Polarities & Symbiosis in Esoteric Voudon
First published in ATUA: Voices from La Société Voudon Gnostique (Ed. David Beth) by Fulgur Limited, London: 2011.
The darkest secrets are hidden within the brightest light
“Sit down, my young friend. Make yourself comfortable and listen. I want to tell you a story: Once there was a time, when the children of our people sat down at the feet of their parents and grandparents to listen carefully to the stories and legends of the times long gone: of brave heroes, strong gods and beautiful goddesses; of strange animals, hidden places and most wonderful powers. The children knew that they were not merely being entertained but taught about their own reality; they knew that at the heart of every story, there lay a grain of wisdom, a guiding star. Listening to their elders prepared them for the time when they had to listen even more carefully to the teachings of those wise men and women who disclosed to them the sacred mysteries of life. These often contained hidden keys to eventually help unlock the doors to the passageways that lead to the other worlds: the worlds of the dead, the spirits, the gods and goddesses. ….” 1By the present author. If not explicitly marked otherwise, this essay’s chapter-preludes (in Italics) are all written by Jessica Grote.
In our contemporary times, myths and legends have almost become reduced to a mere form of entertainment. Even when used for educational purposes, people barely break through the surface, seeing myth only as a fictitious story concocted by earlier generations to explain a world they could not understand. Hidden in such a view is the idea that myths are nothing more than a poetically shaped attempt to rationalize unexplainable phenomena. While a child will likely perceive something deeper hidden within a myth, feel something imperceptible speak to his inner being, this will (in most cases) become a faint memory when he has grown up. Like most adults with a respective education, he will be able to interpret the symbolism of a certain myth, maybe even grasp some well-known ‘truth’ in conceptual language but will no longer experience that brief moment of soul-movement, when the myth connected him for the tiniest moment to the mysterious reality of our kosmos.
This unique reality reveals itself as constantly changing, an interrelated series of images which can only be perceived by our soul (Reality of Images 2The Reality of Images (German: “Die Wirklichkeit der Bilder”) builds an essential part of the work of Ludwig Klages. See for example the respective part of his magnum opus Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele. Compare also David Beth’s “Sanctuary of Bones” in this compilation (on the subject of primordial images). ). To make such an experience of our soul known to our (day-)consciousness, we can only use symbols. Ludwig Klages rightfully called the symbol the origin of myth (based on Johann Jakob Bachofen’s dictum that the myth is the exegesis of the symbol).3Compare Franz Tenigl, Ludwig Klages, Bouvier, 1997, p. 110. And Mircea Eliade also noticed that many myths reveal a structure of reality that is not accessible to empirical, rational perception.4Compare Mircea Eliade, Die Religionen und das Heilige, Insel, 1998, p. 481. Myths and their symbols are doors of perception which allow a deeper glimpse of reality than that of modern day science. Both Klages and Eliade were well acquainted with Gnostic and occult thought, and it is from an esoteric point of view that we can affirm that symbolic thought and language, just as symbolic art, are able to convey a Gnostic experience of reality.
This does not mean that just any symbol or myth can function in this manner. 5True symbols are never random although they contain several layers of truth and lend themselves to different readings. Compare Franz Tenigl, Ludwig Klages, p. 112. Moreover, to objectively evaluate the truth of a symbol-interpretation 6Just as well as evaluating the deeper reality of a Gnostic realization somebody claimed to have and which is up to then but a subjective illumination. requires initiatic knowledge of the symbolism. Myths and symbols have a superficial level which can be easily known and grasped. Deeper layers of symbols (as they are used in a particular environment or group), however, can only be understood, if one has been taught the common symbolic language (of this environment/group), i.e. the symbolism of a spiritual system. Esoteric language is primarily symbolic and gives deeper meaning to the symbols’ surface, which can only be recognized if one knows and understands the symbols. The deepest layer of a myth or symbol cannot be chosen at will. It is part of the Reality of Images which can only be perceived by the Gnostic faculties of our soul. The taproot of a symbol can be truly accessed only when possessing initiatic knowledge – any other contact is sporadic and by chance, and at best leads to subjective enlightenment.7Paragraph paraphrased from a personal conversation between me and David Beth. The reason for this is quite clear and has been expressed in different esoteric writings and contexts throughout the ages: knowledge equals one’s state of Being. Initiation brings about change in human nature and leads to subtle but essential differences within the individual. This difference corresponds with “different sorts of knowledge”. 8“The knowledge acquired in this way cannot possibly be within everyone’s reach, nor can it be transmitted to everyone without thereby degrading and desecrating it. There are different sorts of knowledge, and their differentiation corresponds to that which initiation, in its various degrees, brings about in human nature. This knowledge cannot be truly understood or “realized” by any but those who are at the same level, or who have an equal degree in a hierarchy that is endowed with a rigorously objective and ontological character.” (Ea, “The Nature of Initiatic Knowledge.” In: Julius Evola et al., Introduction to Magic, Inner Traditions, 2001, p. 29). It is a point well illustrated in several of the ancient Gnostic books and gospels of the Nag Hammadi Library, where it is frequently mentioned that Jesus taught individual disciples “secret knowledge”. 9Compare for example The Gospel of Thomas, Saying 13. For example in: James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, HarperCollins, 1990, p. 128. The type of knowledge one receives depends on what one is able to understand in that moment of time, which consequently depends on one’s position on the path of transformation. The latter, however, can only be evaluated by a qualified teacher. This is why initiation and teacher-student-relationships are vitally important within the Gnostic group La Société Voudon Gnostique.
