Archives For Ifa

The Priests of Ifá (Babalawos) in Cuba have released their annual prognosis and recommendations about the energies of the year called La Letra del Año, or The Letter of the Year. The Letter is not just a statement, but rather an event that culminates in its release. Priests of Ifá gathered last week in preparation. As the new year enters, the priests, through castings and discernment, gauge the change in energies, and offer their guidance to maintain spiritual balance and strength.

Elekes-1

[Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

I thought it might be helpful to offer a brief glossary before looking at the Letter and describing its meaning. Lukumí is synonymous with Santeria; it is also called Regla de Ocha and Regla de Ifá (Rule/Reign of Orisha, Rule/Reign of Ifá, respectively). Those break down into two intimately connected but sometimes theologically and politically divided traditions. Lukumí or Lucumí also refer to the liturgical dialect of the Yoruba language that is used in those traditions. Some houses work with Ifá, while others only work with lines of Ocha. In Ocha lines, the senior priests, called Obá Oriatés, or the highly adept Olorishas (priests of an Orisha) will often discern the Letter recognized within their house.

Regardless whether the line is Ocha-centered or Ifá-centered, there is tremendous respect for the priests of both lineages and equally tremendous respect for the skill of the Babalawos who divine the Letter of the Year. For this column I’ll use the term Lukumí, but I feel I need to honor the fact that there is an important difference present, which perhaps I can return to in the future.

The Letter itself is a specific and direct revelation offered by Orisha Òrúnmìlà (also called Orunla), the master of divination and the most skilled of oracles. He speaks through Odu, the divination system he offered humankind, and as a result is considered one of the great benefactors and protectors of humanity. Òrúnmìlà was one of the Orisha that witnessed the creation of Ayé, the physical realm which includes Earth. From this witness, he understands the most intimate connections between the spiritual and physical. Orunmila is not a fortune-teller; he is the power that emerges when experience, wisdom and intelligence are combined.

Like other Orisha, Òrúnmìlà took physical form and developed a special relationship with Orisha Changó, who strengthened Òrúnmìlà with the gift of divination. Òrúnmìlà saw humankind’s strengths, weaknesses and follies. He could see not only the consequences of actions but also their magnitude, origins and reverberations into the world of Spirit. As he traveled the Earth, he observed how people would succumb to their own failings, their own limited understanding of the world around them and even to the ruses and traps sent forth by Orisha Elegua, the Great Trickster and Communicator. And with his knowledge, witness and prophecy, Òrúnmìlà gifted humankind the Table of Ifá that we refer to as Odu, the divinatory system through which he speaks.

The Odu are the 256 combinations of 16-by-16 square pairings that connect to stanzas and passages identifying the message sent by Orisha. To understand Odu requires years of formal study of Ifá, as well as experience in interpreting the very subtle differences across potential meanings. Babalawos train for years to become elder priests who are skilled at discerning the messages. The human ears have to be trained to listen and the eyes to see, but Òrúnmìlà speaks with clarity.

The Letter of the Year is a tradition within the Lukumí and Ifá community. While it is unclear if the tradition originated in Africa, it is well known within this community that the first of these letters was probably cast by Ño Remigio Herrera Adeshina Obara Meyi, a Nigerian-born freed slave and priest of Ifá (babalawo) in Havana, some time around the 1830s.

Since that time, the Letter has been cast in a variety of locations. Different cities were known to cast letters and different houses (congregations) also cast their own letters. However, since mid-1980s several hundred babalawos in Cuba formed an organization to conduct a common ritual and discernment. (There are actually two Letters, because of two houses; it boils down to politics.) And this Letter is released as close to New Year’s Day as possible as the ritual closes with consensus of Odu. Additionally, there is a Letter released by the Ocha/Ifá community in diaspora that occurs in Miami.

Both Letters are eagerly anticipated, and their release is one of the major events within the Ocha/Ifá community. But in June 2015, organizations in both Miami and Cuba announced that, due to the warming relations between Cuba and United States, they would discern a single and joint Letter. That first Unified Letter was released on January 2, 2016.

The 2016 Letter is below. The comments in parentheses are my translation and the explanation is added for the reader’s comprehension. But, and I want to underscore, these are not to be understood as a substitute for appropriate guidance from a godparent in the Tradition.

The Letter of the Year

From the Priests of Ifá: The Unified Letter of the Year 2016

This section refers to the specific elements of Odu; they are symbols (runes might be a better word) and proverbs that help us understand the world of 2016.  

Signo Regente (The Reigning Sign): Ogbeyono
1er testigo (The First Witness) : Ogbeate
2do testigo (The Second Witness): Odditauro

 *   *   *

This section also refers to activities and offerings to be done to limit the influence of Elegua’s trickery or bad energy.

