I am reeling in shock, having received word that my beloved first cousin Milica, whose 52nd birthday was yesterday, died last night of an apparent aneurysm in her stomach’s blood vessels, just hours after my mother and I spoke to her at length on the phone. Continue reading
It’s been a while since I’ve experienced any disturbing dreams but the one I woke up from at 5:05 this morning (it’s still pitch black at that time in Chicago’s late-winter skies) still has me reeling and viscerally experiencing its effects in my chest: there’s a sensation of tightness and literal heaviness in my heart chakra area and I’ve got an elevated heart rate (116 BPM). I dreamt that I had gotten possessed by none other than the goddess Kali-Ma; the scene switched from its original location and had me in my living room of my childhood home, where my dead grandmother on my mother’s side was speaking to me until she saw my possessed state and became terrified of me and backed herself up against the south wall of the living room, screaming in horror. I was horrified because the part of me that was still “me” in my consciousness was incapable of stopping any of it.
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
“A Deed Without a Name”: Spirit Possession, Sacred Service, and Sedna–OR, I Get By With a Little Help from my Helping Spirits
“I don’t get it,” Dan, my Bodacious Beau™, said as we carefully stepped our way across city blocks of ice-coated Chicago Park District sidewalk prior to descending to our subway platform this morning. “I don’t see how this serves you or benefits Sedna. What I see as the outcome of this kind of ritual is the toll it takes on you–physically, cognitively–you’re worn out this morning. You’ve basically lost your voice again, your vocal chords are so strained, and I can tell you’re still not fully grounded. And it’s not clear to me what Sedna gets out of this. What’s an Arctic deity doing in Chicago? But honestly”–and here he came to a complete stop in our walk–“I just find the whole thing scary.”
I stopped walking also and gazed eastwards across the vast expanse of snowy terrain claimed by this particular Park District on the northwest side of the city. The sun, slowly rising above a silhouette of tall buildings, looked like a frozen egg yolk trying to crack itself in a relentless vise grip of winter gray. I noted how my breath issuing from my nostrils hung in the air like a dragon–like Fafnir! I whimsically thought. But the morning’s 14 degree F temps were like a balmy paradise compared to yesterday’s abominable -4 degrees daytime high. It was the coldest day of (this tediously long) season thus far.
Minus the buildings, this landscape pretty much looks like the fucking Arctic right now, so why couldn’t this be Sedna’s playground too? But I kept that thought to myself. Instead, I replied to Dan’s statement with a question:
“What was it like this time? Compared to the sounds you heard coming from the temple room last November?” I had a feeling I’d be able to anticipate his response, but I had to hear him say it. I needed the confirmation.
Dan’s eyes widened as he slowly uttered his choice of words. “Way more intense. Definitely more violent-sounding, with a different range of sounds too. I was actually very worried about you but I know you’ve instructed me to never interrupt you when you’re in trance.”
I paused as I carefully chose my next series of questions, fearing rejection or humiliation even though my sensible Virgo/C3P0-like logical brain told me I had nothing to fear. After all, my partner, a ceremonial magician himself, has been an unwavering supporter of my method of trafficking with spirits–alien to him thought it might be in practice.
“What if I told you…that I didn’t journey to Sedna’s Underworld last night at all?” I slowly began. “What if I told you that no sooner did I begin drumming than She shot up through the floorboards and took control of me immediately? And that I, as a shamanic first, literally puked on my own chest and pissed my pants [insert the sight of Dan wincing here] when She did so? That She also brought a whole troop of spirits with Her and they’re all there in the room–blammo!–for good? That She’s now something like the tutelary deity of our temple space?”
“I’d say I believe you,” Dan said somberly. “And I’d also say that even though you’ve got big cojones, you’ve got to be careful.” Continue reading
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
It is 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside my downtown Chicago office as I type these words. Like other sensible Chicagoans, for my morning commute today, I bundled up for the kind of bitter cold and biting winds that usually arrive in mid-winter, not pre-Thanksgiving. I was spiritually as well as physically ready for it, however, and I greeted the cold with glee this morning. You see, as soon as last week’s weather forecasts warned that the Midwest (and the Great Plains and Rockies) would be engulfed in “relentless November Arctic cold,” to borrow the words of one headline, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Sedna, the great Inuit Goddess of the Sea and the Dead–sometimes just referred to as “the Sea Woman” by the Inuit for fear of invoking Her–was stirring and wanting to make Her presence known. 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