In times of old, as the introductory ‘story’ has alluded, the importance of initiatic teaching was paramount. Those who were able to find the hidden keys within a myth proved themselves capable to become in turn “wise men and women” one day: priests, magicians, initiators to the esoteric Art of Life. The path an initiate had to take in life was (and is) shaped by both his individual abilities and the needs of the group as a whole. It is only in our modern times that demands like “all occult knowledge should be universal” have become popularized. This type of wishful thinking simply reflects individual fears to be left behind, materialistic relativism or a will to power.
Preparation, life experience and the guidance and initiations we receive from our Gnostic elders and our teacher are what shape our ears and heart to understand the deeper truths ‘hidden’ within a story/myth. These ideas should be kept in mind while examining the Voudon mythology in the following pages. I will introduce three major female Lwa (Erzulie, Ayizan, Maman Brigitte), illustrating the significance of polarities and symbiosis in Esoteric Voudon. My main focus will lie upon an analysis of the symbolism of Voudon (and Kosmic) Gnosis, thereby allowing the reader to glimpse how these myths/Lwa interrelate with the transformative work within the S.V.G.. Behold, the darkest secrets are hidden in the brightest light – but that is still within the labyrinth…
Polarity and symbiosis
“Fundamental to this work, especially in its Kosmic expression, is an understanding of the world as polarities and poles. When we strive for the androgynous state we must overcome the polarities of male and female within ourselves, and this is only possible if we are able to recognize the inherent unique esoteric qualities and possibilities of male and female and use them symbiotically. We recognize the esoteric significance of those myths which join to every god or hero, every transcendent power, a corresponding female bride – their Shakti, that which ‘empowers’.”David Beth
In his book Voudon Gnosis, David Beth has aptly shown that there are many connections between Kosmic Gnosis and Voudon Gnosis. To create symbiotic relations out of some specific inner polarities 10For example (but not exclusively) the inner polarity of male and female mentioned in the quote. Compare also: “(…) to become aware that you have within yourself both masculine and feminine elements assembled. Thus, bisexuality seems to be the most comprehensive form of sexual self-awareness, for such an understanding sees the elements in proper perspective, some as they are positive, others as they are negative. The total picture must account for the basic differences as well as the basic patterns between and among all of the elements. This is possible only with a logical bisexuality or bipolarity, which links all of the elements, together forming the perfect system of unity.” (Michael Bertiaux, Course of the Monastery of the Seven Rays, 2nd year). is an obligatory requirement for Gnostic transformation; this transformation is the central common endeavor of both currents and its ultimate result has been termed “Kosmic Resurrection” by David Beth. 11Compare especially David Beth, Voudon Gnosis, p. 109. Such a symbiotic relation of the poles must not be confused with their negation or transcendence. They rather form a unique type of ‘creative tension’ that animates the unity and can be used by the initiate.
So what does polarity mean? It is a special relation of opposites, a dualism inherent in a unity. According to Ludwig Klages, two poles are opposites which can neither replace each other nor exist without each other.12Ludwig Klages, Vom Wesen des Bewußtseins, Bouvier, 1988, p. 53f. Examples would be night and day, light and dark, life and death. The relevant point is not to regard them as a duality only but realize their reciprocal, complementary relation. The Kosmic Gnostic example per se would be elemental Life with its poles of soul and body: “Elemental life forms a single spatiotemporal connection, polarised into soma and psyche (microcosmically as cell, macrocosmically as All).”13Ludwig Klages, Rhythmen und Runen, Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1944, p. 478.
