Protocol: a primer for ethical Godchildren and Godparents

 By Révérend Père Jean François Audema [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Révérend Père Jean François Audema [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Over the course of my 15-year stint as a member of Lukumi and subsequently Palo Mayombe spiritual communities, I have been informed of sundry stories of abusive godparents and abusive priests in leadership positions, as well as godchildren ran wild or spoiled. Because one can not get along in the world without people, we must learn to live amongst each other peacefully and ethically. Respect is paramount to the maintenance of peaceful, generative relations. This is especially true within spiritual communities. Below is my contribution to what I hope will end up a standard operating procedure.

Godchildren

  1. The ethical Godparent will stand as an advocate for your healing. She or he will not do the work for you. It is your responsibility to show up, contribute, work, and learn. Just as you made an autonomous decision to join the spiritual house in which you find yourself, you must continue to make an autonomous decision to show up and be an active agent in your own healing.

  2. Your godparent is not your friend. The spiritual house is an hierarchical environment in which the godparent sits at the top of pyramid. You do not get to tell the godparent what to do, how to do it, and how you want it. The godparent sets the rules and if you don’t like them, you may separate yourself from the spiritual house. On the rare occasions where a godparent and his/her godchild are friends, this does not change the godparent’s role as leader of the spiritual community, nor does it allow the godchildren to circumvent the expectations of his or her position as godchild.

  3. Your godparent is not the receptacle into which you deposit, nor the screen onto which you project negative behaviors resultant from the abuse you received in the past. The point of working with someone, such as a godparent, is to heal from your trauma and exit the constant state of trigger in which many trauma survivors live. When you accuse someone of triggering you, then you equate them with the abuser, or the abusive circumstances that caused your trauma. That is disrespectful, wholly inappropriate, and it is a form of gas lighting. It places the blame on someone who is trying to help and who has never abused you. It also reveals you to have narcissistic tendencies as the whole exercise is one that revolves around one person: you. As one of several individuals in a spiritual house, you are not that important. Remember that and gather yourself.

  4. In the 21st century world, cash is the measuring stick for value. Spiritual work costs money. It is comprised of the intellectual, spiritual, and physical labor of multiple individuals. It often requires a diverse variety and large quantity of ingredients. It requires an investment of time that once spent can not be recovered. When you show up asking for free services, you are telling your Godparent and the deities he or she is leveraging in support of your healing,  that you have nothing of value to offer. When, after receiving free services, and after those services have proved their worth in the form of improved quality of life (new career, increased money flow, improved health, etc.), you do not show even a modicum of grace and/or repayment in the form of money, time, and effort to your Godparent, then you are showing yourself to be a leech and an ingrate.

  5. Do not, under any circumstances, do negative spiritual work to your godparent, nor to your godsiblings. When/if this becomes an issue, you need to speak to your godparent. If for some reason the godparent does not or will not handle it, you need to leave that spiritual house immediately.

  6. There is no reason, ever, for sexual relations to take place between godchild and godparent, nor between godsiblings. If your godparent attempts to engage you in this way, leave immediately.

  7. No human is perfect. Becoming a godchild within African-rooted spiritual traditions is a learned behavior within a new set of social realities and conditions that are radically different from the Western society in which we live. Like it or not, your role is one of service and commitment: commitment to the collective, to the ancestors, and to the deities. Additionally, you must exhibit an adherence to the rules and showing up to work whether that work is for yourself, a godsibling, or the godparent. If you find yourself unable to do this, these traditions are not for you.

Godparents

  1. You are not a martyr, nor are you God. You are not obligated to take any abuse from a godchild just because you agreed to support and advocate for their healing process. There is a thin but visible line between compassion and setting yourself up to be used. Find it and don’t cross it.

  2. Unfortunately, when you offer services for free, that generous act engenders a disrespect for the value you, your ancestors, and your deities offer. You did not receive your initiations nor your deities for free. Nor should your godchildren. There is no reason why they should not pay the required amount. If they truly do not have it, then it would behoove both of you to develop an alternate system of payment that can compensate for money. If you believe in charity, that is your personal choice, but be careful how you exercise it lest it burn you.

  3. You are not exempt from judgment by your deities or anyone else for that matter simply because you have achieved the status of Godparent. You still have a code of conduct to adhere to and roles and responsibilities to carry out. That said, abuse is never justified and if you committ abuse, you will eventually be found out, and you will have to answer to someone, or one or more of your deities.

  4. Not everyone is meant to remain your godchild. Let them leave, or, if they are a troublemaker, put them out. Conversely, individuals you assist on a client basis do not always make the best godchildren. Be discriminating about who you let in your spiritual house. Protect what you have built from rent seekers.

  5. Just because you can do spiritual work against a person, doesn’t mean you should. Under no circumstances should that work be done against a person in your spiritual house. Your godchildren are your students and mentees, and while yes they require an orderly learning and healing environment, they are not your personal punching bags. If you learn a godchild is doing spiritual work against you, protect yourself and put them out.

  6. There is no reason ever for sexual relations to take place between godchild and godparent, nor between godsiblings. The initiation of such behavior by a godparent to a godchild is unethical and prohibited at all times. Such a relationship threatens the godparent-godchild dynamic and will ultimately upset the hierarchical and power dynamic of the spiritual house.

  7. Becoming a godparent within African-rooted spiritual traditions is a learned behavior. It is a role that imbibes one with a lot of power. A godparent is a powerbroker in his or her own right. The ethical godparent will exercise his or her power in accordance with the tradition(s) he or she practices, and in accordance with counsel from their deities. You are not a slave master. You are a mentor, counselor, and guardian of the tradition. Know also that you can be the picture of tradition-appropriate ethics in action and godchildren will still have an issue. That issue is theirs not yours, and they ultimately will have to decide how to deal with it.

I speak from my lived experience as a godchild in Lukumi and Palo Mayombe, and an initiated priestess who is the eldest godchild of my munanso. These roles and responsibilities, and their corresponding hierarchies are not for the faint of heart, nor for those weak of mind and spirit. Ask yourself if the healing of your mind, body, and spirit are worth it. If they are, you will find a way. If they aren’t, then you may find challenge and adversity.

Either way, I hope this will be of use to godchildren and godparents alike. For those who would like to use this as a guide or to replicate in full for your godchildren, I simply ask that you cite me appropriately either as sole author, if you choose not to add to this text, or as contributing author, if you choose to add your own guidelines. Thank you.

Addendum: I have also observed many of these behaviors in the art world (Seattle and elsewhere) with varying degrees of proximity. Beyond my observations, such behaviors have been documented in the international art press, throughout the art world as recently as the beginning of 2018 with several prominent members of art world institutions being called out for their abuses. If anything said here resonates, apply as you see fit, and cite as I have mentioned above.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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