Category Archives: Posts

St. Patrick and the Serpent

Sacred Well Ministries

Saint Patrick’s Day in the United States has devolved from what was once a Catholic feast day into something almost unrecognizable. As we have reexamined the way that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated across the country, people of Mexican and Latin American descent have advocated for a more respectful celebration of the holiday, without the sombreros and caricatures of the culture. St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration which could benefit from some of the same.

Images of drunkenness and one dimensional stereotypes are hurtful for people of all cultures. Since the early days of Irish immigration to the United States, one of the most common insults of Irish immigrants is that they were drunks. In this day Irish people have battled that image, and are assimilated and make up a large percentage of the American population — yet Irish culture to some is still synonymous with the overindulgence of alcohol.

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Imbolc and Candlemas: A Personal Journey

The famous quote by Thomas Wolfe “You can never go home again” can be interpreted in many ways. Nostalgia casts a warm glow on the past, and perhaps the old wounds can be forgotten. Things will not be the same. But if you go back knowing that you are different, and choosing to bring new meaning to things that were cast aside or left behind, it isn’t going home. It is creating a new home. 

Our Lady of Light

On Candlemas I chose to attend a Catholic mass for the first time in several decades. In my youth, I had a complicated relationship with the Church. I left and came back several times, trying to reconcile it with my changing views as I gained my independence. Things just didn’t work out. And when I fully embraced the Goddess, I realized that Mary had been that Divine Mother for me all along. 

Presenting the Divine Child

Jesus was just all right with me. I had J.C. Superstar and Godspell to inform my relationship with that Divine Son. Like, I said, it was the ‘70’s … he seemed like a pretty cool dude. But the Almighty Father was a lot like the other father figures in my life at that time. Distant. Never there when you wanted him to be. He would call once in great while, but there was never any real connection. 

St. Michael Church

So why did I decide to go to Mass on Candlemas night? My journey of Spirit has become richer and more complex over the years. In January of 2020 I became part of a spiritual family with roots in New Orleans, Sosyete Racine Dahomey. Our practice is Haitian Vodou. African Diaspora religions in the Caribbean, North and South America have close ties with Catholicism. Part of our practice includes working with the Ancestors, the majority of whom were Catholic in my case. The Saints are part of our practice as well. 

Ancestor’s Candle lit from the Candlemas flame

This local church was not a grand cathedral. It was a Wednesday night so I figured that Mass would be lightly attended. I had been to a midnight Mass there once a very long time ago so it wasn’t completely new to me. Remembering that the Mass was in Spanish that night, I hoped that tonight might be the same. The parking lot was surprisingly full when I arrived, and I got a little nervous, but got up my nerve and went in.  

As it turned out, it was a candlelight Mass … of course it was! Not only that, Mass was celebrated in English, Spanish, AND Latin. We all lit our candles and processed into the sanctuary. Hearing Agnus Dei sung in Latin was magical. Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas, when the Divine Child and Mother went to the temple to be purified. The Child is also then recognized as The Light of the World. In context for me, the universal meanings of this idea reach far beyond the Church. 

My statue of Mary & my Grandmother’s rosary

I celebrated the Child of Light and the Divine Mother. I honored the Ancestors, St. Brigid, and Mama Brigitte. I celebrated the uniting of my past and my future. I felt like I found a home within myself. A new home connected with an old one. The circle is complete and unbroken, and the Wheel turns again.

Bright Candlemas and Imbolc blessings abound!

Rev. Katherine Bonnabel

Winter Solstice – Honor the Longest Night

For many the long stormy nights of Winter and the proverbial dark night of the soul are uncomfortable.

In addition to being dark, times like these can feel cold, lonely and boring. Whether the dark makes you feel sad, depressed, confused, uneasy or fearful, you may be quick to counteract your discomfort by searching for ways to create more light, companionship, and activity in your life.

Photo by Marcelo Jaboo on

Although bringing light to a dark time may alleviate your sense uneasiness, if too much light is brought on too quickly, a magical time of healing and connection is disrupted. In the long run, you’ll see more progress if you learn to work with the darkness rather than deny its existence.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

The Magic of Darkness

Being in the dark heightens our senses.

~~ We hear more acutely. As a result we are more likely to catch messages from our intuition.

~~ We perceive subtle connections more easily because our minds are not cluttered with extraneous details.

~~ We tap our creativity more deeply. Poems, paintings, and songs are often crafted by people who are wrestling with some aspect of their life.

When you are in the midst of an inner Winter, these are precisely the skills you need to turn your situation around.

Find Comfort in the Darkness

If you find yourself disliking the dark of Winter, create ways to enhance your sense of comfort during these times. Gather:

~~ A warm, cozy blanket and some big fluffy pillows to create a safe nest for yourself.

~~ An array of candles to bring some sacred points of light to your setting.

~~ A favorite piece of music that moves you.

~~ A notebook and pen for writing your thoughts as they come to you.

~~ An evening or day in your calendar that’s devoted just to you.

Photo by Breakingpic on

The most productive thing you can do during Winter is nothing. That’s right. Give yourself the gift of time to be in solitude with no expectations or pressures to “accomplish” anything significant. Give yourself complete permission to unplug for several hours or several days. Unwind. Take long luxurious naps. Daydream to your heart’s content.

