Archive for the Movies and Media Category

The United States of Hoodoo

Posted in African culture, Haiti, Movies and Media, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2014 by cheshirecatman


This full-length documentary film is now available for rental ($2.99) or purchase ($5.99). I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer looks good. You can see the trailer and purchase the film here.

Bah, American Horror Story

Posted in Legba, Movies and Media, Vodou with tags , , , on January 8, 2014 by cheshirecatman
Is this how you visualize Legba? Yeah, didn't think so.

Is this how you visualize Legba? Yeah, didn’t think so.

With each season, “American Horror Story” has become more of a clusterfuck. I guess I should not be surprised, producer Ryan Murphy does not have a good track record regarding quality television and respect for diverse people and cultures. If you don’t think I’m serious, guess which of the young witches were killed off first? You got it: the black one and then the disabled one. Because, of course neither could be the supreme. You need a typical white girl for that.

The premiere episode this season was particularly horrible, with footage of the torture and mutilation of black bodies for the purpose of making a villain seem more villainous (which sort of makes sense until said villain is played off as sympathetic later). Tonight’s episode, while featuring Stevie Nicks (who still can move me to tears with her music), managed to insult none other than Papa Legba, who is portrayed as some weird cross between Baron Samedi and Satan. Since when did Legba ever purchase souls? Yeah, there’s the whole devil-in-the-crossroads Robert Johnson story, but if one views that story with some understanding of Voodoo, one might interpret it not as Johnson selling his soul but rather as him making an offering to the lwa.

While Angela Bassett is, as always, magnificent, this show receives an F- for its portrayal of Voodoo as of tonight.

Norwescon and themes of three

Posted in Animals, Art, lwas, Movies and Media, Sekhmet, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Art table at Norwescon 35

Last weekend I was at Norwescon participating in the art show and attending panels. It was exhausting and a lot of fun. Among the highlights for me was the panel on race and popular media, moderated by Sheye Anne Blaze and featuring author Dennis R. Upkins. Mr. Upkins slipped in a barb about the film “Avatar” before I even had a chance to mention anything, and it was so gratifying to hear from others who share my views on the film (which you can read here). I don’t hate the movie or believe that James Cameron had any bad intentions, but when I watch it there are always things that bother me about the film even though I love the lush visuals.

I made three sales this year, and two of the pieces went to auction (a first for me!). I can’t help but think the goddess Sekhmet had her hand in this, possibly due in part to some candle work recently performed with her. One of the pieces that sold was a standing figure of the goddess herself, and the other two were domestic black cats. Granted, I had no shortage of cats on my table, but still, only the feline pieces sold.

Two years ago, I sold three Vodou-related pieces at the same convention, after requesting the favor of the lwa.

True to my promise to her, a portion of profits will be set aside for donation to big cat causes, to be donated periodically to a responsible non-profit organization (there are several I like, including the Snow Leopard Trust and the White Lion Protection Trust). The goddess likes us to create and display her image, so I have another piece started for her to display at my next show.

Another view on “Avatar”

Posted in Movies and Media with tags , , , , on June 19, 2011 by cheshirecatman

Scholar Anthony Browder makes some very positive comments on James Cameron’s film and how Cameron based the Omaticayan culture on the cultures of Africans, Native Americans and other indigenous people.

Anthony Browder on Avatar

While I do not disagree with what Mr. Browder says (and I do believe that Cameron had good intentions), I still have issues with the film. Cameron’s homage to indigenous cultures would be all nifty and good IF it weren’t for the human character adopting the native culture and then becoming their savior, as well as conquering the resident princess. (See my previous post “Thoughts on Avatar and colonialism.”)

And in conclusion, I am feeling flippant, so here is another amusing Avatar commentary, “Avatar & Aliens are the same goddamned movie.”


Faith healing and speaking in tongues

Posted in Animals, Dreams, Movies and Media, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2011 by cheshirecatman

There was a time, not too long ago, when I viewed speaking in tongues and faith healing with a great deal of skepticism. I still am initially skeptical about most types of paranormal and unusual phenomena, which I think is healthy, but these days I am much more open to drawing conclusions that may or may not match up to my previous beliefs.

Last Tuesday I watched the premiere episode of “Our America,” a one-hour documentary hosted by journalist Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). My main reason for watching the show was not because I was interested in faith healing so much as I was curious about the feel of the show as I knew I would be watching some of the later episodes. My plan was to watch the show while messing around on the computer and doing other things.

But from the first five minutes, I was glued to the television. Ms. Ling approached her subject and the people she interviewed with an open mind and a great deal of compassion. You felt for the people who came to the 3-day revival event hoping to be healed. Their faith was moving and of such a depth that is possibly beyond what I am capable of feeling.

During the revival, people fell to the floor convulsing, laughing, speaking in tongues. What struck me most about all of this was that it seemed very familiar to me. It was not so different from watching possessions at a fet.

During the fets I have attended, I’ve seen people fall to the floor, convulse, behave strangely and speak in voices other than their own.  The more I learn about different religions, the more commonalities I see. The differences become more superficial. Perhaps the various rituals we perform, the beings and deities we call upon, and the various belief systems we construct are simply various avenues to connect with the divine.

