EP79 Sex and Spirit with Ty Shaw

This week I’m joined by the one and only Ty Shaw. We dive deep into our connections with the Orishas and Ty talks us through some of her sexual empowerment work and how they all connect. Her work covers old traditions and new traditions, and her dedication to her practise is inspiring. This is one not to be missed!

Connect with Ty through her website.

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ANDREW: Welcome to another installment of The Hermit’s Lamp podcast. I am hanging out today with Ty Shaw, who is a fascinating human being. She practices a bunch of different traditions, and brings a lot of, you know, experience in a lot of different ways through life and spirituality to the conversation today.
So, for folks who don’t know who you are, Ty, why don’t you introduce yourself? What — Who are you and what are you about?
TY: Oh, my god. Ooh child. Well, I am Ty Shaw, like you just said, and what am I about? I’m a Iyalorisa, palera Mambo, and a lot of other things, oh iyanifa, that’s the most recent one! Always forget to list that one!
ANDREW: Right.
TY: And basically, what I have been doing is working with people within the tradition. I was obviously with my spiritual house, and the various, you know, people that I service in my communities, but my sort of day job now is in the space of sacred sexuality coaching, intimacy coaching, and really bringing, particularly, well, people in general, but women in particular, in alignment with sort of their spirituality and their sexuality, and kind of bridging that gap, and working in a space where people understand that when you talk about sacred sexuality that you don’t have to look to India or to China or to Japan or to these other places, that we do have concepts of sacred sexuality from an African context …
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: If you’re willing to actually look at what we’re doing and examine what we’re doing.
ANDREW: All right. Well, why don’t you enlighten us on that? Because I know, you know, being a babalocha, right, you know? That sex, at least sex in general is very, we keep that inside of the Orisha tradition, you know, not inside of the tradition, but outside of the relationships and the connections there, you know, and people are often like, very slow to even get into conversations like that, because there is such an emphasis on having proper relationships and where those lines are …
TY: Right.
ANDREW: So, where does that come from in what your experiences are for you?
TY: Well, that’s exactly why I do this work. Because our traditions are very conservative in how they look at sex …
TY: Which to me, is not only counterproductive but contradictory, because everything we do mimics a sexual act on some level. If we want to take, say the babalawo for example, when the oluwo is pounding ikin, the oluwo is mimicking copulation, such that ikin, or odu, can give birth. When we go into the igbodú and we want to birth a new priest in the process of a kariocha, we are using the leads, singing the songs, doing the invocations …
TY: To get certain elements to give birth. You know, if we’re sitting on the mat and we’re divining with the odun and odí falls, or some iteration of oché, or something out of ogunda falls, we’re going to be talking some sexual shit. [laughs] You know what I’m saying?
TY: Can you talk — we deal with deities who cover these specific things. And, we deal with energy. We’re priests. We understand that, just from a basic scientific perspective, that energy is neither created nor destroyed. It’s how it’s directed. So that means there is no difference between spiritual energy and sexual energy. And the fact that we vibrate on a different level as priests because we actively cultivate our energy — we’re cultivating our sexuality as well. And I think the fact that our traditions are so conservative, and don’t allow for these deeper conversations, even though the liturgy, odu, the deities themselves, do speak of these things and act in these ways, because we haven’t had these conversations and developed that language, we have what we see now, which is the manifestation of a plethora of, or an abundance rather, of sexual dysfunction, in an out of ritual in an out of the room, and a community of priests who are manipulating energies, but really have no basic concept of what energy is, how it works, and what you’re conjuring. [laughs] So that’s why I decided to get in that space.
ANDREW: Yeah! So, when you’re … because lots of people who listen to this are not going to be practitioners of ATRs, or, you know, diasporic traditions or those things necessarily, let’s pull this apart just a little bit more. Because I know exactly what I think you mean — I mean, you’re going to tell me if I’m right — but — I think one of the things that we want to make clear, is that some of the dysfunction that I think that you’re talking about, I mean there’s obviously the people who are having challenges themselves, which is a separate issue, but then there’s the sort of dysfunction of people taking advantage of relationships, godparents, or other people who should be obeying a taboo that is like a parent to a child …
TY: Right.
ANDREW: You know, or having relationships and using their power and position to take advantage of people. Right? We’re talking about these kinds of things, right?
TY: Right. Right.
TY: Well, one thing about that, we’re talking about even in our intermittent relationships, we are seeing a lot of abuse coming to the surface, because of Facebook, sexual abuse, women who are being raped by their babalawo husbands, or men that I’ve encountered in this tradition who come seeking guidance and were molested by a godparent. You know? We have an abundance of people of color, amongst those people of color are women of color, and I personally in my adult life don’t know any women of color who haven’t experienced sexual abuse or sexual assault. So, we have this abundance of sort of sexual trauma, that comes up in our relationships in so many different ways, whether it’s the baggage we bring to the tradition, or whether it’s the abuse of power because of the dynamic within the tradition. But we still because of our conservativism, we don’t have that conversation.
ANDREW: Right.
