Monday, December 3, 2012

FAQ: What do you do on a regular basis as a Pagan Minister? Or a day in the life of a Pagan Minister

I was asked a question today. Specifically this question:


This is a super simple question. What do you do on a regular basis as a Pagan Minister? 

Uhm, yeah, I suppose you are expecting a super simple answer to your super simple question? If you were then clearly you don’t know me. Here is my not so simple answer to your ever so simple question, and a look into the daily life of what you term a “pagan minister”:



I fall under the category of both Christian and Pagan. I'm Voodoo (not Vodou, which is VERY different), magic wise I am a Hoodoo Rootworker, my rank is Medsen Fey, which is a type of Witch Doctor, or what Wiccans and other White Witches would refer to as "A Two Headed Conjurer Doctor" or “Practitioner of the Black Arts”. Whenever I hear that though, I find myself asking: Black magic? White magic? Magic doesn't have a color! Good magic? Bad magic? I'm sorry, magic has only one alignment and that is 'chaotic neutral', it's neither good nor bad. Sure you can use it for good or bad, but that's the thoughts of the magic user, not magic itself that changes. I say this because,  you ask, “What do you do on a regular basis as a Pagan Minister?” and the answer is quite simply this: Magic. But then most of the Pagan paths, think “white magic” when they hear the word magic, and this has led to some misunderstandings and confusion, so I wanted to make sure you understood up front, when I say magic, the last thing on my mind is if the magic is white, black, or otherwise.But everyone seems to hear Voodoo and think evil black magic and my past involvement on group discussions has also taught me that if you say you are Voodoo, you’ll have Christians screaming hellfire and damnation and Pagans joining them as well. As a general rule, because I am Voodoo, most Christians consider me to Pagan to be Christian while most Pagans consider me too Christian to be Pagan, and both consider me too evil to be in a religious discussion to begin with. It’s frustrating really, and the reason you don’t see me commenting more often than I do, because, yes words do hurt, and not many religions Christian or Pagan are accepting of the Voodoo faith. So I just wanted to say that up front,in an attempt to avoid any misunderstandings, from those reading my reply.

Also while I am classified as a Pagan, I am also classified as a Christian, which I know confuses folks from both Pagan and Christian paths who often ask, “Well, how can you be both? The two are not compatible, it’s one or the other.” So, I guess, before I can clearly and properly answer your question, I should explain that just a bit too, in order to avoid any confusion. See, we believe magic is like prayer, it is a message to God. In fact most Voodoo Rituals come straight out of the Bible: the candles, the incense, the words said, the herbs mixed, etc, come from Moses and Daniel and Jacob who like it or not were among the most powerful wizards to walk the face of the earth. These men wore white robes and turbans and jeweled trappings which is why we in Voodoo do the same. They cast these spells as a way to petition the spirits, who came to talk to them, then went to God with the spell/request. If God approved of the request,  the desired result happened, if God did not approve, then nothing happened. This is why we in Voodoo do not put limits on magic, by calling it black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. We believe that all magic is neutral and the intent of the caster can be good or bad regardless of the spell, and that only spells cast which God approves of will come about, the others will fizzle and come to nothing. And that’s why, even though those on the outside look at Voodoo and call it “Black Magic”, we who actually practice Voodoo, do not see it as Black Magic at all, because we know that God sees into our hearts and knows the true intent, and will act accordingly. We also believe that God himself, may or may not grant our request, and even if he does, he himself is very unlikely to be the one to carry it out, rather he will tell one of his servants (spirits, angels, lwa, lesser gods, lesser goddesses, etc) to carry out the request. (And to clear up that point, Voodoo believes that there is one Creator God, and many other gods and goddesses under him, thus you’ll hear Voodonist mention God [single and capitalized] and gods/goddesses [plural and not capitalized] as well as saints and lwa and angels and gede. We also believe that every deity of every religion in the world is real and valid and available for us to call on for help. As a result Voodoo has the single largest pantheon of any religion. I know it can be confusing to those not on this path to understand it, it’s a lot of digest, that’s why I’m trying to explain these things. Sorry for this post getting so long as a result. But I felt if I did not explain them, some readers might not quite understand the rituals I do in my own ministry.)

What that basically means is that deity wise, a Voodonist can have any number of gods or goddesses or patron saints or spirit guides from any religion. In my own case it would be Christ Jesus, the lwa of my head Damaballa Weddo and Erzulie Fredda, and my patron saints Liberace and Francis. Also a few others, including Mercury/Hermes, Mary Mother of Jesus, and Loki, as well as several of the traditional Vodou Lwa. I am more or less accepting of all deities, but there are those (such as the ones I mentioned) which I feel closer to, esp Damballa who I feel a deep soul binding connection with.

While Vodu is an organized religion with very strict sets of law and bylines, Voodoo is not an “organized” religion and rather is very much like Wicca in that each practitioner is allowed to do their own thing. Most members of Vodu belong to a “house” (church/coven/temple/congregation) where they meet weekly and have religious services (usually involving a lot of music, dancing, and singing). Voodoo on the other hand is mostly made up of solitary practitioners who if they attend any sort of weekly service at all, it’s done in their own home before a family altar, with members of their own family. As I said, I am Voodoo, not Vodu, and  I likewise don't belong to a coven/group/congregation/church/temple/etc. In other words I am a “solitary witch/cleric”. I do however run a small Shrine [mini-temple?], called The Church of the Holy Rhinestone. It does not yet have a building, but I'm working on that. (by converting a garden shed). When it done, it'll be just big enough for 1, maybe 2 people to stand/kneel inside it (in the style of the Spiritualist Prayer Churches, all of which are in buildings 6x6x8 or smaller). It is a shrine devoted to St. Liberace`, Damballa Weddo, and Christ Jesus and will contain a prayer candle altar for that purpose.

The Sabbats are not a part of my tradition, like I said, I'm not Wiccan, I'm Voodoo, and Voodoo is considered by many Pagans to be a Christian religion as it uses Christian Holy Days and Christian saints, but Christians usually consider Voodoo to be a Pagan religion due to it's being very heavily based in magic arts and ancestral reverence, and because it is accepts all the gods and goddesses of all the world's religions, rather than just believing in one god. That said we Voodoo are allowed to pick and choose which Holy Days we feel most comfortable with, and I was originally raised Mormon, so I continue to practice the same Holy Days I did as a child, which are basically the standard Christian ones. I have however added a few non-Christian ones as well, such as the Feast Day of Damballa, and to set apart Thursday as being a Holy Day in addition to Sunday (these being the 2 days of the week when Damballa requires his servants, wives and children to devote to tending his altar and prayers etc. I am one of the brides of Damballa, Christians call it being a nun, Pagans call it being a godspouse.)

This of course leads up to the more controversial part of my ministry: being married to a god. Some think it is great, some think it is evil, and others think I am crazy. To each his own.

One of the problems that comes from being a godspouse/married to a Lwa is the strict requirements, including change of diet, change of dress, etc. Change in diet does not affect your public life that much, because there are all sorts of “fad diets” out there so folks just assume you are trying one out to lose weight or something. Change of dress, however, results in stares, comments, and if you get mistaken for a Muslim woman, sometimes even being beaten up!

 I'm not Muslim, but I often wear headscarves which look similar to ones Muslim women wear, and of course being a Gypsy, raised a Mormon, and now a Voodoo means I ain’t never worn pants in my life, always wear long skirts and many layers, so it’s not just for the scarf that I get mistaken for Muslim at times. I started wearing scarves back in the 1970s, mostly because my grandmother wore them. (It's a cultural thing, most Gypsy women keep their head covered, either by a scarf or a hat - for us it's a Christian thing because it says in the Bible that it is a sin for a woman to go out in public without her hair covered, because only her husband is allowed to see her hair. No idea why the Muslims do it). I used to wear them all the time, but around the late 1990s early 2000s it became a problem with people suddenly treating me really shitty. I didn't understand why, until one day someone told me about that 9-11 attack thing and about Muslims (I had not heard of either the 9-11 thing or Muslims before, so I found both things to be confusing, though I have Autism and I find a lot of things confusing) But I ended up deciding to not wear the scarves anymore, because of the way folks treated me, I switched over to hats after that. It's odd, like I said I wore them for 30+ years no problem, than all of a sudden I couldn't wear them at all without folks being nasty. Since starting college I've meet several Muslim women and many have told me similar stories how they get treated poorly because of the way they dress. One girl started dressing "American" and she said there was a dramatic change in how she was treated, so she won't let her daughters wear scarves anymore! I've been thinking about this a lot lately and wondering if I should start wearing headscarves again? I think I might go back to doing that, because I sort of miss it. I know it may sound strange, but I just feel absolutely naked with nothing on my head. I'm more comfortable and relaxed when I have my head covered.