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The Gift of Insight

You really never know how or when the insights will come, so follow your heart and do what feels best in the moment. Your answers may appear during your retreat or afterwards as you return to your daily life.

Don’t push. The gift of insight is not something you can demand or force. Insights come when the time is right.

Your only job right now is to cultivate an environment and state of mind that encourages new, creative thoughts and ideas to come through. Be open and receptive to unexpected answers. Be observant and make note of any new thoughts that occur to you.

Photo by Arifur Rahman Tushar on

Honor the Darkness

With time, you will come to know when your body and soul need some quiet time. You’ll begin to sense when something significant is brewing and gestating.

When you feel this feeling, act upon your premonition by creating time and space in your life for some time alone.

Gift yourself with an intentional retreat. Catch the sparks of insight as they appear. Don’t rush to conclusions, but allow the outcome to unfold in time as you live your life.

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May the darkness that surrounds you be full of sparkling insights this Winter season. Peaceful Solstice Blessings to you…..

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

–Wendell Berry

Feasts of the Dead: Samhain and Fet Guede

An Interview with Ya Sezi bo Oungan / Joseph Alexander Robicheaux

Ya Sezi bo Oungan

In a new series of interfaith articles for Sacred Well Ministries we will be exploring spiritual traditions around the world and interviewing the people who are part of them today. Our third interview is with author, diviner, and Vodou priest Ya Sezi bo Oungan

In a number of spiritual traditions, from the end of October through mid November it is the time that  the dead walk amongst us. All over the world there are cultural traditions of celebrating these special days, a liminal time when the boundary between our world and the otherworld can be accessed easily. The fascinating thing is that in almost every culture, there is a day specifically allotted to honoring the dead, and paying respect. The tone and festivities of each culture’s rituals vary, yet they all share the belief that during a specific time the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest, and respect must be paid.

Grief and celebration seem like strange bedfellows at first glance, but both are emotions that overflow. The ritual practices that surround death and mourning as rites of passage help individuals and their communities make sense of loss through a renewed focus on continuity.

By performing the same acts as ancestors have done, we engage in venerated traditions to connect with something enduring and eternal. Boundaries between life and death, the sacred and the profane, are permeable. The dead seem less far away and less forgotten. It is a comfort to know that our beloved dead are nearby to guide us with their wisdom.

Ya Sezi bo Oungan / Joseph Robicheaux is intimately acquainted with these permeable boundaries in the context of several cultural traditions.  As an Oungan of Haitian Vodou he serves and honors the Spirits and Ancestors which include the iconic Lwa known as the Guede.  The celebration known as Fet Guede starts at the beginning of November.  

Altar for Guede at the New Orleans Healing Center

Joseph is full of surprises, and one of them is that he also walks the path of Irish pagan spirituality.  He is an accomplished diviner of the Ogham, an oracular system of the Celtic people.  The fire festival called Samhain also falls on the dates at the end of October and beginning of November, and is also a time of honoring the Ancestors and the Beloved Dead.

Please tell us how and why these two paths came to intersect in your life.  What does that look like for you?

My Identity as a Biracial man and the necessity to be evenly balanced between the two outwardly opposed worlds of White Irish and Scottish heritage, and the African descended, Creole heritage and ancestors of my Father’s family.  Nothing is possible without the ancestors, and as someone who had to pick and choose how my interests in the rich cultures of my family would manifest, I do not spare anything when it comes to the spiritual celebration of either side of the ancestors, or my spirituality.

Ogham divination

For me there is a near seamless interaction, there are many many examples from the spoken word poems – the Rosc poems of Ireland, and the Oriki poetry of West Africa. Everyone the world over saw the divine in nature. I think there are a lot of mutual agreements in how the divine is experienced in nature between the Celtic and African experience.

How do you celebrate Fet Guede?

Fet Guede for me is usually two parts, my own private observation of the Guede and Bawons. I make make a little table for them, cook some food, sing, pray, refresh old pacts and make new ones.  All of November is for the Guede. I consider my Fete Guede day the 15th of November which is the feast Day of St. Martin of Porres, who is one of the Masks of Bawon La Kwa, the owner of the tombs, and head stones the one who keeps the cemetery full.

Bawon La Kwa / Baron La Croix

When I can, I will attend or host *One* Tambou/Drumming or Fete/Celebration for Guede. When I was first starting out in the tradition the Guede were my favorite. Even with doing Lesson Vodou/Readings they are still my go to. However the dead have no, little, or few boundaries, and they are not subject to the Morals of Guinea, so there’s no telling what the consequences are nor telling how high the Invoice is gonna be. I respect Guede, love Guede, in spirit much better than in my face as it turns out.

(an interesting syncretic observation – many followers of Celtic traditions believe that the Sidhe have similar tendencies toward lack of boundaries and unpredictability. K.B.)

Do you also celebrate Samhain?  If so, what does that include?

The day before Samhain, the day of and the day after are reserved for my Ancestors and the Sídhe. Each day I offer very simple food offerings. The day before I offer Honey, Salt, Water, and alcohol. The day of,  I offer game meat, beef, and pork, and the last day I offer butter, milk, and barley or another grain. I usually visit the cemetery the first day, some liminal space on the second and I see what opportunity the third day presents. One tradition I like to observe is keeping the fire lit throughout my three days of observation, and especially so throughout the night of Samhain.

