Andrew and Jesse connect on this weeks episode to discuss their connect to Santeria and the Orishas. We see how these traditions influence us, our world, and our magick.
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ANDREW: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Hermit’s Lamp podcast. I’m here today with Jesse Hathaway, who . . . I have a hard time describing exactly who Jesse is. Jesse does all sorts of traditional magical traditions in [00:00:15] the ATR, as well as, you know, being an author and creator of magical products and a participator in a whole bunch of other traditions as well. So, I’m just going to hand it over to Jesse and say hey, how [00:00:30] how would you introduce yourself here?
JESSE: Hi. Wow. I think . . . You know, I’m not, I’m not a big fan of magical CVs as it is, but you know, I, summary-wise, [00:00:45] I guess, I’m an Olocha. I made Obatalá in the Cuban Lukumí Santería tradition. I am a Tata Quimbanda, which . . . I’m a practitioner of Brazilian . . . It’s [00:01:00] an Afro-Brazilian sorcerers’ tradition that is sometimes paired with Umbanda, or Candomblé. Sometimes people let it stand on its own. It’s a Congolese-derived practice, and traditional [00:01:15] witchcraft has always been there for, you know, as long as I can consciously remember, into early teens and things like that.
But I study whatever interests me. It doesn’t mean I’m initiated in all those things; it doesn’t mean I’m practicing [00:01:30] all those things, but I have a passion for magical traditions, folk magic, folklore. I have a huge love of Mexican curanderismo, which is a familial background, although I did not go into that as a [00:01:45] practitioner. And I think also just . . . I’m a babbler, is probably important for my CV as well, that, you know, some of these things, like curanderismo, culturally, you never called yourself [00:02:00] that thing; that was something the community called you. So, I guess in some ways whatever people call me is whatever they call me, and they can come to me for what they come to me. And the main thing is that I’m just trying to do as much training with elders and keep things going as I can. But yeah. [00:02:16]
ANDREW: I think that’s a really interesting point. You know? And maybe we can start with that. We . . . I mean, we were talking before we got on the line, right? And we were talking about, you know, these sort of questions of authority and [00:02:31] who gets to call oneself authority, you know, who’s an expert in these traditions or an elder or even just, you know, an acknowledged practitioner, you know? And I think that this question of where [00:02:46] does the authority come from? And how does that happen sort of inside and outside of traditional practices is a really interesting point, right?
ANDREW: You know, for example, you’re talking about, you know, being a curandero, [00:03:01] like, that’s not a thing that you call yourself. That’s what other people would call you if they’re going to call you that, right?
ANDREW: I think that that’s really fascinating, and I think that we see a lot of change [00:03:16] around that, where traditionally everybody lived in the same place, right? Everybody generally didn’t move around that much and people probably saw a person in that practice grow [00:03:31] up, experience their training, they saw that they got the nod from other people who are acknowledged as that, and at some point, they started taking on their own, you know, practice, right? But in the Internet age, right, [00:03:47] that looks more like a good Instagram account, maybe?
ANDREW: You know, maybe a nice website.
ANDREW: You know, what . . . like, I’m curious what you think about those evolutions and those changes that are going [00:04:02] on around that.
JESSE: Yeah. I mean, the apprenticeship model, which . . . It’s not a certificate model, right? It’s something different, where you are under an apprenticeship, you are with the elder and [00:04:17] their clients see you training with their elder. You know, they . . . it’s . . .The visibility is a very different thing. It’s not just classes. It’s not just, you know, herb walks, occasionally. You are the right hand [00:04:32] of that elder for a very long time. And they see you go from incompetence to competence to fluency, and you know, that kind of replacement for that elder if and when they pass is there. And [00:04:47] it’s a very different model than what is done now.
But even within, I think, the kind of Internet age, of, you know, teachers have dozens and dozens and dozens of students. I look at the Brazilian model of a tahero, where [00:05:02] there is going to be one pai de the santo, who is the head, doing everything. They’re doing all the initiating, thousands of people, but each person has a yake baba care [spelling?] that’s taking care of their needs that is more individualized in that way. But still, it’s . . . [00:05:17] you lose your individuality when you train, and that part is, that sacrifice is very difficult, I think, for a lot of our very Western Internet-friendly minds about promoting individuality. How different you are, how a certain . . . [00:05:32] You know, “I’m studying this tradition,” and the tradition is studying you, is part of the thing that we forget too.
ANDREW: Well, and I think that it’s part of the . . . part of the good training, you know, is learning how [00:05:47] to get out of the way and do the work, right?
ANDREW: You know? Like the . . . you know, I think about the elder Olochas that I trained with and spent time with, or am at ceremonies with, right? And certainly, if there’s a [00:06:02] junior person there to put, to open in the coconuts or whatever, they’re going to do that, they’re going to be like, “Hey, go do that, go mop the floor, go whatever.”
ANDREW: But also, if there’s not, they’re just going to grab the hammer and go, right? And, [00:06:17] you know, there are these funny things that come from that training and that experience. And, you know, opening coconuts is one of them. You know, I watched the people who are new, you know, in my house come and open coconuts, and, you know, I’m like, I always [00:06:32] look over like, “Oh, they’re taking forever!” You know, not in a mean way, but just in a like, you know . . . And then, and that feeling of like, I can open a coconut in no time because I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of them now.
ANDREW: And, those subtle things that you would, [00:06:47] you know, you would see being in the space with somebody else . . .
ANDREW: Make that big difference, right?