Oracion Profetica (Prophetic Proverb): ire oma oyale lese elegba (un bien de inteligencia firme al pie de Elegua)
Onishe Elegba: Eyegbale, otan
Onishe Ara: Sarayeye jio jio meta y ebbo misi con atiponla y opolopo efun, otan

 *   *   *

This section refers to reigning Orisha of the year and the appropriate offerings to those energies

Orisha Regente (The Reigning Orisha): Ogún
Orisha Acompañante The accompanying Orisha:  Oshún
Bandera (Flag):  Green with Yellow trim
Ebbo (Offerings):  1 white chicken, 1 sprig of watercress with more ingredients.

 *   *   *

This section contains cautions related to health

  1. Digestive Disorder, particularly of the pancreas.
  2. Neurological disorders
  3. Outbreaks of epidemics and mass poisonings.

 *   *   *

This section contains statements of social concern

  1. Bursts of migration
  2. Increases in foreign invesments
  3. Developments of agreements between countries.
  4. Social unrest because of desperation.

 *   *   *

This section contains the proverbs from Odu

“El gandido agranda el vientre y achica su cabeza.” (The thief grows his belly and shrinks his head)
“La Paciencia te hace Rey.” (Patience will make you a king)
“El dinero en el mundo lo encontramos, y en el mundo lo dejamos.” (We find money in the world, and we leave it in the world)
“Cuando tenemos guerra con nuestra propia cabeza, siempre salimos vencidos.” (When we fight our nature, we always lose)
“La orgullosa laguna se aparta del arroyuelo, como si el agua no fuera lo común entre ambas.” (The proud lagoon thinks itself different from the stream forgetting the two have water in common)

 *   *   *

The Letter also contains a series of recommendations

  1. Avoid pollution
  2. Ensure the collection of garbage and community sanitation
  3. Be hygienic to avoid the spread of disease
  4. Create favorable immigration policies
  5. Honor and preserve the moral and religious traditions of their practitioners
  6. Be cautious of manufactured products particularly in the handling and distribution of food.
  7. Dialogue is an important tool in solving conflicts.
  8. Work toward a balance between wages and the cost of necessities.
  9. One sign suggests a danger of war.
  10. One sign suggests turmoil in economic negotiations.
  11. There is a dangerous rise in terrorism.
  12. Encourage procreation and the health of infants.
  13. Always seek the guidance of godparents to clarify these signs and recommendations.

 *   *   *

In Lukumí, “luck” doesn’t quite exist, or perhaps a better way to understand it is that you make choices that change what comes to you. Lukumí handles luck as an issue of Balance. Elegua also plays a role, testing us to empower us. He is the powerful Orisha of the crossroads, the opener and closer of ways the great communicator. Without him, there is no way to communicate with Orisha. He is always propitiated, for he conveys messages. He enjoys trickery and confronting us with obstacles so that we can surmount and progress as individuals and as a society. We honor him because he is present when we decide, when we speak, when we act and when we overcome.

Tide Change - Miami

Changing Tide [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

If you are balanced spiritually by reflecting on your growth, living through your strengths and recognizing your limits and understanding your choices, then you are living fully, prepared for opportunities and able to focus on relationships that will strengthen you and your community. In other words, carrying a rabbit’s foot won’t help, but if carrying that rabbit’s foot reminds you how you must conduct yourself before an Orisha, that will help.

That does not mean that there are no spiritual energies at play around you, but your Balance, through meditation, divination and offerings, allows you to navigate those energies successfully. You live fully by becoming better at who you are with each passing day.

When I describe those energies I always end up focusing water. In South Florida, when the tide turns on Biscayne Bay it is more a change of water than it is a change in height. The shallow waters surrounding us do not produce the dramatic heights of tidal changes that are seen in areas like the Bay of Fundy. (Though, if you ever find yourself in the beautiful Atlantic Provinces, add Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick to your must-see list.)

Here in Miami, the waters change from rich green to crystal blue. It is the ebb and flow of estuary and ocean water. When estuarine water pervades, the tide is darker, full of nutrients and moving to low. Sandbars appear and fill up with boaters and birds. Bottlenose dolphins begin their hunting and island-dwelling raccoons look for shellfish. When the ocean water prevails, the tide is clear and high. The dearth of nutrients common in tropical waters produce clear conditions giving bay waters the clarity of a swimming pool.

If you remain in Balance, you are able to see the benefits of the murky water: the nutrition. You are also able to navigate its dangers. You can’t see well and low tide can leave you beached. The same is true for the ocean water. It may clear, but it is also deeper.

The Letter is composed of three main parts followed by recommendations describing health, community, economics, politics and general welfare. The first part are the Odu. They are the proverbs, statements of offerings and symbolic identifiers that are marking the coming year. This section is really for priests and how they can offer support both to their community and their godchildren. While the Odu applies to all people, the use of Odu for spiritual purposes is done with the assistance of a priest. However, the recommendations found later in the Letter will describe proverbs related to the Odu in more detail.

