16 09 2011

 

 

Da Mojo:  A Users Guide

 

Michael Ortiz Hill

 

Da mojo first bit me on the ass me for real in the mid-nineties.

It was a few years before I was initiated as a medicine man among the Shona and Ndebele Zulu in Zimbabwe.

 

(“Mojo is an Ebonic form of the Bantu word kimoyo, meaning ‘[language] of the Spirit.’ writes Malaika Mutere.  Among Western Bantu, mojo was nkisi, a medicine bundle, a gathering of ancestor spirits that had incarnated in this herb or that stone.  Here I gather a few stories and ethical reflections that are the mojo that took me into the African world.)

 

Introduction to Mojo

 

In the 90s there was a season of radical transition between epistemologies: “ways of knowing.”  To wit – I was finishing up a deep psychoanalysis with Dr. John Seeley, on the couch paring away layer after layer of childhood trauma to my infancy in intensive care, to birth trauma and enwombment to … the unnameable.

 

Those who know what it is to submit to this modern rite of passage know what epistemological breakdown is about.  The healing process involves recognizing the unconscious as a “real place” and that unconscious traumas shape and inform ones day to day life.  One remembers the story beneath the story of who you think you are.

 

My analysis was classical – my “mother” was the sacred keeper of the threshold – which is to say I had to pass by Mom as the wicked witch of the west as I proceeded to the deeper traumas of life and death struggle.  Getting born, getting a staph infection in my navel, treated with sulfa drugs that I proved to be deathly allergic, receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church so I wouldn’t spend eternity in limbo.

 

Thoroughly rescued it was apparently mine to spend a brief space in the hell called earth that “I might learn to bear the beams of love,” as William Blake wrote.

 

But enough of backstory.

 

Now da mojo.

 

At that time I was living in Santa Cruz and in a most passionate young marriage with my wife Deena Metzger, four hundred miles to the south.  I did not want to break up my kids childhood so the first ten years of my marriage were spent in airplanes and making love a few days a month.

 

Da mojo came to me when I was in Topanga for the last two months of my analysis. I was walking a broad circle around our rural spread, leaving offerings in the four directions and singing to the orisha in Yoruba.

 

(The Orisha are the multiple faces of God in the Yoruba tribal tradition.  I was writing a book that involved the African origins of Black American culture – long since published as The Village of the Water Spirits, The Dreams of African-Americans. Spring Publications, 2005.  I’d learned a handful of sacred songs and was being prepared to be initiated in Nigeria.  When the mojo first came I was just learning the old way of communicating with the invisible with praise song, prayer and offerings.)

 

So I called on the spirit of the setting sun in the west, layed out raw beef heart and poured wine and sang to Shango, the Orisha of fire and lightening, known for passion and the tempering of passion for the sake of the tribe.

 

As I was pouring wine and singing, lightening — actual lightening – cracked not far from me.

 

And the thunder still resounds.

 

Just as the descent into the unconscious introduced me to a way of knowing (and undid an other that didn’t know the unconscious) so did my passage into the inspirited world of African medicine.

 

In the psychological frame we take for granted, only the inner world of humans is inspirited.  What is unconscious is made conscious and rendered as a more truthful and complete story of who one is.  In this way the self is made whole.

 

This self is a cultural and historical artifact, a product of the individualism that has taken European culture.  It is a self without deep context, without community, and thus a trick done with mirrors.

 

What resonates from that moment when Shango came that is that the world is inspirited.  I did not, thank God, indulge the fantasy that “I” caused “it” but we are profoundly and tacitly in dialogue with the elementals.

 

There is reciprocal communication.

 

If the “inner life” is the sole place of depth and human subjectivity the lone domain of sentient intelligence then the demons of narcissism are not far.  Other animals are “dumb beasts” and the earth is just a repository of natural “resources.”

 

 

(As I was typing this last paragraph,  Deena called me out, “Michael come out.  There is a rainbow!”

She called me to the field where Shango came two decades ago and sure enough there was a rainbow, unheard of in a dry summer day.

 

The mojo.)

 

 

A Circle of Elk

 

During the time that opened up with Shango, lots of other extraordinary things happened.  Lightening came not once but several times and I came to know a little of his temperament.

In the Yoruba the spirit of fire is young and at times impetuous.  For the Huichol of Mexico he is Grandfather Tatewari.

 

As my old way of seeing broke down, I went in the forest in the mountains of central Arizona where Deena and I once had a writing retreat.  I brought offerings for Eshu Elegba – the spirit of the crossroads – and chanted a Lucumi prayer to him.

(Lucumi is the Yoruba/Spanish idiom of Afro-Cubans)

 

“Please tell me what this draw to Africa is about.  I’m confused.

 

I was suddenly overwhelmed with nausea and on my knees dry heaving.  As I was gagging I heard the cracking of twigs nearby me.

O my!

Hunting season.

I pulled myself together, trying to piece together a plausible persona of a man not in the midst of a tribal rite and lifted my head to greet the hunter but what I saw was half a dozen elk gathered around me, browsing.  For a half hour I sat still, breathing lightly, and watched them.  A few feet away, a large stag with a massive rack of horns would look up into my eyes and linger unafraid, then continue browsing.  There was a gun shot from afar, they momentarily startled and then continued browsing.  Eventually there was another gunshot and they all scattered.

 

I knew then my call to Africa was about initiation into the way of mojo and the kinship of all living beings.

 

 

The Shadow of Mojo: Witchcraft

 

Ritual hexing and protection from the hex is Afro-European mojo: amulets, herbs, the Holy Bible, garlic over the doorway, a cross around one’s neck or over the bed, the Jewish hamsa to defend against the evil eye, the name of Jesus (or other magical words, “hocus pocus” being a peasant adaptation of the Latin Mass — hoc est corpus meum) and on and on. When the world falls apart, one will reach for anything for protection, and so close are the African and European ways of going about it that students of Southern folklore used to engage in lively debates about where exactly any given ritual gesture originated.