The original state of Being as it is also described in many cosmogonic myths would be a symbiotic existence, in which the poles are not yet separated. Consider for example the androgynous being of Mawu-Lisa in the mythology of the Fon people. Gnostic transformation does not mean to simply re-establish this original state, however. It comprises not only a (re-)uniting of poles but also a symbiotic fusion with the separating agent after it has become gnostically refined (in Kosmic thought: the spirit-principle). Gnostic experience and awareness is not the same as that of the mystic, who completely merges with the godhead, thereby losing his individuality. Kosmic Resurrection does not mean to simply transcend polar being and become one with the kosmos, but to simultaneously keep awareness and command of the individual, creative power of the Spirit. Joining our poles in constant symbiotic coalescence is the essential precondition: “Only in polarity existence is final.”14Ludwig Klages, Rhythmen und Runen, p. 467.
There exist many polarities within and without ourselves as the whole structure of Being appears infused with them (consider the yin/yang teaching within Chinese philosophy for example).We will focus mainly on the importance of polarities within the S.V.G. related to Gnostic transformation. This corresponds as to how polarities can be seen and experienced in the Lwa of Esoteric Voudon and how this is expressed and experienced within the esoteric work and Luciferian laboratories of the S.V.G..
Exploring Lwa energies
“The Loa are the laws of the mystical universe and these laws are persons, intelligent and self-conscious. They are spiritual and divine happenings and they are the Gods.”Michael Bertiaux
For the purpose of symbiotically fusing our polarities, we first need to actually recognize and experience them. Frequently, it is much easier for human beings to notice certain aspects in others than within themselves; hence the ability of myths and stories to advise (e. g. by identification with the hero/role model). Consequently, we can often more easily recognize polarities when having noticed them in someone else before. This however does not mean an intellectual realization only. There are many myths that do not only represent polarity in their plot and figures (e. g. the hero and his antagonist) but also within the hero or the gods and goddesses.15Compare Mircea Eliade, Die Religionen und das Heilige, p. 483. Now a central working method in Esoteric Voudon (just as in the exoteric religion of Voudon) is possession, the mostly short-term union with a Lwa. When actively experiencing the Lwa, we can realize his/her inner polarities and relate them to our own, within and without. Active experience is the element that differentiates possession in our unique esoteric context16Concerning the topic of possession in Esoteric Voudon see also David Beth’s “Sanctuary of Bones” and Fr. Jaivala’s “Eros and the Cult of Ghuédhé” in this compilation. from possession in the exoteric cults, where people are said to neither experience nor remember the actual phenomenon. Within the S.V.G. there are several methods available to work with Les Mystéres and reach an ecstatic possession. The modus operandi depends not only on the initiatic level of the adept but also on the work intended. Below, there will be given a short instruction for a simple invocation-like ritual which is not only suited to research the polarities of a certain Lwa but also to make oneself familiar with that Lwa, (re-)connect and/or explore for which kind of work s/he might be suited. The better one knows and understands the symbolism related to a particular Lwa, the easier it will become to connect to this Lwa’s energy. This is one of several reasons why we will focus here on three of the major Lwa as many of their symbols are widely known and accessible through profane literature. 17Two further reasons would be that all three share a common trait (see Concluion) and that they illustrate the holistic approach within the S.V.G. For while we dominantly work with spirits, methods and elemtens commonly attributed as ‘evil’ or ‘dark’, we just as well acknowledge the necessity to include work and aspects commonly attributed to the positive pole. Compare David Beth, Voudon Gnosis, p. 66. However, it should be clear that there are Lwa and aspects of a Lwa that are only known within our Société and knowledge of their symbolism is only given from teacher to student.
One final, important note: the gender of a Lwa does not matter with regards to possession. In Voudon, the possessed is always said to be the bride of the Lwa. Esoterically this is easily explained: the soul is the passive recipient of the penetrating Lwa energy. Each Lwa is accessible to both men and women. Additionally, although the Lwa’s gender might be of symbolic significance, his/her domain or power is usually not based on gender. While a “symbiotic occultism” 18On the topic of symbiotic occultism, see David Beth, Voudon Gnosis, p.104, as well as Jessica Grote’s “Blood & Tears. Women and ‘Northern Magic’: Symbiotic Occultism.” as realized within the S.V.G. stresses the importance of the differences between men and women (and the feminine and masculine), it does not mean that the Lwa energies are not open to both, only that they might be used differently.
