The new cycle of diloggun classes

Hello Everyone:

Emails are coming in asking about the next Basic Course in Casting Diloggún. The next course will be on Mondays, 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM EST. It is an online course taught through WebEx. The start date is Monday, July 28th. It is a 16 week course, and tuition is $200.00.

Seats tend to go quickly, so please register as soon as possible. For a syllabus, email me at bstuartmyers@gmail.com or ochanilele@gmail.com.

Thank you so much.
Ócháni

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For those who are asking

I’ve had two drop-outs from the Basic Course in Casting Diloggún, scheduled to begin on Thursday, May 29th. The time is 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM, Eastern Standard Time. It is taught through webex.com. If you would like a seat please email me at bstuartmyers@gmail.com OR ochanilele@gmail.com. Seats go on a first come, first paid basis.

Thank you so much:
Ócháni Lele

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Five Things Every Aleyo Needs to Know

1. Spiritual and Religious Studies: The study of the religion needs to be a daily practice, no matter how long you have been in the faith. You will need to learn customs, practices, and protocols. You will need to learn how to pray. You will need to learn Lucumí, the liturgical language. You will need to learn how to move in the religious world, following customs and dictates that may seem archaic and, at times, unfair. All this study requires work; and, no, I’m not talking about hours poring over books, manuscripts, and internet forums. The simple truth is: If you want to learn this religion, you need to learn it from the ground up. The work is hard, laborious, and back breaking. It might seem thankless; it might seem pointless; it might seem like slave labor. Some of the rules might seem overbearing. But we all had to do the work; we all had to follow the rules. Work is worship, and worship is hard, physical work. If you’re not visiting your godparent’s house regularly doing something (cleaning the orisha room, polishing tools, helping set up and clean up before and after religious services, etc) you’re not going to learn anything. Period.

2. Divination and Ebó: The Lucumí life has always been one of divination and ebó. Divination is hard work; every diviner spends thousands of hours studying the mechanics, patakís, proverbs, meanings, and ebós that accompany the odu. There are 256 odu, 192 which every Lucumí diviner not an oriaté has access to. Consider each odu a book; your diviner must study, memorize, learn, and assimilate the knowledge of 192 books before he can begin divining for you. If it’s an oriaté, he has to study, memorize, learn, and assimilate the knowledge of 256 books. The average person reads a book a year after high school, and maybe 1 1/2 books after receiving a college degree. If you are an average college graduate, between the age of 21 (when many receive their degrees) and 85 (the average human life span) you will read only 64 books in your lifetime. This is why diviners charge derechos; it is work to learn divination, and it took us a lot of private time to acquire the skills needed. It’s not an intuitive act where we make it up on the fly; it’s a discipline that requires dedication.

Every time you have divination performed, you will end up with one or more ebós to do. Some of these are to solve problems; some of them are to regain and maintain health; some of them are to benefit your friends and family; and, some of them are just because the orishas want them from you in your worship. Some olorishas charge a derecho to perform ebó (since it does require an amount of their time, knowledge, and ashé) while some won’t. Still, materials for ebó always cost money. Try asking a grocery store to give you a basket of fruits or a bouquet of flowers for free — it won’t happen.

3. Worship- Religion, prayer, kind thoughts, kind words, spirituality, meditation — it’s all free. It costs you nothing to identify yourself as Lucumí. It costs nothing to pray to an orisha, especially an orisha you’ve received. Anyone can think kind thoughts; anyone can speak kind words. To meditate, all you have to do it take the time to relax and open up to the ashé Olorún pours over the earth. And it costs you nothing to be spiritual. But ceremonies cost money. There are soperas to buy, tools to buy, herbs to buy, animals to buy, igbodu supplies to buy, and other things we can’t speak to aleyos about. People have to take time off from work or give up their day off to come perform what most would consider “grunt” or thankless labor. Either we lose a day’s pay or we give up our day of rest to come together to work for your benefit. Sometimes it’s both — and several of them. It would be nice if all this time and labor could be given for free. It would be nice if I could walk into a botanica and walk out with beautiful, necessary items without paying for them. It would be nice to drive 40 or 50 miles to the nearest farm and walk away with beautiful, healthy animals without having to pay for gas or the animals. But it’s not happening.

If you can’t afford to receive an orisha, just go to your godparent’s house on a regular basis to visit, worship, and make ebó. If you can’t afford to do ocha, don’t make it a huge issue for your godparent or other priests to resolve. Quietly save as best as you can, and realize that your godparent’s orishas (from whose yours will be born anyway) are there for you when you need them. And if you don’t believe receiving an orisha should cost you a dime, then try to find a utopian society where everything is free. I don’t think that exists.

Of course there are times that the orishas will demand an ile come together and crown someone for free. But this is based on divination; there is only one odu that calls for this, and the chances for that to be the solution to your problems are very slim, indeed. If you want ocha made, prepare to finance it yourself.