But anyways, yeah, I get this sort of thing a lot, because of the way I dress (usually with a long full tiered white skirt, and a blue 200 year old Kente` cloth/robe from Africa) the outfits stands out big time. Every day no less than 20 people come up to me and ask "Why are you dressed like that?" or "Why are you wearing a costume?" or "Is there a CosPlay event in town?" or "What the hell planet did you drop off of?" and as I usually have my head covered (sometimes with a veil, other times a cap, other times a sunbonnet, other times a hat) I also get the questions "So, are you Amish/Mennonite/Muslim?" and once in awhile someone will say "You're white, why are you dressed like an African?" or sometimes their laugh and joke and ask in sarcasm "So what are you supposed to be, some sort of Voodoo priestess? ha, ha, ha, ha..." to which I'll say, "Why yes, in fact I am." and they'll stand there dumbfounded. :) I had one guy stand there staring for a few seconds, then drop his drink on the ground and run down the sidewalk screaming "Help, it's a Voodoo witch, she's gonna put a curse on me!" ROTFLMAO!!!! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! Sad, but funny. Only twice in all these years, just two times, has anyone walked up to me and said, “Hey! I’m LavTete too! Who's your head? My lwa is...” (LavTete, means you are baptised Voodoo Priest/tess)
See, the thing of it is, a Voodoo Priestess doesn’t just wear her clerics robes one day a week during services, she wears them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of her life, same way Catholic nuns wear their Habit and Wimple the rest of their lives. So, I don’t wear “normal” clothes, no jeans and t’s, no suits, no shorts, so sports uniforms, no short skirts, zip, nadda, nothing. Religious robes, all day, every day, for the rest of my life.

(see photos below for the outfit in question:)










Walmart seems to be a place where I get the whole, "Oh I love that outfit, where did you get it?" I look around at the line behind me and have to think fast, how do I answer this without getting into a religious discussion? I say "I sew my own cloths, except for the Kente, it's an antique that belonged to an African priestess back in the 1800s", which should end it, except, folks get all agog over the Kente and the fact that it's so ancient (and I dare wear it in public spite of it's age) and suddenly folks want to know why I'm wearing priest’s robes, am I a priest too, and oh African priest’s robes, does that mean they belonged to a witch doctor and am I a witch doctor and what religion is it, and why if you are white are you wearing robes that belonged to a black priest from Africa, and me I just want to run to my car, because with my Autism it’s hard for me to deal with nosy in your face people bombarding me with a million and one questions, but heck, I get to my rhinestone encrusted car and find crowds with cameras flocked around it, and can't get close enough to get the door open, because yeah I went all Erzulie Freda on my car and rhinestoned it, and now I'm stuck answering questions "Why did you do this to your car? and "What are these weird symbols on it?" I say, that's the Veve of Damballa, and next thing I know I'm answer questions about why I've got snakes and Damballa veve painted and rhinestoned to my car, and that eventually ends up with me saying something about being the future bride of Danballa, and the whole, oh yeah, by the way, my soon to be husband is a snake spirit-god... yes I’m married to a guy who’s a shapeshifter and spends most of his days in the form of a giant snake...

wow the reactions!

I get everything from, "Hey, man, that's like so cool!" to "Ohmigod! You freak, I'm calling the police, you're frigging crazy!" and everything in between.

I think the thing folks have the hardest time understanding about it all, is when they ask about, why do I dress this way and why did I do that to my car, and my answer is "Well, Damballa told me to. He wants me to be his representative, he wants to know that I will not be ashamed to tell others of our marriage (as some god spouses are), he wants me to commit every aspect of my life to him, right down to the way I dress and the car I drive and the food I eat, I don't expect you to understand it. This is a test of my devotion to him, and I will be expected to do this the rest of my life, if/when I do submit to marriage to him." - They just can not grasp, such a huge level of commitment to another being (thus why the divorce rate is so high) because no one commits themselves fully to another person these days, so when they meet a person who is not only committing to an eternal marriage, but also committing to a marriage with a spirit being, and a spirit being who takes the form of a snake at that, well that just blows their minds right out of the water! People really don’t know how to deal with me when they actually take the time to get to know who I am and how I live my life.

But yeah, it’s a case of me believing that I am not just a minister one day a week, only for a few hours in a certain building. This is a case of me being the whole "we represent our gods" by every aspect of our lives, and I go to an extreme few clergy members are willing to do.. I've always been a highly religious person, granted I was born and raised Christian and stayed that way many years because I felt I HAD to remain Christian "or else"...I'm not sure “or else” what, but there was always the "or else" in the back of my head...it was like I could not explore other religions because I was terrified of being struck down by lightning if I did. After a while it occurred to me, that if God really was God, then God would be for everyone, not just a small group of people, and he would love and welcome everyone and not be threatening to blow us up for trying to better ourselves, and one thing lead to another, and finally I branched away from the fear based religious ideas I had growing up and followed the whispers of a kind loving god(?) who had haunted my dreams since childhood (some 30+ years ago). I wanted to know who he was and what he wanted and why me? (He couldn't talk so it was not like he could tell me who he was or what he wanted!) Why was he in my dreams every night? I discovered that there are 15,000 religions each with a whole great big set of gods and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, when all I had to go on was the man was an albino, dressed always in white or green, couldn't talk, and was always carrying this giant anaconda/snake.

You'd think that would make it easy to figure out who he was, but pretty much every religion has a snake god, most gods wear white, and mute gods are not quite as uncommon as they would seem. It took me years of searching to identify his identity (Damballa Weddo).

Well, me being the ubber Christian that I was at the time, I totally freaked out when I found out the guy visiting me in my dreams was a Voodoo god, because I had the whole Voodoo=Satanism theory going on in my head at the time, than it got worse when about 15 years ago, that I found out, ohmigod, he wants me to just toss my secular life aside, become his wife, and devote my life 100% to serving him. Yikes! I was engaged to marry a Mormon priest, and had some rather common (and false) misconceptions about Voodoo, well, I was very "No way am I EVER going to marry a god, and even if I did it certainly wouldn't be a Voodoo one!"

Well,  suddenly everything went wrong, really wrong, really fast: my grandmother died, my engagement was ended because my future husband decided to become a celibate type priest, my dad went into a coma, a flood took my house, I started rebuilding only to have that house burnt to the ground by vandals, I spent 6 years homeless living under a tarp, my church excommunicated me after 27 years of faithful service, and one day I was sitting at the library trying to figure out what the heck was happening, when I saw this book about Voodoo sitting on a desk opened to a chapter about Damballa. So I started studying Voodoo and found out it was nothing like I thought it was.

But then, what actually changed my mind? Evidence. Historical and archeological evidence. Items, scrolls, etc dug up in Egypt and Dahomey and Benin and other places in Africa. Evidence that turned up, shortly after I was excommunicated from my Christian [Mormon] religion, which had resulted in me asking “Why” and “If God was God, why would he throw me away like this?” Which lead to me thinking, well, maybe the Mormon God isn’t God, and if that was so, then how do I know which God is God? I started researching creator Gods.  If you really wanted to do your research, there are approximately 10,000 different creator gods. Every tribe, in every culture, in every country has a creator god story, and some have "ancient", "old", and "modern" creator god stories within the tradition, meaning each culture has several variations on the creator god story. Why believe one over the other? Depends on how you were raised, where you grew up, what your parents believed, etc.  Most of the population is too lazy to use free will and simply continues believing EXACTLY whatever it was their parents taught them, teaching it to their own children, questioning nothing and never once thinking there may be another way to believe. This is not necessarily bad, nor is it good, for it simply is what it is: people blindly repeating what they are told. That said, the average person, is never going to stop and ask: "Is this right? Is there another way?" This again is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, it is simply the way life is.

So here I am saying  "Hey, I'm not sure what I was taught is actually right, how do I prove it is true? What if it proves to be wrong? What should I believe? How do I know which if any is the correct one?" That in mind, you started researching, and became even more confused, because now you have a list of a few hundred creator gods and you have no idea how to make heads or tails of that list. The more creator gods you discover, the more confused you become.

Why should you believe one over the other? Only you can answer that. Everyone who stops following the god of their parents and starts following a different god, is going to have a different reason why they choose to believe in the god they picked. Some may find a warrior god more attractive, others may find a feather winged god more attractive, others may want a female god, others may want a kind gentle god of peace, the reasons are endless. What was I supposed to do? Well, I concluded that if god was god, then god would have been the creator of everything, even the other creator gods. This means finding the OLDEST god, the FIRST god, and using historical evidence and archeological findings to trace all of the various tens of thousands of creation stories until you come to the very first one, or at least the very first one known to have been recorded. You know it isn't going to be recent creations like Flying Spaghetti Monster (created in the last 15 years), Cthulhu (less than 120 years old), Jesus (2012 years old), or even the ever popular God of Abraham, God of the Bible, Jehovah, Yahweh. I Am, Elohim, or Allah (each less than 7,000 years old).

You must realized that be this point I was more open to considering Damballa, but I was still tossing him aside, saying to myself, “Yeah, that’s Voodoo, that’s not even a real religion.” But try as I may to ignore him, Damballa kept popping back up in my research at every turn. I was still hung up on childhood teachings and God of the Bible, so I focused my research in that direction. I was still a firm believer in the whole 7 day creation story in the Bible.

The God of the Bible (also called: God of Abraham, Jehovah, Yahweh. I Am, Elohim, or Allah) is by far the most popular creation story and is in fact referred to by Christian scientists as the The Creation Theory. It is called a theory to make it sound scientific, but in fact it of not a theory it is only a hypothesis. Creationists, believe that the world was created in seven days, and they claim that they have observed the fact in nature, but these are false statements, because the only way they could have observed the 7-day creation was if they had been present during one of those seven days. They can observe nature, but they can not observe it’s creation (well they could observe births and plant seeds and all, but we are talking “poof” it appears out of thin air type creation here, and not only that but “poof” it appears only during one of these 6 out of 7 days at exactly 6,200 years ago). There are day by day diaries of kingdoms in China, which follow day by day activities of the royal families spanning a little over 20,000 years, proving without a doubt that the Earth is no less than 20,000 years old and proving without a doubt that at least parts of The Creation Theory has holes in it, because it states that the Earth will end on it’s 7,000 year of existence and that The 7-Day Creation happened about 6,200 - 6,500 years ago. There are Christians who accused the archaeologists who dug up those codex of having created them just to try to destroy the “validity” of The Creation Theory! They can correctly call it The Creation Hypothesis, because it is what the think happened, but they can not correctly call it The Creation Theory because they have no repeatedly observable evidence that it is what happened.

