Category Archives: Vodun

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Orisha Online Altar is moving to a new domain, Orisha.me

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This site is moving to https://orisha.me

I wanted the domain to go to a friend of mine, but she already has one, so I thought I’d at least do something with it that would make her proud.

So update your bookmarks. I’m going to leave this site up awhile to make sure everybody who needs it gets the announcement. The deadline is going to be May 1, 2023.

What methods of divination are suitable for African spirituality? | Vodun F.A.Q.

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Crystal Ball Scrying Though Orunmila or a similar deity is in charge of all divination methods, the traditional African methods are the only ones that can offer traditional African information.

What that means is that Ifa, Afa, and other forms of authentic, indigenous African methods of divination are the only way that today one can find their head or their destiny accurately within African traditions. No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes.

Even a seed or a stalk of grass in the hands of one observant to Orunmila can tell volumes, but it is still not Ifa. Tarot is useful for helping one to navigate life, especially in social situations. The bones and curios are excellent for telling you what’s going on around you in a very blunt way. The Obi of course, are a direct line to your ancestors, and best for yes or no or even very nuanced but straight answers. However, none of these does what Ifa does.

In the past, some other methods such as dice, dominos, and other numerically based systems that are not native to Africa could be used if someone was completely cut off. However today, in the age of the internet, when a qualified babalawo or other traditional diviner is available in a click, this is no longer the case.

Because of the diaspora allowances from the past, some are confused and may fall for shady people telling them that some other method would be able to stand in the place of Ifa or Afa. The problem is that unless it is numerically based and resorted to because maybe the trained Babalawo is in prison and has no access even to any dried seeds, it is not going to direct one to any Odu or any verse or any indigenous African culture’s lexicon of legends or wisdom.

This is why, even in the diaspora, even someone like me who has invented a new divination method, will still refer people to a Babalawo. I can tell you many things, but I can’t tell you who your head Orisha is for certain in an indigenous pantheon. I can’t tell you what traditional ebbo you need to do. I can’t tell you your traditional African anything because I am not an initiated, qualified Babalawo or Iyanifa or indigenous African diviner. I know to stay in my lane.

This does not mean that we do not study the Odu that we have access to. Most diviners with some experience will study Odu Ifa, the lineage tales some are willing to share, proverbs, patakis, and anything else we can to learn African and diaspora wisdom. It is important both in terms of perspective and since Africa is a huge continent, cultural exchange and learning what we can from our ancestral neighbors. However, Ifa and Afa are not just older than most available methods of divination, but older and living, and dynamic. Though other methods of divination are useful in some ways, there is no comparison. There just simply isn’t.

It isn’t the oldest known method, but other older methods such as scrying and osteomancy are not connected to the Odus or any known current culture’s verses. So great for some things but not for ebbo. Just skip the running to and fro looking for traditional answers in non traditional places.

Does everyone need a traditional reading?

If one was born in a culture where there are available Ifa or Afa diviners, then definitely. If not then probably. It depends whether you are okay with bumbling through or you want to have some idea what may be coming and direction.

Be prepared to pay the diviner a decent donation, and to do the recommended ebbo for your personal Odu. If you can’t afford it at the moment, it is one of those things worth putting aside for.

Supplemental Video

Please watch Obafemi’s video Tarot Is Not Ifa and thank him for his wisdom. I was not even aware before this that such confusion existed.

Blessings and Ashé!

Hamsa

What Is the Significance of Symbols in Vodun? Is It Okay To Wear Them? | Vodun F.A.Q.

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Hamsa There are many symbols associated with Vodun and diaspora systems. Their meaning and significance, as with many things, varies from place to place. Some of the most familiar and widely publicized on the internet are Haitian veve. These are symbols that are employed when Lwa (deities, forces of nature, and honored ancestors) are called.

There are many other ATR/ADR that use such symbols, often some similar or the same. However, it is important to remember that regardless of what may have been watered down or forgotten over time, the Motherland traditions from which ADR’s grew did not consider these things representative but embodiment of the spirits to whom they are connected.

