Friday, April 2, 2010
CUBA: MY PURIFICATION RITUAL
So anyway... the santerían purification ritual. The photo was taken by the cab driver who then left us.
I was in the shed with Isabel and her sister-in-law. It was night. Pretty quiet except for the occasional dog bark. Isabel channels an early slave by the name Jose who speaks a mixture of old French, old Spanish and Yoruban. (I had to take Isabel's word for it.) Neither Isabel nor her sister-in-law speak those languages either, BTW, but the sister-in-law translates. It's a bit like Pentacostals who speak in tongues and have someone beside them with the gift of prophecy to translate.
Anyway, I'd arrived with a cigar and a bottle of rum-- spirits like both -- and we were off to the races.
The ritual began with me stripping to my underwear and Isabel whipping herself with a red cord attached to a kitchen knife and chanting in front of the state to Santa Barbara, a female orisha who represents Jesus in the synchretization of Yoruban ritual magic and Catholicism -- see earlier post.
Then Isabel took the knife and began stabbing the ground between a series of spike spokes radiating like sunlight -- and representing Chango, god of storms. As she went into a trance she began making animal sounds and sniffing around me. She smoked the cigar with the lit end inside her mouth and drank the bottle of rum within the next half hour.
I had some rum spat over my chest, and was whipped with some yerbabuena leaves that were in a bucket of fresh water. Then I was hoisted backwards onto Isabel's back (like when you crack someone's back) and she walked around the room with me before setting me down.
"Jose" -- Isabel in tongues -- said I was a writer who had some problems preventing me from sleeping. He said there was a woman who loved my and like to dance and she was married and not married. This made Jose confused. I had never mentioned anything about myself to Isabel -- I wasn't part of any group or tour -- and this was all accurate. My female friend had been married, then divorced, and was back to living with her ex. No wonder Jose was confused. Lots more was said that turned out to be true, and then Isabel came out of the trance. There was no sense she was drunk or had even touched a drop.
More next post: How this scene was represented in fiction in my novel The Phoenix Lottery, and also in Chanda's Secrets. Then after that -- a santerían gathering...
BTW -- this is a tree with its roots in Africa. It came to Cuba with the slaves. And it has a great story --
Chango, god of storms, first asked the mighty palm tree if he could stay under its branches for protection. The palm tree said no, it was too beautiful. Chango took protection from the tree pictured above. That's why, to this day, he leaves this tree alone during electrical storm, but sends his lightning bolts to the palm trees instead, to wreck their leaves on account of their vanity.