4. Service- Everything you’ve read in the Migene Gonzalez-Wippler books is wrong. Ocha is not about power. Ocha is about service. And the orishas, not you, get to pick the life of service that an olorisha lives. Some of you will make ocha and grow up to be the godmothers and godfathers to thousands. Some of you might crown one head in your lifetime. Some of you might be the ojigbona but never the godparent. A very tiny number might grow into the ashé to be an oriaté. Some of you will be destined to be the personal caretakers of your orishas and will never serve another aleyo or olorisha in the religion, not ever. Some of you will be closed in ocha, never allowed to work the religion for anyone.

And here’s one more secret very few will tell you: some of you are meant to be no more than aleyos; and that, my friends, is why the road to igbodu seems so impossible. One more secret no one speaks about: there are odu that say . . . this religion is not for you.

It’s not up to you. It’s up to Olódumare and the orishas.

5. Godparents- It’s a term that comes from Catholic syncretism. Truly, we are olorishas. We are priests and priestesses. Don’t confuse us with your flesh and blood parents. Don’t expect us to do anything for you that another priest from another tradition would not do. Do expect us to teach you what is required of you should you decide to be a part of this religion; and, if along the way you decide you don’t want to follow these rules, don’t blame us if we ignore you. If we have to follow the rules, so do you. And we have no time for those who are willful.

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My new book is out!

For all you who are out of the loop I should probably do a quick blog: my new book is out. It’s titled Osogbo, Speaking to the Spirits of Misfortune, and it is an in-depth survey of misfortune in Lucumí ontology. You can get your copy by clicking here:

Osogbo: Speaking to the Spirits of Misfortune

Advanced sales have been incredible. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing my book and the concept of osogbo in more depth in my blog. But to keep up with the ongoing discussion, you’ll want a copy of the book.

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Changes to class formats

For new students, class formats have changed. There is a new course starting April 25th titled “Basic Course in Casting Diloggún.” It will meet from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM. If you would like to apply for a seat in that class, please email me at ochanilele@gmail.com. Those selected for the course will be given seating based on a first come, first paid basis. Thank you. Ócháni.

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Basic Course in Casting Diloggún

Instructor: Ócháni Lele (B. Stuart Myers); bstuartmyers@gmail.com.

Start Date: This class begins on Tuesday, February 25th. It meets from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM EST. It will meet on Tuesdays at this time for the duration of the course.

Office Hours (by Skype only): Monday 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM; Wednesday 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM. It is best to make an appointment in advance.

 

Textbook: The Diloggún: the Orishas, Proverbs, Sacrifices, and Prohibitions of Cuban Santería (Destiny Books, 2003). Please note that this textbook is required of all students. I prefer that everyone have a hard copy, not an eBook copy. The eBook copy does not have page numbers and I will be referring to page numbers and columns during lectures.

 

Recommended texts: Additional reading will be given out through the duration of this course.

 

Length of course: 15 weeks. Please note that lectures are fluid and it is possible (depending on the tangents I include in my lectures, which are often the best parts) that we might be together 16 weeks. But the new course is designed to be finished in 15 weeks (ideally). It has been extended from the original 10 week presentation in the old course.

 

Cost: $200.00

 

Please note that under each class you will find three sections. Those sections are labeled lecture, read, and reaction. The lecture tells you what I will be teaching in that day’s class. The read tells you what you will have to read after class for homework. The reaction topic will be assigned to each student in class. Be well-read when coming to class and take good notes from my lectures!

 

Reaction papers are simple. After the lecture, I want you to think about my lecture and the topic assigned. Write about what the topic means to you. There is no right or wrong reaction to these assignments. I want at least 250 words (or more) written. This is an exercise in critical thinking, which is a diviner’s best tool. Along the way expect proverbs to be assigned without knowing the olodu from which these proverbs come. Reactions to these are expected as well. After the reactions are turned in, the olodu from which the proverb comes will be revealed. This is also an exercise in critical thinking.

 

Recorded Material: There is a new policy on recorded material for this class. WebEx makes a video recording of every class taught. If a student misses a class, it is the student’s responsibility to log into WebEx sometime within the next 7 days of that class and watch the video from start to finish. Any student can go back and review that week’s class from start to finish as many times as necessary to complete his or her notes. After 7 days, that video will be taken down. I do make a personal iPod recording of the class at my end that includes “my” voice only (since I will be wearing headphones, as will all of you). This is done to protect student privacy. Those recordings will be sent out to all students with class 11, which is the class before exam review. There are no exceptions to this rule. Even if you are absent from a class due to family emergency, death, accident, or an act of G-d, the entire class will be archived for viewing for 7 days after the class is taught. If a student needs more time to view the class, that student will have to write me privately to ask me to leave it up a few more days; however, with my current server storage space most classes DO end up on the server for 3 to 4 weeks (but only 7 days are guaranteed).

