Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Yep, we got even MORE on Paying for Spirituality: from Mysticwicks

On the MysticWicks forum, one of my blog readers asked: 
Or are you going to tell us, Kenaz Filan, that those Voudou initiators are all oh so honorable that they will never promiss something that is not on their hands to give? Will you tell us that none of those students you speak of in your blog that feel defrauded couldn't, at any point in, fallen prey to some initiator who didnt disclose the truth of inititiation in the hopes that some dumb westerner that believes that money buys all would get some thousands of dollars?
I do not know the student in question or the Mambo who initiated him. But I do know the Houngan who vouched for said Mambo and I trust his judgment that she is an ethical practitioner who gave her student an initiation according to the regleman. (Within Haiti this is called temwen or "testimony").

Obviously there are people in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country who will perform an "initiation" ceremony for you in exchange for several thousand dollars. Some of them will feel obligated to give you a correct initiation, while others will be happy to give you what is called an "American asson." As with anything else, caution is advised.  Here are some issues I raise with students who ask me about making kanzo:

First, most people do not need a Kanzo ceremony. You need to be initiated as a Vodou priest/ess if and only if you intend to officiate at community ceremonies. If you are a solitary practitioner or if you are not interested in working as a clergyperson, an initiation is useless to you at best. At worst it obligates you to responsibilities you may not be prepared to fulfill.

The vast majority of people who are serving the lwa on their own don't need any ceremony at all. Their lwa will likely be satisfied with a simple candle on occasion and an occasional gift of food, rum or some pretty item appropriate for the spirit. Of those whose lwa demand more, most need nothing more than a lavé tet (ceremonial headwashing) or a maryaj lwa (marriage to the spirits). These ceremonies are considerably cheaper and less onerous in terms of time, materials and responsibilities. They will serve the purpose without the obligations and expenses that are incurred by the initiation ceremony.

If you are convinced you want/need to be a Vodou priest/ess, attend a few fets (Vodou ceremonies) at your prospective initiator's house. These fets are generally attended by other initiates made by your Papa/Mama Kanzo to be and by initiates from other houses. This will let you see up close and personal whether Vodou is a path you want to follow. It will let you see how your Mambo or Houngan is regarded in the community and how the lwa are served: it will also give you a chance to speak to the lwa and see what their plans are for you.

Vodou is a community religion: while you can serve your lwa as an individual, initiation marks you as a member of that community. If you take steps toward joining that community before you write a check for the ceremony - if you actually take time to know the people who are going to initiate you - you are far less likely to get ripped off.

As I have said elsewhere, an average société is lucky to break even on a kanzo. They do the ceremony because they want the house to continue growing, and are selective about whom they initiate. Gaining their trust and convincing them that you are a good fit for their group takes time and effort. If anyone offers to initiate you after an exchange of one or two e-mails, or tries to hard-sell you into purchasing a seat on their next initiation tour, chances are that you are getting taken for a ride.

And of course I have to end with the inevitable disclaimer: the initiation is only as good as the initiate. If you get a correct initiation according to the regleman and treat it as the first step in your life as a Vodou priest/ess, you are likely to see major life changes and spiritual and personal growth. If you treat it like another trophy on your spiritual mantle, you're likely to get an expensive beaded rattle that you can place next to the Tibetan bone trumpet you bought during last year's trip to Nepal and the Ayahuasca bowl you bought the year before that.