Every once and again you just meet a person who truly walks what they talk. They just stand out, living a life in the presence of the Goddess. Maybe it is the work they do in the world, how they live out their values, or reach out a hand to those in need? They are the people whom inspire us to be better. They seem to have grasped what it means to have magical experiences that shape lives, and transform. For many whom are alone in her presence, we come to a point where we bridge ourselves into deeper knowing with the Goddess by inviting wisdom from traditions and through seeking initiations and ordinations. It isn’t easy to stand there, at the threshold of ‘more’; more Love, more community, and more Goddess and enter into an exchange over an appropriation.
One such person at the threshold of a cultural exchange of a lifetime, is Lou Florez. He is that public priest who is touching lives. I don’t just mean with commercial magic, but rather in the communities among the men and women in deep need, there is this man, whom like many is alone in the presence of Goddess, doing the work and touching the faces of suffering!
Lou is an amazing human being and spiritual worker. He brings something very authentic and unique to the work that he does and continues to support the voices of diversity within the Pagan community. Having this opportunity would ultimately give Lou that much more that he can give to the community. –Crystal Blanton, author and activist.
Lou is a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Oshira priest and, as he puts it, an “all around witchy guy!” He has been involved with Earth-centered magical communities in one form or another since his teens, where he found his home. “As a working class, queer, man of color”, Lou says, “my experience of these traditions has not only transformed me, but has fueled and reframed my perspectives on healing, magic, and liberation.”
“Lou Florez brings consciousness, grace, magic and joy to our work together at The Sacred Well, and his work in political activism as a Queer man of color is inspiring and visionary.” –YesheRabbit Matthews, High Priestess, Caya Coven, co-owner the Sacred Well.
Recently Lou launched a campaign to help fund a trip to Nigeria and touch that community with the power of the Goddess. Lou has been invited to seek initiation within the IFA tradition. You read right, Nigeria. The place where once Ebola was epidemic, where female genital mutilation has some of the highest statistics in Africa, and homosexuality is punishable by death. I wondered to myself, why would anyone want to go to Nigeria? And so I asked, and what I came to know so inspired me, I decided it should be shared to as many people as possible.
I interviewed Lou Florez for Alone in Her Presence, this is part of his amazing story!
Tell me a little bit about this pilgrimage?
The IFA Tradition, born in Nigeria and transported throughout the world during the Middle Passage, is not only beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it has profoundly impacted the way I live in the world. The teachings view the cosmos as imbued with emanate life force and spiritual power which supports our individual journeys and evolutionary processes as we move towards the biggest versions of ourselves and our lives.
Based upon my dedication to community and service over the years, an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.
I am sure the IFA tradition is new to some of my readers, as it was for me, can you share a bit more?
FA is a indigenous, traditional religion of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It holds sacred that the elements and all forms of creation are emanations of divinity. The Orisha are emanations and forms through which divinity manifests in nature and in ourselves. At their core, they are elemental forces of nature, as well as, beings of elevated consciousness that work to uplift and bring balance in the world.
The teachings of the Orisha, as well as the rituals, prayers, invocations, and history of the tradition are comprised within an oral body of literature called the Odu IFA. It originates from a Yoruba prophet, and teacher named Orunmila and is historically dated between 6-10,000 years ago.
During the slave trade the tradition, through the oral corpus was carried to Caribbean, and Latin America and influenced the spiritual landscape of the Southern United States.
Got it! So then, tell me more about how will this pilgrimage help you as a healer & rootworker:
These initiations and teachings are designed to elevate the consciousness and marry it to its individual path of enlightenment. This process happens through the reception of the Odu IFA, which are energetic thresholds or gateways between the physical and the metaphysical which contain the entire force and knowledge of creation. It is through these doors and roads that we are able to access and channel the divine in all its forms, knowledge, and expressions.
On a more physical level this pilgrimage is centered around accessing teachings, stories, and indigenous ways of being in connection with Spirit, the land, and community. It is an opportunity to help keep the legacy of these ways of being alive in the world, as well as, preserving the knowledge and healing for future generations to come.
What about Nigeria calls out to you?
Nigeria, and specifically Yorubaland is the birth place of Orisha traditions world wide and what this opportunity affords me is the ability to meet and encounter these divine energies and beings in their natural landscapes and homes. I also feel that as a Chicano who practices African diasporic traditions that it is my duty to give back to the living communities who have kept these traditions going and which have enabled me to receive my healing and reflection.
Do you worry about being an open queer man in Nigeria, or things like ebola?
There are real issues of concern happening in Nigeria and as a sane being on the planet I am absolutely weighing things out. Before I decided to take on this commitment I meditated, divined, spoke with elders, family and friends about all aspects. I have a real privilege when it comes to living in the states and to be quite frank I have no idea what I am going to face. There is a real level of surrendering but I know that when I come back, I will be changed.