 

Class One:

Lecture: this is course orientation. Since we will be together for a few months, students will introduce themselves to each other, and I will introduce myself and my lifelong passion: diloggún, odu, and divination. I will answer several questions key to this course: what is the diloggún? What is divination? What are odu? And what is the point of all this, really? Come prepared to take notes. We will examine the concept of Olódumare, Olorún, Olófin, and orisha through the Lucumí/Yoruba etymologies of their names. This will carry over into class two.

 

Read: From chapter one, “Opening the Diloggún,” and, “Using Ibó in Divination.” Also, read The Blood that Runs through the Veins, a paper written by Michael Atwood Mason that I will email to you at the end of this class.

 

Reaction: Write a 250 word reaction (you can write more if you wish) to the Michael Atwood Mason paper. Compare it to your own experiences as a client of the diviners (diloggún or Ifá). Write about the expectations you had that were not fulfilled as a diviner’s client. Write about what you think the role of divination is in this religion. Try to email your papers to me the day before the next class. All reaction papers throughout this course are due the day before the next class, so please keep that in mind! Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Two:

Lecture: Discussion of reaction papers. We will finish discussing the concepts of Olófin, Olorún, Olódumare, and orisha. Discussion of the opening prayer (a simplified format will be presented). A description of all ibó from textbook with a focus on the odu from which they come. Also, we will weed out the Arará ibó and use only the Lucumí-Oyó ibó for the remainder of this course unless a student presents with any of the Arará ibó in his or her divination bag. Make sure to come to class knowing what is inside Elegguá’s bag! It does affect how I teach the use of ibó.

 

Read: From chapter one, “Opening the Diloggún,” and, “Using Ibó in Divination.” La Division de la Habana by Miguel W. Ramos, a document that I will email to you at the end of this class. Try to memorize the format for the opening prayer that I give you in class. Prayer is essential to opening the diloggún.

 

Reaction: Write a 250 word reaction to the power that women held early in Lucumí history. Compare this to the power that women hold today. Consider the role women should have in the religion today. Try to have this paper in to me Friday morning before the next class. Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Three:

Lecture: Discussion of the Ramos paper and student reaction papers. Using ibó and picking hands. We will have in-class drills on this material. This is the point where most novice diviners make the most mistakes, and the picking of the proper hand is essential to divination.

 

Read: “When the reading opens in iré.” Read From Hierography to Ethnography and Back: Lydia Cabrera’s Texts and the Written Tradition in Afro-Cuban Religions. This is a paper that I will email to everyone at the end of class.

 

Reaction: Write a 250 word reaction to the paper From Hierography. Consider the role of written resources in the religion, including your own personal training up to this point. Try to have these papers in to me by next Friday morning before class. Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Four:

Lecture: Discussion of reaction papers. We will discuss what the odu has to say on this in both Osá Irosun (9-4) and Osá Ogundá (9-3). We will discuss the first question asked with ibó; and, what to do when the reading opens in iré. We will discuss the patakí from Ofún that explains why this is the first question asked. Also, we will discuss what to do if the answer to the first question is “no.” It is at this point that students will also learn to be accurate transcribers of itá should they ever have to fulfill that function. We will begin our study of marking iré.

 

Read: Supplemental reading will be sent — to be announced.

 

Reaction: There will be a reaction paper due; however, during this week the students must memorize and learn the lists given in the textbook for iré. Diviners must have this material committed to memory before working the diloggún. Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Five:

Lecture: We will continue our study regarding the marking of iré. Iré comes from many sources, and between classes four and five we will study the implications of what those sources bring to the reading in the intori.

 

Read: Supplemental reading to be announced; however, students must continue memorizing the lists involved with iré.

 

Reaction: A reaction paper is due regarding the reading sent out.

 

Class Six:

Lecture: Again, we will consider the first essential question of divination after casting the entoyale. Also, I will give an introduction to osogbo. We will discuss the osogbos presented in the textbook and how they are actual spiritual entities, not abstract concepts. This is another mistake novice diviners make in their early work – osogbo is a living, spiritual creature. We will examine the odu and the olodu in which they were born and the implications they bring to those olodu and odu. Also, we will get to know the osogbos intimately by their patakís, and in doing so, learn their weaknesses. Also, we will cover the proper ibó to use for each osogbo. Please note that the discussion of osogbo will include a discussion of Lucumí cosmology, and this class will continue into the next week.

 

Read: From chapter one, “When the reading opens in osogbo.”

 

Reaction: there is no reaction paper due; however, continue memorizing the list of iré and memorize the list of osogbo plus the ibó used for marking them. When divining, a diviner must have all this information safely stored in his or her head. Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Seven: This is a continuation of the discussion of osogbo.

