Gros Bon Ange of the witch-doctor Ryan Valentine
detail by Doug Nox
I wanted to interject a quick response to some of the points Jack raised in Nu-Flesh before he had a chance to write another four pages of material on our original topic and I miss the chance to address these interesting digressions.
Cat Murder! Possession!
“I recall the lecture being side-tracked repeatedly by eclectic Wiccans who wanted to know the difference between Voodoo Possession, and Drawing Down the Moon or Godform assumption. The idea that complete possession by a spirit versus “over-shadowing,” or extremely limited possession (e.g. the spirit does not take complete control of the body, but instead acts as a channel) might be different was lost on what felt like a chunk of the audience. I came away feeling like I wanted to know more about the subject: if complete possession occur, does one find themselves on the astral? Does the mind simply go blank as another form of consciousness emerges? Is it different for everyone? Does the type of possession or the completeness of it change based on initiation? Maya Derren notes that if you simply attend certain rituals to watch, the loa appear to be willing to leap into you if you’re a fitting vessel. How often does this occur? Is the ritual/community exchange and that of possession a dynamic that we do not have in areas of the West? Is this something that we’re perhaps missing in our group rituals – a dynamic of pure exchange between ourselves and the spirits? Or is this potential and behavior specific to the Loa themselves?”
Full possession is exactly that, annihilation of consciousness. As though being in a deep dreamless sleep. Its emphasis is not as universal among all the diasporic traditions as it is in Haitian Vodou but I would contend it has a place in each nonetheless. The value of having the Lwa perform a ritual on your behalf cannot possibly be overstated. Since the full spectrum of early ceremonialist material was also integrated into many of the diasporic traditions (especially Palo) I think it is fairly reasonable to assume that those methods of communication and identification common to the European forms of necromancy are also present within the individual paradigms.
As a hoodoo I have come to define the ‘Lwa’ as any spirit capable of that complete annihilation of consciousness. These have been largely Vodoun (Danto, Petro, Zombi, and Nibbho) with a smattering of Los Muertos. I have never experienced complete displacement at the whims of a Goet, more like a creeping madness that begins as a profound ‘over-shadowing’ as you christened it. Takes a while for them to really take ownership of the vessel (in my experience, I have heard tales otherwise) whereas the Lwa just step in and I am gone.
Dirge has some hilarious stories about his Gede, who enjoyed late night strolls through china-town while eating a whole deep-fried chicken he had gotten from one of the all night restaurants. Glassy eyed Dirge wandering around carrying a steaming hot, amazingly greasy chicken in his bare hands, little of chunks of meat sticking to his scruffy beard. Just taking in the sights.
He’d come around sprawled in some doorway, spent carcass in his hands and food all over his face. As though for his Gede a whole deep-fried, greasy as hell chicken from one of Toronto’s late night Chinese food joints was like going on a heroin bender.
He tells me it never cost him anything, he always had the exact same tiny amount of money after these events as he had before (this happened a lot back in the gigging days when counting money did not take a very long time). Somehow that Gede wrangled himself a free chicken every time.
I found personally that Gede Nibbho loves the act of juju, he’ll jump into ritual progressions and take over. This has streamlined my ritual process tremendously but it’s difficult to describe the process of refinement because I don’t consciously remember any of it. As though, because my body has done it so many times that if I don’t think about it, it will just happen on its own. It can be roughly equated to jamming out a new song, you know ‘this’ makes ‘this sound’ and so forth but you have to turn off what you know to allow something new to emerge from that. It has occurred to me occasionally that this is the inversion of how ritual is traditionally held to function, namely a discipline whereby the body informs the cosmos (herein, the cosmos informs the body).
I do not feel qualified to comment on the impact of initiation on possession.
“I found myself having a very hard time accepting both what I was reading, and with the dream in mind, the contents of the book itself. As to how much of it is or isn’t bullshit, I have no idea. But Gonzalez-Wippler stands as a good example of someone who appears to have taken all the information they were given on a subject and not having been critical enough.”
Also from a recent blog by de Frisvold.
"It is assumed that the Ashanti and the Dahomeyans is the carrier of the wisdom of Obeah. That it was slaves from west and-north-Africa that brought this current of power to Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago. The tradition of Obeah captures several lines of occult transmission. The Obeah it self is best seen as an multi-differenced source of extreme power. In a way the Obeah-men are the True Chaos-magicians since they can use any system they want and fuel it with the power of Obeah, without the danger of disrespect for the gods."
I agree that cat murder is a notably European peculiarity but it’s a cruelty that made it into several of the grimoires, as was the creation of the nganga (see de Plancy). It is not in the least outrageous that rituals for destructive sorcery collected or practiced by a resident of the America’s (in the 1900’s no less) might include such instructions regardless of whether such practices represent some existing religious dogma or not. The central point of the blog I quoted above was that the Obeah permits both religious and magical syncretism and points to the popularity of European ceremonialism among the diasporic traditions. What’s more, since none of the diasporic traditions have a central hierarchy questions of religious dogma (as you have posed) simply cannot be meaningfully answered since there is no central authority to dictate it.
The reality as it has been revealed by the scholars is that the diasporic traditions openly accepted the innovations of the western ceremonialists in the 1700’s and are presently manifesting the brave new paradigms. The grimoires saw widespread distribution in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese long before they did in English and their components are there to be seen in the contemporary practices of Central and South America. Meanwhile, the wiccan and new world witchcraft practitioners are still struggling with the revelation that they more closely resemble European ceremonialists than the old world pagans they identify with (which is not to say the two things are not related) and that just maybe the unbroken line of pagan and animist religious thought which even still underlay the diasporic traditions could teach them something. (The rest of this thought-provoking material must be useless because of that cat thing!)
Anomalous Eurocentric rituals like cat murder in Gonzolas-Wippler’s overview of Santeria actually validate her sources (though I can’t speak to the validity of her perspective as I have not read the book), at least viewed against Stratton-Kent’s and de Frisvold’s work on the subject which highlight vast tracts of overlay. Not to mention the naked desire to explore the dark places particular to Palo and other expressions of the Obeah, which I think is at times confused with its actual contingency of spiritual observations. There are a number of cat murder spells in old N. American hoodoo as well, most usually for the creation of talismans bestowing luck or invisibility. Crowley killed some cats during the Egypt workings if my memory is correct. Any paradigm with a strong animist undercurrent is going to emphasize sympathy, you want the luck of the cat you need a talisman made from the hair of a cat. You want invisibility you need these bones from a cat for your talisman. There are humane methods to collect bones and hair from an animal for sympathetic workings like this and then there are other, more immediate and far less humane ways but there is nothing particularly noteworthy about its inclusion among an anthology of practical magics.