Archive for Mama Lola

Drew Mourns Dr. Karen McCarthy Brown

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 15, 2015 by cheshirecatman

Dr. Karen McCarthy Brown, theologian and author of “Mama Lola,” departs this world for Ginea on March 4. Link to the full memorial below.

Professor Emerita of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion passed away earlier this month.

By J. Terry Todd, Associate Professor, Drew Theological School


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.

More thoughts on Ogoun

Posted in African culture, lwas, Ogoun, Religion, Therianthropy, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by cheshirecatman

I’ve been reading Karen McCarthy Brown’s book “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn.” Part religious study, part biography, this book was repeatedly recommended to me and I can see why. It’s a vibrant and entertaining read, and I’m learning a surprising amount just in the descriptions of the rituals and altars. I love this book.

It has a really good chapter about Ogou (alternate spelling of Ogoun, you find spelling variations a lot in Vodou), which I read with great interest since Ogou is one of the lwa who walks with me and possibly my met tet. There are many Ogou. What I like and find interesting about the Ogou lwa are that none of them are all good or all evil. Their characters are well-rounded. McCarthy writes:

Vodou spirits, unlike the Catholic saints whose names they borrow, are characters defined by contradiction . . . The wholeness of the spirits–their ability to contain conflicting emotions and to model opposing ways of being in the world–gives Vodou its integrity as a religion.

Ogou straddles the Rada and Petwo nachons (or nations of lwa). While the Rada lwa tend to be dependable, cooler headed and patient (their power lies in their wisdom), the Petwo lwa are hot-tempered and volatile (their power is their ability to make things happen). In his original Yoruba incarnation, Ogou was associated with ironsmithing and was the protector of hunters and clearer of forest paths. (I found that passage interesting due to my therian side being a predatory cat. It also brought to mind my friend Angie’s vision that I wrote about back in August–see “Doubt, rationalization and unexpected conduits.” The setting of her vision was a forest path.)

In the book, internationally known Nigerian scholar Wande Abimbola describes what Ogou is like in Africa:

…in my country, it is a little different. Ogou has his own priests. And Ogou is not just a soldier. He is the one who clears the way. He opens a path through the forest, you know.

Ogou also works with iron . . .  Ogou is important because he teaches us how to handle the modern world–arms, machines, trucks, all that. Without Ogou, we could forget that the things man creates can turn on him, even destroy him.

In her book, Brown says that the personality of the met tet and that of the devotee tend to coincide. So, for example, someone with Ogou as a met tet is expected to be brave, assertive, loyal, etc. All Ogous tend to be quick to anger, but deal with their anger in different ways–some punish, others withdraw. Brown also notes that diagnosing someone’s met tet is more than a surface labeling of personality types, and that it often works at a deeper level where it zeroes in on significant latent characteristics. This happened to Brown; she was told by more than one houngan and mambo that Ogou was her met tet, even though that did not match her own image of herself.

This made me think back on my reading with Mambo C. She saw Ogou in the cards, but mentioned casually that she didn’t think he was my met tet. I can easily see how anyone who did not know me really well would think this. When I meet people for the first time, I am quiet, polite, and slow to engage in conversation. I’ve also been told by more than one person that I give off a calming, soothing energy. However, when I really lose my temper (which, thankfully, is not often), a contrasting side emerges, one that is aggressive, sharp-tongued, calculating, spiteful and difficult to control. Sometimes when minor things make me impatient, this side partially emerges, and people sense that and back off. Some of them even seem a little afraid of this side, which is humorous because I am far from being a physically imposing person.

Mambo C told me that my path in Vodou might be a difficult one. If this is true, then I am grateful to have Ogou with me, whether or not he is my met tet. I could really use some path-clearing.