If you’ve been following the Vodou Deep Dive series of posts on this blog (and as their author, I *do* hope you have and that you’ve been enjoying the trip), you’ll remember Omolara, the fictional woman who taught her husband how to accept a pwen, or a hot point of spiritual concentration, in our last post.
I’d like to use a key ritual component she taught him in our example to open a new category here on the blog, “Technique Tidbits”; in this category of posts, we’ll look at simple lessons in the ritual protocols and specific traditions by which we work Vodou. Sometimes, like today, we’ll practice a protocol that will be fully explained later, so the motions feel natural and the later explanation-in-depth will make more sense with muscle memory overlaying the written lesson.
Today, we’re going to talk about the process of pouring water for Spirit. Sounds simple, yes, and frankly it is, but there are complexities that make it a ritual act performed the Vodou way. You’re going to want to stand up, stretch, crack your knuckles, and get ready to move… as we’re going to start with some choreography!
First things first; get a mug and fill it with cool water… in Vodou, we usually use one of two types of handheld containers for this particular process, either a white-glazed metal mug with a colored rim, or a clay water jug we call a Krish (kreesh; one syllable and drawn from the word cruche, pronounced the same way). For practice, though, any mug with a handle will work. The water is going to be carried in your right hand; which hand is the dominant side or which you write with does not matter, the water is in the right.
In the left hand, you’ll want a simple white candle… typically in the ‘States the kind we use the most is marketed as an “emergency candle” for use in power failures; they’re approximately 4 inches tall by about a half inch wide, simple white. For the sake of practice, dont bother lighting it. You’ll want it burning when we get to the point where we’re doing this for real, but for the moment, leaving it unlit will avoid spiritual attention and let us just practice the motions ‘til we get them right.
If you remember when we started talking about Reglemen as a concept, we talked a little bit about Vodou’s system of organizing pretty much everything into categories sorted by relative Heat to relative Coolness; we’ll definitely be exploring Reglemen in great depth later, but once you have your candle and water in the correct hands, take a moment to think about how you’re standing in between ancient symbols of the polarities, Hot and Cool. (Even if your mug says Worlds Greatest Cat Mom, for the moment it’ll function as an ancient symbol and believe me… I wont judge.)
Take a moment now to put a plate in the middle of your floor. Trust me; we’re going to return to this in a moment and it’s going to be important, but for the moment, just go get a plate.
Now, the choreography. The first steps are to present the offering you’re about to make to the metaphorical Four Corners of the World; we’re not Flat-Earthers, I promise… this is no different from the compass on a flat map indicating 4 primary directions. From where you stand, take a step forward, raise the candle and mug to approximately chest height, and make the same curtsey motion we all know from seeing news videos of people in the presence of England’s Queen, or from watching Downton Abbey. It’s basically a bobbing-motion with the legs momentarily lowering the upright torso instead of making a formal bow where your torso would change in angle. Try it; if you step forward with your left foot first, bring your right foot beside it and gently bend at the knee. It helps if you smile and say “Ma’am”/“Mum” in British English while you do it…. you’re never going to say that when saluting your spirits and working the protocols correctly, of course, but for now you’ll see exactly what kind of motion Im describing if you say it.
So, to go over that again, step forward, left foot first; bring your right foot beside your left, but dont put it fully flat on the floor yet as it’s about to move… just bring it alongside your left, toes on the floor but knee bent as though you’re still mid-step, and quickly bend your left knee a touch (that bobbing curtsey) and straighten up, lowering the items you carry.
Now, step back right foot first, reversing the step forward you’d taken, and while bringing your left foot back, turn to the right to face the point that was *behind* you when you began. While this has absolutely nothing to do with the cardinal directions of the compass, it can help to imagine that first step forward being to the North, and the second to the South instead of to the East.
Repeat the same motion; step forward with your left foot, bring your right to heel/toes down, and raise the candle and water. Keep your arms relaxed; while this is a formal process, it doesnt need military precision… with enough practice, this whole thing is going to flow. Make the Bob; relax and return to the center/where you started, stepping back with your right foot.
Now, make one quarter turn to the right; continuing with the arbitrary assignation of North, then South, this third direction is to the West (keeping in mind that this is completely arbitrary and has absolutely nothing to do with the actual directions). Step, raise, bob, relax, return.
Turn to the right again, this time a half turn instead of a quarter turn (so, East-ish) and repeat; step, raise, bob, relax, return.