JESSE: Mm-hmm. Even the way the way that we mopped the way that . . . we call it watering your elders, you know, just [00:07:02] the, you have to . . . in a good way, not . . . I don’t mean that in a . . . But the idea of culturally, like, I’m . . . Those of us that are more on the introverted side, you know, it’s a lot to go and say hello to everyone. It’s a lot to enter a room and to each person say hello. [00:07:17] It can be exhausting before the ritual even starts.
JESSE: You know, you learn shorthands. Or you find ways to be able to enter into the social language that is needed to be able to access things. But, going around and asking everyone who’s older [00:07:32] than you: “Do you want something to drink? Can I get you a coffee? Can I get you a water? Can I get you something?” Even if they say no, it’s a lot, for whatever reason, that service-oriented side of things leaves . . . It works both ways in the sense that it allows people to introduce themselves to each other, in [00:07:47] a way that’s not just small talk. But also, people see that you are trying to take care of people in the room, and make sure that everyone is comfortable.
And it’s an interesting side of things that you know . . . That’s [00:08:02] not a critique; it is a critique, but of the Internet culture basis or the book-learned culture of not realizing that the book is still your teacher and it’s a one-sided conversation that you don’t get to necessarily appeal to the author and ask for clarification, but you didn’t [00:08:17] teach yourself. You learned from a book. You didn’t teach yourself, because there’s a language that you are relying on that is built on clichés and allegories and metaphors and things like that. So, there’s, there’s . . .
This idea of picking yourself up by your [00:08:32] bootstraps into a magical tradition is not quite necessarily the case even when you’re doing it by yourself. And, and, if we believe that spirit is intervening, then spirit is also teaching us as well. And [00:08:47] how well we can refine that, our own inner ear, to listen to that, is also something there. In a community, you know, a community setting, people often ask in online groups, like what books can I read? Read the room, first, like [00:09:02] take the temperature of the room and listen, because, I mean, the best conversations happen at 2 a.m. after all the things are done for the day and the cook finally gets to sit down because the kitchen is shut.
ANDREW: Sure. Or they’re in there and you’re talking to them instead of you know, rushing around. [00:09:17]
ANDREW: And then they go, “Hey, come look at this thing that I’m going to do here,” right? And even, even in the simplest of things like, you know, cooking the inyales right? Like just cooking the parts of the animals that go to the Orishas. There’s all sorts [00:09:32] of stuff to learn about just even a simple thing like that, you know, and if you’re engaged with the people and talking to them and have a relationship with them, then they’re going to invite you in and be like, “Hey, you know, if you’re looking for this, do this this way, or here’s a good way to do it,” [00:09:47] you know?
Otherwise, you’re just, you know, you can do it and it will serve the job but you’re missing big swaths of the teaching, right? It’s always the thing that I’m really aware of in my, you know, in my position as somebody in Toronto, far [00:10:02] away from regular practice, right? My . . . my knowledge is good. You know, my . . . I mean, there’s always things to work on, but my fluency and some of those little details, I’m well aware that it’s not as strong [00:10:17] as it would be if I was living somewhere where I got to just work more often, you know, because you can never learn those things from a book. Nobody ever thinks to talk about that. You know? Right? Unless you’re in the room with the person and then you’re watching them, like, “Hey, what was that? Why’d you put that in there? I didn’t see [00:10:32] anybody do this before,” you know?
JESSE: You know, you can read a book about running a marathon, but it’s a very different thing to do it.
JESSE: And we talk about that all the time, of like, you know, watching, if someone doesn’t know how to mop, and they say they’re an active santero. You’re like “Hmm, maybe not.” But [00:10:48] there’s this side of it, of, there’s so much, there’s different types of knowledge and the modern age promotes one type of knowledge, which is the facts of the, the history of that type of thing that can be transmitted via literature [00:11:03] in that way, in the written word and it’s an interesting side of things, but it’s very different when the body knows it, when the, when the ways of learning in the body are different from the head. And even . . . [00:11:18]
So, it’s an interesting side of, you know, really making sure if someone doesn’t know how to do certain things, you train them and even, even, for example, my early years [00:11:33] as an Olocha. I come from a house of a lot of old elders. Like physically, they are more aged. And so even though I could be doing other things, they needed someone to lift the big water buckets and up [00:11:48] and down the stairs and do the heavy lifting and open the coconuts. So even though there were other tasks that I could be doing, I was doing the manual labor, because I was younger . . .
JESSE: And able to do certain things that my amazing elder ladies could not. [00:12:03] And that’s an interesting side of things too, because then they sent me out and like, you know, “Go to this house, and start studying with them a little bit here, and then come back and branch out,” so that I could get different experiences.
And I think one of the things that’s very interesting with . . . In the history of Santería, [00:12:19] is just because the houses started working with each other, things got very homogenized very quickly, through public opinion, both in a good and a bad way. There are variances to the way things are done, but the variances between the houses are actually pretty small. [00:12:34] You know, there’s kind of a liturgized homogenized way to do things that is acceptable. And when you vary too much from that, both out of tradition or vary too much from that out of lack of tradition or lack of knowledge, you kind of get [00:12:49] pulled back into what is the acceptable practice . . .
JESSE: And that’s an interesting side of it. So, it’s actually preserved a lot through public opinion through the fact that there’s seven different lineages represented in a room because you invite [00:13:04] those people to work because in the early days you didn’t get a choice on who was coming to work cause you needed people. So, you got anybody, any santero that was in New York City.
JESSE: “Come, work this thing!” And so, new traditions kind of, or at least parallel traditions start aligning, they start [00:13:19] coming into a common practice and adaptations have to happen for the modern age. You can’t do certain things the way that was done in Cuba or in Nigeria. So, it’s . . . Those modifications happen, and elders make those decisions. [00:13:34] When one person makes those decisions, it can get a little crazy. But when a community comes together and says, “How do we resolve this problem? How do we take care of this? Then there’s more options, I think.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. For sure. Well, and I think that goes [00:13:49] back to . . . It goes back to kind of a couple questions around that. One is for me, I think that where there are differences in lineage, it’s important to know what they are. Even if they’re small.
