A day in the Life of a Houngan
|Our House is somewhat exclusive. There are reasons for that. I want to explain to you what some of these exclusive customs are, and why they are like this. There are many Houses that will allow anyone to initiate within their House. Our House requires a preliminary divination before even considering you for initiation. I usually also like to meet the person, if possible (we understand distance situations) to see how it flows.Within the preliminary divination we consult with the House Lwa. Here that is usually a Gede of mine. I leave a list with my initiates, who will question the Lwa as far as initiation for that individual. I used to call Gede once a month, but the lists are getting long, so I call him twice a month these days. Two Fridays a month, to be exact. My children more or less ask: “Is so and so to be initiated into Vodou?” if so, “At what rank?” and “In our House?”
If the individual is meant to initiate, and if so whether that person is to go for a Lave Tet – or all the way up to Asogwe – the Lwa will let us know. If the Lwa says our House is open to the individual, we let them know. They are then allowed to initiate at the rank that the Lwa determined for them, or any lower rank if they feel that this rank may be too much responsibility for the individual. Trust me . . . carrying an Asson is hard work and heavy responsibility.
If a person is to initiate, but not in our House, we let them know that too. Whatever the Lwa tell us. Then we can give the individual references if he/she so desires.
Why all of this?
Not everyone is chosen to take the Asson or to initiate at all. As stated before, each level of initiation bestows a certain degree of responsibility. You must be chosen for your level, you cannot pay to be a certain level – at least not here. Many only tell you the good things about becoming a good Houngan/Mambo. There isn’t enough talk about the responsibility, work, and discipline commitments it requires. Even rarer, do people – or enough people – talk about how it can even make your life somewhat more difficult.
“It’s that the people don’t understand. Not everyone has this, it is for the people that have this. This is a lot of heavy work, a lot. People get jealous because they don’t have it and they want it so bad, it is a hard life for us who have it”
– Espiritista Practitioner in NY
Becoming a Houngan or Mambo doesn’t mean that all your problems will disappear and everything will become peaches and cream. It does entail that you take responsibility for your actions, and create change for yourself and your life. But that does not mean that you do not have your own trials and tribulations.
“Tout moun fet pou soufri, tout moun fet pou mouri”
(Everyone is born to suffer, everyone is born to die)
– Haitian Proverb
Becoming a Houngan or Mambo does not make you exempt from that.
I was doing a reading for another Spiritual Advisor, and she went on to explain the following (I did get permission from her to write about some of what we were saying. It so happens I have been trying to make time to put this post together for quite some time now.)
“Why do people want this so bad? When I have a man, he always thinks I am doing something to him, but I am not. He won’t trust me to serve him his food or drink. Love is hard for us who have this gift. Then me, I give money when I see someone need it. I sometimes don’t get a thank you. Then later on, a situation comes when I really need that money I gave away. I know it will bless me, God will bless me. The spirits will bless me. Clients will drain me, people will drain me. I don’t charge much when I read, and I devote an hour per reading. Some people just want to continue asking and asking questions. I know people who charge 5 times what I charge. After a long day of readings, I still often have much left to do. The Spirits test us. They give us trials and tribulations, to check our faith”
She is absolutely right! Everyone has Spirits, I know that. But, not everyone’s Lwa call them to serve as an initiate. Not everyone’s Lwa, even then, call them to serve as a non initiate. It is not for everyone. Being a Vodouisant entails a lot. Let me go through some basics about some of the responsibilities that serving our spirit places on us. Each higher level also includes all the responsibilities, and demands the knowledge of how to do things the things required, of all levels beneath it.
As a person who is Lave Tet, the person is not required to be a member of the House whether through that person’s decision or the House’s or both. There are many different reasons why someone may desire to undergo that ceremony, and there are many that are not linked with a desire to become a House member. Some common reasons are the need for a strong cleansing, to cool off an angry Lwa, to balance possessions, or to fortify one’s Spirit. And there are many more.
But if the individual does desire to be considered a member of the House, in our House we welcome the person – unless specifically noted otherwise by the divinations. Yet this relationship is based on mutual trust (as are all other relationships) and because both parties desire to be there. A person who is Lave Tet and considered a member of the House would be required to attend House ceremonies, take care of their Lwa, show loyalty to their House, and keep their oaths. A Lave Tet Hounsi cannot go into the djevo where the Kanzo kids are secluded, but they are welcome at many other House functions (and expected to be on time, and have their white clothes to wear). Gade Nou Leve teaches all of our Members to be are able to function in their new capacities.
Our House encourages all Vodouisants to serve their ancestors. Ancestors are very important, without them we wouldn’t be here, and neither would the Religion. All House members are expected to serve them, and there are many different ways to serve them, as there are many different types of people and, as such, ancestors.