 

Read: Supplemental reading material will be emailed to the students in class. Begin memorization of the origins and orientations of osogbo.

 

Reaction: After reading the supplemental material, write at least 250 words about how your views on iré and osogbo in Lucumí ontology have changed with the material presented in this course. Also, students will be asked to look at their own itás (forgetting about the entoyale/odu) and focusing on the message the orisha was trying to give with the orientations of the intori. Be prepared to share some of your insights in the next class. Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Eight:

Lecture: Marking osogbo. Step-by-step we will cover the process of marking osogbo and extracting its point of origin. This is a continuation of the previous class.

 

Read: From chapter one, “Marking the Ebós, or Remedies for Odu,” and “Giving the Reading.”

 

Reaction: Several different proverbs from the same odu will be assigned in class for reading, critical thought, and analysis. Each student will have one proverb and all proverbs will come from the same olodu. Each student is required to write a 250 word reaction to the proverb assigned.

 

Class Nine:

Lecture: Marking the ebós, or remedies for odu. A lot has changed with my process for marking ebó over the years, and we will cover this in depth. Also, we will cover the spiritual origins of various food staples in the Lucumí faith (odu and olodu); and we will cover some of the patakís explaining why some items are used for food, and others are not. We will examine why animal offerings are a last resort, and should be marked rarely in the course of divination.

 

Read: From chapter one, “Marking the Ebós, or Remedies for Odu,” and “Giving the Reading.”

 

Reaction: Each student will be given one type of adimú and asked to research traditional Cuban recipes for that adimú. As a homework assignment, each student will then cook that adimú for his or her orisha and offer it “just because,” or, out of love for the orisha. Make sure to take a digital photograph of your culinary creation to share with everyone! Keep in mind that a proverb or two from an olodu will be assigned to the class for reaction as well.

 

Class Ten: Marking osogbo (again). This is a continuation of the previous lecture; we will continue to study the process of marking osogbo.

 

Read: There will be no reading. Through hightail.com I will be sending you a series of videos regarding the preparation of ebó and adimú, and I will be giving you a suggested reading list which gives excellent books on the art of orisha cooking.

 

Reaction: A different proverb from the same olodu will be assigned to each student. A 250 word reaction is expected on the proverb assigned. The olodu from which the proverb comes will be revealed after all papers are turned in.

 

Class Eleven:

Lecture: The art of giving a reading. There are many layers of interpretation for odu. In this class, we will examine the process by which an odu is unraveled. There is more to the art that speaking about the composite. Each part of the entoyale has meaning, and those meanings are dependent upon the elder/minor status of the two odu that have come together. The parts of the intori plus its witnesses have meaning, and we will examine how to unravel that. There are clues that give us time placement for our divination, and we will examine that as well. Also, we will cover the various points in a reading at which a diviner should stop and ask “eboda?”

 

Read: All previous textbook assignments and notes.

 

Reaction: there is no reaction paper due; however, students should review all lecture notes and assignments, preparing for the exam which will come in three weeks. It is at this point that I will distribute (through hightail.com) all iPod recordings of the class so students can review relevant material, or lectures which they might still be unclear on.

 

Class Twelve: Exam review. Please note that the exam for this class is no longer diagnostic — it is required for the student to be eligible for the next Basic Diloggún Course, which is a philosophical and practical study of the 12 olodu Okana through Ejila Shebora. Come prepared with your questions. If students run out of questions before we run out of time, this will be a very short class. Study, question, and make notes of your questions.

 

Class Thirteen: EXAM! It will be given during class time and by email. All students must be present on WebEx to take this exam.
Anyone absent will be given a failing grade.

 

Class Fourteen and Fifteen: Class fourteen will be an exam review. A passing grade for this exam will be an 80 or above; however, because the science of divination must be thoroughly understood (its process) before one can cast diloggún, anyone making a 90 or below will be asked to retake the exam during class fifteen. A different, but very similar exam will be given. Anyone not scoring an 80 or above on either exam will need to retake this class (at half price) before being allowed to go to the next level of study. Remember: if you cannot access odu, odu is of no use to you.

 

Remember: Attendance is critical to success. A passing grade of 80 is required to advance to the next level. Keep in mind that all classes after this are by invitation only, that invitation being based on your final grade and class participation. With this course I am trying to turn out competent diviners, not fortune tellers; and I want students who want to do more than “collect information.” I want students who are engaged and willing to learn. Thank you for taking my course; you will never look at this religion or the art and science of divination the same way again!

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The Apple Trees Bore (No) Fruit [A Modern Retelling Based on a Pataki from Unle EjiOko]

“It’s your turn to leave heaven for the world below,” Elegguá said, standing with the old man. His grey brow knotted with worry, folds of black skin forming deep wrinkles in his forehead. Elegguá saw the fear in his eyes. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, drawing closer. “I’ll be with you.”