I am not saying that all deities are the same deity. I don’t necessarily think so. But all of these deities inhabit a realm that is accessible through these various rituals. And the goals of the people striving to touch this realm are very similar–we want peace, healing, communion and vindication of our faith.

Sometimes healing doesn’t work; it didn’t work for everyone in the show. But in my opinion, that does not necessarily make the healer a fake. I don’t know if there is any healer anywhere who has a success rate of 100 percent. I seriously doubt it.

On the subject of healing, I had a minor scare recently with my younger cat, Luna, who was having trouble defecating. Being the overly protective sort that I am with my cats, of course I thought the worst. She’s mostly recovered now, but I think that was my reminder to return to my energy and healing studies, which I had a renewed interest in during Puck’s illness. Luna’s problem reminded me how I felt when Puck was ill, and my knowledge and abilities were not enough to significantly help him. I don’t want to be in that situation again as Luna gets older.

As if in agreement, Puck appeared in my dream last night. He was outside with Anne and I as we were waiting for a bus and, even though I realized I might miss the bus, I took the time to take him back inside where he would be safe. When I came back outside, Anne was still there and the bus had not yet arrived. Puck is telling me to “not miss the bus by waiting too long to do what I need to do.” I am thinking of rereading Barbara Ann Brennan’s “Hand of Light” and then following that up with a review of Zimbate, Reiki and my holistic cat care books.

Always so much to learn, but it means that boredom is rarely a problem for me.

Thoughts on Avatar and colonialism

Posted in Movies and Media, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by cheshirecatman

Warning: The following post contains spoilers about the movie “Avatar.” Do not read if you have not seen the movie or are easily offended by articles discussing racism, which is not erased in spite of efforts at political correctness. While none of this directly relates to Vodou, it does relate to colonialism, which in turn relates to Haitian history.

An online discussion with a friend last night prompted me to write this post, just to express things that need to be said. While James Cameron’s film has good intentions, some of its underlying themes are less than impressive (as well as the general storyline).

There are some things I like about the film. It’s a lush production with stunning visuals, interesting character and creature design, and a nature vs technology storyline. The first hour or so is a lot of fun. Largely this is due to the main character’s process of discovery as he downloads his consciousness into his alien avatar body. We get to experience a new planet, people and culture through his eyes. It’s pure escapism, appealing to our longing for spiritual awakening and a deeper bond with the natural world, as well as our individual desires to leave past mistakes behind and reinvent ourselves. Who wouldn’t like to be stronger and faster?

The second part of the movie falls into your standard and predictable action movie climax, with guns, planes, explosions and a one-on-one fight between our hero and the main bad guy. Not surprising, but disappointing after a strong start. Oh well, that’s merely the superficial part of this film’s flaws. Like other popular stories such as Crocodile Dundee, Tarzan, Madame Butterfly and the “Native American” epic Dances with Wolves, Avatar has underlying colonialist themes which, for those of us unable to ignore such things, are rather annoying.

Wikipedia actually has a pretty good definition of the type of colonialism I’m talking about:

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture of one society into another. It is usually the case that the former belongs to a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter belongs to a smaller, less important one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. A metaphor of colonialism is employed: the cultural products of the first world “invade” the third-world and “conquer” local culture. In the stronger variants of the term, world domination (in a cultural sense) is the explicit goal of the nation-states or corporations that export the culture. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence.

Cultural imperialism rears its unattractive head all the time in media representations of minority groups in some really irritating ways:

  • Stupid notions of beauty.  If you are not super thin (if you are a woman especially) or tall (if you are a guy) you are not sexually attractive. If you have certain types of hair you are not attractive. If you have a wide or long nose, you are not attractive. This was brought home to me in a personal way by the movies Romeo Must Die and The Replacement Killers. In both of those movies, you have mixed raced couples in which the male is Asian. In both of those movies, the Asian leading man never gets to even kiss the leading lady let alone (gasp) have sex with her. Seriously, how often do you see that in your average R-rated action flick? Also worth noting for its ridiculousness is that Dances with Wolves has a white leading man and white leading woman in Native garb.
  • Changes or misinterpretations of a group presented as fact. Oh, the joy of stereotypes. I hear bad things about the new animated movie “The Frog Prince” and its representation of Vodou. I haven’t seen the film nor do I intend to (unless it’s on TV when I’m drunk).
  • Incredible leaps of believability.  See comment on Dances with Wolves in the first bulleted paragraph above. Or really, if you were an Omaticayan, would you trust a fake dreamwalker person who was spying on you, even if he attempted to redeem himself?

Movies like Avatar and Dances with Wolves remind me of one of my favorite poems by Sherman Alexie, titled “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel.” Using select quotes from said poem, let’s examine Avatar, shall we? My comments are in brackets.

The hero must be a half-breed, half white [or human] and Indian [or Omaticayan], preferably from a horse [or horse thing] culture.

If the hero is an Indian [Omaticayan] woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender and in love with a white man [human].