Once a veve or God-seal is drawn or crafted and activated, it is a sort of 2 dimensional fetish of a spirit or a gateway for them. It is not to admire them, represent them, or conceptualize them. It is them. In order for one’s mind not to break from the prospect, one could call it a part of them.

Humans are given the ability to build these embodiments through what adherents of Ifa and Orisha call our Ori. This is something like the Ba in Kemetic spirituality. It is where one’s personality comes from and an aspect of ourselves one should both honor and develop. It is the part of us that is real but unseen as most of the spirit realm is real but unseen. A witch (not Aje initiate but wise-person) or sorcerer either was given the ability or learns to use this similarly to an appendage like a hand or leg. Any person who understands how though, can create a drawn embodiment of a deity.

So most symbols, veve, and God-seals have nothing to do with magic, and are about traditional or religious observance. They may look exotic and pretty, but then so does a stained glass church window.

Bearing all this in mind, unique symbols belong to the cultures in which they were created. Yes, quite a bit is shared between regions and styles, but generally in the African community, we are aware and give respect to the originators of a particular design. A lot of exchange has happened especially between adherents of Oshun, Ezili Freda, Ala, and diaspora Mami Wata. So it’s not surprising to see similar heart shapes, fish, flowers, curls, and other beautifully dangerous indicators in all of their symbols. However, each group has their own take, and outsiders can seldom tell the difference.

The reason it is important to know what it is one is looking at and whether or not it is traditional, an innovation, regionally specific, agenda based, or just plain fake is obvious to most of you who would be reading this article. It is not so obvious to someone who has no exposure to the African or diaspora community though, so for those few of you out there who wandered in via some internet rabbit hole, I will explain.

First, since African and diaspora spirituality has been written about in western languages, there have been many gross misinterpretations. Some were honest mistakes, but others were perpetrated by “white” supremacists and Christian and Muslim clergy to sabotage those exploring African spirituality or profit from their energy or money spent on books and publications. Aside of what most symbols one would see in the public are usually used for, symbols can be used to hypnotize, subliminally program, or funnel spiritual energy vampirically from those who look at it without adequate protections.

Though the tendency in the magical/witchcraft community is usually the French “kill the author”, Africans haven’t historically been able to afford such flippancy. We judge things by whether or not they are effective, therefore one should consider the implications behind the revelation that Kenaz Filan is a “white” supremacist. He doesn’t seem to consider himself such, but then out of the other side of his neck, speaks from the wholehearted belief in American anti scientific “race” theory. He shames his own ancestors by glomming them into the multikult called “white”.

So apparently either he didn’t write any of his books or everything in them is rubbish. If it had been effective or real, then certainly one of the Legbas would have led him to at least give honor to his own ancestors instead of dishonoring them with that insecure energy. When you compare his work with say, Milo Rigaud’s (may his name be spoken eternally), it’s easy to see the difference. Milo Rigaud is from Haiti and grew up in the Haitian traditions. He actively participated in making Black people’s lives better. He can also explain in excruciating detail how a veve is constructed so that instead of stealing someone else’s, you can build your own.

Ah yes, out here in the diaspora, just like in the Motherland, we take symbols seriously. Whenever you see one, it wasn’t just thrown up to be cute or even just to show love. Each time your eyes pass over one, it is there to manifest something. So now we get to the next question.

Is it okay to wear a Vodun symbol?

Mindfully yes, depending on what it is. Like elekes, they are portable embodiments of deities, forces of nature, or honored ancestors. They should be treated with care. Some symbols are specifically crafted for wear. They will have features that connect them to a wearer, specific or general, or at least a lack of things that could harm or disorient them. Though some spirits are good with public display, some prefer their symbols be either hidden or at least not obvious. You need to know the tradition to know what you’re looking at.

