Honoring Eshu, Making Ébo

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

—The Wicker Man (directed by Robin Hardy), 1973

A fundamental principle in the West African indigenous religion of Ifá is that of ébo, or sacrifice. That which is offered is of great value both to the one offering as well as to the Recipient, be it one or more of the Orisha or the giver’s Ancestors.  Continue reading

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Virgin Death Goddesses: Hel, La Santa Muerte, and Yewa

Editorial Note: This is the transcript of a talk I gave at the 24th Annual Fellowship of Isis Chicago Goddess Convention, October 28, 2017, at the North Shore Holiday Inn in Skokie, Illinois.

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Introduction

Good morning and thank you all for coming to our 24th Annual FOI Chicago Goddess Convention! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Anna and I’ve been proudly serving as legally ordained FOI clergy since 2012, though I have been active in Chicago’s Pagan community for 18 years and counting. I’m the executive editor of Isis-Seshat, a quarterly publication of the Fellowship of Isis, and I’m the founder of the chartered Iseum of the Rekhet Akhu, whose mission is to highlight the interrelatedness of the communities of the living and the dead and to cultivate transfigured spirits (akhu in ancient Egyptian) in human form.

So why did I choose this topic? We’re in the season of Samhain, the Celtic reckoning of the end of summer and the liminal time between one year and the next, and during this time our thoughts often turn to ones of our own mortality, as well as to remembrances of those who have gone before us. More than any other time of year, the honoring of the Deities and Spirits of Death is top of mind for most of us.

As a show of hands, who here honors a Death God or Goddess in their personal devotional practices? (Pause.)

I’m a Polytheist devoted to such Holy Powers, and I’d like to spend some time with you discussing three in particular: the Norse Goddess Hel, Mexico’s La Santa Muerte (the Holy Death), and the Nigerian Orisha, Yewa—Who They are, Why They matter, and how you can cultivate a devotional relationship with Them if you feel Their bony hands laying claim on you. What’s striking about these Death Deities of various cultures—northern European, North American, and West African—that I’m going to talk about is that They’re gendered female and They’re regarded as virgins, so we have a lot of intersectionality to examine when we focus on what we know about each Goddess historically and what we know about Them in contemporary worship.

But before we start discussing each of these three Cosmic Femmes Fatales, I’ve got a few thoughts I’d like to share on what significance gender bears as well as historical notions of the concept of “virginity” and how these impact the mythologies and the cultic practices surrounding the worship of Hel, La Santa Muerte, and Yewa.

Continue reading

Spiritual Cleansing in Ifá: Bribing Away Evil Spirits

Should Oyekun Iwori surface as the main odu (sign) in an Ifá reading, you may want to resort to the spiritual prescription that my oluwo (godfather), who is also a Babalawo, advised for me: bribing away the evil spirit or spirits currently wreaking havoc in your life. Mind you, this odu is a marker of serious negativity, and battling it requires a major cleansing in addition to the magical working I’m about to describe, but this latter activity is a necessary prequel that will hopefully give you a better sense of control as you prep for the major cleansing (rompimiento in Lukumí) that needs to happen immediately afterwards. Continue reading

Magically Charged Water: Clearing Physical Space in Ifá

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring Equinox is a little more than three weeks away. Many of us partake of time-honored rituals this time of year that have to do with purging and purifying our homes, from thorough physical scrubbing and scouring of our living spaces to donating old clothes and housewares that no longer meet our needs. As we discard the old and unwanted, we open our heads, hearts, and homes to receiving the new, as it should be.

As invigorating as a good housecleaning can feel once you’ve finished, I don’t believe in resting on your laurels. Better to follow up work done on the material plane with a thorough spiritual cleansing of your home, which should occur during the day and not at night (morning is ideal, but anytime after the sun has risen). I have a recipe my Oluwo (Godfather) in Ifá recently shared with me in person and which I have permission, in turn, to share with the aleyo (non-initiate) community.  Continue reading

Announcing the Call for Submissions for the Winter Issue of Isis-Seshat Journal

As the Executive Editor of Isis-Seshat journal, the quarterly publication of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis, I’ve decided that I want the Winter issue to focus on divination as the nexus of cultus, community, and culture. As the etymology of the word denotes, the purpose of divination is to reveal “the will of the Gods.” In our postmodern Western societies, of course, the concept has largely been divorced from its polytheistic impetus and has become co-opted by (or, if you prefer, degraded to) a secularist impulse for “fortune-telling,” largely for its entertainment value. Continue reading

Spiritual Cleansing in Ifá: “Sour” and “Sweet” Baths

Last Friday night, towards the end of my Ifá oracle session conducted by my Oluwo (godfather), the Orisha Orunmila declared that in order to remove the ibi (negativity) associated with the signs uncovered in my reading, I needed to take a series of spiritual cleansing baths. Many religions advocate the removal of spiritual pollution (what the ancient Greeks called miasma) through a variety of methods; in Ifá, as in related African Diaspora Religions (ADRs) like Vodoun and Santería, ritual baths comprised of sacred herbs and other organic ingredients are commonly prescribed for the removal of negative energy from one’s head (the locus of personal destiny) and home environment. While some baths are for initiates only, meaning they are comprised of blessed ingredients arduously prepared–under the benevolent auspices of the Orisha Òsanyìn, Lord of the Forest and Master of Plants and Herbal Medicine–over a span of days by one’s godparents and other trained clergy in the religion, the ones the Orisha prescribed for me last Friday were ones I was meant to prepare myself, and ones anyone could easily do, whether they adhere to any of the ADRs or not. Since they’re easily adaptable to any religious tradition and made of readily available ingredients (i.e., they’re probably already in your kitchen pantry), I thought I’d share with you how you go about preparing for the series of ritual cleansings known as “sour” and “sweet” baths. Continue reading