Indians [Omaticayans] must see visions. White people [humans] can have the same visions if they are in love with Indians [Omaticayans]. If a white person [human] loves an Indian [Omaticayan]

then the white person [human] is Indian [Omaticayan] by proximity. White people [humans] must carry an Indian [Omaticayan] deep inside themselves…If the interior Indian [Omaticayan] is male then he must be a warrior [Marine]….

You see the parallels. These patterns are hard to ignore when you’ve been seeing them all your life, even when they are disguised as science fiction.

Okay, this is the end of my rant. I promise the next post will be more directly related to Vodou.

“The Fourth Kind” and thoughts on abductions and possessions

Posted in lwas, Movies and Media, Possession, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on November 28, 2009 by cheshirecatman

(Note: This post includes some spoilers about the film. If you are planning to see it, you might want to read this post later.)

Last Wednesday I saw “The Fourth Kind.” The film had not received favorable reviews locally, so I went with low expectations, thinking it would be your standard abduction flick. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself deeply engrossed in the movie.

I had not realized that the movie included actual footage of abductees’ hypnotic regression sessions and police footage. This added intensity to the film; an actor’s screams can rarely match a true, gutteral cry of terror. What I found interesting, though, was that parts of the regression sessions were more like possession rather than abduction regression. People’s bodies contorted and at least two of them were shouting in ancient Sumerian. Plus the video would become snowy during parts of the session, almost as though the abductees were generating a large amount of electromagnetic energy. This reminded me of parts of Reginald Crosley’s book, “The Vodou Quantum Leap,” where he discusses how, by generating huge amounts of electromagnetic energy (either though science via the Philadelphia Experiment or through ritual) the limitations of what we accept as common reality can be temporarily surpassed. Thus, entities from the spirit world can temporarily reside in a human body.

In two of the cases shown in the movie, the abductees were left with permanent disabling injuries. I thought about possessions in Vodou, and how the lwa are always careful to avoid injuring their horses (the possessed people). These entities that are assumed to be aliens–what are they, really? Are they the grey Roswell-type aliens, or a related species? Or are they something entirely different? And why do we assume them to be related? The regression footage reminded me more of demonic possession than alien abduction regression.

I think people are driven to quickly label things they don’t understand in order to have some type of answer, even if it is the wrong one. It’s also hard to be objective under duress.

Insomnia and the X-Files

Posted in Haiti, Movies and Media, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on September 10, 2009 by cheshirecatman

I had some serious insomnia last night. It may have been caused by the two cups of regular coffee I had at dinner while out with a friend. Normally Anne and I restrict our evening coffee to decaf only.

I stood up way late watching the SyFy channel (hate the new spelling, by the way, it just looks WRONG). After a rerun of an episode of “Lost” ended, I was treated to an episode of “The X-Files” that I’d clean forgotten about. As luck would have it, it was an episode involving Vodou.

Mulder and Scully are investigating the death of a military man who worked at a temporary internment camp detaining a group of Haitians, including one man who is known to be a bokor (Vodou priest skilled in dark magic). As the story unfolds, we learn that other soldiers stationed there have committed suicide or died, and there are allegations of abuse of the detainees by the U.S. military. I’m not going to describe the episode in detail, because there might be someone out there who has not seen it, and those of you who like spoilers can always consult Google. The episode name is “Fresh Bones.”

As I watched Mulder and Scully’s investigation, I was again reminded why “The X-Files” will always be one of my favorite television series. (Not many others even come close, the notable exception being the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica.” These are the only two television series I own or plan to own in their entirety.) The writing was always so good, and a decent amount of research was done on the subject matter. Mulder even mentions Wade Davis, author of “The Serpent and the Rainbow.”

Unlike the horrible film version of that book, this episode of “X-Files”  refrains from overusing special effects or simple good guy/bad guy characters. Instead, we are treated to a tale of hallucinations, zombis, oppression, deception and Vodou, all with the dark supernatural overtones that make the show so delightful.

A fun bit of trivia: Callum Keith Rennie, who played the Cylon Leoben Conoy on Galactica, guest stars as the groundskeeper of a cemetery.

“The White Darkness,” a film by Richard Stanley

Posted in Haiti, Movies and Media, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on August 31, 2009 by cheshirecatman

Last night I watched “The White Darkness,” a 2002 documentary by director Richard Stanley. Of the three Vodou documentaries I’ve viewed recently, this one was by far the most intriguing. Interspersed with footage of actual rites and possessions are interviews with the people who actually live and breathe Vodou on a daily basis: the Haitian practitioners themselves.

One practitioner stated that “spirit” is a Judeo-Christian way of thinking, and that in Haiti there are only the lwa. His description was quite different than those given in most of the books I’ve read:

Lwa is that energy that is transcendent through someone, maybe energy hidden within yourself that is liberated at some point.

Also interviewed during the film are Christian missionaries and U.S. armed forces personnel providing “humanitarian” aid. These segments create an interesting counterpoint to the Vodouist perspective, and also expose the prejudices and misconceptions about Vodou.

The film is brief at 52 minutes, and available for rental via Netflix. Anyone with a serious interest in Vodou should see it.