I humble myself before the mysteries of Shango!
Owner of the Mysteries of Thunder and Lightning.
Lord of the Bata Drum.
the Wrath of God.
Lord of Instant Illumination.
Lord of Courage, Boldness,
Owner of the Mystery of Rain.
“Call forth your
Maggie was incredulous.
“Who does this mannish boy think he is to instruct me?” She fumed.
But as quickly as the thought came, she banished it. This was no
mere child who sat before her, despite his childish ways. That was
the exasperating part. One moment he was a twelve-year-old, doting
on his mother’s attention. The next, he was this…being, who spoke,
seemingly with the authority of heaven. He could move effortlessly
in and out of phase, the child, the god, and then the child again.
Right now he was the god.
“Call forth your
husband, woman.” The boy demanded again; his child’s voice
bursting with the tones and nuances of a grown man.
The boy, Maggie’s son,
who was also known to all in the village as Shango, sat at the foot
of his mother’s bed. It was a few minutes past dawn on an already
muggy summer morning. As she regarded him sitting there, a
well-formed, chocolate brown man-child, she knew he had probably
been there for some time, watching her sleep as was his custom. He
had grown like a weed in the last two years alone, already taller
than village healer, herself. He was her son and she loved him. But
the older he got, the less she knew about him or what to expect from
him, especially in moments like these.
Maggie knew better than
to argue with that voice. She called up in her mind the percussive
rhythms of her spirit guide, whom the boy addressed as Papa Esu. She
intoned in her mind the ritual words that summoned him to her aid
from the spirit world:
"My body gives
I ask your permission, I salute
My husband, there is no other,
My body gives homage, praise
I ask your
permission, I salute you;
I prostrate to
I give you
Esu often came
violently, throwing her to the floor and twisting her limbs so that
she walked about like a cripple. She knew this because this
was how people described his coming. She herself never felt any pain
when he took her head. Nor did she remember much if anything of what
transpired while he possessed her. When he came, she retreated
reflexively to some to some dark corner of her awareness, beyond
sight or earshot of what transpired in waking consciousness. This
did not disturb her. Over the years, her spirit guide had proven to
be a generous, but exacting helpmeet. He was her teacher and
protector. There was a powerful bond between them. He did not always
possess her. Sometimes he came to her in her dreams and
sometimes when she was wide awake. Once, he even materialized before
her, as substantial as any living person. In those dreams, if he
were of a mind to do so, he would relate to her what he had done
when he rode her.
But something changed
on that new moon night five years ago during her son’s first
ceremony; his would-be initiation. In the first place, the boy
wasn’t ridden in the way her other initiates were. He did not
receive his god; the god issued forth out of him. The boy
consciously channeled the spirit guide, his child’s voice
reverberating with adult overtones; sounding like that of a fully
grown and commanding personality.
Secondly, snippets of
the conversation her son had with her spirit guide reached her in
the subterranean depths of her consciousness. Although deeply
entranced, she actually heard some of the exchange. Moreover,
she became aware for the first time of the “feel” of her spirit
guide. She could sense in an almost solid, substantial way the
spirit force of her “husband,” much like how the body print of one’s
beloved is impressed upon one’s arms, lips and upon one’s very soul.
Since that night, each time he took her, she would retain a small
piece of her conscious awareness.
And so it was this
time. She vaguely felt the pressure on her neck, back and shoulders
as though someone or something was squeezing into her through her
very pores. She felt, like a feathery touch, her limbs, especially
her legs, twist and contort – and like a deep breath, the presence
of her spirit guide.
“Why do you call me
thus, god man!” the gravelly voice of Esu demanded.
“I have need of you,
old one,” was the boy’s reply.
“And what do you need
“I would have you here
with me; to help me remember. This woman is limited because
she has not remembered that she is you as I am this boy. I would
have you awaken in her so that in addition to all of her memories,
she would have yours as well. I would have her know you as a
part of the deep mystery that is herself; who comes with ease to her
“You ask much, god man.
This is not our way.”
“I have already told
you, Papa, that mine is a different path. I need you both to help me
find my way.”
“I do not know this new
“I will show you, Papa.
Look into me.”
Shango opened himself
to the elder spirit; allowed him to look upon his spirit. Esu could
see how and where most of the spiritual energies of boy and god like
a glowing body of multicolored flames had joined, blended and burned
“Seek out her flame,
Papa, and join yours to hers.”
Maggie felt herself
jolted back into consciousness. Her head hurt terribly -- and she
felt she was not alone in her skin. She was aware of being in her
bed with her son sitting at its foot, but she was seeing with a
curious double vision – as if her eyes were seeing different images
and her brain was processing the two, separately and at the same
“Shango, what have you
done?” Though somewhat disoriented, Maggie had never felt so alive.
The twelve-year-old was back. “It was Papa Esu’s doing. He has made
Sure enough, she could
pick out the gravelly voice of her beloved husband amid the other
internal chatter in her head. She could feel him in her. She knew
that there was more to her now. When she touched his memories, she
jerked back, initially, as if touching a flame. But they had a
familiar feel to them, as if they were her own.
