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.
The case in point here is interesting at various levels. It has material motivations which seem to be the whirlwind’s driving force and it makes us face the blatant arrogance that some feel entitled to under the constitutional right to freedom of religion. A right not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.
On November 14, 2011, Dr. Christos Kioni posted on his Facebook a photo depicting a burning rooster over a grave in Florida. The caption on the photo reads:
“The client that was here this weekend can rest easy now. Her nemesis will never be able to harm her ever again in this life nor the next. As this black rooster died alive in flames, so does her ability to work juju against my client. Of course there is more to this spell that I am allowed to tell. © 2011 Dr. Christos Kioni. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. This picture is copyright protected.”
Out of respect for Dr. Kioni’s rights to the photo I will not post it in the article as I do not own those rights. However, I will direct readers at the end of the post to a link where you can see the picture as posted by the people who created a petition against Dr. Kioni, a Hoodoo and Palero from Brevard County, Florida. It is sufficient to say that the rooster lies over the grave, still with flames engulfing it and the name of the person in the grave can and has been identified.
The authors of the petition are not on the petition itself but I found out about it through the Facebook page of the Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR). There seem to be additional underlying currents of motivation related to money and power that shift the whirlwind but those are not my issues or concerns, thus I will not go into them. What I want to explore instead is the impact the actions of Dr. Kioni may or not pose for the ATR communities.
What is wrong with this picture? Let us analyze it step by step:
(1) The immolation of a bird for a religious ritual is not a standard practice in ATRs. Certainly displaying a photo of such an act is deeply troubling as it plainly depicts an act of animal torture and links it to ATRs, thus endangering our hard earned rights to animal sacrifice under the parameters of the law.
(2) Claiming that a person will not be able to harm someone in ‘this life or the next’ certainly makes warning bells go off. Who could guarantee such protection but God itself? When claims like this are made it makes ATR practitioners look boastful and irresponsible.
(3) Stating that there are more secrets hidden or ‘more to this spell that I am allowed to tell’ indicates that it is not a religious affair but sorcery or spell by hire. To me the he key word here is spell, as I do not consider my religious beliefs and practices spells.
The reaction to this petition is very interesting. I will focus on the reaction of insiders or initiates. Some have come out clearly to repudiate it, as they should because it endangers our rights to animal sacrifice and makes us look like sociopaths. Some others have stated to me in private conversations the sheer hypocrisy of the situation as it is not without precedent to find animal immolation in ATRs albeit irregularly done.
I want to share with you two comments posted on the Facebook page if the AIRR by the owner of blog.vouduboston.com, Bozanfè Bon Ougan. These are reproduced with his written consent and gather clearly sentiments that I am sure are echoed by initiates in the religious ATR community at large:
Comment #1 (Sunday, December 4, 12:06 a.m.)
“Even where things like this may or may not exist in the traditionalist religions world, they should not ever be made public or bragged about in front of those who would not understand anything; when and where this may or may not be applicable is not something an actual traditionalist would ever make known in anything other than the most intimate of possible settings.”
Comment #2 (Sunday, December 4, 3:15 p.m.)
A few things need to be said and said clearly; they wont (sic) be popular views, but they need to be stated.
I know nothing about Palo; I will defer to others as to their judgement (sic) of whether or not such ceremony exists in Palo; but I need to say that it *does* exist after a fashion in other ATRs; its (sic) not fair or realistic to issue the blanket statement that holocaust sacrifice does not exist in the ATR world…. but where it is found and the circumstances by which it is legitimately practiced are not found in Kioni’s practice nor in his statements.
Second, I applaud those who take a stand against this; truly. That said, statements about the nature of such practices “no longer being needed” or the “vulnerable non-human sentient beings” inject foreign material where it does not belong… the same arguments have been used time and again by those who feel none of the traditionalist faiths should make use of any animal sacrifice, claiming that our evolution as people (into a styrofoam tray and plastic wrap meat purchasing society) means that such things as life energy exchange are no longer needed… which, frankly speaking as a traditionalist priest, is as far from the truth as one can get.
