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.
* * *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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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