Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Divinatory Reading from CCM Headquarters

This reading kickstarts our new series of regular divinatory readings from

Chalmette Candle Ministry Headquarters

This month we focus on the economy.

Reading I / October 20, 2008 in which
the collective consciousness concerning the energetics of money becomes the meditation.

By examining the collective synergy of our nation’s money consciousness we are invited to meditate on the ways we, as individuals, can bring our own financial paradigms into more poignant balance. We are also invited to open to a deeper understanding – via economics - concerning the place where we live (and therefore also co-create).

There is no doubt that we are at a powerful crossroads moment concerning our economic consciousness. For example, a larger financial patterning is acquiring visibility at this time that will lead to scholarship concerning economics which will, in turn, lead to a wave of scholarly publications in the following years. It is important that those interested in economic patterns revivify their understanding of history – that is, it is imperative that patterns (what we will here call history) are interpreted according to new, expanded hermeneutical lenses. The old models no longer work.

This is particularly important because there is a suspect desire to return to a notion of “tradition” – the feeling of safety is fiercely desired at this time and a desire for “tradition” is being falsely linked to notions of “safety.” This energy, in nature, is patriarchal, and, if elected, will direct our gaze backwards, not forwards.

The message here is clear: to look backwards is to tell ourselves a story that is not true about who we are (as individuals, as a nation) for the fleeting illusion of feeling a sense of “safety.”

To look backwards in this manner recalls those individuals who long for a Garden of Eden scenario: a time that was more “pure.” Such a mind-set does not honor difference or the ways that multiple interpretations open our questions, and it is through such openness that actual, effective strategies for national and individual economic healing and advancement present themselves. To look backwards is not good for the earth or women, in particular, and if this path is elected we will see another wave of oppression for both.

To look backwards will not, as has been said, benefit the earth. This is because it is a mindset which does not create a generative dynamic between yin and yang energy (which births change and new strategies). If this mindset is elected, look for divorce rates as well colon cancer rates to rise on a national level.

Instead of focusing our energies on drumming up a sensation of security (which is not the same as actual security), we need to use our energies and resources in the field of imagination. Truth and reality are two different experiences. Our realities need to come into alignment with our truths. Imagination is the bridge.

On a positive note, at least in terms of the collective energy, the conditions are certainly conducive for Obama to move into office. A powerful portal is open right now for our country which assists ushering in major change – and this can only help his position. It is possible on election night, there will be drama around the state of Florida or having to do with the state of Florida. At any rate, Florida registers in this reading, though the reasons are not completely clear. Israel also registers, again for reasons that not are completely clear at this time. It is very important that those who support Obama with their energy keep up that work (however that looks for individuals) until the very last moment. I say as much because it is important to respect the powerful nature of the portal described above – it is a portal that deals with intense change-energy, which is, by its nature, (divinely but still) unstable. It is also interesting to note that a spike in pregnancies will occur on election night.

The question festering in the heart of our collective economic situation is a simple one:

Where should energy be placed to create the most life-affirming outcome?

It would do us well to study permaculture models in terms of healing and shifting our economic paradigm. The language and strategies of permaculture have a lot to say to economic principles. We must shift our paradigm from either/or to and – or, spectrum based consciousness and deepen our understanding of the interconnected nature of the national and global economy. Individuals who wish to work with this lesson are encouraged to bring permaculture models into their thinking about their economic situation and how they see money working in their lives.

When we look to the energy that orbits this issue of economics, several things arise.

In the south there is a saying: it doesn’t matter if you believe in ghosts, because the ghosts believe in you. In other words, what we can’t see – or don’t give recognition to – will, at times, meet us anyway. Right now the earth – as a being – is willing to believe in us again, should we receive her, and even though we have, collectively as a nation and through our policies, not believed in her for a very long time. Looking into the energy around this, I am humbled and astonished by the earth’s generosity. Like us, she longs to survive.

Technologies which are born of the union of yin and yang energy – technologies which harness the seeming energy of contradiction to generate substance and balance – are also in-coming. These technologies wish to be downloaded into human consciousness and we can ask to receive this energy consciously and have it enter and radicalize our individual economic experiences as well.