It’s interesting, where there are lineage [00:14:34] differences, that I think it’s really important to become aware of those and know what they are, right? You know, I mean, we are initiated into a lineage, and therefore if our lineage does it a certain way, we should do it that way. And you know, [00:14:49] in these different times, where you go, might go to different houses and do things in different ways, I think that it’s important to respect, you know, the way other people do it and also know that when you’re in your home, you do it a different way, right? Or when it’s your event. But [00:15:04] I think it also creates a lot of unnecessary dialogue and drama, and I think that we see this in all the magical communities, right? At least every one that I’ve ever been in, which is more than a few. It’s this thing of “Well, [00:15:19] we don’t do it this way. Therefore, it must be wrong,” right?
ANDREW: You know, “This is . . . this is not . . . I’ve never seen this; therefore, it must be wrong.” And I think that, you know, it’s such a such a sticky [00:15:34] topic, right? How do we understand what is tradition? What is traditional variance? How do we understand what is, what comes from experience, and what might be other groups’ experience that we could integrate?
ANDREW: And how do [00:15:49] we . . . And how do we judge what is just, you know, manufactured garbage, right?
ANDREW: To make a few bucks, you know? So. I don’t know. What do you think? Give us, give us a guide here, give us some solid rules we can live by.
JESSE: Because I’m the authority? (laughs) Authority of [00:16:04] that.
ANDREW: Yeah, I’m giving you all the authority right here. Community of one gives it to you, Jesse!
JESSE: Yeah, yeah. I think, obviously reliable or people that you can [00:16:19] confide in and ask opinions on that . . . The chain of eldership is really important and it’s not just for this. You know, I don’t, I don’t support the complete submission to elder guru style where it allows for physical abuse or emotional abuse and that way . . . That is a [00:16:34] model that does exist and has existed but there is a possibility of an elder and mentor elder and minor model that allows for accessing [00:16:49] opinions that can contextualize things based in the knowledge that they have that is more than your own.
JESSE: How do you, how do you modify? I think there’s the side of it too, that’s always interesting, [00:17:04] of when you don’t recognize something, if you’re secure in what you have, you don’t attack the thing you don’t know, you just look at it and cook. That’s interesting. Let me see where this goes, and you have to wait. Gauge the point of when it seems off and [00:17:19] what is your agenda in making sure that it’s correct or incorrect.
JESSE: And that personal side of it, the, you know, this idea that there’s objective . . . one tradition that was passed down from Adam and Eve, it gets a really, it doesn’t serve us. And I . . . Certainly [00:17:34] within the ATRs, I mean, the differences between traditions, houses, the differences between Santería and Candomblé and different Orisha practices are huge. And at the same time, the [00:17:49] Orisha are very flexible in what they, what they say and do, and they’re not going to sit there and nitpick, but there are ways, specifically, that the tradition has evolved, to make sure that Orisha comes, that Orisha is there, that is unique to each lineage, unique to each house, it has similarities [00:18:04] and commonalities and landmarks, you know, to . . . that are recognizable. But at the same time there’s . . . I don’t see elders get as upset about something that’s off. [00:18:19] Just minorly off. They’ll be like, “Oh, we don’t do that,” and don’t worry about it because “come do it, we do it this way.”
JESSE: I see a lot of people who are younger, get really pissed off about keeping tradition intact.
ANDREW: And I’ve talked to elders who talk about that’s [00:18:34] how they felt when they were younger. Right? And be like, “Oh, when I was like 18, I was so mad about all these things. But now I’m like, well, I can see both sides, you know.”
JESSE: Yeah. And it’s the question of like, do you spend all the time stamping the thing out that you don’t like [00:18:49] or do you spend time investing into the model that you feel is more correct and more profitable for people to follow?
JESSE: And, you know, fighting for what you want to see as opposed to what you don’t want to see. And there’s merits on both sides. I think, personally. [00:19:04] You know, when is it that we don’t . . . We try not to innovate a lot of times in ATRs, right? Of like, you innovate through necessity only.
JESSE: And, a temporary thing that you’re still asking clarification on from elders or spirits [00:19:19] or things like this, but you try to innovate as little because otherwise it’s not necessarily what you’re practicing anymore.
JESSE: It’s not recognizable. It’s not recognizable. And has its own thing. Certainly. [00:19:35] Opinions change as you get older too, and you . . . More experience, it’s not just older. What is the Chinua Achebe quote of “Old age is respected and wisdom is revered”? The same thing is similar in our models here of, like, you know, someone who has worked the room for [00:19:50] five years consistently at the foot of an elder is going to know more than someone who’s 20 years old and has never worked the room, as much, or worked it once a year. Someone who births a lot of Orisha constantly or is taking a lot of clients is going to have a different opinion of how things function because they realize, [00:20:05] “I don’t do it this way because it gets in the way of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.”
JESSE: Versus, if it’s your first time giving, it’s like a first-time child. You’re going to make a bunch of mistakes. You’re going to realize you might put a lot of effort into things that you won’t necessarily do on the fourth child down . . .
JESSE: Because important . . . and that practical [00:20:20] experience, you know, sometimes we just have to suffer through our own inexperience and be humble and keep going to elders and asking opinions and seeing, keeping our eyes open as to what is being done. And if we’re in a solitary tradition where it’s [00:20:35] less likely that we’re going to have an elder who’s going to speak to our direct needs, then learn from other things around you that you can, that you admire and can pull in. You know, it’s really hard to reinvent the wheel constantly.
