Here at Voodoo Universe it is time for our annual Ancestor Feast and Open House. I’ve been holding open feasts for almost 2 decades now and nothing surprises me- from the time someone showed up with a soul doll to the time someone almost concussed themselves on the floor, and don’t get me started on people setting themselves on fire, it is always interesting (don’t worry no one had to be hospitalized.) My godson Tehron Gillis in all his blessed fortitude offered to write about his first experience and provide some advice for those who are not used to traditional African-based ritual. For those who are interested in upcoming feasts and events please connect with us on our FB page.
You follow instructions graciously provided by your smartphone. A text to the woman who invited you lets her know you are here. Within a few minutes someone in all white opens the door for you. How was the ride over? Did you find the place alright? Yea it is really cold this winter. Small talk because you don’t know quite what to say, heading up stairs towards the unknown. The air bubbles from beyond doors with laughter, recounted stories of varying believability, sharp citrus, incense that definitely isn’t sage, names foreign soon to be familiar, Café du Monde, and jazz. On the other side people converse in preparation of a ceremony that you had only heard rumors about. The altar, the symbol in cornmeal on the floor, and the flags send questions coursing through your head. It begins.
Going to your first open Voodoo feast can be a thrilling and disorientating experience. From the time you arrive most of your senses will be coaxed out of there comfort zones. I remember my first Voodoo ceremony in 2007 which led to me becoming a Voodoo initiate. To this day I still remember dancing around a huge altar, getting my foot stepped on, and the two possessions that happened simultaneously. More than anything I remember the litany of questions I had before, during, and after. While the Priestess, Lilith Dorsey, did a great job of answering most of them her energy and focus was on the ritual at large so it took me about 7 years of study with her to learn the ins and outs of a feast. So it is my honor to pass some of this knowledge of the do’s and don’ts to all of you first timers.
- Be respectful. To yourself, to others, and the space.
- Don’t be a wall flower mingle. Feasts are not only about honoring the spirits but also building a community. Introduce yourself and learn who is in the temple.
- Ask questions. Why are is that person wearing all white? Can I eat that? What is that symbol on the floor? These along with any other questions you can think of are all valid and you should ask them. Once you know who is in the temple get their attention, politely, and ask.
- Listen. There may be instructions given on a dance or advice spoken through the Priestess from the Lwa. What you do is up to you but you should always listen.
- No photography please. Unless you have the expressed consent of the Priest/ess and everyone present please refrain from taking photos of altars, flags, and people while in ceremony.
- DANCE! Sometimes, not always, there will be time to dance. If you are able bodied to not waste this time. Surprise yourself, where else can your body move to rhythms that survived time and the middle passage. And it’s also super distracting having people stand there watching while others are in a very intimate situation. Join in or excuse yourself no one will judge you too harshly.
Tehron Gillis is a Westchester based slam poet and writer, is a voodoo initiate and rootworker. Practicing magic and tarot for over a decade, Tehron works towards exploring LGBTQ and ethnic themes in the craft. Check out his website, and remember to share!