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

A Lament for My Familiar

Death. I’ve been acutely reminded of its omnipresence in many ways lately. Seeing the low angle of the sun at this time of year has begun to trigger my seasonal affective disorder. My nightly cemetery walks have been tinged with greater pensiveness and even despair. It’s a gloomy, cool day here in Chicago as the Sun gets ready to enter the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, herald of the mysteries of death and rebirth. I’m still processing the devastating news I received on Tuesday when I took my 11-year-old cat, Thor (a feral kitten rescue from Hawaii), to an emergency veterinary clinic for an abdominal ultrasound and other tests. My regular veterinarian had performed an X-ray on Thor to determine the cause of his misshapen stomach and elevated liver levels revealed from recent blood testing. The X-ray indicated a mass protruding from Thor’s liver–one so large it had actually pushed Thor’s stomach at a 90-degree angle. No wonder Thor’s lost 9 pounds in a little over two months. Was it a tumor? If so, could surgery be an option? I was referred to the emergency clinic, which is equipped with an advanced radiology department, to find the answers. Instead, the main veterinarian there stunned me with the diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lungs. And then those horrible six words, laden with the iron weight of finality:

“There is nothing we can do.” 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

How I Got Rid of an Eggun Buruku: Or, African Witchcraft: It WORKS!

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

Circles of Power: Reflections on Receiving My Elekes Initiation in Ifá

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

Shitty Planetary Positions: Saturn in the 5th House

Stroll down Memory Lane a bit with me, won’t you? Here are some sensory details to swell the scene:

Act I, scene i: June, 2003. A cheerfully sunlit but uncomfortably cramped metaphysical store in Honolulu’s quirky Kaimuki neighborhood, with crystals and towering bamboo plants cramming the windows and mounds of paperback books spilling out of their cases, stacked horizontally on the floor. A gentle ginger tomcat named Toby, who more than slightly resembled my own beach cat rescue, welcomed a hearty scratch under the chin. I sigh nervously and paw my way through storefront flyers announcing the meeting times of Reiki groups inviting the public to join them in their full moon meditations on the “Violet Flame of Saint Germain.” I giggle as I mentally devise doggerel verse on the fly using that rhyming couplet (“the Violet Flame of Saint Germain / Makes New Agers go INSANE”!)…cheap entertainment while I wait. Toby meows as if he’s accusing me of insolence by walking away from him and focusing my attention elsewhere.

It’s a return visit, as I’d stumbled upon the store for the first time only the week prior to give the store’s owner–a Midwestern Mainlander transplant like myself–my birth details so she could construct my natal chart.

“Well, well!” Cheryl the proprietor/resident astrologer, after adjusting her reading glasses upon the bridge of her nose, greets me by waving all 30-plus pages of my detailed natal chart printout in the air. “Come and sit down, Ana. This is gonna be fun! Would you like a cup of tea before we begin?”

I thank her for her hospitality and say, even though it’s over 90 degrees outside (the trade winds weren’t blowing that day; I remember how the air felt oppressive, hanging with a leaden weight), that I would love a cup of jasmine tea if she’s got any. Organized Cheryl (she has a Capricorn Ascendant, I find out later) pulls out a wooden tea chest and extracts two jasmine tea bags, as she was fancying a cup herself.

“Soooooo, yes. Virgo Sun and both Moon and Ascendant in Aquarius,” she begins with no preliminary remarks. “Very cerebral, intellectual. You live a lot in your head, don’t you?”

I nod, sipping my tea.

Cheryl flips a few pages into my report where my natal chart, in wheel form, explodes in an array of zig-zagging, interwoven colored fonts, showcasing the various conjunctions, trines, squares, and oppositions of the planets at the moment of my birth in Chicago. She traces her ridiculously long, fuschia-painted right index fingernail across the “pie slices” of my chart and starts tapping once she reaches the fifth one–my fifth house. “Yeah, I actually want to start talking about this first,” she says. “Saturn in your fifth house. This is a heavy placement,” she announces brusquely. She adjusts her eyeglasses, studying my face. And then: “Do you and your fiancé plan on having any kids?”

“Excuse me?”

Continue reading