Ezili Freda

Freda is doing her honey brown curls up
in a lace net with pearls, “Honey, you
need to pretty yourself up with lipstick.
Pink!” and she paints her nails ivory
then draws them through the sea for Met
Agwe’s bounty, her husbands are fickle
things. Damballah rains riches down on
his mistress and Ogou swings his machete
and cuts a clear path for her carriage.
Freda goes to Rada Island resplendent,
a queen, sends me dreams of nail salons
and hot wax and pink and gold yonis
yawning open with Mother, “It’s a girl’s
birthright to be beautiful,” she sings.

Oh Lady of the Fans, dance with me.

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Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

The Night is Full of Haints

There’s a blackness that coats Snake’s Hollow, like night left her shawl over the entire town.  It is thick, it is alive, and to breathe it in is to choke down smoke and the ripe red cayenne peppers left in rum at the peristyle.

Call the blackness an omen, call it sin.  Out of all the humans in my small Louisiana home, only I can see it.

The night is full of haints, the church bells toll on their own, and sometimes, you gotta feed the crossroads.  That’s what the blackness brings – loup garou, zombies, the Petro Nation – and they stay away because of Raff and Papa Leggie, always on the town’s edge, but someday, they’ll come marching right on in.  That I know for sure, that it’s only a matter of time before your shadows catch up with you

Tonight I’m gonna meet them.

The blackness snakes across the woods like Spanish moss then enter people’s dreams every night, and my God-fearing granmamma makes a sound in her sleep that could curdle milk.  When I was younger, barely in elementary school, Raff would cover me with his old white wings and sing me to sleep in the tongue of angels, and the next day in church Papa Leggie would have ten more lines on his bark whorl face.  Leggie and God, they’re poker buddies, so Raff tells me.

I wonder if they gamble over which town’s turn it is to vanish into the blackness next.

Winter down here is chill and muggy, and maybe I’m riled up on Maya Angelou’s poetry that sweet momma loves to read to me before our dinner prayers, but I’m brave, and Raff is asleep on the roof, and not a soul is awake in this silly town.  They’re all tired out from church where they tried to get slices of salvation just like apple pie, and they’re clearly ain’t enough to go around like at church picnics, or the damn shadows wouldn’t be here watching me.

At the end of Still I Rise tonight, momma said “Be brave May Octavie Laveau, be strong, ‘cause this world will beat stubborn women down, and you ain’t worth anything if you ain’t stubborn as a mule.”  I wish I was like Storm in X-Men and could clear this place of the darkness, but it’s more than weather.

The blackness is in the bones of this town, fabled for Calf Springs that will heal and Snakes Springs that will curse.  There are so many heroes in my comics and movies – Leia, Nubia, Black Panther, Vixen – and I got a cape and light-up plastic light saber from a few years ago from when I still used to play make believe.  I put them on as a shield of sorts, full of sweet childhood memories, then crawl out the window, onto the gutter, and down the widow’s walk –

Wings in my face, strong hands at my waist.  I’m hauled from the widow’s walk back into my room like a lil girl picking flowers.

Raff just popped up like a daisy from a grave.  Jack’s rabbit if he ain’t fast as a hare.  I could have sworn I lulled him to sleep with momma’s chocolate chip cookies.  No one can see Raff ‘cept me, and he’s been with me since birth.  Love him but he’s a pain in my tush sometimes.

His scarred face is all stern, and he sits me down on my bed and dang it am I in for a talking.

“May!  What did I tell you about going out at night?  It’s too dangerous for you to even fathom!  I didn’t raise you to lose you, girl.”  His voice gets all gentle in the end, and he scratches his shaved curls.

I squint at Raff in the darkness of my room.  He’s got skin brown as me, and I used to not believe that he was an angel when I was younger.  I would say angels were only blonde women that played harps flying round the manger of baby Jesus, but Raff has a flaming sword and ain’t very good with babies.  He thinks they’re cute and all, but he’s been a bachelor since Literal Day 1.

