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