Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Working With the Spirits Pt. 1: The Ancestors

I get questions from around the world asking about service to the lwa.  Many of these people are unable to travel to Haiti for initiation and study: their circumstances do not allow them to move to an area with an active Haitian community or even to attend fets in person.  Yet they feel called to approach les anges d'Haïti, the Mysteries of Haitian Vodou.  What I have tried to provide here are ways that they might work with their spirits.  This is not intended to be a substitute for a Kanzo or for any other ceremony in Sevis Gineh.

Let's start at the beginning: you were born.  An ovum and a spermatozoon met, consolidated their genetic payloads, and commenced a process which resulted in you.  Were it not for the donors of those chromosomes, you would not be here.  Nor would you be here were it not for the people who joined their bodies together throughout history for love or lust or any of a million other fucking motivations.  The blood in your veins is the culmination of an orgasm which began in the protean past and which arcs shimmering into the distant future.  It is the sap which comes up from your deepest roots; it nourishes your body and spirit and shapes your growth; it carries within it all that was and all that will be.  But to claim its power, you must first recognize its history - your history.

If you live near where your ancestors are buried, or if you can get to an ancestral cemetery, you should make sure their graves are kept clean. You should also make sure to get a tiny pinch of soil from their final resting place.  In Kongo traditional cosmology, and in Vodou and many other African Diaspora traditions, the dirt on the ground can hold and transmit the essence of a place and what has transpired there.  The earth from a grave can provide a powerful link between the realms of the living and the dead - and ancestral spirits are generally inclined to help you, since it is in their best interest to see their (and your) lineage carried forward.

If this is not possible, try to get some dirt from the place where your ancestors were born. If you have a relative who was killed in a battle or who died in some historical event, you can get earth from that site. You can also use dirt from a place where your ancestors lived. If you know where your family came from it would be worth your time to make a pilgrimage to those ancestral homelands if you can.  The earth which provides a carpet for the living and a blanket for the dead can be used to carry messages between their respective worlds.

You will not need any of these things to create a "White Table." While the White Table actually originated in Kardecian Spiritualism, it has become popular among many Haitians in the Diaspora who do not have access to their ancestral graveyards.  As per its name, a "White Table" is a table washed with Holy Water (some use water which contains some of their first morning urine), which is covered with a white cloth and atop which is placed a crucifix and glasses of pure, clean water.  (If your ancestors were not Christian, use an appropriate symbol representative of their faith.  This is important even if you are no longer a believer in that tradition - since they are your elders you must show them respect and honor their beliefs).

You can add to that any pictures of departed relatives you may have - but make sure not to include pictures of the living, since you (and your living relatives) don't want to confuse the two realms.  If you have it, also be sure to include any dirt from ancestral sites, preferably in a small box (a ring box will do).   And light one or more candles atop the table: these will provide light for the departed and help bring them to you.  Then sit back and listen. In time the ancestors will come: you will feel and experience them. Some are able to talk to the spirit world directly, while others just get hunches, impressions and images and some may even become mediums through whom the spirit speaks.

As time goes on you can add more ancestral items to your table: if you can leave it up permanently that is good.  Make sure to get a screen or some kind of block which you can place between your white table and your bed should you have sex, and try to avoid cursing, drunkenness and disrespectful behavior around your white table.  If you cannot you can take it down and put it up as required whenever you need to seek guidance.  Vodou is a flexible tradition which allows for considerable adaptation in the face of necessity, as might be expected given Haiti's long history of scarcity and privation.

This table will provide you with a link to your ancestors and to their protection and guidance.  And while I speak in the context of Vodou, ancestral veneration has been an important part of nearly all spiritual traditions.  No matter what spiritual path you walk upon, you can benefit by learning your heritage and paying proper respects to those who have gone before.  A strong ancestral link will help you to avoid the worst spiritual and material pitfalls and help lead you to the places you were born to reach.