“Go back to sleep,
Mama. You will feel fine when you wake up.”
Maggie did sleep … and
Esu, in his aspect
of the old cripple, regarded the King’s messenger. What
arrogance, he thought. So, the little king wants even more
power. Are not the lightning bolts enough? I will teach this
upstart a lesson. He took on his most fearful aspect of guardian
of the crossroads and messenger of the gods, growing large
before the king’s messenger. In a booming voice, he replied:
"Yes, I can increase
the king’s power. I can make for him such medicines that will
make men tremble and quake before him! What manner power does
the king desire?”
The terrified messenger was the one who trembled before the
manifested guardian spirit power. He replied in a tiny voice:
"Papa Esu, my master
said that only you could know his heart; that you are the
greatest among all the guardian spirits in these matters. He
said that you would know what he most needs. He will accept
whatever you prepare for him."
"Tell your king to send his wife, Oya, to me in seven days time.
She should bring with her a large he-goat as an offering. I will
give the medicine to her."
Shango was overjoyed
when he learned from his messenger what Esu had promised. He
truly wanted to be the greatest magician in the land. His
lust for magical power was even greater than his lust for comely
Esu did know the king’s heart as he knew all men’s hearts.
He took pleasure in testing the strengths and weaknesses of men.
He chuckled to himself as he prepared
Shango’s medicine. Here was a great opportunity
to provide a lesson in making the right choices.
Oya is a curious one, he thought to himself. She will not be
able to resist knowing what her husband is up to. And her lust
for magic is as great as his own. We should be treated to great
amusement before this drama plays itself out.
On the seventh day, Oya, the king’s wife, came to where Esu
lived, in the sacred grove at Iworo, and ritually greeted him.
I humble myself before the mysteries of Esu.
the Messenger of Olodumare and the Ancestors.
Owner of the Mysteries of the Four Directions, north, south,
east, and west.
Guardian of the Gates of Fortune, Good and Evil.
Lord of Flexibility.
Lord of Choice, Chance, and Change.
Esu was pleased at the respect she showed him. In his heart, he
was glad that she would betray her husband. Such was her nature.
In her betrayal, she would derive some reward from being who she
“You are welcome, Oya, wife of Shango. Why do you come?
“I have come, Papa Esu, to collect the medicine you have
prepared for my husband,” she said.
“Have you brought the sacrifice?
“Yes, Papa. See it tied to yonder bush.”
“It is well. Come, take this to your husband. It is for him
alone.” He handed her a leaf folded in the form of a packet. “
Make sure that he receives it all."
“What medicine is this? Oya wondered. Her curiosity was such
that she unwrapped the leaf as soon as she was out of Esu sight.
There can be no harm in looking, she thought.
The leaf was filled
with a powder the color of iron; a rusty red color.
“I wonder what would happen if I taste just a little bit of
this,” she said out loud. “Surely Shango would not miss
Resolved she touched her tongue to the powder. There was
nothing remarkable about the taste, nor did she feel any change
come over her.
“Papa must have known I would be curious,” she thought. “It
seems he made sure I could not steal my husband’s magic.”
Disappointed, she rewrapped the powder and took it to her
“How am I to use this medicine?” Shango asked when she presented
the leaf to him. “Are there no instructions?”
When Oya opened her mouth to tell him that Papa Esu had given no
instructions, an enormous sheet of flame issued forth from her
mouth, setting his hair and beard on fire.
“Vile woman,” Shango cried, “You have stolen my magic!” He
reached for her to beat her, but she eluded his grasp. She ran
from the house and into fields where sheep grazed and attempted
to hide among the sheep. Shango spotted her and hurled his
thunderstones at her. Many sheep fell dead. Oya hid under their
bodies, where Shango could not see her.
So great was his wrath that the people interceded for her and
begged the king to forgive her. Reluctantly, he did so. It was
the political thing to do since Oya was loved by the people. In
his head, Shango heard the gravely voice of Esu, laughing a
It was this same magic, or rather his misuse of it, that caused
the destruction of his palace, the deaths of his wives and
children and had sent him down the path of exile and death…
Maggie woke abruptly from her dream with the immediacy of insight.
In that knowing space between sleep and wakefulness, she felt the
presence of her husband in her thoughts like an echo; like a
harmonic faintly heard with and above the thought as it fades away.
The boy had caused them to be joined together. No, what he had done,
she realized, was awaken her to the awareness that she was Esu and
Esu was she. With this realization came another, that the two of
them, she and Esu, were but harmonics of a more fundamental tone, a
grander personality that she was beginning to sense for the first
time. The dream was Esu’s dream. It told her of his/her fundamental
connection to the boy. He/she had helped him come to power once
before so that he might fight his way through numerous battles
against sensuality, mortality, take part in the conflict between
order and chaos and ultimately face the final challenges of godhood.
She would help him come to power again, but this time he would play
a major role in guiding her through the process of successive and
graded stages of unification and at-one-ment that take place between
man or woman in incarnation, his/her soul, and the great mystery.
This was the new way. She understood.
