EP83 Hand Crafting, Initiation, and Oshun with TeeDee Gonzalez

June 22, 2018
00:0000:00

TeeDee and Andrew talk about the values of initiation. How it changes a person and how that enhances ones talents. They also talk about Oshun and how Teedee understands her after 20 years of initiation. 

Connect with TeeDee on her website.

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Andrew
 

ANDREW: Welcome to another installment of The Hermit's Lamp podcast. I'm here today with T-D González, who I know from the Orisha community, and who has been making some wonderful product and really representing some of the things that I think are significant and important about both tradition and initiation. So, for folks who don't know you, T-D, who are you? What are you about?

T-D: [laughing] So, I am an Olorisha of the Afro-Cuban Lucumí tradition, initiated to the Orisha Ochún. I was ordained in Cuba in 1999. I live in Los Angeles, California. I'm a mother of two little boys. I'm a widow. I have a lot going on. And I've enjoyed making spiritual baths, which was one of the first things that I learned, one of the first things that many of us learn in the religion. And I've been doing that for about 20 years now, and I just recently began to sell a dried spiritual bath utilizing the herbs that we use in Orisha worship, in Lucumí Afro-Cuban Orisha worship that pertain to Ochún, so it's an Ochún bath. And I'm really excited about it, I love making it, I love working with the herbs, and it's a lifelong learning process for me. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm, yeah, it's awesome. I think we need to definitely talk about the herbs but the first question that I want to kind of start with us talking about is, who is Ochún? 

T-D: [laughing]

ANDREW: Right? And I ask this because, you know, I had David Sosa on a while back, and we talked --

T-D: Mmmhmm, mmmhmm, my dear friend. 

ANDREW: Local human. And, I think it's really important because I think Ochún is, possibly from what I see, one of the most popular of the Orishas, and yet so much of what I see, in general conversation from, you know, people outside of the tradition doesn't often jive very well with my understanding of her from a traditional context at all.

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And even in the traditional context, you know, I mean, some of my elders basically say, well she's kind of unknowable. 

T-D: Right. And she's a deeply misunderstood Orisha. 

ANDREW: Right!

T-D: She's very popular and well loved, probably because of her beauty and because of her dominion over some of the aspects of life that obviously all of us are striving to attain or to enjoy. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: But she is deeply misunderstood. So -- And she means different things, probably, to different people, even among initiates.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: I see Ochún as elegance and beauty, but maybe not necessarily in the most apparent ways or in the most superficial ways. And I definitely see Orisha as working through other people. So Ochún for me is a motherly figure --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And she's forgiving and she's understanding and she's compassion, but she also can be stern, and she also can teach us very difficult lessons. And she also demands respect. And she demands regard for the counsel that she gives us, you know. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: So, in some ways I always say, you know, I'm a little bit afraid of Ochún. I'm dedicated to her, I'm crowned to her, I love her, obviously, I've dedicated my life to Ochún, and she's blessed my life in many many ways. But Ochún is not an easy crown to wear. People make lots of assumptions about her children and things of that nature. Ochún is a very complex Orisha. On, you know, in the most basic terms, you know, we can say Ochún is a healer, Ochún heals with fresh water, Ochún also makes herbal decoctions, Ochún is a diplomat, Ochún is an astute businesswoman, Ochún is multifaceted, she's an incredible cook, she's a wonderful and caring mother, she's a wonderful mate, there are many aspects of Ochún. And obviously, then there is the connective part of Ochún in terms of sparking human connection between one another. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: One of the praise, Oríkìs or praise names for my aspect of Ochún, is Oneabede. A bede is that long brass needle that's used to sew nets. So we can say she knits together the fabric of families ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Or the web of societies. We could just go on and on. 

ANDREW: For sure, yeah. And I think about Ochún in my life, who's been, ever since I, ever since I sort of entered the religion in about 2000, she's been a constant. Right? She's always standing up for me, always there to help me, you know, always showing up when I need something ...

T-D: And she's a fighter! [laughing]

ANDREW: She is a fighter, right? And like you said, she demands her respect in a way that is unquestionable, you know? So before we do a ... what's called a reading of entry ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Which is before you get crowned, there's a reading that gets done to make sure that everything's good for the ceremony space, right? 

T-D: Right. Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Has everything been covered, do we have all the right things, is there some unexpected problem? 

T-D: Right. Some call it the vista or the obo de entrada, or, you know. 

ANDREW: Yeah. And Ochún, in my reading of entry, showed up and says, "So no matter who's marked as your mother this weekend, I'm always your mother." 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And I was like, "That's right, Mom, you are!" You know? And that continues. And it's definitely that respect piece, but, it's also ... There's a profound intelligence? 

T-D: Absolutely.

ANDREW: That I think that gets overlooked ...

T-D: Absolutely.

ANDREW: And that diplomat, that business piece, that ...

T-D: That social intelligence, that's really really important. You know? 

ANDREW: Yeah. Mmmhmm.

T-D: It's really important. And the whole piece of love, love goddess, and that whole thing, procreation, productivity, which she kind of dovetails, obviously, with our supreme, you know, Obatala, is, I think that the element that has to do with love speaks to self-love. And self-acceptance. And self-forgiveness. As much as anything else. It's not always a sexual kind of thing, you know, and attracting the things that we want to -- Ochún has a lot to do with attraction, Ochún has a lot to do with transformation, but it's not always in a sexual way. It can sometimes be and obviously it is, but those aren't the only, you know, avenues for that element in our lives.

