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Deities in Cultural Context, a personal dilemma

22:57 / 03.12.03
I have a dilemma of sorts. And a pet peeve. And a hang-up. And an opportunity (or is it just a dilemma?). Add them together, and I have a situation.

Now I'm looking for some insight to top it off.

[Note: for the sake of discussion I'm taking a strongly external approach to deities/spirits as having some objective reality outside the mind of the worshipper/magickian. I know beliefs about this differ, but it is the worldview in which my dilemma exists.]

First, the hang-up: I've always been a big stickler about "entitlement" and "credibility" of various sorts, especially when I'm getting into new things. I just, usually, don't feel like it is appropriate for me to get all involved in something until I've "done my homework" and "paid my dues," so to speak. Example: I won't wear a band's t-shirt unless I own at least most of their albums, and preferably have seen them live - otherwise I feel like I'm advertising a level of knowledge and dedication I haven't earned or proven. Similarly, there are a number of things I'm interested in (in music, politics, etc.), each of which has its own "scene," and which I feel I can study about but not claim to belong to. Being a white American male (raised by "white liberal guilt"-ridden parents), I'm especially conscious of charges of "cultural appropriation" - especially when I listen to hip-hop and funk, and most especially since my favorite hip-hop is very racially politicized (Public Enemy, Paris, etc.). The feeling goes something like: "who am I, as a white boi, to be listening to Black Revolutionary music like I'm somehow entitled to do so?"

Next, the pet peeve: I've spent a lot of time over the past decade involved with various Neo-Pagan groups and individuals, and one thing that always bothered me is the common "plug'n'play" cross-cultural deity-selection that goes on, where some people will flip through a list of Gods and Goddesses of the World and pick whatever looks good to them, without any consideration for the deity's home culture, their traditions of worship (it's all just calling the quarters, with different names, it seems), and their own backgrounds. The role of the deity (as summarized in the list: "Fertility," "War," "Nature") takes precedence over their individual identities (two different war gods can be very different), and they become interchangeable, with details added for aesthetic flavor.

It's bad enough, in my mind, when this is done with the ancient deities of "dead" religions (i.e. no current active cult), but it is truly alarming when done with deities who are currently, actively worshipped, like the loa and the orishas, or the Hindu deities. I have read several diatribes by actual members of these religions against Neo-Pagans who have freely appropriated (read: "stolen and disgraced") their deities without taking any care to revere them properly - for instance, if it takes a person from the "home culture" 10 years of devoted apprenticeship and study to become a priest to their ancestral deities, how can a book-taught foreign pagan have the gall to "summon" them into a circle in their suburban livingroom to preside over the coven's weekly ceremony (with a different set of gods the next week)?

Now, my own feelings on this are somewhat more flexible - depending on what reality-tunnel I've stepped into (internal vs external, etc.). I generally feel, at least for "dead" gods, that so long as a person is led by a sincere desire to revere the deity and does the research into how best to do so, there shouldn't be too big a problem. But what about the orishas and loa? They are actively worshipped, in various incarnations and forms, by many thousands of people - according to strict traditions which they themselves are believed to have established according to their own preferences. They are also (at least for the loa, and I think for the orishas too) quite literally ancestral gods - there is a direct passage of received knowledge and spirit from priest to apprentice running back countless generations (except where broken by the slave trade). One's own ancestors are also revered in a manner that is inseparable, it would seem, from the reverence of the loa or orishas.

Enter the opportunity: although I had made, for most of my life, a concerted effort to avoid being involved in “godwork” or dealings with deities of any kind (the recent Pumpkin King workings being an exception), I am experiencing what feels very much like a Divine Being trying to get my attention. [I realize as I write this that this is my third post in one day suggesting contact with three different deities – this really isn’t typical for me, and I have even, like I said, tried to avoid it…]

A web of synchronicity and affinity seems to be drawing ever more clearly a connection of some sort between myself and the West African deity Ellegua (a Fon deity also know as Elegba, Legba, or Elegbara and associated with the Yahomean Eshu or Eshu-Elegbara, the Vodoun Papa Legba, etc.). Ellegua is the youngest child of Mawu (the female principle of the androgynous high god), and the only one who can communicate between her and her other 8 children, the orishas. He is lord of the crossroads (and thereby travel), and communication, and sexuality – and a trickster. In contrast to Haiti’s old man Papa Legba, he is young and childlike, and loves offerings of candy and toys.