Following the ritual-instructions, some experiences and results drawn from such workings will be shared in short portraits of three Lwa, illustrating the fundamental role of polarities and symbiosis in Esoteric Voudon. These accounts can also easily serve as a basis for further individual explorations by the reader.
Preparation: Research the Lwa to find at least one symbol and vévé for him or her. As already stated, this is easiest to do with the major Lwa. Examples for symbolic representations of the Lwa are colour, beverage, plant, food or anything else related to that Lwa. Perfume is a great choice, especially with Erzulie. You should have at minimum two candles (one in white and one in an appropriate colour for the chosen Lwa), some incense and the respective vévé. A printed picture of the vévé should be just your model though because drawing the vévé – either with pencil on paper, chalk on blackboard or with flour on the ground – is a step on the path of your exploration. It not only helps to center oneself but it is the first ‘calling’ of that particular Lwa. Moreover, the meditative focus on drawing the vévé allows your soul to more easily connect to the Lwa and his/her domain.19One reason for this would be that a symbol is in itself already a symbiotic union of polarities. Compare: “In the symbol (…) has clairvoyant act tossed and knotted together Soul and Body. The symbol is a representative sign of facts simultaneously of inner and outer events.” (Ludwig Klages, Rhythmen und Runen, p. 366). You might use appropriate music in the background depending upon your intuition.
Instruction: Sit naked in your (dark) ritual space, centre yourself and light the white candle. Ask Papa Leghba, Master of the crossroads, to open the gates for you.20You can find examples for such a request to Leghba in David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis (e.g. p. 127). Start drawing the vévé of the Lwa you want to connect to. When finished, light the second candle and intonate that Lwa’s name. Ask him/her to come to you and allow you to experience his/her power. This does not have to be your exact choice of words. You can also offer your body and soul. Invite the Lwa. Ask for help. You might repeat his/her name several times, repeat your call. Chant them. Whisper. Call. What to say, how to say it, what to do and when to do it (e.g. with other symbolic devices like drink or perfume) will come naturally to you as long as you ‘listen’ to your inner voice that is your soul. Remember, she is about to receive a lover so she will know how to act. If your rational thought overcomes you and blocks any intuitive notion, focus on the vévé and contemplate it as this will help to focus your concentration and attention.
You will know when the Lwa has arrived and you will feel when he/she takes leave again. In the latter case, you will most likely be instantly drawn back to a clear awareness and then can give your thanks and blow out the candles.
The weeping mistress: Erzulie – Love prevails
She closes her eyes; centres her perception on her physical sensations. She can feel how the cold pearls around her neck get warmed up by her body. She perceives the heat of the fire, the hard beating of her heart. She can still smell the perfume between her breasts. She senses a faint, tickling glimmer of lust, physical desire. And then she feels the throbbing of the earth. As her physical boundaries loosen, she begins to intonate HER name….speaking to HER…calling out to HER…
Darkness. Nothing. But ME.
The cries of a lonely night.
Woken up from a perfect dream.
Woken up. To Suffering. Despair. Life’s sorrows.
MY heart aches. I feel sadness. Eternally?
WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?!
Why can you not love ME? Like I love you. All of you. I love you.
I always do.
Why can we not be the perfect dream – you and me?
And then there is a gentle breeze. No crying. No suffering. No heartache. Nothing. But LOVE. Eventually, I am LOVE – pure, innocent, all-encompassing LOVE. No matter how much you hurt ME, how much you suppress ME, I am there. I will not vanish. I am silent… sweet… warm… beautiful… love.
