So… we’re at that time of year again; holly berries, wreaths, carols, and the occasional Peppermint Mocha from that unnamed coffee giant with the twin tailed mermaid on the cups (yes; sometimes I let out my inner Basic White Girl) … and for those of us living in the parts of the world where the snow starts to swirl and temperatures drop, there can be a touch of confusion when it comes to tropical traditions and what this time of year means to those living on a sunny island in the Caribbean sea.
Just like certain days of the week have different associations based in hot/cool, Rada/Petro et al, so too do different times of the year; we say that this is one of the Hottest times of year (again, odd when you live in a place where its truly not even pleasant outside because of the cold, but bear with me) because to us this time of year commemorates the Divine descending to Earth and taking physical form in the body of a child.
It *doesnt particularly matter* if you believe in this particular act or not… again, you’ll note in the above that I used the word commemorates; common culture has chosen (well, an assembled group of bishops and cardinals once arbitrarily made the decision to assign a date to this, some 300 or so years after the time when it was said to have occured, and there are still little loopholes involving newly born spring lambs being newly born spring lambs in the end of December, but I digress) this time of year as the period we remember/celebrate this occurence, as through that belief and the strength of believers, this time of year has become hot because of the association… confusing, I know, but little that has to do with spirituality and its effects is ever really as simple as it looks at first glance. Sometimes its the power of the group’s belief that’s more important/has more sway than the power of the individual’s learned comprehension of fact.
What this means specifically for Vodou is twofold… yes, the vast majority of Vodouisants are *also* Catholics, so this time of year is most definitely Christmastide, with all that comes with that. The Vodou side sees the heat generated by the Divine act of taking on flesh and walking among us as a very, very Petro phenomenon that makes this a spectacularly HOT time of year for magic and work! Lots of action in the temples, especially lots of action in the sosyetes that work more to the deeper side of Petro or beyond into the hotter rites (which I dont address in this blog as they’re outside the perview of the Vodou clergy as presented here, and also because those are the areas just not safe for beginners or the unsupervised)
The most common use for tapping into the ambient heat of this time of year is CLEANSINGS; using the heat to strip away any negativity left over from the year that’s soon to end and start the new year with a clean slate (and good wishes from good luck baths we take shortly after the beginning of the year! )
These are what we specifically refer to as “the Christmas Baths”; all of us involved in Vodou have some wildly different ways of doing things and can rarely seem to agree on just about anything, but this is one of those areas that seems pretty universal. This bath/rite is designed to strip away the accumulated dirt from the previous year… from you, from your home, from your surroundings, all of it.
You’ll need a few items, and the good news is they’re incredibly easy to get.
- 7 limes
- 7 white eggs
- 3 bunches of parsley (flat or curly doesnt matter at all, but I recommend organic if possible… no pesticide that way)
- a bunch of loose change (preferably 7 coins adding up to an odd number; Ive seen 7 pennies, Ive seen 7 dollar coins…its all good)
- 1 bottle Florida Water
- 3 white taper candles (and the holders for them)
- Clean white clothes or pyjamas (not your gorgeous ceremonial whites; tshirt and sweatpants is fine, but WHITE is the important part here)
When you’re ready, have everything assembled, and have a quiet moment, here’s what you do…
Take a shower; get it out of the way first, so you’re good and physically clean. Once that’s done…
Begin with your prayers; I can’t stress how important the simple act of prayer is, but in a moment like this it helps not only set the mood but helps center and prepare you for what you are about to do (and helps keep the act holy and sacred; while God may not directly interfere in our affairs too often, we’re still beholden to God for everything… give back a lil’ and pay your respects, and you’ll find the acts you perform under prayer to mean much more. For this one, you want the power of God to bless your supplies and your actions, so PRAY… I’d say a minimum of an Our Father and three Hail Mary’s to get to the right spot; those with a Catholic background may with to continue with an Act of Contrition, and Apostle’s Creed, and an Oh My Jesus, maybe even a Glory Be… PRAY. I cant stress enough how important it really is). I didnt include them in the list of needed supplies, but I like to keep a cup of water and a lit white candle going while I do my prayers and announce to both God and the spirits what it is I intend to do… I find it helps me a great deal, and I know they are present/listening while that candle is lit.
Begin assembling the bath liquid; for this, you’ll need a big enough basin to work in. Most Vodouisants tend to collect the white tinware enamel bowls we use for baths and illuminasyon (and you can find EXCELLENT deals on Ebay!) but for this even a good stock pot or a kitchen-sink style rubbermaid basin will work… its going to be full of liquid and you want to make sure it can be comfortably lifted and carried… but other than that the container it’s in just isnt important.
Fill your basin with water; doesnt need to be filled to the brim, maybe halfway will reduce the likelihood of spills… I like to use lukewarm water, something other than cold, as this solution isnt going to be heated again and is going on your body. Keep that in mind if you’re easily chilled.
Add about a third of the bottle of Florida water, and two of the bunches of parsley (keep the third to the side for now, we’ll get to that one in a little bit) Get your hands in there and start to rub the parsley, taking a small bunch of the leaves in each hand and rubbing them together as though you were trying to get a stain out of a piece of fabric; dont tear the leaves from the stems or rip them into pieces, but rub them together… you’ll slowly see the liquid in the basin begin to change into a bright, vivid green as the virtue from the leaves is transferred to the solution (and the scent is DIVINE!) The parsley is gonna disintegrate into a mushy mass; dont worry. The object is to keep rubbing it together and to get as much of the goodness it contains into the water and to enjoy the process (its really a visceral pleasure to get your hands in this way; you’ll feel it.)
