I am twenty five years old and, already, the victim of voodoo conjure.
Things began unraveling for me about six weeks ago, when some anonymous mambo cursed me with a crazy case of pinworms. Symptoms that foul and mysterious could only be the handiwork of devils and evil-doers. But I didn’t know it was voodoo, right off. Or even pinworms, for that matter. Just trouble. I’ll spare you the details and just say that, once those sea monkeys started squirming inside me, my system tried its best to flush my gut of all its nasty pests and Negro witchcraft. This was a little embarrassing; starting my period for the first time in the history of my gender. I immediately felt a deeper-cutting empathy for what every little girl goes through as she crosses the threshold of womanhood. The betrayal, the ambivalence, the horror. Leaking human essences all over the good upholstery.
And I coped likewise. I coped womanwise: I jerryrigged a little t.p. hammock between the bands of my boxers. But it failed miserably, as the homemade maxi fell down my pantleg and onto the floor of Barnes and Noble, for all the checkout line to see and wonder. I was an on-the-go type; this was the problem. I needed cute, compact, invisible protection to put me back in the confidence zone. What I needed was a tampon. And borrowing a mini-ob from an incredulous roommate, I slipped away to the bathroom and bent myself over the tub.
This, too, ended badly. With me howling and collapsing onto the hood of my car, in the grips of toxic shock syndrome. Nothing seemed to help, even when I followed the Western pinworm prognosis; the salves and ointments and pin-x potions. Only after visiting the local voodoo supply store, on a whim, did the puzzlepieces begin to fit together. Ofcourse: pins, pinworms, voodoo dolls. Someone, some fiery old nag, with her eyes bulging and her mojo turned to “boil,” had laid a nest of baby snakes in my lower intestines. She had garnered the favor of an evil Petro Loa to smite me for my own wrongdoings (presumably, in this case, as cosmic backlash for my anal fixation). But knowing the cause was only half the cure. I would need secret knowledge to uncross the maleficia laid on me. I returned to the voodoo shop ready to fight fire with fire.
There, I could find everything I needed to unjinx myself. No New Age hocus-pocus and shimmery feelgood magic. Just wooden shelves, with dolls and cauldrons and scorpion heads; strange brews labeled Dragon’s Blood, John the Conqueror, and Run Devil Run; holy floor washes and seven spirit powders and all manner of talismans and penis candles and things that go bump and boo in the night. Headshrinking magic for beginners.
To be fair: real voodoo, or Vodun, is a vey rich and eclectic religious heritage woven from West African spiritualism, high iconic Catholicism, and Caribbean merrymaking; a heritage as meaningful and deeply serious as any in the Western fold.
This was not the voodoo I was interested in. I wanted the Hollywood workup and freaky mumbojumbo of common lore. The rank superstition. The glowing skulls, the evil eyes, the zombies moaning through midnight in the slavequarters. Because, as voodoo drew me into its den, cosmic realities became somewhat beside the point. The point here was, how mythos becomes real through passion, practice, and the dreamwork of metaphor. I figured I might as well opt for the heebee-geebee Wes Craven version; something fun and twinkly and absurd enough to demand true devotion.
And flipping through the pantheon of voodoo Loa, I immediately spotted my personal idol and guardian deity: it was Legba, the windquick West African trickster god. Depicted alternately as either a spritely child or an old man with an erection, Legba is the voodoo god of the crossroads; and thus of choice, possibility, and the hands of human agency. He is also, like Hermes, the messenger god. When Fate or some other higher deity sends their royal decree down to the Land of the Living, it is Legba who carries the orders to the lower, gruntworker spirits. Man can tempt Legba, through spells and sacrifice, to alter the orders a little, thereby providing enough wiggle room for free will in a universe of divine law. It is Legba, I now realize, that has been opening up loopholes in the causal chain of necessity; he is responsible for the impossibly good fortune I’ve enjoyed since birth. When I recover free bicycles from police impound lots or find an unopened soda every day for a month, I have Legba to thank. Every time I slip the noose with Death, Danger, or an arresting officer, it is by the miracles of Legba, the God of Exceptions. The time had come to sing his praise.
As I read over the recipes, however, I noticed that most were a little too dark or demanding; many involving gravedigging, poisonous extracts, or boiling down housecats for a lucky clavicle or something. But voodoo is all about adaptation. It had to be to survive the move from West Africa to the Haitian sugarcane slavetrade to the American South. The gods were no sticklers; they just needed proof of devotion. With that understood, the mambo or bokor or root-doctor could perform their juju with whatever objects they found around them, in everyday life. Instead of, say, a chicken head and a thimbleful of goat’s blood, I could use a sock and an ice cold glass of Dr. Pepper. For dried snakes and Holy Seven Spirits oil, I could throw in a telephone cord and some Vaseline Intensive Care. You get the picture.