 

African-American culture went through a vast epistemological shift from 1930 to 1960 with the Great Migration from the rural south to the urban north.  Previous to 1930 “Africanisms” pervaded the south – root doctors, ‘hands’ also known as mojo, full immersion baptism like the ngoma of the water spirits, etc.  These old ways, profound and wise, began to be diabolicized.

 

Matters African became “hoodoo”—hexing.

 

When a culture is under assault, witchcraft accusation proliferates and the ones who honor the way of the ancestors are especially endangered.  I’ve seen this with the Navajo in Arizona, the Garifuna in Belize and the Maya in Guatamala, This is the success of Christianized imperialism.  It sets up traditional ways to autocannibalize themselves.  The witches – in Zimbabwe they are called varozi – are said to gather secretly in the forest to eat people souls.  Witchcraft accusation effectively eats the souls of very old traditions.

 

In Zimbabwe there is a 30% HIV rate.  The life expectancy when I was first initiated in 1996 was 59 years.  Now its 29 years.  Moreover AIDS has a symptomatology very much like witchcraft disease and varozi accusation is common and lethal.

 

Salem was small potatoes.

 

I know what it is to be hexed – it is real – but here I’ll tell a couple of stories about hexing.

 

But first a story of untempered mojo of which hexing is a variety.

 

It was a moment of desperation and heartbreak when I called on Ogun to do whatever he could to save the life of my friend B.

B. had a complete psychotic break and had barricaded himself in a trailer on our land.  I knew him to be suicidal and for a week his paranoia had locked the door separating us.

 

Ogun, the spirit of iron it is said  is the fiercest of warriors.  In the old days, it is said, that we down here in the human village could not possibly understand the infinite nature of God, so the Divine refracted into the hundreds of Orisha such as Shango or Yemaya the spirit of the ocean and Ogun took his blade and cut the path between heaven and earth so the Orisha could dance among their children.  I was intimidated by Ogun but also quite helpless.

 

It was the evening of January 16, 1994.

 

“Whatever you can do, please do!” I said, blowing cigar smoke on my altar.

 

At 4:30 am the Northridge earthquake happened and B. rushed from his trailer and huddled naked in a doorjamb of our house.  He began in earnest the long passage out of psychosis.

 

Did I become infatuated with MY power?

 

Unfortunately, yes.

 

When my mother was struggling with her brother Frank Ortiz (Reagans’ favorite ambassador to Latin America) over my grandfathers estate, Frank hired a rich mans lawyers to ensure my mother would be impoverished in her old age.

 

I invoked Ogun – and a lawyer on Franks legal team had a heart attack.  Not lethal but it was sufficient to begin instructing me in matters of ego and mojo.

 

I also called on Ogun to undo the presidency of George W. Bush who I saw and see as altogether evil.   As it turned out GWBs second Saturn return coincided with his debate with John Kerry, October 12, 2004.  I was more cautious this time, merely calling on Bush to hex himself.

 

I sang to Ogun  and fed him  a splash of rum on my alter.

 

“May he undo himself ….”

 

This he did.

 

This exchange between Bush and Linda Grabel –no doubt an astrologically savvy plant at the debate

 

Grabel: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.

 

Bush: Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I’m not going to name them. I don’t want to hurt their feelings on national TV.

 

LAUGHTER

 

Laughing , as they say, all the way to the grave.

 

As my friend and publisher, the astrologer Stephan Hewitt (stephandavidhewitt.com) wrote me:

“The Saturn return is a time of radical changes in life, the passage from one life cycle to another.  The first is from child to adult, and the  second Saturn return is a doorway that separates the adult from the elder.  Major life changes come to pass at the second Saturn return that will be the result of either preparing for a life of wisdom, or encountering circumstances that will compel you to make the necessary shifts in awareness“

 

Saturn return should be is a time of profound self-reflection.

 

I confess shadenfreud as I watched Bushs’ reputation unravel after that debate from his refusal to face what destruction he had wrought,  And … by way of self-hexing, this effort to undo Bush seemed to provoke an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis

 

Tempering, Initiation and the Etiquette of having Mojo

 

Ah! The wisdom of reterospect

 

I look back on these stories as gonzo shamanizing – at times radiantly benevolent, at others dangerous or self-destructive.  They represent a passage of four years when I was being prepared for my first initiation in Zimbabwe.

 

The evening Mandaza Kandemwa began initiating me into the ngoma of the water spirits, he asked me who sent me.

 

“Spider,” I replied.  “”She makes the connections.”

 

On reflecting now on my initiations into tribal medicine I see how true that remains.

 

A Hopi story says it precisely.

 

It seems that the first winter solstice was upon the old ones and they were frightened of no light, endless cold, the death of all beings.

 

The animals held council.

 

Bear said, “I can bring back the sun,” and he tossed his lasso and pulled and pulled to no effect.

 

“Let me try,” said Wolf and he tossed lasso and pulled and pulled and pulled without success.

 

Then little grandmother spider said quietly, “I can do this” and all the animals laughed at the thought.  She spun a thread and tenderly pulled the sun back with little effort.

 

This story speaks of initiation and tempering .. not brute spiritual strength but making the connection.

 

When I do a healing ceremonial on our land I finish the first evening singing to spider to bring a dream to the one who is healing.  She unweaves the pattern of dis-ease and re-weaves a new life.  After I “gave over” multiple sclerosis I had her tattooed on my coccsyx with the long line of her thread moving up my spine to my brain stem: the “trail of tears” passing through where my lesions were.  Spider re-wove my neurosystem.

 

 

The first night of my first initiation in Zimbabwe I dreamt there were two full moons and I was in a  Bushman cave on the second. It was mine to read the message in the cave paintings,

 

I could not.

 

I told Mandaza this dream in the morning..

 

“Before your initiation is over, you will be able to read what the Bushman spirits want to tell you,” he said.

 

A couple of weeks later at the culmination of initiation at the Zambezi river, I had another dream in the Bushman cave.  I could read it fluently.

 

“This one now has two mothers.”