Looking back over my life, there are many points of affinity (which I won’t get into right now), but now especially I am experiencing in my life many of the “symptoms” of Ellegua feeling neglected - i.e. drastic and willful interpersonal miscommunication (a particular flavor of miscommunication which is typical of Ellegua’s mischief – “the hat was red!”), troubles with transportation (bye-bye car ), disappearing emails and voicemail messages, spectacular feats of mishearing/misreading things that “ought” to be clear… In addition, I am finding references to him everywhere I go – often by “accident” (clicking on the wrong link, opening to the wrong page), and a constant, quiet nagging sense that I really need to start paying attention to him. Beyond the anecdotal evidence is the intuitive “sure-ness” that is (subjectively) far more convincing.

The orishas, I believe, are very much living gods, and are fully capable of reaching out to someone if they so choose.

The dilemma: so I may very well have been “tapped” by Ellegua. For whatever reason, he wants my attention. But what of his other worshippers, and the centuries of tradition? [Please refer to the “hang-up” and “pet-peeve” above. : S] I suppose that, if there is a deity who might be inclined to buck tradition, Ellegua would be him… But I still have trouble reconciling my feelings, especially since I lack any connection to Ellegua’s home culture.

I’m not sure I’m looking for advice, per se – I think I just need someplace to bat this back and forth a little bit, and maybe gain some insight. Is there anyone here who has had similar experiences? Is there anyone here who formally worships Ellegua (or any of his related incarnations) and has something to say about it?

It was said in an older thread about Vodoun that one “shouldn’t mess around with the lwa,” and by extension the orishas. Let me say again that I have had no intention of doing so – I did not seek out information about Ellegua until the “signs” had already started coming, and I am proceeding very cautiously (too cautiously, perhaps, for Ellegua’s liking??).

Anyone have anything to say, about my situation specifically or the topic in general?


23:12 / 03.12.03
the way I look at it, one is doing a band (by wearing their t-shirt and promoting them) and a god (by giving it your attention) a favor, and you not exploiting any culture or scene by doing so....
of course it can be interpreted as disrespectuful when stepping on someone else's territory. I feel violated by the wachowski bros for treating (to-me-sacred) ideas so poorly in their shitty ass movies. nevertheless, that was their choice, right, and I can't blame em. to the contrary, probably a positive thing what they did. but my little human ego just forgot about the whole "do what thou wilt" thingie...
i dont know if that makes any sense to you lepi, but I definitely think you should go ahead and welcome any entity who is coming your way. dont let it stop you that they might be someone else'd god. why are they coming to you after all....
23:34 / 03.12.03
Quick response:

It's cool to be a purist. But if a band -- even a band you don't follow -- comes to your house and asks to play a free concert, you have every right to let them in, no matter how much it pisses off their hardcore fans.

You can always become a hardcore fan later.
All Acting Regiment
23:53 / 03.12.03
If they want you, it would seem they want you. It's only respectful for you to say yes.

Remember, people are different and people are the same. You may be a "white boi", but you aren't a slave trader or fascist.
Tryphena Absent
01:06 / 04.12.03
When a God calls you, listen to the God, they don't like to be ignored. You're not appropriating Legba, she's appropriating you, best you remember that and start to listen to him. This isn't about colour or culture, this is about opening yourself up to deities, somehow you've done the deed and now you need to follow it through or shut it off. The first option isn't a bad way to go, I've certainly enjoyed it but once you commit you can't then reverse it. Try to remember that... when you're dealing with the Crossroads you have multiple routes to choose between but you can only come to new crossroads once you've taken a path.
02:50 / 04.12.03
Thanks, everybody.

I think I am going to go forward with this, but carefully. This carries a sense of weight much greater than anything I've been involved with before, so I'm watching my steps. Now I need to decide how to move forward. I suppose that's largely up to Ellegua, but I need to open myself to him to find out.

Thanks again.

10:57 / 04.12.03

I think it’s very interesting topic. Unfortunately, I’m too tired today to generate much by way of a coherent response, but Ill just keep typing and see what happens. Firstly, on the subject of “cultural appropriation”, I wouldn’t like to take the position that this is something we can’t do – not in the sense of “appropriate”, more in the sense of work with symbols from outside of our culture – I know this isn’t what you’re saying, but I think it’s worth bringing it up as a theoretical possibility. This leaves us with pretty much bugger all symbols to express our experience, unless we get into the Church (or dream up our own Pop Culture Pantheons). In addition, the history of Western Occultism – in fact, most religion - is riddled with borrowings and appropriations. It’s always gone on, and it always will go on in my opinion, as long as people keep coming into contact with differing people and cultures. Whether this to conquer, to plunder or to negotiate shared ground depends on the circumstances.