In terms of radically shifting our economic experience, we need to seriously be examining the notion of “partnership.” This is an inventory that should be taken at every level of experience by individuals and thus includes our romantic partnerships (where we so often live out what partnership means – whether consciously or unconsciously). It would do us very well to, when we consider our intimate partnerships, "make the connection”: how we live partnership in our private lives says a great deal about how we live our partnership as a nation. Of course there are discrepancies between our personal and national experiences; nonetheless, the energy at this time calls us to make this connection. There is information in so doing.

At a foundational level, so much of our economic history, reality, and truth is about shadow work. It is time for the lion to lay down with the lamb. We can no longer afford to minimize suffering – to relegate it to the margins, the ghettos of our national and individual consciousness. The crack house and the White House – the lion and the lamb – we must see that one feeds the other, that the two are partners, always changing places in a dance of interdependence.

The ways capitalism has privatized the western experience has resulted in a decline of vigilance – a willingness to see, without filters, the entire picture. Consider, for example, the language of advertising - the ways in which a “good product” reinforces “privacy." The SUV or automobile which is such a good product you cannot hear the road or anything at all outside of the field of the vehicle…the home in the gated community which separates you from “the riff-raff”…the mass-produced clothing which assures you of your “uniqueness.” In addition, and in terms of our individual experience, we must come to terms with the way our identities (which can be very expensive to fund) have become a shadow dance experience – a place that keeps us in a PTSD like loop and prevents our energy from generating abundance and keeps us in a “survival mode” rather than in a thriving mode.

As a nation of consumers we have allowed our greatest strength to become a point of weakness by not exploring our shadow nature around consumption. Looking at the collective energetic body of our nation, it is revealed that we do not understand generosity and how it functions. That, in fact, generosity generates. Internationally this dynamic plays out between our nation and other nations as such: we are biting the hands that feed us and/or we are force-feeding others. If this continues, our hands will be bitten off completely and we will alienate ourselves from those that would be in a positive, reciprocal economic relationship with our nation. Looking from the collective to the individual, it is also noted that as individuals we do not know how to use money in terms of self-love and affirmation. The wires are crossed between these two and keeps us in non-productive energetic loops. For those who have this lesson, it is advisable to locate and work with the tools that can shift and heal these crossed wires so that the two dynamics - self love & money energetics - can support and benefit one another.

Individuals who have credit card issues or who spend the majority of their money on reinforcing their identity through things (gadgets, clothes, cars, and so on) would do well to revisit the law of Skillful Will: working with what you already have to create the most poignant outcome. The rules of acquiring abundance include: 1. cultivating an infrastructure capable of receiving and holding (so that money doesn’t leave as quickly as it comes in), and 2.using what you already have to generate more. The bloom exists in the seed though we cannot always see it. We must identify the seeds of abundance that already exist in our own lives and plant them (key to do as “a hard winter comes”). In terms of economics, this has to do with the principle of diversification. We must first diversify our own holdings – to see what else they offer that we have been previously unaware of. It would do us well to examine our skills because our skills are a little like our brains: we often only realize and utilize 10% of what they can do for us. This work must be done on an individual, energetic level and carried through the outer, physical experience.

Key healing/shifting paradigms for economic issues right now: reciprocity, vision (imagination), and surrender (surrendering our dysfunctional relationship to money and depleting/unhelpful strategies which create financial self-sabotage).

Those individuals who do energy work on behalf of the nation and/or planet are called to lend energy to this issue of economics. Such individuals should especially focus on the concept of vision: asking that a powerful vision(s) flow through all areas that involve economics. The dynamic of vision, in particular, needs all the assistance it can get at this time.

Despite the dire economic situation (and strong indications that things will continue to be very trying for business owners and that a recession will acquire more powerful form) on an energetic level there is really a divine opportunity here. The current economic situation is “in process” – it will be a journey to be sure. But it a journey which can entertain expanded vision which can truly set a different course if we will collectively cultivate the dynamics of vision, reciprocity, and surrender.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

C O N V E R S A T I O N S: Lou Florez

It is with great joy that the Chalmette Candle Ministry Blog kicks off a new series, Conversations.