She looked at her son, still sitting attentively at the foot of her
bed. She tried to see where the boy ended and the god began. There
was no line of demarcation. She recalled the hours she spent
teaching him his letters and ciphers. In the five years since she
began his literacy and numeracy instruction, he showed no great gift
for the written word or for computation. Most of the time like
other boys his age, he complained about being bored and begged her
to let him go out and play. But he did learn to read, count and
figure. And there were times when she read to him or had him read to
her that his dominating, pervasive presence escaped the shadow to
shine through the child with maximum clarity and distinctness.
She remembered how she had agonized over what to teach him. What can
one teach a god man. Were he a normal child, she thought, I would
know exactly what to do. Now, suddenly, with the insights that came
from Esu’s memories, she knew exactly what to do.
She sent word to Tom the drummer/blacksmith, Peter, her gifted
healer apprentice and lead drummer and Ezzie, the brass worker’s
wife and one of her oldest initiates. When they gathered in the
small kitchen of her house on the following evening at the appointed
time, she shared with them her plans.
“As you all know,” she said, “Shango is a very special child.
He has come, sent by the gods, to teach us. I am told that he
will take us down a different spiritual pathway than what we have
known. This alone will be a great challenge to each of us, but
the rewards, I am also told, will also be great. But first, he
must be taught. You all know that I have been teaching him, herbal
lore, healing arts and his numbers and letters, but I fear that it
is not enough. I have been told that each of you also has an
important part to play in his education.
“I am not a teacher, Maggie” said Tom, his voice booming like the
bass drum that he played at the ceremonies. “What can this boy learn
“You are a blacksmith without peer,
Tom. Teach Shango what you know. Show him how to shoe a horse,
fix a wagon, and fashion metal into all sorts of marvelous and
useful tools, weapons and presents. There is much he can learn
from you…” To herself she
added,” and so much more you will learn from him!”
“What of me, Maggie? “ Peter asked. “I, too, am no teacher, not like
you, at least. And you have taught me everything I know. What
can I teach him that you cannot do better?”
“That is not true, Peter. I
called out rhythms to you and your brother and cousin, but it was
your hands on the drum heads that called down the gods. I took you
into the forest and taught you the names and efficacies of the many
plants and herbs, but you have administered them to patients with a
skill that exceeds my own. The plants tell you their secrets. You
are the owner of forests. Teach my son what you know.”
And he will teach you who
you truly are, she thought.
“What would you have me teach your son, Maggie?” Ezzie asked. With
that question, Maggie almost let her maternal protectiveness
undermine her resolve. Knowing Ezzie’s history and the boy’s
namesake’s propensities, she was not sure if she wanted this woman
to teach her son anything, and certainly not without her
supervision. But this was unfair. Ezzie had been nothing less
than a model initiate and had taken to the herbal lore and healing
arts with considerable skill. But how could any woman that beautiful
“Stop this, Maggie!” Esu’s voice intruded in on her thoughts.
Maggie felt a twinge of shame. Even she was not immune to the spell
cast by Ezzie’s beauty. The woman had in truth only shown the boy
kindness, she thought, and she has given me her life to do with as I
will. It is a poor way that I now repay her loyalty and
“It is the gods, Ezzie, who guide me, and they have told me that you
have a role to play in the boy’s teaching. You know much about
beauty and attraction and other refinements. You can teach him how
sweetness can conquer roughness and perhaps more… I will leave that
to you and the gods.” But woe unto you, she silently
affirmed, if you hurt my child; and woe again if he lives up to his
They each agreed to take the boy two days out of the week and to
teach him in their own way. They were to have him home by dusk.
Maggie would continue his instruction in the evenings.
Tom decided to take
Shango on the second and six days of the week. His plan was to
apprentice the boy as a blacksmith. He would pick the boy up shortly
before sunrise and take him to his workshop.
The workshop was
located in the back of the village near a tributary of the stream
that coursed through the forest. On the full or new moon
nights when Tom and his brother and cousin played for Maggie’s
ceremonies, Tom could go out the back door of his workshop and
follow that tributary a short distance into the forest until it
joined the main branch of the stream which would lead him to that
familiar copse of trees in the middle of the forest where they all
met the rulers of their heads. From the village, the path to the
workshop was adorned by small puddles of
putrid, stagnant water—
overflow from the quenching pits, which caught the early morning
sun. The workshop was in a one-story mudbrick building. It
contained a large forge, three anvils and the same number of
quenching pits (pits of water used to cool the metal). There were
piles of discarded metal on the floor. On the northern wall
were Tom’s smithing tools, including various hammers and tongs.
Tom was in fact a master smith. Maggie’s assessment of his
skill was, if anything, conservative. He himself had apprenticed
with the village smithy shortly after he began playing the drums for
Maggie. Some wagging tongues in the village claimed that
Maggie had secured the apprenticeship for him in exchange the
most potent of love potions to reverse the smith’s flagging
virility. They claimed that after he started taking that potion, the
widowed and elderly smith took up with a sixteen year old girl, had
three children in three years and died flagrante delicto.