But the old man did not move. He kept his brown eyes focused on the gate between heaven and earth, where a mist rose between the two worlds. He watched as souls walked through that gate, disappearing in gentle bursts of white light as they slipped into the fog; it seemed to thicken and swallow them up, and they were no more. Always the scene at the gates looked the same, a never-ending swirl of mist and shadow that hid the material world from their own. It was this fog, this thickness at the edge of heaven, that frightened him more than what might lie beyond it. He shivered as if the air suddenly grew chill.

“I have heard that the world is a huge place,” he said, trembling. “And it is a terrible place filled with misfortune. What if sickness takes me while I am a baby? What if an accident takes me in my youth? What if I marry, have children, and die before my children are grown?” There was silence. “I’m afraid,” he whispered, ashamed of his fear.

“The world is not a bad place,” Elegguá said. “It is wonderful, filled with many great things. Sacrifice to me before you leave – offer me a basket of fresh apples picked by your own hands. Those more than anything are what I want from you.” The orisha smiled, and almost laughed. “Do what I say and you will live so long on the earth that you will eat your own waste!”

Slowly, the old man’s eyes moved away from the fog and focused on the orisha; Elegguá fidgeted like a small child, fingering the red and black fabric of his shirt. Indeed, he was in the form of a small child, his head barely higher than the old man’s waist. On his head was a straw hat adorned with hundreds of cowries. Had it not been for the orisha’s eyes, he would have thought Elegguá a child – but his eyes betrayed the centuries he had lived, immortal but frozen in the form of youth. “Elegguá, I thought you were wise,” he said. “Surely, you know I would never do that.”

“Surely,” said Elegguá, “you know my words never fall on the floor.”

The old man went into the orchards and picked a basket of apples for Elegguá. The orisha took these under his arm and with his free hand, grabbed one of the man’s own. “It’s time,” he said. Then there was that terrible fog and a burst of white light – they were in heaven no more.

They were sleeping, the old man and his daughter, she propped in an overstuffed recliner with a worn paperback resting in her lap, he in a king sized bed much too large for his thin frame. Pale light smoldered in the blue curtains, and sharper rays crept in through the cracks where the fabric met. She awoke as darkness melted, rubbing the thick sleep from her eyes and stretching before looking at the old man sleeping near her. He laid flaccid, limbs wound loosely in sheets almost as white as the starched white dress she wore, sheets contrasting sharply with his coffee-colored skin. He looked glazed; a thin sheen of sweat coated his face and dampened his bedding. The smell of sickness was in the air. Luisa could taste it in her mouth.

Sickness tasted like chalk.

In spite of the smell she breathed deeply before getting out of the recliner. She pushed on the footrest with her feet and it closed with a quick snap. The old man stirred. Luisa went to the master bathroom and turned on the hot water, running it over her hands until it was the right temperature. From under the sink she pulled out a small pink basin and filled it with water and soap. A pile of fresh linens was already on the nightstand by the bed. She put her basin there and gently called out, “Papa, are you awake?”

Armando opened his eyes slowly; sleep faded from them like darkness fading at dawn. He smiled at her. “Good morning,” he said, his voice weak.

“How are you feeling?”

“I ache.” He moved slightly beneath the covers letting out a soft moan. The cancer had settled into his bones, the doctors told Luisa at his last doctor’s visit, and no matter how many narcotics they gave him the pain would always be there. Morphine made it tolerable, but it ate away at him, nagging him like a cruel wife.

“Let’s get you changed.” Gently Luisa rolled him to his side; he sucked his teeth when she moved him, stifling a painful cry. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, stroking his back.

“It’s not you. The cancer.” By the bedroom door he saw his orisha, Elegguá. It was a cement face encased in a conch, with eyes, nose, and mouth made from cowries. It rested in a terra cotta plate, covered with red and black beads. The entire image was enshrined on a short pillar draped in brocaded fabrics. “You brought my santo to me?” he asked.

“You cried for him in your sleep last night, papa.” Luisa was washing his back with warm water and scented soap, her gentle touch seasoned by years of nursing. “I thought having him in the room with you would soothe you.” Armando sighed. ““Am I hurting you, abuleo?”

“No.” He was silent. Luisa wrung the cloth over the basin; he heard the water sloshing. “Why does Elegguá let me suffer like this?” His voice was but a whisper; Luisa never heard.


Armando was ten the first time he recognized in himself something like spirituality. It was a hot, lazy afternoon in the summer of 1935, and he was running through the thick brush and palmetto trees that grew on the outskirts of Tallahassee. Like most ten year olds he was wild, carefree, focused on the moment and little else. He heard his mother call to him in a voice as thick as were the tight curls on her head, or the mocha-brown color of her skin. “Armando!” she yelled. “Almuerzo!” It was time for lunch.