One of many good reasons for care is that some prefer to be worn or stored alone, while others prefer to be in the presence of certain others or absence of certain others. Some prefer specific circumstances. One would not, for instance, wear Yewa with a symbol or item embodying Shango or with clothing that could be considered a “heaux uniform”. One would not curse or engage in any sexual behavior while wearing Yewa, not because it is bad or wrong, but simply because it is not appropriate with her. Oshun on the other hand, might be offended if you did not look your best while wearing her unless the purpose was to motivate you to do so or cheer you up.

There are somewhat different rules when a symbol is not traditional/religious, but is a psychospiritual cue or sorcery symbol or seal. The instructions for these are purpose dependent or highly individual. The Turkish anti “evil eye” for example, is a  psychospiritual cue symbol, and should be in a visible place on the body or in a building. It is there to remind people to check their jealousy, possessiveness, or greed, and protect the person or place from harmful energy generated by these. A lie detector talisman on the other hand, may need to be kept secret or worn in a not very visible place despite containing aspects of charisma enhancing deities. One should follow the giver’s instructions.

Speaking of which, some symbols like tradition or house specific elekes or baskets/pots/cauldrons/soperas should not be on bought items. They are the privilege of those connected to the original designers’ lineage. For example, Ile Baalat Teva has a Eshu as the Gatekeeper symbol containing elements of the ancestry of our founding members and the fair exchange principle. I don’t mind if others use it so long as they give us some linkage and respect. However, if someone were to begin selling things using our unique symbol because they didn’t bother to check its origins, this would be unfortunate for them as we are an ile of witches, not traditionalists.

The spirit realm is not dependent on things like copyright law. Though Orunmila and Ochosi do tend to these things on some level, their priority is not based on human legality. Regardless of human standards, they are not going to reward someone for swiping someone else’s ideas, styles, or symbols, especially if the swiper then tries to place themselves above the origin.

Also bear in mind that “kill the author” doesn’t fly in the spirit realm either for obvious reasons. Though all symbols, rituals and practices originated in someone’s imagination, if that imagination live in the soul of someone sincere and observant,  it will manifest in blessings. If it came from corruption or in the case of the aspects that people like Kenaz Filan made up, actual contempt for the people it was sold to benefit, then that is the energy it will carry.

Additionally, if you wear the wrong symbol or one containing subliminal sabotage, this could lead to some serious harm. There is the “white” people trap issue, but it goes further than this.

On January 6, 2021, a bunch of people, some phony Heathens and Nordic Pagans, tried to overthrow the democratically elected government of the U.S. This angered a lot of witches who were disgusted that someone would swipe their cultural symbols to use for “white” supremacist and fascist causes. One way they were able to help the perpetrators of that criminality be caught, and some of them meet other unpleasant destinies was by holding them to the wyrd they explicitly swore to when tattooing gateways for spirits onto their bodies.

When you are wearing a symbol, especially if you tattoo it onto yourself, you are pledging your body as a carrier of that force. So consider this whenever you buy, make, and wear wearable or portable Vodun or diaspora symbols.

Supplemental video:

Blessings and Ashé!

libations

Vodun F.A.Q. – Is Voodoo Witchcraft?

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libations No. Voodoo is a western spelling of Vodun or Vodou, which is a type of indigenous west African belief system, spirituality, tradition, or religion.

Some Christians and Muslims call anything that isn’t their sect “witchcraft” or “devil worship”, but that doesn’t make it so.

Recently, in Asia, the word has become popular in reference to some of their indigenous and adopted mysticism, but it is still not necessarily witchcraft. Even modern witches living in the west who have reclaimed the title “witch” don’t necessarily do witchcraft. Many of them are something more akin to Pagan.

Back on topic though, Voodoo is not witchcraft even though some people who have Vodun or a diaspora extension or adaptation of it as a belief system, may practice witchcraft. To further complicate this though, the term “witch” doesn’t mean the same thing in Africa as it does today in the diaspora. So one has to take care when throwing that term around.

Today in the west, a witch would be defined as someone who purposefully calls upon the forces of Nature, deities, or spirits to manifest their will. They could be doing it for reasons that may be appropriate or inappropriate to others. They are not necessarily benevolent or malevolent, and which belief system they adhere to is not relevant in the definition.

What gets people confused about Voodoo is quite plainly racism. Much like Buddhism or Shinto, one may adhere to Vodun as a belief system, yet also practice any other religion with any other pantheon. Yet a Buddhist, even one who is very deep into the mystical aspect of a martial art, would not automatically be called a witch because “white” Americans don’t fear Buddhism as much as they fear Vodun. There was never a Nichiren rebellion in the Americas.

But then what are these Voodoo spells I see advertised?

This is where things get a little complicated. Much like many aspects of Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, and even Judaism get misinterpreted in the west, so do many aspects of Vodun. If I personally see someone advertising “Voodoo spells”, this is a red flag for me unless I see the advertiser is actually practicing and they are known in the community.

If they are genuine, then I understand that this is either a translation issue or their belief system is Voodoo/Vodun and they are what would be called a witch or sorcerer in the west, but a wise person or healer in Africa. You would have to ask them individually whether or not what they do is basically pray and give some offerings, or if there are any special steps involved to boost things.

To make it easier to navigate, usually children of Oshun and people in egbe Olokun are the most likely to be the ones doing directed spellwork as opposed to simply placing an issue on their altar for prayer. According to the legends, Oshun is the Orisha who got clearance from Orunmila for non numerically based divination methods. Olokun is well known to be the keeper of many of the deep mysteries, so initiates to his egbe often stretch their knowledge beyond the traditional.

After them, there are those in diaspora systems that focus on practical witchcraft and sorcery. They could be any belief system. As is often the case with practitioners under the umbrella term of “Obeah”, their specific discipline might not have a name people would recognize. It’s sometimes just easier to say “Voodoo” even if the truth is something close to central African derived ancestral. Also, they may even offer you the Yoruba pantheon if they feel you need to do some observance of your own, because it is cosmopolitan enough and they are definitely not going to reveal their personal allies to the public.

Then there are the folks in New Orleans. The spirituality is very interwoven with the spellwork, and their workings could accurately be called “Voodoo spells”.

Just be aware that some people advertising “Voodoo spells” are talking nonsense, but some are indeed legitimate and not wrong. It’s just that without the “spells” after it, Vodun is still a belief system.

Fire Flight

Vodun F.A.Q. – How are sex, orientation, and gender perceived in Vodun?

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Fire Flight Sex and gender in Vodun are perceived in line with the science. However, you will rarely see discussion of it outside of writings and academia because the Yoruba, and many other west African cultures consider sexual contact between people to be so sacred and intimate that it is rarely explicitly discussed. Because of this view of sexual contact, discussions of gender, biological sex, and sexual orientation don’t happen sometimes even while someone’s future is being planned around their individual needs. They are just kind of nudged to where they need to be and towards whatever rites of passage are appropriate for them.

What further complicates these kinds of explanations is that gender is perceived differently in indigenous African cultures than in western cultures. Though colonialism forced many surface norms, and some Africans fully converted to their oppressor’s religions, many things didn’t sink in fully, and where they did, these people are considered problematic and anti survival.

Generally, most indigenous west African cultures recognize more than two genders and gender role variability. So there are men, women, intersex people who may function as men or women or both, men who sometimes perform woman like functions, women who sometimes perform man like functions, transgender people who were born male or female in physical appearance but grow up to function differently than the typical path, and sometimes more.

People were identified more by what they did than what their body looked like when they were born. So if someone was functioning in a role typically ascribed to women, they were a woman. If they functioned as a man, they were a man. In some places, the nonbinary or transgender had to pick a lane, but in other places, they had mixed or even double duties. Africa is a huge continent, and the area considered west Africa is very big and contains a wide variety of cultures. There is a saying that “what is a blessing in one village is an abomination in another”. As far as the spirituality goes though, regardless of what a particular group demanded of the humans within it, the legends will still be full of the whole spectrum.

Then when we get into the issue of what particular groups consider a masculine or feminine role, it’s more complicated.

The question of orientation adds even more complication because again, it’s a very intimate matter, but also something that people didn’t generally get into each other’s business about so long as nobody was being harmed. Some situations were even taken for granted. So there is very little mention of the specifics of anybody’s sex life historically unless it was bragging or exceptional.

It is impossible to view African indigenous cultures in LGBTQA+ contexts without defaulting to the colonial lens because prior to colonialism, very few were making these distinctions between people. I am only saying very few because there was enough contact and exchange with Greek and Roman cultures that I am sure that some did form opinions at least in north Africa through those cultural influences. However, for the most part, something being unusual did not necessarily make it abnormal.

Since just homosexual people account for around maybe 10% of humanity, born intersex people around 1/1000, and there is plenty same sex pleasure exchange even among people who would normally prefer people further away on the gender spectrum, it was not, in fact, abnormal. It was normal, just a bit more rare for someone to make it a big deal.

If someone assigned maleness at birth because they have a penis and testicles, grew to be cisgender, and wanted status as a man, and achieved that, and was expected to marry someone assigned female who had achieved status as a woman to continue his line, he did that. Whether or not he preferred to have sex with men was not relevant. One generally did what was expected or demanded of them. Whatever else they did didn’t matter unless it interfered with their perceived duties. Many cultures had a backup plan if for whatever reason, a couple was unable to make children the conventional way. If a guy just could not do the thing with people with vaginas, he might bring in a trusted friend or relative who was willing, and their wife willing to allow it, to step in. Usually a relative was called on so the children would at least be related to him.

Basically, the African way is to not let irrelevant things interfere with survival and the functioning and cohesion of families and nations. This is not to say that every culture or group was tolerant of every thing. Some cultures had and still have traditions that are extremely harmful. It’s just that gender and same sex relationships were not perceived as they are in the west or in eurocentric christianity. So as far as Vodun, it can be assumed that most people are not going to care what your deal is. The problem would start with your family.

Like in other belief systems, there are people who are more or less observant. As opposed to the big monotheistic religions though, the less devout one is in Vodun and most ATR’s, the more oppressive and uncaring of destiny (Akosejaye) one will be. Most family groups in rural areas are farmers. Though the women actually do most of the farm work, the men are in more control of what actually happens in many places. Often family members are treated like commodities who must produce certain things based on gender.

So even before colonialism, and even where it is not still a major influence in spirituality and concepts of morality, most west Africans live under pressure of fulfilling family expectations. In smaller families with fewer children, there will end up being more pressure on each child to excel in school, marry well, and make babies despite destiny. This is why in the U.S. and Europe, there are children of African immigrants who are in their thirties and still have to ask their parents for permission to go on a date with someone.

On the one hand, it is a good thing that parents will stay involved with their children’s lives beyond childhood. On the other, parental influence can be traumatizing, damaging, and in the case of LGBTQIA+ youth, suffocating. For the most part though, especially if their Akosejaye reading said that they would be special in certain ways, parents will try to give guidance without stifling.

Because of the influence of colonial mentality and trauma from interest based patriarchy, especially in the U.S. where these things are highly politicized, one may want to be careful when choosing a group.  Where you don’t want to assume that every group led by a cisgender man is bigoted, it’s fair not to assume that they are not. It is something you might want to ask about if you are considering participation in their community activities or endorsing them.

Good answers are either that they don’t care but are welcoming, or that someone in a prominent position in the group is out and proud.

Ile Baalat Teva, by the way, is openly welcoming and has nonbinary and Gay leadership. I suppose we could be called a Two-head (Gay/nonbinary) and a Hat-trick (Bi/variable/cygender since the knee replacements).