Day: June 8, 2015

Palo & Homosexuality— Another View


The subject of gays in in the Cuban ramas of Palo is a touchy subject. Discussions merely mentioning the fact that thriving gay paleros exist is to incite the most vicious of arguments and bring out such ugliness that it’s no wonder to me that it’s usually buried way underground.

But the simple fact is that they do exist. They practice. They thrive. They do readings, build ngangas, counsel people, heal the sick and bring justice to those that do wrong. We cannot ignore this, even if we wanted.

The  fact that men are the ones that do the birthing of ngangas brings a duality of the spirit into the forefront. How does a man give birth if he is not inviting the Divine Femeine within him? If he is in fact, not becoming woman? It is practiced fact that in many households that women cannot even be present when a Tata is building an nganga. But again, an nganga is birthed from another. BIRTHED, not constructed. I have always questioned: Why is it that a woman does not build an nganga? If an nganga is in fact birthed, should a woman not build it as she builds the child within her? Have the man come and “plant the seed”. Help to create the life by combining the essential elements within the cauldron and let her do the construction of the nganga as she builds the child in her womb. A man does not build the child. His job is done when the seed is planted. The woman holds the child. It draws energy, nutrients, blood nourishment and every else that it needs through her. She is the one then who births it, who gives the child it’s first sacrifice, it’s first taste of blood. She is the gateway and it is she who opens those gates to the first pathway a child ever journeys, the birth canal. She is the first crossroads this child ever visits.

But I digress, this is about gays. But the fact of the matter is, that gays are in touch with their sacred feminine. They embrace it. They are sacred in countless pre-christian religions as those that can access all genders and paths. They can See as those who view life solely through a single gender cannot. They see all paths leading from the crossroads.

When I (and my husband with me) entered into Palo, many years ago, I was taught that gays were not allowed access to Palo. I was taught that any ceremonies or initiations done when a homosexual was present were considered invalid. All ngangas built in the presence of a homosexual were “built wrong” and needed to be rebuilt “right”. That ngangas would “stop working” if a homosexual was presented in front of them and that the ancestors of the house would be “angry and turn their backs”. I heard that “the ancestors hate homosexuals because they do not have children”. “They are imbalanced, and our religion is too much for them”. I also could not help but notice the endemic homophobic comments and jokes told by the many Tatas. It occurred to me then that it was not all due to spiritual matters, but I was not at the point that I was questioning the rules yet. Over the years and further exposure to the culture in which most of Palo is immersed, I began to see where much of this thought process was coming from. If one looks back into the history of Central America, one notices that most of it was settled by the Spanish (hence Spanish being the main language of Palo). The Spaniards brought with them their religion, which was primarily Roman Catholicism. And the Spaniards, unlike the British, encouraged the conversion of their slaves to their religion. Thusly, it is logical that the descendants of those slaves (and natives) would be strongly influenced by Catholic Dogma.

Now, let me say, that I am not writing this to be disrespectful to these Elders that brought me into the religion, initiated me and taught me. I am, however, aware of the concept of “respeto” and the roles of men and women in Latino culture. Palo might have come from the Congo, but for five hundred years, it has been in Cuba and that is where it has been shaped by the Spaniards that brought the slaves and converted them to Catholicism. Palo is a religion also shaped by the will to survive above all else. It has morphed itself into a form that can both be hidden and in plain sight. It can appear both harmless and terrifying. It had to, in order to survive. So the concepts and dogma of Catholicism became part of Palo and brought with it the disempowerment of both women and homosexuals. The Congolese who survived the journey of the Middle Passage brought with them what knowledge they had about their spirituality. The spiritual leaders were usually elderly and were either killed, left behind or perished before arrival in the New World, and the survivors did not have the extensive knowledge necessary to pass on. Over the centuries, it has become unrecognizably different from its Congolese origins as the Congolese have themselves. Christianity and Islam have become entrenched and the older pre-Christian system has been mostly either warped or forgotten.

