has been made quite clear that this new Power is of an ADR origin and expects to be treated appropriately. No one ever told me this was going to be easy and straightforward, though, so I guess this is in line with everything else.

He made it clear that I would both learn more and that He would be more willing to speak through divination, particularly divination with the shells, which means either obi [a traditional Yoruban oracle system using either cut cowrie shells or ritually prepared pieces of coconut] or diloggun [a very complex Yoruban divination system using cut cowrie shells]. This means I need to go to an olorisha to seek further clarification.

This is challenging in many ways for me. The most glaringly obvious way is that, like many other God-touched people, I am afraid I am wrong or that I will be told that I cannot possibly be hearing from an Orisha, as I am not initiated. The other scary possibility is that I will be told that I need to seek initiation. The actual initiation process to become an aborisha [someone who has received elekes/sacred jewelry that is blessed by the Orisha that owns it] is not frightening in and of itself, but the associated responsibilities are a bit daunting, as even the process to become an aborisha means becoming a part of an ile [house/family/group] and developing a relationship with a godparent [the person who initiates you and guides your development in the religion]. I don’t make spiritual commitments lightly, especially when it comes to having spiritual and ritual commitments to other mortal individuals and groups.

From what I understand as an outside looking in, ADRs often have fairly defined ideas about gender roles and, well, I’m not really about that nor do I fit into that. It leaves me with a lot of questions if I find that I need or want to seek some kind of initiation. That feels like it’s own post, so I’m going to leave it at that.

The last and perhaps most rooted in reality challenge is that initiation and participation in ADRs costs money. I’ve seen this denigrated in many sections of the pagan community and the integrity of the practitioner called into question if they require funds to provide services to a seeker. I personally don’t have any problem paying for spiritual services and processes, as I believe those who do work on my behalf deserve compensation, but the cold hard truth is that I, like many other spirit-workers I know, am chronically poor. I work in a field that doesn’t pay very well and it’s often a stretch for me to meet my basic needs. The idea of wanting and needing to pour hundreds of dollars into an important process is scary to me.

However, I am an excellent worrier and this isn’t even a question yet. In fact, as I said earlier, I am not even 100% sure I am correct in my assessment of Who this is and I need to remember that He sought me out and that I did not approach Him. If I absolutely had to be an initiate to interact with Him, it would have already happened. But it hasn’t, so I should stop worrying.

What I do know is that He is daunting. He has made it quite clear to myself and the person who did much of the intercessory work for me that He is not Someone to be trifled with. If He is who I believe He is, He’s a taskmaster who likes to see things get done in a hurry and done right the first time. I’ve already been getting a taste of that, as things that I have been dragging my feet on have been thrown into high gear out of nowhere. It’s nothing that seems too spooky on the outside—I spent two hours today excavating my bedroom and will be spending time doing that each day until it is in a state that my Powers find acceptable and I will also be doing things like scrubbing floors, windows, and walls—but it has been made clear that It Is Important. And so I’ll do it.

I asked Him if there was anything He would specifically like in the way of altar space right now and He left the impression that my frustration and attention was enough. However, I feel that I would be a rather bad host if I did not at least honor the attention that He has already paid me and the time He has spent interacting with me, especially as it appears that there may be some kind of relationship forming, whether it be long-term or short-term. Until I am informed otherwise, there will be a space for Him in my home. It will remain blank, save for a plain white altar cloth, but it will be His to do with as He pleases.

It’s not that surprising, but the Mister has remained silent on this for the most part. I sent an informal question His way when all of this became apparent, but I haven’t heard back. As far as I can understand it, silence from Him means that I am either left to my own devices to figure things out and that He has no opinion on how a particular situation unfolds, or that I already know the answer to the question. I suspect in this case that His silence points to the latter. I do not believe He would give access to me to another Power unless He either approved of said interaction, had no say [due to a prior claim], or, most likely in this situation, that the interaction(s) was something that He had brokered. The more I read about who I believe this Orisha to be, the more I can see how He may fit into what I know of the Mister’s plan for me. Of course, I was reminded by this Orisha that ‘[I] don’t know anyone like I should, or like [I] think I do’ so I could be completely misreading the situation and looking in the wrong places.

I am reminded quite clearly of something Mr. Mister said to me just over a year ago when He was channeled for me. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but, after I was informed/reminded that I needed to be looking into and learning about ADRs, I asked Him how best I should go about doing that. He replied, in His typical sardonic manner, that I should ‘read a book’. As I haven’t done too much with that in the last year, I have jumped to it in the last couple days. I’ve put together a lengthy reading list for myself, thanks to hours of internet research, and have currently slowed down my local library’s website with all my requests for materials.

