Rando Thoughts

Bonjou zanmi mwen:
It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Sorry I haven’t been around; there are many reasons, personal and professional: a new job, new challenges, and some reflection on what it means to have the calling as a manbo.
Any spiritual path has its challenges, but the African Traditional Religions (ATRs) have some unique challenges of their own. Society at large misunderstands them. They hear words like “Voodoo” (misspelling intentional) and think “ZOMBIES KILLING CHICKENS CHILD SACRIFICE.”
(Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Anyway…)
One assumption I get a lot is “white people can’t be involved in the ATRs. They are only for Black people and people of color, and if a white person is involved, then it’s cultural appropriation.”
And I get it. I get that point of view. If your culture and religion was repressed, exploited, and outlawed for hundreds of years, it’s a natural and expected response to be protective of it, to be suspicious of outsiders. I myself have seen some ridiculous and insulting things that white people have done to appropriate from ATRs. One prime example is the great city of Salem, Massachusetts, not too far from where I live. It bills itself as “Witch City”, and it’s chock-full of witchy and pagan shops. Some of what they market is genuine, a lot of is is spiritual bullshit. One time I went to a shop owned by a certain famous witch who had “assons” (the sacred Vodou calabash rattle, which only manbos and houngans can possess) made out of plastic bowling pins decorated with plastic beads and feathers.
Jesus wept.
And what makes me mad is that unsuspecting people, some of which are sincere seekers, will buy this stuff and believe it’s genuine, when it’s really merchants who are out to make a buck. I mean, in one Salem shop I saw little vials of Florida water being marketed as “witch water” and sold for $6 per one ounce bottle, when if you go into the average supermarket in a majority Hispanic neighborhood, you can buy a whole bottle of Florida water for under three bucks!
Here’s the thing: in Western culture, especially the United States, there’s the idea that all information has to be open, readily accessible by anyone and everyone, and free of charge. The ATRs are not like that. And I get complaints and pushback about this All. The. Time.
“I should be able to learn about anything!”
Ain’t necessarily so. The ATRs aren’t open to everyone and anyone. They’re not even open to all people from the cultures where they originated. As Granny Weatherwax, one of my favorite characters in literature, says, “You don’t choose the craft. The craft chooses you.”
This isn’t to say that the general public can’t explore or learn general info about the ATRs. But you need to be guided by an initiate priest or priestess.
“Can’t I just read a book?”
There are some books out there about the ATRs. In all of them, there might be a few pieces of reliable information. However, consider this: a lot of the things about the ATRs are things that only initiates are meant to know. Books can give you an introduction, they can even get you started on the path. That’s what happened to me. I read a book about Vodou, got a reading, and the spirits started talking to me…and they haven’t stopped talking since. But after that initial contact with the ATRs, I met my manmi Maude Evans (honor and respect to her) and started to learn the religion hands-on.
And that’s the way the ATRs are meant to be: hands-on learning experiences. For hundreds of years, information about the ATRs was never written down: it was all oral, passed down from teacher to student, and the only way to learn was sitting by the side of your manmi, papa, tata, baba, iya, whatever, and watch them do things. And then you would try to do these things. And make mistakes, and do it over and over until you got it right. Then, after many years of trying and studying and watching, you would get the opportunity to teach someone else. And so the lineage of each house gets passed down.
The dawning of the Internet has been a blessing and a curse for the ATRs. On the one hand, it allows people who live far away from the typical urban centers of Vodou (for example in the U.S, Boston, New York, Miami, etc) to make contact with initiates who can give the right information to them. On the other hand, you get people who can just put up a website, call themselves a “houngan”, “manbo”, “tata”, “babalawo”, or whatever, and putting out all kinds of nonsense out there.
No, you can’t give Ezili Freda a black jewelry box with her veve traced on it. No, you really shouldn’t give any lwa your own blood as an offering. No, the lwa aren’t vegan, you will eventually have to give them meat. No, you can’t offer alcohol to Damballah.
(These are all things I’ve actually seen, by the way).
In Vodou, we have this thing that in Kreyol is called “regleman”. The translation is “regiment” but you can really call it “order”, an ordered and proper way of doing things. In fets (Vodou ceremonies), we salute the spirits in the same order every time. There are rules we follow. You have to abstain from sexual activity for 24 hours prior to every fet. You will only learn these things when you talk to and interact with initiates.
Not everyone who comes to the ATRs are meant to be initiated as clergy, just like not everyone who joins the Catholic church is meant to become a priest or a nun. Most people in any religion are laypeople, and that’s perfectly fine. You can serve, work with, and love the spirits as a layperson. The clergy path isn’t for everyone. Many sevite (servants of the lwa) get a leson (Vodou reading) from a manbo or houngan, learn which spirits walk with them, how to serve them, and are perfectly content to serve their spirits privately. They may attend fets, speak to the spirits, and consult a priest/ess when they have a problem or want to get magic work or healing work done.
The path of a layperson, a non-initiate, is a perfectly noble and honorable path. It’s not easy being an initiate. You have to carry a lot. It’s beautiful, and rewarding, but not easy.
If you’re going to learn, please learn the right way. Ayibobo!