The second part of the Letter marks the governing Orisha and the accompanying Orisha. The governing Orisha of 2016 is Ogún. He is the first Orisha to choose to enter Ayé, the Earth, and ultimately became the patron of civilization. He is the great crafter of tools and the Orisha of technology. It is through him and his tools that humans cleared the wild and built their cities.

He is also a skilled warrior yet cautions on weaponry. He offers, for example, a blade that can be used by assassins to kill or surgeons to heal. He is both brooding and industrious disposed to anger and creativity. He lives in the wild but enjoys visiting train tracks and is proud of the technological and artistic achievements of humans. He is the husband of Oyá and understands both his children and hers. To summon his energy in abundance, offerings including fried green plantains, smoked fish, grapes and cigars. He is partial to rum-soaked watermelon. But most of all, he likes big — big— meals.

The second part of the Letter will also identify the accompanying Orisha, and it is here that the Letter does get unusually complicated and requires guidance from priests. Not only does this part represent a presence of a second energy to support the first, but the two in combination are important. And the Odu will identify fables (patakis) about the relationship between the Orisha that describe how the governing energy must be managed.

This year, the accompanying Orisha is Oshún. She is the Orisha of beauty, love and sweetness. She is flirtatious and sensual yet serious and generous. She brings attention to the power of women and strengths to serve and lead. Her energies will be present and possibly tempering the dominant Orisha. Oshún is the essence and mystery of femininity. She loves gold, both the color and the metal. She is partial to honey but enjoys anything that is sweet. She also loves baked yams in brown sugar and butter. Offerings to her will call her energy.

Ogun Cauldron [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Ogun Cauldron [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The remainder of the Letter describe precautions and proverbs noting aspects of life and health that would benefit from careful attention or observation over the year.

I think it also important that the Letter not be understood as a prophecy, so to speak. it’s not meant to forecast the future, and certainly not in the way we might see in psychic predictions. Divination is not about the future. It is about us. It is about our place in the now; how we move through time; how we can build that better future free of scourges and vices that weaken our human community.

The Letter in this regard might best be understood as calibrating us to the unseen environment around us. While the governing Orisha may set processes in motion that can impact future events, those events are not typically identified. It’s a spiritual weather report. Something like how conditions in the Western Pacific suggest the formation of a powerful El Niño. We know — all too well right now — what weather an El Niño event disposes us to, but we can’t say exactly where there will be a thunderstorm, flood, landslide or tornado. We can plan, prepare, observe and act.

Ultimately, the underlying point of Odu is that we can manage our luck. We do so through offerings and understanding. This year, the Letter speaks to how intelligence and reflections will be critical to how we work the year. It also speaks to how we approach our acceptance and understanding of our own behavior; whether through science, reflection, offerings or rituals, they bring forth opportunities to make profound changes, take charge and even start fresh. Recognizing the energies around us, helps us use them to strengthen ourselves and our community.

In that sense, the Letter is a vehicle for empowerment. In many ways, our collective Pagan space evolved from a demand for self-determination. It is a resource to fortify us as we engage the world around to eliminate sources of personal and social oppression. Like the returning sun that we celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere a few days ago, we can build a bright, inclusive and safe future for our community. That is how Lukumi demands we act: as repairers of world restoring Peace and Balance. And knowing the weather helps, to sow and harvest, even in winter.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Eku odun tuntun! And many blessings in the New Year.

For many people, Nigeria is a country only known through stories and news reports. Most recently, the country has taken center stage as Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, continues its violent campaign in the North Eastern portion of the country. In 2014, Nigeria faced a health crisis during one of the worst Ebola outbreaks ever recorded. The country is also home to the famous Pentecostal preacher Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio, and others like her, who regular speak out against Witchcraft.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

But there is another side to the West African nation – a vibrant, indigenous spirituality and history that calls out to many Americans. Next month, Lou Florez, an American witch, rootworker, priest and Olorisha, is headed to Nigeria to experience that side firsthand.

As a student of IFA, the religion of the Yoruba culture, Florez told The Wild Hunt that he’s looking forward to “to encountering the Orisha in their homeland.”  He said:

“Earth-centered traditions engage and conceptualize the divine in unique ways, for us divinity is not exterior to our environment but emerges from and is encountered as the physical landscape itself.  In Orisha traditions there is divinity named Oshun who is known as the mother of the sweet waters, and specifically of the Oshun River in Osogbo, Nigeria. … To go to her river is to meet her face to face and be changed by the encounter. Imagine the ability to meet and engage several of these Orisha and teachings all in one journey.”

Florez was chosen to take this trip by the communities of practitioners involved. He described the experience as a “whirlwind.” Through friend and fellow student Shantell Herndon (Iyanifa OyaDara), Florez met a community of people with whom he now studies. Both the U.S.- based group and its sister group in Nigeria had been discussing sponsoring a pilgrimage for some of their American students. The planning itself took three years, and names were finally selected in the fall 2014.

