ABOUT THIS BOOK
There is nothing that isn't Vodou. Vodou encompasses the principle and rhythm of life itself. Spirit is a present reality. It flows in and around every act and expression of the universe. It fills all things; informs all life; is the spark of the Divine within all people. Anyone can approach Spirit, whoever, however, and wherever they are. You start with what you know, where you came from, and then it grows.
The best way I can show all that is wondrous and blessed in Vodou is through my personal experience of the Vodoun religion. Vodou Visions is an attempt to guide you through vodou in theory and practice. I am a visionary artist as well as a Manbo, a Vodou priestess initiated in Haiti. I am also a student of Santeria, Vodou's sister religion as practiced in Cuba. During my Haitian initiation, I offered myself in service to the Lwa, the guiding Spirits of Vodou. I asked to be allowed to serve the community in any way that I could-through art, in word, in ritual action. My work is guided by the Lwa, and the Orishas, the Gods of Santeria. This book is part of my offering of service to the Spirit. It is my work as a Manbo to help others awaken to a sense of awe before the Divine. As YOU read through the pages of the book, I hope you will begin to remember yourself as the child of Spirit.
There are those who would fault my work because I am initiated as a Manbo only, and not as a Santera as well. Or they might say that it is inauthentic to work with creative applications of old traditions. Some reject any creative or visionary developments in Vodou or Santeria. There is always confusion and resistance when new forms and applications emerge. But it is that exact creative originality that I would like to encourage in my readers. It is not my intention to tell anyone that Vodou Visions is the authoritative Vodou canon. In fact, Vodou has no canon. Vodou Visions is a record of a direct encounter with Spirit, and offers guidelines on how anyone else can have a similar experience.
The principles of Vodou can be applied to creative ends in uncharted regions. In the new millennium, it is time for people to move into a new understanding of creative spirituality. Priests, Church doctrine, dogmatic rules and canon, only intimidate and alienate people from their own spiritual potential. You have the right and the ability to develop your own way of being, Your own unique expression of spiritual evolution. There is meaning and redemption to be found in offering the allegory of your experience in service to the Spirit. Each practitioner works out original applications of Vodou trance. My friend Darius James, for instance, is a wildly creative, underground author who writes in a style that he calls Nodoun gumbo literature. His writing blends bits and traces of his experience, which he seasons with outrageous and flavorful language that simmers together to form spellbinding literature. He does not write books, he writes spells. I am doing visionary art in which I use ritual and meditation to alter my normal, waking consciousness so that the Spirit can guide my hand and eye. Do not be afraid to do new work. Take drums and your dancing feet with you into the thick forest; leave cornmeal veve as markers. Call out to the Lwa, who will help you forge a path.
I have learned through my work as a Manbo that it is possible for people of any culture, race, religion, or upbringing to reawaken deeply spiritual experiences within the psyche. Some people are said to be "born with the Spirit." These people do not require initiation to awaken their dance with Spirit. Spirit is with them from birth. It is in each of their footsteps and perceptions, it is in each moment of their experience, and clearly visible to others as they look into this type of personality. It is much like the metaphor of the alchemical wind. Alchemists, the precursors of modern chemistry and metallurgy, practiced the ancient art of transmutation of dross metal into gold while simultaneously inducing a mystical transformation of their consciousness. The alchemical wind symbolized the inevitable force that catches a person up into destiny. This wind thrusts a seeker into the very lap of the monster of identity that fears change or revelatory truth. If you are born with this wind at your back, there is nothing you can ever do to get out of it; it will eventually blow YOU to your destiny, and to the crisis of transformation.
I believe that it was my particular condition to have been "born with Spirit," for Spirit has been a relentless taskmaster, as well as a bestower of great boons and mysterious gifts all my life. I have also long been an initiate of an ancient international Order of magicians who claim their origins in the esoteric rites of the Knights Templar who accompanied pilgrims to the Holy Lands during the Crusades. The Order encourages individuals to recognize their True Will, or their Purpose for incarnating, in accordance with Divine Will. My study of Western Hermetics and Ceremonial Magick through this Order has rounded out my lifelong devotion to the Yogic systems and the even greater portion of my life spent studying tarot, Oabalab, and crystal scrying. I have also for most of my life been driven to produce works of art, the bulk of it involving magical perception of the mysterious content of image, and all of it involving automata or trance technique. In addition, my own career has been profoundly influenced by friendships formed with people from around the world that have allowed me to grow beyond my own given circumstances, and by a family that both encouraged tolerance and acceptance of exotic points of view, and insisted on scholarly excellence.
