In Memory of Mark Moellendorf AKA Abouja Bo Houngan

R.I.P. Mark Moellendorf aka Aboudja Bo Houngan
The only kind of love that hurts is the one that is left unexpressed, unsaid, unlived. This week a dear friend died, Mark Moellendorf also known as Aboudja Bo Houngan Asodwe kidi Rakonte DaGuinea La Menf’o. I wish I would have had more time with him, but life is not always as we want or wished for. So we are left holding on to the hope there will be a tomorrow to share which in this case is not a possibility. The only tomorrow we have now is the intersections that may or not open between the world of the spirits and the living.

I first met Mark in Austin, Texas 18 years ago. We met through Karelina Hartwell (ibae baye n’tonu, my sister in Osha also known as Osha Lobi). I got along with Mark right away; he was a fascinating character, vibrant, unique and had a wicked sense of humor. However, what most impressed me then, and it still does to the day he died, was his deep love for the Lwa.

There are many stories I could tell from Mark and his interaction with spirits and Lwa, but I will tell two that stand out from all. It was a cool evening in the Hill Country in Texas where we gathered at Dripping Springs for CMA, a camping festival held around Samhain. Mark had arranged to have a Servi Lwa in public and we were busy about helping him and Karelina to set up. It was fun, colorful and so very well organized. Towards the middle of it, Mark got mounted and he was gone in a flash. His body was taken by what believe was Lwa Ti-jean Petro. The impressive thing that I remember is that during possession he approached a bonfire and pulled a piece of red hot wood and started to chew up on it as it was candy. I could not believe my eyes; I could see the pieces of ember being chewed up and no blisters, no burns, not even the sound of flesh being charred away as it should have been. This Lwa was relishing every bit of it. Then he stuck his arms on the fire and pulled them out like two torches, I had to contain myself as my instinct was to run for the hills and get a fire extinguisher to put him out. But of course that was my logical mind speaking. I did none of that, I just watched mesmerized and learned about the mysteries of the Lwa and their power over our bodies.

Mark also consumed a great deal of rum spiced with very hot peppers…I was wondering how drunk he would be after that trance, but to my surprise he was fully coherent after it and was chatting away enthusiastically with me as he prepared a mean pot of gumbo over a coal fire. I distracted him with a silly joke and he touched a hot coal by accident and stepped back screaming some choice words and laughing at the same time. Yes, this was the same guy who had not even a half hour before chewed up on hot coals and who drank like a fish all that hot spicy rum. He was now holding a rag over his fingers and checking out his burn.

There was a time where I considered taking Mark as my godparent and initiating in Voodoo, but the Orisha was my true calling and he knew this better than anyone from the start. So my devotions to the Lwa were limited to attendance to some festivities, most of them held by Mark and Karelina. One of them stands out in my mind because it had a funny moment to it.

We had gathered at Karelina’s place in Austin and were celebrating a fete for Dambalah. The set up was really nice and he had just finished doing the veves on the floor when the police showed up, no doubt ‘invited’ by the neighbors who saw all those ‘strange’ people dressed in white and decided we were up to no good.

The police officer was Hispanic and walked in sort of unceremoniously onto ritual space. Upon realizing that he was standing over the veve Dambalah, he jumped back one step with a horrified expression on his face, the color had drained from his tanned face and he was making the sign of the cross over and over. Poor guy, he thought he was going to be cursed or die or something horrid.

Mark assured him that no harm had been done and he would be just fine. However, the neighbors where not going to have the same luck because Mark was very pissed. When the cops left for good, Mark diligently set up to do a little working to let’s say “reward” the nosy neighbors.

Over the years that followed, life took us on different directions. I got initiated in Osha, he got deeper into Voodoo and he was happy about it. We stayed in touch but never really had the opportunity to share again like we did back in the days where we both lived in Texas. Karelina who was a nexus between us passed away and we were both again joined, this time in grief.

Loosing friends is never easy. However, knowing they have gone to live with the ancestors and that they somehow watch over us from the other side makes matters a bit more tolerable.

Wherever you are old friend, I hope you are happier. Wherever you are, devoted priest, I hope you are blessed. You will always find a place at my home, particularly now that you can visit at will, no airplane fares, no bus routes, just drop in and enjoy the candles and water at will.

My love is with you always Mark.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

The Case of the Burning Rooster: When Politics, Money and Religion Ride in the Same Cart the Whirlwind Follows

The Case of the Burning Rooster
I am a fanatic of Frank Herbert’s Dune and it is through the words of his character Rev. Mother Ramallo that I have summarized an issue facing us as religious community, the tendency to prostitute religious practices for material gain and the inherent lack of judgment it unchains in many.

The original quote reads “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows,” however, in our case, there is yet another volatile element added to the mix, it is called MONEY.