Florez said, “During the last round of divinations my name came up and I was extended the invitation. I think that part of why this is so important for me at this time is that these types of opportunities aren’t give often or repeatedly.”

Like his friend and fellow traveler Herndon, Florez has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of the trip. The majority of the money paid goes directly back to the Nigerian host community. He sees this as an integral part of the journey. He said, “It is about honoring, supporting, and giving back through my labor, service, and capital to communities who have continued this liberation work despite the oppressions and genocides that continue to happen. The money I am raising goes directly to these communities and makes a difference in their lives.” Most of the funds will be given to the host temple, which will then be distributed to the local people.

After leaving the U.S., Florez will arrive in Lagos where he will remain in the hotel for one night. The following morning he will be taken to the initiation site and, as he said, “be in Igbodu (initiation grove) for 10 to 14 days depending on divination.” He added, “The ritual part of this journey is to solidify the connection between the feminine divine and myself through specific ceremonies and initiations which are meant to seed this wisdom within me. I will also undergo the initiation rites of the high priesthood and study with priestesses in medicinal and magical herbalism.”

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Making such a journey to Nigeria is not entirely unusual. In Florez’ case, the emphais is on religious learning. However, religious instruction is not the only reason Americans, in particular, have made the pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an article for Grio.com, Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah describes a journey in which African-Americans find solace in reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. In such cases, she writes that the travelers “underwent a ritual cleansing from what they call the stigma of slavery.”

This process, which Oduah describes as spiritual as well as cultural, is something Florez, himself, also touched upon. He said, “I was called to these [religious] paths for my own spiritual healing and upliftment and to bring light to all the transgenerational trauma and oppression held within my body. The vestiges and scars of colonialism, racism, and oppression are not only experienced individually but transmitted in our DNA to the next generation. Part of indigenous practice has been to identify and release those narratives in order to move toward liberation.”

While Nigeria may hold the key to spiritual tradition and transformation, travelers must also remain mindful that it is still a modern land with modern problems and a modern culture – one that might not fully embrace their spiritual undertaking. For example, Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions in the region. While many Americans may be turning to the African Tradition Religions, Nigerians are holding tight to these monotheistic worldviews. Only a small percentage of the population practices IFA, or similar traditions. In many cases, those that do are considered “backward” by modern Nigerian standards.

Additionally, there is the very public and strong national anti-gay sentiment in the country. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-same-sex marriage bill into law. The bill was backed unanimously by the legislature and by popular sentiment. In a March 2014 article, Oduah explained that, on this subject, Nigerians are “united under a banner of patriotism and what many perceive as a fight against Western imperialism.”

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez isn’t worried, saying that he “implicitly trusts the teachers and communities that I will be staying with.” He added that he has “been very clear, transparent, genuine, and honest that I am a gay man.”

However, in preparation, he has been taking the necessary medical precautions. He said, “I’m in the process of getting all my immunizations in order such as Typhoid, Hep A & B, Yellow Fever, Rabies, to name a few. In terms of Ebola, Nigeria was deemed free of new cases … I will also be staying in pocketed communities and not in general public in terms of transmission. Other than these precautions and usual travel items such as a water purifier, I have no idea what I am walking into.”

Despite any obstacles, Florez is determined to make this trip, one that he knows will benefit his own spiritual journey as well as his community of practitioners and students. He said, “the biggest thing that I’m expecting is having to surrender control both physically and spiritual to the process and to these communities.”

Outside of the initiations and education, Florez hopes to have a bit of leisure time for “personal projects such as reading, writing, listening to music, or watching fuzzy Nigerian soap operas.” He plans to visit the local market, meet artisans and others in the community. He hopes to bring back some “Orisha statues, herbs and sacred tools.” He said, “My curiosity is peaked and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of things that we don’t have access to here in the states.”

While in Nigeria, Florez will be tweeting and updating his public social media for anyone curious about his experiences. His Twitter handle is @louflorez and he has a public Facebook page and blog.

When he returns, he is planning to share what he has learned and his experiences through readings, workshops, conversations, teachings and lectures. He said, “This trip enables me to help open the door a little bit further for future generations to touch into the history, magic, and birth place of the Orishas.”

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for nearly 30 years to make predictions and recommendations. This year the reigning divinity is Olokun, accompanied by Yemaya, and they are predicting a year of generational conflict and ecological imbalance.

“Afro-Cuban priests warned Thursday that the new year may be marked by outbreaks of disease, environmental disruption, familial disorder and conflict between people and nations that risks spilling into war. In the annual “Letter of the Year,” a commission of “babalawos,” or Santeria priests, also predicted that 2014 could see the death of important global political or religious leaders, and elderly people in general. They did not, however, name any names.”

In an interesting twist this year, three different groups of Santeria priests, one in Miami, and two in Havana, all agree that Cuba will have an “optimistic” 2014.