(“Erzulie”, July 2010)
One of the most famous female Lwa in Haitian Voudon is Erzulie, the lunar Lwa of love and beauty. Her appearance as Erzulie Freda Dahomey21Erzulie Freda Dahomey is just one of many more Erzulies and should not be confused with them. It is the present author’s opinion though that other Erzulies like the petro-Lwa Erzulie Dantor and Erzulie Ge-Rouge are different aspects of one and the same ‘Erzulie-essence’ to which Erzulie Freda Dahomey offers the easiest access, especially for the inexperienced. is very welcome during religious ceremonies as she is quite flirtatious and generous; her ceremonies often end in weeping and crying however as she can suddenly be convinced that she has been wronged by her serviteurs and is not loved enough. This rather profane feeling well known all over the world, has a much more metaphysical side to it than simple self-pity. Erzulie’s crying anchors in the deepest grief of a loving heart: “To cling to the temporal as if it was eternal – that is the inescapable tragic of love.”22Ludwig Klages, Rhythmen und Runen, p. 349. This love is related to Life itself rather than to one particular lover. Erzulie’s love is encompassing and powerful in its purity. Actually, those traits often focused upon in profane descriptions of her (her apparent promiscuity, her bearing three wedding bands of three of the major Lwa as well as taking many human husbands herself),23Compare for example Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti, Schocken Books, 1972, p. 111f. might esoterically be read as the prototype of Esoteric Love, which does not focus on another being but on the lover within (see also Conclusion).
Erzulie is also a divinity of dreams and dreaming, and her dream is one of (unattainable) perfection. Perfection being what mankind always strives to reach and preserve, especially in the area of love, yet never will be able to accomplish as long as bound by time and space. It is this paradox, already expressed by the quote above, which contains the often tragic woe of human existence: the yearning for a kind of permanence that does not and cannot exist.
When at night, I look at the moon and stars, I seem stationary, and they to hurry. Our love of the real draws us to permanence, but health of body consists in circulation, and sanity of mind in variety or facility of association.From: Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”.
The only thing permanent is the yearning itself, the dream. This is why Erzulie’s weeping is eventually of a far greater grief, much more existential. In exoteric possessions, it usually only stops when she finally falls asleep. She has been poignantly described as “the dream impaled eternally upon the cosmic cross-roads”.24Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen, McPherson & Company, 2004, p. 145.
Erzulie also represents moon and water, and thus the symbiotic complements to the sun and eucharistic wine of the Voudon Christ, Leghba. Erzulie’s ‘crucifixion’, her impalement on the axis mundi (in exoteric Voudon represented by the poteau-mitan), is often depicted in her vévé, which dominantly features her main symbol, a heart. While the heart has sometimes been understood as a solar symbol, as the centre of the body, the shape of the heart-symbol is based on an upside-down triangle which is (esoterically) a symbol of the feminine principle; this alludes to the liberating powers of Eros (see also Conclusion). This is not to say that the heart may not be understood as a solar symbol. It depends on context (compare for example “The Heart of Leghba” in Bertiaux’s The Voudon Gnostic Workbook). When the heart-symbol is related to an expressively feminine figure as Erzulie, an understanding of it as solar (and masculine) could even stress the aspect of symbiosis. Significantly, in exoteric Voudon both Leghba and Erzulie share as ritual attributes the heart (and the blood), which supports reading (one layer of) the symbol as the eucharistic, alchemical fusion of male and female, sun and moon. 25Milo Rigaud, Secrets of Voodoo, City Lights Books, 1985, p. 122. Concerning the Gnostic alchemical fusion in the eucharist, see also: “When Sun and Moon unite…” [JG: no longer available online; might be shared at a later point]. On the topic of the alchemical symbiosis of sol and luna see also Shannon Esmeralda’s essay “Ophidian Pathways and the Heart of Blood” in this compilation.
The transformative power of the Gnostic eucharist, the symbiosis of male and female poles, the all-uniting might of Eros; these all are essential to the Gnosis of our current. Within Esoteric Voudon, as represented by the S.V.G., Erzulie builds a link to this alchemical fusion as well as to the significance of Esoteric Love. This becomes clear when considering that the female path in Esoteric Love is also intertwined with grieving tears. In the S.V.G. tears are also used for alchemical means and the tears resulting of a possession by Erzulie thus have more than just symbolic meaning. 26With regards to the alchemical use of fluids within the S.V.G., see David Beth’s essay “Sanctuary of Bones” in this compilation. On the topic of Esoteric Love see especially his “A-mor: an initiated analysis of Love” in Voudon Gnosis (pp. 105-118). A more lenghty article on the female path of Esoteric Love (within a Kosmic Gnostic context) is a work in progress by the present author. [JG: might be shared at a later point]. Erzulie Freda Dahomey can be contacted to establish a first link to these areas of work (alchemical fusion, Esoteric Love) and raise the initiate’s soul-faculties and understanding, allowing the initiate to see with the Sufi’s ‘eyes of the heart’. As the divinity of dreams, Erzulie is also helpful in the area of dream-work, especially instructional dreams. Other aspects of Erzulie, as Erzulie Ge-Rouge for instance, lead deeper into the labyrinth of Esoteric Love (and offer even greater alchemical options). At the same time, the esoteric Erzulie constantly teaches us a most important lesson upon this path: Love (Eros) will prevail!
