Archive for Haitian Vodou

A preview of things to come

Posted in Divination, Vodou with tags , , on July 19, 2015 by cheshirecatman

This is but one of the projects my mutli-talented spiritual mother is working on at the moment. Personally, I can’t wait for the deck and the book to be done; I love the idea of a Vodou-specific deck.

Haitian Vodou Tarot Deck

*Note: And I fully expect the GWS haters to start harping on this too. Hey people, your own gardens need tending.


More thoughts on cultural appropriation, humility and Vodou

Posted in Haiti, Life Lessons, lwas, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I doubt that anyone not born or at least raised in Haiti from a young age can ever understand Vodou in its full depth; the development of Haitian Vodou is so rooted in the history and culture of that country. Those of us adopting the religion can learn as much as we can, but some nuances will be lost on us due to differences in language, concepts and environment. We will never be the ‘experts’ in the way that someone who has always lived in the tradition is.

I am not saying that outsiders cannot be called by the lwa. If I believed that, then this blog would not exist. But I do see the topic of cultural appropriation brought up a lot in the online places where I lurk. This is mostly a good thing, as all of us who are not Haitian need to keep this in mind as we learn. But cultural appropriation is a tricky beast, and can be aided and abetted (and sometimes with good intentions) by the same people who are trying to avoid it.

To some extent, appropriation began the moment Vodou gained some popularity outside of Haiti. Outsiders became initiated, and a handful became Vodou’s mouthpiece for the outside world as more outsiders sought research materials that were easily accessible to them in the form of books and websites in languages other than Kreyol. Vodou is a beautiful faith and way of life; it is not surprising that it would attract outsiders once the stereotypes were pushed aside.

And this is where some of the appropriation occurred, in spite of the best intentions. Non-Haitians became prominent in this movement, not that this was undeserved or that hard work wasn’t involved. The problem is that the Non-Haitians became better known than the Haitians who taught them, with very few exceptions. The non-Haitians often do their best to connect newcomers to the original sources, but this has limited success. This is not dissimilar to what happened when blues music became popular among white musicians in the US and the UK. It morphed into rock and roll, which owes its existence to blues but is not blues in its original form. Nothing necessarily wrong with that except that the rock musicians became far more rich and famous than the blues musicians who inspired them, in spite of bands like the Stones making efforts to promote their blues idols. Popular media seems to have a life of its own sometimes. So I can’t blame those Haitians who express concern about foreigners adopting Vodou.

As outsiders, we should approach Vodou with a humble and respectful attitude; we begin as visitors and guests in this world whether we like it or not. Few things scream “appropriation” as loudly as people who initiate into a spiritual tradition not native to them, and then immediately present themselves as experts on the topic. Granted, they may have a good deal of knowledge about the tradition, but it is not going to be at the same level as someone born into the tradition. So ego needs to be placed aside, as they are akin to the graduate student who, while qualified to teach undergrads, is still not a full professor.

I also seriously have issues with those of European descent who study or initiate into a path and then set themselves up as the Billy Jack/Lt. John Dunbar/Jake Sully of said path (aka great white savior complex, which seems to be a bit more prevalent among males than females from what I have observed). I am not sure why they have a need to do this. In some cases it may be a combination of ego and a sense of entitlement (conscious or unconscious); in other cases it may be overcompensating for being a member of a privileged group (aka white guilt). Or perhaps they are simply the outsider attempting to gain the approval of the insiders by saying/doing what they think the insiders want them to say or do. A few of them seem to delight in publicly humiliating others, usually other non-Haitians whom they believe are more guilty of appropriation than they are, in spite of the white savior posturing, which is a particularly insidious form of appropriation that can sneak up on a person.

What can we do to mitigate appropriation? We need to locate reliable sources of information and follow regleman as accurately as we can. We can learn some Kreyol. We can follow the examples given to us by Haitian clergy when possible, and defer the spotlight to them as much as we can. We need to hear their voices more often.