ANDREW: Well, I think it’s . . . You know, I think it’s really interesting because [00:20:50] when I . . . The first store that I read out of have a predominantly Afro-Caribbean clientele.
ANDREW: And, you know, so I was . . . Although I was getting involved in [00:21:05] the Orisha traditions and stuff at that point, I didn’t have a ton of experience at all and, and I wasn’t initiated as a priest, so it was just mostly my own development that I was focused on. But I, you know, I had done a ton of ceremonial work and you know, initiations [00:21:20] along all those lines, and one of the things that was really interesting was, I would end up having these conversations with you know, spiritual Baptist priests and, you know, other people, and they’re like, “You really understand,” you know, [00:21:35] whatever it was that they were doing, right? They would always say, “You really understand our tradition. You really understand this. You really understand the African mindset,” or whatever, and I understand that they felt that that was true. But I think that what I knew was, what I [00:21:50] actually really understand is magic and I understand that there are generally fundamental things that are kind of true across the board if you’re really engaged at a deep level and not, not sort of in the “there’s only one faith” [00:22:06] or “there’s only one source” or any of that kind of like, you know, Victorian colonial nonsense, right?
ANDREW: But in the sense that when you understand that spirits are real, and you have the capacity to genuinely speak with spirits and [00:22:21] you’re going to work with materials, nature, candles, whatever, offerings. Then, then though the surface of those things, or the tradition and lineage piece changes those, there is a fundamental mindset [00:22:36] that, that’s there, kind of around the world around those kinds of things. And once you get that, then you can relate at that place, right? Which is completely different than sort of going in and sort of saying, you know, as I’ve certainly seen other people do, “Well, [00:22:51] yeah, exactly, I know this tradition and the spirits gave it to me and therefore I am able to do this and that and whatever, it’s like, no no, no. I know how to talk to spirits. And in fact, often even people, spirits of other people’s traditions might lean in a bit through a reading and nudge me in [00:23:06] a given direction. But that’s not the same as understanding their traditions or whatever, right?
JESSE: Yeah. Absolutely. The . . . I think that when we’re talking about fluency, and magical fluency, we’re talking about a practicality, as far as how [00:23:21] to utilize those things in everyday life, and that, that is something that is, I think, palpable when someone knows and can give practical advice, practical actions to achieve certain things, no matter the, no matter the tradition. And [00:23:36] certainly, when it’s still theory in someone’s head and less pragmatic, you can tell that too. There can be a struggle to articulate something. What are the next steps? And where do you go from here? And we can [00:23:51] talk about cosmology and philosophy which differ from person to person, let alone town to town, or tradition to tradition.
JESSE: And those finer points, but the practicality of it, that is, that’s something different. You have to be somewhat fluent in order to give [00:24:06] good practical advice on how to move forward, and parroting something is, you know, you first learned by saying what you know, and going off of what you’ve seen, but the more you can expose yourself to, the more people’s styles, you’ll start to learn different ways of approaching things. [00:24:21] And certainly, I’m being reminded of a computer search parameter [00:24:36] recently. That was . . . The issue with diagnostic tools from computers or trying to diagnose illness and things like this, is that they’re not programmed to look for something that isn’t there.
JESSE: And this is something that humans can still do very well in that . . . not [00:24:51] just looking for the problem out of the common, of the sets of things are there, but to have a revelation of what could still be needed by the person, not necessarily . . . You know, when someone comes for a reading, there, it’s not just their conscious problems we’re talking about. We’re trying to look and [00:25:06] bring those things that are unconscious to the surface too, to see what is actually the root of something that needs to be addressed, and those things come from having a good foundation in the basics, in order to . . . You [00:25:21] know, you have to do primary colors before you start doing secondary colors and understanding what those things are. You can’t mix secondary colors trying to get primary colors. You still have to know what that, that order is, and I think it’s very similar in magic. You know, there’s basic advice on things and [00:25:36] some people will give out the basic like, you know, here’s an uncrossing. Here’s a, here’s a love drawing, here’s a bend over type of working, and those are, those are set vocabularies and other people [00:25:51] might tell you to go light a candle at the base of this tree and the spirit is going to take care of it. And that’s the model that they were using, and both are pragmatic in this sense, but I . . .
I wonder how much materialism [00:26:06] still enters in, the kind of Scientific Revolution atheist materialism that sneaks in because that is the paradigm as Westerners that we are raised in, you know, there’s some variance in that and based on familial upbringing and religious upbringing. But the idea that spirit [00:26:23] is not necessarily tangible in the same way and it is actually affecting the materia to do the thing is a less popular model. And it’s interesting now, like once you get introduced to the concept [00:26:38] of a charged statue or something like that, people want to put loads and everything in. They don’t necessarily know what goes in it. They want to know, “Why, why do I put these things there? Am I putting this there to symbolize this?” Whereas in spirit-based traditions the spirit might possess someone, and it could put [00:26:53] anything it wants in that statue and breathe on it or splash it with whatever and now it’s charged. It doesn’t necessarily have a logic that we can understand as to why it picked that item to represent that thing because it’s not representation. It’s [having?] something and that is a battery of power that is being used. [00:27:08] Not, did you have all 732 exact ingredients . . .
JESSE: To put in. That spirit could go for a walk and pull a clump of herbs and give you one of the most powerful baths you’ve ever had. Whereas if you try and duplicate it with those same herbs, it’s not going to be the same, because you’re not . . .