TY: And when we do, it’s an accusatory one: You abused me. You did this. You didn’t do booze up the bembé. You tried to take my husband. You know. But we don’t necessarily have conversations around what the solutions are. What we’re going to do about it. How do you fix them? If you’re a babalawo that’s married, and you have your apetdabe, how are you cultivating that sacred relationship?
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: Because that’s our version of it! [laughs] You know what I’m saying? In a certain way. On a certain level.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: How are we cultivating our intimate relationships? How does that affect our vibration and our energy and how we cultivate our Ase as priests, and then what does that look like in terms of how do we treat each other in our interpersonal relationships?
ANDREW: Sure. And how are we dealing with our own … I mean, even if we don’t have the kinds of traumas you’re talking about, you know, we all exist in a culture that, you know, experiences toxic masculinity, and rape culture, and all of these bits and pieces and all sorts of exploitative pieces left over from a long time, in our culture, right?
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: And how do we look at ourselves and become clear about what is our desire? What is real? How do we communicate? Where does consent fit?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: You know, all of these things, right? Like these are important pieces …
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: Of cultivating … Well, I mean, being a decent human being, for one, but like, and certainly being a spiritual human being for another, right? You can’t.
TY: Yeah. And we can’t deal with these forces that again, we’re engaging in sort of spiritual sexual acts in the process of giving birth and getting odu to conceive and put something out there that’s new, and then appeasing this newborn thing via ebbó. We do these things, but there’s a disconnect, there’s some sort of cognitive dissonance, you know, between the act and the metaphysical understanding of the act, you know? Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: I also think that people don’t understand energy, as you kind of said earlier. Right?
TY: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
ANDREW: You know, one of the things that I noticed when I became a priest was, all sorts of people who started hitting on me who weren’t hitting on me before.
TY: Yeah, because you were orisha.
ANDREW: Right? And I got Shango on my head, right? I mean, that’s going to draw some heat, right? And, you know, and the thing is, is that, if I wasn’t mindful of it, if some of my elders hadn’t said, hey, this is probably going to happen, take it easy about that, then you’d get into all sorts of trouble, right? Because what’s going on is those people aren’t necessarily attracted to me …
TY: It’s that energy!
ANDREW: They’re feeling that energy, and they want more of that, but we don’t understand how to get close to spirit, or how to be intimate with human beings, and not frame that in a sexual context. Right?
TY: Or, if it’s in a sexual context, that doesn’t mean we have to act in a debased way. How about receiving the energy because we are, like Shango is the pillar of virility, male virility, male marknotism, that’s his Ase, and it is sexual, there’s no way around that. How about we accept that that’s what it is, internalize it, and use it for what it does? As opposed to saying, well, I feel arousal, this means I must screw, this means I must … you know. As opposed to no, these are what vibrations and energy do, and you know that’s why I started getting into vibrational medicine, you know, prana, reiki, tantric projection work, because we already have heightened vibrations as a result of having gone through ritual. And ideally, we’re cultivating our Ase, cultivating ori, we’re developing and uplifting that vibration. But so many priests I would have a conversation with about energy, vibration, how we magnetize it and move, there was just such a lack of understanding, and a lot of times I feel that we’re doing ebbó, we’re killing chickens, but what you need is a chakra cleanery, what you need is a past life regression, what you need is some spiritual counseling, it’s an issue on a base level with your vibration. Which ebbó does address, through the power of sacrifice, but you’re still not internalizing that in your vibration.
ANDREW: Well, it’s like I popped my collar bone out of place, recently, right? And, you know, I went to my osteopath and put it back in place, but the reason I popped it out of place, was cause muscles in my back were out of balance, and that is a physiotherapy thing, and so now I need to be … you know, and so, and I think that that’s true on many levels, right? Spiritual practices can make adjustments …
TY: Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: And, in different kinds of spiritual practices, can be that physiotherapy …
TY: Right.
ANDREW: But it’s rare that one does all of them at the same time, right? You know? It’s like you go for a reading with the Orishas, and they’re going to, you know, realign your vertebrae, and be like this is where you should be and then you’re going to leave, and all those wonky muscles and your habits are going to want to pull you back out of place, right? And whether that’s energetic, or your circumstance, or your psychology, or whatever, right? Or the various baggage you’re carrying with you? That’s all that energy that wants to kind of disalign you again, right?
TY: Right. And I think that’s one of the major critiques I’ve had, like if anybody has seen my Facebook videos, I’ve done a lot of critiquing about what I think is healthy versus what I don’t think is healthy, right?
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And in that sort of process, not understanding energy has led this new generation of people that are kind of coming into the tradition with a level of … how would I say, like a lack of respect for tradition? And in that process, they stereotype and pigeonhole certain energies because there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of energy. So, like for example, I see this wave of new women coming into sacred sexuality, and not everyone’s a child of Ochún. Because they think, okay, Ochún, sacred whore, sacred prostitute, no idea where that comes from, but this is what they say, and this is what they think, right? When it’s like, Ochún, first of all, it’s a stereotyping of this energy, because you don’t even understand what you’re talking about, it’s a pigeonholing and it’s a limiting of her, because depending on the road, you might be dealing with the crone, you might be dealing with the witch, you might be dealing with the demure healer, you might be dealing with something like Ochún Ibu Kwanda, the warrior. Who ain’t got nothing to do with your coquette. [laughs]
ANDREW: Yeah, for sure, right?