 

My second mother is the one my people call Mambokadzi, the queen.  She is the full moon (the stars are her children), the female elephant (Mandlovu – the spirit of kinship) and, in the syncretic poetry of African people, my Zulu clan sings to her as Maria, the mother of God.

 

She is also the mother of the water spirits, the spirits of healing and peacemaking.

 

Initiation (which is perpetual) is initiation into the web of interconnection that is the village of the living, the dead and the unborn.  The young gonzo shaman couldn’t see this, couldn’t see the context of relationship that every ritual gesture takes place in and draws from.

 

He was famished for power.

 

Mitakuye Oyasin, say the Lakota.  “All my relations.”

 

One thing I have seen initiating North Americans into the ngoma tradition alongside Mandaza is how spiritually HUNGRY we are.  I remember one group we were initiating were getting very publically trance possessed one after another and were such a sight that a Zulu member of our clan rushed off to get her father to behold the spectacle of a bunch of white people taken by spirits.

 

“Its not true,” he laughed.  “White people don’t have ancestors.”

 

“Come! Come!”

And so he did and was astonished.

 

It is with a kind sadness that I tell initiates before they return to America that now things begin.

 

From bitterly, blessed experience I call  return my est training – eat shit and thrive.  The necessary ordeal of transforming humiliation into humility.  With initiation its easy the delusion that one has been made ‘special’ and ‘precious,’ that ones fate is so much larger than life.

 

“Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God,”

writes T. S, Elliot,
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

 

In the ngoma tradition one is initiated by the spirit of sacred illness.  Water spirit disease includes an incapacitating empathy.  Initiation involves making an alliance with the spirits that afflict so you can heal others.

 

My good fortune was that my initiations in Africa were completed by apprenticeship to the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  Humility is endless and to walk the way pf traditional medicine, the primary spiritual path is humility.

 

The est curriculum is about honoring the full gamut of being human – the sweetmess of light and abject despair.

 

Its also about getting out of the way so Spirit can come through and minister to a suffering world.

 

And so it is.

 

When Percival came to the holy grail it was his to answer the essential question: what is the grail for?

 

The grail is for love.

 

Likewise those who would be initiated must ask: what is the mojo for?

 

The mojo is for healing.

 

 

Mitakuye Oyasin.

All my relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the second Saturn return is the passage to being an elder.  I confess shadenfreud as I watched Bushs’ reputation unravel from his refusal to face what destruction he had wrought,  And … by way of self-hexing, this effort to undo Bush coincided with an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis.

 

Tempering, Initiation and the Etiquette of having Mojo

 

Ah! The wisdom of reterospect

 

I look back on these stories as gonzo shamanizing – at times radiantly benevolent, at others dangerous or self-destructive.  They represent a passage of four years when I was being prepared for my first initiation in Zimbabwe.

 

The evening Mandaza Kandemwa began initiating me into the ngoma of the water spirits, he asked me who sent me.

 

“Spider,” I replied.  “”She makes the connections.”

 

On reflecting now on my initiations into tribal medicine I see how true that remains.

 

A Hopi story says it precisely.

 

It seems that the first winter solstice was upon the old ones and they were frightened of no light, endless cold, the death of all beings.

 

The animals held council.

 

Bear said, “I can bring back the sun,” and he tossed his lasso and pulled and pulled to no effect.

 

“Let me try,” said Wolf and he tossed lasso and pulled and pulled and pulled without success.

 

Then little grandmother spider said quietly, “I can do this” and all the animals laughed at the thought.  She spun a thread and tenderly pulled the sun back with little effort.

 

This story speaks of initiation and tempering .. not brute spiritual strength but making the connection.

 

When I do a healing ceremonial on our land I finish the first evening singing to spider to bring a dream to the one who is healing.  She unweaves the pattern of dis-ease and re-weaves a new life.  After I “gave over” multiple sclerosis I had her tattooed on my coccsyx with the long line of her thread moving up my spine to my brain stem: the “trail of tears” passing through where my lesions were.  Spider re-wove my neurosystem.

 

 

The first night of my first initiation in Zimbabwe I dreamt there were two full moons and I was in a  Bushman cave on the second. It was mine to read the message in the cave paintings,

 

I could not.

 

I told Mandaza this dream in the morning..

 

“Before your initiation is over, you will be able to read what the Bushman spirits want to tell you,” he said.

 

A couple of weeks later at the culmination of initiation at the Zambezi river, I had another dream in the Bushman cave.  I could read it fluently.

 

“This one now has two mothers.”

 

My second mother is the one my people call Mambokadzi, the queen.  She is the full moon (the stars are her children), the female elephant (Mandlovu – the spirit of kinship) and, in the syncretic poetry of African people, my Zulu clan sings to her as Maria, the mother of God.

 

She is also the mother of the water spirits, the spirits of healing and peacemaking.

 

Initiation (which is perpetual) is initiation into the web of interconnection that is the village of the living, the dead and the unborn.  The young gonzo shaman couldn’t see this, couldn’t see the context of relationship that every ritual gesture takes place in and draws from.

 

He was famished for power.

 

Mitakuye Oyasin, say the Lakota.  “All my relations.”

 

One thing I have seen initiating North Americans into the ngoma tradition alongside Mandaza is how spiritually HUNGRY we are.  I remember one group we were initiating were getting very publically trance possessed one after another and were such a sight that a Zulu member of our clan rushed off to get her father to behold the spectacle of a bunch of white people taken by spirits.

 

“Its not true,” he laughed.  “White people don’t have ancestors.”

 

“Come! Come!”

And so he did and was astonished.

 

It is with a kind sadness that I tell initiates before they return to America that now things begin.

 

From bitterly, blessed experience I call  return my est training – eat shit and thrive.  The necessary ordeal of transforming humiliation into humility.  With initiation its easy the delusion that one has been made ‘special’ and ‘precious,’ that ones fate is so much larger than life.

 

“Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God,”

writes T. S, Elliot,
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

 

In the ngoma tradition one is initiated by the spirit of sacred illness.  Water spirit disease includes an incapacitating empathy.  Initiation involves making an alliance with the spirits that afflict so you can heal others.