Some scholars have suggested that Ancient Samhain took place around the 14, or 15th of the month.  To me there is not a lot of difference between Samhain and Fete Guede. In the Tale Tochmarc Étaíne (the wooing of Étaíne) Mider, a Foster of Angus is discussing the sticky situation of his birth and his inheritance, he is told to go and discuss this with his Father on Samhain because it is a day of peace and friendship amongst the men of Ireland. However he is told to be armed because just like Fete Guede, you never know what’s going to happen.

Guede is not an ancestor while being your ancestor: helpful tips when serving the Guede ‘Bosal’ or uninitiated

Guede is the dead that talks, and tells the truth within our grasp of time and space.  In pretty much every culture save Victorian England (or so it seems) society tends to think the dead live out of time, and or entirely lose the sense of time passed, like why some early modern period Spiritualists get mistaken for Socrates or Solomon, for lack of understanding that time has moved on.

Papa Gede by Aarron Campbell

In the cosmology of Vodou, a deceased person is understood to lose their sense of individualism and grasp of time over a period of 40 days to a year after death. A deceased person ( Mô), can become  Guede by telling you useful information. One of the classical signs is winning the lottery, but I’ll take virtually anything that is obviously real, and distinct enough in description. To make a deceased person a Guede you have to attend a ceremony called Recleman Anba D’lo, this is done for Assogwe Mambos and Oungans as a way of preserving their knowledge and practice. 

Before the Guede were lascivious drunkards they were healers, they were the backed up information on the cloud of Vodou, life culture and personal matters. They oversee the ancestors coming home and the ancestors going to the Marketplace.

Regarding Maman Brijite – I’m not about to dissect the Irish thing.

(the popularly held belief that the Guede Maman Brijite originated from Saint Bridget / Brighid – it makes as little sense as the Ishtar/Easter connection in Western paganism, IMO. K.B.)

I’m going to offer you another origin story that to me makes a touch more sense. Makendal was a famous sorcerer and leader of Maroon people, or runaway slaves who lived in the mountains of Haiti. Makendal was married to a woman named Brijite. She would see and hear all the things that would go on in the camp. The man or woman who ran away, who’s wife, husband, or brother or son did not join him, can for now never join him. Trying to return to get them may jeopardize the individual or the whole group. She listened to people and saw who they were. The trustworthy and the weak, promises made and kept, or made and broken. 

Maman Brijit by S. Aldarnay

Maman Brijite is the prosecutor of the Dead, appealing to the court of Bawons on the actions of your life, to determine your usefulness in the world of the spirits or anything else that may be waiting in the beyond.

The Guede are usually the forgotten Dead, so that’s everyone that has ever died and not received last rites or peace. 

When you want luck and love and a happy good life you go to Bawon Samedi, when you want to do anything in the cemetery you first ask Bawon Samedi, when you want to learn some Maji/travay you talk to Bawon La Kwa or Bawon Cimiteir.

Bawon Samedi

Guede is not the name of any one spirit, it’s a classification name and quality. 

Check out my book Guede, et Mô : A Workbook for more helpful tips, tricks and information:

Joseph, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and spiritual practices of Fete Guede and Samhain.  You have such a depth of knowledge about both of these Festivals of the Dead, and great advice for those who would like to learn more.  If we have people who are interested in consultations or readings, here are the best ways to make contact:

On Facebook:

Instagram:  @lakwalakwa

Persephone Returns


Holy Mother Demeter,

As the green abundance of Summer gives way to Autumn,

 you draw you veil around you.

Demeter Grieving

 The song of the Dark Lord calls Queen Persephone to return to his side.

You weep bitter tears of grief.

Hades and Persephone

 But from thee, and thy shadow self, shall compassion arise.

 Descending to the realms of Erebos

you heal the wounds between the worlds.

Ceres With Torch

Sacred Demeter Chthonia, you forge new life from death.

Being never ceases, only changes form.

Teach us hope when it is dark, and patience when all lies fallow.

May we learn to honor both the stillness within us

and the dance of change. 


May we rejoice and awaken in the mystery.

You are the divine mother, we are your beloved children.

And just as Persephone,

  We shall always return to you.

Liminal Magic: The Hermetic Arts

An Interview with Hermeticist Maria Miles

Maria Miles

In a new series of interfaith articles for Sacred Well Ministries we will be exploring spiritual traditions around the world and interviewing the people who are part of them today.  Our second article in the series is an interview with Hermeticist Maria Miles.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

 Blaise Pascal, 17th-century French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher, 

 The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word, limen, which means threshold. Liminal space is a doorway, a threshold, where you leave one state of being and are in transition to another one.  A place of absolute pure potential, where anything is possible.

Liminality is the state that exists at the edges of boundaries, at dawn and dusk, in the moments before falling asleep and resurfacing from dreamtime into waking. It is a time that is often more vulnerable, but also more alchemically charged. The liminal state is not as fully formed as what is on either side of it, it partakes of both sides, and therefore it is an ideal state for creating new forms. 

 It is a place between energy and matter.  It is a  place of transition where normal limits are suspended – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.  Those who can tap into the realms that exist beyond our ordinary perception have been honored and reviled, considered sacred and profane throughout human history.  

There are many kinds of beings who exist in a liminal state.. Transgender persons, two-spirit persons, and others of ambiguous or fluid orientation, those who exist in a metamorphic state of shifting identities.