TY: When people don’t understand energy, when we don’t understand how things work, and we stereotype, and we pigeonhole, we do everybody a disservice …
TY: We don’t, we don’t get access to the thing, you know, that’s really going to …
ANDREW: Yeah, I think that, I think it’s challenging, because there’s such a profound and sort of largely … If you’re outside of the tradition, largely inaccessible depth and diversity that’s there, right?
TY: Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: You know, how many roads of Ochún are there? How many roads of … you know? You know, this, that, and all those other spirits, right?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: And what do those things mean, right?
TY: Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: And what do … and what if you’re dealing with, I mean, you know, if you’re dealing with those, or running into those, or if those are the paths or avatars that are sort of engaging with you, it’s completely different to have one versus the other, right?
TY: Yeah, right.
ANDREW: There’s the Yemaya who pulls you down to the bottom of the ocean, right?
TY: Yep.
ANDREW: And leaves you there!
TY: And leave y’all!
ANDREW: Right. And then there’s those other paths that are going to love you and hold you while you cry and pat your back, right?
TY: Oh, there’s this my path, Achaba, who’s just the shady one, who don’t want to …
ANDREW: Yeah. Right?
TY: You know. There’s koha ibun shade ….
ANDREW: [laughs]
TY: But I love her, I love her. But that’s why, like in my work … Okay, I had become a palera , I became a iyalosha, I became a mom, though I became a iyanifa, and then I was like, well, why do I want to do any of this? What does this mean to me? What does priesting look like for me?
TY: Do I … Am I going to be able to do it in the way maybe my elders did it? Do I believe in the same things? What is this priesthood thing going to actually play out for me? And I found that in … And I’m a young santera, you know what I’m saying, so, I mean, I’m 5 in Ocha this year — no, I’m six. Am I six already? Shit! But anyway.
ANDREW: It’s really stacking up, right?
TY: You know, so I’m a baby olosha. Infant. And, in the process of me coming into adulthood as a nealOrisha, growing up and kind of going through adolescence, now, I have to … I decided to consciously … consciously move into priesthood. What is this priesthood thing going to look like for me? Where is going to be my medicine? What’s going to be my point of departure? And that has always been whole person healing. What am I dealing with? What is Yamaya bringing to my doorstep? And yes, I can solve this with ebbó, but after ebbó, what is going to — and that creates transformation — but what’s going to last? What’s going to stick? What’s going to change behavior? You know? And that’s when I decided to go … that my route was really as a healer …
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: Getting into the spiritual development of the person, and then when I was trying to figure out well what healing would look like, outside of energy healing and spiritual cleanings and stuff, what I found is, that what people were lacking was the counsel and a way to really work through trauma, particularly trauma held within the body, of a sexual nature. And our tradition was no exception to that. So, it spoke to me of just the niche, that made sense, that I could kind of slide on into, you know?
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: So right now, it sounds like priesting for me is looking like being really woman/Goddess-centered, really witchy, and really focused on long-lasting transformation.
TY: In or outside of an igbodú or a new set of elekes, or the reception of a new Orisha.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: [laughs] You know what I’m saying?
ANDREW: For sure, because so many, you know, I’m also a relatively young olocha, you know, but lots of people who come around for that part of what I do, they, so many of them almost show up with their shopping list, right? They’re like, I’m coming to you, I want you to give me my elekes, please confirm that I’m a child of whomever, you know? And like, and so on, and it’s like … I don’t know. Like, you know, let’s see what happens, right? Whereas, when people come to me in my sort of card reading and you know, that other magical side of my life … A lot of those things are more like what I think that all of it should be, which is, let’s see what’s going on, let’s talk about what you need, let’s work on this, and make that change so that it endures, right?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: Because it’s so easy to, you know, when I made Ocha, Shango basically said to me, it was like, “Hey, welcome, you’re here, so go fix your life, cause you’ve got some things that are messy that you made, and now you gotta go fix em cause Ocha can’t do it,” and I was like, “All right. Huh. That’s not what I was hoping!” [laughs]
TY: Right?
ANDREW: You know?
TY: Shango has a way of just popping that bubble. He kind of gave me something similar, in my Ita, Shango, he came down talking bout “You do not know how to live, and now you need to learn how to live. Learn how to live in this life, or you’ll learn how to live in the other,” we hear that refrain. You know?
TY: And I think I had a similar trajectory, like, I love teaching, you know, cards, crystals, all the airy fairy witchy stuff, because even though I had extensively studied African tradition, I studied traditional forms of witchcraft as well. I was a proper neoPlatonist high ceremonial magic type of witch [laughs] for a …
TY: [[00:19:10] astrological magic, like, I came from Bea too, so ain’t nobody going to get me to leave my cards behind, and none of that, but … And I felt like there was space for that. Like there were, you know … And spiritualism gives you that opportunity, right? To bring in anything you want? But, people would come with their shopping list, well I want this, I want to be crowned tomorrow, I need you to take me to Haiti, and then after that take me to Africa, and I want this and I want that, and usually my attitude is like, that’s cute, that’s what you want, you know, good for you, you are clear on your desires …
TY: Which is … [laughs] What do you actually need? Now that we’ve gotten through your laundry list, what’s actually getting ready to happen here?