“You didn’t raise me to be a scaredy cat either, Raff.  I’ve seen the Baron come down at fetes and watched my uncle get ridden by Ogou and swallow fire.  There’s a magic to my town, a curse of some kind that only I can see, and I’m going to save it.  I won’t let Snake’s Hollow be another of Leggie’s bets.”

“Legba isn’t trying to gamble Snake’s Hollow away, May,” Raff sighs, sitting down next to me.  “He’s trying to protect it.  We all are.”

The blackness exhales outside my window – it always comes at the stroke of 3:00 AM, the witching hour, then leaves by dawn, and the sun is coming up.  The howls of the loup garou on the bayou kept me awake all night.  When it breathes, it sounds like the whistle of a ghost train, and when it leaves, it’s like a tea kettle burning.

Raff makes the sign of the cross, only his fingers draw holy fire on the air, and the cross floats to me where it kisses my heart.  Blessings from angels never hurt, but I ain’t in needof  his protection.  I need his answers.

“You’re funny, Raff, you ain’t a proper man, and you ain’t a good angel.  Angels don’t lie, after all.”

Raff narrows his sunny yellow eyes, the irises an unearthly amber.  “What am I lying about?”

“Bets.  The lwa make bets all the time.  Leggie’s a trickster, after all.”

“Legba loves you, May.  He’s keeping the blackness away.  We all are.  Now go to bed.  You got school tomorrow.”  He hugs me then takes off my cape and tries to tuck me in.

“I don’t need you pulling the blankets up Raff, I’m eleven, not seven.”

Raff smiles like river pearls are in his mouth, then laughs.  “’Night, May-flower.”  He climbs up onto the roof and soon I can hear him snoring like a foghorn.

I watch the blackness until dawn drives it out.

The night is alive in Snake’s Hollow.

In the dark, the Dead have names.

King of the Crossroads: Kalfou

“All magic passes through my crossroads – good, bad, in-between – Legba will protect you, but I?  I will show you your true potential.”

kalfou_by_honeysuckle_wine-d9iwedz

Met Kalfou  is the dark horse Petro lwa, king of the crossroads, equated with the Devil, a dark spirit whose veve of two writhing snakes belies how all evil spirits and curses stem from his dark magic and enchanted leaves.  He is either the brother or dark side of Papa Legba, the guardian of ceremony and entrances and exits in Haitian Vodou.  Kalfou, or Carrefour, is Legba’s flip side, the shadow side of the kindly grandfather of the Vodou pantheon.

I call him the Man in Black, as he favors tailored black and red pinstripe suits, vests, blood hued ties, a monocole, cane, shining patent leather shoes, and cufflinks in the shape of snakes.  He is rarely without a Cuban cigar, rum, or his favorite blunts, and you can oftentimes find him working dark magicks and hexes with the leaves and herbs of his favorite trees or plants or crooning away at a piano as he sings sultry jazz.

red_samael_the_seducer_by_honeysuckle_wine-d9iwhdj

His skin is dark as night, he sports braids or locks that look like the sheen of an oil spill, and his eyes are either fully black as pitch or have red irises.  To me, he appears as a part of, but independent of, Samael.  Spirits rarely overlap for little hard polytheist me, but a vivid memory stands out in my astral dreams:

I’m sitting at the kitchen table with Samael, who is cutting herbs that smell like the forest.  He pauses with his knife and the blade reflects in his eyes.  Suddenly, his form shifts into an African man that I have seen throughout my childhood from the age of four on – coated in writhing darkness, the Shadow Man, and the caul slips away to reveal his second most taken human form besides the Middle Eastern one he usually dons, what I call evil Bob Marley.  He smiles and it looks like he is a lion ready to devour prey.

“Who are you, when you’re like this?” I ask him, hesitant.

He twines a blood red thread from his tie around his fingers then brutally snaps it.  His eyes are liquid oil spills of Pre-Cambrian depths and I see birds fly in them then sink into tar and die.  His nails are long and curved into talons, and he brushes a loc back.

“Kalfou: it is one of my many names.”

abraxas_cafe_by_honeysuckle_wine-d9iwaxr

I Google the unheard of before name when I wake up and discover it is no other than the lwa syncretized as the Devil but still not really Satan, but something perhaps older and even more dangerous.  I guess all these years he wasn’t playing at Evil Bob Marley after all and his passion for jazz might be organic, not acquired.

