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
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
In the cosmology of the West African religion of Ifá, as in other African Diaspora Religions (or, indeed, many traditions rooted in animism), physical sickness and ill fortune in the home may often result from the interference of malevolent spirits. The spirits’ presence would be determined through an Ifá divination session. I had such a session two nights ago, when I went to see my godfather in Ifá (my oluwo) for a consultation on the recent surprising break (towards the end of May) of my Hand of Ifá idé: a yellow-and-green beaded bracelet worn on the left wrist that denotes my initiation in the religion and my relationship to Ifá, the orisha of divination (His colors are yellow and green). Inbetween the breaking of this vital apotropaic talisman and this past Wednesday’s divination session, I’d attended a drum ceremony (bataa) for the spirits of the dead (eggun) at my godfather’s Ifá house. As I’m one of those “empath” types that seems to attract spirits of the dead, I knew I had to take serious precautions before showing up for the bataa: drum ceremonies almost always involve spirit possession, and the last thing I wanted was an unwanted spirit clinging to me. So I warded myself by drawing certain sigils using cascarilla on my feet, legs, and nape of the neck (that last part is tricky)–the vulnerable parts of the body woeful wights are said to “jump” first when they want to attach themselves to the living. Continue reading
During my lunch break today, I swear I spotted an avatar of the Orisha Eshu. A young man skateboarding downhill on Adams Street in the shadow of the Sears Tower (yes, you read that right: as a native Chicagoan, I refuse to call it by any other name), weaving in and out of hordes of slow-moving tourists on this gloriously sunny and summer-like Monday. He sported a t-shirt that looked like a modified version of the Chicago flag: instead of the iconic series of four red, six-pointed stars, however, the word “Character” was emblazoned in large cursive script.
Ashé, ashé! I mentally affirmed as I read the t-shirt’s message and silently blessed the youth that whizzed past me. I pulled down on the collar of my shirt to expose my newly acquired elekes, and I said a prayer of thanks to each of the Orisha whose energies find manifestation in the individual necklaces ringing my neck, the necklaces I received this past Saturday night (the timing was interesting: Dark of the Moon and right on the cusp of the onset of a Mercury Retrograde period) in an initiation ceremony that lasted nearly four hours. Continue reading
The New World Wyrd: Polytheistic Pagan Practices, Cultural Contexts, and Defining Boundaries in Pursuit of the Limitless
I was 18 years old when I came out of the broom closet to my Serbian immigrant parents, announcing that the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith in which they’d raised me was irreconcilable with my expanding consciousness that came to understand Deity, humanity’s relationship with nature, and human nature itself in ways that were markedly different from the catechism of my upbringing. While my parents weren’t wholly surprised–despite being devout Christians they (especially my mother) always encouraged openminded inquiry about world religions; furthermore, it was commonly accepted in my family that I was “weird”–there was an air of sadness to near elegiac levels in the kitchen of my childhood home that September day when I made my announcement. Continue reading
I know I’m not the only Reconstructionist Pagan who owes her vocation of service to the Gods to an experiential tapestry whose oldest threads of personal magickal practice are Wiccan. As my friend Tamilia observes in her excellent WordPress blog, Wandering Woman Wondering, Wicca is “the gateway Paganism.” I consider myself particularly fortunate, however, that my involvement in Wicca and my earliest magickal training came at the hands of Chicago’s oldest, most lauded, and longest-running Gardnerian Wiccan coven, the Temple of the Sacred Stones, founded by the late Donna Cole Schultz and her husband, Robert Schultz.
Donna set the bar high for a High Priestess, whatever the Pagan denomination: she was an arduous teacher who extolled discipline and exuded Taurean tenacity and patience; she was equal Kabbalistic pillars Severity and Mercy. She ran the Temple of the Sacred Stones like a tight ship–none of this “Pagan Standard Time” tomfoolery. Continue reading
It all began in August of 2013, when I moved into my first-ever purchased home: a cozy condo in Chicago’s far northwest corner—a neighborhood, unbeknownst to me at the time, notoriously known for its ghastly history and stupendously huge mass paupers’ graves lurking beneath my very subdivision and a large swath of the surrounding area! Continue reading