In 1976, I was drawn to New Orleans to study Vodou, having heard in songs, movies, and books that New Orleans was the Vodou capital of the United States. It was Spirit calling. I have been studying and practicing Vodou ever since. Spirit called out again in 1989 that I begin work on a tarot deck based on the Vodou Lwa and the Santeria Orishas, consistent with the traditional, Oabalistic framework of the mystical tarot. The Work extended over three years and involved ritual invocations to the Lwa and Orishas who expressed themselves imagistically through my hand and eye. But the visions were more complete than just pictures. They were rounded perceptions that concentrated greater meaning in image. It has been my hope that the tarot images of the Lwa and Orishas would function as containers of Spirit that others could hold in their minds when they call the Spirits into their bodies and hearts. There was, however, much expressed to me beyond and within the images that I feel needs further expression. The Lwa and Orishas presented the essence of their nature with spellbinding clarity. I have included in this book the original visionary material that completes the power of the tarot images, so that the Lwa and Orishas can speak for themselves.
Upon publication of the tarot deck, I expected to be labeled "evil" or, conversely, to be inundated with requests for spells to bring back errant lovers and the like. Instead, the deck has been, with few exceptions, received warmly and with respect. Perhaps what I always thought was a personal burden of perception was actually a reflection of a greater Current of influence from the Lwa. I have been fortunate in that I have given myself leave to "follow my bliss," as Joseph Campbell once taught. But there must be many others who hunger for relationship with Spirit and feel that alchemical wind at their backs. Perhaps Ayizan, the Mother and Manbo of OUR race, calls to the housewives who are sinking into boredom at home. Perhaps Ogou's heartbeat drums through the booming of the battlefield for soldiers far from home. Gede is the Strange and cocky bedfellow who sits with legs crossed and arms folded, watching through dark shades as we walk through our lives-glimpses of him may be caught here and there, reflected in shards of glass and in the chance echoing of the sounds of his gluttony. And in thousands of villages all over the world, Ezili lends her glamour to women, and her dreams to us all. I have discovered that this is not some odd, wrong-planet perception of my own, but rather a kind of enduring truth and indwelling knowledge within our souls that has brought the Lwa to light within OUR Culture. We look up from the trance of the everyday to see Spirit whom we already know intimately, like an old friend.
It is my hope that my own path and unfolding perception of the Lwa and Orishas will add to the knowledge of them. The same forces and soul needs that brought my path to the Lwa may be common to many, and may be applicable on a cultural level. People universally may have noticed that generation after generation perpetuates pathologies that endanger individual wellbeing, and distort and unbalance communities. The same dissatisfaction that forced me to look beyond the boundaries of my own upbringing maybe working on a grand scale. Perhaps it is common to experience this same sense of dissatisfaction. The principles and techniques of Vodou can be applied to encourage a sense of meaning and fulfillment in communities. What has proven to be healing and genuine to me can be significant to others. The Gnostics speak of wisdom that is to be found discarded among the unwanted things of this world. We can reclaim this discarded wisdom. It may be that individuals who have reendowed their psyches with the ability to see, hear, and receive promptings of Spirit can affect the human condition. If some Chords are struck within you, you might find yourself wanting to make the huge leap from theory to practice. To that end, practical rituals are included that can guide interested persons into direct experience of the Lwa and the Orishas who have guided me, enriched my life, and expanded my consciousness.
I have found during the hundreds of readings I have done with the tarot and through crystal ball scrying, that all people-with a greater or lesser degree of awareness-are searching through time for the meaning of their immortal souls. It is my intention that this book be a further marker for those who are searching for their paths. Through it, I hope others will experience greater inspiration and a deepening presence of mystery. It is my intention that the healing, sensual, and living qualities of Vodou be actively experienced through this work; that the visions open within you as they opened within me. Here are patterns and methods of inviting the Lwa and Orishas into your life, as well as visionary expressions from them.
There are many paths that lead to the Vodoun. My own path is just one. Sometimes it is not so easy to recognize the graceful action of Spirit in your life as you live it. But listen and watch. Pay attention. Ritual action takes time out from the thick frenzy of life and fixes attention on the sacred. It is possible to retrace one's steps and find significant patterns unfolding. Messages are written within experience, as if in cipher. It is possible to learn the language of the Lwa. Call them. They have been with us since the beginning, sustained us, and continue to dance within our world and experience.