People receive the Lave Tet for themselves. They are taught to help themselves according to their ability in their new level. It is not often you will find one who undergoes the Lave Tet doing spiritual work for others. That is not what one receives that type of ceremony for. It is to strengthen the Lave Tet Hounsi’s Spirit, cleanse, fortify and strengthen him. Family of the individual is blessed by the fact that they live with the Hounsi.
One who goes Hounsi Kanzo has a great responsibility. As you know, most Houses are composed of Hounsi Kanzos who form the foundation of the House. They must assist ceremonies, know a variety of songs, help set up at ceremonies, serve their Lwa at home with a formal altar, and dance for the Lwa. They are able to enter the djevo. Their spirit is aligned with them, and Hounsis are often mounted (possessed by the Lwa). Hounsis often cook the food for the Lwa, assist in some parts of altar setup, assist Lwa when they arrive, and perform many other tasks. All the activities they do in order to help set up ceremonies are considered serving (which I am surprised that some forget) Cleaning, cooking, dancing – all of that serves the Lwa. Don’t forget that all the responsibilities of someone who is Lave Tet are also assumed by a Hounsi.
One who goes Sou Pwen is even further aligned and given even more responsibilities. Sou Pwen initiates are expected to be able to sing, perform dances, and all that which the previous two ranks carry out, and on top of those responsibilities, a Houngan/Mambo Sou Pwen must be able to lead the dance should the head Houngan or Mambo not be around, do other things, and undergo possession. He or she must be able to salute the Lwa as well as continue doing other things that must be done in order to make the dance a success. Sou Pwen initiates may or may not have clientele. Most Sou Pwen like to serve for themselves, their family, and friends.
Someone who is initiated at the rank of Asogwe must be able to do all the above. An Asogwe initiate often ends up opening his or her own Sosyete which he/she leads. He/she is eventually expected to initiate people and care for them and his community. He/she must be able to call any Lwa needed should their presence be essential. He/she must know all the prayers, when to use them, all the dances, the songs, and all the other necessary information to act within their position. Asogwe initiates do work for clients and for themselves. Very, very often, a person who is Asogwe will eventually cease to work a regular 9-5 job and only work for the Lwa. According to their Lwa, this may be immediately or in time.
You will find that once you are correctly aligned with your Lwa and your relationships with them strengthened, the need to do spiritual work for yourself becomes less and less until barely at all. Your Lwa know what you need and what is best for you, and often will handle your situations of their own volition. Rarely will you have a need to tie wanga for yourself. Things will also come together naturally, with little effort and much flow. Many obstacles are removed from your path and you will be able to have a flow in your life.
Leading a House is not easy either. A Houngan or Mambo must care for his initiates. We must make sure they are well trained, are good in health, and have the things they need in order to survive. We counsel our initiates. At the same time, we are busy putting together ceremonies, working for clients, and more. We must provide counsel to our clients, friends, and family (spiritual and biological) and must guide those around us.
For those of you interested in Vodou magick and our house, we are currently planning a workshop, to be announced, as an introduction.
Being an Asogwe priest changes many things in your life as well. As stated above, being a Vodouisant and being in love can be quite difficult. Not all people accept, tolerate, or understand Vodou, and many are not even open to try to understand. Those who do understand, may tolerate it but not accept it. To tell you the truth, tolerating it will not be good enough for the Lwa. That person must accept it, otherwise the Lwa will very often cause problems in that relationship, in order to separate the individual from their Priest or Priestess.
When you find someone who does accept it, there are many who become jealous of the Houngan or Mambo’s clients, initiates, or even their Lwa. A good Houngan/Mambo also has very little time to play around, as Vodou does take up much time. When that is not the case, some lovers may think that the Priest/Priestess is lacing their food and drink with witchcraft, or trying to tie wanga on them. Being a Vodouisant and dealing with love can make for a lonely path.
Some people believe that a Houngan or Mambo does not have a life to live too! They become enraged or give off attitude when they ask for something and the Houngan or Mambo doesn’t leap to grant them their request. Houngans and Mambos are people too! We have families (quite large ones), loved ones, a House (both physical and spiritual) to maintain, and do like to occasionally take some time off to enjoy life. As a Houngan or Mambo Asogwe, one can expect to get calls at all hours of the day and night. Three o’clock AM is not unusual, even when the person on the other end of the line has never met you.
We are often so busy taking care of others that we often neglect ourselves. Personally, I haven’t been to any type of medical care for years! We run around making sure everyone around us is good and taken care of.
