Animal communication, an altar and a brief editorial–my Sunday

This morning started off with a phone session with one of my favorite people, animal communicator Tracy Ann (see Looking Back Part 2). We have fun during these sessions, and the conversation is always lively. Today I got to speak with my beloved Puck again, and I am happy to know he is onboard with my current religious path. Puck has his own small altar area on one of my bookshelves, which includes his old food dish. I often place items that I plan to use in future ritual work in his dish prior to using them. I feel that he will imbue them with his positive energy. Anyway, I had to laugh today when he remarked that his dish was getting rather crowded, because it is.

I am also excited because I got my altar for Legba set up and dedicated to him. It’s very simple and small, as space is an issue in my tiny apartment. A clean white washcloth that I purchased for him marks his area atop a pedestal. The reason I use the cloth is that I do at times have to move the pedestal for art shows. I feel that if I have to temporarily relocate him during those times, it will be less disruptive if I move the cloth and everything on it as a unit, the cloth itself serving as a sort of mobile altar surface. On top of this cloth are the framed card with his image on it, a chalice, a white candle, and a beautiful wood ritual knife that I bought a while back for Wicca use but never used. I mostly followed the instructions in Filan’s book (The Haitian Vodou Handbook) for setting up and purifying a sacred space, but also used a chanting technique I learned at a Zimbate energy workshop a while back. While I won’t describe this technique in detail here (this specific type of energy work must be learned from a practitioner, much like Reiki), it involves the use of certain syllables to invoke spiritual calm and remove negative influences. I find it quite effective to use this technique before meditating, and thought it could be helpful today as well. At the end, I brewed Legba a cup of hot black coffee and set it on his altar while I meditated for a while. The entire room felt filled with somewhat dense positive energy afterwards.

The last thing I want to discuss today is “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” If this sounds familiar to you and you are not someone who reads much about Vodou, then likely you’ve heard of the 1988 film with this name.

Predating the film by a few years is the book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis who, in 1982, traveled to Haiti to research zombi phenomena. Expecting to find a pharmacological formula to explain how people appeared to die and were later resurrected as zombis, what he found instead was a culture rich in history, magick and a very different worldview. The book is filled with fascinating discoveries and diverse personalities. I was always eager to find out what happened next. I don’t remember any particularly scary parts in the book.

The film, by contrast, is a somewhat cheesy highly fictionalized and often predictable B-movie by horror director Wes Craven. All of the names have been changed, which is understandable since this movie bears very little resemblance to the actual events, even though they stamp the words “based on a true story” onscreen during the opening credits. It should say “very loosely minimally based on a true story.” I originally saw this movie back when it was in theatres, and even then, with no knowledge of Vodou, I knew that there was no way on earth that the events depicted in the film actually happened.

The movie also changed the time period of the book. The author was in Haiti in the 80s. The movie takes place during the reign of Papa Doc Duvalier. I guess the film makers thought that would make the movie more exciting, and I guess it does in the sense that it creates opportunities for bloodshed.*

Having recently read and enjoyed the book so much, I decided to rewatch the movie to refresh my memory of it and compare it to the book. I now know that my memory of the movie was better than the actual movie. While I highly recommend the book, I don’t recommend the movie unless you have a couple of hours to waste on a marginally entertaining but unrealistic film. Even then, you’d be better off watching a film with more originality.

*Note added 9/29/09: The film likely depicts the reign of Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose reign ended in 1986. I am slowly learning about Haitian history (sheepish grin).

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