Nov ’01 – entry 2

During the Week of Initiation

The dreaded trip to the river finally arrived. Fortunately, it was a warm 58 degrees or so, and I am sure the water was colder just for effectiveness. I tried my best not to scream or shout because of the cold water, but after the 5th jar full of water I had to just shudder and shout from the cold. I could take it no more. The trip was at 4am. I was exhausted by the time I got back, but I couldn’t sleep a wink. Sleeping on the floor is not comfortable let me tell you. Iyawós to be, take a note here – practice sleeping on the floor on a grass mat without a pillow – if you find a way to be comfortable remember it, because you will need to do this in the future.

The actual day of the initiation, I was sat in a chair with a towel over my head and faced toward a wall. I was to talk to no one. This is called being in penitentiary. I sat there, found many ways to sleep sitting upright, and was mostly annoyed by Yankees’ game on the television in the kitchen that had bad reception. I actually tried to meditate, but between the loud screaming across the house and the static from the hateful ball game, I just couldn’t. In fact I just got more and more angry. I eventually asked a priestess of Shangó to do me a huge favor and turn down the t.v. or shut it off because it was giving me a headache. She did, thank God! And shortly thereafter, they took me into the sacred room and the ceremony took place.

After the ceremony, I was totally buzzed and light-headed. I had difficulty getting my bearings and I couldn’t think totally straight. I was sat under the throne where I would reside for the next seven days. My mother, who I flew in for the tambor the next day, arrived about an hour after I came out of the ceremony, and she greeted me with a smile and a loving hug. I was so moved by her love, my padrino and madrina’s love and everyone else’s that I started to cry. I will never forget when everyone saluted me immediately after the ceremony. It was so emotional. it is amazing how sacred an iyawó really is in this religion. They are viewed as the orisha incarnate and as a continuation of their sacred religion here on earth.

One of the most comical points in all of this were the animals. They were going to bust out of that joint no matter what we tried. Apparently the gate that was in place to hold the goats where they were supposed to be was either not strong enough, or too high off of the ground and this one goat kept getting out and wandering over to where the other animals were and TRIED TO EAT THEM! The animals were all collectively in this large storage closet in the basement and I could see directly through the door into the closet from where I was on the throne and throughout the night this same damn goat kept getting out. Well this one priestess of Oshún kept getting mad every time it got out, and shouted things like, “Get your ass back in there!” and “Oh no you didn’t! You better think ’cause you’re next!” and she would grab the goat by the scruff and the tail and hoist it, in one amazing swift movement, over her head, through the air and back in the pen. I was laughing my ass off as she quite literally spoke to the animals and taunted them to try to escape. Finally, the turn came for that special goat and she just opened the gate and told it, “Come on baby … you want to come out now don’t you? It’s your turn. What, are you going to try to get away now?” it was the funniest thing because this is the same way that she speaks to other drivers on the road when she drives! hahahaha.

Well during the eyebale (ritual sacrifice of animals to the orishas), the priests were busy presiding over the feeding of one of the orishas, and my godmother had her hands full with some hens, and I was kneeling in the throne. Suddenly, yet subtley, a Guinea Hen just struts into the room out of this same closet, having escaped her cage, and waltzes around like she is on vacation and taking in the sights. My godfather is singing the songs to Oshún: “Yeye oro ye o, Yeye oro ye o!” and I see this and whisper to my padrino, “Padrino, ¡se salió la Guinea!” (Godfather, the Guinea Hen escaped!) Now, everyone has their hands full and my padrino keeps singing the song and starts changing the words: “Yeye oro ye o, yeye oro ye o! Se salió la Guinea, Abembe fururu, Se salió la Guinea, Abembe fururu, Se salió la Guinea, abembe fururu” Without skipping a beat he is singing “the Guinea Hen escaped” to the same melody and I just lose it and collapse to the ground laughing. My padrino cannot hold it any longer and starts laughing, and my poor godmother is trying to handle the hens she has in her hands and capture the Guinea Hen that has flown free! Now Guinea Hens are probably the nastiest creatures in all of creation. They will peck and scratch you like no other animal. So once the priests stopped what they were doing, one took the hens from her hands and she managed to capture the bird that had quite literally flown the coop. To this day the new ocha song “Se salió la Guinea” has become legendary amongst those of us who were there.

The tambor (drumming ceremony in honor of the orishas) was the next day and I cannot begin to say how amazing the drummers were. The singer sounded like a young Celia Cruz and the main drummer was this big impressive man who had the biggest hands I have ever seen. I could tell they all had really good hearts and that they really love the orishas. I was dressed in my traje de gala (Gala outfit) which was made out of a stunning red and gold chinese brocade silk. I had the traditional Cuban Shangó outfit which consists of a pair of knickerbockers with points on the ends of the legs, trimmed in gold brain and cowrie shells. The shirt had big poofy sleeves with six rows of gold brain and cowrie shells and a Nehru style colar. I had a front panel which was rectangular in shape, with six diagonal rows of cowrie shells and gold braid. I also had a belt made of the same fabric with six pointed panels hanging down, around my waist (similar to a gladiator skirt) with cowries and gold braid, and my crown to match with six points that looked like the towers of a castle. I was then draped with 8 different mazos for Elegba, Ochosi, Obatalá, Oyá, Aggayú, Oshún, Yemayá and Shangó – they were really heavy but beautiful. And you bet your ass I danced with all of them on too! My godfather actually began to cry when they were playing for Shangó and I began to dance for him (I held off until they played for my babá) I never felt so honored in my life.

The entire week on the throne I was cared for and tended to. I didn’t even go to the bathroom without my madrina escorting me to the door. At least I could do my business by myself! hehehe. And I slept on the floor the whole week – by the end of the week I was used to it, but it didn’t make it any more comfortable. My ribs, hips, elbows, knees and butt were all sore from that hard floor by the end of the week. My itá went well. The itá is where they bring down all of the shells of the orishas you received and do a life reading for you. It was powerful and very humbling. I have so many new restrictions in my life that I must observe. These restrictions, or egue (EH-weh), are intended to prevent any possible harm that could come to me, to rebalance my energy to a more stable place, or to save my life. It was at my itá where I was told that I now had to dress in white for the rest of my life – so it looks like the “year in white” had become the “life in white” at least for me. Adjusting to my egue has been very difficult. Many of my favorite foods have been taken away from me as have certain places where I can never go again, including the beach which makes me very sad because that is where I used to visit my mother every afternoon. I guess she loves me so much that she would take me away with her if she could. It was at the itá where I was told what caminos (roads) of the orishas I had, and who my mother was – Yemayá Agana.

So I returned home to my new life with my orishas and set them up in my home. Elegba received his ebbó de entrada (entry sacrifice) which establishes his protection over the home. Going back to work was odd. I took two weeks off of work to go to New York and I was expecting a total fiasco when I returned. I found that things were okay for the most part. I did get some weird looks this month. The president of the company saw me eating lunch one day, sitting on my mat with my plate between my legs and laughed at me. I shot him quite a look, to which he responded, “Oh I like that, that’s cool.” (trying to be politically correct after he mocked my spirituality – can we just say “Lawsuit avoidance?”) Anyways, I had someone ask me if I was a painter, others asked me if I was a baker. One guy actually came up to me and jokingly asked “So is white the new thing?” I replied, “It is for me!” I am getting used to the looks I get from people, but I have to remember that every bad look someone gives you when you are dressed in white, is a spiritual cleansing. They take all of the negativity you have off of you and with them. Well I feel pretty freaking clean now! hehehe.

Next Chapter>>> Interesting Reception


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