For the first time in memory, New Year’s predictions issued by three groups of Cuban Santeria priests — two in Havana and one in Miami — have agreed: The communist-ruled island faces an “optimistic” year. Now the babalawos are trying to figure out exactly what the prediction, or “letter,” means. […] “There is no precedent for the three being identical,” said Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Church in Hialeah and part of the group that issued the Miami “letter.” “Now the question is what road to follow … More precision is needed.”

At Patheos, Lilith Dorsey comments on the unique nature of this alignment of readings, calling it “unprecedented.”

“In the religion of Santeria (La Regla Lucumi) the New Year begins with a divination. Many Santeria houses (spiritual centers) perform their own divination. Special note however is paid to the readings done by the larger spiritual houses. These readings give predictions, prohibition, and insight into the coming year. Devotees use these predictions as guidelines for the coming year. It is a very good idea to follow the rules dictated by your spiritual home. I have several cautionary tales about how someone didn’t follow a food prohibition and then got ill, or didn’t follow a sex tabu and then got an STD. There are a few things to remember when reading this information. First, follow the instructions of your own ile, and your godparents first and foremost. Secondly, if you are not initiated into the religion this information is provided for informational purposes only. Fortunately or unfortunately Santeria is not a home study religion, and it can not be self taught, everyone is different and needs the individual guidance and support that come from belonging to a spiritual family.”

Dorsey also shares the Yoruba Cultural Association’s letter for 2014. For a deeper picture, you can look at many different yearly Ifa readings from many different groups and councils, here.  Meanwhile, the faithful take to the streets in Cuba to ask the powers for a prosperous year to come.

“Cuban followers of the Santeria faith beat sacred drums, sacrificed animals and sang ceremonial songs in the Yoruba tongue Monday to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. About 200 believers and onlookers thronged Havana’s most important market, Cuatro Caminos, for the ceremony dedicated to Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and also protector of the universe. “This year was good, it was prosperous,” said Victor Betancourt, a “babalawo,” or Santeria priest.”

Naturally, Santeria isn’t the only faith that engages in divination, though few Pagan organizations formalize yearly divination in such a manner (usually readings are personal and done for clients). There are, on the other hand, plenty of Astrologers giving 2014 forecasts. Whatever your method, Dorsey’s warning to treat these various readings as informational if you aren’t entrenched in the belief system or school in question is well heeded. As for their accuracy? Only time will tell.

“Carol Mayer, a self-described “undercover psychic” at Benicia’s Angel Heart 4 You, 501 First St., (707) 745-2024 also sees improvement on the horizon. “Twenty thirteen was a very difficult year for everybody, so I guarantee 2014 will be a better year for everybody; a really wonderful year for all of us,” said Mayer, who said this prediction comes also from observations as a local business owner.”

Have you done divination or oracular work for 2014? Just have a strong hunch about the months to come? What are your predictions and advice for the coming year? Feel free to share them in the comments, and welcome to 2014!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ’em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. […] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days […] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On August 19th, Lee Thompson Young, a television actor who starred in the police procedural Rizzoli & Isles, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Lee Thompson Young

Lee Thompson Young

“We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. He was truly a member of our family. Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and offscreen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace. We send our deepest condolences and thoughts to his family, to his friends and, most especially, to his beloved mother.”Official statement from the TNT cable channel.

When a young person with a promising career kills themselves, a natural instinct is to ask why this has happened. Sadly, E! News decided to make wrong-headed and ignorant speculation based on Young’s religious practices.

“Those close to Young noticed things ‘really changed’ a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning  ‘death is preferable to ignominy.’ Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.  However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion ‘[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.’ The Famous Jett Jackson star ‘took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,’ says a source, adding, ‘This religion was everything to him.’  Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.”

E! News, being a gossip tabloid, obviously went for the “weird religion” angle, complete with anonymous sources. Amazingly, they went with it even though they partially debunk their own theory. This prompted pop-culture/celebrity/fashion blogger Luvvie to blast E! for the irresponsible and ignorant assertions made.

“Yoruba is not a religion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate. Yoruba is the name of a people; Yoruba is a language; Yoruba is culture. Yoruba people are MY people and that’s MY tongue and that’s MY culture. Yoruba is NOT a religion! […] Ifá is the traditional religion that you probably meant, but assuming that a majority of Yoruba people practice it is incredibly pinhole-minded. Just like we speak different dialects of the language, our beliefs are diverse. Us Yorubas are a religious people and most of us practice Christianity or Islam. Even if Lee was practicing Ifa, he would not be encouraged to take his own life. So let me shut this line of reasoning down now. I’m so upset that it even comes up!”

Clutch Magazine picked up on the story and added that “when covering a topic as sensitive as a man’s death, there is no place for cultural insensitivity and ignorance.” Both Clutch and Luvvie noted that a subsequent clarifying update to the story was not sufficient, and the E! News writer apologized and says she wants to dialog with Luvvie about the issue. That dialog must have been successful, because a followup report on Young’s funeral service was far more accurate and sensitive to the subject.