So the concept of pacts with ancestors being broken over the issue of initiating LGBTQ people due to them not being accepted by the ancestors of the house is just not true. The Ancestors don’t go back simply to the Middle Passage. They extend beyond until the beginning of life on the planet, to when the first primal being crawled out of Kalunga’s waters and breathed its first breath of air. With all of those thousands of generations, one cannot say that LGBTQ people did not exist, thrive, reproduce, pass on and then become elevated by their descendants and give their strength to the next generation.
Much of my Work is done with the Forgotten Dead, of which are Legion. I will be so bold to say that while we in Palo are supposed to be keepers of the Dead and the Ancestors, that we have also forgotten. We have forgotten to the point where we deny the very fact that these ancestors exist. When we forget, we do not elevate and so these Forgotten wander, voiceless, nameless, hungry. Is this not in itself a breaking of aa sacred oath? Do we not lessen our strength by denying them elevation? How dare we, as healers, as warriors, as Paleros pick and choose the pacts given to us by Nsambi to keep?
BUT…. Most Initiates do not ask their godparents these questions regarding the rules and tenets of the religion. It is disrespectful to question and could possibly even lead to punishment. This is what I was taught as well. But we were abandoned by our house. And by the Tata of the house that has since adopted us, we were told that we were from the house of Ill Wind. And indeed, all of us are named for a violent act of nature. But sometimes it takes a violent act of nature to cleanse and renew our beloved forest for regrowth and renewal.

Nsambi is above all. That the bakulu of the house are the deciders of who they want brought in. Out of the people brought to us, no matter what their sexuality, they have been brought to teach us, bestow us something or bless us. Some of these lessons, like those of the bakulu have been harsh, but all of them have been needed. How do we learn the things needed if we deny those Spirit has brought? As what many have said previously regarding the topic: “”How do we as flesh take it upon ourselves to flatly deny the gifts that Spirit is trying too give us?” Could that be what has been decreed? That Spirit brings a person that is needing initiation, that his ancestral line is supposed to be added to the house and that in denying that addition to the lineage is what weakens the Bakulu and ultimately has them turn their backs? Nature abhors a vacuum and will forever try to correct an imbalance. What if, instead of keeping Palo balanced and adhering to the bakulu’s wishes by not initiating LGBTQ, we are instead contributing to the imbalance by denying them their place in the natural, sacred order of things? By denying them acknowledgment as ancestors we are denying them elevation and by doing that weakening ourselves in a time when we need as much solidarity as a people and as a spiritual path as possible because Spirit knows this world is in desperate need of wisdom and healing.

I’m not asking for hundreds of years of hard won and preciously kept tradition to change overnight. I’m not demanding that houses initiate LGBTQ people. I am, however saying that they exist and that they are part of the natural order of the world that we have made oaths to protect and serve. I am saying that they have a place in the religion. I am saying they take and keep the same pacts and oaths to the Nkisi and to Nsambi as we all do. To deny this is to deny the past, to deny the Bakulu, to stand before your Muertos or Spirits or whatever you choose to call them and say “I deny you exist.”

It is long past time for us to light a candle and call these ancestors out of the water and welcome them to our table.

Nsala Malongo,
Yayi Nganga Tormenta Kalunguera

Palo and Homosexuality

Recently I listened to an episode of Candelo’s Corner entitled ‘Palo and Homosexuality‘.  I’ve been listening to the show for roughly the past two years.  It had been recommended to me by my yayi who found it a good resource for learning outside of the munanso.  This summer it’ll be a year since I’ve been initiated ngueyo.  But here’s a fun fact: I’m also transgendered and queer.  So, when I found out Candelo finally decided to tackle this thorny subject, I decided to take a listen and see what he has to say about it.