Conversations will feature virtual-talks with ministers, rootworkers, healers, herbalists, teachers, and other spiritually inclined practitioners, and we hope you'll subscribe to the CCM Blog and stay tuned for a range of discussions in which fascinating aspects of spiritual practice are explored.

We begin our series with Shango priest, Lou Florez. Raised in a culturally Hispanic Catholic home with deep connections to both the Saints and the ancestors, at an early age Lou was introduced to Mayan and Aztec elders in his community who recognized his potential to be a bridge between passed generations and those to come, as well as exhibiting the signs of being a gifted Spirit Worker and Teacher.

Lou has long been committed to a disciplined study and practice and this commitment has seen him study and apprentice with very esteemed elders in many diverse traditions including Hoodoo, Voodoo, Curanderismo, and Wiccan.

An initiate to an Ifa Temple and a confirmed Priest of Shango, Lou is beloved by his community and clients alike, and runs the wildly popular advice column blog, Metaphysical Advice for the New Age.

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Selah (on behalf of Chalmette Candle Ministry): Let’s chat about divination. Several years ago I started to think of divination, yes, as an “event,” but also as a paradigm – a mode of engagement that could be lived. During this time I was also influenced by authors C.D. Wright and Anne Carson who spoke about writing in terms of seeing and vision. Wright talked about it never being an issue of “writing better” but rather of “seeing better.” As a strategy for generating narrative, Carson talked not about “writing,” but about knowing where to position herself in order to see the intersections of things that are already happening. Vigilance + positioning yourself for the blessing of narrative…I mean...as a mode of engagement.

So, I began to re-think the notion of “inspiration” as a kind of visitation-experience, and though I think it can still work that way, it is more poignant and generative for me to think of inspiration as a condition that is always-there-always-present that I can wake to (or not).

Thus the desire to position myself for the blessing of the odd and terrible and beautiful narratives the human experience generates feels vital, precious at times, always necessary. There is a way that a pattern language is at work that we can tune into anywhere and be deeply blessed by what the information suggests.

I wonder if you can speak to your relationship with divination – how it influences your life and what your relationship to it is. What does your experience of being a diviner suggest to you about life, the human experience?

Lou Florez: Here is a sign that the Universe and Spirit work through Synchronicity. I was just having a long talk with an elder that I work with about our experiences as diviners, and we both came up with more questions than answers. I have been divining since I was fifteen and have tried out several oracles, everything from tarot, to tea leaves, to throwing chicken bones. Lets just say that I have a very eclectic taste in life.

Throughout all of it, there was and still is a sense that I am tapping into the same vital force of everything in creation, some call it the Creator, Spirit, God, the Universe, but the only difference that I have found is in how that information gets relayed through the personality of the oracle. My experience tells me that “divination” is not just an “event” but that it is a lens through which we can begin to fully “see” the world.

I have always been a fascinated by world mythology, and loved Greek mythos since I was very young. The understanding is that when we die, in the Ancient Greek worldview, we go to the underworld where there lie two rivers: the river of forgetfulness, and the river of the dead. Apparently we must first cross over the river of the dead, and then drink from the river of forgetfulness before we are allowed to reincarnate back into this world. The point that I am making is that through the lens of divination, we are literally re-membering ourselves, our true natures, and what our lives are meant to be like in this world.

I would also like to uplift a point that you have made so eloquently: divination/ inspiration as “a condition that is always-there-always-present that I can wake to (or not).” For me that is the whole of a divinatory experience. Divination is not in the cards, the leaves, or the bones. Instead it is a form of presence which is always there if one wants to find it. I think that people often confuse an oracle, i.e. the tarot and such, for the actual act of divining. Divination for me is inherently an active state of being, I believe that if you look at the root of the word, divinare, to be “inspired” by god, you can start to understand what I mean.

Finally, I want to leave you with two interesting tidbits of information to ponder. The first is autochthonous, which is defined as “what arises from a place,” and the second word is teminous, “to set aside or mark off a space for divination.” I think that when we look closely at differing ritual forms of divination the most important and sacred act is the inner space that we are demarcating, and through this space we are letting our own inner Spirit, Sophia, arise and take form.

CCM: In your experience, what do you think rootwork’s place in contemporary culture is?

