Mate Care-For, protect me.
There’s a book by Tim Powers, On Stranger Tides. It features, among other things, Black Beard, Stede Bonnet, Calico Jack and his wenches Anne Bonny and Mary Reed, Voodoo, and the Fountain of Youth. It’s typical Powers, which is to say, not typical at all. It’s an insane, inspired, possibly brilliant piece by one of the most inventive SF/Fantasy writers working today. It threads a fictional story into real historical events, fictional people in a fictional story side-by-side with real people from the pages of history books. Powers is an obsessive researcher so when he tells a story this way, it’s spot on with the details.
This is also clearly a book that inspired a lot of the Pirates of the Carribean movie. I mean, the lead character is Jack Shandy, his lady is named Elizabeth, there’s a ship crewed by zombies, there are curses. Too many similarities to be completely accidental. Published in ’87, it predates Curse of the Black Pearl by a good fifteen years.
The beauty of Powers’ work is that he peels back the cover and shows us the magic – sinister, dangerous, dark magic – hiding behind ordinary reality. He shows us a world where everything has a meaning, and everything that looks sinister actually is. Of course Blackbeard was a sorcerer, we think. How could he not be? Of course pirates practiced Vodun. How could we not already have known this?
The pirates in Powers book call on someone, a protective saint, a person, a protector. Mate Care-For, they call him. They summon him for luck, for protection. They carry charms to suppon his attention and thus summon his protective presence.
Only, he’s not just that. He’s someone else. He’s someone more.
Maître Carrefour. Master of the cross-roads.
I do not pretend to be an expert on Voodoo, or Vodou, or Vodun, or whatever we choose to call it. I’m not sure anyone not raised in that culture can truly be expert. Certainly it’s hard to find any definitive source. The names, the deities, they seem fluid. Sometimes we hear of two different entities, sometimes two names which are aspects of one single deity.
Maître Carrefour may or may not be the same as Legba; Papa Legba, Legba Atibon. Some say he’s not the same. I think he is.
Legba is, as near as I can tell, the Loa of sorcerers, magicians. He’s the first Loa called in any ceremony. He represents the gateway between this and other worlds. Between magic and mundane. He’s many other things. Each page I read says something different. He’s crossed over, as are all the major Vodou figures, with catholic saints; so he’s also in some sense Saint Peter, keeper of another gateway.
He’s a deity who represents, to my mind, chance. Luck. Changes. Choices.
He is the master of the cross-roads. The place where choices are made.
I’m not a religeous man. Not a spiritual man. But for some odd reason I feel an affinity for Vodou. Not the pin-cusion dolls and zombies of hollywood, but the wild, earthy, intense religeon practiced by a people ripped out of many places and pulled together in a gumbo of different influences and cultures.
Haiti, the spiritual birthplace of what we know as Vodou, is where this came together and fermented. It’s older, much older than that, and the origins span many African cultures. I feel strange, a very white man; a celtic man, scottish, irish, french, dutch, the usual western european cocktail. I feel strange finding a spiritual affinity, an intellectual affinity, for a religeon from the heart of Africa. And yet, I do.
Maybe it’s Powers’ book. Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe it’s the trip I took to Turks and Caicos a couple years back, where I spent several hours talking to the owner of an art gallery that handled Haitian art. Maybe it’s that conversation that planted the seed of interest.
For a long time I’ve worn a Vodou VeVe around my neck when I dive. A symbol used to summon Vodou loas. I see it as a luck symbol; Agwe, loa of the sea.
I’m not wearing it now, but my next dive trip, it goes back around my neck.
In any case, it’s Mate Care-For I’ve been thinking about lately. Maître Carrefour; master of the cross-roads.
There are times in life when one needs, or wishes for, a guide when choices are to be made. There are times I want to be able to reach out and ask for advice, not from a friend, who has an aegenda or knows too much, yet too little. Not from a stranger, who cannot understand. But to someone outside, above, beyond, who can be called down for wisdom.
There are times when one wishes to call down simple luck. Good fortune. If I must flip a coin, draw a lot, let me strike lucky. Let chance bend in my direction. How much easier to trust Care-For to lead and protect, than to have to make the tough choices on one’s own.
[composed and posted with ecto]