What I found interesting right off the bat was that, although Tata Candelo mentioned that there were other prominent gay paleros, he did not mention who these gay paleros were.  I can understand from a safety or a privacy standpoint, or perhaps not wanting to ‘call anyone out’.  Which, to me, beggars the question of what kind of environment people are cultivating, that to be “out” as queer in Palo is a bad or dangerous thing?  What I also found interesting was that there was not one Palero within the GLBTQA that called in to speak out and share their story.  The entire show was other heteronormative people discussing homosexuality in Palo.  Most of these people aside from the tatas speaking on the show had very little or no experience with Palo, their experience falling within the circles of neopaganism and wicca.  Neopaganism, wicca and satanism has no bearing on Palo, and can’t even be compared.  Where are the queer Palo voices, and why are they not speaking?

Of course you understand these are rhetorical questions, presented to the reading audience.  The answers seem obvious.  In this case, silence speaks louder the answer to said questions.  But silence isn’t going to work.  Silence also perpetuates bullshit.  I think it’s high time we cut out the bullshit and start the discourse.  Ultimately, I don’t care what you do in your munanso.  Your munanso, your spirits, your business.  But who are we to judge who is and isn’t to be initiated based on sexual orientation?  In another broadcast, Tata Candelo discusses how sexuality has absolutely no bearing within the ATRs.  He is, of course, entirely correct.  So, the question I would like to ask is, if sexuality and sexual matters have no place within the ATRs, why is it such an issue what someone’s sexual orientation is?  In fact there are quite a few issues, which I’ll break down nicely.  These I pulled both from my observations of co-religionists, from the radio show, and from discussing matters within my own munanso.

The gays will fall in love with the ngangas!
I’m starting out with this one first, because it is, by far, the most ridiculous.  The idea behind this being that, since the ngangas throw off so strongly such masculine and macho energy, the homosexual will fall in love with the nganga.  This, to me, is a nonissue.  What about the feminine gendered ngangas?  They do exist, and they aren’t to be trifled with.  There isn’t an issue with tatas falling in love with female ngangas, is there? Also, why is this not an issue for women within the
religion falling in love with ngangas?  Is it because of an
assumption that women are seen as objects with no sexual assertiveness
of their own, or is it because men are more hypersexual and thusly
unable to control themselves?  Both assumptions are equally problematic.  But then again, to me the issue boils down to this: If you have someone (anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation) getting as randy as a damn horse over ngangas or other spirits and spirit-vessels (let alone the serious sexual misconduct that can occur between heterosexuals in munansos), then this is a serious issue with the person independent of any sort of orientation whatsoever.  This person should have been weeded out in the beginning, NOT for being a homosexual, but for having some sort of sexual and/or impulse control disorder, in which case said person should be seeking professional therapy instead of initiation! 

Why is sexuality being brought up AT ALL, if sex has no place within the ATRs?  But moving right along.

Gay people aren’t part of the balanced lifecycle/Homosexuality is unnatural/etc
This statement also makes absolutely no sense.  Same-sex interactions exist everywhere.  They are found in nature in numerous animal species.  To the people who subscribe to this sort of thing: do these people mean to say that Nsambi makes mistakes?  What made these people the final arbiters on what the natural lifecycle is or what it should be?  Much of this line of thinking falls into the whole reproduction argument, which I will be addressing in a later section.  But to pronounce that someone or something is “unnatural” just because it threatens your sense of manhood only betrays a severe ignorance and lack of comprehension on how the natural world actually works.

It’s Tradition!  It’s always been this way/The Ancestors were never gay, etc.
How do you know that there were never any queer ancestors?  To assume that there weren’t is the highest form of arrogance and presumptuousness.  Basic logic and facts point to yes–there were many queer dead, just as there are many queer people living now.  Abrahamic faiths, colonialism and slavery are really damn good at completely fucking up entire cultural dynamics and spiritual systems.  Do these people who perpetuate this line of thinking dare to be the final arbiter of ancestral will?  Or so they only pick and choose who they will speak for, because their supposed manhood would obviously be too threatened?  It all goes back to the whole idea of sorting the wheat from the chaff, of sorting what is in fact true messages from the Bakulu, and what is meatsuit nonsense–personal opinions and politics and insecurities.  There are some that may say that’s exactly what I’m doing, and so be it.  But their argument would be entirely irrelevent.  By completely ignoring or denying the existence of queer ancestors, what right would they have to judge me?  That those who are queer are so “unnatural” that they can’t leave ancestors?  An argument that stands on very shakey ground when you consider that even basic human familial ties transcend genetic relations and breeding.