 

My good fortune was that my initiations in Africa were completed by apprenticeship to the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  Humility is endless and to walk the way pf traditional medicine, the primary spiritual path is humility.

 

The est curriculum is about honoring the full gamut of being human – the sweetmess of light and abject despair.

 

Its also about getting out of the way so Spirit can come through and minister to a suffering world.

 

And so it is.

 

When Percival came to the holy grail it was his to answer the essential question: what is the grail for?

 

The grail is for love.

 

Likewise those who would be initiated must ask: what is the mojo for?

 

The mojo is for healing.

 

 

Mitakuye Oyasin.

All my relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





DA MOJO: A USERS GUIDE

15 09 2011

 

Da Mojo:  A Users Guide

 

Michael Ortiz Hill

 

Da mojo first bit me on the ass me for real in the mid-nineties.

It was a few years before I was initiated as a medicine man among the Shona and Ndebele Zulu in Zimbabwe.

 

(“Mojo is an Ebonic form of the Bantu word kimoyo, meaning ‘[language] of the Spirit.’ writes Malaika Mutere.  Among Western Bantu, mojo was nkisi, a medicine bundle, a gathering of ancestor spirits that had incarnated in this herb or that stone.  Here I gather a few stories and ethical reflections that are the mojo that took me into the African world.)

 

Introduction to Mojo

 

In the 90s there was a season of radical transition between epistemologies: “ways of knowing.”  To wit – I was finishing up a deep psychoanalysis with Dr. John Seeley, on the couch paring away layer after layer of childhood trauma to my infancy in intensive care, to birth trauma and enwombment to … the unnameable.

 

Those who know what it is to submit to this modern rite of passage know what epistemological breakdown is about.  The healing process involves recognizing the unconscious as a “real place” and that unconscious traumas shape and inform ones day to day life.  One remembers the story beneath the story of who you think you are.

 

My analysis was classical – my “mother” was the sacred keeper of the threshold – which is to say I had to pass by Mom as the wicked witch of the west as I proceeded to the deeper traumas of life and death struggle.  Getting born, getting a staph infection in my navel, treated with sulfa drugs that I proved to be deathly allergic, receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church so I wouldn’t spend eternity in limbo.

 

Thoroughly rescued it was apparently mine to spend a brief space in the hell called earth that “I might learn to bear the beams of love,” as William Blake wrote.

 

But enough of backstory.

 

Now da mojo.

 

At that time I was living in Santa Cruz and in a most passionate young marriage with my wife Deena Metzger, four hundred miles to the south.  I did not want to break up my kids childhood so the first ten years of my marriage were spent in airplanes and making love a few days a month.

 

Da mojo came to me when I was in Topanga for the last two months of my analysis. I was walking a broad circle around our rural spread, leaving offerings in the four directions and singing to the orisha in Yoruba.

 

(The Orisha are the multiple faces of God in the Yoruba tribal tradition.  I was writing a book that involved the African origins of Black American culture – long since published as The Village of the Water Spirits, The Dreams of African-Americans. Spring Publications, 2005.  I’d learned a handful of sacred songs and was being prepared to be initiated in Nigeria.  When the mojo first came I was just learning the old way of communicating with the invisible with praise song, prayer and offerings.)

 

So I called on the spirit of the setting sun in the west, layed out raw beef heart and poured wine and sang to Shango, the Orisha of fire and lightening, known for passion and the tempering of passion for the sake of the tribe.

 

As I was pouring wine and singing, lightening — actual lightening – cracked not far from me.

 

And the thunder still resounds.

 

Just as the descent into the unconscious introduced me to a way of knowing (and undid an other that didn’t know the unconscious) so did my passage into the inspirited world of African medicine.

 

In the psychological frame we take for granted, only the inner world of humans is inspirited.  What is unconscious is made conscious and rendered as a more truthful and complete story of who one is.  In this way the self is made whole.

 

This self is a cultural and historical artifact, a product of the individualism that has taken European culture.  It is a self without deep context, without community, and thus a trick done with mirrors.

 

What resonates from that moment when Shango came that is that the world is inspirited.  I did not, thank God, indulge the fantasy that “I” caused “it” but we are profoundly and tacitly in dialogue with the elementals.

 

There is reciprocal communication.

 

If the “inner life” is the sole place of depth and human subjectivity the lone domain of sentient intelligence then the demons of narcissism are not far.  Other animals are “dumb beasts” and the earth is just a repository of natural “resources.”

 

 

(As I was typing this last paragraph,  Deena called me out, “Michael come out.  There is a rainbow!”

She called me to the field where Shango came two decades ago and sure enough there was a rainbow, unheard of in a dry summer day.

 

The mojo.)

 

 

A Circle of Elk

 

During the time that opened up with Shango, lots of other extraordinary things happened.  Lightening came not once but several times and I came to know a little of his temperament.

In the Yoruba the spirit of fire is young and at times impetuous.  For the Huichol of Mexico he is Grandfather Tatewari.

 

As my old way of seeing broke down, I went in the forest in the mountains of central Arizona where Deena and I once had a writing retreat.  I brought offerings for Eshu Elegba – the spirit of the crossroads – and chanted a Lucumi prayer to him.

(Lucumi is the Yoruba/Spanish idiom of Afro-Cubans)

 

“Please tell me what this draw to Africa is about.  I’m confused.

 

I was suddenly overwhelmed with nausea and on my knees dry heaving.  As I was gagging I heard the cracking of twigs nearby me.

O my!

Hunting season.

I pulled myself together, trying to piece together a plausible persona of a man not in the midst of a tribal rite and lifted my head to greet the hunter but what I saw was half a dozen elk gathered around me, browsing.  For a half hour I sat still, breathing lightly, and watched them.  A few feet away, a large stag with a massive rack of horns would look up into my eyes and linger unafraid, then continue browsing.  There was a gun shot from afar, they momentarily startled and then continued browsing.  Eventually there was another gunshot and they all scattered.

