Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Thoughts on St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day



A Few Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day

            Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Fet Damballah! Huh? You might say. Well, I am a bit ambivalent about St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, here in the U.S. it’s celebrated as an excuse to get drunk and act like an idiot—in other words, to act like the stereotype of the drunken Irishman, the type for whom the “Paddy Wagon” was named. Now, is that really any way to celebrate a saint and an ethnicity? 
            Others in the U.S.—which has more people of Irish descent than Ireland does—celebrate it as a way to honor their Irish ancestry. Maybe it helps make up for the shoddy treatment the Irish received in the U.S. when they first immigrated—especially the poor ones. So if you haven’t seen Martin Scorsese’s wonderful film Gangs of New York, about the fights between the Irish immigrants and the Nativists, I highly recommend it.
            St. Patrick allegedly brought Catholicism to Ireland—the “snakes” he drove out were, symbolically, the pagans, for there were never any snakes in Ireland; it’s too cold. I feel very bad for the Catholics of Ireland. They suffer in many ways, not the least of which is from repressive Catholic practices such as the condemnation of birth control, divorce, and abortion. Yet I am proudly Irish at least by descent from the Catholic variety, as one of my great-grandmothers came from County Cork. But St. Patrick, who allegedly died on March 17th, didn’t drive out the snakes at all. He merely transformed them. Much of Ireland’s pagan past survives in folk tales and beliefs about the “little people” and all sorts of magical stuff. Even the Celtic-style cross is an amalgam of the Christian cross and an earlier pagan symbol. And of course, the international religious organization to which I belong, the FOI, is headquartered in Clonegal Caste in Enniscorthy, Eire.
            In Vodou, however, an image of St. Patrick is often used to represent Damballah, the “serpent” portion of the god-and-goddess couple known as the “Serpent and the Rainbow.” Damballah Wedo and Ayida Wedo represent the union of earth and sky. White is Damballah’s main color, but green is given as a secondary color. March 17th is his feast (‘fet’) day. Damballah, and all his variations, including Blanc Dani in New Orleans, is descended from the ancient African god Da, a creator deity. So how did he end up being portrayed as an old white man with a bunch of snakes? Because of the snakes, of course!
            Serpents are not evil in most pagan traditions, and they aren’t evil in Vodou. Many hounfos (Vodou houses) will have a snake, usually a white snake, in residence. Damballah is honored with an altar that contains white eggs, white flour, and a white altar cloth. Ironically, perhaps, he does not drink alcohol and is served orgeat syrup or another sweet non-alcoholic drink instead.
            In New Orleans, St. Patrick’s Day bleeds over into St. Joseph’s Day, a special feast day for the Italians in the city. St. Joseph is one of their patrons, keeping away famine, so many Italian Catholics celebrate the day with huge altars covered with food, and many of them open their homes to the public to feed their friends and anyone who needs it.
            St. Joseph’s Day is also the second-most important day for the Mardi Gras Indians, African Americans who dress up and vie with each other’s “gangs” to make the prettiest costumes. Why choose this day to do so? Some will say it is convenient, since the Italian Americans often have a parade on this day in New Orleans, too. Others might say it has something to do with the fact that this is the Fet Papa Loko, the feast day of Papa Loko, the agricultural god who knows about healing herbs and, as with St. Joseph, helps keep famine away.
            So in both New Orleans and Haiti, March 17th through March 19th are busy days for Vodouisants. And we haven’t even mentioned the Vernal Equinox yet; this year it arrives the day after St. Joseph’s Day. It is common for big Catholic ceremonies to coincide with formerly pagan celebrations; again, it is easier to overlay a party that is already in progress with a new theme than it is to cancel the party and then start your own. So Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Just don’t drink and drive.

References:

Filan, Kena.”Happy Fet Damballah,” http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/2012/03/happy-fet-damballah-and-shout-out-to-st.html
Mambo Samantha Corfield, “St. Joseph and Papa Loko”
Manbo Mary, “Get to Know a Lwa: Papa Damballah,” http://www.manbomary.com/?p=27
St. Joseph’s Day Altars, http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/seasonal/stjosephsday.html

 


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hope for the New Year, 2018



Hope for the New Year, 2018

            Well, now, 2017 was a real corker, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I for one am glad it’s over. I suggest that we take up, once again, Hope as our point of view for 2018. Keeping a good thought leads to good results. And if there’s only one oil you buy from Rev. Dee’s Apothecary this year, buy our Louisiana-style Van Van Oil and buy it now!