TY: Cause guess what, I don’t move, unless Yamaya tells me this is what has to happen.
ANDREW: Oh yeah. For sure.
TY: [laughing]
ANDREW: That piece of … I don’t know what the right word for it is … understanding … that the Orishas that sits on our heads, you know, and live with us, that nothing happens without their say so. Something so largely foreign to most people’s concepts, right? You know?
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: Like I remember, many years ago, I got this reading, and Aleyo was like, “No tattoos for you this year,” and I was like, “huh, all right, fair enough, I’ll stop,” right? I had a bunch of stuff planned and I stopped. And a lot of people couldn’t understand how I could be just like, “okay”? Like what if he never says yes again? And I was like, “Well, that’s cool, I’ll roll with that.” But that’s so hard for people to roll with, right? You know and because … I think in part because we’re encouraged to be ego-centered in a way that is hard to wrestle with …
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: But also because of all these traumas that we’ve been talking about, right?
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: How much harder is it for someone to put that kind of trust in somebody, if they have, you know, whatever kinds of traumatic experiences and abuses from people who should be … who were supposed to be there facilitating them? Parents, priests, guides, whoever, right?
TY: You know, I agree with that, because it’s about several things. It’s about shifting from a very Western individualist self-absorbed ego-centric way of being and moving through the world, which I’m not even judging, because those are actual tools we need to survive in the West.
TY: [laughs] Okay? A certain amount of selfishness is necessary for your survival in this place. However, it does create a learning gap. Because you kind of have to cross that bridge to understand how everything functions in this particular tradition. And the unique thing about this tradition is that it’s not just all this … I think we also get really idealistic and we think that we have all these proper African values, and we don’t. We have diaspora values, because if you rob them [22:09?] of cultural nuances they don’t recognize in Africa. They’re not doing that. And we have to separate the caricature of Africa that we have, this ideal … this, you know, ideal, you know, Africa that doesn’t exist. What we’re dealing with is post-colonial Africa, that has just as much white supremacist misanthropic bullshit as any one of us.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well and also, you know, which part of Africa are we talking about, right? You know? Are we talking about …
TY: Thank you! Thank you!
ANDREW: Are we talking about, you know, Ifé, are we talking about the Congo, are we talking about wherever, like, you know, I mean …
TY: Right. Right.
ANDREW: I know people come in and they’re like “well, you know, I was talking to a Sengoma, and that’s exactly like what you do,” and I’m like, “No, not really,” like, in a general way it’s animist and whatever, but other than that, no, it’s not the same at all, right?
TY: Right. And that’s a problem. they think of Africa as a monolith, as one like homogenous sort of thing. They don’t understand the level of nuance. And this is why I’ve always battled these faulty notions and assertions of purity in this tradition and who’s more pure, who has the right way, who’s the closest to the root? And it’s like, nobody, because what is properly African is that we’ve always assimilated, and brought in what works, and transformed and adapted. And if you go to Nigeria right now, what they’re doing in Ejife, is not what they’re doing in Oyo, is not what they’re doing in Abayokuda, is not what they’re doing in Oshopo. They’re all doing something different! Compound to compound, region to region! Because there’s always been sort of that gap to allow for spirit, to allow for adaptability, that’s how we learn.
ANDREW: Well, and I think that that’s the power of lineage, right? You know?
TY: Sure.
ANDREW: Like, what you’re going to do, you can’t do anything …
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: But you can do anything that fits within the bounds of your lineage, right?
TY: Exactly.
ANDREW: And that’s the real meaning of, like, oh, in my house we do this, it’s like, you know, lots of people use that as a justification for what they don’t know or to just do whatever they feel like, or be like, oh, I can’t get that, so you know in my house now, now we give turkeys instead of chickens, cause they’re easier to get, or whatever, right? And it’s not … that’s not valid, right? What’s valid is understanding what’s going on within your lineage, and then honoring and working with that, because that is something, those are the spirits that we’re calling on to work, right? You know, in one way or another.
TY: I’ve always been a bit of a lineage snob. Particularly in this day and age where people feel that they can self-initiate and they can get their head marked via tarot, and they can get initiated online, this, because, the thing about lineage, right, when I … I try to explain this to new people, it’s like if you’re a Christian it doesn’t mean that you all believe the same thing, you might be a 7th Day Adventist, you might be a Baptist, there are denominations here. And I feel that we’ve gotten to the point in our traditions where we have denominations, okay? And within each denomination, lineage becomes important because that’s going to imply style, technique, and approach. Okay? We may all believe certain things, but how it plays out, how it looks in ritual, our approach to ritual, technique, that’s going to be based on lineage. I think Palo is a great example of that. When you tell me the ramen, you tell me the house, now I know what kind of Palo you do. Because that’s what lineage dictates. What types of agreements do you have with the forces you have the ability to access and conjure, and what do your ceremonies look like? Because everything outside of ceremony, ritual, and the protocols associated with them, that’s what we dictate and what we have a blueprint for. Everything outside of that is between you and your spirit. You got to work that out! And that’s why lineage gives you the blueprint, right, for how ritual, what makes you a certain thing, what makes another thing a thing, then outside of that, that’s all you, boo!