 

I knew then my call to Africa was about initiation into the way of mojo and the kinship of all living beings.

 

 

The Shadow of Mojo: Witchcraft

 

Ritual hexing and protection from the hex is Afro-European mojo: amulets, herbs, the Holy Bible, garlic over the doorway, a cross around one’s neck or over the bed, the Jewish hamsa to defend against the evil eye, the name of Jesus (or other magical words, “hocus pocus” being a peasant adaptation of the Latin Mass — hoc est corpus meum) and on and on. When the world falls apart, one will reach for anything for protection, and so close are the African and European ways of going about it that students of Southern folklore used to engage in lively debates about where exactly any given ritual gesture originated.

 

African-American culture went through a vast epistemological shift from 1930 to 1960 with the Great Migration from the rural south to the urban north.  Previous to 1930 “Africanisms” pervaded the south – root doctors, ‘hands’ also known as mojo, full immersion baptism like the ngoma of the water spirits, etc.  These old ways, profound and wise, began to be diabolicized.

 

Matters African became “hoodoo”—hexing.

 

When a culture is under assault, witchcraft accusation proliferates and the ones who honor the way of the ancestors are especially endangered.  I’ve seen this with the Navajo in Arizona, the Garifuna in Belize and the Maya in Guatamala, This is the success of Christianized imperialism.  It sets up traditional ways to autocannibalize themselves.  The witches – in Zimbabwe they are called varozi – are said to gather secretly in the forest to eat people souls.  Witchcraft accusation effectively eats the souls of very old traditions.

 

In Zimbabwe there is a 30% HIV rate.  The life expectancy when I was first initiated in 1996 was 59 years.  Now its 29 years.  Moreover AIDS has a symptomatology very much like witchcraft disease and varozi accusation is common and lethal.

 

Salem was small potatoes.

 

I know what it is to be hexed – it is real – but here I’ll tell a couple of stories about hexing.

 

But first a story of untempered mojo of which hexing is a variety.

 

It was a moment of desperation and heartbreak when I called on Ogun to do whatever he could to save the life of my friend B.

B. had a complete psychotic break and had barricaded himself in a trailer on our land.  I knew him to be suicidal and for a week his paranoia had locked the door separating us.

 

Ogun, the spirit of iron it is said  is the fiercest of warriors.  In the old days, it is said, that we down here in the human village could not possibly understand the infinite nature of God, so the Divine refracted into the hundreds of Orisha such as Shango or Yemaya the spirit of the ocean and Ogun took his blade and cut the path between heaven and earth so the Orisha could dance among their children.  I was intimidated by Ogun but also quite helpless.

 

It was the evening of January 16, 1994.

 

“Whatever you can do, please do!” I said, blowing cigar smoke on my altar.

 

At 4:30 am the Northridge earthquake happened and B. rushed from his trailer and huddled naked in a doorjamb of our house.  He began in earnest the long passage out of psychosis.

 

Did I become infatuated with MY power?

 

Unfortunately, yes.

 

When my mother was struggling with her brother Frank Ortiz (Reagans’ favorite ambassador to Latin America) over my grandfathers estate, Frank hired a rich mans lawyers to ensure my mother would be impoverished in her old age.

 

I invoked Ogun – and a lawyer on Franks legal team had a heart attack.  Not lethal but it was sufficient to begin instructing me in matters of ego and mojo.

 

I also called on Ogun to undo the presidency of George W. Bush who I saw and see as altogether evil.   As it turned out GWBs second Saturn return coincided with his debate with John Kerry, October 12, 2004.  I was more cautious this time, merely calling on Bush to hex himself.

 

I sang to Ogun and offered and fed Ogun with a dash of rum on my alter.

 

“May he undo himself ….”

 

This he did.

 

This exchange between Linda Grabel –no doubt an astrologically savvy plant at the debate

Grabel: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.

 

Bush: Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I’m not going to name them. I don’t want to hurt their feelings on national TV.

 

LAUGHTER

 

Laughing , as they say, all the way to the grave.

 

Saturn return is a time of profound self-reflection – and the second Saturn return is the passage to being an elder.  I confess shadenfreud as I watched Bushs’ reputation unravel from his refusal to face what destruction he had wrought,  And … by way of self-hexing, this effort to undo Bush coincided with an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis.

 

Tempering, Initiation and the Etiquette of having Mojo

 

Ah! The wisdom of reterospect

 

I look back on these stories as gonzo shamanizing – at times radiantly benevolent, at others dangerous or self-destructive.  They represent a passage of four years when I was being prepared for my first initiation in Zimbabwe.

 

The evening Mandaza Kandemwa began initiating me into the ngoma of the water spirits, he asked me who sent me.

 

“Spider,” I replied.  “”She makes the connections.”

 

On reflecting now on my initiations into tribal medicine I see how true that remains.

 

A Hopi story says it precisely.

 

It seems that the first winter solstice was upon the old ones and they were frightened of no light, endless cold, the death of all beings.

 

The animals held council.

 

Bear said, “I can bring back the sun,” and he tossed his lasso and pulled and pulled to no effect.

 

“Let me try,” said Wolf and he tossed lasso and pulled and pulled and pulled without success.

 

Then little grandmother spider said quietly, “I can do this” and all the animals laughed at the thought.  She spun a thread and tenderly pulled the sun back with little effort.

 

This story speaks of initiation and tempering .. not brute spiritual strength but making the connection.

 

When I do a healing ceremonial on our land I finish the first evening singing to spider to bring a dream to the one who is healing.  She unweaves the pattern of dis-ease and re-weaves a new life.  After I “gave over” multiple sclerosis I had her tattooed on my coccsyx with the long line of her thread moving up my spine to my brain stem: the “trail of tears” passing through where my lesions were.  Spider re-wove my neurosystem.

 

 

The first night of my first initiation in Zimbabwe I dreamt there were two full moons and I was in a  Bushman cave on the second. It was mine to read the message in the cave paintings,

 

I could not.

 

I told Mandaza this dream in the morning..