             Below you’ll find a list with explanations of all the uses of Van Van oil, but first, a little history. Most of the Van Van oil you buy in stores is just synthetic lemongrass oil in a synthetic carrier oil such as mineral oil (a petroleum byproduct.) Some of it doesn’t even smell lemony, so who knows what’s in there! Originally, Van Van oil was the name of an oil made from lemon verbena, called verveine in French and pronounced “van van” or something similar in Louisiana French dialects. So the original ingredient wasn’t lemongrass at all, it was lemon verbena. Lemon verbena (verveine) is not the same as the herb that we call vervain in English, which does not have a lemony taste or aroma. Verveine is a popular herbal tea (tisane) in France and is easy to find in the U.S.

            For those who are unfamiliar with Louisiana traditions, let me explain that we’re talking about New Orleans tradition but also traditions outside of the city such as those in Cajun Country. Many cultures put their stamp on Van Van oil in the state of Louisiana so that is why I labeled my product as such, since Louisiana-style Van Van oil is far more complex than most other styles of the product. It contains several lemony, all-natural essential oils such as lemon verbena, lemongrass, lemon, melissa (lemon balm), citronella, and a special zing from a bit of ginger oil. The herb you find floating in it is a bit of finely chopped lemongrass. I’m making new Van Van (see the picture of my worktable) for 2018 so get it while it’s fresh! It is the most versatile oil you can buy. 

 

Here are the most common uses:

--Cleansing is the main use, and here is how to use it for cleansing:

                        Floor wash water: Use several drops in a bucket of floor wash; pine scented or lemon scented is recommended. Use this floor wash both at home and in your business; we recommend the ¼ or ½ oz. size instead of the usual 1/8 oz. if you have a lot of floor space to wash.

                        Furniture polish: Most furniture polish is lemon-scented anyway; if using spray-can polish, just add a couple of drops to your polishing cloth or paper towel along with the polish. If using a bottled oil, you can put the Van Van oil directing in the container; in this case, it’s best to buy the larger size.

                        Spray cleaner: if you use a lemon-scented spray cleaner for counters and windows, go ahead and add the drops to the container if it opens or add a couple drops to your paper towels as you clean.

                        Work area cleaner: If you have a desk, office, or cubicle, I suggest not only cleaning your desk but also around doors and windows. This is also protecting the area; more on that in a bit.

                        Your business: If you own your own business, clean all display cases as well as floors and windows as above. See below for protection advice.

                        Cleansing yourself: If you bathe after you come home from work or school, remove any negativity you may have absorbed during the day by anointing yourself with Van Van oil while you bathe or shower. Anointing the throat chakra is optimal; some also anoint forehead and crown of head. Don’t get Van Van oil on mucous membranes; the ginger and lemon in it can irritate sensitive skin.

                        Cleansing candles: If you work with candles and they get dusty before you use them, you can cleanse them with a soft cloth or paper towel and a little Van Van oil.

--Protecting is the second most important use:

                        Workplace and business protection: After cleaning all appropriate surfaces in your business or workplace, clean around the door frame/window frame of your office or cubicle; if you own your own business, it’s important to protect it, so any possible entryways should be cleaned and anointed with Van Van oil. If you wish, you can say whatever protection prayer or chant you like while you are cleaning and anointing; that part is up to you. I always clean the desks in the office I share at college and clean/anoint the door frame. Teachers and professors can’t be too careful these days! When someone walks by and asks what I’m doing, I usually say, “My New Orleans stuff,” and they say “Oh,” and keep on walking! If you are worried about people you share the room with having allergies, just use enough water to remove the scent after you cleanse/anoint. Don’t worry; the vibes will still be there!

                        Protecting yourself: If you bathe before work or school, anoint your throat chakra while you are in the bath or shower. It’s ok to rinse it if you’re worried about the scent, but believe me, most people find the aroma divine! Saying a prayer or mantra of your choice is a good idea while you’re doing this. The Van Van oil acts like a barrier to keep out other peoples’ negativity. If you must go to work or school in a dangerous part of town, make sure you anoint yourself before leaving home.

--Other magickal uses:

                        Anointing candles: Spell candles or religious candles can be anointed; Van Van helps with all positive intentions. It can also be used in addition to other oils.

                        Anointing gris-gris, mojo bags, etc.: Van Van oil is great to anoint and re-anoint your mojos and gris-gris, especially those for gambling and for love. Lucky charms can be anointed as well.

                        Spell and spiritual work: Van Van oil is used as a primary oil in spiritual cleansing, blessing, and protection, and can be used in limpias, also known as house cleansings/blessings. In spellwork it can help to purify, cleanse, protect, add power or luck. It can be used in conjunction with other oils and dressings as a counterpart to another oil that is used for positive purposes.

Our Louisiana-style Van Van oil comes in 1/8, ¼, and ½ ounce bottles. See Rev. Dee’s Apothecary at www.DyanaAset.com or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RevDeesApothecary/  to order.

            To end with our message of hope, let me share with you a wonderful poem by Emily Dickinson.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

By Emily Dickinson, 1862
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.