The trance is an essential component of work in Palo; it would be impossible to accomplish healing or true communication with spirit without it. Let’s take a look at the different methods of gaining the spiritual trance we work with in Palo; perhaps through a close and thorough examination of method and technique involving trance we can improve our personal work and gain deeper understanding of the mysteries of our religion.
Sounds and Rythm
The deepest trances acquired in my experience are those we attain during the ecstasy of singing and drumming. The mind and spirit can sink deep into the kalunga, and often spirit will mount in this trance. This trance has many subtle variations and depths, with permutations that vary with each person. Acquiring a deep trance is both a natural talent and a gained skill, at once a release of control and a gentle grasping. When in this state we can enable spirit to communicate through us. This aspect of the trance enables a particular kind of healing, and that is healing of the community. Through this kind of work messages from spirit that are pure and direct can be had, enabling the Bakulu to guide and heal the community through the medium of the entranced practitioner. Because these messages aren’t interpreted through the lens of the intellect, they have a level of purity and a poignancy beyond that of the divinations that we work in our solitary practice. This trance is the mediumistic trance; it isn’t necessary for everyone, not even the Tatas or Yayis of a community, but it is a wonderful asset. Oftentimes spirit will not speak through a person, but will dance with them, making their presence known through movement. This is a powerful reminder that Spirit is alive in the community, and that our dead are present.
Vititi Mensu–Working with the Mpaka
This is a particular divinatory device, which has an associated light-trance state that enables the spiritual vision. The Vititi Mensu tells the story in it’s name; Vititi essentially means “sight”, and mensu means “mirror”…the name basically interprets as mirror-sight. The mpaka and the plants we have tratados with are the keys to working this divinatory method and trance-state correctly. The mpaka itself is, much like the nganga, a microcosm of the natural world. Within it should be ntoto and bilongo, and specifically it should have “secrets” from within the nganga it is allied with. The Mpaka gives us the vision of the dead, reflected through the mirror of the mpaka (mirrors are a fine analogue for the Kalunga, being bridges between the world of the living and that of the dead).
So, where do the plants work into this? In two ways..the first being in their imbuing the mpaka with the full spiritual virtue they posses. All the powers that are held within the plants are given to the mpaka, and these same plants are present in the nganga. The mpaka lives in the nganga, and is a spiritual body, with the mirror serving as the “eye”. So, the plants imbue the mpaka with their virtue, and helps the mpaka serve as a spiritual body for the entity that is the nganga. This entity, as a reflection of the Tata or Yayi into the kalunga, can see clearly the roads of possiblity opened by our Lucero. The plants within make the mpaka a fit body for this spirit.
The second way we see with the eyes of nature, with the power given by plants, is through the plant-assisted trance. There is a particular plant we work with that aids in trance, and there is not a single Palero or Palera that doesn’t work with it. That plant is, of course, tobacco. The tobacco plant has many secrets; one of these secrets is how it can be used as an aid to ritual. One of the first things we do in ritual is to work with our ally tobacco, and there are many who fail to realize tobacco’s role as a spiritual ally in enabling spiritual vision through trance.
The key to using tobacco as an aid to trance is in how she is consumed. To excite the spirit and body, and enter into an ecstatic trance, one would need to smoke with quick puffs–how we hold the smoke within, and the speed of each breath, effect the way the tobacco works upon us. After working with it thusly, the drums and mambos can take us the rest of the way.
For assistance with divination using mpaka–to enter into a meditative trance, the opposite of the ecstatic one–we need to take slow and deep puffs of the tobacco, and we need to hold the smoke within the mouth/lungs (depending upon the method used) for as long as possible. This effects how the virtue of the smoke (carried in the body as nicotine) is delivered into the brain, and how it effects the spirit. Working the tobacco in this fashion relaxes the mind, body, and spirit and deepens the trance state. After taking and holding these deep breaths of smoke, we blow them into the mirror of the mpaka. What we are doing now is linking our trance state–our vision–to the mpaka itself, allowing it to communicate what it can see directly into our minds.
The spirit and body are part of the same whole, and so trance using tobacco can be induced symbolically as well. Often a Tata Nkisi will blow smoke upon a dancing Palero who is mounting or is near-mounting at a drumming. This serves to send the person deeper into the trance state…the smoke itself being a symbol of movement between the denser material world and the kalunga, the world of spirit.