ANDREW: Yeah, for sure, right?
ANDREW: It’s all about getting to know what your particular Orishas like and want, right, you know? I mean, cause people always want to do big ceremonies, and more often than not, you know, if I cook a little amala ila for Shango, he’s gonna eat up and get whatever I want, right? You know? Like, it’s easy, once you sit and listen. Once you understand and build that connection. But, you know, but that quest for purity or truth or like, the solution, you know, it’s not always bigger and better things, it’s learn to work what you have, right? And then apply that and then you can go from there.
TY: And insofar as learning to work what you have is concerned, I think that’s another challenge, because one of the main critiques I sort of have of our traditions right now is that I don’t think people are practicing African tradition or African-inspired tradition. I feel like they’re Christians in elekes. Because they kind of bring all their Christianity and dress it up in nice African fabric and put beads on it, but it’s still Christianity.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And I find that that is especially true with how we understand and approach Orisha. Sometimes our relationship and approach to Orisha is devotional, and sometimes it’s not. I’m not always on my knees begging like I’m praying to the Lord, sometimes I’m sending Orisha on a mission, and I think people have forgotten that, and I see that that disconnect comes in mostly since the African American involvement in Orisha tradition. The reason why I say that is because [00:27:56–garbled] coming up with these older Cubans, Puerto Ricans … I have seen them be like hiding drugs in Ocha, or getting a custom Elegua out cause they want some shit to go down or they busting somebody outta jail, it wasn’t this elitist thing, and it wasn’t so … the level of Christianized judgement, and this just pray to Orisha and give agomu, I don’t work with Uheria, that’s very different, because we have songs, we have liturgy that calls us powerful sorcerers and sorceresses, and how we work with Orisha. I think that we have to reexamine what our relationship is. Is it this Christianized devotion? Or sometimes do you work with Orisha like any other sorcerer in any other tradition? And what are these ideas that we’re bringing in that are foreign and counter-productive? Because if you are just purely devotional, right? and you just throw in so that you can appease Orisha and get on your knees, do you really know what that Orisha likes and how it could work for you or how you could get up and make something pop when you need it? Do you really know that? Or do you know how to appease Jesus on Sunday and beg? And does that make you a priest? Or does that make you a slave to some spirit? And you call it Ocha?
ANDREW: Mmm. Well. I had the, I think, good fortune, it’s one of the best gifts that I think my parents gave me, which was to not be raised with anything. So, religion was nonexistent in my household. Which, you know, I think was tremendously liberating compared to where a lot of people come from when they come into these things, right? And I think that this question of what is, what does it mean to exist with a magical religion, right?
TY: Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: Is something that is quite different than what a lot of people expect or understand, right? And it’s neither as simple, at least in my experience, as “Hey, dude, I was sitting on the couch playing video games all month and I need some like money for rent, hook me up,” right?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: That doesn’t necessarily work either, right? I mean, maybe? Maybe the first time, maybe sometimes. Or you know, “bust me out of jail,” or whatever …
TY: Of course, there’s spontaneity. Right.
ANDREW: But it’s also not.
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: Not that either, right? You know? And sort of this distinction between the things that we want and need to live in this world and live in this life, right?
TY: Uh huh.
ANDREW: I mean, they are there to facilitate those things.
TY: Right.
TY: I think it —
ANDREW: Go ahead.
TY: No, no, I’m sorry, go ahead.
ANDREW: Well, I was going to say, and, they are there cause they can see how we can free ourselves from the problems we make for ourselves, or the problems other people bring, and sort of move beyond them, or move and minimize them as we go through life, right? Because …
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: You know, life is complicated, right?
TY: It’s the battle of the Osobos and the Iré, right? All these forces of negativity that exist in the world on many levels …
ANDREW: Right.
ANDREW: And some of those come from us, too, right? And learning to overcome those ones that are … Not in a “we’re all sinners” kind of way, like we’ve all got baggage, we’ve all got tendencies, maybe we’re lazy, maybe we’re too greedy, maybe we’re hateful or whatever, and those things undermine our lives, and we need to … you know, it’s that balance of both, I think, right.
TY: Right.
ANDREW: Cause literally people come into the shop and “I need you to Santeria somebody,” and I’m like, “whatever, “Dude, I don’t even know what you mean, but no.” Like, forget it? You know? yeah.
TY: I see — I mean, I see your point. I guess what — not I guess — one of the things I’m resistant to is elitism in this tradition.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: Because it has become elitist on a number of levels just because of the price point, the introduction of just the academia, you know, into this? So, there’s also an intellectual elitism here …
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And with that elitism, there’s been sort of this political attempt to Christianize in terms of its values, and what we do, we don’t do that, and it’s like, um, but we do! Because I remember very distinctly being called for those basement ochas that we had to do in an emergency cause somebody was going to jail, or, you know, [laughs] somebody has some illness, and it was a bunch of poor people in that ocha in a project apartment saving somebody’s life. I remember when it wasn’t elitist.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: You know? And there wasn’t any shame around doing an obra versus an ebbó. And how I’m distinguishing those terms, when I say an obra, a work, something that you don’t throw for, that you go, you put it together, and you tell Orisha, versus ebbó that comes out of a divination and Orisha done told you!