LF: Honestly, I think that it is starting to become a dieing art form. It seems to me that real rootworkers are being replaced by no talent hacks who are looking for a quick buck at the expense of others. I come from a line of workers who fought to keep the tradition secret, not out of greed, but because they knew the power that they were working with, but I digress.

For me personally, rootworkers have always been the medicine makers of the people, those who were willing to literally take one for the team. You can still see the esteem that true medicine folk have within certain communities, and how much they are there to work on behalf of the people.

I know you are speaking of the work and not the practitioner per se, but for me the work and worker are the same. That’s why the elders say that one begins to become the work that one does. I have seen people become hollowed out shells, because of how much negative work they have done against others. Sometimes the need arises, but the question is: what is the cost of the work to the practitioner and channel of that energy.

Anywho, to really answer your question, and not to just go on a diatribe, I would say that rootwork’s place in contemporary society is that of being a true spiritual Creole. It acts as a bridge between what has come before and what is to come by asking the practitioner to hold a third space; a space of invention, creativity, and reawakening to an understanding of the sacred, the powerful, in everyday life.

CCM: I am very intrigued by this notion of the “third space"... we’ll have to explore this topic in more depth in a future conversation some time! In terms of rootwork being a dying art – and at times a realm where unfortunately there are some disreputable people claiming to be authentic rootworkers or diviners, I’d like to re-iterate the importance of doing proper research when looking into working with a diviner or practitioner of any kind. Sometimes we choose our manicurist with more care than we choose our diviner! Some things to consider if any of our readers are looking for a diviner: Does the diviner use their real name and offer a legit bio? Can he or she offer past client testimonials upon request? Are the prices congruent with the worker's claims? I’d also like to give big props to Catherine Yronwode owner of Lucky Mojo Curio Co. who promotes high-quality industry standards (and, I think, sets the bar), and works hard to ensure the good name of authentic rootwork. And this is also true of Cat’s colleague, Dr. Kioni.

But switching gears a bit, I want to talk about altars. We’ve had some lovely talks about altars and altar work, and there is nothing I love more than a visit to your altar space. I want to ask you a straightforward question about altars: What is one and how would you describe what an altar is and does? What does it mean to work an altar for someone else?

LF: Well, for once I will give you a straight-forward answer. An altar is a power spot that is set aside as a space in which one converges with the divine to make things manifest. Usually there are symbols, tools, and other curios which are placed into the space with the specific intent of catalyzing a direct action in the Universe. Most, if not all, work is based upon the principles of attraction and repulsion, in some form or fashion, i.e. you want to sweeten a situation you work a honey jar, you want someone to leave you alone, you work a four thieves vinegar jar.

As to working an altar on behalf of someone, it’s pretty much the same process with a few changes. Usually there are more personal affects of the client on the altar as a way of channeling the energy to them. I also sequester the space away from any workings that I am doing personally so as to not meld those energies into mine. I like to stay as psychically clean from others workings as possible. I also do a breaking bath when I am done working on someone, so I can cut the energetic ties I have with it.

I also think that one has to really think about what will be effective for the client, and not use oneself as a template for somebody else’s work. Sometimes the client has different resistances to certain types of work, and having a good understanding of them will help you to avert those resistances, as opposed to saying well this helped me, it should help them.

CCM: From altars to some of the things we do on them…I’d like to ask you a few questions about long-term workings. Take, for example, a Honey Jar…do you ever notice long-term workings kicking down…how to put it…blueprints for thinking? For example, I notice the longer I keep a Prosperity working/altar, the more I get these one-liner type messages I jot down. I’ve started to see these messages as strategies for how to engage with particular kinds of energy that unfold and become applicable to my life. I ask clients who are willing to keep altars and/or long-term workings to consider keeping a journal or notebook because I believe the work is truly communicative. I wonder if you could share a bit about your relationship with long-term workings, your thoughts about them, and perhaps some of the things you’ve learned along the way?

LF: I completely agree that the work is communicative in so many ways. For me, the journaling process started out by observing if a working literally “worked” or not. Then it became much more of its own working in which I feel like I am actually dialoging between the “work”, the “Universe,” and myself. I also think that it is vitally important that these journals get passed down to next generation of workers as a legacy of those who came before.