ANDREW: Yeah, for sure. So, I think I'm just going to have to collect a bunch of children of Ochún speaking about her nature over time on this podcast. 

T-D: And I'm sure you'll get 50 different answers --

ANDREW: Yeah!

T-D: From 50 different children of Ochún, but --

ANDREW: It will be beautiful.

T-D: I want to speak to this thing that you talked about, this whole thing of aché, that we know that we're born with aché, right, and so this aché is this divine, if you want to call it grace, if you want to call it energy, you know, different people call it different things, we're all born with this, right, and we're all made up of this. And some of Vershare's writings even allude to the idea that Oldumare is aché, that God Almighty is aché. We're born with it. And we have our gifts and our grace and our energy, but then to actually be ordained as a priest is to receive the specific aché that we require in order for us to ethically fulfill our destinies, right? That's this idea that we chose a path, that we chose a destiny before we were born. And that we require this aché of these Orishas that we receive aché of, in order to be whole, in a sense, right? Or to be fully aligned with our higher selves.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And so when we receive this aché, this aché that we receive is not the same aché that we're born with. It's really an amplification, an augmentation of what we have. And then it's almost like, you know Willy talks about this in some of his classes, the oreate ritual specialist Miguel Ramos, talks about this idea that it's almost like you have a bank account deposited of aché.

ANDREW: Mmm.

T-D: And then you receive, you know, augmentations to that from ceremonies or initiations or additional rites that you undergo. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And then your behavior and your character help to augment that or to multiply that or deplete it depending on how we conduct ourselves. So those are kind of some avenues or some conversations about aché, and then obviously we have the aché of our, of the Orisha to whom we're primarily dedicated as priests. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And I think we work for the rest of our lives to kind of develop that and grow that thing, and --

ANDREW: Yeah. And I think there's one other piece that sort of falls into that as well, right? Is that we are initiated, and we receive the energy, the aché --

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: The grace, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: The connection to the spirit and so on, right? 

T-D: Yes. 

ANDREW: But we also are initiated into a lineage.

T-D: Absolutely! 

ANDREW: And we are connected to this line of people and Orishas and aché that go back --

T-D: Absolutely.

ANDREW: As far as we can remember.

T-D: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's essential.

ANDREW: And I think that this notion of, or this practice of, being initiated into a lineage also adds to it, because ...

T-D: Absolutely.

ANDREW: It gives us permission, or some people might use the word license --

T-D: Right, licencia. Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: To work with these spirits, and it forms a contract or a ... you know, most often talked about, like a family bond, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: Because we use the word egun, which means ancestors ...

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And when we use the word egun, we mean our ancestors by blood, our family ...

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: And our ancestors by initiations --

T-D: Or by lineage, right. 

ANDREW: And I think that this conjunction of the two forces, right? The energy that we receive directly from people, from our ceremonies, and from the spirits themselves, and that energy that we can access and that we can work with through working with these ancestors, I think that that combination really is where the magic happens?

T-D: Absolutely. I agree with you wholeheartedly, cause you're calling on that energy. 

ANDREW: Yeah!

T-D: You're calling on that energy before we do anything, right? 

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: When we recite our mouba, we're literally praising God and the deities and the elements and we're literally calling the names ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Of those who came before us, of our lineage, and we're calling the names of those exalted priests who existed before us even from outside of our lineage ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: I think that's essential. And yeah, that absolutely speaks to that concept of ritual license. That aché that you receive as an initiate endows you with something that will develop in time with training into ritual license and the ability to perform and to function as a priest on behalf of yourself, on behalf of others, to benefit the community, absolutely. And that is an essential piece, and it speaks to what the Cubans call fundamento, because if you don't have that you're just kind of floundering, fooling around, and this is not that type of thing. And there are absolutely different spiritual traditions and there are people who are born with deep gifts ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: With deep connections to their own ancestors, to their own spirit guides. There are people who have to do little to no work to have the things that they do flourish, but Orisha worship is different from those types of systems and traditions.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: This is absolutely a communal system that requires ordination, initiation, training at the foot of elders, recognition by one's elders. As I said, this is definitely a learning path ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: That one sets their foot upon and they will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. 

ANDREW: True.

T-D: My mother in law lives with me. She's 85, she just celebrated her 60th year as an Olorisha of Ochún, she has crowned many godchildren, she's a wonderful Diloggún diviner, she is an incredibly knowledgeable herbalist, she's just an all-around Olocha of the type that was fairly common 60 years ago when people were kind of all living on that island in that environment and didn't have, didn't function or have to deal with some of the stresses of a modern life in a large place, you know? And she still reads, and she still studies, and she still learns, and she still asks questions in rituals. And she may be one of the -- she's definitely one of the most knowledgeable people, you know, functionally, in terms of ritual competence, that I know. And so it just tells me, this is a learning path, we're on this path for life. 

ANDREW: Yeah, I think it's, I think that it's really a significant point, right? I think that a lot of people have a notion about spirituality, whether it's this path or another path, and I know when I was younger I had this notion, that we will at some point arrive.

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: At some point we will get there, and we will be, we will know the things, we'll stop having questions ...

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: We'll stop whatever, right? And, you know, I mean, I look at the elders that I know, and they're always still asking questions, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: And it's one of those things that the more I learn about these traditions, and even in my Western mystery stuff, even though I decided to walk away from that path ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: I could see how much more there was to learn, and that it was infinite, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: And I think that it's really important to cultivate that sort of curiosity and engagement, right?

