Note of July 16, 1995. This paper is 7 years old. It is due for a revamping. I decided to use it here and then revise it partially on the basis of the responses to it. It's not that I think there's anything wrong with the position here, it's just that I've read a great deal since 1988, been to more services, talked with more serveteurs and so on. So, I'm ready to update. Soon.
First and foremost Voodoo is a religion. It is the dominant religion of Haiti. Many of the practices and descriptions of Voodoo belief may sound to us like rank superstition, but then, imagine the beliefs of Christianity to people who know nothing about it. Tell them about the trinity or the resurrection, or the presence of Jesus in the eucharist. Any of these practices which very intelligent Christians believe in the fullest would seem no less superstitious to someone unfamiliar with Christianity.
Thus I urge you to recognize that Voodoo is Haiti's religion, it is taken very seriously not merely by unlettered peasants, but many intelligent and learned members of the Haitian society believe as sincerely in Voodoo as do German theology professors in their Christianity. In no way do I expect you to believe in Voodoo; no more than I would expect you to convert to Islam if I taught a course on that religion. But, please do recognize that it is every bit as real a religion as the major religions of the world.
mountpeople now and again during religious ceremonies and they give messages, and even cause various good and bad things to happen to people.
reclaimedby the family. Ignored family dead are dangerous. Honored and cared for family dead are helpful.
For any of these they may receive fees. But, they may not too. This differs from one houngan and mambo to another. (Note his is similar to fees paid to rabbis, mullahs, priests and ministers.)
service,the religious rites of the religion.
poto mitan,the center pole. A houngan or mambo almost always directs these.
mountpeople. That is, they come and take over a person's body for a time. When the loa come the person is gone. (It's not clear where the person goes.) The body is the body of the person, but it is really the loa. If a male loa mounts a female person, he is referred to as
he,not she, during the mounting.
SPECIAL NOTE By virtually all scholarly estimates one can find, rada accounts for about 95% of Voodoo, if not more. Thus the spectacular tales of black magic, while very real, are extremely limited. Petro is not the typical Voodoo, but it does exist.
the personto God and makes the person's case.
- the parish or region of a houngan or mambo's influence.
rescued.After a person dies the gros-bon-ange goes to the underwater place. A year and a day after he or she goes their the relatives can recall the gros-bon-ange. Unfortunately this is a very expensive service, requiring a significant animal sacrifice, often an ox. Thus it is often considerable time before the service can be done. If too much time passes the ancestor may get a bit restless and cause trouble--illness etc.
NOTE: Both kanzo and the taking of the ason are very secret services. However, in Alfred Mtraux's book (VOODOO IN HAITI), through observation and talking with people who were not too careful about the secrecy of kanzo, he has pieced together a detailed account of the ceremony.
- An old man who is the gatekeeper between the two worlds, world of earth and the world of the Invisibles. He is the origin of life. The sun is one of his symbols, but he is also the source of regeneration and uses the symbol of the phallus.
- (crossroads) is the Petro counterpart to Legba. He is the spirit of the night, the origins of darkness. The moon is his symbol. He can be placated, but is a dangerous loa.
- Papa Ghede.
- Loa of death and resurrection. A total clown. Very erotic and comic. He is the lord of eroticism.
- The father figure. He is the good snake. The source of peace and tranquillity. The egg is offered to him when he comes to mount a person. He is much loved and sought after. His wife Aida-wedo attends him.
- The sovereign of the seas. Especially honored, as one might well expect, by people who live near the sea.
- The warrior. Today, too, the force of politics. Violent.
- The earth mother. Spirit of the goddess of love. The muse of beauty. (Strongly identified with the Virgin Mary.) Her appearance (when she mounts someone) is one of cleansing, dressing, delicate foods daintily eaten. She can read the future in dreams. A much loved loa.
Voodoo is much criticized by foreigners
in Haiti. Sometimes it is simply because they profess a competing
religion and don't want the people to stay with Voodoo. At other times
they charge that it is devil worship. This claim is sheer nonsense
when speaking of Rada Voodoo, the numerically primary form. It is less
clear how to describe Petro. There are no
devils in Voodoo, but
Petro ultivates the evil spirits.
However, many of the non-religious aspects of Voodoo which people often criticize really seem to me to be more the result of Voodoo's overwhelming fatalism. The view is that to an astonishing degree the loa determine our lives. The Haitian serviteur has little use for anything like the Western idea of free will and personal responsibility. Rather, whatever has happened it is the loa who have caused it.
If one would like to change anything in one's life, from a current illness to the fundaments of the social system, one must ask the loa. One does not ACT on one's own. This would be counter-productive since it is the loa who decide these things anyway.
Further, the loa are not very changeable. Things are the way they are because the loa have decided it. This fatalism contributes significantly to the peasants' unwillingness to struggle for liberation. However, one can must the hard question: Is it Voodoo that has caused Haitian fatalism, or is it the history of the African/Haitian experience that has created Voodoo's fatalism?
I can't explain this, I only describe it.