He raced through the front door of their old two bedroom house and plopped himself down at the table. “Lava los manos!” she ordered. “Wash your hands!”

He ran back outside to the well and the hand-primed pump that rose from the ground beside it; quickly he pushed the lever up and down and water started to run. Then he glanced at the outhouse and thought better of it. Dashing inside he let the door slam; when he was done he raced back to the well and primed the pump a few more times. He washed his hands in the water that flowed from it, muddying his feet and splashing his clothes. Back inside the house he kicked off his shoes at the front door and plopped at the table while his mother put a plate with ham sandwiches and strange slices of fruit in front of him.

“What is this?” he asked, picking up a slice of fruit. The skin was bright red like blood, the flesh white with small brown seeds inside.

“Manzana,” his mother said. Armando was born in this country in Ybor City; he was schooled in American schools and spoke English more fluently than the Spanish of his parent’s country, Cuba, but he understood it well and knew the English word was apple. His parents settled there in Ybor before he was born; in 1921 they had fled the military regime of Alfredo de Zayas y Alfonso and the left-wing Liberal Party for the seemingly kinder politics of the United States. When the Depression came and the cigar and tobacco factories that had been the area’s strongest industry began to turn sour, his parents moved further north and settled here, where the climate was more temperate and there was work. Not enough work – they had to practice a type of subsistence farming to supplement their income, but it was enough to live comfortably.

Quickly he bit down on the slice, and his mother’s face twisted in fear as he swallowed, barely chewing.

“¡No las semillas!” she cried. “¡Las semillas son venenosas!”

“Venenosas?” he asked. “The seeds are poison?”

“¡Sí!” she cried, holding her head in her hands.

But it was too late – the seeds were already deep inside his belly with the apple’s sweet fruit. Armando lost his appetite. The rest of the day his mother forced him to use the chamber pot and not the outhouse; fearfully she watched him, and watched for signs that the seeds had passed safely. When his father came home, weary from working the lumber yards, his mother told him all that happened that day – how their son swallowed the poisonous seeds of the apple and she was waiting for him to pass the seeds, or get sick.

He laughed, and in his native tongue said, “¡Son venenosas para los pájaros, no niños! Él estará bien.”

Armando was sitting in the next room; he stifled a laugh when he heard his father say the seeds were poisonous to birds and not children. When his father said he would be fine, his spirits lifted. Even though the seeds had not passed he went to sleep with a light heart. And that night he dreamed of being an old man and speaking to the orisha Elegguá. He was afraid in the dream, afraid of the world in which he was about to be born, and Elegguá told him not to worry. “You will be so old that you will eat your own shit!” said the orisha, and he laughed a hearty laugh.

The next morning at breakfast he told his parents about the dream. His father smiled; and his mother lifted her face towards the heavens and cried, “¡Gracias a dios!” Later that morning the seeds passed in his stool and his mother smiled approvingly. In English, which she so rarely spoke, she said, “Elegguá has blessed you.” She sent him to empty the chamber pot in the outhouse.

No one was surprised when, a year later, apple trees started growing from the soil behind the old outhouse. By the time Armando was a young man his parents had worked hard enough to afford indoor plumbing; his father installed it himself. The old outhouse was filled in, but with his mother’s urging, they left the trees growing intact. There were three of them growing in a cluster, their trunks winding around each other like vines. They never gave fruit, but they grew through the years until they towered above where the old outhouse had been.

Those trees were haven to the many brothers and sisters born to Armando’s parents when her mother became surprisingly fertile in middle age; and when Armando himself grew up and married, his own six children played in the shade of those apple trees. In time, when his children had children and they came to visit, they climbed the towering trees like monkeys, even tying an old tire to a rope as a makeshift swing. The apple tree nurtured generations, but never once did it give a single apple. “The weather never gets cold enough in the winter,” he told them. “To make an apple grow there must be cold.”

Luisa was tucking in the sheets and folding the mitered edges when Armando asked for his pain medicine. “Is it time, Luisa?” he asked. “Is it time for my morphine?” Pain was coming in hot flashes now. Something sharp dug in his chest.

“I’ll get it, papa.” She walked to the bathroom medicine cabinet where she kept his Roxanol. She returned with a brown syringe. “It’s not time for the pill yet. Take this,” and she opened her mouth. He mimicked her, and gently she pushed the plunger on the syringe. The bitter-sweet syrup filled his mouth; he swallowed. Soon his eyes were glazed and sleepy again.

“Why?” he asked as shadows filled his eyes. “Why does Elegguá make me suffer so? The pain . . . it gets so bad . . .” He drifted off in a narcotic haze. He muttered in his sleep. “Apples,” he said, again and again. “If only I had an apple . . .”