T-D: Absolutely.

ANDREW: I also think it's interesting, cause you brought up, and I want to kind of talk about this for a bit, before we lose it in the flow of the conversation --

T-D: Okay.

ANDREW: That distinction between like Espiritismo, and muertos, like spirits of the dead, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And, you know, what we would call, what more people might call spirit guides ...

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: You know, guardian angels? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: You know, in the sense of like, some spirit that looks over us, and, what do you see as the role of those spirits in your life or in people's lives in general? Because I often see people conflate them with Orisha or with other things, and I'm curious.

T-D: Right. And it's -- it's easy to do, especially when we are in a tradition where many of us, and most of our elders even, will use the word egun for everything, right? Anything that's dead is egun.

ANDREW: Right. 

T-D: So, even if they're talking about spirit guides, which we would say muertos, or guías, or protectores, or even ...

ANDREW: Ada Orun.

T-D: Right, Ada Orun, or even Ada Orun, it's easy to flip that tongue.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: But yeah. Or even where they, some people talk about -- sorry -- even they use the word egun, people who are practitioners of Palo. So it just kind of gets thrown across the board. So it's -- I think it's important for us to be able to kind of designate or understand the differences, so we don't have this kind of totally crucado kind of crossed up situation, but I think that they are important. I think that a lot of that kind of -- I don't want to call it confusion, but kind of mixed up language, comes from the fact that we are ... Our religious practices and our spiritual practices descend from multiple ethnic groups of people that intermixed together in one geographic location, and so we have people practicing multiple spiritual traditions, you know, again, there's a creolization, it's not just strictly this Yoruba thing, because this is not just a Yoruba religion any more, in terms of the ethnic group. And it hasn't -- it hadn't been that way in a long time in Cuba or Brazil either. And now even more so, it is not, because we've got this kind of universal religion now, where people of different races and ethnic groups and backgrounds are practicing these religions, so. Excuse me. But back to your actual question was, I think that spirit guides have a very important place, I think Espiritismo has an important place in the overall practice of Afro-Cuban religion, because I believe that it fills in some gaps that were missing, and this is one school of thought. There are many schools of thought; there are others who will disagree. And I don't necessarily think -- I don't think it's filling in gaps that have to do with egun or ancestral practices, the more I learn about traditional Yoruba religion and the more that I study and read about that, it seems almost like Espiritismo tape kind of fills in some gaps that are missing with Egbe worship, that did not transfer to the New World.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And so, oftentimes you'll hear Yoruba scholars describe Egbe as Yoruba Spiritism. 

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: Because Egbe is not an Orisha, and it's not one entity, it's like a group of entities that exist in the spiritual realm, and so the more I read of that and learn of that, I see, or I believe, I'm led to believe, that perhaps this filled in a bit of a gap where that was concerned. But I think for all of us, I mean, I come from a house where a lot of Espiritismo is practiced. My elders are espiritistas. I was married to a Palero and espiritista, and I just see how it functions in the life. Once people become developed, it can just help you in so many ways, just in so many little practical ways. But it is a separate practice from Orisha. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And so I think what often happens is, people who are outside of the religion, who do not have elders, are being led by spirit guides to do things, and they believe that they are interacting with Orisha. And, I just don't think that's the case. So all these girls that you see on Instagram and other forms of social media building these empty altars, altar tables, or they're calling them shrines, that don't have any Orisha in them with all kinds of pretty little knick-knacks and afefedes and mirrors and compacts and things -- those are likely -- I believe the impetus for that is a spirit guide that's pushing them to do that. But they just think it's Ochún. Or they think it's Yamaya. And so they've set up their altar, you know. That's what they really believe, and I think that push is so strong coming from those guides that it's pushing them to do something and they are doing something. And these dreams that they have that they're ...

ANDREW: Mmm.

T-D: You know, that they may be misinterpreting cause they don't have elders to guide them. 

ANDREW: Well, and I think that there's an important sort of magical concept at play that people lose track of, or they don't like it. 

T-D: Okay. Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Which is, when spirit speaks to us, right? They can only speak to us through our conscious and our unconscious, right? And so that communication is very easily flavored. Right? 

T-D: Okay. [nodding]

ANDREW: By our ideas, by our hopes, by our aesthetics ...

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: By our concepts. And this ... The capacity to differentiate between different kinds of spirits or, you know, whatever, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: I think is very difficult. And if a spirit shows up and wants to help you, and you're like, "Please be Ochún, please be Ochún, please be Ochún," and it's ... It's kind of in that neighborhood, you know? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Like, overlaps with that energy, of course that communication is going to get covered with that, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: You know, it's gonna, it's gonna get clothed in those symbols and ideas, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: You know? And I think that it's really interesting to sort of try and understand how those communications and how those things happen, right? 

T-D: It does.

ANDREW: And I think sometimes it's an ego piece. Sometimes it's an unconscious piece. Sometimes it's ... You know, sometimes it comes from the spirit too, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: You know? But I think that it's really important for people who are exploring in directions like this to, you know, to try and be clear about it and to, you know, if you're looking to go in those directions, you know, considering looking for more traditional verification, you know? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Because that's gonna be way more fruitful over time.

T-D: Yeah.

ANDREW: You know? Because the challenge that I've noticed with a lot of people is, they get pulled into something and into working in a direction, and then they don't know where to go, and the spirit can't guide them further, and so then they get stuck and their life becomes, you know, not what they hoped it would be. 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: Or they have problems, and not because the spirit's necessarily making them, but because it can't take them anywhere else ...

