Thursday, April 1, 2010

So What Can You Expect from a Kanzo?

A friend of mine, Houngan Hector Salva, recently made an excellent post about initiations and post-initiation disappointment.
I was recently speaking to a Mambo friend of mine and she was complaining to me about how one of her initiates had gone off claiming she was no good, that he couldn't mount spirits, that he wasn't able to do work as good as she, and blah blah blah . . . . She was a bit upset because she has done nothing but good by this person. Spending ample time training him, working with him and trying to show him the way.

Now, I know this Mambo for quite a long time now. I know that when she does give a ceremony it is an authentic initiation, it is correctly done with all the proper sub ceremonies that are required.

This is an all too common issue.

Some individuals have the belief that once they get initiated they will be the instant beneficiary of all types of Supernatural Powers . . . oh and without any work on their part! Some of these individuals are truly naive, others have been misled by others to truly believe this, and still yet others simply don't listen (or don't want to listen)
I was initiated in 2003, but did not begin getting regular possessions until several years afterward. According to Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St.-Amand) of Société la Belle Venus of Brooklyn, New York and Jacmel, Haiti, this is common. It can take time for the full effects of an initiation to manifest.  While there are immediate spiritual benefits, there are others which need to sink in and take root.  As per its name, "initiation" is the beginning of a process. It is the start of your road to Gineh, not the end of your trip.

As you continue attending fets and serving the spirits, you may find that you begin getting mounted by the lwa.  Or you may not: there are many Houngans and Mambos who "travay kleyé" or work clear. They are never possessed by spirits but can still do effective wanga, preside at ceremonies and fulfill all the functions of a priestly capacity.  Possession is not an end in itself: it is just one of the means by which the lwa can interact with their servitors. There is a tendency among foreign initiates to fetishize possession. Instead of being worried about whether or not they are learning how to serve the spirits and how to work with them, they focus on getting mounted.

I should also note that there is a hierarchy at ceremonies: typically the most senior members will be possessed, and it is considered bad form to get possessed ahead of those folks. At best it suggests that you are not in control of your lwa, while at worst it suggests that you are play-acting to get attention. The lwa will come to you - or not - on their own time and their own schedule.   There is no shame in waiting, nor is there any glory in trying to force the issue. 
Some individuals also buy into the misconception that they will have a life dominated by riches, success in all areas of life, never have any obstacle, trial or other issue, and that all of this will come without any work. Again, some are also misled to believe this.

Yet, others believe that once they initiate they will have the automatic ability to mount spirits or that all people mount spirits or should be able to mount Spirits. And they should be able to call them to come in a seconds notice . . .. oh, again without any work on their part. From what I have seen from expierence, in many/most cases, the reasons for this desire are ego driven and thus they are their own worst impediment.

I could go on and on. . . . .
I think part of the problem stems from those Houngans and Mambos who sell kanzo ceremonies like they were used cars. Because they make a sizeable portion of their income from putting people in their djevos, they talk up the various benefits and promise all sorts of spiritual and material benefits to those who are willing to write them a check.  Of course this appeals to those people who are looking to buy enlightenment without putting in the effort: simony has been a problem since the earliest days of Christianity and likely long before that.

Yes, initiations require an expenditure of money. But they also require a great deal of work, and that work doesn't stop when you catch your return flight home. Now that you have your new office, you have to grow into its responsibilities. You have to continue your work with your congregation and your spirits: you have to act like the priest/ess you have become and shoulder the burdens of your office. And as you continue doing that, you will reap the true benefits of your initiation.  You can certainly put your asson on your mantle next to the peace pipe you purchased at a Genuine Lakota Sweat last year and the Tibetan Buddhist Bone Rosary you purchased in Nepal the year before that. But don't kid yourself that your trophy-collecting has anything to do with real Vodou or any kind of real spirituality. 
Not everyone is pathed, or has the ability to, mount Spirits. Even in those who do have this ability naturally, often the ability of calling them (different Spirits) into there head is something that must be developed. To be able to call them as needed and when needed.

Many people can mount Spirits but are not meant to work for others (regularly) with their Spirits mounted. Many can mount Spirits on occasion (usually without the real ability to control the where, when, what Spirit etc) if they work on developing this ability.