ANDREW: Yeah. I was [00:27:23] talking with somebody in the store recently about . . . they were asking me where I get the crystals that I buy, and about the mining practices, you know, and I think that those, those are really important questions, you know, and the short answer is about [00:27:38] half of what I have, what I sell, I know, I know pretty clearly where it comes from, and short of, you know, hopping on a plane and going to the mine, I feel like the people I’m buying from, who are buying directly from the miners, [00:27:53] you know, I believe them, you know. It’s the best we can do in this in this day and age, you know.
A bunch of the other stuff, I’m far less clear about where that comes from and, and you know, I would like to reduce that [00:28:08] amount, you know, to be clearer that there’s no human rights violations and horrible environmental destruction and so on. But it’s, but it’s complicated and it’s difficult and you know in this industry for sure, and in tons of industries. They [00:28:23] were asking me about the magical influence of where, of where something comes from and how it’s handled along the way and all of these kinds of things, right? Is the stone that you know where and how it was [00:28:38] mined different than the stone where you don’t?
And, and when I was talking with them about it, I mean, certainly I have my own political and social view on that stuff, which is, I think that the stuff that is harvested [00:28:53] with respect is always, is always better whenever we can manage it. You know, whenever I harvest things, I always harvest them with a lot of respect. And I think that that’s a great thing. But I think that there’s kind of a, also another question mixed in that, [00:29:08] which is, where does the actual magic of what you’re doing reside, right? And in the context of a stone, right? Is it concretely in the minerals and the energy of that? And [00:29:23] I think that that’s, that’s part of it, you know, there there’s really interesting crystal books that talk about the, you know, how the crystals form and how that magic, how the energy of that relates to their sort of fundamental crystalline structure that varies from different stones [00:29:38] and you know, you’ve got color and you’ve got different participations and all that kind of stuff. And what other things activate this, right?
ANDREW: And you know, there’s the power of the thing in and of itself, but kind of as you’re saying, there’s also what the spirit might want, right?
ANDREW: Like, you know, if I’m working with, you [00:31:37] know, one of my guides, and my guide says, you know, grab me, grab me a piece of iron pyrite and let’s do this with it.
ANDREW: Certainly the . . . certainly the element is important, but the activation of that particular spirit through that element is [00:31:52] way more important in that equation, probably. You know, the actual force through which the spirit makes the change or consecrates that thing, you know, and consecrating a statue is a good example of that, right? You know. That is the force of the spirit making [00:32:07] something and putting it together and anchoring it. And then we get into . . .
And then sort of the third thing that I see which is related but not exactly the same which is you know, especially with things like plants and stuff like that, right? There is also the [00:32:22] living entity which is that plant in and of itself right and not necessarily just the specific one that you’re working with, but the sort of deeper energy of a given, you know, a given plant in the world, you know, like [00:32:37] ayahuasca or other things. You know, people, you know often talk about that as an entity that wants to return to the world, but I think that that’s actually fundamentally true of the bow trees in the front of my shop and, you know my crown [00:32:52] of thorns plant, and all of those things, and it knows I’m definitely, in the way that I’m working with them in the space, connecting with the collective entity of that plant, you know? And so, I think that this [00:33:07] this idea of how are we working and what are we doing is so interesting and I think it’s something that people don’t really see those distinctions. I don’t hear them talked about, you know?
ANDREW: So, I’m curious what you think about them.
JESSE: Yeah, [00:33:23] I . . . something that comes to mind. I have, as long as I’ve been crowned actually, so a dozen years, been working with an experimental Theater Company here in New York City called Dzieci. And it’s [00:33:38] using theater as a tool to investigate something else. But that’s [lost audio at 33:45?] is unique to each person. But we’re talking about investigating the sacred through the tool Le Théâtre. Through the means of theater. [00:33:53] And this intentionality, this question of intentionality is quite interesting to explore. And a question that gets posed a lot by the director, and then as we start something, is when does [00:34:08] the ritual begin?
JESSE: And, is it when you have the audience fully there and in a theater context and the play starts? Well, no, it started long before that with the rehearsal process and then again, when did it start before that? And the question is when you bring [00:34:23] it . . . You know, for me, the answer and it seems to be a common thought on this, is when you bring awareness to it.
JESSE: And so, if I know that I’m doing an important ritual next week and every day I’m waking up going, “I’m doing this next week. What can I do today to manifest that more [00:34:38] smoothly and make sure?” Then making sure all your bills are paid and you know, the bag lunches are done for the day and everything, that becomes part of the ritual.
JESSE: And there’s this interesting question of intentionality, when you know that something is ethically harvested [00:34:53] and you’re going to the store but you’re in a tizzy and distracted going to the store and you’re not present when you’re picking up the crystal and you’re putting it on the thing and you know, talking on the cell phone and looking at things. What are you doing to destroy the intentionality of that good harvest act?
JESSE: I mean there’s that side of it too, that’s always interesting to me, of, [00:35:08] you know, you can have good ingredients prepared by bad chefs.
JESSE: And you can get shitty ingredients prepared by expert chefs that still taste better. You can have ingredients, you can have a horrible angry chef prepare something masterfully because they know how to treat the [00:35:23] food and maybe they’re compartmentalizing their emotion. Maybe they’re not. They’re . . . that missing ingredient of grandmother love that goes into the cookies: Does it make it taste better? Does it not? And you know, it is, I think for all of us, the question of intentionality is an interesting side of it [00:35:38] of what are we bringing to it? And how we contributing to these seeds? You know, I think, I like to look at things as seeds of potential . . .
JESSE: And certain things allow them to mature and grow. The side of [00:35:53] it of looking at: What is it that that makes something work? What is it that allows something to happen? [00:36:08] I think anybody that can say definitively is selling something . . .