I think of the Devil at the crossroads, of souls sold for musical genius, and how others view Samael as Chango or Baron Samedi.

But not me.  To me, he is, yet is not, Met Kalfou, Mister Carrefour

I go through my drawings and find endless sketches of his as yet unnamed face.  To me, his eyes are galaxies, black hole hearts, and his power is that of the devouring void.

Being in his presence makes me uneasy.  He reminds me of a black mamba, and he takes another thread, then

Snap.

On Possession as Communication With Spirits

I say demonic possession, you probably think of the Exorcist and a girl masturbating with a cross and calling Jesus “daddy.”  I say angelic possession, you probably think of the  human vessels in Supernatural that usually end up with crispy angel wings or, of course, Castiel calling Mark Pellegrino an assbutt.  I say spirit possession and your immediate thought is the horses or chwals of Voodoo, Ifa, and Santeria and maybe that really inaccurate depiction of Papa Legba in American Horror Story: Coven and Marie Laveau writhing with snakes  in fetishized portrayals of valid religions.

Since the beginning of time, shamans and even laypeople in tribal communities have channeled spirits for spiritual communication with the divine.   Mediums do it today with archangels and the deceased, African diasporic religions have a rich history of invoking the lwas and orishas into the flesh, there is the Drawing Down the Moon ritual of Wicca, and of course the famous Lourdes possessions and fascination with demonic possession during the Satanic Panic a few decades ago.  These are all valid examples.  What is rarely talked about, however, is milder states of possession that allow a devotee to share a headspace and body with gods, spirits, angels, demons, the dead, and everything in between.

It is a step above channeling in that you can feel the spirits’ emotions, sometimes hear their thoughts or speech as a kind of inner voice, perceive them in your third eye, feel their touch, rushes of tingling and goosebumps and electric energy, or focus on certain chakras or damaged parts of the body as a means to healing.  There is full-on possession, wherein the devotee becomes a vessel for the spirit in question and most times blacks out and has little memory of what happened, whether as Ogou they drank a bunch of rum and waved machetes around, or accidentally invoked Artemis into the High Priestess instead of some nameless Great Mother Goddess and excuse you, but Artemis wants nothing to do with sex as she is a virgin.  Eyes can change color in the devotee, speech can change, entire mannerisms, even knowing other languages.

I want to talk about shadowing, or soul-sharing, when you are the eyes and ears and tongue and hands – the sensory organ – of your spirits in the physical world.  You share a headspace, can feel the spirit’s emotions, their physical touch, hear their thoughts, and in meditative states or astral travel, see through their eyes and even possess them in turn.  Samael has done that many times with me – letting me see through his eyes – and demons aren’t the only ones who possess people.  As a dumbass teenager I invoked Michael into my body by chanting his name, my eyes rolled back into my head, a hurricane was in my mind, I blacked out, vomited, then drank a glassful of salt water to ground myself.

It’s dangerous shit to mess with especially for budding pagans, but allows gnosis that is unimaginable through regular divination: imagine having a direct connection to the gods, being able to hear their unfiltered thoughts, feel their marvel as they react to the physical world, whether it be a demon tasting chocolate through your tongue or an angel stroking your hair when they are trying to comfort you.  It makes spirits undeniably real.  You are in their head, they are all up in yours, you can touch them when you project out of body, but when they are being channeled, they can touch you, speak to your heart, you can feel prayers as energy, the chakras churning inside you as different energetic centers react, feel their laughter as bubbling champagne in your breast, feel their sorrow as a heavy weight on your shoulders.  Soulsharing is beautiful and painful at the same time.

Personally, I’ve always been like this, before I even understood what spirits were.  Feeling the energy rushing through me, like I’d been plugged into a socket.  I thought they were aliens when I was 7.  I would mix souls with Archangel Ariel in dreams in the third grade and feel divine ecstasy.  I was a really strange kid, and it didn’t help my imaginary friends were Ariel, Uriel, Samael and Metatron.  I’ve always been what the Voodoo community would call a horse, but shy away from full on possession and mostly just use channeling for communication purposes.