Well, with hard evidence that the Earth, or rather human life on the Earth, is no less than 20,000 years old, (and science dating it back to the billions) I now had to search for a creation god, who exists prior to 20,000 years ago, and that knocks pretty much every single creation god off of the list because most of them are younger than the God of the Bible and the ones which are older are never much older. It is very difficult to find a god story dating back to 20,000 years because there is little evidence to indicate that the human race had a concept of gods and religion prior to 10,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptian gods are among the oldest, but even those only go back 12,000 years, still a far cry from the 20,000 year requirement I was now in search of. The Sumerians come close with Enki, one of the oldest known gods, but still does not go back far enough to reach our 20,000 year old requirement.

And with Enki crossed off the list I now find a very narrow list indeed, in fact, there is only one name left on the list: Damballa. I was now forced to have to look into the history of Damballa, like it or not, because he was the only one out of over 15,000 creator god, whose history dates prior to Enki  and Damballa is so ancient creator god, that his age is unknown, but verified to be no less than 30,000 years old, and suspected at dating back to the times of the cave dwellers, some 300,000 years ago, making him not only old enough to meet the 20,000 year requirement, but also being far far older than any other known recorded human record! This got my attention, because there is no record of a god existing prior to Damballa. He is the oldest known god, and THAT is what I was looking for.

So finally, I stopped ignoring Damballa and started researching to find out, just who exactly was it, this albino snake man who haunted my dreams each night.

Damballa's story is unique among creation stories. Most stories tell of the creation of one group of people. The god is black, his people are black, white people are evil, or the god is white, his people are white, black people are evil. Even the God of the Bible only created white folks, and his story says that he cursed Cain with dark skin to punish him for murdering Able, thus all black folks are evil by birthright (according to the Bible). You do not find this with Damballa's story. Damballa has no true solid form, and no skin color. He is a shapeshifter. He can appear as a man of any skin color, and has multiple wives, one each of every skin color. The story states that, we all are children of the One God. The One God (Damballah Weddo) had 3 wives (each of different skin color - white, black, and red/brown). Each wife had many children. Each of these children needed a place to live, so the Earth was created out of a serpent egg, and each child was given a country to rule over. Each child created a unique language of their own. Many cultures came from this, as the children's children's children grew up and multiplied and spread across the Earth. The One God, though a great magician, a powerful shapeshifter, and the creator of life and our planet, was not perfect, his ability to speak was badly impaired, his language slurred by a hissing stutter, he sadly found it difficult to communicate with his beloved children and grandchildren. When the One God did appear on the Earth, no one could look at him in his true form and live, his true form being so bright that to look upon him caused you to burst into flames, so he would appear in the form of a serpent. It made him very sad that he could not live on the planet with his beloved children. Because it was so difficult for him to be seen or heard by those living in physical bodies, he appointed the dead spirits of his wives and their dead children (called the loa or lwa) to act as mediators to speak to the living children on his behalf. Each wife looked over the children of her lineage, and over the centuries as each living person dies, they become loa and watch over their children's children. Every few generations, the loa return to the physical body, being reborn into the same family from which they descended. The cycle of birth, death, guardianship, and rebirth continues in an ever flowing circle of life, thus the name Vodu or Voodoo came to be the name of the religion (the name dating to 13,000 years ago making it the first organized religion to ever be created) (vuvu means "to draw water" or "to give birth", thus vodu means "to give new life to the spirits"). Vodunists keep long and careful records of their ancestors, knowing by name sometimes dozens of generations back. The bones of the dead and kept carefully preserved in family shrines, with offerings left to the loa to let them know you have not forgotten them and are thankful that they are watching over your family. Death is not feared, but rather celebrated as it means going home live with your ancestors at a great big happy family reunion. This is the OLDEST known creation story, and thus being the FIRST creation story, means that no other creation story written after this one can possibly be anything other than a watered down copy of this one which is the ORIGINAL, so far as evidance is able to prove. (Or at least that is how I saw it.)

From there, one thing lead to another and once I stopped be scared of Voodoo and started paying more attention to Damballa who was still visiting my dreams each night, and all of a sudden my life turned back around, and the more I devoted my life to him, the better my life became. I mean 15 years ago the thought of marrying a Voodoo lwa and devoting the rest of my life to him was a terrifying thought that I wanted nothing to do with, and now today, it's a comforting thought that I embrace wholeheartedly with every fiber of my being.

But then, how the heck to I explain this to the cashier at Walmart and do it in 15 seconds so I don't hold up the line or come off sounding like a deranged lunatic?

I found a solution: business cards!

Yes, business cards! It is so simple, I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. The card reads:

Rev. EelKat Wendy C. Allen
Autistic Author, Artist, Illustrator, Rootwork, Doll Maker, & Art Car Designer.

There is a picture of me in my "outfit" and my car.

Than it lists the urls of my Zazzle store, my etsy store, and my blog.

Now when folks ask about my clothes or my car or my religion, I just pull out a card and say "It's Voodoo. I've explained everything on my blog. Here's my card. If you want to know more about me and what I do, just read my blog."

Then I put my bags in the shopping cart and leave, no worrying about holding up the line! I've answered them in under 5 seconds, and if they really want to know the answer, then it's up to them to head to my blog, if they were just making conversation, than I've not wasted everyone's time explaining the details to the uninterested, and I have not caused undue irritation to the line standing behind me.

And so all that said, now to get down to finally answering your question:  What do you do on a regular basis as a Pagan Minister?

What do I actually do? A lot really. If I was to go into great detail, I could probably write a book or two! LOL! So, I’ll try to sum it up into a short list. Well, as I already stated, the way I dress, the fact that I have 2.5 million beads and rhinestones glued to my car, and the change in my diet, that alone tells you quite a bit about what I do on a daily basis.

What do I do?

As a Bride of Damballa I tend to his shrine/altar.

As a Voodoo Witch doctor I tend to the needs of the people, via services including but not limited to: weddings, funerals, exorcisms, blessings, washings, spirit baths, house cleansings, intercessory prayers, altar work, saint petitions, spell casting, hex removal, divinations, card readings (NOT Tarot!) We are Gypsies, Scottish Travellers specifically, and I am the clan's Holy Woman, descended from a direct line of Holy Women dating back to the 1400's (a record we have recorded in an ancient Medieval family Bible, so old it has books not found in other Bibles in it.) Divination is the art my people specialize in. Though it is a Hollywood myth that we Gypsies use Tarot cards, we do not, and I wouldn't know the first thing about how to use them if you handed me a deck. Tarot cards are not a Gypsy tradition and I don't know a single true-blood-born Gypsy that has ever used one. Beware of "gypsies" with Tarot cards - they are scam artists - they wouldn't pretend to be African American would they? So why do they think it's okay to pretend to be a "gypsy"? Same goes for Crystal Balls, again, that's comes out of 1930s Hollywood and not out of real hard fact. No, REAL authentic Gypsy divination involves poppets, clouties, stones, bones, shells, and is used to call on the help of the "Little People" or "Wee Folk" aka the Faeries, and in practice is very similar to Siberian Shamanism, which is where we Gypsies get our roots (not Egypt, Gypsies are of Scandinavian roots not Middle Eastern roots, which is another myth).

One of the larger parts of my ministry is funerals for pets, a service in huge demand and which to date I have overseen more than 500 funerals for cats, dogs, fish, reptiles, birds, rabbits, even a horse and a goat! This keeps me very busy, as it seems I am one of only two ministers in the entire state who offer this service.

Myself having been homeless for 6 years after a hurricane, I discovered that there is a huge need for helping the homeless (it’s a myth that the government, shelters, and soup kitchens are helping these people - I learned this the hard way when I was myself homeless.)

I hold prayer services.

I also write sermons for other ministers, as well as post sermons on my many blogs and websites. I do not preach sermons, however as I have Autism and am “near mute” I can talk, it’s just difficult for me to connect words from my brain to my mouth so I don’t talk very often.

The thing people know me for most of all, is for my no kill animal shelter which specializes in feral cat rescue and has anywhere from a few dozen to over 100 cats at any given time.

I am known by the locals as “The Sea Witch of Old Orchard Beach.” Some know me as “Empress EelKat Queen of the Gypsies” (In Gypsy tradition “King” and “Queen” are religious titles not political titles). Others call me “The Voodoo Queen of Old Orchard.” Some call me “Maine’s Crazy Cat Women.” Most people know me however as “Hey, it’s that reverend woman with the rhinestoned car!”

For the most part I just do my own thing. It’s sort of a “Good Samaritan” thing where I go where I am needed and help whoever is in my path. I’m kind of like a fantasy Dungeons and Dragons cleric who shows up for no reason decked out in outlandish robes, worshiping an obscure and ancient reptilian god, offers my services, my services involving casting spells and driving out demons, then is gone from your life and you wonder if I was ever there. (Which is why I never play a cleric when I play Dungeons and Dragons, actually, I mean, why play something when that’s my real life job that I do every day, right?)

A day in the life of Rev. EelKat is always eventful and never dull.