It’s coming together, though. I have a few leads in terms of finding a diloggun reader to do the divination that will hopefully tell me if I am on the right track. Out of the blue, I reconnected with a friend whom I haven’t seen in close to seven years. He happens to be a houngan in a soseyete that is close to me and I now have a standing invitation to attend the fetes that his soseyete holds every two months. I’ve attended fete-like celebrations before, but never actually in the Haitian vodou tradition, so I’m very excited at the prospect. The Orishas are not part of vodou, but it’s a step in the right direction and perhaps the right person who can contact me with a local olorisha will cross my path there. For me, I know I’m headed in the right direction when things fall into place like they have been. It’s exhilarating and gratifying and pulls me a little closer to the Mister every time. I have nothing but gratitude that He has seen fit to send me in a direction that will further my growth and mold me into a more useful servant for Him.

When I was younger, I always wanted an adventure and I believe I’ve found it. It’s taken me quite awhile, but I think I’m okay with that.


9 thoughts on “Out of the Frying Pan.

  1. Reblogged this on Rock of Eye and commented:

    Here’s my latest post on Gods’ Mouths 2.0, detailing the past few days in a more in-depth manner, along with exploring some of my worries and concerns.

  2. The spirits of Africa do seem to be reaching out to more people these days. I can’t speak for the Orishas, but I do know that in Haiti many many people who are not initiated serve the lwa. Initiation is not a requirement. One does learn more when one is initiated, but that does not mean one cannot serve without initiation or that you will not learn things directly from the mysteries.

    As for appropriation, the proper attitude of respect goes a long way, and your hesitation and caution suggests you are already aware of that.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence–I appreciate it. The Powers in the ADRs are certainly speaking louder lately, but I’m not sure if it’s only Them or that all the Powers are letting Their voices be heard more clearly. Either way, it will be interesting to see where the Powers take me.

      • FWIW, I agree with cheshirecatman. I have connections with several of the lwa, and I’ve never felt that they want me to get initiated. Now, the one who has my head is one of the more notoriously reticent lwa, but still, so far he and the others are fine with working with the (often wildly eclectic) structure of my personal spirituality and my tradition.

        One *personal* roadblock for me: I’m given to understand that bona fide Haitian vodou houses require their initiates to be Roman Catholics; as a matter of fact, new initiates are required to attend Mass *every day for forty days* after initiation. Now, I’ve worked through most of my issues with my RC upbringing, but I’m not going back. Besides, I’m not in a state of grace, and it would be flat out disrespectful of me to pretend to that. I don’t know if some/most/any iles have requirements like that…

        Other than that… I know that the traditional Haitian greeting is for one person to say “Oné!” (Honor!), to which the other replies “Respé!” (Respect!). If you approach the spirits with Honor and Respect, it’s at least a good start.

      • Poor choice of words in my prior comment. For “bona fide Haitian vodou houses” please substitute “*traditional* Haitian vodou houses”. Sorry for any confusion…

      • aaddubh, traditional Haitian Vodou houses do not require you to become Roman Catholic. However, some Catholic elements are part of services. The Priye Ginen opens with Catholic prayers and does honor a list of saints. While I recite Catholic prayers and sing to the saints during services, I do not consider myself Catholic at all.

  3. I’m white as well, however that didn’t stop me from exploring Hoodoo. There are plenty of white practitioners on the Hoodoo in texas yahoo group mailing list.

    You are talking to an Orisha which is different. But I know the list and the people there and they can steer you to places that are pretty good.

  4. I hear you. That’s a lot to deal with.

    I’m not a practitioner of any ADR, for many of the reasons you list. I don’t want to be That Appropriative White Chick. Also, I would want to be absolutely, rock-solid sure that I’d be capable of following up on the massive lifetime commitments of time, money, faith, and respect for both the Divinities and the living cultures which honor them. However, I have not received a direct calling as you have, which I believe makes a big difference.

    My two cents, for what they’re worth (two cents?): I don’t think you’d have anything to lose by starting with a divination, (búzios, ifé, whatever it is that will work best in your case). Maybe you could print out or email your article for the head of house? Another thing is that the leaders are probably aware that not everyone is able to contribute massive amounts of money. Maybe you could donate your time in a way that would be acceptable to everyone, if you can’t afford cash donations?

    Good luck and best wishes.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I’m looking into getting some diloggun divination done and we’ll see what the shells say, if anything. There’s not much to do until then, so I’m just sitting tight and keeping my head open to hear what this Orisha says, if He chooses to speak to me again. It might be a call to become involved in an ile, but, as you say, that’s a massive commitment, or it might just be a call to work with Him as a lay non-initiate. Guess we’ll just have to see where it goes!

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