The mother of priests: Ayizan – From darkness to light
Golden shadows moving on their naked skin… flickering flames glowing in the darkness… flour falling softly to the ground… connecting worlds outside of space and time…
Their bodies are moving to the rhythm of the drums. She stops in mid-motion, still swaying to the rhythm. She dips her fingers into the holy oil, then tracing signs on her body. While applying the oil, she starts to sing… HER name… Help me, mother, teach me… the music is calling out to HER…
I see inside of you.
I know every layer, every secret, every dream. I know you.
I am your spiritual guide.
I will help you bring the hidden out of the dark into the light.
I am the mistress of true kings and queens.
I teach you: In order to heal, you need to unite
– but you can only unite that what you know.
I am uniting, embracing, guiding.I give birth to your soul’s majesty.
(“Ayizan”, September 2010)
There are different accounts of Ayizan in exoteric Voudon. She is sometimes said to be the wife of Leghba, sometimes his mother,27In both cases, she shares aspects with Erzulie and Ayida-Wedo. Though it might be explained by historic development and fusion of myths, it just as well illustrates that they are all different aspects of the feminine principle. Besides, Mircea Eliade has rightly shown that the paradox exchangeability of different gods and attributes in myths and legends, which contradicts logical, empirical knowledge just as well illustrates that these myths reveal an ontological domain not to be understood or realized by the rational mind (Die Religionen und das Heilige, p. 481f.). though usually she is depicted as the wife of Loco. It is the latter relationship which is of special interest in an esoteric context. Here she represents the female part of the symbiosis Loco-Ayizan, the primordial model for all houngans and mambos respectively. While representing her main symbol (the palm tree leaf), Ayizan’s vévé just as well displays a symbol for symbiotic union (the combined triangles), echoing the original androgynous divinity. Ayizan and Loco also echo all other male-female fusions and in particular the eucharistic symbiosis represented by Erzulie and Leghba. The latter is much more related to the polarity of the male and female principles (amongst other meanings), the former points to the result of a spiritual transformation. Ayizan is in particular the Lwa of the rites of initiation. The dark chamber in which the initiate is secluded before his spiritual birth is called her womb. Her strong connection to initiation, the gradual spiritual change of the initiate and the office of priest and priestess could not be made more obvious. However, Ayizan and Loco are not only protectors of the hounfor, the Voudon temple, but are also concerned with healing as well as directing the cosmic forces (the Lwa) in support of man’s transformation.
This holds just as true for Esoteric Voudon. Ayizan demonstrates the significance of initiatic knowledge and the teacher-student-relationship as it has been presented in the introduction and which is a vital part of La Société Voudon Gnostique. She willingly shares her wisdom about healing on all levels: psychic, emotional and of course spiritual. Ayizan strengthens the relation of the soul with the kosmos, and helps to recognize inner polarities. She may also help in matters of astral magic28Compare also Milo Rigaud, Secrets of Voodoo, p. 51: “So, just as the “magic purity of the astral powers of the center-post” is personified by the loa called Grande Ai-Zan (which signifies “knowledge of the mysteries of the astral through the cross”)…”. and serve as a powerful guide when an initiate is preparing for or about to enter the priesthood of the S.V.G.. This would likely require regular service and a kind of contract between her and the initiate.
Ayizan guards the priesthood in general and she is fond of teaching. She will teach any aspiring initiate about the responsibility and tasks which accompany the offices of a houngan or mambo. For no matter how individual and solitary a Gnostic path may be, within your spiritual family (and here Esoteric Voudon does not differ from its exoteric counterpart) you are responsible for others. The priests and priestesses are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the group. This is another reason why not everyone becomes a “wise man or woman” as it has been written in the introduction. From a Kosmic Gnostic view, Ayizan particularly symbolizes the process of refining one’s Spirit into a Life-serving agent. This is precisely the task of houngans and mambos inside the S.V.G.: to serve Life, becoming a conscious part of the kosmic soul and assisting in the spiritual maturing (and healing) of their ‘children’. Kosmic Resurrection, to travel from ignorant darkness to light.