A nice customer testimonial

“Manbo Mary is an exceptional reader. I came to her for clarification about a dream I had and left with more insight than I could imagine. Her kindness and spiritual depth resonates as she performs her sacred task. I couldn’t possibly recommend her enough. I was blessed to have her read my esko as well as provide very poignant messages. Mesi anpil Manbo!”
– Michel D., New Brunswick; Canada

Vodou and Christianity

Bonjou zanmi! Let’s talk about the role of Christianity in Haitian Vodou.

Haitian Vodou is a mix of African religious tradition, Catholic Christianity, and native Taino Indian religious practice. You can’t separate Catholicism from Haitian Vodou, not really; if you take it out, it’s not the same. Vodou uses Catholic prayers in its liturgies, the Catholic saints represent lwa, and we are even “baptized” and given godparents and a new name when we initiate.

That’s not to say that Vodou has an easy relationship with Catholicism, especially in Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the revolutionary who became the new Republic’s leader, tried to limit jurisdiction of the Catholic Church; in response to this, Rome stopped sending new priests and missionaries into Haiti. Haiti went for many years without official supervision from Rome, and the syncretization of Catholic practice and Vodou religion got even deeper. Men who knew the Catholic liturgy, or who had trained as priests but weren’t officially ordained, became what was known as “pret savann”, or “bush priests.” Pret savann are still important in Vodou today; they oversee the baptem ceremony at the conclusion of kanzo, and say the Catholic prayers in French during other ceremonies.

The night before I left Haiti this summer, I went looking for my godmother to say goodbye. I ran into my mama hounyo (an official position in the sosyete; she manages all the needs of the initiates during the time they’re secluded in the djevo) and asked her where my godmother was .

“Oh, li prale a legliz!” (She went to church).

Many Vodouizants take the same attitude as my godmother; going to Vodou ceremony on Saturday night and then to church on Sunday. Most Haitians, even Vodouizants, identify as good Catholics along with serving the spirits.

As for Protestant Christianity, that can be a bit more complicated. Many Protestant churches rail against Vodou and some Protestants have been known to harass and assault and even kill Vodouizants, or destroy Vodou temples. Even my sosyete has been picketed by Protestants, praying loudly and singing hymns outside while we’re in the middle of initiations.

However, there are plenty of “good Christians” who publically will deplore Vodou and call it devil worship, but as soon as they have a problem they can’t solve, off they go to the local manbo or houngan.

I myself go to Mass and say Catholic prayers. That’s how I was raised. I do know people who practice other religions along with Vodou, but the important thing is not to mix traditions. Don’t cast a Wiccan circle and call the lwa into it, and don’t put Thor’s hammer on a Vodou altar (although I can’t help but think that Ogou and Thor might get along well).

In order to practice Haitian Vodou, you have to understand its Christian roots and the Christian practices that still influence it and are part of its function.


Vodou’s Response and Responsibility in the Face of Oppression

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

Isaiah 62:1


I’ve been thinking a lot about the horror that is Charlottesville. I am disgusted and horrified by the racism and terrorism being perpetuated by Nazis and other white supremacists.

The Abrahamic faith that is Christianity says that when someone injures us, we are to “turn the other cheek”.

Haitian Vodou, though it has some roots in Christianity (namely Roman Catholicism), has no such tenet. Make no mistake, Haitian Vodou was the original Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about freedom from oppression and slavery, and a faith born of revolution. We Vodouizants do want to live in a peaceful world, but we also recognize that for most of history that hasn’t been possible.

Our spirits believe in revenge. They believe in justice, and if you ask them for those things, they will be granted to you.

I, as a white American woman, constantly work to unpack my own baggage having been raised in a racist society. I know that my largely English family (on my mother’s side) owned slaves in Barbados and brought them to the U.S. I must constantly remember that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and I have to be better than they were.

The lwa demand that we be strong, and that we stand up to evil and oppression. We who practice this religion, especially those of us who are white, have a responsibility to speak out and act up. Because if you don’t stand up for your lwa, your lwa won’t stand up for you.



How to Spiritually Clean Your House

Hi everyone! I hope the summer is treating you well.

Spiritual hygiene is very important. We all attract spiritual “gunk” just by interacting with the world, and we can pick it up from other people. I’ll be posting a separate article on how to spiritually cleanse yourself, but this post is going to focus on your home.

Even if you live by yourself (as I do) it’s important to keep your home spiritually clean, in addition to being physically clean. Yes, I know, housecleaning isn’t the most exciting thing to do, but keeping a sense of order and cleanliness in your most personal space will be the best environment for your spirits to live in. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I physically and spiritually clean my house.