ANDREW: (chuckles) And they probably have a great brand name trademark . . .
ANDREW: Attached to it. Right?
JESSE: Yeah, I think the [00:36:23] exploration of that and the curiosity of that is what, for me at least, drives me to constantly keep practicing that you know that you can . . . Like you were saying earlier, that sometimes, you know, if there’s someone there that can mop [00:36:38] the floor, open the coconut, there’s a way to enter into that, where sometimes the task just has to get done and that person is learning it and they’re going to make their mistakes. There’s other times. I remember recently . . . We were short staffed at an Ocha ritual and I was the one on my hands and knees mopping, because normally would be someone else [00:36:53] and that’s fine, because I’m usually assisting someone. But the . . . I had such pure joy in mopping the floor of just, like it was such an interesting thing of caretaking and, and kind of going into the trance of mopping, which was an interesting thing too, of still remaining present enough to know what [00:37:08] else was going on in the room, so that I’m not mopping something carelessly.
JESSE: But also, this balance of, I guess it is a little bit of Zen and the art of peeling potatoes. But also for those of us that get lost in our heads, to be present enough and aware [00:37:23] enough of what else is going on, so that if you know the something escapes, you know, whether it’s a child, a chicken, or a potato rolling down the hallway, that you’re able to notice it and catch it, not that the chick, child is rolling down the hallway, but I [00:37:38] . . . hopefully that metaphor still makes sense.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, it’s one of those things too. For me, I think one of the big differences between before making Ocha and after making Ocha. Or maybe [00:37:53] before receiving Orishas and after receiving Orishas is, when I work the tradition, whatever that is, I can feel the joy of the Orishas themselves, you know?
ANDREW: Like [00:38:08] when I tell them, like well I’m going to feed him something, and you know, I mean, that might be a sacrifice, but it might just be like, “I’m just gonna, you know, hey, I’m going to cook you this. I’m going to toast up all this corn for you,” and you know, whatever. You can feel that energy, right? [00:38:23]
ANDREW: And I feel like that energy extends to mopping the floor to you know, like all of these kinds of things, right? To, you know, even some of the less pleasant things like plucking, you know, plucking the chickens [00:38:38] after, or, you know wrestling with a ram that got out in the rain, or you know, whatever right? It’s just like, it doesn’t really matter, from my experience, you know, and maybe this is just me, but I think that it’s part of this thing, because that, that service [00:38:53] to the spirits and their pleasure in it, you know, lifts up everything else. Right?
JESSE: Well, I think it’s an interesting parallel too, of a . . .It would seem to me, at least the way that I understood [00:39:08] Greek myths and Norse myths presented to me as a child, even reading like Edith Hamilton. . .
JESSE: They were very anthropomorphized, the gods. So, anthropomorphized that there wasn’t . . . it was hard to imagine that they were appearing in nature. They just owned [00:39:23] nature. And it seems that, you know, as my understanding of these things matures that perhaps that is a kind of modern revamping of a lot of pagan ideology and pagan theology . . .
JESSE: But I’m [00:39:38] in one of Matthery’s books, I believe, he’s interviewing a priestess of Yemayá, in Nigeria, and talks to her and, and she talks about other [00:39:53] people worship their deities. We do our deities. And that when she interacts with water in any conscious level, she is participating in Yemayá. That Yemayá is an act of mopping or washing a body or washing the self or cooking and that water itself has a respect [00:40:08] and a consciousness and that consciousness, for her, was named Yemayá.
JESSE: So, it was this concept and we talk about this, and the Spanish verb hacer does this very well, hacer tonto, you’re doing something, you’re making Santo, that when we participate in these [00:40:23] activities, we’re actually participating in Orisha. Orisha is not a human. Orishas have incarnated as humans. But Orisha is as much the sound that the drum makes and gives us pleasure. Orisha is the flash of insight of a new idea. [00:40:38] Orisha is the feeling that we should go left and not right at this intersection, you know, there’s things that are in the body that is not just in the head. The head leads it, of course, but it is broader and more experiential [00:40:53] and then the body becomes an extension of the head and the head grows because it is experiencing the world and I think there’s something different.
You know, mopping, you are, you are participating in an Orisha act that is yes, you’re finding the joy. But it was also that the deities of [00:41:08] water that are there, that bathing can become a sacred act again. Like when does the ritual begin; when you bring attention to it. And you could make everything about the spirits that you’re serving, or you could make very little and only be like a Sunday religionist, as you know, we talk [00:41:23] about. You know, it’s a controversial thing to talk about the lack of ability to have separation of church and state but religion is there to justify politic, it always has been, the concept of religion. Karen Armstrong goes into that and I promote her all the time, just [00:41:38] because I find her such a fascinating . . . She’s an ex-nun that writes on religion and her book, Fields of Blood, looks at religion and violence. And she talks about that that individual religion and spirituality is a very different thing than organized religion that is sitting there trying [00:41:53] to justify the actions of people in power.
JESSE: Whereas the concept of religiosity or spirituality and those things . . . But what we do in our day-to-day is up to is each of us, but it’s not just about going to church on Sunday, [00:42:08] promoting the separation of that, thinking that going to church on Sunday makes you a good person because you went . . . it’s part of it. But how do you treat your family? How do you treat your co-workers? How do you treat the people around you? You know, how do you treat the land you’re on? And this is a . . . It’s not for everyone, because [00:42:23] it’s very difficult to constantly be on in that mode. It takes practice. It’s a muscle that you have to build and stretch.
JESSE: And I do think that mopping, and carrying buckets of groceries up and down stairs, is a way of stretching [00:42:38] that muscle, or at least it can be when you present it in that way. If you’re just bossing someone around, and say, “Go do this, go do this, go do this,” they may not see that they’re stretching a muscle.