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: And then, and then they become disenfranchised, or bitter, or they get deeper issues kind of emerging from that, right? 

T-D: Yeah. An important factor, I think, is [sigh]. I don't want to throw this all on millennials this or millennials that. 

ANDREW: Uh huh.

T-D: But, you know, different age cohorts do have some tendencies and so we may see a lot of this with millennials not wanting to, you know, follow the rules, or have guides, or submit themselves to elders, or this kind of thing, but I think it's important to just kind of lay it out on the line, that, number one, one factor that isn't necessarily specific to millennials, is that you have people who are kind of -- they may be rejecting, or seeking something outside of the Abrahamic traditions, and so when they find other religions or Afro-Caribbean spirituality, they may be operating under the misconception that because there's not a church per se, that these are not structured religions that have orthodoxy.

ANDREW: Right. 

T-D: And so that can create conflict and a lot of problems. Because these are very structured religions. There is orthodoxy. They are hierarchical religions. They are oral traditions, largely, even though now we have more learning resources that are not ...

ANDREW: I think that that is actually, you know, I mean, I'm, I don't know about the millennialness of it ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: I mean, you know, I think that the issues ... Every generation has their own ideas, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: But I certainly think that being ... Everybody in this day and age who has access to the Internet, right? has ideas. 

T-D: Mmmhmm, mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And the amount of people who show up in my orbit who have sort of notions that they've picked up from somewhere that are really quite not traditional, you know? I think it's because of this flood of information ...

T-D: There is.

ANDREW: And people want it, and so much of it is ... It's kind of half-baked, you know? 

T-D: It is. There's a lot of incorrect. I mean there are people ... You can go on YouTube and there are people who have tens of thousands of followers who are not giving accurate information. Or who are giving information or who have a perception or what they're voicing is really not orthodox or traditional at all. And so then when someone comes in contact with people who are part of the community and they encounter that orthodoxy, it might throw them off. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Or even put them off. You know? 

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: Which I think is unfortunate. But I think, you know, there are some aspects of the religion that you can access, just in terms of historical facts, you know? This started out, you know, as an imperial religion that was a part of a culture that believed in the divine right of kings and that the kings are direct descendants of Orisha ...

ANDREW: Sure. 

T-D: And, you know, us, we’re, our practice comes largely from the Oyo empire, and so there's lots of structure and strictures and all that kind of thing that exists. It's not just this free-flowing kind of whatever you feel type of thing. And so, I think it's important for people to kind of at least try to learn a little bit about the historical stuff. Just take bites of it, you know? 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Cause that will kind of put you in a better place, really, than just watching lots of YouTube videos ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And things like that. 

ANDREW: I also think it's interesting because I think that a lot of people who I run into who come into the tradition or are considering coming into the tradition, right, or are coming for a reading or something ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: I feel like a lot of them don't know what to do with the reading that they get, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm, got it.

ANDREW: Someone shows up and they get a reading, and they come in a sign, and it comes out that everything's firm and solid and good, you know? 

T-D: [laughs] Mmm.

ANDREW: And then the reader's like, "Well, the Orishas love you, hugs and kisses, see you later," and they're like, "What do you mean?"

T-D: Wow.

ANDREW: "What do you mean?" Right? "What do you mean?" 

T-D: Right. That's problematic too, obviously. 

ANDREW: Right? 

T-D: Because those Odos, those divination pattern, which we call Odu, have inherent messages in them.

ANDREW: Sure.

T-D: And some of them admonish the diviner to speak the more -- I don't want to say negative, but negative side of the pattern, and to give warnings, and --it's a message --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: That they're kind of -- As a priest, you know, we have Ita, which are a number of life divinations, but it's the same concept as a road map. One may be temporary while the other may be permanent ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: But it's still a road map for you to follow for your life, and so even if it's just dealing with a specific point in time and a specific situation, I think, you know, obviously, a lot of people are performing readings [sigh] who just are not conscientious ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: About the work that they're doing. 

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: It's not just about marking an ebbó or an offering or a sacrifice that you can then charge the person for you to perform. You're really -- It's a connection, right? Between the Ori of the person who's come to receive the reading and the diviner connecting with Elegua, and giving them this message that they require, and so I think that is really important in terms of fully exploring and investigating the message of the Odu that's fallen, and taking the time with someone who is not in the religion. You know? When someone comes for a first reading, it's really important to explain to them what that's going to involve, and what it means, and what to expect, on top of what the actual message is going to be. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Because as we know, it's easier to lose the blessings that are being foretold than it is to convert negativity that's being expected into blessings.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: You know, so, it's a highly responsible task to perform a reading for someone, whether it's a Diloggún reading or a spiritual reading. It's a highly responsible task and the person who's performing that reading needs to take it seriously and they need to convey that level of seriousness and sacredness to the person who's coming to receive the reading. It's not a game or a parlor trick. It's a connection with ... to the divine.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm. Yeah. And it's also not ... although it has the appearance of fortunetelling sometimes ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Like, "hey, watch for this thing ..."

T-D: Right. [nodding]

ANDREW: It's also not fortunetelling, right? 

T-D: And the diviner needs to make that clear, also. You know, that this is not fortunetelling. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm. And it's also ... The advice about what you don't do is SO important and ...

T-D: It really is.