In regards to homosexuality I have not hidden the fact that I am an openly gay man. My initiators know full well who I am and how I walk in life and are willing to teach. I would never hide who I am in order to be accepted in community.
This feels powerful to me. This invitation! How do you pilgrimages help deepen spiritual connection? And if do how?
I believe that grace, divinity, and enlightenment can be accessed everywhere and anywhere but that the qualities and expressions of these manifestations are unique to the place and time of the experience. For me these types of pilgrimages are about being willing to not only encounter these divine emanations held within the Earth but being transformed on a DNA level by the experience. While the initiations and ceremonies open the doors to the power of the divine, it is up to me to continually reinitiate myself and deepen my practice and service to community based the experience.
This trip marks the beginning of a seven year training program for learning the entire Odu corpus consisting of 256 scriptures containing between two hundred and four hundred verses filled with prayers, ceremonies, magics, offerings, stories, and the history of the tradition and its people. I will also be given license to do IFA readings, naming rituals, and IFA initiations once I have mastered the ceremonies.
Another highlight and reason to support me in this endeavor is that I will be learning both magical and medicinal uses for African herbs, minerals, and curios. Upon my return, I plan to lecture and archive all that I have learned and share it with community through live and online presentations and seminars. I also have the ability to bring back hand carved Orisha statues, divination trays and boards, and a variety of fabrics and wares made by priestesses and priests.
If people can’t fiscally support you, how else might they?
Please make some noise about what I’m doing by posting on your social networking sites, and sending some messages to people who you think might help! Consider using the Indiegogo share tools to help link to my campaign and most of all, please pray for my success in this endeavor for the benefit of all! Ashé!
I know that people may wonder why I choose to lift this story up, and Lou’s journey of a lifetime? There are few valuable lessons here. One is what it means to step out and be a person doing public spiritual work within communities. Patheos is dedicated to telling those stories. Unlike other spiritual communities, there is no diocese to fund Pagan priests, no secret gold lined coffers or endowments. Rather, the public pagan is often out of pocket to make magic in our lives. Many Patheos Pagan writers have written about what that looks like.
Another lesson, I think the harder lesson is Paganism penchant for cultural appropriation. I am not sure it is even intentional, but in a sea of books and in the internet age, it is easy to lay claim to something that may not be ours to claim. The United States built a nation on this thing known as manifest destiny, what I learned in grade school as “the god given right to explore new territory.” but what really meant, the god given right to take whats not yours.” It is so easy to slide into appropriation, be it caucasian people in Native American headdresses or wearing a bindi for FreePeople.com, to how some approach the application of African Diaspora traditions and religions. But we also have people engaging in powerful exchanges. That’s Lou. On the topic of Cultural Appropriation vs Exchange for The Wild Hunt, Lou said,
Experiences of appropriation have left me alienated and displaced in community. At its core appropriation is a form of violence and aggression against brown bodies and brown communities. It is a minstreling, a racist caricature that tells more about the frame of mind of the performer [appropriation is a performative act] then it does about the original practice or cultural significance. Not only does it cause harm through this mimicking of symbols and actions, but it further creates difficulties for seeing real images of brown people and our gods on community altars due to the fear of appropriation.I think that honesty is of utmost importance in these matters because there is a difference between a ritual inspired by a different culture versus one that claims a lineage in that specific tradition. My litmus test is this question, have you been given license to do ceremony and teach from these communities? Just as I would never read a book and pretend to be an authority in Gardenarian Wicca, you can’t read one book and think that you are a rootworker, conjure doctor, or a First Nation “shaman.”
This is our moment as a community to invest in an exchange. Lou and his trip to Nigeria is destiny manifested. This is one culture exchange I think will heal past wounds of slavery and oppression, bridge gaps where deeper understanding is needed around the discovery of religious experiences that are new to us, and hopefully invite the dialogue that fosters love. There can never been enough love in a world filled with hate.
And so, gentle reader’s I ask you to share Lou’s indiegogo campaign, and invite you to consider contributing to the power of this cultural exchange, and standing on the side of magic. Supporting our leaders is part of what it means to be in the fold. More importantly, when we step out from being Alone in Her Presence, we step into our greatest self.
“Lou has the opportunity to learn from the oldest keepers of his path in Africa. Let’s help him learn, and enrich our community with knowledge from the source of humanity.” –Sam Webster, Ph.D., Mage
Lou is at the threshold of something that will not only impact his life, but also the lives of everyone he touches. In times that seem hopeless and troubled, it just takes one drop in humanities bucket, one drop of love and service for justice and peace to realchemize the world. Let us join with Lou, and choose love.
If you would like to learn more about Lou Florez, visit his website today: louflorez.com or his Indiegogo Campaign!
For more in depth study of the variety of forms that Orisha traditions take, here are some great resources.