Even those without natural ability to do so, can often work at developing this. But even with work on development, some will not be able to and should abandon this in order to work further on developing their other abilities.
When Raven Kaldera and I were writing Drawing Down the Spirits, we discussed this.  Raven felt that possession was an inherited talent: one was either born to be a horse or would never be a horse. I felt that most people could become horse spirits with work, but that some would find it easier than others and a few would never be able to get it.  (The folks at Universal Temple of Spirits jokingly call these people "cement-heads" and find them invaluable when holding ceremonies. Once possessions start en masse, it's good to have somebody around who is not going to get swept up in the excitement and who will be able to maintain order!) We both agree that horsing is at least in part a born gift, like musical or athletic ability.  It is certainly not the be-all and end-all of being a good Vodouisant, a good magician, or even a good Houngan or Mambo.
Initiation will not make you able to fly instead of taking a plane, go from place to place without phsyically traveling, become invisible while sitting exactly in someone's face during a conversation, etc . . . . . if that was the case, we, Houngans and Mambos would have been doing this long ago! We would never buy a plane ticket!

No Initiatior (Houngan, Mambo, etc) can give you the Spiritual Power or Light.  This is something that God and the Spirits give you. They Can Align you with your Spirits.

A little common sense often goes a long way.
Here's something that I always try to remind newcomers: most Vodouisants don't need a kanzo ceremony.  For many people an occasional candle for their lwa will be sufficient. Others need nothing more than a lavé tet or a maryaj lwa.  Not every Vodouisant needs to be asogwe any more than every Catholic needs to be a cardinal or every Protestant needs to lead a congregation. Yet over and over I see foreign Vodouisants who want to spend two weeks in Haiti and come back with a title which purportedly gives them the authority (and the obligation!) to lead a congregation of their own.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this confusion. The first is that many foreign Vodouisants come to Vodou from Wicca and Wicca-derived practices, where everyone is a high priest/ess or aiming to become one. Unlike Wicca, Vodou is not a religion composed solely of clergy. There are many lay members who serve the lwa and receive the benefits of their service without any kind of formal ceremony. Another is because many foreign practitioners feel self-conscious about being seen as dilettantes: initiation becomes a way of showing they are serious about their beliefs. And that is wonderful and laudable, but perhaps it would behoove them to first learn something about those beliefs and about the community that holds them. Before you officiate at fets, it might help to attend a couple!
What the Spirits can do for you?

The Spirits can push things in the right direction for you. They can affect a change for you (also if you allow them to do so), if that situation or case can be changed. You will not always get everything that you want. And you aren't suppossed to. Not all things can be changed or made different. The Spirits can warn us, provide us with some answers that we may need, and help us make wise decisions. However it is up to the individual to take their advice or not. The Spirits can protect us, help us make changes and change situation, and most of all GIVE US OPPORTUNITIES. 

What you choose to do with that opportunity is up to you.  You must be working in the physical realm in congruency with your desire. Doing things here, which are steps towards your goal as well.
This is an EXTREMELY important point. Vodou is like Alcoholics Anonymous: it works if you work it. If you sit back and wait for the lwa to come and make changes in your life, you're going to be waiting a very long time. If you treat them like friends and allies who are going to help you in working to achieve your goals, you will have much more impressive results.

Since Hector summed up the situation so well, I am going to close with his words, since they definitely bear repeating. Those who are thinking about going into the djevo (or making the saint, or going through any other arduous initiatory ritual) will do well to take them to heart.
An initiation will align you with the Spirits. Clear any obstacles that are hindering your spiritual development/communication, give you a Title, give you tools to work with and information to work with. Give you the traditional knowledge that is passed down. But the most important Konnesans that you will receive, comes directly from the Spirits.

But you must do the work.

I want you to take a moment, and imagine that when your initiator is initiating you, they are planting the seed within you.

It is up to you to water that seed, make sure that it gets sunlight, talk to it, etc so that it can grow into a strong healthy plant. It is up to you to remove any weeds that may try to grow up around it, etc. Just like your initiator did before you, and his/her initiator before them,etc etc.

Remember, when you get initiated, you are commiting yourself to a lot of work and responsibility. Not simply rewards.

We can put the base of the soup together for you, but you must season it yourself so that it tastes good to you! We cannot taste it for you too. We cannot eat it for you, and then you get the strength from the food. 

Remember it is God who gives. 

Spiritual Progress and Development to All,
Houngan Hector