Here’s how I generally clean my house. Gather the following supplies:

-bucket of warm water

-Pine Sol (pine oil is a traditional cleanser spiritually, and Pine Sol has real pine oil in it)

-sponge or cloth

-regular cleaning supplies (like for the toilet and counters)

-Van Van or other spiritual cleansing type oil

-one tea light candle per room in your house

-straw broom with a wooden handle (optional)

PRO TIP: Add a few drops of the Van Van or other blessing/cleansing spiritual oil to all of your cleansing supplies and shake up the bottle, praying that your home will be cleansed and blessed.

Add the Pine Sol to the bucket of water and pray over it so that blessings and cleanliness will be in your house.

The first step is to physically clean: put away all the dirty laundry, books, papers, empty Domino’s boxes, etc. Get things organized. Then start from the top floor of the house in the back room; you’re going to work from back to front. If your place only has one floor, start in the back of the house. Dust and vacuum. Then use a sponge and the Pine Sol water to wipe down the baseboards of each room. If the room has hardwood or tile floors you can mop in there. But at the very least you should do the baseboards and the inside and outside of each door.

Work your way to the front door, then spend some time really cleaning this area; the front door of your house is where all your blessings enter; you want it to be especially blessed. Wipe down the inside and outside of the door from top to bottom.

When you’re all done with the bucket, take the water off your property and throw it out; don’t dump it down the sink.

Come back inside and get your bottle of blessing or Van Van type oil. Start at the front door and dab a five spot of oil on the inside and  outside of the door; a five spot is like the 5 side of a 6 sided dice:

1     2


4    5

Pray as you dress the door that only blessings will enter your home. Do this with all the doors in your house.

Once you’ve dressed the doors, take your tea lights and dress them with the blessing oil. Put one in each room of your house and light them, praying again for blessings.

And you’re done!

NOTE: If things have been icky or bad for you, an additional Haitian Vodou thing you can insert into this cleaning process before you begin cleaning with the Pine Sol water is: use the broom to sweep the whole house, even the carpeted areas, from back to front. Sweep all the way out your front door and out to where your property line ends. Then, break the broom and throw one half to the left and one half to the right. This breaks your cycle of bad luck. You don’t have to take this step every time you clean your house, but if things have been bad or unlucky you should try it.

In a future post I’ll talk about spiritually cleansing yourself!

Vodou for the Holidays/New Year

Bonjou zanmi! This time of year is very important for those who serve the lwa. Christmas is a time for the Petwo spirits, those hot and revolutionary lwa. Think about it: God came down to earth and was made flesh (as Jesus). What more magical activity could there be? 🙂

I’m available for readings (called “leson”) throughout the holiday season; a card reading can give you knowledge of which spirits walk with you and the forecast for your new year. I also do Vodou lamps and candles and can make you good luck baths that you can take in your home. If you live within reasonable distance of Boston, I can come to you and administer the bath for an extra good luck boost! Baths and magic work are priced on an individual basis. Card readings are $60.

Contact me here or email me: manbomary at gmail dot com for more info. Have a blessed holiday season!

Help Sosyete Nago after Hurricane Matthew

Bonjou zanmi: My Vodou house, Sosyete Nago, is located in Jacmel, Haiti. That area was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Matthew. Main roads and bridges were flooded away, which means food and gas are going to be hard to come by for the foreseeable future. Would you please consider making a small donation through my brother Houngan Matt’s fundraising page? All the money will go directly to my house to help them get through the clean up of the storm. Mesi anpil!


Give Here at Generosity 

Things to Do to Thank and Celebrate Your Spirits

When spirits do work for you, or when you feel the need/impulse to say thank you, there are some great things you can do:

  • Light a vigil candle for them (in their color, with their saint picture if they have one, etc)
  • Read the Bible or another holy book to them
  • Pay them with food or drink. General catch-all things you can offer are alcohol, coffee, plain water, sliced fruit (avoid lemons and limes; they’re too harsh), flowers (yeah, it’s not a food, but still a good idea). Different spirits may take different types of food; if you’re dealing with lwa from Haitian Vodou, ask a manbo or houngan what specific foods a spirit takes
  • Have a Mass said for them at a Catholic church. In Catholicism, dedicating a Mass to a person or saint is common. Call your local parish and ask. You will probably need to pay a small amount of money; usually it’s around $10 U.S. Try to attend the Mass if you can.
  • Write them a poem or song and present it to them.
  • Give them something for their altar. I have a few toy soldiers on my altar for Ogou, and some toys for Legba.
  • If they did something REALLY big for you, ask a manbo or houngan to give them what’s called an “action de grace”. This is a small feast or feeding for your spirits.

These are the most common things you can do to say thanks to your spirits. If you can think of any more, leave a comment!