ANDREW: Or maybe more important than what you do ... I mean … They're both important, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And this notion of the way in which taboos are handed out, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: "Don't do this thing, don't do that thing." I think is something that is also very complicated for people sometimes. 

T-D: It is. 

ANDREW: Especially because sometimes those connections are super obvious, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: Like, you came in a sign that says your head's not very clear, don't drink. Right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: Eh, it's easy to understand, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: But some of the other connections are less clear, right? 

T-D: Right. 

ANDREW: And ... and yet ... they still need to be abided with, and that's sort of ...

T-D: Right. And so maybe the diviner could help that person ... you know, kind of give them some insights into it. You may not hit on the exact thing, that that taboo or prohibition pertains to for that person, but it gets them thinking along those lines.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: You know. Don't eat this thing. You know, maybe that thing would make you sick, or maybe when you go to have it, you're going to be at someone's house and it's not going to be well-prepared ...

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: Or maybe you'll need to make that as an offering one day and it'll save you so it's more of a medicine. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: You've got to kind of open the way that person perceives that prohibition. So that they can think about it differently than just, "I can't have that thing." 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: You know.

ANDREW: People don't like to be told they can't have things. 

T-D: Right. None of us like that, you know? [laughs]

ANDREW: So, every time you sit on the mat, be like, "Please don't take away something I like." 

T-D: Don't take away. Any time you receive another Orisha with any ties, like "oh, don't tell me I can't have this thing."

ANDREW: Exactly. 

T-D: But you know that it's important to observe those taboos because you've chosen this path as your life path ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: But someone who's just going to receive a reading may not understand that, you know, for the next 30 days, or depending on, you know, how you were taught, the next however long amount of time, while this Odu, while the energy of this divination pattern is around you, you need to, you know, refrain from doing this thing or that thing or engaging in this or that or eating this or that. 

ANDREW: Yeah. For sure. So, I'm going to switch topics a little bit here ...

T-D: Okay.

ANDREW: Kind of, kind of but not ...

T-D: Uh oh! [laughs]

ANDREW: So, we've been talking about aché, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And, one of the things that I've found fascinating was watching the way in which you described your process around making these new baths that you're offering. Right? 

T-D: Okay. Yes. 

ANDREW: You know? And, I mean, can you talk about it, because I think that the commitments to putting your energy into it, and the hands-on-ness of it, I think is fascinating to me, and so I'd love you to share some of that for people to understand. 

T-D: Oh my goodness. So, I think it's -- There's obviously a little -- This is an unorthodox type of bath, the first bath that I'm offering as an Ochún bath. It's unorthodox in the sense that most people here in the States who practice the religion perceive Orisha herbs as just the herbs we use to consecrate heads and consecrate Orisha. And they're always fresh herbs that we work with. And the herbs that we use for spiritual baths -- Obviously people in Florida and other places, they may use fresh herbs. But in the Afro-Cuban practice, there are some herbs that get boiled. Plenty of herbs are dried, it's fairly common. It's very common for Paleros to work with dry herbs. And so, I'm using -- I'm making a dried herbal product. I'm growing most of the herbs myself. I'm washing them and drying them and confecting the baths with them. And because I'm a one woman show and I'm just starting to do this, I'm labeling all of my tea tins myself by hand, and some of the labels I kind of make, they're not really labels, I wanted it to look a certain way, and I wanted it to have kind of a vintage apothecary look, and I wanted there to be some texture. So I ended up doing a lot more kind of physical hands on --

ANDREW: Cause--

T-D: Crafting, then I had originally thought.

ANDREW: You've skipped over a little bit, though, right? 

T-D: I skipped over a lot!

ANDREW: You're growing the herbs --

T-D: [laughing] Yes.

ANDREW: And then you're picking them --

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And then you're hand washing them all, right? 

T-D: Yes, and I'm drying them.

ANDREW: And then you're hand drying them --

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: So that they can them be properly dried --

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And cured.

T-D: Right. Cause I want them to be properly dried and cured. 

ANDREW: And not like moldy and disgusting, right? 

T-D: Right. I didn't want them to be moldy or disgusting, and yes, I live in southern California where it's pretty dry, so it's not like I have a big issue with anything getting moldy or disgusting.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: And I have some nice drying racks that I hang that are like the ones that people might use for tea or other herbs. And in terms of the confection of the baths, it's kind of an unorthodox thing cause there's a lot of praying and singing and not the same exact kind of ora that would go on to make omearo, but some of that, you know, a good little bit of that. There's not divining going on but there was some divining going on in terms of what my ingredients would be for the bath --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And there was consulting with my own elders about that. So -- And I do have some really good teachers. As I've mentioned, my mother in law, my madrina, I also work with my Olua here in Los Angeles who is actually a sustainable gardening specialist, and my other Olua teacher, Luis Marín who lives in Maryland who is an expert herbalist, and he practices achéche, traditional Yoruba Ifa but he's initiated to Elegua in the Lucumí system. So I do have some really knowledgeable teachers to confer with. But in terms of the actual process of it, yes, I'm [laughing] -- you know, I'm making it the way that I would make a bath for someone who came to me to make a bath for them. So, and I sing when I work. I sing when I do a limpieza or, you know, spiritually clean the house. And this is an Ochún bath, so I sing Ochún songs and I sing Osayin songs. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm. And --

T-D: And I open my work, I actually stand in front of my shrine and I ring my Ochún bell and I recite oríkì and I pray to her before I start my work, and then when I'm finished making the batch of the bath, and I do small batches, when I'm finished I go back and I pray to her and I sing, and I recite oríkì and prayer and once it's done I light a candle and I sing some more --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And I leave it there at the foot of my Ochún.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: And sometimes I put my Ochún sopera on top of it! [laughs]

ANDREW: [laughs] Just put a little extra of that energy in there!