Because most folks haven't got a clue what it means to be married to a lwa, in closing I’ll copy and paste a blog post I wrote awhile back. Someone sent me the questions and I answered them, thusly. This should give you a clearer answer to my daily life as a ChristoPagan [Voodoo] minister:


[quote]
[b]<b>
I heard there was this thing called Mariaj Lwa where voodoo practitioners marry a lwa. What is this exactly?
[/b]</b>
It is exactly what it says it is, marriage to a lwa, or more correctly "a zombie wedding". There is a full blown wedding, with a priest, bride, groom, bridesmaids, showers, wedding gown, tuxedo, exchange of rings, exchange of vows, reception, wedding feast, singing, dancing, not a little quiet backyard wedding, but a huge full blown over the top elaborate extravagant event just like when Diana married Prince Charles. Some people when they marry a lwa while spend tens of thousands of dollars on the wedding and spend several years planning the event. Personally, I am not in favor of this sort of thing, as I see it as a huge waste of money. Okay, if you are going to buy a wedding dress and tux, than you'll have to spend a few hundred dollars and another couple hundred on the rings maybe another hundred to pay the priest for services and a couple hundred more for food. At the absolute most you shouldn't ever need to spend more than $3,000 tops, and even that is a bit higher than I'd recommend. You could easily pull the whole thing off for under a $1,000. So folks who go crazy and spend 10, 20, 30, or even 100 thousand dollars on their marriage to a lwa, are just nuts trying to show off. The wedding should be about the lwa, not about showing off how much money you have to throw around!

But all that is the actual wedding itself, and it's about a lot more than just the wedding, and I think a lot of folks forget that. They get so caught up in planning for the wedding and throwing the biggest party they can afford, that they forget WHY they are doing it. It is a lifelong commitment and a lot of hard work, and there is no divorce or way out once you've stepped in you can't back down. I think some people just want a big wedding and use this as an excuse to get it, and that's just wrong.

[b]<b>
Is this like what nuns do when they marry Christ?
[/b]</b>

I believe it is. I'm not sure though, because I am unfamiliar with Catholicism. I have never studied Catholicism and have never had any involvement in Catholicism or known anyone who did. So I really have no idea what nuns do when they marry Christ, or what marrying Christ even means to them, why they do it, or anything else. Sorry, but I really can't give you an answer for this one, because I have no idea. I would guess it is more or less the same thing though, because nuns give up their secular life to devote every day of the rest of their life to serving Christ, and that is basically the same thing a Vodounist does when they marry a lwa.

[b]<b>
Why would someone want to marry a lwa? How does one get chosen for this?
[/b]</b>

The lwa comes to you in a dream or a vision or a possession. The lwa may come only once and tell you outright that s/he has chosen you as his/her bride/groom or the lwa may come to you many times, acting kindly and affectionate towards you, conditioning you to his/her company and eventually (after just a few days or after as many as several years) ask if you would consider their offer of marriage. Some lwa may ask or request nicely, while others may demand or threaten in a fearsome manner, depending on the nature of the lwa in question. It is not uncommon for 3 lwa to come to you at once and all 3 ask you to marry them. Male lwas usually ask to marry female Vodounists and female lwa usually ask to marry male Vodounists, but male lwas may also ask males to marriage and female lwas sometimes ask females to marriage, and sometimes a lwa couple (a male lwa and his female lwa companion) may ask for your marriage to them both.

Folks outside the Vodou faith, usually see marriage to a lwa as being a sexual union, often interpreting it as sex with a spirit, demons trying to spawn with humans, incubus lusting after women sort of thing. While marriage to a lwa, may on rare occasions have sexual overtones, usually this is not the case. Usually a lwa who wants to have sex with you will simply take possession within the body of your sex partner without asking for permission from you or your partner. The Vodou religion is very relaxed and liberal about sex, and couples are often sexually active for many years before they get around to the commitment of marriage. Most folks look at this from a Christian standpoint, which states that the ONLY reason to get married is so that you can legally have sex. One must keep in mind here that the concept of sex as a reason to get married is less than 300 years old and was created by Christians. In the Vodou faith, sex is about creating children and creating children often, thus sex with multiple partners is not uncommon, nor is sex outside of marriage. Couples who are married, may not actually ever have sex with each other, but they may have sex with people they are not married to as a way to ensure more children are born.

In Vodoun marriage is not about the the right to have sex or create children, but rather the commitment to take care of and protect another person and serve them with the utmost devotion for the rest of your life. This explains why most lwas have multiple spouses.

For example Damballa has 3 wives, and one of those wives has 5 husbands and one of her husbands has another 2 wives besides her. Damballa takes care of and protects each of his wives. Likewise the wives take care of and protect him. The wife with 5 husbands, takes care of and protects each of her husbands, and each of them takes care of and protects her.

The goal here is family unity. Everybody has somebody who loves them enough to take care of them, look out for them, and protect them from harm. Because marriage is not about the act of sex, you see men marry men and women marry women, which leads to the misconception that there are an overly high rate of gays and lesbians in Vodou. While gays, lesbians, bi-sexualy, and transgenders folks are openly accepted in most Vodou communities, marriage between same sex couples does not always mean the couple is in fact gay. Christians (who for some reason think of everything in terms of sex) usually find it very difficult to understand the Vodou concept of marriage without sexual requirements.

The concept of marriage as a commitment to take care of someone forever, without any sexual obligations, is just too hard for the overly sexed Christian mind to graspe. In theory if everybody has somebody to protect them, than no one will ever be hurt. The whole thing is farther complicated by the fact that in addition to husbands marrying wives and parents having children, many also have dozens of "adopted" godchildren who are not related by blood or marriage but are still considered family. The end result is Vodou families are HUGE. The whole thing is very complicated and generally too difficult for most folks raised of a Christian mindset to wrap their brains around.

I tell you all this, to show you that marriage to a lwa, is not about having sexual relations with a spirit, but rather it is about devoting your life to serving that spirit in exchange for his/her protecting you. And this is why is does not matter if the lwa you marry is male or female.

How did I personally get chosen for this?

Well, when I first got asked by Damballa to be his wife, I had not a clue who he was, what Voodoo was, or that it was even possible to marry a deity. I thought I was just having crazy dreams. In recent years I started Googling and reading blogs trying to find out if others had had this happen and some of the blog posts I've found just seem as though they were written by a 14 year old screaming fan girl, who just got done watching fantasy (Loki) movies and is looking to marry the actor who played the god, not actually the god himself. Kind of off putting really. And did not help me to feel any less crazy.

Here's the thing, I was a woman in my 40's looking for SERIOUS info on godspouses devoted for life, not these hormone crazed teenagers who will dump their god spouse soon as the next big hit movie comes out. Why, well, 15 or so years ago, I was asked by a strange god I had never heard of before, to be his wife. I was a Christian at the time and when I researched to find out who this guy was, I freaked out when I discovered he was a Voodoo deity (lwa). I did the whole, no way is that ever going to happen! (Because I held the belief that Voodoo was evil, Satanic, yadda, yadda, yadda). But this lwa continues to visit me in my dreams every night, tells me he'll wait for me to come to my senses and stop being scared of him, some day I'll trust him and know that this is the path I'm meant to walk.

So, I continue on being a good little Christian and avoiding all those "wicked pagan things" including Voodoo, while he keeps showing up in my dreams each night and telling me that my life is about to change, and he'll be right there beside me through it all, and then I'll understand. Me, I think, I'm going crazy and try telling myself none of this is real, it's just a dream. He just says "You'll see".

Well, see I did! Suddenly everything went wrong, really wrong, really fast: my grandmother died, my engagement was ended because my future husband decided to become a celibate type priest, my dad went into a coma, a flood took my house, I started rebuilding only to have that house burnt to the ground by vandals, I spent 6 years homeless living under a tarp, my church excommunicated me after 27 years of faithful service, and one day I was sitting at the library trying to figure out what the heck was happening, when I saw this book about Voodoo sitting on a desk opened to a chapter about this particular lwa (Damballa, btw). So I started studying Voodoo and found out it was nothing like I thought it was.

From there, one thing lead to another and once I stopped be scared of Voodoo and started paying more attention to Damballa (who I found to be patient, kind, gentle, loving and someone I could trust) all of a sudden my life turned back around, and the more I devoted my life to him, the better my life became. I mean 15 years ago the thought of marrying a Voodoo lwa and devoting the rest of my life to him was a terrifying thought that I wanted nothing to do with, and now today, it's a comforting thought that I look forward to. But I still was putting it off, because it just seemed too crazy to be real. I was starting to lean towards, yeah, I think I could marry this guy and devote every fiber of my life to him, but wait a minute, how do I explain something like this to people without sounding crazy? I mean, it's like,  "Oh hello, no, I'm sorry I can't go on a date with you,  see I got a wedding ring, yeah, I'm married. I'm sorry, no you can't meet my husband because he's a  snake god and you can't see him, because he's like invisible and I only see him at night in dreams..." I mean, that just screams loon bin to most folks, so how the heck am I suppose to handle all this?

On one hand I'm like I'm ready to do this and on the other hand I'm like this is just crazy, who marries a spirit being/deity/god?  He points out the thousands of Catholic women married to Christ, and I go, "Hey, you're right, I never thought of that! But that's Jesus, who marries other gods?" He says lots of people have done it. Really? Okay, well if lots of people have done it, than Google should direct me to a few of those folks right? Silly me, Google came back with 48 pages of results. Okay, so he's right and I'm wrong.