“Young’s practice of the West African religion Ifa was also highlighted throughout. Dancers dressed all in white performed to the beat of live drum music and the actor’s former karate teacher entered the room ahead of Young’s mother, writer Velma Love, blessing the ground in front of her as she walked in. Some of the mourners were dressed all in white, too, as a nod to Young’s Ifa practice.”

The ray of light in all of this is that some education was able to happen, and the story of Young’s death was not further tarnished by lurid speculation into religions the reporters don’t understand. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream news sources still treat indigenous and traditional religious practices from the African continent, and the faiths that they helped spawn, as suspect or primitive. I hold out hope that some promising signs of increasing interest will yield more understanding and respect.  As for Lee Thompson Young, my deepest condolences go out to his friends and family. What is remembered, lives.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

spirits

 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The beginning of a new calendar year usually means a flurry of predictions. These prognostications can be educated guesses, fervent hopes, pessimistic fears, or, in some cases, spiritual messages via divination, omens, or other supernatural methods. One widely reported instance of a yearly divination tradition is the Ifá predictions from Cuba’s Santeria priests, who’ve been gathering for 26 years to make predictions and recommendations. Last year they were eerily accurate in their readings, predicting “abrupt changes in political systems”, intense drought, and “dangers of war and conflicts.” This year the reigning deity is Oya, and they are predicting a year of “war and confrontation, social, political, and economic change, and a dangerous increase in temperature.” However, the mainstream press seems to have positioned this as a Babalawos vs Mayas prophesy-off thanks to the ubiquity of New Age “Mayan Prophesy” books that predict a great ending/beginning in 2012.

Believers around the world have furthered the theory, which stems from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god on that date, similar to the story of Judgment Day. But Cuba’s priests say that “what needs to die is not the world itself, but rather the ways in which the world has lived until now: confrontations, wars, misery and discrimination,” said Lazaro Cuesta, one of the island’s leading Santeria priests, or babalawo. “For us, an old world must end so that a new world is born …. It is not a physical end.”

Despite the Mayan “2012” theory being debunked again, and again, and again, and again, and again, some still think something momentous will happen when that calendar runs out. As Mayan Elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun says, “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff”. I suppose the popularity of 2012 as an end-date made such a comparison inevitable, but still, I would have liked to see more on the Ifá predictions instead of having them comment on the popular Mayan trend. In any case, here are their events of social concern for 2012.

  1. This is a sign of war and confrontation.
  2. This is a sign of transition, and social, political, and economic change.
  3. Loss through old age (aging population).
  4. Increase in seismic movement.
  5. You should pay attention to all household issues.
  6. Serious marital problems.
  7. Seek nimble solutions to any existing problem.
  8. Dangerous increase in temperature.

And here are the recommendations from the 2012 reading.

  1. Improve hygiene in hospitals.
  2. Improve apprenticeship in the manual trades.
  3. Special attention to agriculture and the organized distribution of products.
  4. Attention to your children.
  5. Grant consideration to women in every aspect.
  6. Better the organization of public economic management.
  7. Use music as social therapy.
  8. Organize a campaign of general sanitation against environmental contamination in order to avoid epidemics.
  9. Make offerings to ASOJUANO.
  10. Take advantage of the properties of the following plants for their respective uses: albahaca (basil), hierba de la sangre (blood plant), caisimón, quita maldición (remove curse), ciruela (plum), algodón (cotton) and bledo blanco.
  11. Control the increase in promiscuity.
  12. Preserve the environment.
  13. Avoid false accusations and defamations.
  14. Change and revise penal laws, bringing them up to date.

 

As for good omens from other sources, I would like to think launching of a new Pagan community center in Washington DC is a particularly good one. What omens, predictions, and visions do you have for the year of Oya?

Each year there is a gathering of Santeria priests in Cuba where they perform Ifa readings for the coming year. While these readings usually try to avoid blatant political statements, that’s been starting to change in recent years. This year, the priests “predict coups d’etat and sudden political changes,” alongside a general theme of reorganization and “economic openness.”

“We are sure that there will be changes” in 2011, said the one of the group’s top priests, Lazaro Cuesta. “We’re certain that good moments are coming.” […] The priests announced their latest forecast — known here as the “Letra del Ano,” or the “Letter of the Year” — following a secretive New Year’s Eve ritual that includes religious chants and animal sacrifices. Some 1,000 priests participated in the closed-doors ceremony, Cuesta said.

Naturally Cuba’s government-sanctioned Santeros, knowing where their bread is buttered, aren’t predicting the drastic changes seen in the independent group’s readings.

Predictions by a rival Santeria group agreed that 2011 is the year of Oggun. In a statement Sunday, the group, which enjoys official government sanction, added that “great difficulties” would be overcome this year.