And then, there is the jealousy and envy . . . other Vodouisants always believe themselves to be in competition with you. Personally, Vodou is not a competition to me. It is my life. There are wanga wars to be dealt with, false friends, and jealous family members. It is unfortunate that even people who are to be our Brothers and Sisters in the Religion try to wage war against us. I, personally, have very little time to deal with such nonsense and when I am aware of it, I often ignore it. But, in Vodou, you will often have other Vodouisants smiling in your face while stabbing you in the back, or waiting for you to fall.
Some are jealous of your spirits and their strength. Others of your popularity. Still others of your client base. In my personal life, I don’t waste time doing negative works against people. It is my philosophy that I should take the money that I would use to do something negative with and use it towards supplies to do something positive for myself. I prefer to bring myself up, not tear others down.
All this without mentioning relationships with one’s biological family and friends.
Let me tell you about what happened few days ago:
I woke up bright and early at six AM after just having gone to bed at 2 AM after finishing some work. I had to get up to do my work and so, before six, bright and early I was taking a shower, getting materials together and some coffee for us to drink. After the work, around 7:30AM, I went to sleep until around 8:30am and woke to get ready to perform more work.
When I woke up, I already had two clients sitting in the living room waiting to request consultations. I excused myself, got something cold to drink, and opened the altar for consultations. I consulted until right around 10:45 or so, and then had someone waiting for me to go to pick up other work I had to do, as well as pick up the supplies at the local botanica. During the length of the day, I always hop online when I can to read and, if I have time, reply to emails.
At the botanica, I walked through the crowded little shop looking for all the things I would need. I picked up some candles to do work along with oils needed and other necessary ingredients. The owner, who knows I am a spiritual advisor, shows me all of her new products that she just got in. A love kit, with pre-made love soap, pink honey, and some other perfume and instructions – $12.95. “Give it to your clients, and it is easy for you”. I laugh to myself at the idea. “Yeah, right” I think. I provide fix (magick) for my clients in the Vodou way, I use quality materials that I often make from raw ingredients myself. While I do believe that the mass produced items can help, I am not a personal believer in using too many of them.
I left asking about the price of a statue. Very pricey. “I am not buying that” I thought. I went to the grocery store to pick up some things for work and for the house. I returned home. Arriving home, I had four readings to do, and people left with appointment times and lists of items required to do their work; by this time in the afternoon, I had my “breakfast”. LOL.
A friend, whom I hadn’t seen in years, had found me a few days earlier. She came to my home with some issues, and she needed the Lwa to help her resolve them. She was extremely distressed. Another client with some items for a work came in while I was dealing with my friend. I stopped the conversation with my friend, and while talking to my client and receiving the items, I told her I would get to her work later on that day. I wrote a list for my friend and told her to give the list to the botanica owner and get these supplies. I gave her some money so that she could pick up some items that found I would need from the previous readings.
She returned from the botanica with everything in tow. I put her to work on some of the things that she could do for the work. I sat her down in my room, and I went to the altar and started to make demann, mount magical lamps, tie wanga, and make powders. By the time I was finished with some of the final works, she was finished and sitting in the living room, much calmer.
I went into the altar and started the work. She waited for me in the living room, sat and talked with some of my initiates, who were watching TV. When I returned out to the living room, I was greeted with some other clients, who had arrived late for their appointments (which worked out most conveniently).
After doing their readings, and giving powders to one of my clients, I sat down for coffee with my friend in the kitchen. She told me she was feeling much better but still a little worried. We carried on in conversation for some time. Then I made my way back into the altar room to prepare necklaces, bracelets, and rings. These are “fixed” in order to protect the wearer. I had about 7 or 8 of these to arrange. It takes a few days in order for them to be ready.
So, when I returned, I had some readings to do for online clients. For these, I sit in the altar room, perform the reading, write everything down, then come to the computer and type it up. That is what I did.
I fixed some candles that clients had brought for me to prepare before burning at their home altars. By this time, it was 9 PM and I expected my clients at 9:30 to pick up these candles. They arrived closer to ten pm, while I was answering some emails. I gave them their candles and they left. I returned to the computer to answer additional emails.
I returned to the altar room once again. To do yet another work. I did the work, and cleaned up the altar room as best as I could. By the time I was finished it was 11:30 PM. This is when I realized I had only eaten once earlier. By this time, I wasn’t even really hungry so I went to relax and watch some television as I fell asleep.
That is just one day in the life of a full time Houngan . . . no day is the same, no day is typical.
These are just a few things to think about when considering initiation into Vodou.
I am not trying to discourage you, I just want you to understand that these things entail a lot. Not everyone is able to deal with such responsibilities, or wants to. Not everyone can deal with it. Some are not ready, some are not meant to.