But then there was the whole Voodoo religion thing, I mean, I wasn’t Voodoo, sure I agreed with some of the stuff, sure I could see maybe attending services at a Voodoo temple if not for the fact the nearest one to me is some 700 miles away. But I don't believe a lot of the stuff, I outright disagree with several dogmas, and I just can't see myself ever becoming an initiate. I'm not a Vodunist, how the heck can I marry a Voodoo deity?

He says, Voodoo isn't about the religion, initiation, or dogmas, Vodou is the place for that stuff, not Voodoo, and folks who get hung up on the dogmas of Voodoo are stuck on an ego trip, and are in it more to show off to other humans, than to actually serve the gods.  He tells me, don't listen to the self righteous leaders who say you have to do this or you have to do that, because they are just making up their own rules or following after rules made up by other men, and the lwa can come to any one, any time, any place, and they don't have to belong to the Voodoo religion to be in contact with a lwa. People don't choose the lwa, the lwa chooses them.

So, than in May 2012, I finally say, "Okay, I've made up my mind, I'm ready to marry you, let's do this." Then I'm like "Wait a sec, how in the heck do I actually DO this?" I can't just walk into a local church or court house or town hall and say: "I'm marrying this snake god that you can't see, can you officiate the service?"

So that's where I am at now, and why I've spent the last few days Googling other godspouses trying to find out what it is they actually did to officiate and legalize their marriage to their god. What did you actually do? Was there a wedding? Voodoo has weddings for such things, I know, but that involves the whole becoming an initiate and going to Haiti, neither of which are an option at the present moment. But than he's telling me, to stop worrying about that because I don't need to be a part of any religion or initiation to serve him, and all the ritual stuff about Voodoo lwa weddings that's just a load of hooey made up by men, that, we just need a small local private wedding ritual, just me and him and a witness to officiate the service. He say's "Think of it as an elopement."  Great, so how exactly do I do THAT? He has very specific instructions on some stuff (like I should wear a white dress, and he wants me to have this ring made up with a huge flat green stone and a gold snake wrapped over the stone, and he wants me to built this white cabinet like altar) but than other stuff he's just like "You'll figure out what to do when the time is right. Don't worry about the details. Just prepare things as I told you and everything else will fall into place."

And here I am still asking: "Well, okay, but HOW THE HECK DO WE OFFICIATE THE SERVICE!?!?!" He just says again "You worry too much. Don't worry about." *sigh*

[b]<b>
What do you have to do?
[/b]</b>

It is different for different lwas, and different Houses/Temples teach varying traditions so there is no set in stone hard and fast rule regarding it. One would do what you are taught is correct in your own House. There are some basic general guidelines that are more or less consistent from one house to the next, which are as follows:

Get asked to marry the lwa.

Accept proposal.

Be courted by said lwa, while planning and preparing the wedding feast.

Build altar/shrine to the lwa. Even if you already have one, you must build one, because this is a special altar, separate from your daily devotional or magic working altar. You must never have items intended for other lwa on this altar.

Throw wedding feast, exchange vows/rings. (You will wear your wedding ring for the rest of your life. The robes and ring of the lwa will be kept on the altar, usually a draw to hold the robes, with the ring placed on the top of the altar.)

Devote first 40 days of marriage to the lwa. Wear white for 40 days. Some brides choose to wear their wedding dress for this. Abstain from salt, sugar, sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking for 40 days. Eat only foods accepted by lwa (for example Damballa would expect you to drink only water and eat only white eggs, white rice, and white bread, for 40 days). If you are married to a human spouse, you must sleep in separate rooms for these 40 days as well. Tend the altar daily for 40 days.

After the first 40 days are over, you can go back to your normal routines, with the following changes:

For the rest of your life you are expected to take off one day a week, to devote to the lwa, in the same way you devoted the 40 days to him/her. Each lwa has a particular day of the week, which is considered "their day", same way as the Christians declare Sunday to be God's day so they take the day off from work to attend church on Sunday and the Jews and Seventh Day Adventists declare Saturday to be God's day. Each lwa has a day of the week, for example Damballa's day of the week is Thursday. So if you was to marry Damballa, you would be expected to wear white on Thursday (some brides choose to wear their wedding dress for this) and to abstain from salt, sugar, sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking on Thursday; Thursday would be the day on which you would set out fresh offerings on Damballa's altar; if you have a human spouse, on Thursday you would sleep in separate rooms. You would do this every week, for the rest of your life. If you forget a week, the lwa may become angry and choose to not protect you until you did something to show you still care. Some lwa are more temperamental than others. For example, Erzulie, known for her extreme jealousy, will often demand you redo the 40 day ritual you did in the beginning, followed by a feast in her honor on the 41st day, before she will forgive your forgetting her for a single day, while a more calm lwa like Damballa may only ask for you to wear white and eat nothing but water, eggs, and rice for 7 days.

In addition to the weekly devotionals, you will be expected by some lwa, to do more elaborate monthly rituals, and if the lwa has a specific day assigned to them (in the same way Jesus has Christmas December 25th assigned to him) you will be expected to give a large feast in the lwa's honor on their day.

Some houses have far more detailed steps you must follow, including singing certain songs on certain days, or dancing certain dances, or playing drums, or reciting the lineages of the lwa's family or presiding over congregational events your House holds in honor of the lwa. Some Houses ask you to devote 2 days a week to the lwa, one at home and one in the temple. Some Houses say you must not do work for clients (readings, rootwork, etc) on the day of your lwa, while other Houses will say you can ONLY do work for your clients on the day of your lwa, and others say you can do work for your clients with other lwas on the other 6 days but with your lwa spouse only on his/her day. There may be other things which your House requires, say some might say you must keep a pet snake if you marry Damballa. Some will tell you, not to wear white, but rather the colors of your lwa, for example Erzulie Freda would have you wear pale pink and light blue while Erzulie Dantor would require blood red and navy blue. Every House will be different when it come to these sorts of details. When in doubt ask your House leader (Houngan or Mambo) what it is they recommend.

Serving the lwa is important though. I was reading a blog post, awhile back about the pros and cons of what sort of offering to leave out for which gods, and one commenter mentioned they felt like a heretic for serving a Norse god which demanded alcoholic drinks as offerings, because they themselves have a dry house and have never left such requested offerings to said god. My responded to ask her why was she serving a god she did not feel she could serve wholeheartedly? There are plenty of gods who don’t demand alcoholic offerings. Not all gods want alcohol. Some actually strictly forbid it and would be deeply offended by it! Me? I have a dry house as well and never an offering of alcohol, but that's just fine with the spirits I work with, because they don't want it. Perhaps, she should research and find out which gods she is most in tune with lifestyle-wise and focus more on them? Perhaps, if you are serving a deity who demands alcohol, but you have a dry house, perhaps that means you are not serving the deity who is most suited to you personally? I don't know, but that's how I would look at it if it was me. I would be asking myself "WHY am I serving a god who demands things which are contrary to how I live my life? Maybe I jumped into this too fast, maybe this isn't the god I'm suppose to be serving." Well, that's what I'd be thinking anyways, because personally I don't think I could wholeheartedly serve a god that demanded alcoholic offerings if I did not myself drink alcohol. Does that make sense? Do other folks feel this way or is it just me?  I mean, Voodoo is well known for lws who smoke cigars and get drunk and demand such offerings on their altar, and here I am a non-drinker, non-smoker, but then again, not all lwa make these requests either.

For example, I don't drink alcohol, I do drink almost exclusively water, tea, and milk, I'm a vegetarian, and the main staple of my diet is rice - and I've eaten like this for nigh on 40 years. Most of that time I was a Christian, but since childhood I was plagued by dreams of a white robed mute albino with a giant pet anaconda/snake. In my youth I was terrified of him and thought him a ghost, but in my teen years a friend was killed and this guy visiting my dreams each night because a source of comfort as I realized he was some sort of guardian spirit. He didn't talk so it wasn't like I could just ask who he was or what he wanted (though that didn't stop me from asking anyways).

Well, as I got to researching into this whole thing more, I found out why he was attracted to me. He's one of those deities, who has a set guideline for the types of folks he'll come to, and his servants and wives. He's got several/spirit/lwa wives and hundreds of human wives - apparently he sort of "collects" women servant-spouses the same way Jesus collects bride-nuns, and the same way Jesus demands a strict lifestyle for his brides, Damballa demands a strict lifestyle for his huge bevy of servant women, and do you want to guess what one of the requirements he requires is?

This:

He demands total purity and will only marry a woman who drinks almost exclusively water, supplemented by tea, pure juice, and milk, he recoils at women who eat meat and demands his wives be vegetarian (though he will allow white meat such as chicken or fish), and the main staple of her diet must be rice and white eggs. He forbids alcohol, smoking, and drugs, and puts limits on her sex life, he preferring virgins or married women who "waited for marriage" thus have only been with one man. (I had only ever been with one man, who I was with for 25 years. No other men before or since him.) Upon marriage Damballa demands she "purify" herself by wearing white for 40 days, and eating nothing but white rice, white eggs, milk, and water for 40 days. Than for the rest of her life she is expected to devote every Thursday to him, again wearing white and eating only eggs, rice, and milk. He's more prone to request marriage of a woman who lives this lifestyle before knowing of him.

I found this out and was like WOW! I already have that diet and lifestyle, no wonder he was "haunting" my dreams for the last 30+ years! He was attracted to me BECAUSE of the lifestyle I lived, because it mirrored very closely to the lifestyle he demands of his servant-wives, thus making me a candidate for being yet another servant-wife to add to his collection.

