Friday, September 7, 2012


Virgin of Regla, by Miguel Alfaro
Today, September 7th, is the Catholic feast of the Virgin of Regla, a Cuban Black Madonna who is the masque for the lucumí orishá Yemojá. Much is said of the orishás, but apart from their specific cultural-religious specificities as divinities that have incarnated as humans on earth, they are so much more than the common conception of 'god', 'spirit', or 'ancestor'. They are all this, but I remember my godmother describing orishá one day, as "the feeling I get when I hear the drums" and "the way I feel when I remember my mother singing". Yes! This came so much closer. Obatalá is the flash of insight or the spark of creativity, and the peace of  cool shade on a hot day. Yemojá is the floodings of emotion and the rising above anger, she is the lapping waves and the undertow, she is the glow of a pregnant woman and the fierceness of a parent defending their child. Orishá are in our bodies, in the world around us, not just in a remote Orún/Heaven waiting to come to possess their devotees at a tambór. I can hear my godmother in my head asking Yemojá to "calm the turbulent waters of life and carry us safely where we need to go." But olorishas are of course always speaking the praises of orishás (well, if it works....)

Yemojá's name is a contraction of Yeyé omó ejá, (or Iyá omó ejá), "Mother of the Fishes"; her ritual number is seven, her colors are blue, white, crystal with accents of other colors depending on the specific road; she is owner of the Ogún River, and in the New World, she owns the ocean as well. She gave birth to many of the other orishás, and is associated with nurture and maternity. She can be found in lakes, rivers, seas, marshes, wells, springs - in truth, she is water itself!

I believe it is in one of Matory's books (perhaps Black Atlantic Religion?), where there is an interview with a priestess of Yemojá in Trinidad, and she mentions how orishá is not about worship. She was mopping the floor - and was adamant to point out that as she was mopping, and water was being placed on the floor, she was interacting with Yemojá - for as oloshas and aborishas we make orishá, we do orishá. Hacer santo is most difficult to translate to English for this reason - it is not just the act of crowning a priest in our initiation ritual - orishá is a process we engage in. I really thank my godmother for putting that in my head. (She is a daughter of Yemojá, after all....)

This year I put elekes on my first godchild, a daughter of Yemojá. I am born from Yemojá, as is my godmother, and her godmother before her. She rules my religious house, and although I am a child of Obatalá and my mother en santo is Oyá, Yemojá will always and forever be that great ocean that gave me birth, and therefore always "Mom". Maferefun Yemojá!

Oríkì Yemojá

Yemoja olodo, yeye mi Yemojá ore yeye o.
Emiti ìbí gbogbo Imólè, yeye mi Awayo, Yemojá jo iya.
Iyanla, Iyanla, Iyanla, Yemojá gbe a le. Ashé.

Yemojá, owner of the river,
My mother Yemojá, Most Gracious Mother.
You who gave birth to all the divinities, my Mother whose crown is the rainbow, 
Yemojá who calms all suffering.
Great Mother, Great Mother, Great Mother, 
Yemojá sustains us. Ashé.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Verdolaga • Purslane

Portulaca oleracea, Linn.

Verdolaga (Spanish) + Purslane, Hogweed, Pigweed, Pusley, Moss Rose, Miner's Lettuce, Cuban Spinach (English) +  Verdolaga francesa (Cuban Spanish) + Ewé Omí, Pápásan, Ewe Oshisha (Yoruba/Lukumí) + Beldroega, Portulaca, Beldroega-verdadeira, beldroega-pequena, ora-pro-nobis (Brazilian Portuguese) + Xukul (Mayan) + Ma Chi Xian (Chinese)

Many times herbal magicians utilize herbs that are not only foreign to the soil, but costly. One of the most important things I have learned to appreciate living in New York City is the amazing magical quality of weeds. If you pass a vacant lot in the City, chances are there are numerous plants that people go to botanicas to buy for ceremonial and magical use. Growing in the cracks of the sidewalk is the amazing verdolaga - known as purslane in english. You can occasionally find it as a salad herb in the grocery store, but it is also prolific in the tight spaces of summer sidewalks and even more in the larger public parks like Central Park, Inwood Hill, and Van Cortlandt Park.

It is persistent and widely distributed - with fleshy, succulent stems and small spatulate or narrow obovate leaves, either green or red in color depending on variety. It grows in full sunlight and finds even the most inhospitable places as potential growing spots, able to tolerate dry compacted soil and drought.

It is a source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for healthy growth and development, and one that cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be ingested. It is five times richer in this acid than spinach, and boasts more omega-3's than any other leafy green vegetable.

Medically, it is used topically for abrasions, hemarrhoids, insect bites and even psoriasis and eczema; and internally for constipation, genito-urinary tract infections, and is tonifying to the liver. 

Folkard's Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics gives it the ability to inspire love, and notes that strewn around a bed, it is "a sure protection against evil spirits" - and gives it lunar correspondence.

Dalia Quiros-Moran's Guide to Afro-Cuban Herbalism lists it as sacred to Elegba and Yemoja in Lucumí. It is used to 'freshen' sacred objects, helping to renew their vigor. According to Lydia Cabrera's El Monte, it can be used in baths for improving luck. Jose Flavio Pessoa-de Barros & Eduardo Napoleão's Ewé Òrìsà lists it as sacred to Oxalá (Obatalá), and is a feminine plant and elementally, water. They note that, like all plants of Oxalá, it can be used for any orixá, and is used principally in baths, considered cold and calming. It can be used as a ritual substitute for okra, and is known to save humanity from disease and death through the ashé of Obatala and Yemoja. 

While I am an olosha, the use of this herb for its rejuvenating properties is not limited to formal use within orisha ceremonies. I have found great results in using verdolaga when an item is accidentally neglected for some time, like when travel keeps you away from your altars and shrines, or you find an old item that was packed away. Verdolaga has the power to rejuvenate these objects and a simple wash can be made that allows this natural recharging to occur. 

 + A Wash to Strengthen and Rejuvenate Spirit + 

You will need:
  • river or rain water
  • an amount of fresh verdolaga/purslane - a handful should do it
  • Holy Water (or First Rain of May, or Water from Seven Different Places)
  • prayers or songs sacred to the spirit you wish to call
  • small candle (tea light, penny/shabbat candle, etc.)
  • item(s) to be washed
  • bowl

Pour an amount of the water in a bowl - metal is avoided by some, but this is a personal decision. Take the verdolaga and with respect for the plant tap it on the top, bottom, left and right of the bowl, and then fold and begin tearing and shredding it by hand at the level of the water. This allows the juices of the plant to go into the water, and the two qualities of flowing water and rejuvenation are mixed. Add sacred water (holy water, etc.) to further strengthen the wash. If so inclined, saliva may be added - especially after prayer.

Rinse the item in this mixture, continually pouring the water over the object while saying or singing praises to the spirit it is connected to. If the spirit has a number associated with it, consider pouring the wash over the object in corresponding measure. Allow the object to air dry, burning one small candle, letting the object sit for the duration of its light. 

You could easily make a bath using the same ingredients, adding milk, cascarilla, and a few other plants like prodigiosa, rosemary, and basil to make a white bath for peace, luck and health. Pour the mixture over the head or over the shoulders after bathing. 

Customary Disclaimer: I do not intend this wash or bath as a substitute for traditional herbal waters (omiero) used in orisha religions. While verdolaga can be put on igbas to help refresh them, especially to appease Yemoja, this is always done under guidance, as are baths. Follow the protocol for your house.