The artist, shaman, oracle, prophet, mystic, seer, or visionary is one who is able to enter liminal space and emerge from it with some insight to share.  Maria Miles is one such being, who has danced along the edges of liminal space since childhood.

Maria, please share with us a bit about the beginnings of your magical path: 

It began during my childhood with books of folklore and the zodiac for kids. I was fascinated by faeries and giants and all the mythical things most children are told about in stories but I was always adamant that they were real. I could see spirits, especially out in nature. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest you get to spend a lot of time in the woods for fun.

 By the age of 13 I began getting interested in divination. Tarot cards, runes and ogham were all things I read about but the cards were my first tool I picked up and began to use as a diviner. At 16 I began to study I Ching, thanks to an obsession with the author Philip K Dick who used this oracle to help write some of his novels which I thought was really cool.

 Astrology really entered my world around that age too. I found myself looking at my birth chart and the birth charts of all my friends, girlfriends and family members. At the time I only really had exposure to modern psychological astrology and sun sign astrology but I knew there was something there under the surface that I couldn’t grok yet. So I kept looking.

This was also the age I picked up my first grimoires: the Keys of Solomon, the Lemegeton and the Grimorium Verum, in the form of A.E. Waite’s “Ceremonial Magic” that I found at a local bookstore. That one absolutely fascinated me, the way demons and spirits were talked about so matter of factly. At the time it largely served as an inspiration for lyrics for the bands I played in as a teenager, but by my late teens/early twenties it became more of a formal study with an interest in practice.

Can you give us an overview of your study of the Hermetic arts?

Hermeticism entered my life in my early 20s, though it took me a while to realize It was my worldview/religion. The Hermetic arts of Alchemy, Astrology and Magic have been a core part of my studies and praxis for the last 7 years now. Alchemy is the one I have moved the most slowly in and only began to practice lab alchemy this past year. These three arts form one key, each unlocking the other. 

Alchemical apparatus

Astrology tells us when to perform certain rites or to begin certain alchemical operations which are produced by the work of the mage, be it the production of a talisman or of a spagyric. They are the same thing only in a different fashion. The medieval grimoire Picatrix tells us that alchemy is the work of body upon body, and magic of spirit upon spirit. Both serve to elevate the one who partakes in it. One without the other is lost in my opinion. 

Mercury and Sulfur personified

Part of how I see magic in my practice is through theurgy, or god working. The goal is to exalt the mage and elevate them to the same status as the Gods by participating actively in the process of creation. Alchemy prepares our body for this, magic fortifies our spirit for this, and astrology gives us an understanding of our fate so that we can actively take part in it. Hermeticism provides the path, and the arts provide the keys to the many doors you will find along it.

There are several schools of Astrology including Western, Vedic, Traditional, and others – which of these do you practice?

I practice what is called Traditional Astrology. It is essentially the astrology practiced by the medieval Persio-Arabic sages who preserved the art as an inheritance from the Hellenistic world. All so-called “Western” astrology has its roots in ancient Greece. They got it from the Egyptians and Sumerians, but the Greeks were the ones who codified it. 

We owe a great debt to people like Vetius Valens and Ptolemy, but an even greater debt is owed to astrologers like Abu Mashr, Mash’allah, Al-Kindi and countless others who transmitted this knowledge through time. My primary sources are texts a thousand years old at least, and stemming from other sources that are at least 1000 or 2000 years old. 

Persian astrological text

Why do I use sources that are so old? Because the techniques work better than anything modern astrology has to offer. Traditional astrology entails a coherent worldview as to why things are as they are. Why the signs are ordered the way they are, why the planets are assigned certain virtues and principles, all of these are things traditional astrology explains when you learn the basics, because without them you are lost. Personality analysis really isn’t that useful compared to being able to predict when things will happen in your life. Forewarned is forearmed.

How do you prepare yourself to do a reading for someone?

I usually do at least a half hour of prep work, about a  day in advance of the reading so I have time to let things stew. The natal chart is a tremendous source of contemplation. Natal astrology really is a form of meditation on ourselves and our fate and how we fit into the world. Whether I am doing it for myself or others, it takes me a bit of time sitting with the chart. 

When it comes to the day of the reading I have a bit more to do beforehand. While astrology is not a psychic art, it is a form of divination anyone, with or without mediumistic talent can practice by learning the techniques.  I do include a bit of ritual beforehand. Every divinatory consult is a crossroads where two fates meet, that of the querent and that of the diviner. 

Prior to beginning the call with my client I start off by offering a glass of cool water and candle to my spirits along with a battery of prayers. I’m  a little ol Catholic grandma when it comes to prayers and pray the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria Patrii along with a more general prayer from the heart asking for guidance in helping my client. 

One of the traditions I come from is Spiritism, which is part of why I do these prayers and offering of water and fire. Usually within moments of beginning the prayers and the reading the glass of water will become full of bubbles as if it were a carbonated drink. This sort of thing is a sign of the presence and activity of spirits. It’s a way of seeing that they’re at work. 

And when I do a reading they really do put in the work. It shows too. Often I will see things in the chart I hadn’t before or make connections I hadn’t thought of because I have them guiding me. That’s where a highly technical art like astrology meets my mediumistic practice.