I think basically what it comes down to for me, is how sincere a “usage” it is (usage is so not the right word), and what level of involvement there is with these new symbols, Gods or whatever. I suppose you could say does whatever-is-being-done add to that current that emanates from that culture/God or does it lessen it? In the case of the pick-a-deity paganism you’re talking about above, arguably, it lessens the power and import of these Gods, reducing them all to parts of a symbolic potpourri. However, it doesn’t have to be like that – it’s entirely possible that something will catch the imagination of some of the people involved and they’ll go onto to construct a deeper relationship. I’d almost say they will do inevitably if they keep working, but maybe I’m wrong. What’s the point, if you don’t go on to do something like this?

Two differing examples spring to mind re. appropriation– one is Theosophical societies nicking of the idea of elemental tattvas and chakras from Tantrism/Hinduism, the other is Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching. I think the former incidence is characterised by a lack of understanding of a complex system and a shoehorning of selected elements into their framework, without much respect for source, therefore I don’t’ have much respect for it. Wilhelm’s work on the other hand is something quite different. He fully engaged with another culture and traditional teachings, and thereby brought the book to a whole new audience, a process that took him over 20 years. As Carl Jung put it, it is as if this book 'delivered the last message of the old, dying China to Europe'. IMO, he’s as important to the “current” of the I Ching as anyone else. could argue that cross cultural practiconers are doing the same in our culture. I could have probably summed that up in a sentence by saying – the key question is sincerity. Depth of involvement. Hope that makes some sort of sense.

With regards to your situation, I dunno. I’ve certainly heard of people being called by something outside of their culture before. Some ideas – check it out with some traditional practiconers, or consult a divination system that you find reliable. Let something emerge .... Good luck.
11:56 / 04.12.03
There's an interesting conversation happening on this subject on a Craft mailing list I'm on, specifically related to the orisha, and to white folks questioning whether or not they are mis/appropriating them in a naive, post-modern way. (Not one to lash out at anything pomo, or naivete for that matter. But we're all feeling pretty badly for ourselves over there. Anyway.) One suggestion I heard there was to approach this work with a humble heart -- that of a child, really, discovering something new, which is perfect, because it is that yet-to-be-modeld headspace that works so well for ferrying oneself out into these strange waters. Also, a child's heart is not that of a wimp; it's fucking ferocious when messed with, and remember that. This isn't about piety so much as it is about caution with a dose of humilty.

Oh, Legba. So much to say there. He's got a hold on that child's Black Heart more than many other entities/ancestors I've ever come across. The thing with him is, if he's calling, he's the gatekeeper, he may be making way for something else. And just to play it safe, how do you feel about asking him to open dialogue between you and your ancestors, too? You never know what you may find there...

(And bear in mind this advice comes from one who believes BOTH that godforms/spirits/beings are of a manifest reality that precedes human consciousness of them, AND a product of our interactions with them -- "they are not just a fucking metaphor," but also, we have a hand in creating these relationships, relating them to others -- so when stuck in doubt, ask yourself how much of what you know of Legba comes from the words of Maya Deren or Luisah Teish [who is right-on, by the way], and how much comes from your own experiences? And how can you really split the two?)

Where it gets *really* interesting is when you first visit a botanica -- it's really truly a human issue, appropriation, and that's where to learn grace and finesse in dealing with potential teachers and guides, and damn if I know how to do that yet. When I next run out of Lotion Pompeia, we'll see how that goes. In South Africa, when I was the Parliament of the World's Religions and was around so many different traditions of Hindu spirituality that I couldn't keep track of which color robes meant what, I just followed my instincts to find the right ways to talk to people -- terrified that I'd be outed as a poseur-Shaivite the whole time -- until I realised that on one level, we all were there doing the same thing -- feeding our Gods. Done with reverence, of course -- and white boy/girl guilt can sometimes get in the way of that, too.

This is also coming from someone of Italian/Irish/British/German/Welsh/Scottish descent who never really connected with any of the supposed gods of my ancestry... not the ways I have with the ones who are supposedly not mine... I always thought I ought to look to my own blood first... until that blood got so complex and multi-strained that I began to wonder if even if I went back "far enough", if even then if I where what blood came from anyway...
13:20 / 04.12.03
Beautifultoxin- good post!

Lep- Firstly, IMHO, the Gods we worship are different faces of higher beings still. For example, the characteristics of Legba you highlight are also remarkable reminiscent of Odin and Hermes/Thoth (riddling, language etc.), and others (e.g. Hecate) and they are Gods of Magic.

When a God of Magic starts to call you, you'd better fucking jump if you want to be a magician (in my opinion) and do all the worrying and guilty procrastination derived from your cultural background later.

I think it's a part of our duty as magicians to transcend boundaries of culture, race, gender etc. which, let's face it, are just masks and costumes we're given in this life.
You are a magician first and a white middle class boy (or whatever) second.