You can find the full text of the 2011 Ifa readings, here.

So, having seen their predictions, let’s turn to the Pagan community. Did you do any readings about the coming year? Have any predictions you want to share with the world? Feel free to post them in the comments. But be warned! We’ll be looking back in 2012 to see how accurate you were!

I like to think I’m a rather tolerant guy when it comes to religious freedom. I have no trouble with religions that practice humane animal sacrifice, I could care less what consenting adults want to get up to in the privacy of their own homes, and I tend to range from permissive to supportive on the issue of entheogens. All that said, this sicked me out more than a little.

“Authorities are investigating a Hialeah man who allegedly smuggled illegal Giant African Snails into Florida and convinced his followers to drink their juices as part of a religious healing ritual. State and federal authorities in January raided the home of Charles L. Stewart after learning he had a large box full of the snails — which grow to be up to 10 inches long — according to a search warrant filed recently in Miami-Dade Circuit Court … One witness told investigators that during the ritual, Stewart grabs a snail from the cage, then would “hold it over the devotee, then cuts the [snail] and pours the raw fluid directly from the still live [snail] into the mouth of the devotee.” Several followers became violently ill, losing weight and developing strange lumps in their bellies…”


Giant African Snails. Photo from the IL Dept. of Public Health.

I’ll give you all a moment to collect yourselves. OK. So, why (oh dear gods why) am I writing about this? Because the man claims that this snail-drinking ritual is part of his Yoruban faith.

Stewart, 48, who court documents describe as “El Africano” or “Oloye Ifatoku,” said he practices the traditional African religion of Ifa Orisha [aka Yoruba religion], which is often confused with the Cuban Santería, a blend of Yoruba and Catholic practices. “I did not invent this. It’s something that is part of our religion,” he told The Miami Herald. “It’s not something meant to hurt anybody.” He declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, Santería spokesman and advocate Ernesto Pichardo is quick to distance his religion from this practice, saying he has never come across such a ritual, and that it isn’t a part of Santería. As for Yoruba, there is plenty of textual/cultural evidence for the possible inclusion of snails in Yoruba ritual, but I couldn’t find anything specific about the drinking of “snail water” for the purposes of healing. I suppose it’s possible, and if the snails were legal, he might have a great religious freedom case for the court system. The problem though is that they are illegal, Stewart and an accomplice knowingly smuggled them in, and these snails are a hugely invasive species that could wreak havoc with our ecosystem.

“…these snails can do extensive damage to the environment if released outdoors. They are known to eat at least 500 different types of plants.”

Oh, and they breed like nobodies business. In addition, the snails, especially if they are smuggled in directly from Africa, can make you seriously ill if you decide to partake in a “healing ritual” involving one.

“Giant African snails can carry a parasite that can cause illness in humans,” Dr. Whitaker said. “I strongly encourage anyone aware of the existence of these snails to call their local health department.” … The parasite can be transmitted to humans when snail mucous comes into contact with human mucous membranes, such as those of the eyes, nose and mouth when touched by an unwashed hand or by ingesting improperly cooked snail meat.

That most likely explains why followers became “violently ill”. Let’s hope they didn’t catch meningitis, one of the possible side-effects of being exposed to the parasite these snails can carry.

In the end, this isn’t really a religion story. Sure, religion plays a role in the motivations, but that isn’t why this man is in trouble. He’s in trouble for  knowingly smuggling in contraband, endangering Florida’s ecosystem, and making his followers violently ill in the process. Claiming religious exemption only works if the needs and demands of your faith are reasonable and don’t endanger those around you. Once Charles L. Stewart has answered for his crimes, he’ll have to stick with native snails for his rituals, maybe explore the culinary wonders of escargot, instead of serving up giant snail “water” to his followers.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 14, 2009 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

It looks like crazy and criminal Pagans in the courtroom come in threes. First there was the horrific occult-tinged child murders perpetrated by Lawrence Harris, then the crazy attempted murder ring-leader  Terisa “Red Phoenix” Davidson, and now a jury is beginning deliberations in the case of Kathleen Hilton. Hilton, a Wiccan grandmother, allegedly set fire to her son’s estranged girlfriend’s apartment building, killing five occupants.

Hilton has been behind bars since her arrest shortly after the tragic fire. During the trial, she testified to hearing voices. To refute such claims, the state introduced testimony from forensic psychologist Tali Walters, who was appointed by the court to determine if Hilton was competent to stand trial. Less than a month after the fire, Walters interviewed Hilton on three occasions at Taunton State Hospital. At trial, Walters recalled Hilton talking extensively about witchcraft and her spiritual beliefs in Wicca. Hilton also mentioned during those interviews that she had communicated with a tribal council of dead Native Americans, Walters said. Despite these assertions, Walters concluded that Hilton was not suffering psychosis or a mental illness.