The more I research this guy, the more I am starting to understand why he picked me, and the more I find myself moving towards accepting his proposal.

But anyways, I say all this because, I find that many have a hard time understanding my extreme strict lifestyle and the devotion I have for the lwa Damballa.  I believe we virberate towards the deity who's demands most closely mirror our ability to meet those demands.

Does it matter what we offer the gods? On some levels, yes, I think it does. Isn't the point of leaving offerings, to give the spirit something which they enjoy? It's a known fact that leaving alcohol and cigars on an altar to Damballa is a sure fire way to keep him away, and may result in his never coming back, EVER, thus why Vodunists always have a separate altar just for Damballa, while other lwa can have all their offerings together on one altar. Likewise when Freda asks for a pink altar cloth and you put out a red one instead, she's well known to throw a tantrum and ignore you for weeks. Same holds true if a Norse god specifically requests fresh smoked wild game and you come back and give him store bought honeyed ham - he's going to think you are too lazy to obey orders so why should he bother with you?

So, you see there are some gods/spirits that demand certain things at certain times and will get upset if you don't get everything just right, but I'm only aware a very few that'll go off in a huff over it. Most are willing to accept the fact that you made an effort and accept a substitute realizing that you really did not have any choice. I think in most cases it's not about the offering itself, so much as it is about the amount of sacrifice and effort you put into the offering.

Now I can see where substitutions are okay and have their time and place. For example FarDarrig (Welsh) only asks for 2 things: red objects and dairy. Well this leaves the gates wide open and you can leave him anything from simple .99c red ribbons and a bowl of cream to an elaborately embroidered red silk jacket and flan, or a slice of cheesecake topped with red cherries, or as I have discovered he loved Swiss Miss tapioca pudding cups with red sugar sprinkles. He doesn't specifically say what he wants, he just says "red" and "dairy" and let's you figure out from there what to leave for him.

I remember reading a blog post by a Loki godspouse who was made fun of my other Loki godspouses because she made strawberry shortcakes to leave on his altar. I don't know Loki well, but it was my understanding that he expects sweets and baked goods, well what does that include? Pretty much everything from Halloween candy to sponge cake to ice cream sundaes and cakes, pies, cookies, breads, heck even tuna casseroles and mac&cheese fall under "baked goods". The complaint that started their discussion was that someone gave Loki a strawberry shortcake for an offering. How is giving him a strawberry shortcake NOT on his list of accepted offerings, when all he asks for is "sweets" and "baked goods" and a strawberry shortcake is itself a sweet baked good?

And then once you find out what they ENJOY, isn't is best to leave THAT even if it's not on the "canonized" list of traditional offerings? So what if Loki asks her for strawberry shortcake but tells another not to give him strawberry shortcake? You know what that tells me? It says that Loki is trying to politely tell you "Honey, I like strawberry shortcake, but you suck at making it, so don't bother giving me any, I'll go get it from this girl here because she knows how to make it the way I like it." All that means he expects a different offering from each of his subjects.

I mean, think about it: wouldn't YOU get sick of going from one house to the next and being served the EXACT SAME THING EVERY TIME? Let's imagine you are new to the neighborhood and your first day after moving in 20 neighbors stop by to give you welcome basket and 19 of them made you a tuna casserole and 1 of them made you a strawberry shortcake. You'd be grateful for all the hard work they put into making the tuna casseroles, and you'd accept each with a smile so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, put will you honestly eat all 19 of them? No. You'll pick the one that looks and smells the best, and you'll eat that one with the strawberry shortcake for dessert, then secretly donate the other 18 casseroles to the local homeless shelter, because there is no way you can or even would want to eat 18 tuna casseroles before the end of the week.

I can just see Loki rolling his eyes and saying "Here we go again, yet ANOTHER... oh wait, look at that strawberry shortcake, that's new! I got to remember this girl, she knows I need some variety in my diet."

Now I can see if you are doing a very specific ritual, for a very specific request, then yeah you are going to want to leave very specific items, so he knows what you are asking for, but if you are just leaving a thank you offering or an offering to let him know he's in your thoughts, then why not give him something extra special, something you think/know he likes? You'd do the same for a friend, how much more should you be doing it for a god?

But yeah, it’s the same way for any bride of any deity. You have to know him to serve him.

I say these sorts of things and folks tell me that I take the gods way too seriously. But, if they are gods, then isn’t it our place to take them seriously? I am always stunned, esp, when fellow ministers say these things, because then I have to ask them: what kind of a minister are you if you don’t take the gods seriously? Are you sure you really are a real cleric or are you just masquerading as one because you wanted to stick a nice title in front of your name?


[b]<b>
What do you think are the pros and cons of marriage with a lwa?
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The biggest pro is protection. The lwa promise to protect you, that is the whole reason you accept their proposal to marriage.

The biggest con is sacrifice. You sacrifice a lot of time and a lot of what some would term "pleasures" to devote your life fully to maintaining a shrine to your lwa.

[b]<b>
Is this practiced in the path you follow?
[/b]</b>

Most religious groups have some form of a marriage to a spirit. As you mentioned already, Catholic nuns marrying Christ. There are some 3 million single Mormon women who have gone and gotten themselves married to Joseph Smith Jr even though he's been dead 200 years and the in spite of the fact that the Mormon Church strictly forbid them from doing this.

Marriage to lwa is a strictly Vodou tradition. It is not a part of Vudu, Hoodoo, or Voodoo. However, while it is NEVER used in Vudu or Hoodoo, it is sometimes done in Voodoo. As I mentioned earlier Voodoo is taking Hoodoo and throwing bits and pieces of Vodou into it. Which parts of Vodou is used varies from one House to the next, with each priest and priestess picking and choosing parts of Vodou they like best and tossing the rest by the wayside. As such SOME Voodoo Houses do practice Mariaj Lwa, though most do not.

Now you ask specifically about the path I personally follow. My path is a mix of Mormon and Hoodoo, neither of which have a tradition of marrying spirits, though it has been done in both traditions Mormons often marry dead prophets, and Scottish Gypsies often marry Faeries and Nature Spirits (and always with the whole "I'm marrying this spirit so I can have sex with it" attitude). Neither tradition has the "commitment for eternity without sexual obligation" attitude that Vodou has.

Now, I am not Vodou. There are many dogmas and rituals in Vodou which I do not agree with, biggest of them being animal sacrifice. Like the Jews, Vodou does practice animal sacrifice and has a whole big ritual event of taking sheep, goats, or chickens to a temple to be killed by a priest. This is what prevents me from joining Vodou, because otherwise I do in fact believe pretty much the whole rest of the religion. Mariaj Lwa is a Vodou ritual.

That said, I am Voodoo, Voodoo being a branch of Vodou, in which each House borrows some, but not all of the Vodou rituals. I am an uninitiated member of the House of the Lansquin. It is a very small House with only a few members and they do not advertise or actively go about seeking out new members. It is more or less what many would consider to be not unlike a "Witch's Coven". Vodou Houses and Voodoo Temples tend to be more like a church, with a big open building, rows of seats, and lots of members coming together once a week. The House of the Lansquin does not have this, because it is lead by a Houngan who suffers a terrible speech impediment (born with a cleft palate) and is also highly sensitive to noise, thus it is a quiet House lacking the pomp and circumstance of wild dancing and music, which one normally expects to find in a Voodoo House. Also it is not a strictly Voodoo House, either as he also works with Chaos Magic, Enochian Angel Alchemy, Reki, and Ancient Egyptian Magic. The Houngan keeps to himself, lives a relatively solitary life and makes no move towards any type of expansion for his House. Few know it exists, few are able to find it, and few are admitted entrance into it. It is more in keeping with being one man's personal shrine to the Lwa than it is a temple for members to join. In any case, it is through the House of the Lansquin, that I came to learn about and practice Voodoo, which means that the path as I follow it, is quite a bit different from the more traditional Voodoo path and as I said is not strictly Voodoo but has a mix of several traditions. I follow the traditions of my House, and yes, to answer your question, in this House, Mariaj Lwa, is an accepted tradition.

[b]<b>
What sort of initiation or dedication is required to do this? I was married to an Egyptian God a few years ago, I self initiated myself to him and expected to feel great things at my self dedication, but I felt nothing at all and now I can’t even remember his name! I’ve married a few other gods since, none was right for me. I thought this Mariaj Lwa thing sounded like it might be fun, or at least more real than my other god marriages.
[/b]</b>

I'll start out by saying that "self initiation" and "self dedication" are not interchangeable phrases, any more than "dedication" and "initiation" are. I know that doesn't stop people from using them as interchangeable, but I think that it is this misuse of words that is causing some folks to question the results/changes they got/felt.

I'm questioning the irony between the word "dedication" and not remembering the name of the god you are "dedicated" to. I think maybe that was the problem (you just picked a god at random and not one you were actually dedicated to serving.) The dictionary definition of dedication, is after all "loyal devotion and servitude".

For example a man and a woman get married and they vow to be dedicated to one another, but one of them starts cheating (and is thus not dedicated to the other) and the relationship falls apart (usually, unless the other is so dedicated that they overlook the cheating as a flaw they must live with).

So, that's the way I look at dedication in a religious sense as well. You dedicate yourself, not because it's fun or cool or because everyone else did it first, but rather you dedicate yourself because you are truly, deeply, passionately committed to devoting every fiber of your being to your chosen path and/or god.