(note to all of you reaching for your keyboards, yes I know there are loads of new age religious tourists treating deities with disrespect- we are not them, I hope. Cultural appropriation is an issue if you think Gods are like dreamcatchers or bindis, it's my firm belief that They can look after themselves when faced with blessed-wannabes, for Gods sakes )
trouser the trouserian
14:49 / 04.12.03
Thanks for this thread - I feel you've raised some important issues. I'm keenly aware of the "cultural appropriation" issue as it's one that gets raised a lot in some of the circles that I move in. I've been reading an excellent book: Encountering Kali: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West. It's a series of anthropological essays examining the many facets of Kali, both in South Asian and Western contexts. There's two fascinating essays on how Western notions of Kali have been influenced by British colonial attitudes to her; a review of different notions of Kali appearing on the web as authored by feminists, new agers and contemporary Hindu devotees; and some in-depth explorations of how Kali is perceived in both modern South Asian and Asian diasporic contexts.

This is of particular interest for me as I have had a magical 'relationship' (on and off) with Kali for over twenty years, since I was first 'called' to get to know her in 1982. At the time, I was "taking a break" (ha!) from doing anything more involved than zazen meditation, but began to experience a recurring dream which featured Kali (though I did not immediately recognise her as such). These 'dreams' impelled me to find out more about Kali, and eventually, to become interested in - and eventually practice - a form of Hindu Tantra.

I found, as my understanding/practice progressed, that I not only needed to go beyond the "plug'n'play" attitude (nice phrase, btw!) commonly found in occult books, but that I needed to find out more about Indian culture/history in general - in order to understand the contexts in which the stuff I was practising arose. In doing so, I discovered a bewilderingly rich and diverse range of ideas that I wouldn't have found in occult books. And some surprises - one example being that a popular modern South Asian interpretation of Kali sticking her tongue out is that she is "ashamed" of her behaviour and is biting her tongue in shame. That's not an interpretation I agree with, but nonetheless, I find it useful to know it.

I agree with Illmatic's point about sincerity being important. What's arisen for me out of my practice & relationship with Kali is a desire to honour her by finding out more about her, and communicating those findings to other people. Which is not to say that I think I've got a 'superior' insight into her, but merely to try and counter the reductionist attitude that Illmatic mentions.

Cultural appropriation can be viewed as another manifestation of globalisation - and it's easy to get hung up on that. I'd say just go with your heart and see where it takes you . It's useful to be aware of these issues and I feel that if you are aware of them, then you're not going to fall for the 'demand' for 'authentic' deities who've just had western attitudes trowelled onto them willy-nilly.
Gypsy Lantern
15:14 / 04.12.03
There's some great posts there. Barbelith's magic forum is brilliant.

Only a few things I feel like adding to all of that. I'll echo Illmatic's line about sincerity and depth of involvement - some of the white boy friction you may come across (both internally and externally) will likely involve having to prove (to yourself, as well as to the Lwa, or other practitioners) that your motives are sound. You're not trying to take the piss, just following what it is you instinctively feel is the right thing for you to be doing.

The humble heart approach/childlike exploration of something new is really crucial if you're serious about this, because to Them, you are a child. If you approach this with any sort of big chaos magician attitude, walking in and trying to take whatever you find aesthetically appealing to spice up your sigil work - then chances are you'll be slapped down hard. A lot of the familiar chaos magic/post-modern get out clauses ("it's all a paradigm", "it's only real as long as I choose to believe in it") don't cut it with the Lwa, possibly because They've been playing the altering reality game for a lot longer than any of us. Maybe you're just a paradigm to Them...

I should also stress the fact that Vodon, Santeria, Candomble and the other African Diaspora faiths are religions. Developing a relationship with the African Saints doesn't make you a qualified Houngan or Santero any more than praying to God makes you a fully ordained Arch Bishop. Not all Haitian followers of The Religion are initiates, but offer service to the Lwa as part of the congregation. No matter what your accomplishments are in western trad magic, keep this in mind. There's a very different set of rules to learn.

If you really feel this is where your road is leading, and Ellegua is giving you the call, then you probably want to be opening a dialogue. At this stage you're just having a conversation, making some offerings, and showing respect. Take it a day at a time, and see what happens.

You'll probably want to supplement this process with as much reading around the subject as you can, and looking into doing some ancestor work.

Beautifultoxin - Some very interesting stuff in your post, particularly this bit:

we have a hand in creating these relationships, relating them to others -- so when stuck in doubt, ask yourself how much of what you know of Legba comes from the words of Maya Deren or Luisah Teish and how much comes from your own experiences? And how can you really split the two?