I think it’s something you have to be born with – you kind of have to have your head broken open, a shamanic awakening  – and I definitely advise against soulsharing if you’re not supported by a spiritual elder and know exactly what the fuck you’re doing.  There are a lot of different ways to do it – I’ve found imagining sigils in my mind of the respective spirit and just chanting their name does the trick.  Sometimes spirits and gods give you calling cards – two proto-Hebrew taws on your hands for Samael, for example, though I think that’s probably just something that works for me alone, not in general – to invoke them into your body.  Words to focus on, song lyrics, chants, you name it.

Also,  if you are to engage in possession as a means of communication, make sure your shadow work is in check as it can be.  You don’t want to bring negativity into this, especially with spirits of vengeance, because this is opening a very deep line of communication and then they’ll start bothering you about brushing your teeth more (I joke) or confronting your deepest fears to overcome things limiting you, and if it’s a demonic or chaotic spirit, that confrontation will be brutal and humbling (not a joke.)

It is a very effective means of communication, but as with any spiritual endeavor, be cautious, prepare, and plan.  You may find untold levels of kinship, or you may get radio silence, but make sure you have a support system in place.  I didn’t for most of my life and experimented with various levels of possession and energywork without consciously knowing what the hell I was doing and no, elementary school Allies wearing tin foil hats doesn’t make pesky angels go away.

Other than that, it’s quite an interesting mode of spiritual connection.  I think I’ve said enough for now.  Might elaborate on this in further posts.

Bringing Spirits Home from the Botanica

Two of my best friends, M and R, just got married last spring and moved very close to DC.  They are both devotees of Lilith and Samael, and M was raised by her Haitian parents in the traditional mix of Catholicism and Voodoo, so she has helped me learn a lot about Samael as a “hot” spirit and we regularly trade stories and jokes and UPG.  She experiences more of his Ogou side while I get stinking Kalfou.  We often joke the best thing Samael ever did was bring me, M, and our “little sister” K together – he seems to collect girls that are the complete opposite of him – nice, like cute animals and anime, nerdy, etc.

M was getting her hair braided last night – I drove up to their brand spanking new apartment to celebrate M’s birthday.  R and I watched the entirety of Hellsing Abridged until we decided it was high time to go find his wife, so my crappy GPS got us lost until we found the hair salon.  M’s hair was about 30 minutes from being done, so we decided to bum around the shopping plaza and look for food.  Lo and behold a Hispanic botanica, something I had only ever read about in Kenaz Filan’s “Haitian Voodoo Handbook” when I was searching for info on the lwa for my middle grade story (I could have just asked M but I try not to bother her too much!  She’s still my beta reader though).  I was uber-excited but R, who is part Puerto Rican, was used to seeing these in NYC where they used to live so he humored me and we went in.

I was in Heaven.  It smelled like incense and I talked in my rusty Spanish with the shop owners – there were statues of Santa Muerte, orishas, lwas, and every saint and angel imaginable.  I went apeshit!  I bought wooden statues of Michael, Raphael, Jophiel, Santa Marta (who M said was a dangerous spirit that made her dad’s eyes burn during rituals – I just liked her because she was holding snakes and reminded me of Erzulie Danto) and of course one of the Grim Reaper for Samael.  R was entertained by the fertility candles shaped like you-know-whats and happy with my haul, we picked up M.

That night in their guest room I had a dream that Samael took me to an enchanted forest like something out of a Miyazaki movie.  There was a moss-embedded shrine to the saints, with little statues for them.  We lit incense and prayed and people had left dollar bills and coins as offerings.  We then took a canoe up a river through the autumn woods to a sacred grove for St. Francis – it was covered in medals of his face on the mossy ground, his traditional statue in monks robes with live birds in in his hands were there, and it was obviously a place people had made pilgrimages to, with prayers and petitions written on parchment, birch bark, and paper covering the little island in the river.

I think back on the St. Francis statue that caught my eye in the botanica and wonder, did I catch someone’s eye last night? 🙂