Publisher's note: This was a student paper from Bob Corbett's course on Haitian Voodoo. It is present in this set of archives at his recommendation and with the student's permission. It consists of two letters written home by a fictitious character, named Aimee.
Thanks so much for the early Christmas card - it meant a lot. It has really been difficult for me to adjust to college life. I never realized what a challenge it would be to live alone and away from home for the first time. It hasn't been easy. I still question my choice not to live in the dorms. This apartment has become quite a burden to my bank account. Also, living off campus has made it harder to make any friends from school. Friends? Ha! What are those? I've been so busy trying to keep up in all of my classes (college is much harder than high school!!) and working so I can afford my apartment that I've had no time to socialize. Things are definitely different than they were one year ago when I was living at home and breezing through high school! So your Christmas card helped take away some of the loneliness - thanks.
And Mom, don't worry about me, either. Yes, New York can be very scary - but I take all of the necessary precautions to protect myself. I can only do so much, and the rest I leave up to my spirits. Remember my telling you about that neat lady I met in Brooklyn? Alourdes is her name.
Anyway, I know that when I told you about her, you didn't approve because she practices Voodoo. (Yes- this again!!) But, Mom, Alourdes and this way of life - the Voodoo spirits we follow (yes, we) - have become so significant to my life that I need for you to try to understand this world. I've taken vows and I'm now married to my special spirit, or loa. This event has been a turning point in my life, and I want to explain it all to you so you'll understand and not worry so much about me.
I indicated earlier that I've felt lonely and alienated, but
the loneliness has subsided a little. Two months ago I was at my wit's
end with it. But now, since I've discovered the loa, I've
achieved some peace. I had heard about Alourdes from someone I work
with. He knew I'd been struggling and told me that Alourdes was a
healer and that she could help me. I was so desperate that I was
ready to try anything. I knew there was the possibility that she could
be just another
hoax who was out to rip me off, but that was a chance
I was willing to take. Well she isn't a hoax, and I knew this the
minute I set foot in her house. She treated me with such concern - she
really wanted to help me. Mom, I know you think Voodoo is some sort of
evil cult. And I'll admit, I at one time questioned its validity as
well, but this is so far from the truth. I wish more people knew how
beautiful the world of the loa really is. Advocates of Voodoo
have worked hard to change its image. Some writers have even tried to
change the spelling of the word Voodoo (to vodun, vaudin, vodoun,
vodou, vaudoux) in attempts to
disguise it. It is widely believed by
some defenders of Voodoo that the mere word, Voodoo, holds such
negative connotations in peoples' heads that they immediately close
their mind when they see the word and they won't read any further about
it. Sound familiar?
Anyway Mom, I'm here to tell you that Voodoo - no matter how you
spell it - is a positive religion. True, it has its negative aspects,
but so do all religions. Most of the negative stuff you've seen and
heard about Voodoo (cannibalism; dolls with pins in them; zombies;
black magic) is either completely false or so rare that it hardly ever
takes place. But c'mon, you and I both know that Hollywood producers
aren't going to profit by making a two hour movie portraying a day in
the life of the Catholic Church. But if a movie-maker can get some
kind of negative angle on a religion - something out of the ordinary,
like an exorcism or devil worship, then those producers will take this
all the way to the bank! After all, Aunt Evelyn is Catholic, but I'd
be willing to bet that she's never once gone to church and found the
crucifix upside down or blood where the holy water is suppose to be.