There are a number of good mambos and houngans out there to learn from. There are also some very good groups and pages on Facebook run by Haitian people (although be forewarned that the crusaders may be there as well). Whatever happens, don’t give up. If you are diligent and meant to be on this path, the lwa will help you find your way.

Some recommended resources:

Sosyete La Deesse De La Mer Vodou Temple Facebook page

Sosyete l’Afrique Ginen Facebook page

Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou by Jerry M. Gilles and Yvrose S. Gille.

Lave Tet follow-up and other updates

Posted in Divination, Dreams, Ghede, La Sirene, Legba, lwas, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2012 by cheshirecatman

I haven’t been posting much about myself recently because there haven’t been any earth-shattering things going on around here. It’s been fairly low-key for the past few months.

I hadn’t been feeling any dramatic effects following my lave tet back in August, or at least I thought I hadn’t. But effects can sometimes be subtle when it comes to metaphysical stuff, and true to form they manifest very differently from what I expected.

I’ve been strangely unproductive since August, dragging my feet on art projects and other tasks that need to be done. I didn’t really associate this with the lave tet until I had an unrelated conversation with Mambo C. During that conversation, she explained that when a person attends ceremonies and performs other activities that bring them into close contact with the energies of the lwa, things can get uncomfortable.

This isn’t a bad thing—in fact it’s quite the opposite. Vodou services expose us to energies that help to balance us, and sometimes this attempt at balancing can feel uncomfortable and awkward until the balance is actually achieved.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I need to make changes in my life, but I am procrastinating. Procrastination can be the bane of people like me who lean towards perfectionism. We want to do things right; we want to fix everything at once. Then we get overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start. And then end up doing nothing.

For example, I know I need to simplify my life and get rid of items that do not help me along my path. The problem is I have so much stuff—in the closets, in the garage, on my bookshelves. (I am a bit of a pack rat due to having been pretty poor at various points in my life.) I also know I need to prioritize how I spend my time and, if I continue dragging my feet, the powers that be may lose patience with me and start taking away the distractions. Recently I was planning to load a game I bought months ago into my PC (read, “major time-waster”) and then my CD-ROM drive spontaneously stopped working. I’m still trying to fix it and think I’m getting close, but am now having second thoughts about loading the game.

As I travel deeper into Vodou, I am going to have less and less time to waste. And the body dislikes change, even if it’s change for the better. As my friend Shannon Knight likes to say, the body views all change as death. It gets scared and resists. It’s that whole “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” thing.

But not everything has been struggle. I am happy that the energy around my shrine cabinet seems stronger since returning from Philadelphia. Sometimes I can feel the energy pressing against my head the moment my thoughts turn towards making an offering. I wanted to add more lwa to the shrine but the shelves were full. So I found a hanging candle holder at a thrift store for a couple of dollars and hung it on the inside of one of the cabinet doors. Then I scanned a few of the cards from Sallie Ann Glassman’s NOLA deck and hung them above the candles. Voila, three new mini shrines.

Also recently I received a message from Legba, who told me “If you feel like you should go, you should go. If you feel like you should stay, find the high ground so you can fight for what you love.” I think he was referring specifically to my preoccupation with death (and it warrants mention here that the Ghede showed up in the reading I had with Mambo Pat back in August, although I chose not to mention it in previous posts). I may elaborate more on this in a later post after I work out some issues for myself.

In other lwa-related news, it seems that La Sirene wants something more of me too, and has turned up in at least three readings I’ve received in the past several months. I am working on serving her better so I can figure out what that is.

And my dream life has been pretty active, with a lot of time spent wandering around old buildings in the astral realm. Sometimes I am looking for shoes, undoubtedly to help me find my way along this path.

Books for “Vodou 101”

Posted in African culture, Agwe, Haiti, lwas, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2012 by cheshirecatman

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.

Additional reading (updated as I read more books):
Sevis Lwa: Crossroad of Vodou (Volume 2) by Mambo Vye Zo Komande la Menfo. Published April, 2018. A companion piece to her earlier book, this volume contains detailed instructions and information for those continuing to serve the Lwa.