What other types of magic and divination do you practice?

 I’ve been reading cards, both tarot and playing cards since I was 13 and that was how I discovered my talent for prediction. It used to surprise people, myself included, with how accurate I could get with cards. I don’t use them as much now since moving my professional practice to exclusively astrology but I have a fond place in my heart for cartomancy. 

Aside from talismans and theurgy my other favorite has long been the controversial art of Goetia, (Ars Goetia, The lesser Key of Solomon). I’ve grown far more cautious when I do this, because it can certainly be like using a shotgun to kill a squirrel, but I must certainly mention it because it was what truly taught me we are not alone. I’ve burned my fingers more than once when playing with hellfire.

Goetic Circle and Triangle

 A lot of people are scared by the idea of Goetia, others proclaim it to be harmless, or relish the darkness in it, making it an aesthetic life choice. I would say after the experiences I’ve had from the mistakes I’ve made it is not something to do lightly or without preparation. The knowledge of how to keep these energies within certain boundaries is essential.  This is actually how I began my work with the Saints and Archangels.

I wear many masks when it comes to religion, afterall the Divine One wears many masks, so why not their servants? I have a devout practice of Marian devotion especially, which I will attest to saving my life more than once. She is the fastest to intercede and I am very happy to share her name. 

My primary practice now is with the Dead, both my ancestors and friends who have passed. Maintaining my boveda is at the heart of all I do on a regular basis. I have discovered that most things I need to do can be accomplished with a prayer, a candle and a glass of water at my ancestor altar. A measure of most magicians’ salt: can you manifest your work with those three essentials? If not, there may be a reason why. 

Photo by Nickola Mirkovic on Unsplash

Never take for granted that we have our Dead watching over us. They can see clearly what is needed and what is not. Too many consider magic the cheat codes for life. It isn’t. It is a source of active participation in fate. But it cannot negate fate. And why should it? We are inseparable from our fate. We would not be who we are without it. So why fight it? I’ve read enough Greek tragedy to know that is not the way. God is good, and has ordained our fate. Working alongside God in the fulfilment of our fate is the highest good one can do.

Maria, thank you so much for sharing your spiritual story with us.  There is a lot of information to unpack here, in all of its colorful and vibrant complexity.  If our readers have questions about the information shared here or would like to book a reading with you, how shall they contact you?

Instagram – @rootedstarsastrology

Exploring Ifa: An Interview With Ifawale Abiola Agboola

In a new series of interfaith articles for Sacred Well Ministries we will be exploring spiritual traditions around the world and interviewing the people who are part of them today.  Our first article in this series is with Ifawale Abiola Agboola, a practising Ifa priest who lives in Nigeria.

The Yorùbá people, who inhabit a significant part of Western Africa have been practicing their unique set of religious customs for centuries. Although it is most commonly found in countries like Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, for the past several decades Yoruba religion has also been making its way to the United States.

There’s a religious paradox in the African Diaspora. While evangelical Catholicism and Protestantism are the fastest growing faiths in the Motherland, African indigenous faiths are growing among African descendants in the Americas.

Under colonial rule and religious pressures, traditional beliefs and practices were discriminated against. The Ifa priests have only modest means to maintain the tradition, transmit their complex knowledge and train future practitioners.  With the population of Nigeria being roughly 50% Christian and 50% Muslim, there had to be some sort of integration for the Yoruba culture to survive.  About 20% of the population in Nigeria identify as Yoruba.

Although many Yoruba people have become Christian and Muslim since colonization, those who practice the traditional religious beliefs of their ancestors have managed to coexist peacefully with their non-traditional neighbors.  While traditional Yoruba are celebrating their Orishas,for instance, their Christian friends and family members are offering thanks to their own God. People come together for this dual-faith celebration to honor two very different types of deities, all for the good of the entire community.  

Ifawale Abiola Agboola

Ifawale, please tell us a bit about the story of Ifa:

 To be a Babalawo, priest of Orunmila, is a great honor and with its great responsibility comes great respect. But why is Orunmila so important? Who is Orunmila? 

​Orunmila, also known as Orula or Orunla (sometimes mistaken as IFA) is a very important Orisha, or divinity, to the Yoruba people and those that follow the Yoruba diaspora traditions of Santeria, Lukumi, and others. His priesthood is separate and set aside from the other priestly initiations of any other Orisha.

Divination tray

​Orunmila was a great healer in the lands of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. He traveled great distances with his Akose, or medicine, healing people that would come to him. Even though he was a great healer, out of 10 people that came to see him, only 8 would be completely cured of their illnesses and bad circumstances. Two, however, would either not be cured or see their conditions returned. So Orunmila saw it fit to travel to the Temple of Olodumare, creator of all things, in heaven since it was Olodumare that sent him and gave him all his abilities. 

​After several trips to the temple, Olodumare gave Orunmila 16 sacred palm nuts, ikin, and said to him, “So you do not have to keep coming to my temple to hear my voice, I give you these 16 sacred palm nuts, this is Ifa. They will be my words to you and I will speak to you when you need me at any point in time.” Orunmila took these 16 ikin and returned to the earth. From that day forward all his patients were cured of their problems because he can now see it all and he was able to continuously speak with Olodumare by means of the ikin and interpretation of Ifa. He would later initiate 16 men to become the first ever Babalawos. The first of which were Akoda and Asheda. 