Our Lady of the Cemetery: Maman Brigitte – The face of Death
Ruby-red drops of blood mix with the white flour. The strong alcohol is still burning in her throat. Passion overcomes her, a yearning, a desperate physical hunger, spreading her legs wide open, shivering through her body. She wants to embrace… the Dead. Fixing her gaze on the purple candle, raising it high above her head, she whispers… Maman… Ma mére… An irresistible urge has her pouring the purple wax over her body while calling out to HER…
You are walking down the long and sparely lit hallway.
Following a noise, a whisper, the distant echo of MY voice.
It is cold, you are alone and yet you know we are all around – waiting for you.
Treading on the path of the Unknown, you feel fear, my child, I know.
Be brave, go ahead, follow MY call, open that door.
I am over here, standing below the willow on that old cemetery.
Yes, it is music coming out of this crypt. Have a look, go inside, you will see strange rites but also merry dancing and laughter.
Dance with the Dead, my child! Dance with my children!
Do not take yourself too seriously!
I am the Mother of the Dead and we are everywhere. In fact, everyone is a walking Dead.
So why not laugh in the face of Death?
(“Mm Brigitte”, October 2010)
Maman Brigitte, wife of Baron Samedi, is one of the most revered Lwa. In exoteric Voudon, she is a protector of cemeteries, a council in questions of justice, and most importantly, mother to Les Ghuédhé and the Dead (at least those buried in cemeteries). Initiates of the S.V.G. are familiar to working with all kinds of Lwa and especially those of the Ghuédhé-families (known and unknown outside of our Société). But to all others it should be said clearly that even though Maman Brigitte is rather a benevolent Lwa, characteristics of Les Ghuédhé are naturally dominant with her. Erzulie Freda Dahomey for example shows an absolutely innocent sexual behaviour compared to all Ghuédhé, which reveals a deeper meaning when we take into consideration that on the outer levels of our work her domain is that of Esoteric Love while the Ghuédhé-spirits lead into sexual sorcery of an elemental type. In Voudon Gnostic rituals, when calling for and becoming possessed by Maman, urgent sexual drives as well as notions of self-mutilation and necrophilic visions have been encountered and can be expected. This mixture is in my experience often spiced by her unique sense of humour.
Ghuédhé-humour is known throughout Voudon to be quite obscene as judged by profane moral standards. Maman’s humour could be an obvious explanation for the experience of necrophilic visions, which might be unsettling for some as they usually become quite vivid. On a deeper layer, these visions perfectly illustrate the polarity represented by all Ghuédhé: sexuality – death.29Compare for example Francis King, “Voodoo”, p.267. In: Richard Cavendish, Trevor O. Ling (ed.), Mythologie, Komet, year not given, pp. 266-270. This polarity is one of the reasons why Ghuédhé-spirits figure so prominently in the work of the S.V.G. The polarity of death and sexuality has to be especially well understood and integrated when approaching the exploration of the Meon and the Nightside.30On the topic of exploring the Nighside of the Tree of Life and the Meon, see David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis, chapter “Mo Ayon: The Dark Doctrine”, pp. 64-75. In connection to this we can also understand the mentioned element of self-violation since pain opens up a vast range of transformative abilities. Not surprisingly, infliction of pain is therefore an elemental method in some areas of work within the S.V.G.,31Compare also David Beth’s essay “Sanctuary of Bones” in this compilation. and working with Maman Brigitte may help to access it.
With regards to the exploration of the Nightside, the Tree of Death, the necrophilic visions of the possession reveal even a deeper layer as the Ghuédhés’ combination of sex and death is connected to Maman Brigitte’s particular characteristic, maternity, giving birth to the Dead. She is a highly significant symbol of the eternal cycle of transformation (life and death, eternal change) as well as the transformative power of death (and the Dead). Moreover, it has been related to me by my teacher David Beth (and approved to be publicly shared) that in the higher initiatic ranks of the S.V.G., Madame Brigitte is also known as the maternal keeper of the astral shells of the Dead within the ghost worlds of Universe B.32On Universe B and its ghost worlds, compare David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis, chapter “Mo Ayon: The Dark Doctrine”, pp. 64-75. To speak with the words of Maman Brigitte: “It is in a mother’s face that you can behold the face of Death.”33From the present author’s ritual-journal, November 1st, 2010.
