at the expense of making the mysterious and scary ordinary, i want to explore the methodology of what some might call ritualized magic or sorcery. as a yayi (female priest of the palo mayombe religion) and aleyo (uninitiated yoruba practitioner), i have experienced the painful fall-out of fear and ignorance from those who cannot fathom why one would choose to practice a religion rooted in traditions born across the atlantic in africa. i have felt the sting of would be friends and kin folk, who often shudder upon seeing the effects of my spiritual practice - the iron pots, the glasses of water, the life-sized dolls, and ornate pots holding secrets passed down through the ages to a chosen and courageous few of growing numbers but still smaller than the more popular christian/muslim/jewish lot.
though the salem witch trials are over and jimi hendrix immortalized the proverbial 'voodoo child," our world's history of silencing, colonizing, and murdering the ancient traditions of colored folk wreaks havoc on the minds and hearts of many, policing our spirits so that what was once as common as the morning ritual of cleansing the body with water, feeding the body with life-sustaining food, and telling our love stories of kinship and community, have become shadowy, feared and misunderstood ways of being we'd rather hush up and hide under a rug.
but i will not hide.
it took a simple conversation with a life time friend to fuel this particular turn in my attention: over the weekend, i visited my home town. i spent some time with a dear friend who often laughs when i mention a yoruba word. egun, which means ancestors, makes him giddy with giggles. orisha is 'um-sha-sha' and a shoulder shake dance taking one from d.c. to harlem. the water and food i leave as an offering of celebration and thanks for egun is an invitation for mice, 'why you feeding the mouses, shawty? is that for eguny and dem?' and the sacred pots housing the secrets and ase of orisha become cause for an impromptu palm reading . . . never mind the rites of palo mayombe . . . we haven't gotten there yet. the water at my boveda, a space of meditation and prayer, have been used for comical face cleanings and benign threats to drink it all on a hot day.
and i laugh ... i've long been one who sees the comedy in the sacred, the why and what for in human doing and being ... life is simply profoundly amusing, and laughter can open us up for dialogue. but on this particular visit, i mentioned my frequent ebos (or eboses en espanol) and took the time to explain, again, after chuckling over 'ashy elbows' and getting 'bow'd' at the club, 'cause it be so crowded.
ebo is a prescribed work done for the protection of a particular orisha (yoruba spirit/energy) or nkisi (palo energy or spirit) as related to a personal need. for example, if one is under-going intense stress of the head, one may be required to do ebo by having a rogation in front of obatala (an orisha/spirit energy of the yoruba faith). a rogation is simlpy an offering of cooling ingredients to the head (placed on top of it) while sitting in front of the spiritual energy which owns that coolness needed (perhaps housed in a pot . . . and definitely at a priest's shrine). it is much like a meditation and a nurturing of the head so that the individual can move forward peacefully, calmly, and with focus.
but before it got that complicated, my friend listened to the beginnings of my explanation and asked, 'is an ebo like a prayer.' and i thought about it for awhile, looked out the passenger-side window of his truck, and i said, 'yes, boo. that's exactly it.'
for those who are puzzled by the seemingly mysterious inner workings of the yoruba and palo traditions, come back to what is common in all of our spiritual quests - prayer. in every action of the witchy, voodoo children of this world, we are simply giving praise and performing prayer as we work. when we receive pots and dolls, when we make ebo and gris gris, we are simply putting bodily effort into that prayer, strengthening it, and marking it with our own special signature as a loving gift to the one force ...GOD - evidence of our reciprocity in this dance. what is prayer without acts? if our ritualized 'magic' makes you nervous, think of the holy communion or the prayers spoken with rosary beads in hand, think of the daily prayers toward the east, and the mixing of the sauce for the spaghetti - just the right mix of basil, oregano, sugar, and salt, bay leaves, and thyme; and don't forget to let it brew.