​Therefore, Orunmila is very important. He was given Ifa, the words of Olodumare, to help all of creation. He would not only divine for humans and help humanity. Among the many verses of Ifa are stories where Orunmila divines Ifa for snails, the winds, trees, etc. as well as for other Orishas. 

Ifá teaches that there’s a consciousness to everything, and the tangible part of Ebó has a vibration or quality that resonates with Òrìṣà and spirit to help us influence an outcome.

In the daily life of the Yoruba and those that follow the Yoruba tradition in the diaspora, Orunmila is an orisha that is praised every day and his assistance is sought at any time of day and any day of the week. Those wishing to do anything major in life or go on a long journey will first go to Orunmila to ask Ifa if everything will come out well for them. In conclusion, Ifá has answers for all questions. 


What is a Babalawo?  And how does one learn to become one?

The training to become a babalawo is an intense process. There are in principle 256 chapters in the divination process, called Odu, each one contains elaborative narratives of mythic stories related to history, events, ritual practices, etc… Importantly, the Odu is an oral tradition, and thus the babalawo-in-training must memorize all or most of the 256 Odu in order to be qualified to be a babalawo.

A divination session between the babalawo and the inquirer involves paying homage to Orunmila and the other ancestral babalawos who had performed successful divinations in the past, saluting the principal powers of the cosmos, invoking the mystical mothers, without whose help the rituals will not be efficacious. Then the diviner engages the inquirer, who takes a coin or paper, touches his forehead, whispers his/her prayers and requests, and asks for the secret behind his problem to be revealed, along with an appropriate solution.

Next, the diviner takes palm nuts from a divination bowl, tries to grab from his other hand most of the palm nuts, and then — with the remaining one or two palm nuts — marks the results of his activity in the powder in the divination tray. This process is then repeated until the diviner can make four sides on the divination tray.

Ifa divination

The result of this randomizing process is the Odu divination sign that the babalawo then recites. The client listens and interprets, and then the babalawo gives a solution. Sometimes a consensus is reached in which the babalawo and client agree to do another session in order to determine if they got the exactly correct answer. The process clearly relies plenty on human interaction, as well as the randomized patterns seen in the palm nuts in the Ifa bowl.

Who are the Orisas?

For the more than 50 million Yoruba people who live in Nigeria and around the globe, the world (aye) is governed and controlled by the numerous orisa who inhabit the world, but have access to the habits and occurrences in the upper world (orun [heaven]) and the underworld (Ile).

 We lovingly acknowledge the Òrìṣà or spirit who help us manifest good fortune and thank them.

Orunmila, the god of divination, is regarded as one of the numerous deities and Ifa is his divination process. The occurrences, events, and activities are revealed to humans through the elaborate divination process of Ifa.


​What is highly emphasized by Orunmila is the completion of Ebo, or sacrifice, which is prescribed by Ifa for certain situations. As it was once told to me, “There isn’t a problem on earth that does not have its solution.” And this is at the heart of Ifa. Even death has its solution in Ifa. Poverty, sickness, war, loss, they all have their solutions through Ebo prescribed by Ifa. In this, Orunmila is also the spirit of Ela, or salvation. 

What is Ebo?

Ebó translates to “sacrifice,” and to many of us who grew up in Western cultures, the word “sacrifice” stirs up deep emotions and conjures up negative imagery. Perhaps the apprehension comes from years of conditioning by Hollywood horror movies and religious influences. But to the Yorùbá who follow Ifá, it is the normal “give and take” of life; necessary to restore order and maintain harmony and balance with the natural world.


Ebó is central to Ifá; it reinforces the notion that everything in the natural world is connected; like the cells of an organism working in unison for a common purpose; life. Nothing thrives in a vacuum and sacrifice is for the sake of the whole.

Most offerings consist of “adimu” (food offerings). In some cases, if it involves an animal for celebrations and initiations; it is first prayed upon by priests so that the animal spirit is elevated, then lovingly thanked for the sacrifice. Under these situations, life-force offerings are always consumed and enjoyed by the community to receive the Às̩e̩ (life-force blessing).  When making offerings, always offer a taste to Èṣù/Ẹlégbá first, who is the divine messenger and takes your prayers and offerings to its destination.

Elegba At The Crossroads by Karmella Haynes

The word “sacrifice” implies that we’re giving up something of value or hold dear, including our time and effort. Much of our focus when making Ebó is in the tangible offerings. But, when divination comes Ibi (off-path), it is crucial that we heed the call for corrective action; a change of behavior; a change of heart.

Yoruba heart necklace

Ifawale, we are so grateful to you for sharing your knowledge with us. There is so much more to learn about your tradition. If our readers have questions, seek more information, or even perhaps a reading, here is his contact information.


You can also visit his Facebook profile:


​Wigington, Patti. “Yoruba Religion: History and Beliefs.” Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021,

Arlene Edmonds Tribune Correspondent, Mar 4, 2016:   Lecture discusses the growth of Yoruba faith with African Americans


St. John’s Eve / Bonfire Night

At sunset on June 23rd an ancient fire festival is celebrated in many countries across the world.  This midsummer festival has been known as Bonfire Night, and also Saint John’s Eve.