That said, when I hear folks, like yourself, who say the "self dedication" was nothing spectacular and you feel away, or as you said even forgot the name of your god, I think this is a case of "too much too soon". I think what it means is that you were not ready for it yet. It doesn't mean you did anything wrong, it just means you were not ready for that level of dedication, that's all.

What would you do to ensure that you are ready next time (if there is a next time)? Well, I can only tell you what it is I would do, which is this: I would find a god whom resonates with me, a god whom I could talk to on a one on one personal level, a god I could trust, a god who's values match my own, a god who I feel a kinship for. (for me that was Damballa) Than once I found a god who felt "right" for me, I would study everything I could about him/her, find out the culture and history around him/her, and get to know him/her on a personal level, including to build him/her an altar, and start holding weekly services to him/her. All the while I would pray and listen for guidance. After a few years (in my case 15 years) of such study and service, than and only then would I feel that I was ready to dedicate myself to this path/god. Why? Because, if I have already devoted 15 years of faithful service to him, than I know without a doubt that he is the one I am dedicated to serving the rest of my life.

This is how I see it anyways. So, yeah, I would agree with you, when you say you feel it "wasn't to be". It is a learning experience for you though, because now you know what doesn't work for you in your life and you can move on to finding something that does work in your life instead. There are many paths to choose from, you just have to keep looking until you find the one that's right for you.

I've mentioned initiations elsewhere (a forum, forget which one) and got "attacked" by several "holier than thous" who went all hooting nanny because I included my childhood Christian baptism on the list. They did the whole "baptisms are not initiations" and "Christianity doesn't count" thing. :(

That said, I am glad to see that such a response is not so here, and several other responders include childhood baptisms in their list. {{{huggies}}}}

Why? well, because even though I'm not a part of it now, it was a big part of my life for 27 years and it shaped who I ultimately became, resulting in who I am today. Sure I "chose" to be baptized at 8 years old and everyone (parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, elders, bishops, missionaries, etc)  went off on the whole "it was her choice, we didn't force her" bit. I mean, I was 8 years old and I did not know one single solitary person who HAD NOT been baptized at the age of 8, so OF COURSE I chose to get baptized, because I thought it was what I was supposed to do, not because I had any idea what it was or why I was doing it. But like I said, I spent the next 27 years utterly devoting my life to it (Mormonism, btw) even though I never really fit in. I knew I didn't fit in, because over 750 people/members of the congregation/family/relatives were very vocal in saying to my face "Wendy you don't fit in, you are not like the rest of us, you need to get on your knees and prayer for forgiveness and repeat.". Though I was never quite sure what it was I needed to repent from as while everyone was telling me I needed to repent, no one really gave any details about what it was I had down that required repentance.

Well, then after 27 years of faithful service, never missing a meeting (many each week), doing all the required volunteer work and rituals, bakes sales, yadda, yadda, yadda, the bishop comes out and says I'm being excommunicated on grounds of witchcraft.

Wait? What? Witchcraft? Me? Seriously? I laughed at them. I thought it was a joke. Me a witch? That was just too funny. They weren't joking. They were very serious. They were so serious that  they burned my house to the ground claimed that "God told them to". in order to "get rid of the witch". Wow. I was stunned. And I started asking everyone I met (even strangers on the street) "What is a witch?" I didn't know. I had no idea how to tell if I was one. (I had no prior contact with non-Mormons, media, TV, movies, stuff that would have told me, never been to school, never even been off the compound till I was 31 years old!) I had been so dedicated to Mormonism that I had no idea what anything outside of it was (I have Autism and OCD which explains how I was able to get so narrow focused on one thing). So when they suddenly kicked me out for being a witch, I was just totally confused.

One thing lead to another, and eventually I set out to studying witchcraft, and low and behold, they were right, I WAS a witch, and never knew it. Huh. Well that was just weird. Turns out, I was actually pretty deep into witchcraft too. I had to think about this one. It caught me off guard. My whole life I was surrounded by Mormons who were careful to not let me (or any of the other children) have contact with any non-Mormons, with one exception: my two grandmothers, were not Mormons.

My dad's mom was from Scotland, had more superstitious than you could imagine and had a cure for everything - though I did not realize it at the time - she was a Hoodoo Rootworker and much of what she did was steeped in Voodoo. My mom's mom was a Native American, a devoted Seventh Day Adventist, a practitioner of Huna, and weather woman/rainman/shaman. It is no secret that in my childhood I was terrified of the dogmatic (often physically violent) men in my family and thus spent nearly every waking minute in the company of my 2 nature loving grannies, who taught me the names and uses of every plant, herb, and root in the area, taught me how to talk to the spirits of animals and trees and how to communicate with the "Little People" (faeries), what offerings to leave where, how to read gemstones-shells-cards, etc, etc, etc.

The deaths of my grandmothers (both from cancer, a few years apart) was highly traumatic to me, not just because of their deaths, but because of the huge, joyful celebrations their deaths ignited among the rest of the family (a celebration that included family members gathering together to sign "Ding, Dong, The Wicked Old Witch At Last Is Dead!"). While other members of the family had been given huge funerals with fancy gold plated coffins and lots of solemn mourning, Grammy Eva was buried in a cardboard box, and there was no funeral because "the old hag didn't deserve one". The days following her death were spent with relatives partying, rejoicing at "now we can baptize her a Mormon", and telling stories of all the nasty names they had made up for her over the years (including one 4 year old who got up to perform a "poem" which started out "Nanny Banana, the big fat bofanna..."). The festivities really got going after one of her sons got up and gave a toast which regaled on how great he was, because it was his prayers that she would die that got her sorry existence out of their lives.

I was shocked and appalled by the blatant display of absolute hatred, and I said as much, and was promptly accused of being a witch, because "only an evil witch would defend that old hag, you witch scum stick together". :( In the years to follow I was subjected to exorcisms because as they put it: "She's been possessed by Grammy's evil spirit".

The deaths of my grannies was an eye opener, and made me question: everything, including to ask: "What ever compelled me to get baptized into this?" Which lead to "Is there any point in getting baptized ever?" Which eventually lead me to write an article AGAINST initiations in which I said:

[i]"And you say to me: Who initiated you? By what authority do you do these things; what laying on of hands gave you this power?

By what authority do you ask this question? Irrelevant? No. Logic. Authority is one person's way of deluding himself. Authority is just another word for power. Power is another word for ego. Ah. Initiation is one man's ego trying to control another man. So let's re-ask the question:
By what egomaniacal megalomania power do you do these things?

By the authority given to me by the God of Creation. God created me. God made me what I am. Only God has the power to do anything. No human has the power to lay hands on me. No human has the right to assert control over other humans. No human has the power to give another human power. Humans are just humans. Only this and nothing more.

Any Human who comes to you and says that you can not do a thing, without them first using their authority of laying on of hands to bless you, initiate you, baptize you, and endow you with power, is nothing more than a power hungry, pompous, self-righteous, deluded ego driven jackass, hiding behind God, and pretending that it is God demanding authority when God doesn't give a rats ass about authority, because God isn't a respecter of persons. God's authority is the only authority, and any religious anyone who says otherwise is nothing more than a bully pushing his weight around as a way to gain control of another. I'm sorry, but I'm not a religion crazed creep like you.

By what authority, does any man claiming to have a authority, get his authority?

The man who claims to have the authority to give you authority, got his authority from another man claiming to have the authority to give him authority and in turn got his authority from another man claiming to have the authority to give him authority who likewise got his authority from another man claiming to have the authority to give him authority, who also got his authority from another man claiming to have the authority to give him authority, all of which leads us to ask, who gave the first guy the authority to give anyone else the authority? Answer: nobody. He crowned himself king of giving others authority and declared no one else had the authority, because he wanted to boost his own ego, and others, stupid sheep that they were, went along with it and let themselves be lead around by a ring in the nose, because they were too weak mentally to question how authority got it's authority.

In truth, no one has the authority to give anyone else the authority in anything. All any of us can do is research and study and learn all we can to find out more about a subject. We then become an "authority in our field" by virtue of knowledge, not by virtue of "laying on of hands". Being an "authority in your field" only means that you studied more and learned more than the next guy, it doesn't mean that you have the power to pass authority on to the next person. No one can do that.

By what authority do I heal the sick? By what authority do I feed the hungry? By what authority do I provide hope to the downtrodden? By what authority to I preach scripture? By what authority do I read cards? By what authority do I cast spells? By the authority of having devoted my life to serving God and helping others, by the authority of 12 years of Bible seminary, by the authority of 27 years of scripture study including reading the Bible cover to cover 31 times, by the authority of the God given gift of the desire to help those in need. No man can give me this. Why should I take orders from a man instead of from God? I have free will. I don't answer to no man. No one bosses me around. No church tells me what to do. I am not the slave of some coven priest. Why would I require initiation? I am not the slave of some church priesthood. I am free, just the way God made me, why would I want to tell God he made me wrong when he made me free? By giving up my freedom to some church, coven, or religion, I turn my back on God. By becoming part of some church, coven, or religion, I tell God he didn't know what he was doing. By following the leaders of some church, coven, or religion, I tell God he ain't good enough for me to be my personal Lord Almighty. By joining some church, coven, or religion, I tell God that I believe men have more power and authority than he does. To be initiated into anything is to insult God and bitch slap him right across the face. If you want to bitch slap God and tell Him you'd rather obey the ego of a man than Him, fine, you do that, but don't expect me to follow you down that risky patch of road."
[/i]

My thoughts on initiation has not changed much since I wrote that article. (about 10 years ago). (The excommunication came a few years after I wrote this article) One thing that has changed since writing it, is my perception of God. At the time I wrote the article I had this "one God" mindset which I no longer have today, because I started asking questions like "well if God created us, then who created God, and then who was it that created God's creator? and does that mean that God is just the name of some guy who made life on this planet and if so who made life on other planets and is his name God too?" My questions just kept leading to more questions.