JESSE: That’s, you know, that’s the thing too, is responsible training. You have to say, why are you doing this? Because if [00:42:53] we all stop to take out the trash, we can’t do prepare for the ritual that has to happen. But if you, who cannot be on that side of the curtain or do and be in that room at that time, can take out the trash, then you’ve helped us do that ritual.
JESSE: It is [00:43:08] part of it. It’s that way of, what was the thing where the man was . . . A president was going to look at the space program and asked the janitor who he was and what he did, and he said, “This is my name and I’m [00:43:23] helping build to send men into space,” you know, that it was the responsibility or the contextualized importance of every single task in a temple.
JESSE: Very real thing. And if that person doesn’t know, someone else is going to have to do it and hopefully take away [00:43:38] from that person balancing the books that day, but that’s . . . it’s an interesting thing. You see it in different religious communities. I’m friends with some nuns in Connecticut, at the Benedictine Abbey there, and it’s so interesting to see, because they follow the Liturgy [00:43:53] of the Hours, their work spurts are two hours. They work really really hard for two hours, and they stop, change, and sing for a half hour to an hour depending on which what the liturgy is that day and then go back to work again. Though there’s no warm-up [00:44:08] to working. They know they only have two hours, but they also don’t rush. Which is like, “You’re gonna do it, you’re gonna get to work,” and that’s great.
ANDREW: I think that that, also that dedication, right? Like they’re gonna, they’re gonna stop and sing, you know? It’s like before [00:44:24] before I got married, my spirits, you know, my ancestors, in a mass, and a misa, were basically like, “We want you to go to church before you get married. We know you’re not getting it in church. That’s fine. But we want [00:44:39] you to go to a mass.” And we were like, “All right,” and so I went, and it was it was me and my partner and one other person in this massive, like, Anglican Church at 5 p.m. on a Friday night. And [00:44:54] I remember being there and it was very obvious that like, all the people in the congregation actually had no idea what to do because the priest was like, “Is anybody actually going to come up and take communion or should we just carry on,” right? Like, oh, I didn’t know this was the point, right? [00:45:09] Which is amusing, but it was also very obvious to me that if nobody had been there, he would have just done the mass.
ANDREW: You know? And that like, that sort of devotion of, “We’re going to stop and sing, [00:45:24] we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this thing.” I think that kind of devotion is just astounding, you know, it’s so wonderful.
JESSE: you’re speaking to me very true to Dzieci. We do a piece every year around this time. We [00:45:39] just had our first performances of it, but, called Fool’s Mass, which is based on the kind of feast of fools idea from the, from the early modern and medieval period. But it’s a [00:45:54] bunch of fools who are have to do the Christmas Mass, even though the priest just died. The exploration. It’s a buffoonery piece and it’s, there are extreme elements of humor and tragedy in it.
JESSE: But the idea that this choir [00:46:09] comes together to sing and normally, you know, we play characters of different ability and, and function and, and responsibilities and some of us are troublemakers and other people are rule followers and what that chaos ensues, but [00:46:24] we know that there’s songs that we sing and come together and there’s something that’s profound there in the in the silence and listening to each other as well.
JESSE: And the chaos breaks out again, and how do you do this? How do you . . . how do you continue? In what you know, even [00:46:39] if there’s no leader, how do you . . . I always find it interesting, like the dynamic of a classroom when the teacher has to leave to take, to go to the bathroom or something like that? Like, does it function as the same? It depends on the . . . how the teacher has run faster a lot of times. But [00:46:55] it’s a, it’s an interesting side of things. Doing what you know, when you know to do it is still, lots of times we’re like, “Oh, the authority figure’s not here, I don’t have to do it this way. I could do it this other way.”
ANDREW: Exactly, right?
JESSE: And [00:47:10] you go, okay, what did I just lose and what did I gain from that? What was the actual benefit from not doing it the exact way I know how? And so many times I think that, you know, it can come up in our systems [00:47:25] of divination, right? That you have the tools, you know exactly what the problem is, and you’re not using them.
JESSE: You know? There’s nothing new here. There’s no new problems. You know what, you know, every problem that comes up, you know exactly why it’s there and you have the tools to fix it, but you’re not doing it. So, what do you what [00:47:40] are you looking for here? You know, that’s, that’s an interesting thing too.
ANDREW: Yeah, I think it’s such an interesting question, you know? Again, as somebody who’s sort of far away from regular practice, you know, not having not having an extended community here, [00:47:55] you know, I’ve definitely, I’ve definitely run into this sort of angsty emotional piece. And I’m like, “Ah, I got nothing to do. I don’t know what to work on. I got nothing to practice,” or whatever, and this desire to learn more, right? And, and, [00:48:10] what I noticed at one point was, I was like, “Well, that’s cool if there’s more to learn and there’s always more to learn,” but also, how solid’s your singing of Osain, [00:48:25] right? How solid is this piece? How about you, like, you know, make sure that you can, like, say the prayer for each of the Orishas, you know, the Oríkì, or learn a song for . . . There’s often so much [00:48:40] in our immediate vicinity that we can tend to, and if we take that agency back to ourselves, right?
ANDREW: And that way of like, you know, well, what do we, what do we do when there is nobody else watching? Right.
ANDREW: I think it’s . . . I think that that [00:48:55] is . . . That’s where the real work is, right?