Well, I've never been to a Voodoo ceremony where there are dolls with
pins in them, or people getting sacrificed and eaten. Just as there
have been occasional exorcisms within the Christian religion, and a
small percentage of people who worship the devil - Voodoo also has its
dark side. But also like Christianity, Voodoo's darker side isn't
nearly as graphic as Hollywood portrays it. Take zombification for
example: when you break it down, its just a boring technical procedure
where some guy called a bokor (he's basically like a priest
gone bad) administers a few drugs that knocks the person (
and leaves him or her helplessly
dazed for the rest of his or her
life. It's pretty basic stuff. No wands or whips or daggers. Even the
evil spells that bokors put on people sound anti-climactic
(When a bokor puts a bad spell on someone, he says he's doing
work on that person). All that an evil spell really does (if it
works) is give the recipient of the spell some bad luck. And bad luck
can be anything from a bladder infection to a plane crash. Still, there
is no blood dripping from ceilings, and there are no human organs in
the middle of dinner tables.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to defend the evil, or dark
side of Voodoo. I think it's horrifying, and that's why I don't
practice it. I stick with people who follow the nice spirits - the
sweet loa we call them. No one I know even practices Voodoo
left hand. Alourdes, my friend that I mentioned earlier,
is a mambo (Voodoo priestess) and she practices Voodoo with her
right hand - meaning she follows the sweet loa, too. This side
of Voodoo that I associate with (and so do 95% of all of the people who
follow the spirits) is called the
Rada side. In Rada Voodoo, the
only time it can really get nasty is when the spirits are upset. See,
Mom, these spirits aren't like the big almighty Christian God who's way
up there in the sky. The Voodoo God - we call him/her Bondye or
sometimes Granmet, (Grand Master) - is too busy and also, quite
frankly, he/she is too snobbish. My spirits have feelings just like I
do. They're not too high and mighty to talk to little old me. They
understand me. My spirits know what it's like to be angry, sad, happy,
lonely, or tired. They can feel that way, too. That's why they can
sometimes get a little
nasty, If I ignore them, they feel jilted
just like I would if someone ignored me. So, yeah, things can sometimes
get a little strange - if I ignore my spirits I'm liable to run into
some sort of misfortune (illness, accident etc.) But they're usually
pretty forgiving, and they give ME a lot of notice when
they're upset (my professor at school calls my spirits
I don't want you to get the wrong impression - my spirits aren't so temperamental that they can't be relied upon. They're benevolent spirits as long as I remember them. Our relationship is based on love. I love and adore my spirits, and they love and protect me.
There are a lot of loa, too. I'm not responsible for
all of them, though - just my personal spirits. I already told you
that I married my special spirit, Loko. The ceremony was about a month
ago. It was really neat. Loko is kind of in charge of nature. He's
really into leaves and herbs, and Alourdes says he's
the guard of
sanctuaries and upholder of justice. The reason I married him out of
all of the other spirits is because he is the spirit that is most like
myself (No wonder I'm studying law!) It's funny 'cause there are all
these other spirits that I thought I would be way more compatible with
than I am with Loko. Papa Ghede is the loa of eroticism; life
and death; protector of children; guardian of the cemetery; and just a
real funny guy who likes to smoke cigars (you know how I love the smell
of cigar smoke!) Agwe is the spirit of the sea. Ougon is the strong,
dominant, and prophetic warrior spirit. Erzulie is the refined loa
of love and beauty who likes to flirt and get attention. It's
interesting because she's so lovely and happy all throughout
ceremonies, but right before she leaves she gets real sad and sinks
into a deep
depression that she bears all alone because no one can
comprehend her pain. But the thing is - she comprehends everybody
else's pain (maybe that's why she cries?) Anyway, there's also
Dumballah, who is a
snake spirit. He's a real loving father-figure
type. Then there's Zaka, Papa Ghede's brother, and he's kind of gross.
He's just really immature and sometimes acts disgustingly. Ghede
usually gets lewd at ceremonies, but it's all in good humor. However
when Zaka acts that way, it's not always funny. He's just not as
smooth at it as Ghede is.
Simba is one of the Petro spirits, they're more angry than
sweet. They often get a bad rap. Most of the
left handed Voodoo
is from the Petro spirits, but there is also a justified rage in Petro
which Haitian history explains. Anyway, Simba rules the waters.
Ti-Jean is another Petro spirit.
Gran Bwa is the guy we go to when somebody wants to be initiated
into the priesthood. Ayida and Erzulie are both married to Dumballah.
But I guess the most important spirit is Papa Legba. Legba is so
important because without him, we can't get to our other spirits. He's
kind of like a telephone operator because he connects you with the
spirit you need to get a hold of. We call Legba's role
gates to the spirit world. Legba is a Rada spirit, so when bokors
want to do work on somebody and they need to open the gates to the
Petro spirits, Kalfu is who they ask.
So do you see what I mean about there being a lot of spirits?!