The deaths of my grannies started a lot of questions, but it was being excommunicated that really got the ball rolling and started me asking a lot more questions to a lot more people and a lot louder than before. One of the things I questioned was the validity of the baptism. what value did my initiation into a church have, if I did everything right, obeyed all the rules, did everything I was told to do, and was kicked out for leaving Swiss Miss pudding cups on a stump in the words for a local Faerie (which was the reason I was excommunicated - because I left pudding cups on a stump in the woods, which the Bishop called "evil dark magic and proof that I was a witch" - the bishop also claimed that by leaving said pudding cup on a stump in the woods, that I was in fact casting a death spell, which he further claimed was how some local kid came to drown in a bathtub while his mom was yapping on the phone in the other room). The church council excommunicated me claiming that I had used pudding cups to cause a kid to die, and then tried to take me to court with that evidence, but thankfully the judge had a brain in her head and threw the case out of court, while ordering the bishop to get psychiatric help.

But this lead me to ask: what the heck difference did all my work in the church make? The baptism, the sacraments, the temple work, the rituals, if it could all be taken away because I put a pudding cup (Tapioca) on a moss covered stump in the woods. I mean, I could have been feeding squirrels for all they knew! I could have been leaving it for a homeless guy! I was leaving it for a FarDarrig (water spirit), but even when I told them this, they said, "Nope, nope, don't lie, we know what you were doing. You were casting a death spell to kill little Craig Thomas." I was asking him, "Who the heck is Craig Thomas?" They told me he was a kid who lived in Utah, well, no wonder I never heard of him, here I was born and raised and still living in Maine!

I came to the conclusion the judge was right, the bishop was crazy, but then I still had the question: What was the point of my initiation into this religion, if it could be taken away for something so stupid?

So I stopped believing in the validity of initiations, and now refuse to be initiated, because initiation, as I see it, is nothing more than one man's way of saying "I control you" and he can "un-initiate" you at any time, for any reason, on a whim. And if your initiation can be invalidated on one man's whim, than what actual value does said initiation have? None. It means not a thing. I explored several Christian religions after the excommunication, before I got to the point of saying "I wonder if they are right? Could I be a witch?" That's when I really shocked myself, and found out that all that stuff my grannies had taught me was in fact witchcraft (and here I thought it was being respectful of nature and nature spirits!) and all that card reading, shell tossing, spirit channeling stuff I was doing was also witchcraft (magic) and here I thought magic was stuff like found in Harry Potter - wave a wand and poof you can fly. The whole experience was a really big wakeup call, into what witchcraft was versus what I had thought it was. The biggest shock was probably realizing that there was no need for me to be initiated/baptised/whatever in order to become a part of it, heck, I had already been reverancing nature and talking to spirit since I was 4 years old!

Well, after that I started looking into various Pagan faiths and kept being attracted to Voodoo, probably because of the fond memories of my grannies, both of whom, I now realize were practicing Hoodoo as well as Voodoo in much of their lives. I since joined into Voodoo, becoming a servant to Damballa, and currently moving towards marrying said lwa, but likewise have refused to be initiated, because I hold the belief that no one has the "authority" to "initiate" anyone, and that the only thing any of us can really do is make "vows of dedication" to a path or god. So, I no longer believe in initiations, and yeah, that's how I came to feel that way.

My answer to you and you question is this: How the heck did you dedicate yourself to a god then dump him and not even remember his name? Seriously, you call that being dedicated? I hate to say this honey, but I think you are just bed hopping, being a whore to the gods rather than a faithful servant. You need a serious lesson in nailing your ass down and being a LOYAL, DEVOTED, FAITHFUL servant, long before you should even consider marrying a deity or spirit being. I answer your questions as one who has devoted every fiber of her past, her present, her future, and her afterlife to the service of ONE man, ONE deity, and you come to me with your flipitent mockery of such a holy union and expect me to take you seriously? Tell me this, have you ever been faithful to a flesh and blood man? How many husbands and boyfriends do you go through? You do realize you are asking advice from a women who in 40 years has only ever been with ONE man, right? You use the word initiation interchangeably with dedication, then speak of dumping gods and marrying a new one because you didn’t feel anything at the wedding? Honey, how many years of service did you devote to your god before you married him? You can’t even remember his name? Do you even have a clue what it means to be dedicated to ANYTHING?

No the Mariaj Lwa is not something you do for fun. It takes up so much work and dedication that you won’t even have time for a job, not even a part time weekend job. This is a very serious thing and I do not think highly of your mockery of such a deeply sacred union.

[/quote]




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Ever wonder what it was like to live with Autism?  
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I have Autism. For more of my life I rarely spoke and was considered "too crazy" to ever live a normal life. I communicated via writing instead of vocally. I did not attend school. Psychologists said I would never drive a car, never get a job, never go to college, never function as a meaningful member of society, never be able to take care of myself or live on my own. They said there was no hope for me, I would need full-time care my whole life. 
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My progression was long and slow and very hard. Things other people found easy to do (getting dressed, brushing teeth/hair, walking across the street, etc,) I found extremely confusing and hard to learn. I was prone to wandering off and getting lost (I still am). Driver's ed takes most people a few weeks to learn - it took me 5 years. 
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I determined to prove the doctors wrong, but it was far harder to do, than most people would imagine. I got my first job working at Macy's at age 30 (a very difficult job as I had to deal one on one with customers and I still at that point was not talking in a manner that could be understood by others). I got my GED at age 34. I got my driver's license at age 35. I started college at age 36. By age 37 I had become a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Student and I was finally able to speak to others in full spoken verbal conversation for the first time in my life. 
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Now you can find out what it's like Being an Adult with Autism
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Good morning Starshine! Liked this post? Looking to connect with me online? I love social networks and am on most of them. You can find me on: BloggerEtsyFaceBookGoogle+KeenMySpaceNaNoWriMoProBoardsScript FrenzySpoonflowerSquidooTwitterULC Ministers NetworkWordpress, and Zazzle Feel free to give me a shout any  time. Many blessings to you, may all your silver clouds be lined with rhinestones and sparkle of golden sunshine. Have yourself a great and wonderful glorious day!
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~Rev. Wendy C. Allen aka EelKat of Laughing Gnome Hollow

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FYI: I welcome all email! That includes arrogant, bigoted, rude, ignorant, snide hate mail many uber religious folks enjoy sending my way.  However, be forewarned that by choosing to send me a letter, email, blog comment, FaceBook comments, or any other message from any other means, which falls into any category, you thereby relinquish all ownership rights and responsibilities concerning your letter(s) and comments(s). I will post any and all letters, both positive and negative, that I feel require or deserve a response. If you don't want the world knowing your troubles, knowing you are a hater, or knowing you are a bigoted jackass, please refrain from sending me mail, because if you get really bitchy, I'll go right ahead and use your real name too. Thank you and have a nice day.
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Oh, btw, while you are sending me your question, can I offer a bit of guidance here? LESS Wiccan related questions PLEASE! I am not Wiccan, know nothing of Wicca, and just because a bunch of local Mormons run around saying I am a Witch, and building those nasty slanderous websites full of false accusations about me, don't make me one! *sheesh* I am so sick of "but they said..." yeah, I KNOW what they said, that doesn't make it true. Sending me Wiccan/Witchcraft related questions is only going to piss me off.
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You can be Wiccan all you want, I don't care. But coming to me and asking me for advice on Wicca and Witchcraft is the equivalent of going to a cake chef and asking him for advice on brick laying! You wouldn't go to chef to get masonry advice so what the heck are you going to a Christian to get Wiccan advice? Come on people, be reasonable!
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You got Bible questions, thems I can answer. You got Hoodoo questions, yep, I can answer those too. But Wicca? Paganism? Witchcraft? Remember Voodoo is NOT Vodou. Voodoo and Vodou are two separate and different religions. Voodoo is a Christian religion not a Pagan one, we use a Bible, and God, and Jesus, and Saints, and Spirit Guides (lwa). just because I'm Voodoo don't mean I know shit about Wicca or Paganism  Now I understand you have questions and finding folks like myself who are willing to attempt to answer everything that comes my way are few and far between, but please attempt to use your brain and consider whether or not I am even able to offer advice or even know the answer to your questions before you send them to me? Okay? Good. Thank you.
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This post was written by Wendy C Allen aka EelKat, is copyrighted by The Twighlight Manor Press and was posted on Houseless Living @ http://houselessliving.blogspot.com and reposted at EK's Star Log http://eelkat.wordpress.com and parts of it may also be seen on http://www.squidoo.com/EelKat and http://laughinggnomehollow.proboards.com  If you are reading this from a different location than those listed above, please contact me Wendy C. Allen aka EelKat http://laughinggnomehollow.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=viewprofile and let me know where it is you found this post. Plagiarism is illegal and I DO actively pursue offenders. Unless copying a Blog Meme, you do not have permission to copy anything appearing on this blog, including words, art, or photos. This will be your only warning. Thank you and have a glorious day!                             
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                                                                   ~ EelKat
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