 

“Before your initiation is over, you will be able to read what the Bushman spirits want to tell you,” he said.

 

A couple of weeks later at the culmination of initiation at the Zambezi river, I had another dream in the Bushman cave.  I could read it fluently.

 

“This one now has two mothers.”

 

My second mother is the one my people call Mambokadzi, the queen.  She is the full moon (the stars are her children), the female elephant (Mandlovu – the spirit of kinship) and, in the syncretic poetry of African people, my Zulu clan sings to her as Maria, the mother of God.

 

She is also the mother of the water spirits, the spirits of healing and peacemaking.

 

Initiation (which is perpetual) is initiation into the web of interconnection that is the village of the living, the dead and the unborn.  The young gonzo shaman couldn’t see this, couldn’t see the context of relationship that every ritual gesture takes place in and draws from.

 

He was famished for power.

 

Mitakuye Oyasin, say the Lakota.  “All my relations.”

 

One thing I have seen initiating North Americans into the ngoma tradition alongside Mandaza is how spiritually HUNGRY we are.  I remember one group we were initiating were getting very publically trance possessed one after another and were such a sight that a Zulu member of our clan rushed off to get her father to behold the spectacle of a bunch of white people taken by spirits.

 

“Its not true,” he laughed.  “White people don’t have ancestors.”

 

“Come! Come!”

And so he did and was astonished.

 

It is with a kind sadness that I tell initiates before they return to America that now things begin.

 

From bitterly, blessed experience I call  return my est training – eat shit and thrive.  The necessary ordeal of transforming humiliation into humility.  With initiation its easy the delusion that one has been made ‘special’ and ‘precious,’ that ones fate is so much larger than life.

 

“Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God,”

writes T. S, Elliot,
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

 

In the ngoma tradition one is initiated by the spirit of sacred illness.  Water spirit disease includes an incapacitating empathy.  Initiation involves making an alliance with the spirits that afflict so you can heal others.

 

My good fortune was that my initiations in Africa were completed by apprenticeship to the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  Humility is endless and to walk the way pf traditional medicine, the primary spiritual path is humility.

 

The est curriculum is about honoring the full gamut of being human – the sweetmess of light and abject despair.

 

Its also about getting out of the way so Spirit can come through and minister to a suffering world.

 

And so it is.

 

When Percival came to the holy grail it was his to answer the essential question: what is the grail for?

 

The grail is for love.

 

Likewise those who would be initiated must ask: what is the mojo for?

 

The mojo is for healing.

 

 

Mitakuye Oyasin.

All my relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





KINDLE COMPASSION

26 07 2011

The Craft of Compassion is now available on Kindle for $7.50

All of us are required to find our way through the wilderness of suffering – our own and that of any other being. The gesture toward a suffering being is a gesture toward our own awakening.

http://tinyurl.com/4yxyjam

The craft of compassion has four steps, each leading to the next.
Step one is self-compassion. To regard oneself as a kind friend might is the foundation of compassionate activity. Step two is compassion for others. The Buddha defines this as joy over another’s joy and sorrow over another’s sorrow – thus the full gamut of one’s lived experience is raw material for compassion.
Step three is radical empathy – to see through another’s eyes..
Step four is living compassion – getting altogether out of the way so you are a vehicle for the vivid intelligence of compassion itself. This is the mysterium – “seeing through the eyes of compassion.”
Go to michaelortizhill.com for sample chapters.





Radical Empathy and Humor

21 10 2010

This is from my unpublished MS Recovering the Heart: Twelve Steps from Self-compassion to Living Compassion. In Recovering I adapt the craft of compassion to an adaption of the twelve steps of moving from a self-centered life to a Love centered life.
My new book — called for the moment Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill, is NOW available at Amazon.com.
SPREAD THE WORD!!!
When I began this blog I imagined, NEATLY, doing a new posting of the four steps of the craft of compassion each week — and then recycling month after month. But alas I havent been.
Radical Empathy is step three and this morning radical empathy called me.
So enjoy.
Radical empathy moves from HUMOR.

Section Three: Humor

At this moment between lives, a new birth is chosen.
The author Sam Keen used to teach workshops where the participants would tell their life stories as tragedy and then as comedy. The weighty and self-important tragedian lightens up when the buffoon comes on the stage.
There are other elements to radical empathy, but humor is an essential vernacular.
A Yoruba bembe ceremony is when the aspects of God, the orisha, descend to drumming and dancing. The first dance belongs to Eshu Elegba.
Eshu is the sacred fool and so his dance is, well, foolish.
How can a small community make itself available to the Divine if its not loosened up a bit by the trickster?

Chapter Eight

Radical Empathy

Step Ten

Continued to fearlessly examine our moment to moment failures of love and, when we missed the mark, promptly admitted it.

Dakshen nyamje is translated as “equalizing and exchanging self and other.” It’s unfortunate that when one names such an experience in Tibetan it’s instantly rendered impenetrable. Dakshen nyamje rhymes with the Cherokee proverb: “You can only understand somebody else if you’ve walked two moons in their moccasins.”
My translation is “radical empathy” and follows through on the question, “what if it were I or someone close to me who is suffering so?”
Amber is twenty-five and has leukemia. She loves the theater and at her bedside there is a photo of her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For the moment she’s undone by a stem cell transplant, her gums bleeding, asleep on Ativan. My daughter is Amber’s age and I whisper this to her father when I bring him a cup of coffee. A swift, silent understanding. Nothing more need be said.
This is radical empathy.
Mrs. Brown just had a mastectomy, as did my wife, and she is painfully self-conscious of her flat left side. Such was the rapport between us that I borrowed from my love of my wife’s beauty. I laughed, “The running joke with my wife is that women with two breasts have come to look a little unnatural to me.” Mrs. Brown confessed that she seemed to have more trouble with her mastectomy than her husband.
“Borrowing from my wife’s beauty” was radical empathy.
The house of radical empathy is where the soul is instructed as it wanders between paradigms. In all the previous steps, one could imagine compassion as a personal quality that one has too much of or not enough. Radical empathy begins to dislodge us from the rampant personalization of what is, after all, a divine attribute.
It is here that we (one) begin(s) to get out of our own (the) way so the gift of compassion can come through unimpeded.