I experimented a little, with a few routines, asking Legba to watch over me on my travels southward. Moments later, with my words still hanging in the air, I found a long lost twentyspot in an old overcoat. Praise Legba. When a basset hound crossed my path on Interstate 95, I screeched and swerved and missed that animal by a hand’s length. Praise Legba. Whenever I found a parking space, a can of soda, or an end to my pinworms, I mouthed thanks to Legba. I was beginning to understand. This pseudo-voodoo of mine was not about cause and effect; not as we are accustomed to thinking about them. It was about the mechanics of Hope; a necessary science for all those Haitian slaves and Southern blacks that had to endure centuries of hell and inhumanity and white people. “Religion is,” Max Mueller observed, “everywhere an aspiration rather than a fulfillment.” They could, even at their most powerless, summon the wrath of a serpent-god by heavy words, charms, or chicken feathers, and wield the power of suggestion like a magic wand.
I had no oppressors, no natural enemies. I felt selfish for using voodoo merely to grease the Wheel of Fortune. My thoughts turned to larger, international issues. Maybe with a few root-doctor routines, I could sink the Cheney administration and spare the world the embarassment of a nuclear holocaust. It was worth a shot. But to right the wrongs, and restore the balance between Heaven and Hell, I would need a hex more subtle, more even-minded, than dysentery or Tourette’s syndrome, I needed a spell that would reveal Dick Cheney for what he truly was: an assfaced cockmaster. And this is what I came up with; please hex along at home:
Old-Timey Hex for Unmaskin Wharewolfs and Other Nasty Persons, As told by a Caribbean root-doctor with a bad Caribbean accent.
Okay, so Ah write down deh name a’ deh wicked on a piece a’ paper. Bout twenty times a’ so. And den Ah tear dat piece a’ paper into bits and swallow’em up between big ole swigs a’ two-cent rum. Den Ah strip nekkid as a newborn, sept wit meh underwears on meh head. Ah den git down on meh knees and pray to Shango, god a’ lightning and fearsum justice. Ah say:
“Kaguo Kabiosile. Mistah, you doan respect nobody. Ah know you is tellin lies. You goan be found out and put right. Dem devils you hidin gunna drag you straight to Hell, where deh Lawd hisself woan helpya. Kaguo Kabiosile.” And dat’ll do deh trick.
Unfortunately, while I was off gallivanting and sprinkling spells here and there, evil Petro Loa and Gede death daimons had snuck in the back door and infected my closest circle. One friend, possessed by the Gede Baron Samedi, completely lost his shit and began threatening to slit the throats of our family members. Ugly, ugly stuff; typical of the self-destructive streak in Gédé possession. The normally tranquil and harmonious home of my brother, ex, and many dear friends was torn and twisted by squabbles brought on by a full moon and the superbitch Loa, Marinette-bwa-Cherche. Before long, I discovered that two other wonderful people, for reasons too personal to delve into, wanted to murder me. Or at the very least, maybe just castrate me with a pair of rusty gardening shears. This was too much, all of it. Too dark, sudden, and personal to be the work of higher and indifferent Loa. What had gotten the spirits in such a rotten mood? The question demanded more than a little gig or incantation. It was time for a voodoo séance, a circle of ritual possession, so that the gods could get some things off their chest and explain exactly why they were putting my friends and I through the ringer.
Haitians usually imbibe rum or other tingly drinks when inviting the Loa to, as they say, “mount them.” Me, I prefer cough syrup, dextromethorphan polistrex, arguably the Will-To-Believe in a bottle. Perfect for voodoo; possession demands absolute conviction. But I needed to act fast; the demons were creeping closer. On the morning before our seance, as if to drive their point home, the evil Jean-Zandor scrambled the mental arithmetic of another housemate, forcing him to overdose on a high-power, mail-ordered psychedelic, “by a factor of ten.” As friends rushed him to the emergency room, to be inundated with Valium, I was left to wonder “do the Loa have similar plans for me this evening? What kind of cannibal is sitting at the center of all this misery?” I had to know, whatever the consequences.
The night came. We dimmed the lights, weighed down the keys of an organ to achieve a warm, hypnotic drone, then sat back as the active ingredients kicked in and melted away the candycoat of everyday perspective. That night there was no dancing, no hoots and hollers around a crumbling gravestone. We peed on the backporch steps to ward off evil spirits, but mostly, I just fell inward. Chanting under my breath “Ago Ellegua. Mount me, Papa Legba, and show me the source of all my sorrows.” And you know what? Despite all my irreverent crap, despite the pseudo-voodoo and the whole tampon business, Legba came. Sure enough, he came. He told me, in effect:
“Brandon, you have been an assfaced cockmaster. You have been selfish. You have been ungrateful. To me and others. You are the source of all your sorrows.” And, for reasons too personal to delve into, I knew Legba was right. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The Loa were serving me my just desserts. Funny that it took this for me to understand the Voodoo doctrine of predestination: that our world— that is our true environment, the people and circumstances directly around us— is the product of our own personality, for good or for ill. And maybe I don’t follow or swallow the voodooisms in a straightforward way, but it does make me wonder. Just the pure poetry of the judgments. Could the world work this way alone? So much so that one can divine social catastrophe with deep introspection? Strange forces at work. Trembling in my fingertips. Knowing smiles on Legba’s lips; says he knows full well. Boy been watchin too many movies on da teevee…
Repentance. My only hope for another chance from above and below. I walked out into the starry night, with a hammer and a jar of rotten meat, hoping that my gods and friends would believe the spectacle of self-abasement that was about to follow. It sure wasn’t going to be pretty. “Forgive me Legba, Shango, Oxum, all you guys. I have been, a fool.”