What is interesting about this tragic case from a legal standpoint is that it asserts that adherence to Wicca or belief in spirit communications doesn’t equate to a psychosis or a mental illness. If Pagans, Wiccan, and occult believers aren’t crazy for the purposes of prosecutions, that could mean that they can’t be considered crazy in custody cases or as witnesses.

Psychics aren’t the only ones experiencing a slight uptick in business. The Palm Beach Post has an article about a local Botanica that is seeing increased business in this economic downturn.

For those believers, Vegueria so far is doing a better job of quelling fears than the complicated solutions debated by the U.S. Congress. “People have always come here with their economic troubles,” says Vegueria’s wife and business partner, Raquel, 54. “But now it’s even more so. A lot of people are out of work. He does what he can to listen to them, calm them, give them hope.” She says her husband is doing more pro-bono consulting these days. “Some can hardly afford to pay anything,” says Raquel. “They pay when they can.” The Veguerias are not alone. Other Santeria practitioners say the percentage of believers wanting to discuss economic travails has increased.

But can this slightly larger influx of money into psychic and occult services counteract a larger economic collapse? Esoteric answers are often a last resort for a scared general populace, and when that money also runs out I can’t imagine the psychics, practitioners of Santeria, or Pagans will be any better off. In fact, if this recession goes on for too long it may become very dangerous to be a Witch.

The Nigerian newspaper Punch looks at the growing number of mentally ill people in Osogbo and wonders if it is connected to creativity or native spiritual beliefs, a view that is strongly refuted by a local Ifa scholar.

Does the high level of creativity in Osogbo account for the unusually high number of mentally ill people? World acclaimed Ifa scholar, Ifayemi Elebuibon, does not believe so. Elebuibon said three factors were responsible for madness. Elebuibon, the Awise of Osogbo, who delivers papers in American and European universities on Ifa divinity, said mental illness could be contracted through heredity, evil attack and drug abuse. Tracing the traditional genealogy of madness, Elebuibon said, the Alara and Ajero royal families were the first to be beset with madness in Yoruba cultural worldview. According to him, “Mental illness is becoming rampant because people have departed from the ways of our forebears. We used to have intermediaries before marriages were consummated but now a man sees a woman on the road and off they go into marriage. Nobody cares to investigate the families of the spouse or the intending husband in order to know what kind of family their son or daughter is getting married to. Some families have hereditary mental illness.”

The piece goes on to look at more common factors in causing a increasingly visible mentally ill population: poverty,  hard drug-use, and a lack of social support systems. I’m glad to see this paper refuting the more romantic ideas of mentall illness. There is nothing more tragic than a society that treats depression, “heroic melancholy” and madness as “creative” or “holy” conditions.

For those of you who enjoyed my mention of the “Goddess on Earth” show yesterday, you might also want to check out another woman-centric New York gallery showing in March entitled “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists”.

Dabora Gallery and Phantasmaphile’s Pam Grossman are proud to usher in the spring season with the group show “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists,” on view from March 14th through April 12th, 2009. It features fourteen of the most vital and visionary women artists working in the US today. In literal terms, a fata morgana is a mirage or illusion, a waking reverie, a shimmering of the mind. Named for the enchantress Morgan le Fay, these tricks of perception conjure up a sense of glimpsing into another world, whether it be the expanses of an ethereal terrain, or the twilit depths of the psyche. The artists of “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists” deftly utilize the semiotics of mysticism, fantasy, and the subconscious in their work, thereby guiding the viewer through heretofore uncharted realms – alternately shadowy or luminous, but always inventive.

You can check out a couple images from the show, here. You might also be interested in some of the artist’s web sites: Carrie Ann Baade, Lori Field, Katy Horan, Tina Imel, and Susan Jamison. It almost makes me want to be in New York. Almost.

In a final note, today is the feast of St. Valentine aka St. Valentine’s Day. Normally I would list the many and sundry media articles that detail the pre-Christian origins of this seemingly Sainted day, but I’ll concentrate on Lupercalia tomorrow (the actual day of its observance). In reality, St. Valentine’s Day most likely isn’t the holiday created to replace Lupercalia. When Lupercalia observances were suppressed by Pope Gelasius I in 494, the pre-existing Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (which in the Julian calendar fell on the same day as Lupercalia) was promoted in Rome as the purification of the Virgin Mary (later called Candlemas). Since the month of February and Lupercalia were seen as times of purification by the Romans, the new emphasis on Mary’s purification makes perfect sense. The Feast of St. Valentine, established two years later by Gelasius doesn’t seem to have much to do with the replacement of Lupercalia. If you want to blame someone for equating love with St. Valentine’s Day, you’ll most likely have to blame Geoffrey Chaucer (who hath a blog). In any case may you all have a happy (and by this point thoroughly secularized) Valentine’s Day celebration with the romantic partner(s) of your choice.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!