T-D: Yes! 

ANDREW: Fire it up a little further? 

T-D: I do.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: I do, and so, and I want to say, you know, this concept of kind of making magical things, you know, I feel, obviously that the power is inherent in the herbs that I'm working with and inherent in the Orishas and I just have an unwavering faith in that. 

ANDREW: Mmm.

T-D: So, and I have an unwavering faith in my elders and in my lineage and that they put Ochún in my head and they did it properly and they’ve taught me, and I've conferred with them and that I'm doing this properly, and I do it with a lot of love, honestly.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: A lot of love, and heart, and I say a lot of prayers for -- I'm so emotional, you have to forgive me -- for the people who would use this bath, you know, I pray for them, that they should have good health and that they should have happiness and love in their lives and that they should love themselves and accept themselves, and that they should have prosperity and that goodness should flow to them and to their lives. And so I do a lot of that because that's what I know and that's what I've seen when rituals are performed for me, people pray for me, people pray for my children, and so I pray for the benefit of anyone who would touch anything that I put my hands on, you know. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm. Yeah. And I think that, to me, there's that, what I hear and see and what you're talking about is this sort of both the depth of experience, the history of the tradition, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And that sort of connection to aché and to lineage, right? And I think that, you know, it's -- it goes even beyond just some of those things, right, because it's also your aché, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: Like you can accomplish these things partly because it's in you from your destiny to do so as well, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: Like not everybody is meant to be an Ochunista or, you know, an herbalist, or whatever, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: We all have different graces and strengths, and I think that that capacity and attention is so wonderful, right? And, you know, how many, if you count the growing of the plants, how long is it from start to finish before one of these comes out in a tin, right? It's a long time.

T-D: It's a long time, it is. And I think that from the beginning, my godmother did always kind of try to motivate me to learn about the plants --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And I said, "oh, it's just too much, it's overwhelming, ah," you know, I like to make the baths, I'll use this, what I know, I'll use that ... But as, over time, you know, little by little, you look, and you have more and more plants, and then I married a guy who was a Palero, so there were more and more plants. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: So you just learn, you don't take it all in one big bite, or one big gulp.

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: There's no way you can do it! And I don't know the Oju this is associated with, it's “bit by bit we eat the head of the rat,” you know ...

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: It's this idea, the head of the rat has very little sharp bones in it. And so if you're gonna eat that meat, which is a delicacy, right, for our ancestors, our spiritual ancestors, you have to eat it very very carefully. And so, it's a very slow and kind of careful process. And I don't perceive myself as being particularly knowledgeable. I perceive myself honestly as a rank and file Olorisha and I've been very fortunate and blessed to have some really knowledgeable elders who have shared with me and I will spend the rest of my life learning more about herbs and growing herbs and continuing to take classes, continuing to ask questions of other people older than me and younger than me. And maybe one day, you know, 30 years from now, I'll be an Oceanista ...

ANDREW: Uh huh.

T-D: But, you know, this project, if you will, is just an incredible, an extraordinary opportunity for me, and I love it, and [shrugs], that's all I can say, I love it, and I wish I had begun with more gusto 20 years ago and not felt ... not allowed it to make me feel so overwhelmed. And I also find it interesting that I've received lots of comments and feedback, you know, from elders who are espiritistas, who say "Oh, al fin tu estás haciendo trabajo de tu muerta principal," like, you know, "finally you're doing this work that, you know, that your primary muerta's been trying to get you to do for years and years." And, you know, I have been told of her, and I knew of her, but I didn't really understand that she was an herbalist. I saw her working over a pot, you know, a caldero, kind of bent over, sitting down, and her hands are moving. You know? And I would say that. And my madrino was like, "What did you think she was doing?" [laughs] "What did you think she was working on over that pot?" 

ANDREW: [laughing] Yeah.

T-D: You know, she was working with barks, and bottles, and ojas, and herbs, and leaves, and stuff, you know.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: But it's a process and I think it comes to us when we're ready. When we're ready for it and open to it. 

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: And sometimes it has come to us little by little over time and we didn't even realize it and then we looked up and said, "Wow! Where did all these doggone plants come from?"

ANDREW: Exactly, right? Yeah. Yeah. I think that -- I think that that idea of -- Back to this question about guides and spirits that walk with us, you know? 

T-D: Yes! 

ANDREW: I mean, I think that figuring out how to live with that, and work with them, I think is so important, you know? 

T-D: It's essential but it is so hard for some of us.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: And I'm gonna tell you this, my background, I'm an African American, my family is from New Orleans, so saints and Catholicism and all that was not foreign to me, but many African American people or others who have or Anglo Americans or others who come from a Protestant background, it seems very Catholic to them, and not only that, but it seems very Christian to those who may be looking for something outside of Christianity. And so, until people dig a little bit deeper and really understand about Espiritismo and that they're different and also different ways of working with these spirits, that's when you kind of get that depth or get that connection that, you know, this is something that's really important to me, and when you are surrounded by, or find yourself in the company of people who are really developed spiritually, and how it helps their lives and how it can help your life ...

