Books for “Vodou 101”

Last Wednesday I stopped at Edge of the Circle Books on my way to meet a friend, and found yet another new book on Vodou that I think I am going to like a lot (more on this later). How I wished I’d had this book when I started down this path. This got me to thinking, what books would I like to see included in a “Vodou 101” class? Below is my list, with brief comments on each.

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren. A much-touted (and deservedly so) account of Deren’s journey to Haiti and into Vodou. Includes a ton of information about the lwa and various ceremonies, including a beautiful service held for Met Agwe and a firsthand account of possession.

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown. This book also includes a lot of info about the lwa and the services, but I also liked that the author focused on Mama Lola as a Haitian living in the U.S. and how she holds her services here. This focus gives the book a more personal feel. The author and Mama Lola also travel to Haiti, and we are given a closer look at the Haitian people and the author’s experience as a foreigner being initiated into Vodou.

The Book of Vodou by Leah Gordon. I really wish I had this book when I started out. It packs a lot of information into a thin tome–everything from a brief history of Haiti to descriptions (with property tables) of the lwa to a glossary of terms. And tons of pictures! This would be a good first book to assign to a class to give a student a quick  overview of Vodou and engage their interest.

The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan. This is another book I wished I’d had from the get-go. Filan’s writing style and the way he arranged the book is very accessible to someone new to Vodou. What I really love about this book, however, is that it contains some very practical suggestions for the non-initiate solo practitioner. Not everyone is near a sosyete (a Vodou house) and his book helped me immensely when I was figuring out how to serve the lwa on my own.

Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou (Volume 1) by Mambo Vye Zo Komande la Menfo. Just published last year, this is a very good overview of Vodou with focus on respect for the lwa and for the culture of Haiti. I liked that the author emphasized the importance of discovering which lwa are with you rather than courting a lwa you happen to find interesting (she considers this rude to the lwa who are with you, and I agree).

Haitian Vodou: An Introduction to Haiti’s Indigenous Spiritual Tradition by Mambo Chita Tann. This is the book I ran across on Wednesday by happy “accident.” My plan that day had been to take a bus to the northern end of Capital Hill and go to a different book store altogether. This plan was changed when the bus I wanted to catch did not show up after 20 minutes (which was weird as this particular bus runs at least every 15 minutes at that hour, so I should have at least seen one go by) and I had to walk to another bus stop, which left me with not enough time to go to that particular store and meet my friend on time. So I ended up catching a different bus and got off partway up the hill and went to Edge of the Circle instead.

And I was glad I did. My initial reaction when I saw this book was that I really could not justify buying another “101” level book. However, I quickly changed my mind once I took a look inside. First of all, this book includes a lot of pronunciations of Haitian words, which is invaluable for those of us who don’t speak Kreyol. (Now, I would absolutely have LOVED to have this a few years ago!) I was already sold at that point, and then discovered that the author also included some Haitian recipes for dishes you can serve to the lwa. I’ve only just started reading this book, but so far I  like it a lot. The author emphasizes respect for the lwa and for the culture and people of Haiti.

Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Spiritual Heritage by Sharon Caulder. I would like to see this book included in a Vodou class, even though it’s not about Haitian Vodou. I enjoyed this book so much because it felt like I was reading an interesting novel. It’s the firsthand story of the author’s journey to Benin to learn about Voodoo from Supreme Chief Daagbo Hounon Houna. Learning about Vodou’s African roots was interesting and gives one a broader perspective of the lwa.

So these are my beginner’s recommendations as of this date. I am sure there are other good resources out there, but I am just including books I’ve read or am in the process of reading here.

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8 Responses to “Books for “Vodou 101””

  1. This entry is totally bitchin’. I love books. I love book recommendations. And I totally love that SOMEONE wrote up a 101 Vodou list.

    • cheshirecatman Says:

      Thanks! There are starting to be more books out there about Vodou, which is good to see. The first book I read about Haitian Vodou was Milo Rigaud’s “Secrets of Vodou,” and it was the English translation at that. The book has a lot of good info in it, but I found it overwhelming at that time and I had no familiarity with the Kreyol words. It would be better to read that after digesting a few of the easier books.

  2. Thanks for the list. I’m definitely going to check out the book by Chita Tann. I’ve badly needed Kreyol language help for a while.

  3. cheshirecatman Says:

    Pimsleur Language Programs has three different CD sets for learning Creole that you might be interested in. The Conversational version is not too expensive, and has all the lessons contained in their Basic version plus more. There’s also a Comprehensive package, but it’s a bit pricier. Haitian Creole

  4. This is a great list Cheshire! One of my favorite books is Maya’s novel. Its nice to see so many great books and positive info. out there about the lwa and Vodou!

  5. Very good list you have here, with the exception of the last book I’m acquainted with them all (except that last one) but haven’t had a chance to acquire them all as of yet. I recently found Mambo Chita Tann’s book accidentally while following a link from Sosyete du Marche website (pretty good site on Vodou) and it looked good I’m glad you’ve included your thoughts on it here. I love Kenaz ‘Handbook’ along with his other two on love and money magic. I think Kenaz comes from a unique position when he writes on Vodou for those not of its culture in that he knows the contemporary spiritual/magical community which helps him bridge gaps in understanding. I recently bought Ross Heaven’s ‘Vodou Shaman’ (I figured if Kenaz suggested it it must be at least decent) and am working my way through it. If you read ‘Vodou Shaman’ I’d like to know what you thought of it. Blessings.

    • cheshirecatman Says:

      It’s been a while since I read Ross Heaven’s book, but I remember that it had some good info in it, and his experiences in Haiti were interesting. The book has a decent glossary and instructions for setting up an altar. I did not include his book in this list because he has since renounced his initiation and does not seem to be involved in Vodou any more.

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