I'm not sure what I want to add to that for the moment, but I think you're hitting on something really interesting there. I'll have a think about that and post again later.
15:32 / 04.12.03
Reading this thread over(fine posts from everyone I think, this forum rules) one, rather obvious, point leapt out at me. There's probably a crude parallel to be made with the Victorian/Theosophical appropriation of Eastern religous material and the appropriation of goods and resources from those countries under colonialism.

In that case, what metaphor fits the "plug n' play" approach detailed above? I suppose some kind of tourism, the tourism that has you in a nice air conditioned 5 star hotel, protected from the natives with a little bit of ethinic colour to spice things up. Nice time in the sun but no engagement. To follow on from Gypsy Lantern's point about getting slapped down, there's no sense of that you might get eaten by lions. I think this could function both as real danger or challenges to your ideas and sense of self - if you've received either those from work with a deity, you've got a richer relationship and that "pick it up/put it down approach" has gone out the window.
trouser the trouserian
15:38 / 04.12.03
we have a hand in creating these relationships, relating them to others -- so when stuck in doubt, ask yourself how much of what you know of Legba comes from the words of Maya Deren or Luisah Teish and how much comes from your own experiences? And how can you really split the two?

I concurr - good point. It's what I was trying to get to grips with in this thread
Malle Babbe
15:40 / 04.12.03
I've got to admit, "Plug 'n Play" has a nice ring to it. As for myself, I've been using the term "a la carte" in reference to folks that seem to be choosing deities like wallpaper.

Anyway, this website is run by an acqaintance of mine, who has been on the lwa path for nearly ten years and has also dealt with the "Why is Erzuile talking to me, a white girl?" issue. You might want to read her account of attending Espiritu Santo in rural Pennsylvania, of all places.
15:46 / 04.12.03
Have to echo the Barbelith's magic forum is brilliant in passing, and the Respect and Sincerity criteria- dealing with Gods is not like dealing with culture. Someone may be hacked off if you appropriate their culture, but if you disrespect their Gods you can get burned to death. Religion is a serious business. To turn the tables imagine if some tourists walked into a church and pissed in the font or stole the gravestones as mementoes, and couldn't see why the priest was annoyed about it.

Having said that, I think you can invoke Pan (say) to preside over your little woodland blessing ritual from a new age book, and he'll probably ignore it, and you'll all have a good time. If he was invoked however (i.e. noticed and bothered to send an avatar), the ritual might turn out quite different (can you say 'Panic'?).
As I say, the Gods can look after themselves. If you offend them you'll know about it (can you say 'Hubris' or 'Wrath'?)

Returning to the original post, I think it would offend Ellegua if you didn't respond (as you intimate, hir displeasure seems to be growing the longer you ignore the call), and answering a call is not like calling a God- it's pretty obvious who's boss from the word go.
15:59 / 04.12.03
Q - appreciate that but the thing with Pan is that he has no religon anymore, he's is a "dead" god - erm, that doesn't sound right - what I mean is that no one is worshipping him beyond the small and ecletic circles of Western pagans and magicians (to my knowledge, if you know different, tell me). With a deity such as Kali, Ghede, whoever - there's a significant community involved with their worship, and you've got to factor that in/consider that as part of your relationship (ie your comments on religon).
16:12 / 04.12.03
That's a great site. Cheers for the link. I just found her reading list salivates... yeah, like I need more books to read.
16:22 / 04.12.03
I only chose Pan because he was least likely to kick my ass for using his name in vain :-) *gets metaphysical hoof in ass*
You're right, 'Live' gods have a lot more 'weight' but I see it as a continuum, from forgotten gods of a local cave 10,000 years ago all the way on up to Xianity's huge old guy in the sky, rather than distinguish between worshipped and not. I mean, Mithras may not have a lot of followers now but he's still a god. And arguably the gods just change their masks and costumes, the spirit of Dionysus nowadays could be alive and well and known as 'Ecstasy' or 'Clubbing'.
As Maxi Jazz sings in 'Reverence' about dance music, "This is like a modern day hymn for the new church.."
Tryphena Absent
17:02 / 04.12.03
I was feeling very practical yesterday but have been vaguely thinking about Hecate in relation to this. She seems a very good example of cultural appropriation because her roots are terribly unclear. She appears in Greek myth during the sixth century BC but seems to have been stolen from somewhere. She is not as prominent as many of the other god(esses) despite holding a place alongside many of them and her birth is unclear. She held a place in Greek lore that constantly changed, from maiden to crone, part of the trinity to Queen of the Witches. She is a goddess who has been appropriated by an entire culture from another and that seems to create a deity who is far more up for appropriation generally.