When the water is good and green and you get that happy feeling (you’ll know), slice the limes in half (not lengthwise, but right across the middle) and select half of each lime… in theory you want to alternate top/bottom/top and so on, but with store-bought limes it can be hard to tell… so just take half of each lime, and plunk it in the basin. DONT SQUEEZE THEM; we’re not juicing them, we’re just tossing them into the pot as is. Set the other half of each lime aside; we’re not gonna use them, so maybe later on you could have a good daquiri. Up to you; just dont put them in the bath.
Grab the third bunch of parsley (the whole one we didnt crunch into the bath solution), toss it in the pot, and carry the whole thing to your bath or shower stall.
In the shower/bath, you use the fresh parsley and a lime half to scrub down your body, from your shoulders down to your feet (and you’ll be thankful to have that third bunch of parsley, since the previous two are basically mush at this point!) DO NOT put this bath on your head; limes are too hot of a cleanser to put on your head, so keep this just to your shoulders down. Sweep the bath fluid DOWN, knowing as you do so that you’re cleaning off the last year of accumulated gack/bad luck/jealousy/dirt; let it all go down. Take your time to do a good job of getting every part; for your back you can take some handfuls of the bath solution and pour them over your shoulders (and believe me, this bath smells GREAT; peppery and limey, its one of my favourite smells!) You can grab different lime halves or keep one in each hand with some parsley while you scrub down, but dont squish them too much… a little goes a long way.
When you’re good and scrubbed, collect the chunks that fell into the tub and just put them back in the basin. DO NOT RINSE OFF; this bath solution should stay on your skin and air dry (so you might want to crank the heat a little bit just in case). Spend a little time picking off the big parsley bits that are now all over you, but dont worry too much… there’s gonna be a lot, and there’s no real way to avoid that. When you’re dry, put on the clean white clothes (yes, there’s some parsley EVERYWHERE; it’s OK.) and clean as much of the bathtub of parsley as you can… just toss it all into the basin. Keep it all together (Sometimes you might have to grab a paper towel and wipe out the tub… just toss that, leaves and all, into the bath basin with the rest of the spent parsley and lime halves… it’s all “contaminated” with the stuff you were scrubbing off. A good amount went down the drain, which is cool, but the solids need to be treated carefully; shove it all in the basin and empty it into a plastic bag or appropriate container. We’ll deal with that in a little bit, just put it someplace out of the way for now.)
Take the three white candles, and stand them in a triangle on your floor (large enough to stand in between), and light them in the names of the Father (one candle), the Son (another candle), and the Holy Spirit (the last candle). Stand in between them inside the triangle; take the 7 eggs, and wash them down a bit with a sweet perfume like Pompeia or some rose water… what you use isnt actually important, but what is is delicately caring for each egg, washing it in perfume, and asking them to absorb all negativity in their environment. Take the eggs and rub them down your body, slowly, from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. Tell the eggs that their job is to absorb any leftover negativity and take it away from you. After you are fully rubbed down (you might want a small bowl or a basket for this, come to think of it…) Carry the eggs from room to room of your home, lightly tracing the sign of the cross on the walls with each egg; not hard enough to make a mark, but just enough that you’re introducing the eggs to the walls and making the holy sign. Afterwards, when you’ve gotten every wall, place the eggs around the home in places where they wont be disturbed or broken; they’re going to stay put for a week, absorbing any negativity there is in your home and surroundings. Try to make sure the corners of the house each hold an egg, and one should be under your bed where you sleep. The others? Just find places that feel logical.
Go to bed, and sleep in the white clothes (this is why sweats and a tshirt are totally fine. ), and you can shower off the last of the leaves and bath solution in the morning… but for now, let them stay on your skin overnight. If you can take a couple days to really let the solution sit as long as possible without showering/worrying that other people might think you’re starting to stink a bit, that’s even better, but overnight at the very minimum will do. That night, however, DONT TOUCH ANYONE. No shaking hands, no sex, no snuggling… you need to keep other people’s energy away from you. Be alone.
Live life as normal during the week; the only things to watch out for are really that you try not to become too “heated” inside the house… dont overload the eggs with arguments and fighting, rage or anger. Try to stay cool.
At the end of the week, gather the eggs, what’s left of those three candles, and what’s left of the bath solution, along with your seven coins (Quarters or Dollar coins are *perfect*). Think of a crossroads (4 way, please) somewhat near your home but also easy to get back from… you might want to do this when it’s dark out or at least when you can do this quickly without causing a scene.
Carry the mess to the crossroads, and throw the whole mess into the street; herbs, limes, eggs, and coins. The coins are to pay the crossroads to take everything far away from you and make sure that you stay clean. Walk home by a different direction; turning around and retracing your path encourages what you’ve placed in the street to follow you home, but going home a different way makes a circular path… and the mess stays behind.
(This should also tell ya that if you see a mess of limes and leaves in the street, DONT STEP ON IT! You dont want to pick up what someone else has thrown down!)
This is step one of a two step process…. the Christmas Baths are the year’s ending cleanser, and as we get closer to Epiphany (January 6th, the Day of Kings) we’ll talk about step two, the Good Luck Baths that start the new year off by surrounding you with good luck and blessings, filling in all the holes that used to hold the gack the lime bath stripped away!