A little bit about Palo Mayombe
Monday, October 25, 2010
Since many folks were curious, here is a little bit about Palo Mayombe. Just a wee bit, as it would be impossible to sum up an entire religion in a SP blog. It's my take, based on my experiences in the religion. Other people's mileage may vary. My initiation was in Venezuela, so frankly, I trust that TONS more than pseudo-explanations I hear from people who read a book or a website in America, who speak neither Congolese nor Spanish, and just get off on the "power" aspect.
Wikipedia is NOT your friend when it comes to certain topics... and this would be one of them :-)
There are different pathways of Palo, and it was, and is, practiced in what is now the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Some Congolese were enslaved and brought to the islands of the coast of what is now North America during the Middle Passage. As people migrated between the U.S. and Cuba, Puerto Rico, the DR, Brazil, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, there has been more migration of religious and spiritual practice.
The branches of Palo remain somewhat obscured, even on American spiritual landscape. Oh, we're not in the closet. We're just not up for a parade!
Palo Monte and Mayombe are earth-centered and element-centered religions that recognize a Supreme Being. Pagan paths, in one sense, in that they are practiced by "country" people. Palo in Spanish means 'stick' or 'wood', and Palo does connect us to the healing properties of woods, trees, and plants. Ideally, it connects one to the reverence for trees and plants.
I was drawn (some/most practitioners would say called - as Palo chooses YOU, not the other way round) by the emphasis on ancestor-reverence, work with the Dead, the reverence and working with Nature, the reverence and working with Forces of Nature, and a Supreme Being.
My padrino (godfather) in Palo once said that this Supreme Being set the Universe in motion, but is old and tired and not directly involved in human lives. That made complete sense for me.
You don't have to agree or argue or anything - this is just an explanation of what it is I've experienced. I respect your path. I am sharing a bit of mine.
Spirits "own" your head ( a bit like Santería or Voudoun); they are Forces of Nature which guide you and protect you. They choose YOU, not the other way round. In many branches and expressions of Paganism, you choose to work with those gods, goddesses, deities, spirits, etc. that resonate with you in some way. In Palo, it is very different. These Elemental Forces (Nkisis) are very different in the way that they interact with us, and with initiates, and our relatioships are different, even though these Forces sound similar to those orichas in Santería and lwas in Voudoun.
You develop a relationship with the Nkisi (spirit/Elemental Force) who owns your head, and you deepen this with your appropriate offerings and prayers as part of your bidirectional communication.
You also develop a deep relationship with your personal ancestors - those people you love who have died - and the larger community of los Muertos, all the Dead who have gone on before. I've found that the relationship between oneself and one's dead are the largest part of Palo. For nearly anything, any question, any remedy, my Padrino will say first, "Talk to your Dead!" It is a daily practice. A bit like Samhain for Pagans and Wiccans. But for us, it is a daily practice, not a yearly holy day.
Some people might look at this as morose, but I've found it deeply enriching and liberating. I love my dead, and feel closer to my ancestors - very healing.
We work with Nature rather than against It. We have free will, but... so does Nature.
Palo does get a bad rap, as the 'negative side of Santería'. Actually, this is perpetuated by people who know pretty much nothing about our spirituality. Santería or Ifa, and the Reglas of Palo are different religions altogether. Yes, some santeros will make an initiation in Palo as part of their particular pathway. Not knocking Santería by any means, but this makes about as much sense to us Paleras/os as hearing that a Christian has been baptized and is going to make their Confirmation -- but first has to make a bar- or bat-mitzvah. Ummm, a foray into another religion, that is related in some ways, but not all. So, you can see our confusion.
Anyway, there are initiations one makes. These are deeply spiritual, emotional experiences that bind us, to our dead, to our nkisis, and to each other. An important one requires being cut, or 'rayada' - literally, scratched. Umm, you get cut or scratched depending on the initiation. The word means 'scratched', but yes, you can be cut. So, when one is 'rayada', there is no more cutting the skin after that. Oh, you can have emergency surgery, but not elective. No plastic surgery in my future. And no tattoos or piercings.
So, I do have ritual scarification. It's not flashy, but it's there, for me, not the world. I've found that most practitioners are very quiet people, literally. usually soft-spoken folks. Somewhere in life, they have been through an ordeal. We tend to be more introverted and meditative. Many of us work with the dead, the very, very ill, or those who have been through tragedy, in some way. It's not an employment requirement - we all just notice this trend. I've mostly met water signs.... Camcers and Scorpios mainly, and a few Taureans. It's a very watery, cool, quietly meditative pathway. It's not for everyone. But if it calls you, you find your way.
Belief in a Supreme Being isn't necessary, as in Buddhism. You do walk a particular pathway, as in Buddhism. It's a positive pathway.... no matter what B movies you might see this Halloween!