Later that afternoon he awoke to the sound of the television. Luisa lay stretched out in bed beside him, her eyes intent on the screen. La Fea Más Bella was on. “It was much better when the Columbians did it and it was Betty la Fea,” Armando whispered. He was on his side with a pillow wedged behind him, his back to his daughter. “Help me turn.”

Luisa sat up; gently she pulled the pillow from behind his back. Without its support he rolled over. “Is that better?”

“I was thinking,” he said, ignoring the question, “do you remember when I did my santo?”

“How could I forget papa? Abuela was worried to death. You had to sneak back into Cuba.”

“Through Mexico.” He smiled. “It was the only way in. They didn’t stamp our papers.”

“She was so worried Fidel would hold you there.”

“But I did it. I made santo. Of course I had to bribe customs to let my orishas through.”

“You could have gone to jail.”

“But I didn’t. I had faith. Elegguá kept me safe.”

He remembered his two weeks spent in Cuba. He was a young man with a family and elderly parents of his own to care for; leaving home and going to the land of his ancestors was a risk, but a risk he wanted to take. He remembered the first ceremonies at the river. It was November, but the water was warm and soothing as the priest ripped off his clothes and bathed him before drying him and dressing him in white. He remembered sleeping on the hard cement floor that night while in the next room, people were pounding and hammering and doing things he was not allowed to see. He remembered ceremonies and sights no outsider would ever see. “When my first day was done, when the initiation was over, I was exhausted.”

“But were you happy father?”

“I was.”

He remembered the day of his tambour, his presentation to the community as a iyawó, a newly initiated priest. Even under Fidel’s communist regime it seemed half the island turned up for the party. The drummers drummed; the dancers danced; and the orishas took possession of their priests’ bodies. Armando had never seen a person possessed by a god; fear rose in his throat like ice as their bodies twisted and contorted in unnatural poses, pushed onwards by the drumbeats and divine ecstasy. Elegguá had come down to earth that day. He threw himself to the throne as other priests removed his priest’s shoes and socks, rolling his pants legs up high. Someone found a straw hat and put it on his head as he rose; someone else gave him a gourd filled with rum and handed his a cigar. Armando had tried to throw himself down, to put his head to the floor in reverence to Elegguá, but the orisha grabbed his shoulders and held him tight. His eyes bore into Armando’s own.

“You worry,” Elegguá told him, in Spanish.

“I do,” Armando agreed. His heart was beating wildly in his chest.

“You still worry that you might die. That no one will be there to take care of your old parents, or to finish raising your children, or your grandchildren.”

“I do.”

“I’ve told you twice before that you will live to be so old that you will eat your own waste. This is the third time. It will be my last.”

Armando’s eyes teared up. “I remember the dream when I was a young boy, father. You’ve told me twice now.”

“My words never fall on the floor, iyawó.” He hugged Armando to his chest tightly. “This is the third time. It is also the last.”

He spoke to Luisa, “I never understood Elegguá’s word that day, m’ija. I remembered a dream as a young boy. And then there was that day when he possessed his priest and spoke to me. That was twice. I never understood why Elegguá kept insisting he spoke to me about my death three times.”

“He’s a mysterious orisha, papa.”

Armando smiled. “As sick as I am, and as bad as I hurt, I’ll never die. Because Elegguá’s words don’t fall on the floor, and I’ll never, ever eat my own shit.”

“I’m leaving for work soon.” She bent over and kissed her grandfather gently on the cheek. “Do you need your medicine before I go?”

Armando nodded his head. She gave him his pill with a sip of water, and then, gently, squirted the Roxanol into his mouth. “Liquid gold,” he whispered, closing his eyes.

A loud knock awakened Armando. For a time he lay there looking at the ceiling, his hand finding his way to his forehead. He was feverish, in pain, one thought in his head: “Why won’t Elegguá let me die? Have I not suffered enough?” When he realized he was alone, he was afraid, and he called out, “Luisa? Luisa? Are you there? Who was there? Who was at the door?”

Luisa came running down the hall; he could make out hushed whispers from the living room. “Everyone’s here, father,” she said. “The entire family. My brothers and sisters, your grandchildren. They all came to see you.” She paused. “If you’re up to it.”

“Let them in.”

Luisa stood at the door and motioned for the family to come. The grandchildren came first; gently they sat on the edges of the bed, offering quick, sweet kisses and gentle hugs. Armando’s children stood around the bed looking at him, some eyes filled with tears. Luisa’s daughter, Selena, stood in the back, holding a cloth covered basket in her hands. When he saw her he smiled.

“Is it time for my pill yet?” he asked. “The pain . . . it’s so bad.”

Luisa looked at her watch. Already it was early evening. “Yes, papa, it’s time for your pill. And you can have more of the Roxanol if you need it, too.”

