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"Mo Juba Awo Shango!"

 


Joe McNair

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,
Fortitude.
 Owner of the Mystery of Rain
.

 

“Call forth your husband, woman!” 

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 homage, praise,
I ask your permission, I salute you
My husband, there is no other,
My body gives homage, praise
I ask your permission, I salute you;

I prostrate to salute you,

father, teacher, husband

I give you praise...”

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 of me?”

“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 conscious thoughts.

“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 way.”

“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 together.

“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 time.

“Shango, what have you done?” Though somewhat disoriented, Maggie had never felt so alive.

“Nothing, Mama.”  The twelve-year-old was back. “It was Papa Esu’s doing. He has made you whole.”

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 dream.

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 women.

 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 is.

“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 it.”

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 husband.

“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 gut-splitting laugh.

 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 from me?”

“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 be …

“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 devotion.

“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 reputation.

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 man.”

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 well?’

“Yes Mama.” She heard clearly in the boyish words the resonance of the god.

“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
begone!”

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 replied.

“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 Shango’s head.

“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, now?”

“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 woods.

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.

Shango’s apprenticeship 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 clothing.

“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, he shuddered.

“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 any more.”

“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” seashells.

While watching him eat, a compulsion came over her and before she could stop herself, she blurted out:

“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 displayed.

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 the rains.

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 her try.

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:


Come forth, O beautiful one,

Spirit-goddess, one of the family reincarnated

O mother of salutations.

Open the path of attraction

O Cleansing spirit

Clean the inside and out

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?”

 

“Something else, indeed, beloved.” There was no hint of the boy in the voice that spoke now.

 

“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.

 “If I return your white clothes for you, father, will you teach me the divining arts?”

“Yes child, anything.”

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 I.

Opportunity once 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.
 

 

 Chandra links pulsar to historic supernova 

 

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