Although his apprenticeship was cut short, Tom had acquired enough
skill to take over the workshop when the old smith died. In those
three short years, he learned to repair and enhance various items of
metal such as pots and pans. He could craft farming tools,
horseshoes, knives and swords. He could smelt metal and forge ingots
into all manner of useful things including toys and sculpture. He
was the most capable of all of the blacksmith’s apprentices,
outshining the two in the shop when he started with his skill,
initiative and diligence, in effect, driving them away. He even
learned to work with brass from Ezzie’s husband and soon matched his
skill. After fifteen years of smithing, there was none who could
match him. He was as natural around a forge, smelting,
pounding and tempering metallic implements as he was on his bass
drum. His spirit guide, the god who rode him, was the god of iron,
known in the old language as Ogun. And in ceremonies or at work he
manifested the characteristics of his god.
Tom decided to train Shango as he was trained, by putting him right
to work. He was a stern taskmaster, demanding. The boy, though, was
a quick study, and rarely did anything to provoke a verbal rebuke.
He was strong for his twelve years and soon began to put on pounds
with the constant lifting and carrying metal. Tom taught him the
names of the tools by making sure he put every tool in its place at
the end of the day. Shango also had to clean the shop before
he went home at night. Tom only had to show him how to do
something once, which was a good thing because Tom did not talk
much. But Shango watched everything Tom did and everything Tom’s
principal apprentice and helper did, and at the first chance, tried
to practice doing what ever he saw them do. He would come home too
exhausted to eat on some nights. Maggie almost asked Tom
several times in those first weeks to ease up on her son, but
thought better of it and let the matter pass.
Near the end of the first year, his tasks became less and less of
clean-up or the “go fetch this tool” variety, although these
remained as a permanent part of his training after specific skill
instruction, and more and more of the fundamental skills of smithing
-- maintaining the forge, using the hammer and tongs, quenching
metals and the like. After eight months, Shango could competently
shoe a horse, repair a wagon wheel and mend a pot. Interestingly,
when in the presence of Tom in the workshop, there was precious
little evidence of the “god man” personality. It was if the god had
withdrawn, leaving only an often bewildered but determined
adolescent, anxious to please his master – a master who remained
aloof, distant and just short of hostile.
When Maggie would inquire of Tom how the training was going, she
would listen carefully to his responses for any mention of the boy’s
overshadowing presence. Tom would always comment on how well
behaved the boy was and how hard he was working. He also told Maggie
that Shango could be a very good smith it he put it in his mind to
do so. Maggie sensed in Tom a deep undercurrent of anger when she
asked about her son, but could not place whether the anger was
directed at her or the boy. His words were always careful and
respectful and revealed nothing of any encounter with the “god
Although determined not to interfere, Maggie’s curiosity got the
best of her.
“Shango,” she asked one night at dinner, “you don’t say much about
your apprenticeship with Tom, the blacksmith. Are things going
“Yes Mama.” She heard clearly in the boyish words the resonance of
“Why haven’t you revealed yourself to Tom? You have been working
with him for more than a year?”
“It is not yet time, Mama. There is much between us and I must
play the role of a child who needs to learn from him.”
‘”What do you mean, there is much between you?”
“That really is something that must stay between Tom and me.
The time is not yet right. Know that he is teaching me to
become a good blacksmith. He is a man of great skill. Do you
know, Mama, that he never smiles? I hope one day to change that.”
Maggie decided to let the matter drop.
Shango’s apprenticeship with Peter was of an entirely different
nature. Where Tom was dour and phlegmatic, Peter was the embodiment
of unrestrained enthusiasm and joy. He would collect Shango on the
third and fifth days of the week, before dawn, and each day was an
adventure. Peter, so light-skinned as to be considered an albino,
had taken over most of Maggie’s clientele. His skill with
plants and herbs surpassed Maggie’s by her own admission. But it was
his skill at putting people at their ease that was indeed magical.
Within moments with Peter, one forgot all about his appearance.
He made the sick and infirm laugh with his antics. He made them want
to be well.
Peter took Shango deep into the forest at the beginning of each day
they were together and at first light, they would look for new
plants and herbs. Shango had already learned quite a bit about
plants and herbs from his mother when she took him out on gathering
excursions with Peter, Ezzie and other students. But Peter told
Shango stories about the plants and their spirits, what they liked
and didn’t like. He gave them pet names and character traits and
made Shango memorize them initially, telling him that soon he would
have to know each one of them personally. They played all sorts of
games, together, against each other, each choosing different plants
and herbs as their allies. Peter would sneak up on Shango and
playfully attack him, saying something like “I am the dread spirit
of Nightshade and I will steal your voice, I will bend you like a
twig and stretch your eyes wide. I will kill you.” Shango was
required to declare himself the antidote or cure:
“I am vinegar and mustard. I am magnesia and strong coffee! I
rebuke you. Get off and
If the boy was correct, Peter, a strong wrestler, would let him win.
One morning Shango asked his mentor:
“How do you know so much about plants, Peter?”
“They talk to me, Shango. They tell me their secrets.” Peter
“How do they talk to you, Peter?
“ I can’t tell you that, Shango. I will have to show you.”