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: That's when you start to see the importance of that. And when you -- or the importance just of being able to distinguish between your own fears, or your own ego, and messages that are being sent to you from your guides, you know --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Is hard. And I can say, I lost my husband almost six years ago to cancer. I have struggled financially with two young children, living in a city where the schools were great when I was a child but aren't so great now and have to pay tuition for my kids and stuff like that, and make choices that I didn't think I'd have to make because I didn't think I'd be alone. You know, there's a big difference between two incomes and one income. 

ANDREW: Yes.

T-D: And I will give the credit 100 percent to my muertos, my spirit guides, my protectors, and my ancestors that even gave me the idea to sell these baths or make them available to the public, something that I love to do --

ANDREW: Sure. 

T-D: And that I have been doing for years, and it never occurred to me, and I have been told, Andrew, so many times, you know, "You're going to have a business, you're going to do well at a business one day." Well, I'm not there doing well yet, you know, I'm just starting, but my parents were small business owners --

ANDREW: Yeah. 

T-D: And I just never -- and we had a very comfortable life, but I just -- the only thing I was really good at was food things, and food businesses are very expensive and rigorous and require a tremendous amount of capital --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And I just couldn't see that. And so when this idea came to me -- This idea didn't come to me! The idea was given to me. It was a blessing that was given to me. And that just blows me away. 

ANDREW: Well, you know, from a certain perspective, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: So, I started working as a card reader, 15, almost 16 years ago. 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: You know, I quit my job in advertising and started ...

T-D: Wow!

ANDREW: Reading cards for a living, right? 

T-D: Okay.

ANDREW: And I decided that I wanted to make a product. 

T-D: Mmmhmm, mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And so I started making herbal baths. And this line of baths that I make now. 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And, you know, I got them in some stores around town, and I did some things with it, and in some ways, that starting point is the starting point of the whole store I have now, where I have a full store now, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: So, you know, and it comes from that listening in, and leaning in, and being like, "All right, spirits, I can do these things. Oh yeah, I can work on that," and, you know...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: What comes from that listening, in my experience, especially if we're faithful to it, right? Over time--

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Is everything, everything comes from there, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And I think about, when I show up at the shop, or tonight's Saturday and we're recording and I'm gonna lock up later and go home --

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: I always lock up everything and sit here and check in with all my guides and my spirits and I thank them for this, and I thank the Orishas when I pray to them every day, because all of this comes from their guidance and their influence, and my work, but --

T-D: And it's a blessing. It's a degree of freedom for your family. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And when I was a young person, a teenager, I just saw the work, you know, my parents did. And they had multiple small business endeavors, and they were successful, but there was a lot of work. 

ANDREW: Sure.

T-D: But working for yourself, there's just a degree of freedom, a space for personal expression and creativity, independence --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: That you'll never find in corporate America or corporate Canada or in the West, you know ...

ANDREW: Corporate anything, right? 

T-D: Anywhere, you're just not gonna find that. 

ANDREW: It's just corporate Earth now. Isn't that the deal? 

T-D: Right. That's what it is, right, globalization. But I just, if I could develop this in time, you know, in a few years or whatever, into something that I could do full time and have a small shop and grow some herbs on the roof, or in the back, or whatever, that is my ultimate goal, and to be able to kind of be there for my kids, and they can come into the shop and go in the back and do their homework and help me carry stuff or whatever ...

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: That's a beautiful way of life, because it allows you to engage in something that you value and something that you can share with the community, that you can share with others, and it allows you to continue to grow --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: As a priest, and to grow in your spiritual practice and your knowledge and ultimately, you'll be able to pass that on to other people as well. So yes, definitely, you know, you're someone who I see as a shining example, you know, honestly.

ANDREW: Well. Thank you. Well. So, let's see if people want to go and check out your stuff, they should know where to find you. 

T-D: Oh, yes! 

ANDREW: Where are you hiding out on the web there, T-D? 

T-D: So, I have a website, it's https://www.spiritualbathtea.com, and you can order the bath there. It's an Ochún bath for love and prosperity. It has a lot of beautiful things in it. And Andrew, I'll send you one, I know that you're a master bath maker but I'm gonna send you my bath, because it's just like wine, maybe you have your vineyard and I have my vineyard ...

ANDREW: Oh yeah, for sure. 

T-D: You know, but we can enjoy each other's products of one another's labors ...

ANDREW: Absolutely.

T-D: And I'll definitely be sending you a bath. 

ANDREW: Super. I can't wait! 

T-D: But yes, it's got at least five of Ochún's herbs in it, it has more, and it's got some other really nice elements in it that ... it's got three different types of sandalwood in it, it smells really lovely, and it's a really beautiful bath and I've received a lot of really positive feedback about the bath from users, and I love making it and I put a lot of love and care into it. And it definitely gives a new meaning, and you know, the word art, or the word crafts, these have many different meanings, and what were the meanings, the original meanings, of, you know, these things. 

ANDREW: Well, you know what, the really funny thing is, you're kind of actually doing what the millennials are doing.

T-D: I am? 

ANDREW: You are, cause I mean, what I see a lot in sort of the millennial culture, things that people see about that, is this return to hand crafted, to small batch, to stuff made with love, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: So you see these sort of various things, food wise, and you know, clothing wise and otherwise ...

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: That, they're not corporate, they're not mass-produced. 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: They come from people who have learned how to, you know, hand do things --

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: In traditional ways or new ways.

T-D: And this will never be mass-produced, ever.

