Thursday, September 9, 2021

Throwing the Shells

Well, that was different. With the Fall open before me and a host of worthy projects competing for my attention, I felt I needed some guidance. I had some notions about which to pursue, but I wanted a second opinion. So naturally, it was time to consult a Priestess of the Orishas. 


For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the notion of the Ancestors, the departed who live in the Other World, whatever that may be. I’ve collected things like the Irish saying, “What is wrong in this world can only be healed by those in the Other World, what’s wrong in the Other World can only be healed by those in this world.” And so the cultures that pay attention to this idea, be it Ancestor Veneration in China, trance dance in Ghana or the Mexican Day of the Dead, believe that the departed continue to live amongst us and are available through both collective ritual and personal remembrance to help us here on this material plane. And likewise, by paying them proper respect and continuing the work they couldn’t finish, we can help them in their new form of existence. It’s not a Hollywood ghost story, but a living conversation that brings a fuller dimension to life. And death.


So when I heard about a 91-year old woman who did readings in-between her work helping battered women and running a judo studio for young girls, I thought: “Just my cup of tea!” Especially because of my involvement with Ghana and the African diaspora and my second-hand knowledge of these Orishas, spirits who acted as intermediaries between the human and the divine. I knew the names of five or six, but apparently there are as many as 401, each with his or her own specialty. Like the Greek gods or the Catholic saints (who they hid behind when people were kidnapped and brought to Brazil and Cuba by the Portuguese and Spanish Catholic). If I was going to get some guidance, I wanted to hear their opinion more than those of Facebook friends.


And so I met with this elder, white, Jewish, ordained priestess.  How I wanted to whip out my i-Phone and photograph her basement filled with statues, dolls, stones, drums, a buffalo head mounted on the wall and a few hundred other items related to the task at hand. But feeling that some things are not for show or casual sharing (I’m ambivalent about saying this much about it), I put the phone down and sat down to throw the cowrie shells that she could read but I couldn’t. At the first reading, she looked down and exclaimed, “Hm. You’re complicated” and I knew I was in the right place. 


Again, without revealing too much, there were messages from various orishas, Shango the one that kept appearing the most. He is associated with thunder, lightning, fire, passion, justice, dance and music and that was fine with me. I asked many specific questions, particularly about writing projects and believe I got some excellent advice. Two hours later, I had to decide whether to go beyond work into the personal, inquire about relationships with my wife, colleagues, men’s group and beyond, but decided to save that for another time. Apparently, these sessions work best in three-month blocks and since the Fall was precisely the time I was asking about, that suited me fine. 


In retrospect, I should have asked about continuing this 11-year blog, but truth be told, advice one gets, whether it be from a friend or orisha, is often a speaking out loud of an intuition not yet fully formed that gives a kind of permission to go ahead with what you probably would have done anyway. It’s not a mandate or a stern warning or an unconditional blessing, it’s a conversation that you’ve already been having with yourself and now feels a bit clearer having shared it. And yes, I believe I'll keep writing this blog even as I set to work on a new book.


To get there and back, I walked 7 miles and made a point of passing by the three other houses I had previously lived in in San Francisco and somehow that added a bit to the ritual. I came home exercised, energized, intrigued and ready to get to work. Here I go! With Shango by my side.


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