The nature of the deity contributes to the appropriation as much as their status as 'living' or 'dead' does.
17:33 / 04.12.03
If you're worrying about appropriation in the specific context of the orisha, think of this: they're deities in a syncretic religion.

Eleggua ain't much more African than I am*. To the Yoruba, there was Exu Elegbara. Eleggua is what happened when the followers came to the New World and started talking Spanish as well as Lucumi. And put a saint mask on him. Actually, several saints depending on which version you're into.

(I lean towards St. Anthony of Padua for family reasons. Thinking of which - I need to tidy up the Eleggua space by the garage door. The Better Half has vetoed his presence by our front door, alas.)

I believe that sincerity trumps formal training/acculturation when it comes to these things. So if there's a call, I'd listen and see where it leads you. Follow as far as you can.

I quite liked this book on the subject, written by an anthropologist-type who wound up as an initiate.

There's been a big movement lately to undo the secrecy around a lot of the Afro-Caribbean faiths, public churches and whatnot, so I wouldn't be surprised if the deities started popping up in weird places too.

I do think there's a difference between figuring out you're getting contacted by someone and dialing up a god of the week for yourself.

* Note: I'm more African than you might suspect -- conceived in Jo'burg, mom's family goes back to Cape Colony of the 1600s. But I look & talk like a white American. This is where I was born. I suppose my culture is transcontinental.
22:00 / 04.12.03
Thank you, everybody - lots of great comments and observations (I knew I came here for a reason ), and I've got specific responses to some of them, but I don't have time to put my head together just this minute. I will say, though, to Malle Babbe: I just read through your friend's site not 10 minutes before coming back here and reading your post. Sometimes things connect.

I'll be back later!

Perfect Tommy
00:10 / 05.12.03
Just a thought, and apologies if I'm repeating someone... but, perhaps Eleggua's knocking on your door because he knows you'll do your homework. Doing research on a god, be it via other people's knowledge or your own visioning, makes the god more real to you, enhancing its existence (and isn't that what a god is really after?). So your attention to detail might have been your 'selling point,' and so you have every right to do some bartering in return.
06:29 / 05.12.03
Gypsy Lantern:
A lot of the familiar chaos magic/post-modern get out clauses ("it's all a paradigm", "it's only real as long as I choose to believe in it") don't cut it with the Lwa, possibly because They've been playing the altering reality game for a lot longer than any of us. Maybe you're just a paradigm to Them...

That takes me in a really interesting direction; I used to want to chase postmodern/chaos magick's tail all the way back into its mouth and find the archaic, primal roots of it all, in a shamanic worldview, where there is no distinction between I/Thou, Subject/Object, God/Human; no need to deconstruct anything because the divisions haven't emerged yet.

When it comes to talking of spirits, it's too easy to draw lines in some imaginary sand, when in fact we are what's being drawn, right?

(Gushing. You all rock me.)
Gypsy Lantern
17:22 / 05.12.03
Tryphena says:

She is a goddess who has been appropriated by an entire culture from another and that seems to create a deity who is far more up for appropriation generally. The nature of the deity contributes to the appropriation as much as their status as 'living' or 'dead' does.

Grant says:

If you're worrying about appropriation in the specific context of the orisha, think of this: they're deities in a syncretic religion.

I agree with where you’re coming from, but whilst Vodon, Santeria, etc… are syncretic faiths, the history of that syncretism involves colonialism and the slave trade, and these factors do contribute to the nature and character of the African Gods in their new world form, and how they might consider white practitioners approaching them.

I think it’s always there in the background, and if you’re approaching the Lwa with sincerity, then you have to at some level engage with these issues and your own specific responses to them. In a sense, operating from a perspective where it’s “all just more syncretism”, is as much of a platitude as it’s “all just a paradigm”. It’s a convenient way of avoiding engagement with certain issues that are difficult to look at.

That’s not to say that ‘white boy guilt’ is the most appropriate and beneficial standpoint to adopt when dealing with the Gods of other cultures – but you have to be aware of the climate you’re working in and the history attached to it. I suppose clumsy parallels can be made with the position of a white MC. I think you have to have a strong awareness and some level of engagement with the issues and problems inherent in what you’re doing, unless you want to be the occult Vanilla Ice or something.
Gypsy Lantern
19:47 / 05.12.03
the spirit of Dionysus nowadays could be alive and well and known as 'Ecstasy' or 'Clubbing'.

...or Ghadis
20:36 / 05.12.03
Gypsy Lantern: "I suppose clumsy parallels can be made with the position of a white MC. I think you have to have a strong awareness and some level of engagement with the issues and problems inherent in what you’re doing, unless you want to be the occult Vanilla Ice or something."

So should I be bracing for my occult 8 Mile?