He took Shango to a
blue gum tree and told him to sit before it.
“Close your eyes,
Shango. Feel this tree with your hands and then with your mind.
Touch it, smell it. Ask it its name.”
The boy did as he was
told. He closed his eyes and reached out to touch the tree. The
spirit came instantly.
“Why do you summon me,
god man. What is your bidding?” The spirit voice boomed loudly in
“What is your name?”
The boy replied in his thoughts.
“What silliness is
this, god man? Why do you toy with me. You have known my name for
ages. I have served you often and well. Do you mock me,
“No, I do not mock you.
But I must remember. Please tell me your name.”
“Very well, god man, I
will play your game. In this place I am called “Eucalyptus” or “blue
gum” or ‘stringy bark.” You have known me by many other names.
My power is in my leaves. There is medicine in my leaves.
There is perfume in my leaves. The oil in my leaves can clean,
invigorate and renew. But you know this!
“Forgive me old friend”
the guardian spirit spoke in the boy’s head, “part of me really does
know, but the boy that I am does not yet know. He and I are one,
but our memories are not yet one. When I overshadow him, I know
much. But when I allow him to be the boy, he knows very little. He
must learn enough to open the door to all of my memories.
And so it went, plant
after plant, tree after tree, until Shango had met all of the
spirits and had shared their secrets. This took about a year.
The boy’s respect for Peter grew and grew. Not only was his
mentor fun to be with but he really seemed to be, as he said of
himself, the owner of all the plants and trees that grow wild in the
At night, at home with
Maggie, he was much more talkative about what he had learned with
Peter than what he had learned from Tom. Maggie, of course, could
help him considerably with the knowledge Peter and plants imparted
to the boy. She couldn’t help but be amazed at the depth of his
learning. She herself was learning some things about the herbs,
plants and trees that she hadn’t learned before. She was pleased
with the way his education was proceeding with Peter. She
could not help but wonder, though, why, the ‘god” would not show
himself to her initiates.
with Ezzie was much different from that of Tom or Peter. Ezzie
picked the boy up on the mornings of the fourth and seventh days of
the week. Like Peter, she had been apprenticed to Maggie as a
healer/herbalist, but Ezzie in addition to her mastery of herbal
lore, possessed a rather amazing ability to understand the different
motivations, needs and strengths of people, see their pasts and
their possible futures. She could read most people like a book.
Early on each of the
days they spent together, she would take him to the village square
or to the market. They would sit for hours watching people go about
their daily activities. Much of this was new to Shango.
Although he was twelve going on thirteen, Maggie had kept him close
to home. He had not been allowed to play with the village children
for fear that they might ‘terrorize” him about his unusual birth.
Maggie had hoped to shield him from the whisperings of the
superstitious villagers and the awful names some of them called him
like “devil child” or “demon spawn’ or “mother-killer.”
Ezzie, who, too, had
been called many ugly things by these same villagers, had been a
part of the “protective wall” placed around Shango. She lived
in the heart of the village with her brass worker husband. She heard
all of the latest gossip and tongue wagging and usually from the
mouths of the main ones who committed murder by character
assassination. Ezzie was feared by the villagers almost as much as
Maggie. She was known to have a terrible temper when crossed. She
threatened to report the villagers who spoke ill of Shango to Maggie
or deal with them herself. They knew she danced when the moon
was full or new. They knew she could see things that others
could not see. They knew she was one of Maggie’s oldest students.
Almost everyone feared Maggie. A few even remembered that Maggie had
threatened to kill the boy’s father if he in any way harmed the boy.
Most knew that Maggie was good to her word and wanted no part of an
angry village healer.
Ezzie knew what it
meant to be different; to have people constantly staring at you.
Ezzie had been beautiful by all physical standards all of her
life. She knew that being a beautiful
woman spared her nothing, neither heartache nor trouble. For
her, love had always been difficult. Her physical beauty had become
meaningless, even a burden. Her initial encounter with Maggie,
ostensibly to get a love potion to use on a man who did not want
her, became the beginning of her quest for self-knowledge.
Maggie channeled her “husband,” Esu, during that interview and
revealed to Ezzie her fateful life choices. He told her that she was
much more than what she seemed and could be a great force for good
in the world. He also warned her of the horror she could become if
she continued her morbid self-absorption, her infidelities and
dissolute way of living. It did not take much after that to persuade
her to meet her guardian spirit. She was mounted soon after she
started attending Maggie’s ceremonies by the goddess of
“sweet water,” love, money and indeed of happiness – She who
brings all the good things in life. Her
relationship with her guardian spirit had awakened in her powers of
divination and psychic abilities.
Ezzie knew that first
day with Shango what her role in his training would be. She
would teach him to divine; to look into the hearts of his fellow
man. Strolling together at sunrise in the village market place, they
watched the vendors put up their stalls and their tents and put
their wares on display. The market was almost empty of customers
save those who were compelled to come very early to get the best
buys of a wide variety of produce ranging
from fruits to meats, home baking, crafts and a broad assortment of
other goods, including livestock, that would be sold at auctions
beginning mid morning.