It’s funny to be asked about long term work, because I just haven’t been feeling it for the last three years. I used to have many ongoing jars and charms and such, but they fizzled out or became more of a tether to outdated patterns and ways of being. I think that sometimes we need to start workings anew because they can freeze us to a person who no longer exists within the self as we stand today.

I also am of the school that thinks that a working is not just a “thing” but an actual energetic entity, and for me three months seems to be the point from birth to maturity. From that point on, it doesn’t seem to need to be fed anymore because it learns to feed itself and live without the physicality of the charm. I am not sure if that is making much sense, but that’s how I am working at this moment.

The only charm that I have had consistently has been a house protection charm which I made about ten years ago. It lives close to my door, and I don’t mess with it until I move to a new place. It is the first one in the door and the last one out.

CCM: On your blog (a spiritually oriented advice column) you reach out to readers in a voice which celebrates the sensual and in this way, includes the body. One reader wrote in concerning how to heal a broken heart, and I was struck by the compassion I sensed in your response. In that moment, I felt the deeper meanings of the body’s inclusion in terms of the blog. I was reminded, for example, of how the body holds grief and how the body has a wisdom that is capable of crying out, a voice in the wilderness if you will.

I want to connect this reflection to another thing I know about you. Which is that you have done extensive scholarly research on eroticism, in particular eroticism as Askesis within Orisha centered communities of color. Can you speak about your interest in the erotic, how you sense its implications, in terms of spirit work?

LF: I think that the erotic is first and foremost the reason there is spirit work. The erotic is so much more than just sex. It’s a connection with the totality of your being on all levels. It is the honey, so to speak, which connects and gives us the ability to relate. I think that for any working to be a success it has to, at its core, be connected to the erotic nature of the self. Going back to what I said earlier about the worker becoming the work, if one works through the erotic, through the innate self love, wisdom, and ultimate healer-quality that lies within the self, the work will always come from a place of blessing. That’s the reason why, even if I am working “against” someone for a client or myself, it comes from a place of love, in which I am loving myself so much that I will no longer tolerate this person around the client or myself any longer.

I also think that the erotic is inherent to how we connect to the plants, animals, minerals, and curios that we use in workings. It is through our connections to these materials that we are able to bond and form relationships, which are then used to catalyze the changes that are needed in our lives. It is these relationships which actualize the medicine in the materials, and without it, no working would be successful.

Finally, I want to point to the importance of the erotic in how one learns and passes down magickal traditions. It does not matter if one is learning from a book, or a person, but there is a connection and trust that is established and it is through this erotic relationship that information, experience, and techniques are learned and ultimately passed to new generations of students.

CCM: Well, the John the Conqueror candle on the altar has made three loud pop sounds and so of course I have to ask you about it! And thinking about it now, I can’t imagine not. What’s your take and experience with John the Conqueror?

LF: I gotta love me some High John the Conqueror Root in all its forms. I have used it in almost every mojo bag I have ever made, because it takes possession of the situation fast. As you can tell, I have a tendency to be a bit of a fiery person, and I love it because it has that fiery personality. If there is one thing I hate, it is waiting. Patience is not a virtue in my house…even if I exaggerate, I really love it.

The first recipe that was ever given to me was a simple one. I was told to find the biggest High John that I could find, take a knife and cut a slot in it all the way through. Next I was to write what I wanted on a small piece of paper, and fold it three times. Then I was to insert it, and wrap a piece of my hair around it and spit on it. Finally I was to either build a fire and throw it in, or take it to a river and throw it with my back facing the water, over my left shoulder, and walk away. It works every time, usually within three days.

CCM: Speaking of the number three...what three things (herbs, roots, curios, etc) do you always have on hand, hell or high-water?

LF: Wow, I feel like I am on Survivor Rootworker!

CCM: Now there is an idea for a fine television show!

LF: Ok, if I have to narrow it down to three things that I always have on hand, they would be Salt, Rosemary, and Efun. Salt is great for every working, because it holds the charge and intent of whatever it is you are doing. It is also great as a way of taking negative things off a person. A simple clearing is just to rub yourself down with some salt and stand under the shower until its all been cleared away.