Non-initiates and non-members of these faiths are not instructed in how to perform ANY animal life involving act for this very reason; it is a need to know basis held by those brought into these faiths in the traditional way, who continue to uphold ancestral tradition the way it was brought to them (or the way they were brought in). Honor to them! It is not an easy road combining the modern world with the maintenance of ancient ancestral ways… but where they are maintained they must by nature reject efforts to inject foreign material from other cultures, ways, and belief systems (as to include those pieces would be to alter them into an alien form, destroying the very notion of ancestral tradition.) Statements about what is allowed to happen or of opinions about what may or may not transpire within the veils of initiatory tradition cannot logically or reasonably be made by those who are not a part of those systems or initiatory lineages; the knowledge to make an informed statement simply isnt (sic) there.
Likewise, those who have the knowledge of the practices in question would never make such public airing of them; it is not only disrespectful to the practice of the ATR’s as it publically casts them in a very negative light, but it shows a disregard for the laws of the land when there are both other ways to practice in places where such things are forbidden or the relative ease involved in travel to a place where the legal situation does not forbid such practice. THIS CASE in particular shows a great misunderstanding to those eyes able to see where the patterns are; it also shows forms of abuse and corruption to eyes able to see those patterns.
THIS CASE, the way it is presented, is NOT a valid manifestation of an ATR practice; know, however, that in certain circumstances practices like this MAY BE FOUND within certain ATR’s. THIS CASE is why these extremely rare circumstances and acts are not made public, because entitlement-complexes lead fools to think they know what to do, how to do it without the guidance and protections necessary, callous disregard for the laws of the land… and instead they manage to make public fools of themselves. The self created (sic) publicity involved in THIS CASE shows me first that it is by an individual who doesn’t (sic) have the knowledge and doesn’t (sic) have the respect required to hold the knowledge; he has nothing more than a desire for power that manifested itself in creating a heinous act and bragging about it to cause admiration via fear. In reality, this was not jumping out of a plane with a parachute; this was just jumping out of a plane and publicly landing face first. No amount of dusting off and saying “I meant to do that” or “Its (sic) not what it looks like” will fix this. This is hubris, this is stupidity, and he deserves what he gets. However, practices like this, to be fair, do exist under lock and key in the required toolboxes of many pracitioners (sic); the choice to make use of them is one thing, and the choice to stay silent about them is another. Ancient faiths have their secrets, some light and some dark. Where the law of the land is concerned, we choose to listen or we choose to ignore at our own peril.
I would be VERY CAREFUL about declaring that all religion behooves itself to expose the grey areas where it may rub raw against legal code; in this country, most states have rather strict laws against the ownership of double edged blades, yet Wiccans feel entitled to break those laws via athame possession claiming the tool is a requisite of their faith; the respectful consumption of cannibinoids to the Rastafarians or of Peyote to the Tribes who maintain that path would also run afoul of the dominant legal code; true, few if any of these options include the idea of cruelty, but they all risk decimation if the letter of the law is stripped from Spirit.”
What we choose to do as a community when faced with cases like this is what will make or break us. I ask Tatas, Yayas, Ougans and Mambos, Iyaloshas, Babaloshas and Awos, what would you do if one of your godchildren steps out of boundary and shames you in public by exposing photos and rituals that create controversy by steering public perception about ATRs into the negative limelight?
There are ways to obtain relevancy and status in the ATR communities without harming the community and grandstanding. Let that be one of the lessons to distill from the unfortunate case of the ‘burning rooster.’ That said, it is imperative to select carefully what we share as initiates, how we share it and where we choose to do it. I close with another quote from Herbert, through one of his characters, Stilgar who said, “Sometimes it’s better to miss an opportunity than to invite disaster.”
Oní Yemamayá Achagbá and Yaya Nkisi