“Look at that woman, Shango.” Ezzie pointed with her chin
toward a market woman manning a vegetable stall. She was a
wizened old woman, her head wrapped in a colorful red scarf, that
brought out in bold relief the drabness of rest of her layered
“Tell me something about her!”
Shango fixed the woman in his gaze. He saw an old woman with an
ulcerated “white eye” and a nut brown face overcome by wrinkles.
Although sitting on a low stool, he could tell that she was a small
woman. She sat in the midst a wide range of vegetables ranging from
snap beans, black eyed peas, tomatoes, onions, okra, collard,
mustard and turnip greens to various types of yams and sweet
potatoes, almost an appendage to her produce. He closed his eyes,
almost instinctively, and tried to hold the image of the woman
against his eyelids. He saw an old black man dressed like a farmer
standing behind her with his hands on both of her shoulders pressing
her down. His face was like a death mask but his eyes were
very alive. The man looked up at Shango with a pleading look in
those eyes. A feeling of such profound sadness came over the boy
that he opened his eyes to be free of it. When the vision dispelled,
“What did you see, Shango? What has disturbed you?” She asked.
“I saw a man,” the boy replied “standing behind that old
woman. He was an old black man, older than her and looked like
a farmer. He had his hands on her shoulders like he was
holding her down. He looked like death himself, if death could
look like some body. He looked so sad, Ezzie. I didn’t want to see
“My goodness, Shango!”
She almost squealed with delight, “How perceptive you are. You
have seen a vision, and a special one at that!
“Why Ezzie? What
was special about it? The boy asked.
“It was special because
it was real and symbolic at the same time. Tell me more about
the man. Think boy, about what you saw!”
“Well,” the boy closed
his eyes again, anxious to please Ezzie, “he was a tall thin man
dressed in a farmer’s jumper. His hair was white, the little of bit
that grew on the side of his head. He was very black, and…”
the boy paused, staring hard into his eyelids, “… and his face was
full of scabs like he had the pox…” This last the boy said with no
small amount of wonder
Ezzie beamed at him;
gave him her most radiant smile.
“ The man you saw was
the old woman’s husband” she said, “ who died of the pox last
winter. Her name is Mama Vittles, or at least that’s what
folks in the village call her. She won’t let him go. She lives
her life just like he hadn’t died at all. She talks to him,
sets a place at her table for him each night, cooks for two, even
regularly launders his clothes. He wants to move on, but fears what
might happen to her if he does. That is the part of the vision
that is real.”
“What about the other
part, Ezzie; the part you say is symbolic?”
“That is the part we
will understand together, Shango. It is not something I can
tell you. You will have to find your own meaning and share it
with me. All I can do is share mine with you. Let us now see
what we can find out about some of the other people here.”
That was how first the
day went. Shango looked forward to his time with Ezzie even
more than he did with Peter. Ezzie was the only one of Maggie’s
followers that left him tongue-tied and unsure of himself.
Even as a baby, he sought her out, reaching for her, having a fit if
she wouldn’t pick him up and hold him. She was the only one,
outside of his mother and his sister, Emma, who could quiet him down
from a tantrum. He seemed mesmerized each time he saw Ezzie.
During that first year of apprenticeship with Ezzie, his shyness and
awkwardness turned to devotion. He took all of her suggestions,
practiced each of her techniques. By year’s end, his ability
to read people almost matched Ezzie’s. He could tell things
about people by hearing voices in his head, by holding objects that
had come in contact with that person, by looking into a bowl of
water, a mirror or any reflecting surface or just by closing his
eyes and “seeing” what was going on with that person. Ezzie had
taught him how to read playing cards and the devices which she
favored, a set of seashells that she threw on the ground. All she
had to do to prod him to greater and greater efforts and
achievements was to shine that wonderful smile on him. In
truth, the boy was in love.
It was that love that
brought about the change that Maggie had been anticipating; the
stable blending of the boy with the god. One afternoon after a
day of reading people in the market, Ezzie brought Shango to her
house. She had planned to feed him and let him nap because she had
worked him hard that day, making him divine using her “sacred”
While watching him eat,
a compulsion came over her and before she could stop herself, she
“Shango, dear one, I
want you to read me. I want you to look at me and then use any of
the divining techniques I’ve taught you and tell me what you see.”
The boy who was Shango
felt an unnamed fear rise up in him. Sometimes he saw bad or
unpleasant things around or happening to the people he “read.” He
didn’t want to see anything bad or unpleasant about Ezzie, but he
couldn’t refuse anything Ezzie asked. He looked upon her face
and felt his young heart ache with longing. He felt that
familiar stirring in his young loins that only she among the women
he had known could rouse. Her black-brown skin had the inner glow of
polished ebony and the tautness of bata drumheads. Purple highlights
anointed her cheeks and forehead. Her eyes, wide and slanted,
featured gold-flecked burnt sienna irises which induced the sweetest
vertigo if beheld too long. Her wide sculpted nose, an African
perfection, tilted up so that her fleshy rosebud lips were fully
This matchless face,
only part of an immaculate apparition, danced on the back of
Shango’s eyelids. Trying to hold that face, those eyes in focus, the
boy felt himself drawn in to them, into
an area of space-time with a gravitational field so intense that he
lost his self sense and became only a mouth speaking:
The drought had
lasted days on end. The ground was parched and cracked, the
plants withered and died without water. The guardian spirits,
aspects of the Lord of heaven and the custodian spirits of human
beings, lived on earth as forces of nature with their human
children and suffered as did every other living thing.