  In Croatia, the feast is called Ivanje (Ivan being Croation for John). It is celebrated in mostly in rural areas. Festivals celebrating Ivanje are held across the country. According to the tradition, bonfires (Ivanjski krijesovi) are built on the shores of lakes, near rivers or on the beaches for the young people to jump over the flames.

St. John’s Eve in Croatia

The Danes often meet with family and friends to have dinner together. If the weather is good, they then proceed to a local bonfire venue. According to popular belief, St John’s Eve was charged with a special power where magical forces were also at work. People believed that the witches flew past on their broomsticks on their way to the Broken.

In some rural parts of Ireland, particularly in the north-west, Bonfire Night is held on St. John’s Eve, when bonfires are lit on hilltops. Many towns and cities have “Midsummer Carnivals”, with fairs, concerts and fireworks, around the same time. In County Cork in Southwest Ireland & County Louth in Northeast Ireland the night is commonly referred to as Bonfire Night and is among the busiest nights of the year for the fire services.

Bonfire ashes would be scattered on the crops for good luck. Most troublesome local weeds would be burned in the bonfire to help stave them off. People might strike each other lightly with hocusfian (this may be the stalks of gunnera or giant rhubarb plants growing along the riverbanks) to ward off future illnesses.  Farmers walk through their fields with lit torches and then toss those torches on the bonfire for crop blessing.  

Bonfire Night in County Mayo

In coastal areas of Ireland, fishermen’s boats and nets would be blessed by priests on St John’s Eve. A communal salmon dinner was traditionally served on this day in County Antrim. The sweet milky dish called goody was also served, which sometimes would be prepared at the bonfire in a large pot to be served to younger people.

Traditionally, several species of plants are collected on St. John’s Eve. These vary from area to area, but mostly include fennel, rue and rosemary.  On the Feast of St. John, it is customary to gather the perennial herb St. John’s Wort. Since medieval times, the herb has been hung over doors, windows and icons for protection.

St. John’s Wort

Yarrow has been used since ancient times for healing wounds, and its essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Yarrow was also used as a ward against evil, and traditionally it was burned on the eve of St John’s Day.


Bracken (Pteris aquilina) is sometimes called “brake” or “female fern”. The minute spores of this fern were reputed to confer invisibility on their possessor if gathered at the only time when they were said to be visible, i.e., on St. John’s Eve at the precise moment at which the saint was born.

In Denmark, the celebration is called sankthans or sankthansaften (“St. John’s Eve”). It is the day when the medieval wise men and women would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.

On the island of Puerto Rico, which had been named San Juan Bautista, after the saint, a night-long celebration, called “La Noche de San Juan” is held. After sunset, people travel to a beach or any accessible body of water (e.g. river, lake or even bathtub) and, at midnight, fall backwards into it three, seven or twelve times. This is done to cleanse the body from bad luck and give good luck for the following year.  

The traditional midsummer party in Spain is the celebration in honor of San Juan This is especially strong in north-western areas of Spain where San Xoán festivals take place all over the region; bonfires are lit and a set of firework displays usually takes place.

Bonfire Leaping in Spain

 Many other cities and towns all across Spain having their own unique traditions associated with the festival.  Bonfires of Saint John are the most important festival, and take place from June 20th to June 24th.

Bonfires are also used in the Basque Country to celebrate San Juan Eguna (the feast of St. John the Baptist), which marks the Basque Summer Solstice. In some towns the celebration is supplemented with more festivities and dances.

In Castille and Leon it is highlighted the Firewalking Festival where barefoot men cross the live coals of a prepared bonfire.

 Historically, Saint John’s Eve, as well as the night of the feast day, has been venerated in the practice of Vodou (or voodoo) in Louisiana. The word Vodou is Creole French (Kreyol), of West African origin, meaning “spirit” or “god” and is the name of an animist, spiritual folkway practice which features elements of traditional African spirituality. Roman Catholic iconography became part of these practices during the Diaspora that spread the African people and their traditions all over the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Vodou Altar for St. John’s Eve

Famous 19th century names in the practice of New Orleans Vodou are the original Doctor John and Marie Laveau, the famous Vodou priestess who is said to have held ceremonies at the lake end of Bayou St. John, commemorating St. John’s Eve. Quite a few New Orleans residents keep these traditions alive today.

 Vodou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman performs a cleansing ritual on St. John’s Eve on the bayou’s Magnolia footbridge with participants all wearing white and invoking the spirit of Marie Laveau as the sun goes down. Drumbeats and dancing continue late into the evening.

Priestess Sallie Glassman on Magnolia Bridge, New Orleans

The rich history of this day lives on in each celebration and in the heart of each celebrant.  In whatever way you carry the flame forward, we wish you all the blessings and the bounty that the Midsummer season brings!  

St. Patrick and the Serpent

Saint Patrick’s Day in the United States has devolved from what was once a Catholic feast day into something almost unrecognizable. As we have reexamined the way that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated across the country, people of Mexican and Latin American descent have advocated for a more respectful celebration of the holiday, without the sombreros and caricatures of the culture. St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration which could benefit from some of the same.

Images of drunkenness and one dimensional stereotypes are hurtful for people of all cultures. Since the early days of Irish immigration to the United States, one of the most common insults of Irish immigrants is that they were drunks. In this day Irish people have battled that image, and are assimilated and make up a large percentage of the American population — yet Irish culture to some is still synonymous with the overindulgence of alcohol.