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: It's just not that -- that's not my concept, it's not that kind of thing. So if I wake up tomorrow and you know, Amara la Negra or Beyoncé put me on their, you know, social media, there'll just be a back log, but the order will get filled, but you know, I might buy a couple of those labeling machines, to label my tins, [laughing] or you know, like I said, my dream is to be able to afford to buy 10,000 from China of those fancy tea tins that are already embossed and printed, but the bath is, it's always going to be something that is beautiful, that I'm going to put as much beauty and love and care into as I possibly can, and that my own hands have touched, because that's it, you know, that's where the magic is --

ANDREW: Yeah.

T-D: It's multi-- it's multifaceted, right? It's got these different components.

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And so, you've got your spiritual license, your ritual license, your learning competencies, but it's also what you put into that thing, you know? 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: There are lots of people who are well-trained, who are very knowledgeable, and who are duly ordained, who just throw some shit together. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: All day long. And I will never ever do that. Cause that's got a lot to do with personal integrity and accountability to Orisha, too! Why -- I mean, I'm going to try to make the most beautiful thing that I can if it has Ochún's name on it. And when I do my Obatala bath, it's gonna be the most incredible excellent thing that I could ever imagine.

ANDREW: Yeah.

Because I love Obatala, and he loves me, because he gave me a wonderful husband. You know, I just am always going to do the very best that I can. 

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And to try to make something, and plus we want to please people, right? We want people to feel that their money is well spent and that their effort in acquiring the thing is well spent. 

ANDREW: Right.

T-D: And is special to them. 

ANDREW: Yeah. And I know for myself, whenever I'm in a position to represent the religion in one way or another, I feel a lot of pressure. 

T-D: Absolutely! 

ANDREW: Right? To get it right.

T-D: Absolutely!

ANDREW: I made an Orisha tarot deck, which is coming out in the fall through a major publisher, right? 

T-D: Oh, wow! Okay.

ANDREW: And-- through Llewellyn, it'll be out in September.

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And, it took me a long time to make it because I constantly felt this pressure, from me, right? 

T-D: Yeah, it's from you, it's just like any overachiever ...

ANDREW: Right? 

T-D: You're not competing with other kids, you're competing with yourself. [laughing]

ANDREW: There's nobody else, it's just me and the art, or you and the bath, or whatever.

T-D: Right! 

ANDREW: Yeah, no, it's fantastic.

T-D: That's definitely what it is. I definitely put my best into it. And I hope that that shines through and that people will see that and just to add one more thing, you know, it's really important, this idea that we have, of that license [sighs]. I just can't really say enough about that, I kind of get emotional about it. You can't create an Orisha bath if you don't have Orishas.

ANDREW: Mmm.

T-D: You know? And they're certain herbs that belong to Orishas, and all the herbs belong to Osane, but if you don't have the ritual license to work with those entities, how are you creating a bath? How are you creating a ritual? You can certainly do a spiritual bath, you know, working with your spirit guides, and working with your muertos, your protectors and guides, but working with Orisha requires Orisha. Requires consecrated Orisha. 

ANDREW: Yeah. 

T-D: So. 

ANDREW: For sure.

T-D: Don't just throw some oranges and some --

ANDREW: [laughing] Cinnamon --

T-D: Yellow flowers and some honey and cinnamon in the bathtub and say that you're doing a bath with Ochún cause Ochún is not there in that bath with you.

ANDREW: Yeah. 

T-D: [laughing] Not to be snarky!

ANDREW: No, I think, I think it's important conversations, right? And I think that one of the reasons why it's my intention to have you and David Sosa and, you know, other traditional practitioners on, is I think that it's really important to have a dialogue about what tradition actually has to offer, right? And I think that it's a thing that's hard to understand, it's a thing that is not obvious in sort of the more modern world ...

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: And it's not obvious if you didn't grow up in a magical tradition or in a magical, you know, I mean, I had the great fortune to not be raised with any religion ...

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And I discovered Western mystery tradition stuff, and Western esotericism when I was like, 11 and 12, right. 

T-D: Mmmhmm, Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: So I grew up self-educating myself in a magical approach to the world.

T-D: Mmmhmm.

ANDREW: And I think that's what has allowed me to step into it and into the Orisha tradition so well, is that the only traditions I've ever known have been magical. And spiritual in this way. And --

T-D: Yeah.

ANDREW: And were also initiatory, right? 

T-D: Mmmhmm, mmmhmm.

ANDREW: Right? You know? They're all pieces that I understood from the beginning, kind of coming into this, right? 

T-D: Right.

ANDREW: I think it's important.

T-D: And, it's very important. It's foreign to a lot of people, and, you know, it's important to say, you know, Orisha worship is not a self-initiatory system, it's a communal system, that has an intact priesthood, it has existed for many generations, for thousands of years if you go all the way back --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: And it's an ancient religious system that has an orthodoxy and a priesthood and a specific path that one follows and that's very important. And that you cannot, even though the world changes, things change, things evolve, you can't fit Orisha into your own mold or --

ANDREW: Mmmhmm.

T-D: Or mold Orisha to fit your lifestyle, in that type of way. It's not that type -- it's a religion, it's a structured religious system.

ANDREW: For sure. All right. Well now we've given everybody something to think about! 

T-D: Yes.

ANDREW: Thank you for making time --

T-D: Thank you! Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it, it was very kind of you and I appreciate your time. 

ANDREW: Oh, it's my pleasure, thanks. 

T-D: Thanks. 

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