Working the Patimpemba / Firmas
The patimpemba (also known as the Firma) is a spiritualized drawing that connects the signatures of the entities and forces (nkisi and mpungo, and nfumbe for full Tatas and Yayis) with symbols that represent a given change in the world or a work that we want the spiritual force to accomplish. It is a multi-layered and complicated system, but one that works with beautiful symmetry to accomplish it’s works.
I put the allusion to spells in the title of the post because of the reality of our use of Patimpemba; they are enlivened by our mambos, which are ritual incantation. What we are doing is far more complicated than simply saying a “spell” however; the word doesn’t do these workings justice. There are fools on the internet selling “Palo Mayombe Spells” to people, as if one can simply draw a firma with no understanding, blow some rum & smoke and get results. This is not the case.
Firstly, a patimpemba is layered with deep meaning, and that meaning needs to be understood at least minimally by the working Palero. If your Tata has given you a firma that does a certain thing, please ask the right questions and come to understand it! The Patimpemba is communication with Spirit and Reality; you have to be saying something with intent for it to meaningful and therefore powerful. Garbage in, garbage out. You can’t just draw a bunch of arrows that look pretty, say some words to your spirit, and expect to get good result. Your words are saying one thing, and your patimpemba another. Every stroke of your chalk must be made with intent, every line must have purpose. The patimpemba becomes alive with power, but first it must be meaningful. Think before you draw them, plan, and let spirit inspire you.
There are some experienced Tatas and Yayis who can draw a real and meaningful patimpemba on the fly. You can’t just up and do that; this is similar to how the experienced jazz musician can improvise and stay within key, letting the music flow throw him. The experienced Tata does this, but with Spirit. His experience has given him a number of useful constructions to draw from, and his connection to spirit allows it to blossom with real meaning and power in the moment. He has already internalized enough meaning to have a working spiritual “language” of symbol from which to improvise.
If you aren’t experienced, and you haven’t internalized enough of the spiritual “language” of symbol found in our culture, the patimpemba should be planned carefully before working. The well drawn firma has deep layers of meaning, carefully built. Questions must be asked, and the answers included in the structure of the patimpemba. What is the goal of the work? Is there a person/thing being worked upon? How is the spirit to accomplish the work (here we decide what dirts/herbs are necessary, as these tune how the spirit executes the work and what the “quality” of the manifestation will be, and also lend their natural virtue to the work. For example, if we are working to accomplish something malefic, we will include items to “heat” the spirit and get it agitated. We may include certain animal powders if the power of their spirit’s is relevant for the work as well.) Is this work to be continuous, or something with a beginning and end? Are there multiple people involved? What spiritual force are we working with to accomplish the goal? Is the moon waxing or waning?
These things must all be considered before building the patimpemba. Once we have a full understanding of what meaning will be inherent to the patimpemba, the correct symbols and natural materials can be gathered and a general outline created. Only then can spirit inspire us to create the firma correctly, and the natural path (our circles and crosses) allowed to manifest.
The “Path” of the spiritual power being worked is always something manifest in the moment through connection with Spirit–namely Nkuyo/Lucero.
Now we enliven the thing, singing mambos while we draw. We bless it with smoke and rum, build our packets and place our fula as necessary. This isn’t just a pretty picture, it’s a visual and symbolic “body” for our ritual intent. The Firma is orienting, it frames a work, and is scaffolding upon which the work is built. Consider the Firma the framework, the mambo the gasoline, and the fula the spark that starts the engine of the work moving.