ANDREW: I mean, the rest of it is a bunch of work too and you know, not to dismiss it. But at least for me that real work is: I’m here. I’m doing this thing, whether it’s, you [00:49:10] know, Orisha stuff or other stuff with my guides or you know, working on the cards or other projects. It’s always that question of like: Okay, what do I need to do? How do I make myself do it? How do I do the stuff that doesn’t seem glamorous but moves it all forward, [00:49:25] you know, and how do you find the joy with that, so you can sort of continue with devotion around it, you know, or faith, or those kind of old-fashionedy words, right?
JESSE: Yeah, and also the benefit of when you approach things in [00:49:40] that way, it only informs the other things you’re doing.
JESSE: So, meaning, you know, you’re going back to basics and finding new interesting things in them. Then it means that the possibility of you finding new ways and new depths to everything you’re doing, because again, it’s that muscle that you’re stretching that is [00:49:55] developing a way of looking at the world, and, and aligning your feet to a new path. Perhaps it’s the same path and you’re learning it better, you know, it’s nice to return to the things we know sometimes and realize that, oh gosh, there’s a lot more here to examine. That [00:50:10] side of it. I know that’s wonderful to be able to really examine what it [00:50:25] is that we know and develop the questions of ourselves of like okay, you think you know this for sure, and that’s great, but what happens when you do it again? Do it one more time!
JESSE: I guess, for me, my background’s, undergrad, is in theater [00:50:40] and doing things again is not a problem.
JESSE: Over and over and over. There is something of benefit when you have something so memorized. It allows for a new freedom in finding things [00:50:55] out. And it’s not the same as reading the prayer, you know, there’s a difference there. And what is it to do this and how you say it and what it opens your mind up to. It’s like Catholic parallel of the rosary, that saying the prayers is just the bare minimum. Saying [00:51:10] the prayers of the rosary is the minimum. The visualization that is supposed to happen, because the prayers are by rote and coming out of your mouth, and your hand knows to feel for what beads it’s saying. That you’re actually envisioning mysteries as you’re going through the rosary, is, that’s level 2 and above, but [00:51:25] you know, if all you know is the prayers and that’s what you do . . .
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, and it’s like, you know, watching, you know watching elders conduct ceremony, right? They’re singing a song, they’re doing a thing. They see somebody doing something they [00:51:40] shouldn’t be and they don’t even lose a beat and they’re like, “Put the bucket of water down, blah blah blah blah,” and they go right back to it, you know? And sometimes they even just sing it in the tune of what’s going on, right? Which is always amusing.
JESSE: Yes. Yeah, it is! (laughing)
ANDREW: And, and that kind of fluency is just [00:51:55] you know, it’s so profound. And it comes from that showing up and being present and having walked it so many times and all of that kind of stuff. Yeah. It’s such a, such a fascinating thing to see in practice. And it comes out of this, [00:52:10] so much experience with it, right?
ANDREW: Like being on theater, you know, on stage, when the person you’re across from like, says the wrong line, what do you do, right?
JESSE: You don’t shoot them the right line. You’ve got to . . . and successful theater something that is [00:52:25] a wonderful exploration is, making each other look good.
JESSE: You know, in ritual there’s so much correction in the way that things can happen. But how can you correct the person so that they are empowered to embrace this correction you’re giving them because you get [00:52:40] flustered. And everybody’s gonna respond to that differently. But you know, how can you make the person look good still and explain to them, “Hey, there’s this better way, try it like this.”
JESSE: And, and, and really, because then they’re open to the critique. They’re open to the correction. And they don’t feel ashamed. But, there’s [00:52:55] also, we have to get over our shame, too. Especially in the oral traditions, because you’re going to be corrected in front of other people.
ANDREW: All the time!
JESSE: And, you know, there’s, I remember thinking about the profundity of . . . you know, we talk about our attitudes when were younger and [00:53:10] things, and enter member serving Egun before a ritual once, and everybody’s talking and really only the people up at the front right at the shrine are actually paying attention to what’s going on, and it was frustrating, and “I can’t believe people aren’t paying attention!” And realizing like, I am so not present because I’m [00:53:25] so concerned with everybody not paying attention that I’m not paying attention either, and it was just the like, oh my God, it all works if one person is focused up front, the whole thing, the whole ceremony is approved if one person, one conscious act makes [00:53:40] it happen. And then it’s like it’s great if the whole room is aligned, it’s great if everybody will be quiet and focus. Its great of what that is, but it also is humbling to realize how much profound change or acceptance or of a new trajectory can happen with [00:53:55] just one person focusing.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. For sure.
JESSE: And being on point and on task and that’s really beautiful.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, maybe that’s a good place to leave it. Go out there, folks. Be present! Listen, learn, and be kind to yourself and others, [00:54:10] you know, so we can all grow and expand and get wherever it is we’re going to go with all of our magical practices. Yeah. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Jesse and being on here. I deeply appreciate it.
JESSE: My pleasure.
ANDREW: You’ve got all sorts of great [00:54:25] stuff going on online. People want to check it out. Where should they come and find you?
JESSE: The store I run is Wolf and Goat, so wolf-and-goat.com. You can type it without the dashes as well. We’re on [00:54:40] Facebook as well. I do a podcast with Dr. Al Cummins, called Radio Free Golgotha intermittently. We’re on Facebook as well. But RadioFreeGolgotha.com. If you’re interested in Para theater and want to do some strange [00:54:55] explorations of self and the world around you through theater. DzieciTheatre.org DzieciTheatre with an R, E, dot org.
ANDREW: Spelled just like it sounds.
JESSE: Yeah. (laughs) It means [00:55:10] children in Polish. And, I’m sure there’s many other things I’m forgetting. But generally, I’m around a lot online, and even more so, in the back alleys of New York, I suppose, so, it’s, [00:55:25] it’s a pleasure and thanks for having me on, Andrew.
ANDREW: Oh, thank you.