“I do,” he smiled weakly. Selena walked into the room and sat the basket on the nightstand as her mother went to the bathroom to get his oxycontin and to draw up his Roxanol. “What’s in the basket?” he asked Selena.

She lifted the blue and white gingham that covered the straw basket. “Apples, abuelo,” she said.

“I’ve been dreaming about apples all day,” he said. Luisa was back with the pill; she gave it to him with a sip of water. Then he opened his mouth again and she squirted the roxanol under his tongue. He closed his mouth, almost enjoying the bitter-sweetness of the syrup as his mouth grew warm and numb. Then he swallowed; he closed his eyes as the warmth spread.

He lay there silently for some time. His children and his grandchildren stood by his bedside watching him breathe. The labored breaths relaxed. They were about to leave the room when he spoke again. “I want an apple.” His voice was soft but stern. “I’m hungry, and I want an apple.”

“Of course, grandfather.” Luisa picked one of the apples from the basket.

“I’ve been thinking about apples lately. I dream about them. I dream about apple trees in my sleep.” His voice was weak. Luisa wondered if it was the pain or the narcotic. “I suffer so much, Luisa. Why does Elegguá let me lay here and suffer? I love you. But I want to die.” He closed his eyes again – he was weary. He felt like he was floating away on a cloud made of morphine; his pain was all but gone.

“I know, father. I know.” Luisa had tears in her eyes. She was thankful her father’s eyes were closed.

Luisa motioned for one of the grandchildren to scoot away, and she sat on the edge of his bed with an apple. She noticed that it was the biggest, brightest apple she’d ever seen. “I have it, papa.”

Briefly he opened his eyes; when he saw the huge fruit in his daughter’s hands he smiled. “I haven’t seen one that big since I was a young boy,” he said, and his lids fluttered closed again. “But I’m so tired. Help me?”

Luisa held the apple to her grandfather’s lips. Armando bit into its flesh with his brittle teeth. Luisa thought his old teeth would break on the skin, but it split easily and the fruit inside was so soft that juice dripped down his chin. To him the skin smelled like fresh rain and leaves. With her free hand Luisa wiped up the thin line of juice that gathered in a single drop at the crease of his chin.

Thoughtfully the old man chewed. And he swallowed.

“This,” he whispered, “is the best apple I’ve ever tasted. Where did you get it?”

“From the apple trees outside, abuelo,” Selena said. There was a cold snap this winter, and they bore fruit. I found them when I drove in this evening.”

Luisa froze. “The old apple trees gave fruit?”

“Yes, they did,” Selena said. “After all these years, they gave fruit.”

Luisa’s tears gave away to sobs; Armando opened his eyes. His gaze was far away as he lifted an almost flaccid hand to touch his daughter’s face. “You know the story of those apple trees, don’t you m’ija?”

“Yes, father.” Her tears came freely now. She remembered the story he told her so often – the story of how he swallowed the seeds and his own mother watched for them to pass, thinking they were poison. The story of how he dumped the chamber pot in the old outhouse, and how the trees grew from that very spot.

“Elegguá is a tricky orisha, is he not?” he asked her. “His words never fall on the floor.”

Luisa took her father’s hands in her own; she kissed them. “Yes, papa, he is very tricky, indeed.”

A few minutes later when her father’s body went limp and lifeless Luisa’s tears came freely. She lay down over her father’s chest, and wept. The rest of the family stood around his bed, soundless, unsure what to do or what to say. As the light faded from the blue, drawn curtains, everyone left for the living room while Luisa sat in darkness; from his corner by the bedroom door, Elegguá’s silent face kept watch over them both.

On the bed beside Armando’s body lay the apple, forgotten, a single bite missing from its flesh.

“So now do you believe my words don’t fall on the floor?” Elegguá asked.

The old man opened his eyes. He was sitting on the ground, his back propped up against the old apple trees. Ripe fruit scattered on the ground around him. In one hand Elegguá held a half-eaten apple; he held another in his hand, offering this to Armando. Thoughtfully he took it and bit deep. It was sweet like sugar.

“No, father,” he said after swallowing the pulp. “Your words don’t fall on the floor. But you are one tricky orisha!”

“That I am.” He smiled. Armando stood up. His legs felt strong; there was no pain. Gently Elegguá took the old man’s hand into his own and together they walked away from the apple trees, towards a dim light that grew brighter in the western sky.

“Are we going there? To that light?” the old man asked.

“We are,” said Elegguá.

“Will my family be okay without me?”

“I think they will. They still have each other.”

“But I’m afraid.”

“Don’t be,” the orisha said. “Heaven is a wonderful place filled with many great things. And I will be with you there as I was with you on earth. Trust me!”

Trust him Armando did as the two of them walked into the light.

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