That's why I couldn't believe it when Alourdes told me that Loko is my
spirit. I thought for sure that my bouts with depression were enough
evidence to prove that I belonged with Erzulie; or my love of swimming
and the ocean would surely make me one of Agwe's descendents. Heck,
even Papa Ghede and I both love children! But the more I think about
it, the more I know that Alourdes is right. Every day I learn more and
more about Loko. The other day I surprised Alourdes with a birthday
cake. She wanted to know how I found out it was her birthday, and I
just smiled mysteriously. It wasn't until then that Alourdes told me I
was so much like Loko 'cause
he hears everything. She said he's
like the wind and you never know when he's around! I thought that
was pretty neat. The more I get to know Alourdes, the more I'm amazed
at how brilliant she is. I can't even fathom how she can see so much in
people. Just by talking with someone, she can see deep within her
psyche, and can detect who her personal loa are. She claims
she knew Loko was my main spirit before she ever even met me! She said
she had a dream where her spirit (Ougon) told her I'd be coming to her
and she should take care of me! Then, when she read my cards that
first day, she told me that the spirits sent me to her. At the time I
was confused, but now, in retrospect, I think she was right. I think
that my loneliness and frustration with school and my financial
insecurity were all results of the work of the spirits. Ever since
I've been following the loa, my life has been virtually
trouble-free. Someday I hope to become more than a
serviteur in Voodoo. I'd like to be further initiated into
Voodoo in a ceremony called lave-tet. Alourdes calls this
washing of the head, and she says I'll know when I'm ready for it
because my spirits will let me know.
Anyway Mom, I'm really excited about all of this. I'm happy
with the direction my life is moving. I hope I didn't shock you, or
even bore you with all of this new information. I know it's a lot to
digest, but it is vital to me that I share myself with you because I
don't want us to grow apart. Please let me know how all of this
you. I'm anxious to hear your opinion. And remember also, that I am
under the care and protection of my spirits, so you don't need to worry
Thanks again for the card!
Love Always, Aimee
Wow! Thanks for writing me back so quickly! I didn't expect to hear from you for at least a few weeks. I'm so excited that you read my last letter with such an open mind. I appreciate that. And I'm glad that you want to know more about the loa.
First, in answer to your question: no, I'm not studying
Catholicism in school! I alluded to it so much in my last letter
because it happens to have a lot to do with the Voodoo religion. The
two religions are intertwined. You see, when the slaves were brought
over to Haiti from Africa in 1503, they were forbidden by their owners
(first the Spanish, but mainly the French) to practice Voodoo.
However, the French did force Catholicism on the slaves. But the weird
thing was - the French slave owners really didn't tell the slaves
anything about the Catholic religion; the slaves were left clueless.
The French were afraid that the slaves would take all of the Catholic
teachings to heart and realize from these doctrines that they had
rights as human beings, and that slavery was wrong. The French wanted
to keep the slaves under control. So the slaves went along using the
Catholic religion as a
cover-up - adopting the Catholic saints and
symbols - and then worshipping their Voodoo spirits under the facade of
a Catholic ceremony. So a lot of the Voodoo spirits to this day are
associated with Catholic saints (Erzulie is associated with the Virgin
Mary; Ougon with St. Jacques; Legba with St. Peter; Damballah with St.
Patrick, etc). So, no, I haven't converted to Catholicism, too!
Also, I'm sorry I didn't explain myself better concerning my marriage to
Loko and my interactions with other spirits. I can see how you would
be confused. I left out a major detail. No, the spirits don't come to
ghosts. They actually talk to us through other people
at the ceremonies. The spirits take over, or possess, a person's body.
We call this
mounting a person because it's as if the spirits were on
the person and
ride him or her as if they're a horse. When a person
is mounted like this, his or her own soul goes away to make room for
loa. Loko possessed a renowned Voodoo priest (houngan)
who happened to be at our marriage ceremony. So that's how I married
Another thing I wanted to address was your worry over the actual
ceremonies. Yes, there are animal sacrifices. But usually it's only a
chicken or rooster that we sacrifice. And it's necessary because that's
how we feed our spirits. The loa get energy - their
life-force - from
the sacrificed animals' souls. We don't sacrifice any animals unless
we're suppose to. If they don't eat the
drawings made out of
cornmeal) then that means the loa will not accept our sacrifice.
The ceremonies are actually very fun. There's lot's of food
and good music (there're usually three drums which are beaten
incessantly), and normally three or four of the spirits show up. It's
like a great party and it goes on all night long. Although I've heard
it's a lot more fun to be at a Voodoo service in Haiti. Alourdes is
from Haiti and she goes back often to pay homage to her dead relatives
(this is where I luck out, 'cause all of my dead relatives' bodies are
here in America). She says the ceremonies in Haiti are more intense
because they're outdoors and held on the soil. So they're more
touch, and everything's more real.
Anyway, speaking of the spirits, I have a date with Loko tonight. Every Saturday night I make sure I go to bed alone (I do that every night anyway!) because that's my time for Loko.
So good-bye for now, and thanks for showing interest in my world and my spirits. If you have anymore questions, I'll be happy to answer them.
Love Always, Aimee