Rosemary is amazing, because it cuts, clears, tonifies, strengthens, and heals. Its an all in one herb, and can really help you out in a pinch. I have been using one of your recipes, I think you called it the Fountain of Youth Water, and I have really vibed both with the process and the results. It’s one of the simplest and effective beauty recipes that I have seen. I decided to chew the Rosmary, instead of crushing it, so as to amp up the potency. I am not sure if this is something you want to share publicly, but I highly recommend it.

CCM: I'm so glad you like the Fountain of Youth Water. It is an old recipe, one popular even in my grandmother's day, and can be made with herbal variations, but primarily features Rosemary which is, as you point out, a diverse herb and even includes youth/beauty/glamour applications. But I interupted you, you were about to speak about Efun...

LF: Efun is the best protection I have ever found. Its tradItionally a substance found in West Africa that is white and comes from big pits in the earth. In the New World, it is made from powdered eggshell. If you have ever felt like you are being hot-footed or worse, you take some Efun and make a paste out of it with a little bit of fresh coconut water. You smear the paste all over your head, and specifically around your crown, and you put a white head wrap on. It will keep you cool, and protected, and will stave off the negative working until you can take more definitive steps.

CCM: What is captivating your attention and fascinating you at the moment, in terms of your own work/cultivation?

LF: I have been working with the idea of rootworking as an art form, specifically in paintings, sculpting, sewing, etc….I think its fascinating to embed a working in art and see what effect it has on the viewer. I know that many artists are playing with setting intentions and putting themselves in meditative states as they are working, but I have been experimenting with taking that idea further and actually charming the piece.

I have used powered herbs, roots, and curios, as well as different spiritual waters and washes to build “living” art works which captivate and catalyze different changes in the viewer. Most of the workings that I have created in this way have centered around prosperity, happiness, and self love, but I want to try a protective charm in one and see what happens.

I like experimenting with charms in this way, so as to literally hide them in plain sight. You can walk right past them, and not even guess that there is a working inside of it.

CCM: Well, Lou, thank you so much for your time and this wraps up our first conversation in Chalmette Candle Ministry Blog's new series, Conversations. Thank you for your time and for sharing your thoughts.

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If you have questions about Lou's upcoming workshop schedule, blog, or the healing and divination services he offers, he can be contacted at: spiral777@hotmail.com

Images, from top to bottom: Lou Florez, Lou Florez and friend Sherry Gobaleza, Lou Florez, home temple
Cat Yronwode and Dr. Christos Kioni - both mentioned during this conversation - can be found here...
Cat Yronwode's Lucky Mojo Curo Co & do check out the
fabulous Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour hosted by Dr. Kioni

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jeni Ballantyne Auction

Chalmette Candle Ministry is in support of the upcoming charity auction for Jeni Ballantyne. Our prayers are with Jeni, her family, and the many friends who are creating portals through which the energy of support and love may flow.

Reading By the Light of the Altar

This text was written for our first CCM Newsletter,
February 2007

In 1999 I traveled throughout Italy with my partner. During our travels, there were many moments in which I was moved. I would like to talk about one moment, in particular. In it there was a door. A man holding a torch opened it. It led into the catacombs. It was the day after Christmas, on the outskirts of Rome.

There were about ten people gathered at the door. Before we descended, the guide lit another torch and gave it to a volunteer so that there would be two light sources: one leading the group and one capping it off. This way, the guide said, we would be book-ended in light. It was important to be book-ended in light because, the guide told us, people just die down there.

He told stories of people who went in and never came out. How at one time the mafia used it as a place to dispose of enemies. He told us that once the Italian equivalent of a boy scout got lost on a guided tour and had never been seen again.

The catacombs are a maze. The guide said that they had been mapped, but not completely. Like space, he said, you go so far and then you don’t know. He said that this was no Lock Ness monster situation. It was real. The danger was Death and not haunted house death, but Real Death and Real Death is not discriminating. It takes who it wants according to a logic we cannot understand.

As soon as we descended and twisted around a corner the guide stopped walking. Now, he said, to make a point.