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: I remember that, there being a distinction and watching santeros move in that way. I remember that there wasn’t the stigma and the shame around, yo, maybe I do need to come up with my rent cause I’m getting put out of my house and I need to go to Elegua to open a door.
TY: I remember because there was no stigma around that.
ANDREW: Well and, I hope I didn’t come across wrong, because I think there should be no shame. Right? We are all where we’re at, and we’re all in places and life is complex and variable and many things happen, right?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: And, you know? There are those times when we need to make those things, or to, you know, kick ’em in the pants a little bit and be like, “Elegua, dude, rent’s due on the first, it better be in my account before that, my friend, it needs to happen, or we’re all in on the street,” right? or whatever, and I think there should never be any shame in any of that or in needing healing or, you know. I mean, all of those things, I think that we’re all human and we all need those things all the time and we’d be foolish to think that that’s not going to be the case, right? But I also do agree that there’s a tendency to try and niceify, right? You know?
TY: Yep. You say it even more in Nigeria. You see it even more in the Nigerian priests, with this attempt at, you know, Christianizing Ifa because of the onslaught of just attack from Muslim- and Christian-kind in Nigeria.
ANDREW: Sure. Right? And you know, and it’s … you see it in a lot of, you know, more fringe places, right, you see it in the LGBT community, right, and all those extra letters too, where, it’s like, well, look, we’re just like you, we’re this way, we’re that way, and that’s true for some people, and for other people it’s not, right? And I think that those kinds of diversity … it doesn’t benefit anybody either to leverage one group down so that we could sort of be up, right? You know in the way that like, historically Palo and Lucumí traditions went through that conflict, right? You know, there’s the historical divide, right?
TY: Well, still.
ANDREW: Well still, but like, you know, there were specific historical events where, you know it was like all of a sudden, well, you know, we’ll throw the Palo community under the bus for this …
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: And show how legitimate and good we are, right?
TY: And they’re still doing it. I was very resistant to making Ocha for a lot of years, because I was palera for a long time before I became an olosha.
TY: And one of the things that I’ve [35:39–inaudible]… that I was really resistant about, was what I call Lucumí-, or Yoruba-centric [distortion/inaudible at 00:35:51]. You know, Yorubas tend to posit themselves at the top of this whole priest — overstep their boundaries, an Orisha priest telling you, you have abatowa crown, get rid of your nganga. How? Why is it you feel that your tradition gives you the right to tell somebody what can and can’t happen in a completely separate practice? Okay? And that’s your eccentric elitism. That’s Lucumí-centric elitism. And we see it because Lucumí is the most expensive initiation, that people feel like once they get crowned they’ve arrived, honey, they got the big crown …
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And it perpetuates this contention. It also perpetuates a lot of misinformation. Like Cholla is not Ochún. She will never be Ochún. Saramanda is not Ogun. Nusera is not Elegua. [laughs] You understand what I’m saying?
ANDREW: Yeah. Well and I think it’s part of that desire or ignorance that promotes generalization, right? You know?
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: I mean, it’s not 100% true, but I often sort of think, if there’s an odu that says you shouldn’t do that, then that means there’s not a general prohibition against it because it’s required to come up, right? And I mean, it’s a little too cut and dry maybe, but I think there are so many things where people want to sort of posit a set of rules, like obatala should never drink, you know?
TY: Mmmhmm.
ANDREW: These people are going to be this way, this spirit’s going to be that way, once you’re a priest you should never do whatever again, and it’s not that way, you know? It doesn’t need to be that way.
TY: Right.
ANDREW: And that is that sort of stereotyping and you know, sort of modeling ideas that are not universal …
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: But people want to make them, either because it gives them power, or cause they don’t know better, right?
TY: Yes. And in some cases, it’s just superstitious and unnecessary. Like, I’ll give you an example. I went to an Orisha birthday, to go see someone’s Orisha, and you know in the process of ocha birthdays, we’re sitting, we’re gossip, we’re talking shit. We get into a conversation about firearms, right? Because I don’t go nowhere unarmed, okay? I’m a black woman living in the USA. I’m going to be … if you see me, you’re going to see …
ANDREW: I’ve seen your Instagram!
TY: [laughs] You know, so … we were talking about firearms, and there was a priest that was much older than me, I feel like she was in her 20s, and she was like, well you know, none of us carry weapons, we’ve all blunted all of the knives in our house because many of us have ogun [garbled at 00:38:38] in our Ita, and we give that over to Ogun. And I was like Er? What the hell does that have to do with your ability to protect yourself? Number one, did ogunda come in some harsh osogbo that told you to deal with the entire house, and what does any of that have to do with my basic human right to defend myself?