They alone knew the cause of this rainlessness and privation,
for many among them whispered against the Lord of Heaven; some
even plotted to overthrow the “Great Mystery.” With an
insignificant expenditure of power the Lord of Heaven stopped
When the drought
came upon the land, their bloating bellies and their
malnourished children made them forget their rebellion. They
tried to decide among themselves who would go to the “Lord” and
beg his forgiveness for all their sakes. Many could assume
the shape of birds, eagles, falcons, swallows, pigeons, all
proven long distance flyers, but none of these were strong
enough to fly to heaven. They began to despair.
Then the beautiful
Osun spoke up.
“I will fly to the
Lord of heaven and beg him to restore the rain.”
At this, all of
the guardian spirits heaped their scorn and ridicule upon her.
“How will you do
this, pretty one. Your bird is the vain and pampered
peacock, who does nothing but preen in the sun all day. It has
as much chance of flying to heaven as you have of doing an
honest day’s work.”
“My wings are
strong and the need is great!” she said, undaunted, “I will
surely try!” And with no other alternative, they agreed to let
So Osun took on
her aspect of the peacock and flew off towards the sun.
The journey soon began to take its toll and exhaustion almost
forced her to give up, turn back. But she kept flying ever
higher, determined to save the world and make believers out of
those guardian spirits that laughed at her. Going higher still,
her feathers began to wilt and burn in the withering heat of the
sun and all her head feathers were burned from her head, but on
she flew. She flew through her fear, through her pain until,
through sheer will and determination she arrived semi-conscious
and almost dead at the Lord of Heaven’s palace.
When the Great
Mystery who was called Olodumare looked upon her she was a
pitiful and pathetic sight. Her once beautiful rainment of
feathers, covered with eyes on the wings that shone like stars,
and cast about in flight like sparks the color of the rainbow,
was little more than a scraggly coat of a few flat, black tufts
on slender barbs. Her once plump and graceful form had become
hunchback, emaciated and her head was bald and covered with
scabrous lesions from flying so close to the sun.
The Lord of Heaven
looked at her and wept. He had her brought to the Palace
where she was fed and given water, and her wounds were healed.
“Why have you made
such a perilous journey? He asked.” You have sacrificed much,
even your great beauty. You who were once a peacock, are now
like unto a vulture.”
“I have come to
beg your forgiveness, Lord. Our earth is dying and all because
of our foolish pride. We know that your laughter and joy is the
very rain that will restore us. Please give us back the rain
that we might live. If you would do this, then my beauty
is but a small price to pay.”
The Lord of Heaven
looked into her eyes and heart and saw no falseness there.
“I will restore
the rains and you will take them with you, little one. And
I will restore your great beauty because it pleases me to do so.
For all eternity let it be known that you, Osun, will be the
Messenger of the House of Olodumare and all will respect you as
such. From this day forward, you are peacock and vulture, for
both birds do you great honor…
“That is who you are,
Ezzie, who is Enzili, who is Osun.” The boy spoke with the
resonances of deity. “You are the messenger of the Great
Mystery, the embodiment of his great love which nourishes, sustains
and renews us all.”
Ezzie wasn’t sure about
what she had expected, but it certainly wasn’t anything like this.
She was stunned. She looked upon this thirteen-year-old boy who was
still staring intently at her with a mixture of wonder and something
else as well. She wanted to flee -- nothing good could come of the
stirrings she was feeling in her body – but she could not. As it
turned out, the boy was not finished. Still holding her gaze with
hypnotic intensity he chanted:
forth, O beautiful one,
of the family reincarnated
O mother of
Open the path of
O Cleansing spirit
Clean the inside and
We are entitled to
wear the crown that awakens all pleasure…”
Ezzie felt a coldness
in her stomach. Her limbs seemed to lock as if paralyzed, but her
awareness was heightened. She was tingling throughout the entire
expanse of her skin. Then, an almost physical presence pushed her
I-am-ness aside; looked out of her eyes, spoke through her mouth:
“Hello, my husband! Why
do you summon me? Do you wish for me to cook for you? Perhaps you
have something else, something even more delicious in mind?”
indeed, beloved.” There was no hint of the boy in the voice that
“What would you have me
do?” the goddess spoke in a voice that evoked the sensual touching
of eyes and the subsequent salute of remembering souls.
“I would have you look
upon the fiery centers of this woman who bears you, for you will
ride her no more.”
“What are you saying,
husband. You would take from me my steed?”
“She is not a horse for
you to ride, beloved, but a part of you who must awaken. She is you
as you are she.”
“I don’t understand,
husband. This is not the way of the guardian spirit.”