My pierced heart: Incorporating the Other – Conclusion
In mankind’s naïve prehistory the world of the body was unseparated from the world of the soul and therefore were also one outer and inner reality.Ludwig Klages
The “Other” has many different faces. It might be male or female, death or life, light or darkness, dream or nightmare. It might be within or without. It might be all or nothing, and it is all and nothing at one and the same time. The “Other” might be the shadow of the kosmos. Whatever it is to you in whatever moment depends on your own state of Being. The “Other” is the complementary pole. It has been outlined before that in order to reach the Gnostic perfection of our Self, certain poles need to be fused into a symbiotic union. The most effective means to incorporate the other pole is the Cosmogonic Eros,34For more information see Ludwig Klages’ Vom Kosmogonischen Eros [JG: by now also available in English thanks to Theion Publishing] and David Beth’s Voudon Gnosis. which is the unifying principle, the force to unite the poles, tangible in moments of eternity. The foundation for every symbiosis is to know both poles. You cannot incorporate what you have not encountered. This does not mean that someone feeling at home in the darkness has to spend just as much time in the light. Symbiosis is not equilibrium after all. But if one only focuses on one element without seeing the other, he will never be able to unite them. Exploring the Lwa energies has been introduced as a simple method to start recognizing and experiencing the “Other” while at the same time preparing to work with it. All three Lwa portrayed here illustrate the presence of polarities within and around ourselves and hint towards the significance of symbiosis:
Maman Brigitte, besides the Ghuédhé-polarity of sexuality and death, builds the opposite pole of maternity depicted in Erzulie (and Ayida-Wedo) when the latter is seen as mother of the Christ (in Haitian Voudon, Erzulie is (not without reason) syncretically fused with the Christian Virgin Mary). The transformative power of death (just as well encountered during life), is complemented by the transformative power of Eros. This polarity obviously has its mirror in the polarity of the son(s), Leghba-Ghuédhé. It supports clearly that motherhood holds a significant meaning to the union of poles. The creative power of the Mater might be regarded as the centre of the poles which holds the Being of all polarities not yet revealed. Motherhood in this view contains the life that was and the life that will be.35Compare Franz Tenigl, Ludwig Klages, p. 119f.
Maternity is also found with Ayizan, who gives spiritual birth to the initiate. Her main polarity can be seen in the area of healing. Here, the dominant polarity is that of sickness and healing/health. This aspect is strongly related to Ayizan’s role as spiritual mother. In order to heal a sickness, you have to know about and understand it. On a metaphysical level and from a Kosmic Gnostic view, the sickness (= the “Other”) is the separating power of Spirit; to heal this disease, the Spirit needs to be transformed. Even if you do not adhere to this Weltanschauung, you will likely agree that the spiritual birth, the transformation process of Initiation, is always a form of spiritual healing.
A significant aspect of this process may be found in the power of (Esoteric) Love. Erzulie, with her grief of the unattainable perfection, the weeping of the lover that cannot hold the moment, the cries of a suffering that feels to be eternal, still embodies above all the gentle, empowering might of love. The heart with its vast symbolism represents both, Love (Eros) and Soul. Erzulie, the heart impaled upon the axis mundi, can also be seen as Eros uniting soul and kosmos. But this union would not be a lasting one. Soul and kosmos belong to each other, they are essentially one. They are just experienced as separate due to our personal, individual awareness. As long as this awareness of separation is still functioning, they cannot be united. The active, creative principle however is exactly what a Voudon Gnostic wants to keep for it allows one to not only unite with but create a kosmos. This is depicted with Erzulie’s heart-symbol when the latter is shown not only as impaled upon the crossroads but as ‘pierced’ by a sword or dagger, e.g. in the vévé of Erzulie Dantor.36In Haitian Voudon, this pierced heart of Erzulie is related to the pierced heart of ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ (Mother of Christ). The pierced heart of the Virgin Mary is a symbol for the pierced (feminine) soul (it is usually related to the prophecy in the Gospels that Mary’s soul will be pierced as well), and thus the piercing sword can easily be related to the penetrating spirit-principle in Kosmic Gnostic thought. In this context, the piercing sword is the solar principle, the active, creative principle of the transformed spirit. The alchemical creation is the ultimate journey to the “Other”.