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And then her response was, you know, well [inaudible–some missing audio? at 00:39:07] Ogun, I’m not going to take on Ogun’s job, but I’m going to tell you, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to tell you, there’s nothing he could have ever told me in Ita that would have had me unarmed for the rest of my life, not as a single mother, hell no. There is nothing you could have told ME that would have made me put down my firearms. And there was nothing that I heard her say out of her Ita that made any of that make sense to me.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: That sounded crazy. But I hear this level of superstitious ignorance that manifests in general taboos for entire houses, all the time. Now suddenly one person’s Ita is everybody’s Ita. It’s crazy!
ANDREW: Sure. Well and I see — I’ve seen that prohibition with that piece of advice come out in a reading for somebody, and it didn’t surprise me, cause that relationship in that house was on the edge of exploding into physical conflict maybe, right?
TY: Right.
ANDREW: And so, like there are times when that stuff can come out and should come out, but that’s where you gotta look at your life and see what’s going on, right? Like I — Somebody came to me for a reading and you know, it was one of those like, hey, the Orishas love you, hugs and kisses, see you later, right? And it was like, okay, when should I get initiated? And I was like, why?
TY: Cause you’re not about that. Right.
ANDREW: “Are you sick? Are you broke? Are you … like, what’s going on?” And they’re like, “No.” I’m like, “You’re good, you don’t need it, don’t worry about it.” You know? So, I think that that, yeah, it’s where you need to be understanding about yourself and your relationship, right?
TY: Yes, yes, and move beyond superstition. I think that we have a very sophisticated methodology and system of divination that doesn’t give us … we don’t have the burden of having to have superstition. Or even faith, to a certain extent. We do divination, we do ebbó, ebbó works. [laughs] We trust that it works because we’ve seen in work. You know? We have divination and confirmation.
TY: Which is one of the reasons why I like this tradition. Cause I ain’t got to be believing in no pie in the sky! You do divination, you do the ebbó! [laughs]
ANDREW: As Crowley puts it, right?
TY: Right, right!
ANDREW: As Crowley puts it in one of his books, success is your proof, right? That’s it. Certainty, not faith, right?
TY: Ase, and I’ve never done well with faith. Which is why Palo and Vodou make me happy, you do something, something happens.
ANDREW: Right.
TY: [laughs] You know? So. It’s all of that, all of it.
ANDREW: So, I have a question for you about the intimacy counseling and the work that you’re doing with people, right? So, is that a energetic thing? Is that a spiritual practice? Is that like — Where do the intersection … Cause I’m always curious with people who practice a bunch of different things and then have outside people come and engage that, right?
TY: Yeah.
ANDREW: Are you engaging people within their own practices? Are they coming to you for practices? How does that look and work for you?
TY: So, usually, it depends. People who have no relation to this practice but just need sex and intimacy coaching usually look like regular old clients. They book an appointment, we have some talk therapy, and then I do a healing. That healing may be energetic, like in tantric projection work or energy work that they need to clear out some trauma. It may be a past life regression or some spiritual cord that I have to cut cause of what they’re dealing with. It may be physical, because as a somatic sex educator, we also guide people through certain body practices, so for example, if I have a person who is ashamed of their body as a result of trauma, has never masturbated. I might do guided coached masturbation, or I might have a couple who want to reinvigorate their sex life and they want to learn new techniques, so I’ll guide them through it. So that’s where the body-based therapy might come in.
Someone in the tradition, it will probably start with some type of spiritual reading and see what’s happening with you spiritually and then how that plays out in your life in the form of coaching. And the sex tends to be, especially in the tradition, talk therapy only. It comes out in my spiritual counseling, so like for example, I might do a divination, and let’s say I see a lot of odí falling, and I know that there might be some addiction stuff, or some sexual trauma, some abuse, some other things, that that letter would point to. Well, I’ll do the ebbó, I’ll get that out of the way, but then after that I’m going to book a spiritual counseling session, and let’s talk about what made that manifest on that, and what really needs to happen with you energetically and spiritually and hold space for that. And sometimes that is talk therapy around their sexual trauma, because of course, that letter fell and that oftentimes points to rape or molestation or all kinds of stuff, right?
TY: In addition to that, as a tantrica, when I lead workshops with people, mostly single women or couples, they’re looking to bring the sacred into their bedroom in a certain way. In terms of my tantra training, I came through, I’m an initiated tantric, I was initiated in the Shri Vidya lineage, a Debi Kudarum, very goddess-centered, and to me, it ain’t nothing but some Indian Palo honey, I don’t know, cause you know, they with them goddesses, they put out them yantras, honey and you get to chant and then that thing MOVES, okay, but in addition to Shri Vidya tantra, I studied Ipsaun tantra, Shakti pat, I received several activations, and I am now studying grand trine active shamanistic tantra. So, I will teach them how to do tantric projection, like no hands, no touch, energy orgasms, healing the body and the trauma energetically, and even just tantric lovemaking, tantric interaction. And I’ve found that people in this tradition, even though the two don’t overlap, they are very interested in it, because again, we don’t have a space to have these conversations. We don’t have a way of talking about how we can relate in a spiritual manner [laughs] that, you know.