He called for a volunteer. A tall, awkward teenaged boy raised his hand. Take five steps forward, the guide said. Oh do be careful! the boy’s mother said. But, said the guide, you must take no more than five steps. The teenaged boy took five steps and with each step he moved away from the group and into an inky erasure of darkness. The guide asked if we could see him. We could not. It’s cold, the boy said. Yes, the guide said, it is.

After the point was made, we moved deeper into the tangled catacombs. I asked the guide how he knew where to go and how to get back, into the world. We must memorize three pathways, the guide said. We must be able to feel the lines of those pathways at all times in our minds. That he said, and I carry a map which includes the main tunnel routes.

Occasionally we would stop and the guide would tell stories. Here a famous woman is buried. There: fifteen early martyrs. He showed us the earliest Western representation of the Madonna and child painted in the 1st century. He showed us shattered pottery shards from previous communions when the early Christians would secretly meet to celebrate mass. Every ten to fifteen minutes the guide would do what he called a check-in. Everyone would look for the person they came with to make sure they were still there and then everyone would have to say so out loud. People did this all at once and it made a padded grumbling sound in the deep darkness.

The catacombs architecture was varied. In some places the ceilings were low and in some places so high you could not see the ceiling at all. In one particular narrow passage the guide stopped. Perhaps you may wonder, he said, how the builders of the catacombs knew their way in and out. Everyone wondered. They too had to memorize the passage ways, the guide said, can you imagine. No one could. But, he said, there were some clues.

The passageway was lined with cubbies, the length of adult bodies, stacked one atop the other. The guide brought his torch low to the ground and then slowly raised it as high as it would go, towards the ceiling. The very top cubby was not as long as the others. It was short, about the length of an adult arm. The guide told us that the very top cubbies were for babies. Oh that’s so sad, said the mother of the teenaged boy.

Abandoned babies left to die at various crossroads in Rome would be gathered by catacomb workers who would then strategically place the baby corpses at the top of walls where certain corners met, and these dead babies formed a grid and this grid was like a language, and if you knew how to read it, you could navigate your way out of the catacombs should you become lost. Yes, the guide said, a language of dead babies, though not a language anyone remembers now, the interpretive key lost to time. Did they care about the babies, the woman of the teenaged boy asked. Not really, said the guide, it was more of a logistical thing. Jeepers, she said.

As we wound deeper and deeper I found myself next to the guy holding the rear book-ending torch. Staying in the thick of the group had begun to feel claustrophobic. The guy holding the torch wasn’t a very good torch holder. For example, when I slipped behind him he didn’t even notice. I let myself fall three steps behind the group. Then five. Then ten. I let the group round a bend and waited for six seconds then another six seconds. I finally let myself stand still for forty seconds as the group moved on, turning a corner I could not see. What I felt then was a particular sensation, like I knew where I was, even in the pitch black darkness. It was a feeling of knowing where I was exactly.

The pitch dark was Holy Darkness and I had this strange sensation that somewhere inside of me I knew how to navigate the house of Real Death by reading the graves of babies, a language read with eyes closed. It was the language of Persephone. And when I thought of Persephone, something whispered to me from the darkness: you are Persephone. The feeling was that I wanted to stay. The feeling was that if I didn’t have to worry about food and concerned people above ground, I would stay down there and be content to wander in the Holy Darkness.

When we re-entered the shrill overcast day light, our eyes hurt. A man claimed he felt disoriented. The teenaged boy asked if there was a snack-stand around. The guide revealed he was in fact Dutch and upon further inquiry, also a devout Catholic who believed in efficiency. I bet, he said, you are all glad to see the light of day.

For a long time I could close my eyes and draw up the feeling I had in the catacombs. It would begin in the space between my stomach and heart and it would spread outwards, slowly, like a dark moth unfolding its wings within me. It was the Holy Darkness feeling. Eventually I lost my ability to conjure the sensation. Since Chalmette Candle Ministry has been underway I’ve been thinking about the Holy Darkness feeling. John O’Donohue, in his book ANAM CARA, suggests that if we journey into the deep interior mazes of our own souls we should take a candle with us rather than a flashlight with its harsh beams. He suggests that we read into the mysterious chambers of our hearts with the kind of light that honors mystery itself; the kind of light which embodies the dance between revelation and concealment – the holy known and the holy unknown, where the energy of possibility dreams. This kind of light allows for mystery - and at times painful ambiguity - because God requires the full spectrum in order to be known, and this spectrum includes both light and dark within its expression. Reading our most interior soul places by the light of candles we begin to see the shadow shapes of patterns. We begin to experience the reading of these shadows as the moment-act of prayer itself.