One of the main reasons we didnt go around in a circle to present our offerings direction-by-direction is that, in this process, our feet and repeated steps have marked the Sign of the Cross out on the floor. The North-South axis, and then West-East; again, directionality doesnt matter, but the X-marks-the-spot pattern establishes that for the purposes of what we’re doing, we stand at the geographic center of our map. The presentation of the offerings we carry, in the symbols of coolness and heat, shows each quadrant of the world that we are about to do something of ritual significance, and announces our presence and intent to the Spirits.
The next section is where things get a bit more complicated; the first part we’ve covered announces that something is about to happen, but the second part we’re about to cover is the thing that happens. Its steps are more convoluted, so read through them a few times to familiarize yourself with them before trying them out, and expect that you’ll have to look back a few times to the notes while doing it. It takes practice, but you want it to feel natural and easy by the time you do it for real, so leave the candle unlit for the time being.
Here we go!
From where you’re standing, step to the left (left foot first) and bring your right foot to that heel position resting on your toes; bob.
Step to the right, bringing your left foot to that heel-toe position; bob.
Step back to the left, right foot at heel-toe; bob.
After these three Left-Right-Left steps and bobs, we’re going to make three whole body turns, but there *is* a specific way to do this. For a moment, imagine a square on the floor with each of it’s sides roughtly equal to the width of your shoulders. We’re going to number the corners like so:
To start, let #1 be where you’re standing; move your right foot to #2, and while turning your torso to the right/clockwise, cross your left foot over to position #3; continue the turning of your body to the right throughout, so your right foot naturally circles to position #4, finally bringing your left foot naturally to its side. Facing forward, bob.
To dancers, this motion is a basic Box Step Turn; it’s a way to make a full turn of the body to the right without extending several steps off to the right. The little step behind us keeps our lateral movement to a minimum, which is extremely handy in small spaces like the floor before an altar, or in tightly crowded spaces such as Vodou temples in full ritual celebration.
We’re going to do this turn three times; the first is the one we’ve just done, but then we’re going to mirror it by doing it in reverse. As you’re now standing on position #4, step back with your left at #3, swing your right to #2 and continue the graceful full-body turn by finally bringing your left to position #1, closing the feet together. Facing forward, bob. That’s turn #2.
Turn #3 is exactly the same as the first; left foot to #2, right to #3, continuing the spin with the left to #4, bringing the feet together and facing forward. Bob.
(My deepest apologies to readers named Robert. We tend to take you in vain a lot in this article.)
At this point, we’re going to finally pour the water offering we’ve been carrying this whole time; that plate we put down earlier is finally useful! Didnt want you ruining your floor or soaking your carpet, so we’re going to use that as our practice surface. Kneel down in front of the plate, and pour three SMALL amounts of water out roughly in a row on the plate’s surface. Small in this instance means enough to make small pools that are roughly the size of something in between a quarter and a 50 cent piece; we do not ever pour out large amounts.
(When we get to the future post where all of this will be explained in detail, we’ll talk more about this, but for now to answer your question the offerings we pour are tiny tastes, a little bit at a time to lure the spirit we’re calling into our space more than they are an offering we are giving in, say, thanks or gratitude. Little dollops to tempt, not full glugs; keep it small.)
Tuck the mug on the floor for a moment, and pay attention to the candle; it’s unlit, which is good, but extend your left arm out to the side or forward somewhere as you bend over to kiss the back of your right hand 3 times. We kiss the hand to symbolize kissing the Earth without actually putting our lips on the floor, but we move that candle out of the way for no other reason than keeping the hair on our heads from catching fire. We dont want that.
Ritually, this would be the perfect moment to speak to the spirits you’re saluting; technically right in between the three small pours and the kissing the hand, but that would be the time to speak to them from the heart.
After kissing the “Earth”, stand back up and take the mug back into your hand; make one single step to the left, bob, and make the same three turns we did before. First to the right, bob, back to the left, bob, and lastly a turn to the right.
You did it! (well, figuratively. I hope you do it,and I hope you practice until it starts to feel less like you’re going to trip over your feed and more like a natural motion, and you’ll have it down in no time).
We call this whole process “Jete Dlo” (jeh-tay dlow), which means ‘to throw water’, or a “Vire” (vee-ray), which means ‘to make a turn’; the opening steps and turns orient what we’re holding and offering to the spirits, where we pour is in their presence and their side “of the mirror”, a concept we will greatly expand on in future, and the final turns return us to our side of the world. This is technically considered a Rada style salute, which we’ll get into in depth when we get to the point of different protocols, but for now… enjoy our Technique Tidbit.