During the first year I was clean and sober, my wife and I would sometimes – often – engage in rage fests that bordered on the homicidal.

“Am I not now acceptable in your sight? ” I’d cry out, biblical, petulant and furious.

That I was not, in fact, acceptable in my own sight was made completely clear. One night (when) we were at it. I don’t remember the particulars of the flight, just its (sheer) ferocity:
“You should look at your face in the mirror,” said she as I looked at her in her

Medusa aspect.

“I’m not afraid to look at my face!” I replied.

I grabbed a hand-held mirror and was astonished to see the monster she saw.

Certainly not human.

Not me.

What I saw reminded me of one of those wrathful deities in Tibetan iconography.

Did he have fangs?

Practically.

While it was useful to see myself as a monster, I didn’t want this apparition to interrupt a good fight. Now I regret I have no Caliban self portrait on which to meditate. Still as an Aries – born under the sign of the WAR GOD — I felt I had a reputation to defend.
Ha!

“Your turn,” as I forcibly gave her the mirror.

Before looking in the mirror she composed her face. As she did , my inner brat puffed himself up. I was no longer a fierce deity but, rather, a middle-aged ninny.

“You’re cheating!”

At least I restrained the brats chant:
Nanny goat, nanny goat! Can’t catch a Billy goat!

At some point during this bitter season I was at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, wondering if my marriage would survive being clean and sober. Stories of betrayal and self-betrayal had to be digested. We were lost in the dark woods of OLD KARMA. As I was listening to someone talk about struggles with his wife, I heard the resonance of the scripture that I repeat whenever I am entering or leaving deep solitude: “act as if you have faith and faith will be given unto you.”

In living by such “acts as if,” we eventually found our way through this baptism by fire.

Heterosexual Love 101 requires that a man see the image of his rage through a
woman’s eyes.
Such is I repeat, radical empathy and it is a spiritual practice.

I have never struck a woman nor would I, but I’ve never loved a woman that didn’t anticipate violence proceeding from a man’s uninhibited anger.

Of step ten Keating says, “this is a rather advanced stage of the spiritual life in any tradition. It means that one is ever mindful of one’s immediate experience. One is sensitive to the needs of the present moment and also the presence of Love in every passing nanosecond of time.”

This is Love not as “Our Father who Art in Heaven Higher Power,” but as Pervasive Presence, here and now.

Section Four: Humility

Steps Eleven and Twelve usher in the notion of ‘becoming.’ Here, a new birth is chosen. Here one enters the mysterium of living compassion: humus, human, humor and homage (another ghom word) to humility.

In the 1980s, EST (Erhard Seminar Training) was the thing. Having passed through these twelve steps, I’ve entertained myself with the thought of a Michael Ortiz Hill variation: EST 2 or Eat Shit and Thrive.

With humility we come back to the common soil that we are: humus.

“Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.”

Everything in your life has prepared you for this moment. Everything in your passage between lives has prepared you for this moment.

Walk humbly.

Choose this new life with generosity so you can be generous.

We are approaching the mysterium: Living compassion.





remarkable animated essay on EMPATHY

20 10 2010

Empathy — not competition and individualism — is primary human nature.

http://www.wimp.com/empathyevolution/

This is solid science.  It is Buddhadharma — that our natural uncontrived self is compassion. And it is foundational to the Judeo-Christian -Muslim tradition that we are all made in the image of the God that is love

Check out step three of the craft of compassion — radical empathy.  To see through anothers eyes.  http://www.gatheringin.com.

 





video essay on the craft of compassion

9 10 2010

This is from my website, http://www.gatheringin.com. It lays out the four steps — self-compassion, compassion for others, radical empathy (seeing through anothers eyes) and living compassion.

http://www.gatheringin.com/video_essay.html

The web also has sample chapters and a link to pre-ordering Conspiracies from Amazon.





Conspiracies of Kindness: from self-compassion to living compassion

26 09 2010

As I venture into BLOGLAND I can help thinking affectionately of when I was a boy — an 16 year old  illegal alien who had followed love to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I cultivated a western Canadian accent — punctuated every sentence with an ‘eh’ or two — and learned O Canada and the Maple Leaf Forever which I d belt out at the slightest provocation.  A low profile to be sure and no one would mistake this passionately patriotic Canuck for a yank.  I d chant St Paul to myself — “Act as if ye had faith and faith will be given unto you.”

Or — ” fake it till you make it.”

Here in the commonwealth of BLOGS I am certainly a stranger in a strange land but with this posting let me lay out what I have in mind.

I ve been blessed in this life with a simple mind, possessed by an fixed idea. What is compassion and how does one live it?  What is self-compassion and what is its relationship with compassion for others?

Though I teach compassion to doctors and nurses, Conspiracies is written for anyone who takes the matter of compassion seriously. In such a time as we live, I dare say nothing is more important.  This book proposes that compassion is a craft and thus can be learned and practiced like cultivating crops or raising animals.  The refinement of compassion, like any true craft, is a life’s work.

In this blog I will explore the four steps that I detail in my book Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill and each week I will post on a new step. After this introduction I will post chapter one about self-compassion.

I will also write from another little book that will soon be published, Recovery of the Heart: Twelve Steps from Self-Compassion to Living Compassion that I’m coauthoring with Brandon Beckman of the Family of Addicts treatment program.  In Recovery the ‘four steps’ are translated into a variation of the traditional 12 steps.

So what are the four steps of the craft of compassion?

STEP ONE is self-compassion.  This is the tending tenderly to the vehicle that conveys compassion for others. Self-compassion is the threading of the needle that one might sew the garment of compassion for others. I will reflect on self-compassion the first week of every month.