Aside from green beer, there is the also the cocktail known as the Irish Car Bomb. it contains Guinness, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Jameson Irish whiskey. The Irish Car Bomb brings up memories of violence and conflict for many and shouldn’t be ordered in Ireland or anywhere else. One way to put it into perspective is to imagine how Americans would feel to have a drink named after something like 9/11 — horrible, right? 

Those of us who venerate the Old Ways of various cultures such as the Celtic spiritualities and the African Diaspora religions have our own concerns surrounding Saint Patrick. Many people view the image of the serpents being driven out of Ireland as a representation of the destruction of the indigenous faiths.

Serpents are and have been powerful icons in cultures across the world throughout the ages.

Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. The Ourobouros is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life.

In Hinduism the Kundalini is a coiled serpent. The Vision Serpent is a symbol of rebirth in Mayan mythology. Aidophedo of the West African Ashanti people, Quetzalcoatl in Central America. The list goes on and on.

The African Diaspora faiths that evolved from the enslavement of their people during French and Spanish colonialism in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America have survived by syncretizing their Spirits with the Catholic saints, so that their religions could be practiced in secrecy.

Damballah, one of the most beloved of the Lwa in Haitian Vodou is syncretized with Saint Patrick. His Fet, or Feast Day is March 19th, and so is celebrated very close to St. Patrick’s Day. He is commonly represented as a large white horned serpent.

Ya Sezi bo Oungan writes of his experience with Damballah:

“Damballah Wedo is the cosmic serpent divinity of wisdom, purity, coolness, education, reincarnation, birth rebirth and wealth, his counterpart and wife Ayida Wedo, is about the invisible world becoming visible, second sight, and the female side of the tasks Damballa oversees. Damballah and Ayida Wedo can be addressed in nature in several places. Waterfalls, Rivers,and giant ancient trees to name a few. Damballah is often envisioned as a giant white serpent, in some houses he is described as a horned serpent. No matter who he appears to and how he appears in spirit he is an extremely powerful force that is easy to underestimate. Damballah Wedo, among many other Lwa like Papa Loko, Sobo, Bade, and so on are called Racine Lwa, or Root Lwa, they represent the lwa that are the foundation of the tradition. Spirits that were brought from West Africa. Damballah was one of the first Lwa to make their presence known to me.

I used to attend highschool in the Niagara Region of upstate NY, I would often go to Goat island national park to watch the river, and see the falls. At this point in time my time spent with vodou was minimal, my knowledge of local folklore was pretty good though. The early Native Americans from the Hopewell societies worshiped a horned serpent that lived in the lakes, rivers, falls, and other similar areas. When the Iroquois made their way north, they destroyed many things associated with the serpent deities. The last two were said to have avoided destruction by hiding under the falls and under the whirlpool found a mile or so from the falls.

Standing at the falls on both the American and Canadian sides, letting the mist touch you, hearing the tremendous roar of the falls, and the peace that can be found in the crashing of water. It was here that I made a connection for the first time with Damballah. A space that was once the place of reverence for a serpent spirit was nice, but that’s not what was there that day for me. It is important that people seek out the Lwa in the land they are on, from here in New Orleans, to people in the deserts of Arizona, the tech cities of the West, everywhere, the Lwa exist everywhere. Haiti is where their worship is known, but borders are human, and the Lwa transcend human experience, they are bigger than we can comprehend. Vodou is a living religion, the spirits can be experienced by the seeker. There may be lwa that are only in Haiti, but we should ask ourselves the “Why” that has no answer.

The image below was put together by myself based on my experiences, and personal interactions, and painted by S. Alderney it depicts Damballah Wedo, as a horned serpent, above him Sobo, and to the right, Bade in the forms of rams draped in fire, in the mist other smaller horned serpents are seen Ayida Wedo as the rainbow spans the sky.”

As we approach Saint Patrick’s Day, the Spring Equinox, and the Fet Damballah, there is much to celebrate! How we choose to do so will be a reflection of our consciousness and respect for the cultures and traditions we hold.

It is claimed that Saint Patrick recommended partaking of “a wee dram of whiskey” in his honor, for those who are so inclined. Perhaps the wearing of the green – or for Damballah wear white. Honor the Spring as a time of joyously affirming the source of life as the sap rises and the flowers bloom, and the creatures of the Earth awake from Winter’s sleep.

Blessings of Spring!

Rev. Kathi Bonnabel

(cover photo at the top is Damballa Wedo by Haitian artist Andre Pierre (1916-2005)

Brighid’s Healing Well

There are many kinds of healing – spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. Healing for the Earth, for all those suffering oppression and poverty. Healing for communities and individuals as they struggle to grow and to change.  All of this, and more can be found through the blessings of the Lady Brighid.

The waters from Brighid’s Well are an ever-flowing source of sustenance, strength, abundance, and healing.    This is the source of life itself.  Like Brighid’s Well, your cup is ever flowing and abundant. This is your cup of healing waters.   Know that these waters of hope, healing, and wholeness are there for you whenever you need them.

We invite you to join us and ask for her blessings on February 2nd which is the celebration of Imbolc, or Candlemas. It signifies the life that is stirring in the Earth, the hope of renewal and Winter’s end.

For more information, a copy of the ceremony, or a link to the virtual gathering please email: