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Chancleta Deficit Disorder Part II
"The Case of the Consulting Shaman and the Crusty Client."
Consider the subtitle a nod to the BBC series “Sherlock.” I’ve recently become a fan after being introduced to the series by one of my friends. I swear, British television has ruined me, just ruined me, but in all the best ways, of course. This particular series is brilliantly written and quite inspiring to anyone who deals regularly with clients of any sort. It’s hilarious. But, before I digress too badly, where did I leave off my last post? Ah yes, with exhortations that my readers arm themselves with a good stiff drink before proceeding further. Ready? Drink in hand? Good, then I shall begin.
This post, as the subtitle suggests, is going to present a case study. I’ll be discussing the liturgical and theological implications of this case study (as well as solving the mystery of why one can’t use a frozen butterball turkey as an offering) in part III but for now, I want to give you all the facts. For those who are new to this blog, and unfamiliar with my work, there are a couple of facts it might be helpful to know first.
A). I am a Heathen priest and Northern Tradition shaman and as such I often see clients, both for generic pastoral counseling and to sort out the more difficult spiritual issues, crises, or trauma. The majority of these are good and honorable people who are trying to do their best by their ancestors, Gods, and family. Life is hard, we don’t get a guidebook, and sometimes, as the saying goes, sh*t happens. We all need to be sorted out at times.
B) I am the head of House Sankofa, comprised of two Heathen kindreds and assorted otherwise unaffiliated members. While we are Heathen, there is also a strong African line within our House. Further, we are polytheist: all Deities are welcome. This does not change our core loyalties.
C) In the case study below, I have changed names and identifying data to protect the guilty. I chose this particular case because it is an excellent teaching exemplum.
Now, on we go.
Two months ago, I was in California on business. While I was there, I was invited by a local kindred to give a number of workshops. In addition to teaching, several kindred members came to me to have their spiritual issues sorted. Most of these issues were very natural (how do I deal with an ancestral issue, how do I better honor Deity X, how do I start honoring my ancestors? How can I make that connection stronger? etc. –all par for the course and good and worthy questions). One client, I’ll call her Jane Doe, hereafter abbreviated as JD, was a right royal hot mess. In dealing with JD, I walked into a situation that was the spiritual equivalent of a level four biohazard. Huzzah.
(Readers might want to commence drinking now).
I’m going to preface this by noting that while JD had not been raised Pagan or Heathen, she had been raised in a religiously observant household so the idea of respecting the Gods should not have been completely alien. Obviously, her cross cultural/cross religious translation skills, however, were a bit lacking. Usually one’s common sense and courtesy fills in certain gaps in cases such as this, but, sadly, that was not the case with JD.
During the course of the three days I taught, I discovered that JD had A) broken a solemn oath to Ellegua (an Orisha, but some of us do have interactions with African Traditional Religions, and this particular incident occurred before JD became Heathen); B) had tried to force a Deity to compel a man to leave his wife and become her lover (this was…what do you know?...unsuccessful); C) had cursed and “attacked” Freya; (I’m not sure what form the ‘attack’ took…I was already rather shell-shocked by that point in her recitation); D) had offended her ancestors (no sh*t, ya think?); and E) had desecrated and befouled a shrine to Nephthys, while visiting a Kemetic colleague after having an argument with said colleague centering around JD’s sense of entitlement to all the magical secrets of the universe (JD demanded an initiation and when it wasn’t forthcoming threw a tantrum).
The long term results of all of this were rather dramatic—even by my standards and I’ve seen just about everything. Immediately after offending Nephthys (and I was equally appalled at the desecration and the fact that upon pointing out that Jane had desecrated the territory of a Deity, her response was ‘but I like Nephthys.’ Yes, I get all the bright ones in my classes), JD found herself unable to bath. She was, literally, afflicted with an allergy to water. I believe, having done divination and having then consulted with a colleague who also divined, that this was so that JD’s physical form would reflect her spiritual form. Additionally, she lost her job and her home and in the intervening time period (of several years) found herself unable to maintain either in any workable fashion. After cursing and trying to “attack” Freya, she found herself afflicted with certain sexual problems. After offending Ellegua, she began to have recurrent nightmares and night terrors that were getting progressively worse. Her personal luck, as one might expect, was terrible.
I examined all of this and did extensive divination for JD. While there were a number of issues to be sorted out, the core issue was actually very simple. The core issue, ladies and gentlemen, was hubris. Jane was so arrogant and so cock-sure, and so convinced of her superiority that she had rendered offense after offense feeling utterly entitled and put upon when she did not get her own way. Even though she was aware that the majority of issues affecting her were the direct result of her impiety and wrongful actions, she still had trouble truly comprehending why what she had done was wrong. Even as we were in session, she bragged about her skill as a magician and tried to insist on sharing various ‘medicines’ with me (I was, needless to say, not particularly interested). Her behavior in the two kindred rituals I witnessed showed only more of the same hubris.
Now the Norse Gods tend to be more forgiving than some (to wit, divination showed that Freya actually wasn’t lining up to spiritually kick her ass). The reason for this –I and several of my indigenous oriented colleagues believe ---is that They have to take what They can get. The tradition has been sundered and is only now being rebuilt. The Orisha and other African Deities aren’t like that. They have thousands and thousands of followers. They don’t have to deal with the dregs. The Norse Deities may forgive offenses more readily out of simple necessity; certainly it is not necessarily in Their nature to do so: They’re using what They have. Give it a few generations, when the tradition is more solid and stable, when we’ve reclaimed more of our indigenous mindset, and when there are more adherents who are capable (and willing) of interacting with the Gods and spirits, and that may not be the case. The African Deities simply do not tolerate such impudence. It became really, really clear (with this and another case I dealt with recently) that when one bumbles or consciously converts into one of the African Traditional religions, there are very different cultural expectations and protocols that devotees are expected to follow. Many of these protocols are common to all indigenous traditions, believe it or not, and I’d warrant that (because our ancestors weren’t stupid) they were once common to Northern religions as well. “Jane,” thought herself above all that. Her learning curve (and there is, for most of us, a learning curve inherent in moving into an indigenous tradition) was steep.
(I’ll be discussing those aforementioned protocols in part iii, for those who might be wondering. For now, take another drink3).
So, I consulted with the right hand woman in my House, and she attempted to sort this out. (She has the best connection to Ellegua and I felt that was the most pressing issue). The divination showed that before anything else, Jane had to make right her debt to Ellegua. Ellegua is the God who opens doors and closes them. Nothing gets through, including blessings, which He doesn’t want to allow. So first and foremost, this – which was the oldest and most grievous debt—had to be handled. Further divination showed that the minimum offering to begin righting this was three roosters. (Three roosters that were accepted by Ellegua). I did not prescribe this, by the way. Out of respect for Ellegua, after determining that this debt needed to be addressed first, we sent the girl to a reputable santera, with whom we occasionally consult in situations involving the Orisha. In addition to this, Jane was given further prescription to avoid getting further into debt. There were other parts to the prescriptions (given by both my House and the consulting santera) for Jane’s long term health but I’m not going to go into them here.
Jane comes back to us wanting to know if she can just buy a frozen butterball turkey at the local Stop and Shop (an American supermarket chain) and give that instead, ostensibly chucking it out the car whilst driving through a crossroads, since it’s more convenient than arranging a proper expiatory sacrifice. Finding three roosters and someone willing to do the appropriate, ritually correct sacrifice was proving time consuming and difficult. No one in my House, nor any of our ATR consultants were willing to touch this. The wyrd debt involved, should JD further offend (which was looking likely) or otherwise profane that ritual was just too great to be considered in this case. The answer to that, by the way, is no. There is no “la botanica stop and shop.” This is an example of the cultural arrogance and disconnect that I see again and again and which I shall be discussing later in this series.
Let’s look quickly at a couple of the problems here though: How would you like to be served a dinner frozen? A sacrifice isn’t just about the meat. Just because butterball turkey is meat and living roosters are meat doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable. There are many other considerations. And does she really think that generations of Cubans and African practitioners don’t know the necessities of their own tradition? That she can do it better? (Have y’all had that drink yet? By this point in sorting Jane, I sure had).
We’re still untangling this and frankly, I don’t think that anything is going to help. I think that she is far too poisoned and corrupted by the sickness of hubris. I suspect the Gods are going to make her a very, very messy example. In fact, the only real reason I was willing to step in at all, is because I love the Gods involved very dearly and deeply respect Them and wanted to see this righted if at all possible. By the way, JD decided she didn’t like our advice so she went diviner shopping. She consulted a friend completely unrelated to any African tradition, a dabbler in tarot cards, and then another friend, and another until she got an answer that she was more comfortable with, i.e. that she was perfect in every way and no expiatory sacrifice, no effort, (or anything else) was necessary.
Join me next week to learn where and how Jane went wrong and how we can avoid doing the same.
(I was unable to find the creator of the picture—another nod to ‘Sherlock’. I will happily post appropriate info should the creator of the image contact me at tamyris at earthlink.net).
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