Seriously, though, well put. Some research in Vodoun and Santeria web groups gave me a glimpse at this debate amongst various levels of "insiders," and that sounds about right-on. It seems there are a number of white houngans/mambos and santeristo/as, but that acceptance within the community varies widely. There are some in Vodoun, for instance, who believe that - never mind white - no non-Haitian can legitimately be part of the Vodoun community. I was especially interested to read some of the discussion by/about people who came to Vodoun from Buddhism and Wiccan backgrounds and how they came to be where they are (and, in some cases, handle simultaneous worship in multiple spheres -- here the Chaos discipline comes in handy, to allow one to serve and devote oneself in multiple directions without getting overwhelmed or selling any of their adopted religions short).

But whilst I'm finding the research of orthodox worship useful, I'm not feeling any accompaning drive to join and follow any of the specific African, Afro-Cuban, etc. religions per se. There's a good chance that my own iconoclastic nature ("embrace heresy" and all that) is influencing me here, or maybe that's just not the nature of my Calling.

If any Lwa/Orisha were to be encouraging of unorthodox veneration, it might certainly well be Legba - the traveller, the boundary-walker, the strife-sower and line-crosser. And if my Lwa-mandated heresy darkens a few brows, he'd likely be that much happier.

The situation is an encapsulation of Legba's delight in paradox: by selecting an unconventional worshipper and setting them (me?) to venerate him in unconventional ways, outside the aegis of the greater religious bodies, he simultaneously smashes boundaries while reinforcing them - I would be at once inside and outside the world of the Orisha/Lwa. "The hat is black and it is red."

I'm sure there are hermits living in the hills of Haiti (or Benin) who have served the Lwa all their life and are mighty in Legba's magick, who have never set foot in a peristyle. To every orthodoxy there is a heresy.

And how much of the associated cosmology will he also expect me to embrace, I wonder? Can I even associate with Legba without worshipping Mawu-Lisa and the other Loa? And what of my ancestors? I am adopted - my blood relatives are unknown and unknowable (I know only that my birth-parents were minors, and therefore the records are sealed) - even my ethnic background is unknown (though we can likely say, broadly, Germanic/Nordic based on appearance, but that's still iffy).

The mandate is still upon me, though, to seek out the proper mode of veneration - and a series of dead links and browser crashes seems to be slowly steering me through the labyrinth (though before too long I'll have to leave my desk and actually hit the streets. Legba, Lord of Driftwork).

BTW - I have been using the words Lwa and Orisha in conjunction or interchangeably, but I do not mean to imply that they are merely synonymous -- I am just unsure, as of yet, exactly who it is on the threshold (and from where he hails). Legba, Ellegua and Eshu-Elegbara are names used in overlapping cultures spanning across hemispheres, and all have offered themselves as appropriate. To put it (momentarily, and only for the sake of linguistic clarity) in more Chaos-speak, I seem to be at least in touch with some node in the "Legba-current" or the "Legba-Collective." I know that, at least in Benin Vodoun, the details of identity can be extremely fluid depending on what face the Loa shows (a similar idea exists in the more codified caminos of Santerian Orisha). It will probably take consultation with an experienced houngan, etc., to really come to grips with the metaphysics here (if such a thing is necessary or desireable to Legba).

And maybe my sense of ambiguity is pleasing to him, or a test.

Gypsy Lantern
20:58 / 05.12.03
And how much of the associated cosmology will he also expect me to embrace, I wonder? Can I even associate with Legba without worshipping Mawu-Lisa and the other Loa?

I shouldn't worry too much about that for the moment, just get a dialogue going with the Crossroads God and see where it leads you. If any of the other Lwa take an interest you, I suspect They will make their presence known to you quite clearly at the right time.

And what of my ancestors? I am adopted - my blood relatives are unknown and unknowable

Doesn't matter too much, at the end of the day, everyone has got ancestors. You could start by making a small ancestor altar, seperate from whatever working altar set up you might have. It could be on a shelf or the top of a cabinet. Put a piece of white cloth down, 4 stones at the corners from your garden, yard or place of birth, maybe a religious symbol like a cross, a white candle and a glass of water. On a specific day of the week, light the candle, replace a fresh glass of water and have a chat. See what comes through, your unknown and unknowable ancestors might tell you about themselves.

Every now and again make a feast for them to feed and strengthen the link between you and them. I sometimes think of the ancestral connection in terms of the 'time tree' model - a real phsyical connection between you and them stretching back through time. The ancestral feast nourishes the roots and branches of the great tree of being which we're all part of.

though before too long I'll have to leave my desk and actually hit the streets. Legba, Lord of Driftwork

You might want to have a read of this, which deals quite specifically with what you're talking about.
22:50 / 05.12.03
Gypsy Lantern: "I shouldn't worry too much about that for the moment, just get a dialogue going with the Crossroads God and see where it leads you."