Everything we do in our religious practices is under a magnifying glass. This is a reality that we cannot escape. Our struggle to defend religious freedom and the right to animal sacrifice have seen its day in court not once but two times. The first time was in the Supreme Court case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah and recently, in the Merced v. City of Euless. Both cases meant blood, sweat and tears for those who championed them, Oba Ernesto Pichardo and my godfather Jose R. Merced. It is thanks to their efforts that we can seek shelter in the law to practice animal sacrifice, but this must be done within the boundaries of the same law that protects us.

Here are more realities we have to live with, African Traditional Religions (ATR) are misunderstood, stereotyped and perceived by the greater majority of people in the world as superstitios practices and not real religions. Therefore, when practitioners of Palo, Santeria and Voodoo or any other ATR step out of boundary and commit acts that shine a negative light over our communities, it is imperative to take action and to analyze the situation as a community. Only those who are initiates and who belong to our communities have the right to determine the course of action that will steer us. Outsiders are free to their opinions but to me that is where the buck stops as I do not rule myself by their criticism, motivations or ideas.

Furthermore, money is not a motivating factor in my religious convictions, practices or blog opinions. I do not use my religion as money-making machine, nor I have clients or read for clients. Fine if others do, but know that when they peddle religion as a good or service they run the risk of missteps and colossal lack of judgments like the one I am about to discuss.

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Animal Sacrifice, a Right not Necessarily Guaranteed

Humane Treatment of Animals is Imperative
There are no absolutes when it comes to rights. The legal system in the United States allows for continuous challenge of all and any laws. Therefore, the hard earn right to animal sacrifice that took years and massive resources to be won at the Supreme Court level is and will always be open to challenge.

It is imperative that all practitioners of the Lukumí community and of all other African Traditional Religions are fully aware that their conduct and behavior when performing animal sacrifice will always be under scrutiny and that it affects not only those around their ilés (osha houses) but also the community at large. There is no way to circumvent this reality.

A recent event such as the arrest on July 11, 2011 of Raúl Armenteros, a Cuban porn star who was transporting animals in a van with the windows rolled up and under sweltering conditions in Miami, Florida, sheds a negative light onto our community, not once but with twice the power.

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First Anniversary of The Mystic Cup

The Mystic Cup Celebrates its 1st Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of the launching of the mystic cup. During this past year we have seen a steady and rapid growth in our readership. We have also experienced a growth in the number of contacts with both individuals and groups. We have been encouraged by the many instances of positive feedback from readers. Our aim has always been to write about spiritual experiences, and most of us who are on the Mystic Cups writing crew are in some manner involved with African Traditional Religions (ATRs). Thus, most of our articles reflect this involvement. We also work towards connecting with other members of the broader ATR community and to discuss our shared issues, opinions, gripes and things learned along the way. We have also striven to provide clear and truthful information about the ATR experience so that people outside that community can get a better understanding and a sense of the flavor of practicing an ATR.

We have been especially pleased to see an increase of readership from outside of North America and the Caribbean. We have noticed an increase of interest in ATR’s and Spiritism within Ceremonial Magick, Wiccan and Neo-Pagan circles. We hope that our articles have been informative, thought provoking and entertaining.

In the coming year we will tackle some topics that we initially envisioned writing about but have not yet addressed, some will be rather hot and volatile so be prepare for some healthy debates, after all…the unexamined life is not worth living and certainly spirituality deserves careful and constant examination.

We would also like to see more submissions of articles from others about their own spiritual traditions and experiences. In closing, our core team Janus, Omimelli and I, would like to say thank you for your support and readership. Stay tuned… there is more to come.

Olo Obatalá

P.S. Since Omimelli is our main writer, I want to post one of her favorite songs as a little present for all the long hard hours of gathering and preparing materials for The Mystic Cup.

Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

African Traditional Religions Overexposed: How much is too much to show?

Fostering Understanding by opening the Igbodu Doors on a Día del Medio or Throne Day

Empowerment in the hands of fools will only lead to the corruption of traditions. I have spoken before about the double edge sword that the Internet represents. It can be a glorious instrument for education, networking and sharing of ideas, but it can also lead us on a slippery road to the destruction of core aspects of African Traditional Religions (ATRs).

There are some houses that want to show off their self-perceived might by plastering on the Internet photographs of rituals that are held sacred to the Santeria, Ifá, Voodoo and Palo communities amongst other ATRs. I find myself thorn on the issue of how much is too much to show. On one hand, some images can open minds and hearts to a better understanding of our religious cultures, but on the other, some images simply go beyond what should be seen by the eyes of those who have not pledged their life to the service of the Orisha, Lwá, Ifá or Nkisis.

Let us deal with some concrete examples to illustrate when it is necessary to open the doors of a temple to illustrate that there indeed is nothing dirty or shameful to hide in our religious practices.

Continue reading “African Traditional Religions Overexposed: How much is too much to show?”