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

My Annual Year-Wheel Tarot Spread

Last night marked the end, in the Serbian calendar, of the “Unclean Days”–a period of time characterized by folk observances that reveal a commingled Pagan and Eastern Orthodox Christian sensibility. One of the major themes emphasized during this liminal 12-day period between the waning influence of the old year and the embryonic energies yet to crystallize in the new is the auspiciousness of performing divination.

Now, while my mother tells me that I had a great uncle in Serbia who performed divination by gazing into an old brazen bowl into which he read the shapes of a beeswax candle’s droplets in spring water, and my mother’s own mother told fortunes with a regular deck of playing cards as well as scrying in Turkish coffee grounds, I like to stick with the Tarot. But not just any Tarot deck–though, admittedly, like many Pagans, I have several at my disposal–my preferred one is the very first one to come across my petite priestess hands: a Marseilles Tarot deck given to me by my awesome Uncle Milan, my mother’s brother. During his 50 years of life (cut short by lymphoma) on this planet, he was an astute esotericist, Jungian psychologist, gifted viola player, and good-humored, pipe tobacco-smoking outdoors enthusiast. The Marseilles deck was his, given to me before my fifteenth birthday with a very knowing wink from his deep-set, coal-black eyes. Continue reading

It’s All in Your Head: Orí as Indwelling Divinity, Locus of Consciousness, and Roadmap to Destiny in Ifá

Wednesday’s felicitous news that the U.S. will begin normalizing relations with Cuba has me hopeful that 2015 will be the year I accompany my oluwo in Ifá to the island so that I can finally become fully initiated in my guardian Orisha’s mysteries–in Cuban Lukumí/Santeria terms, I would be undergoing asiento, “making the saint.” Not only has that been a longstanding dream of mine, it’s part of my destiny. That is what Ifá, also known as the Orisha Orunmila, revealed to me in 2008 when I received my Warriors–Los Guerreros. Continue reading

Go See the “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti” Exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History!

Last Saturday, my boyfriend Daniel and I finally made good on our plans to check out the “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti” exhibit at the Field Museum. The exhibit, which appears courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History, opened the week before Halloween and runs through April 26, 2015, so there’s more than ample time to visit Chicago and savor this exquisite collection of more than 300 sacred objects. More impressive still, none of these objects, including large-scale representations of the Lwa, reside behind plexiglass. Their energies are meant to be experienced directly, and considering that the majority of objects are artifacts from a “recently disbanded” (to quote the Field Museum’s website) Vodou secret society known as a Bizango, such a lack of a physical barrier is all the more remarkable. Continue reading

Vračari: The Serbian Feast Day of Saints Cosmas and Damian, Folk Magic, and the Sacred Twins of African Origin

In Serbian folk understanding, there are two days of the week that are ideal for “throwing” magick (gatane, vračane): Tuesdays and Fridays. Hence today is a doubly auspicious day for magickal workings–not only is it a Friday, but it’s the Feast Day, in the Serbian Orthodox Church, of the Vračari: the Twin Magicians, Saints Cosmas and Damian (Kozma i Damijan in Serbian).

Brazilian-made statues of Saints Cosmas and Damian are prominently featured on my ancestor altar. A Byzantine icon depicting Them as the "Vračari" lies at the base. I bought the statue in one of New Orleans' many Vodou shops when I visited in 2011.

A Brazilian-made statue of Saints Cosmas and Damian is prominently (and permanently) featured on my ancestor altar. A Byzantine icon depicting them as the “Vračari” lies at the base. I bought the statue in one of New Orleans’ many shops catering to Vodou practitioners when I visited the Crescent City in 2011.

The official Eastern Orthodox Church lore regarding them is pretty scant. Catechetical books say they were they were doctors renowned for supernatural healing skills, ones who didn’t accept payment for their miracle cures. They lived/were martyred in the third century CE, and they even wound up healing the nasty man who sentenced them to death.

This is where folklore becomes much more of a reliable indicator of the importance of these saints in Serbian culture than official Church doctrine. In a nutshell, Sveti Vračari–literally, “the Saints Who Throw Magick”–are petitioned by everyday people (but especially women, as Serbian folk magic is overwhelmingly a female phenomenon) to expedite their personal magical workings. Should the Saints’ Feast Day fall on a Tuesday or Friday, so much the better! Those workings can be of a self-directed or externally oriented nature, of course, and since Saints Cosmas and Damian were healers while alive, spells to effect healing in one’s self or on behalf of someone else are, not surprisingly, the chief reasons why the Vračari are invoked. Continue reading

The New World Wyrd: Polytheistic Pagan Practices, Cultural Contexts, and Defining Boundaries in Pursuit of the Limitless

A photo taken of me and fellow members of the Ifá house, Ilē Ayó (The House of Joy), at a bembe for the orisha Oyá. October, 2012

A photo taken of me and fellow members of the Ifá house, Ilē Ayó (The House of Joy), at a bembe for the orisha Oyá. Chicago, October 2012

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

“We Will Enter Thy Realms Gladly and Unafraid”: Samhain 2014

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