Practically, yes, but this does suggest some interesting metaphysical questions for another time...

As for the ancestors, I like the idea. It might actually help me come to terms with some things in my background (I was actually beginning an exploration of my Mom's Celtic heritage when I found out I was adopted - I was already in my 20's - and it left me feeling very self-conciously rootless -- I really couldn't have cared less about the identity of my birth-parents, but lack of blood-heritage really bothered me...).

As for The Drift, that was precisely the article I was thinking about when I said that. Very good stuff - I came across it a few weeks ago when I was poking around Molotovia.

Good weekend, all!

15:21 / 08.12.03
Y'know, it struck me over the weekend that the Thousand Times Great Grand-Mere working (described in the Halloween thread) is really a surrogate Ancestor working - she's a four-thousand year old mummy whose wisdom encompasses all who have lived and died in that time. The direction of the working (and the scale) are changing somewhat from this realization.

As I learn more, my ideas are refining.

Unless anyone would like to discuss sycretism or religious appropriation in a more general sort of way, I'm probably going to let this thread go -- anything else that comes up will go in a new thread. Thanks for all your input, everybody.

05:20 / 10.12.03
One Last Thing:

I know I said I was going to leave this thread alone, but I have to share this...

So, last night my mother-in-law tells me "I've got a present I was going to give you for Christmas, but I just can't wait and I want to give it to you now."

She tells me to close my eyes, and then places around my neck a big white cowrie shell necklace.

No, I hadn't said a word to her about Legba (before or since).

I love my family.

Gypsy Lantern
13:24 / 10.12.03
Seems like a pretty clear sign you're getting there.
19:02 / 13.01.04
How's this going now, anyway?
20:28 / 13.01.04
Well, since you're interested...

Things seem to be going pretty well. I have been making regular offerings to Legba, and generally paying him respectful attention, and the way before me seems to be smoothing out. In addition to his general offerings, I am also honoring him before any hoodoo-style magick (candle-burnings and conjure-bags). I have not made any move to include him in other, Chaos-type magick yet, and so far it looks like that's alright.

One interesting little moment: my wife's parents took us to a wonderful indoor butterfly garden called Magic Wings a short time after I began making offerings to Legba. While I was there (it really is amazing, with many hundreds of exotic, brightly coloured butterflies fluttering all around you), I got one of those sweet-devotion moments and called to Legba (not summoned, oh no!) specifically to share with him the beauty of the moment, and the surroundings. Very shortly thereafter, I was visited by a black and red butterfly (Legba's colors, in the aspects he has revealed to me) that circled me around and around for several minutes, and landed on me a couple times (the only butterfly to do so in the time I was there). It was quite moving.

Almost immediately after I began to honor Legba, a person who had been very close to me in the past but who had become all-but-estranged got back in touch with me, and we were able to cut through the curtain of hurt and miscommunication that had grown up between us. It was a good thing.

Meanwhile, now that I have set things rolling with Legba, Jack (see Halloween thread) has started to drop signs that I need to touch base with him again (a small plastic trick-or-treat bag blowing across the snow to land at my feet? later the same day almost tripping over a pumpkin half-buried in the snow in the parking lot? yeah.) What I'm wondering now is if Legba expects to be honored before I contact any other spiritual entity, or only as a prelude to contacting the other loa... I'm sure he'll let me know, though.

Incidentally, while we are (indirectly) on the subject of syncretism, a devoutly Christian friend of mine (with whom I have had some of the most stimulating religious discussion of my life) began to pray for me (with my permission!) for guidance "during my spiritual search" - right before I suddenly reached a firm decision that I was going to respond to Legba's prompting. I made my first offering (cigar, rum and candy at a rural crossroads) that night. I'm not sure if that was quite the result she was looking for, but it certainly seemed to work. It's very interesting talking about the whole thing with her, because she experienced a similar "conversion experience" and courtship with the Christian God (she had been raised in a devoutly atheistic household, so there was nothing "default" about her Christianity).

Anyway, since y'all asked, I'll come back periodically if anything especially noteworthy happens.


Unconditional Love
21:41 / 13.01.04
there is an area of haiti known as the arbonite region where there is a form of vodou practiced by bokor known as makaya, its sorcery focused, you may find it intresting.
22:29 / 13.01.04
Thanks! I've been very interested to know more about the bokor, but most of what I've read has been by anthropologist-types or mainstream houngans/mambos, who look on them with distaste and fear. Do you know of any decent references/resources about makaya?

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