This all then brings me to my final argument…

Fertility and Reproduction: Homosexuals cannot create life, birth, and etc
There is quite a big difference between “birthing” in a ritual sense and birthing in a literal one.  People in same-sex partnerships can and do have children, this has been happening throughout recorded history and beyond.  There is a very prominent double-standard at play that persons who are sterile due to medical reasons are still welcome to seek initiation into Palo.  In many munansos, a woman isn’t allowed to receive an nganga until she reaches menopause.  So clearly, medical ability to produce children has no bearing in initiation status.  It only seems to become an issue when LGBTQ persons are involved.  However, if sexuality has no place within the ATRs, then who someone is attracted to (or not attracted to), and what the structure of anatomy a person has, should have absolutely no bearing upon birthing in the context of ceremony.  Sexuality and attraction should have no bearing and no place in ceremony.  Full stop.

Let me make this clear: This isn’t about trying to soothe hurt feelings, or putting on kid gloves or powdering asses.  This isn’t about being ‘politically correct’.  I’m not here to strike down tradition or go against the grain.  But what is ‘tradition’ needs to evolve.  I don’t give a fuck what you do in your house.  What you do with your spirits and your people is your business, and I’m not about to jab my nose in your business.  So hey, don’t jab your nose in mine.  Gay and queer Paleros DO exist.  Whether or not you feel they are or aren’t legitimate is entirely irrelevant.  The final arbiters are the Nkisi, Spirits, and Bakulu.  They have final stay on who goes and who stays.  Regardless of your feelings, this isn’t going to go away.  Let actions and let the manifestations speak for themselves.  And I would like very much to thank Tata Candelo for having the coconuts to bring this topic up and get people talking about this.  Dialogue is important, and ultimately the only way for traditions and human bonds to strengthen is through the vehicle of dialogue, which hopefully will give way to understanding in time.  For those of you who read this far, thanks and Nsala Malecu.

Originally posted on:

Proper Decay

A few months ago I was struck by a beautiful turn of phrase in an article on the Basimbi: “They filter and purify groundwaters, encourage proper decay, provide stability and foundation.”  Encourage proper decay.  I love that phrasing, and its many implications.

Last night, my partner Joseph Atreides wrote a brief piece about the sacredness of decay and its role in the life cycle.  Simple, beautiful, and well said.  And it brought me back to thinking about that phrase again.

I have not worked as extensively with the remains of the dead as my partner, or my other spiritual colleagues.  I’ve had relatively little to do with that form of decay, though I am beginning to work more in that field.  Yet I feel a deep connection, a resonance, with the Sîmbi Nkagi Mayamba.

To a certain extent, it is a role I have played for much of the past several years – from December 2012 to March of this year, I worked as a live-in caregiver for an elderly gentleman with Alzheimers.  As his mind decayed due to the disease, I did my best to manage things so that he could have the best remaining time possible with his family and not harm himself or others.  Finally, he reached a point where it was no longer possible to care for him safely in-home and I had to push for his family to place him in a suitable long-term care facility, and this too was a process of encouraging proper decay — of letting go when the time was right.

So often in our lives, and even in our spirituality, we do not make room for proper decay.  We hold on to relationships, beliefs, and traditions which no longer serve us and which may even be damaging to us.  Instead of letting them go and letting the experience become fertile soil from which to grow something new, or a stable foundation upon which to build something, we fear the loss and clutch it tighter to our core.   Instead of proper decay, it becomes a source of infection.

As spirit-workers, we should all take a close look at what we believe, why we believe it, whether or not it is actually true, and how it serves us, our communities, and the spirits we work with.  We should look at the people we associate with and whether those associations elevate us, or drag us down.  And we should not be afraid to make room for proper, healthy, sacred decay in our lives.

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