ANDREW: Well, we’re all human beings, right? We want to ultimately, I think, one of our desires, for almost everybody, is to want to show up on every level for the sexy times, right, you know? Cause once you understand or experience other levels of awareness …
TY: Right.
ANDREW: You know? You want to bring that everywhere, right? But as you say, it’s not really a … there’s not really a mechanism for that.
TY: Right, right. I mean but the thing is I feel that we do, we do have our concept of sacred relationship because for, in my opinion, when the awo, and his apedibi, Soday, and marry, that’s our sacred relationship, when the Ialosha and the Babalosha marry. They … that’s our sacred relationship, because now you have the bringing together of these two powerful entities that can birth something. Now what’s going to change it is the context, the intention, the consciousness, and what you’re going to put forth in it. But the fact that it exists … I think is … I think if it didn’t exist there would be no need for the Babala to have an Apedibi, to have that feminine counterpart to the masculine, you know? To bring about that balance and uplift his Ifa. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? So, we definitely have it, but do we understand what we have? Do we not articulate it? And then what does it mean? So, you know, doubling back to your initial question, your average person looks like talk therapy and then whatever body-based somatic therapy they may need according to their issue. The average person in this tradition, I kind of keep separate, and it stays on like a counseling, I have to counsel them one on one, because a), having the conversation itself is damn near taboo, as conservative as we are, and b) you can’t bring that into ritual, you’ve got to do ritual first and then have a separate conversation about that.
ANDREW: For sure. Yeah. Mmmhmm. I’ve got to say I dig how you’re navigating all that.
TY: [laughs] Yeah.
ANDREW: So, I’ve got one more question for you before we wrap up.
TY: Uh huh.
ANDREW: So, how do you sustain all these traditions you’re doing? I get a little tired just hearing about it! [laughs]
TY: On a schedule. [laughs]
TY: Well, I work for myself, so I wake up, usually I have sunrise meditation and yoga, and then I tend to my ancestors and whatever loa might be that day, so Tuesdays I’m on my Petro, and you know, whatever, Thursdays I’m on my rada, and then I go ahead and reap my Orisha, my ifa, and I keep it moving. At night, I normally deal with my prendas …
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: And I try to keep my workings to them around what’s going on in the sky, and I mostly work that outside and at night. And you know, loa gives you a schedule, cause loa has to be served every day, and you know, it’s certain people that you serve on certain days. Orisha, all they need daily is to breathe, pour libations and keep it moving, you know? I might throw to my Orisha, you know, my head Orisha once a month, Elegba, maybe once a week, appease him, you know, my little Sundays or Mondays, I keep it moving! You know, they, it’s just … it’s such a part of my lifestyle, it’s I wake up, yoga, meditation, greet Luwan, have your day, come back, say hello to the Palo people, go to bed. You got ebbó to do, do your work.
TY: [laughs]
ANDREW: I love it. I mean I think it’s one of those things, right? So many people … I hear many people who kind of say that they want to live that kind of life, right? You know, that that’s what they’re looking for.
TY: You gotta be built for that life.
ANDREW: Yeah, cause you know, I mean, it’s one of those things, right? I mean, you know, I mostly just, I mean I work with my, you know, my spirit guides and my Orisha, right? But like, it takes up a chunk of time and energy and it takes a real consistency of focus that I think that is challenging, you know? I know that I certainly when I was starting out struggled with it. And that sort of scheduling it, and just being like these are the ways that things happen, that’s it, right?
TY: Yeah. That’s it!
ANDREW: The obligation needs to be sustained, right?
TY: Yeah, and I think because I didn’t do it back to back. Like I had years in between each so I kind of was able to get acclimated, develop a routine, before something else came in, you know? And they’re separate, I keep them separate, like they each have their own room, their own space, all of that. But they function in similar ways.
ANDREW: Mmmhmm.
TY: You know what I’m saying? They function in similar ways.
TY: So, every day if I get up and I greet my ancestors, that’s gonna be a new tradition. And today, you know, I might have to blow some rum [inaudible at 00:50:04] You know what I mean? So, I mean it’s not as far in or as complicated as some people make it sound.
ANDREW: [inaudible–asking to repeat]
TY: I said it’s not as far in or complicated as some people make it sound. Even if you were just the palero, right? You’re not sitting with your nganga for hours every day! You’re not doing that!
TY: Or most, you get up, you greet, you light ’em up and you keep it moving, unless you got something to do!
TY: That doesn’t change, cause you got other things.
ANDREW: That’s true. And they’ve got other places to be too, right?
TY: Right!
ANDREW: Like they’re not sitting 24 hours a day waiting for everyone. “Oh my god, I’m not bringing the tv down here, you know, we’re not watching our shows together, I’m getting sad about this,” that doesn’t happen, yeah.
TY: They should be out there fixing the problems in my life, not sitting here! [laughs]
ANDREW: Mmmhmm. For sure. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for making time today, Ty.
TY: Yep.
ANDREW: People want to come and find you online, where’s the best place to come and hang with you?
TY: http://www.iamtyshaw.com.
ANDREW: Beautiful! Go check it out!
TY: Yes.
ANDREW: All right. Well, thank you.
TY: Yes, thank you! We’ll talk soon. All right, bye.


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