“I have come to show a
new way,” said the boy who was not a boy. “Trust me in this
and much will be revealed to you. Now, look upon her fires and
blend them with your own. Burn you both as one flame”
The goddess did as she
was told and Ezzie felt like she was on fire, as if her very life
force was fueling the fires
tempering her personality into this, its most stable form.
She felt more alive than she had ever been. She could see what had
previously gone unseen. She could hear what had gone unheard and her
feelings transported her into a new reality entirely. Now she looked
upon the boy and saw that he was not a boy at all. She
recognized him, knew him for who he was and loved him.
“Shango,” exclaimed Ezzie/Osun, “What have you done?
“What have I done? He asked. “Nothing. What you have
done is become one with who and what you are.”
“Yes, it is as you say.
If I could see before, it was like making out images by the light of
the moon. Now, it is like seeing by the light of the glorious
noonday sun. And I remember…
I was the
favorite of all of Obatala’s children and they all called me
beautiful. I loved my father and he loved me. He possessed the
art of prophecy. He could foretell the future, discern the answers
to vital questions by observing signs and events, by touching
objects or through communicating with natural and/or ancestral
spirits. I asked him to teach me this art, but he refused. My father
had refused me nothing until this. I was determined that he would
grant me this boon as well.
One day, father went to the river to bathe. He removed his clothes,
piled them on the river’s banks and entered the water. Esu the
trickster happened to pass by. Seeing father’s coveted white
clothes and his immaculate white robe piled up by the river, Esu
snatched them up and ran home. I happened to be close by the
river picking flowers by the river bank when I heard my father’s
scream. I ran to river and saw him there, hiding his nakedness
under the water
“I am in disgrace.” He said. “I can’t go about naked. And my
white clothes, especially my robe, proclaim who I am. You must
help me, my child”
Here was my opportunity.
I return your white clothes for you, father, will you teach me the
I discerned a
set of footprints leaving the river bank. I followed these
footprints. They led to Esu’s house. Before going to his door, I
anointed myself with honey and tied my five yellow scarves around my
waist. He was just another male, after all. When he came to
the door to answer my insistent knocking, I saw the way he looked at
me. I demanded the return my father’s clothes. I knew he was the
thief because I could see them piled on the floor just inside the
doorway. He said he would give them to me if I lay with him. I
agreed. He was just another male after all.
I returned to the
river to give father back his clothes and he taught he taught
me how to read the sacred shells…
I fell in love
first with severe Ogun,
iron god and fierce and hard-working blacksmith, my mother
Yemaja’s son. I wanted him; with me, in me, but he,
despairing about the way our human wards used his gifts for war
and oppression, withdrew from the world and me before I could
entice him. He retreated deep into the sacred forest. I
sought him out in that forest at the behest of the Lord of
Heaven, because when Ogun withdrew his power from the world,
progress stopped. No new fields were cleared for planting,
no new roads were opened for travel and no new inventions were
made to make life easier. I put on my five yellow scarves
and carried my gourd of honey into the forest. I went to a
clearing and began to dance. I felt him watching me, felt
his eyes all over my body. When he came out of hiding and drew
close, I smeared his lips with my honey. I drew him back into
the world where he resumed his work and I married him. But in
truth, I belong to no man or god…
When I cast my
eyes on the beautiful Shango, also a son of my mother, I wanted
him as well. I left Ogun and used my wiles catch the thunder
god’s attention. He never forgave me for leaving him and
has hated his brother ever since. Shango had already
married Oba. But the lusty Shango could not resist my gourd of
honey and soon I became his second wife. When he tasted my
cooking, I quickly became his favorite.
Oba was jealous
and made things difficult for me. She was plain where I was
beautiful. She kept a good house but could not cook as well as
again presented itself to me when Oba in a friendly moment asked
me the secret of my cooking. I was just finishing a stew that
our husband liked with mushrooms floating on its surface. I told
her that I cut off pieces of my ear (I always wore a head tie
with my ears covered) on special occasions and placed them in my
soups and stews. Oba saw the mushrooms floating in the soup and
thought they were pieces of my ear.
Taking my “advice”
Oba made a soup for Shango. She cut off her whole ear and
placed it in the soup. Shango was disgusted by the foul tasting
soup and even more disgusted when he saw that Oba was missing an
ear. She has never forgiven me...
Ezzie came out of her
waking dream. She had to look around for a moment to remember where
she was. She looked at the boy sitting in front of her and could
actually see that there was no center image of his personality.
Oscillating, seemingly, in and out of the boy’s body were the low
frequency qualities, abilities, skills,
and learned behaviors of the adolescent and the high
frequency self sense of the elevated ancestor, the crowned one. The
boy was vibrating like tuning fork, the masks of a powerful man and
an adolescent boy alternating on his face.
Knowing not where the
knowledge came from but knowing with absolute certainty what to do,
Ezzie cupped the boy’s face in her hands, and kissed him on his
mouth. No mother’s kiss, this, her lips, locking on his, a
consistent pressure of yielding softness, holding him until a center
image took shape, until the wild oscillation ceased; until that
thirteen year old boy kissed her back like a natural man.