STEP TWO is compassion for others. I rely on the Buddhas elegant definition. Compassion is sympathetic joy — joy over another’s joy — and sympathetic sorrow.  Sorrow over another’s sorrow.All beings know sorrow and joy so all beings know compassion. In teaching compassion I quote Dogen Zenji, the founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism: “No creature ever falls short of its own completion.  Wherever it stands it never fails to cover the ground.”  And also Zen teacher, Cheri Huber

“Love as much as you can from where you are with what you’ve got. Thats the best you can ever do. Remember, its the process, not the content that counts.”

Compassion is not “achieved.” It is ones original nature

STEP THREE: Radical empathy. “You can only understand another when you have walked two moons in his moccassins,” say the Cherokee.  Radical empathy is about seeing things through another’s eyes. With radical empathy one moves toward a paradigm shift. Compassion is not a “personal” possession or quality.  You are not the Source of compassion. Uninhibited compassion comes forth when the self gets out of the way.

STEP FOUR: The mysterium — Living compassion. Living compassion is the essential nature of human freedom.And living compassion is pure gift.  Zadie Smith describes it precisely:

“The moment when the ego disappears and you’re able to offer up your love as a gift without expectation of reward. At this moment the gift hangs, between the one who sends and the one who receives, and reveals itself as belonging to neither.”

Compassion as a presence – as Presence – is most relevant here. The person who meets this or that situation compassionately is vehicle for this quality that the bottom line of which is not personal. The spiritual practice of living compassion requires that the self step aside. It is radically and blessedly simple, and its experience extraordinarily ordinary. Compassion is the environment that one is in.  One is alert to its presence, available to being its vehicle but one doesn’t for a moment  possess compassion

And so now we go the first chapter of Conspiracies of Kindness on self-compassion.

SELF-COMPASSION AND HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN

Recently while teaching the craft of compassion in a large drug rehabilitation facility, one worker raised the question of helping addicts heal from shame.

“They are so consumed with self-hate,” he said.

He, like almost all sitting in the room, was himself a recovering addict so I asked, “How did you heal from your years of addiction, from your own shame?”

“Well, I let go and let God.  I was brought to my knees,” he said.

Everyone nodded in assent.  I also nodded in assent remembering how I was brought to my knees as a homeless teenage druggie. Unpacking this collective moment of recognition we were able tospeak of the nature of genuine self-compassion.

I quoted Leonard Cohen’s well known  lyrics: “ Forget about your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

How do we accept our radiant imperfection?  How does humiliation transform into humble acceptance and tenderness for ourselves?

Latin offers the phrase amor fati, to “love ones fate.” which I would argue describes the foundational stratum of self-love.  Ones fate – not you have chosen but what has been chosen for you.

These parents, siblings, ancestors.  This body and gender.  The delights and terrors of your childhood  and the hard wiring of your character.

What awakens love of ones fate and the sustaining of self-compassion?  A spontaneous song of gratitude comes from recognizing that waking or sleeping we forever bask in gift.

Everything, every moment presents as gift – from the vastness of the universe to this very small life to your very next breath.

In the call and response between oneself and the world, one perceives the gift nature of everything and sings “thank you.”  This simple thank you makes it possible to love ones fate and provides the most reliable source of self-compassion.

It is gratitude that allows one to love the gamut of oneself without judgement, unfettered.

In the years I was recovering from homelessness I kept a“GRATITUDE JOURNAL” in which I wrote ten things at the end of each day for which I was grateful. My little girls laughter; the striations of red and magenta in a sunset; the small ways I was learning to be a human being. As I continued, learning gratitude became a spiritual practice in its own right. As I advanced into thecomplexities of living an adult life off the street, learning to love my fate became key to broadening and deepening gratitude and self-compassion.

So which came first – the chicken (gratitude) – or the egg (self-compassion)?

Well gratitude does give birth to self-compassion. There is no self-compassion until one can say “thank you” for being alive.  And self-compassion undeniably gives birth to gratitude, truly and profoundly.

Our ideas of causality are confused by the radiant truth of love.

Which came first?

Emphatically both – which makes the love of ones fate vibrant and durable.  Whether one enters the door of gratitude or self-compassion one arrives in the same place.

The authentic interrogation of loving ones fate arises in any circumstance where ones undone by the unforeseen.  You’ve lost your job.  The father of your children has left you for another man.

You grandmother who you thought would live forever has suddenly died.

Your doctor has just informed you that you have multiple sclerosis.

I have sometimes asked friends or patients “what have you learned from your heart condition (or cancer or AIDS or addiction and recovery, etc) that you could not have learned any other way?  Apregnant question. to be sure, that invites the ethos of loving ones fate. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago it was my turn to ask that question of myself and ask it fully and completely.

Time to walk my walk.

MS found me a stubbornly young and arrogant man when a rangeof “symptoms” I’d seen from the outside as a nurse now took my body.  Falling down in public and unable to get up, incontinent ofurine and shit, a unreliable set of legs, sleepless and out of mymind on steroid therapy, losing my eyesight not knowing if it was mine to be blind.

Etc.

Early on, not yet recovered from my first exacerbation, I hiked to my refuge on the Big Sur coast to spend two weeks alone in prayerand reflection. It took eight hours to hike what I knew to be anhour walk and I didn’t know if I’d be able to walk out.  This was amor fati proper.

“Let go and let God.”  I had to give up the fetish of certainty.  For twenty years I’d assumed it would be mine to see my older wife through the end of her life but that was suddenly far from certain.

Everything – everything – was far from certain.

To my knees.

To my knees.

Now, these years later. only gratitude remains of my passagethrough MS.  Indeed the medicine of gratitude, of embracing my fate, seems tied up with my healing. It’s been two years since mylast exacerbation and I don’t anticipate another. As I wrote this chapter my neurologist, Dr. Russ Shimizu, was shocked at my recent MRI. “Whatever voodoo you are doing keep on doing it,” he said in a surprise homage to my alliance with African medicine.

I’am free of MS .Few would recognize me as someone with an“incurable” neuromuscular disease.

The transformation of humiliation to humility was, like with so many, a passage through dis-ease.  The catalyst of that transformation was gratitude.

That is how the light of self-compassion gets in.








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