Like the night sky in which stars are always being born while others are simultaneously receding, at Chalmette Candle Ministry we have seen patterns arrive and depart. The practice of keeping the candle ministry is the practice of living prayer, a mandala consciousness which, because it is living, is always changing and sending up the shimmerings of new suggestions, implications, meanings.

We read by many lights – and within any one light, there are many more lights which reveal new readings. I do not know where these readings end. Like space and the catacombs, perhaps they don’t. Perhaps the process of revelation - when revelation allows for mystery - is enough, does not require a known ending or limit.

Chalmette Candle Ministry has taught us that the process of revelation is constant – the patterns are always changing. We have watched cancer prayer candle requests fill our altars for weeks at time, and then watched how this pattern gave way to requests for people in the process of dying – those preparing for the transformed experience of Real Death - and we watched how these requests yielded into many concerning children – sick ones, very small ones, ones that had been lost to life through untimely death or other choices, ones who would only live a short while, ones who were struggling to stay longer through machines and other frightening complications. And so on.

The love behind each and every one of these requests was intentional and powerful. We felt that energy every time we read the original petition, said prayers, and prepared and lit the candles. We formed energetic relationships grounded in love for these people.

We would like to thank each of our friends – the ones who have participated in the web of light by hosting candle vigils and thus extending this ministry, and for those friends who came into our lives via the altar. Though we may not know you personally, we extend to you the special friendship that is a pattern all its own, born of prayer mandala consciousness, the mystical rose.

Before Chalmette Candle Ministry our lives were like most: too busy, up/down, full, rich in textures – beautiful and difficult. Our lives are still like that, but with the added experience of having an amazing opportunity to connect to God in a more profound way every day. Mother Teresa, I think, had it right when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”. What I’ve remembered is how much I want to love people. Here’s wishing you love. Enough love. And even more than that.

Chalmette Candle Ministry Headquarters
February 2007

History of Chalmette Candle Ministry

Close to midnight, on New Year’s Eve 2006, at a crossroads in rural Louisiana, and through a miraculous encounter, Chalmette Candle Ministry was born!

At the crossroads that night we met a man who said it was his mission to be a portal for beauty and strength in the world.

He asked if we loved tigers. Having never been asked this question, we were surprised to find ourselves saying with enthusiasm that we did. This was because what was happening in that moment was magical. When we said we loved tigers, it was with a passion not logical when in proximity to the fact that we had never really thought about tigers, not really.

The man began to talk about tigers and said he had so many that they filled a FEMA trailer. He said he was here for Beauty, and that he wanted there to be more and more of it. He said that this world needs tigers. He happened to have a statue of a tiger for sale. An immediate sensation of love for this statue arose and we exchanged a small sum of money for it. The man told us to enjoy its amazing beauty, and then we were back on the road.

Once in the car we found we could hardly keep our eyes off the tiger statue. We turned on the car light and drove with it on for hours so we could see him. As we drove deeper into the night and into the New Year, we found ourselves inside a litany of praise for the statue’s beauty.

What happened next is difficult to explain. A miraculous energy began to permeate everything, and the only way we know how to talk about it is to say: the tiger told us things. He told us his name was Chalmette, which is where he lived before Hurricane Katrina. He told us he was a portal of energy, and was to be used in a community prayer candle altar, a ministry. He told us how to proceed.

As soon as we got home we created Chalmette Candle Ministry Headquarters, a home temple space outfitted with a small Southern rootwork apothecary for setting lights across five different altars. Since January 2007 we have set just over two hundred lights and made petitions on behalf of others. Many vigils last three days; however, we’ve had quite a few going for many, many months. In the tradition of the Spiritual Church Movement, we fix our candles with sacred oils, herbs, and other substances, pray over, light, and tend to the candles.

This ministry is an interfaith expression of love and vigilance and is here for you and the ones you care about.

Your friends at Chalmette Candle Ministry