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How can you understand Voudon?


A Piece of a paper I'm writing:

The image of Voudon in the Western world is one of wax or clothe-material puppets with pins & needles sticking out of them and black magic. Voudon is, in fact, one of the world’s most ancient religions. Voudon arrived in the West during the slave trading decades. The basis of the religion came from Africa, but the Voudon we now know began in Haiti. A variety of different ethnic groups accumulated their religions and formed the Voudon that is known in this day and age.

Voudon is a West African word that means "spirit"'; the original word was vodun. The basic ethos of the religion is that everything in the universe is intertwined 
Nothing happens by fate in this world, and there are no accidents. Everything that you do to someone, you do to yourself, because you are that individual.

Voudon ceremonies contain dancing, rituals, and prayers. They also include animal sacrifices. The figure of the serpent plays a major part in such rituals, and the high priest or priestess will embody the snake's power. Spirits of nature, wealth, and happiness possess the bodies of believers at the ceremony.

Music and dancing are also major elements of the Voudon ceremony. In the West, the dancing has often been portrayed as sexual, but actually that is not its main purpose. Dancing is a way to connect with the spirit world.

Voudon is also an important part of family life in any community that practices it. The high priest has a great deal of influence and gives spiritual advice when it is asked for. He or she is also seen as a healer and practices with medicines and herbs. The knowledge that the high priestess has gained through the years will have been passed along through prior generations.

Practitioners of Voudon also use spells. For the most part, these are spells used to evoke good, not evil. There are love spells, healing spells,  and spells to celebrate joy and happiness about a particular event. The image of black magic and harmful spells that you normally see in Hollywood movies was mainly founded by Europeans who had a distrust of anything African.

Voudon is practised as a religion in a number of countries around the world. In Brazil, it is called Candomble, and in the Caribbean, it is called Obeah. In 2003, the government of Haiti sanctioned Voudon as an official religion. Believers can now be baptized and married within the religion without facing persecution.

It has taken centuries for this official action to happen. Believers say it will take more than an official show of faith to make up for the persecution that followers of Voudon have had to contend with. There are millions of people in Haiti alone who have faith in this religion.

In addition, I have just read in the Friends of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft Newsletter, March '08 that the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is celebrating its 36th anniversary this year.

Voodoo is universal of our culture, our folklore, our history and our lives. It is hardly secretive or proscribed as the movies, or the rest of America would suggest.

It is such a shame that people believe all the sensationalism shown in films that fall far short of the truth. Before you protest at the idea of sacrificing a chicken; do the chickens you eat for dinner every week all die from natural causes?

Great stuff, Fer.  Vodoun is a religion I'm very interested in; as a reconstructionist heathen I am struck by certain parallels between the various African diaspora faiths and my own.  Have you looked at Maya Deren's "The Voodoo Gods" (originally "Divine Horsemen of Haiti"), written from the perspective of a Westerner coming into Vodoun?  I've also been recommended Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown, although I haven't read it yet.

One small note: as I understand it, Vodoun, Candomble and Obeah are rather different faiths.  They are all diasporic traditions, they have the same roots and many of the same Powers are venerated, but there are significant differences.

Posted on: April 08, 2008, 03:17:41 PMAlso, this: 
--- Quote ---It is such a shame that people believe all the sensationalism shown in films that fall far short of the truth. Before you protest at the idea of sacrificing a chicken; do the chickens you eat for dinner every week all die from natural causes?
--- End quote ---
--is a good point.  I can understand being opposed to animal sacrifice if one's ethics prohibit the use of any animal products at all, but if people who eat meat or dairy don't get to criticise.  The animals killed for sacrifice are slaughtered as humanely as possible by specially trained people.  Can anyone say the same for the creatures that they run over in their cars, for instance?

I'm always reminded of a pagan meet I went to in a retaraunt.  The topic of Vodoun came up and one guy began holding forth on the ills of animal sacrifice... whilst eating beef ravoili in cheese sauce.  "Oh it's so terrible NOM NOM NOM it's so cruel CHOMP how can you call that a religion NOM SCARF CHOMP..."

I left sort of early.

You don't have to do animal sacrifice to practice vodoun.  There are vegetarian or vegan sacrifices that can be made.

I also would somewhat dispute the notion of the animals being killed humanely.  In Maya Deren's film they slit the throat of a live goat, after castrating it and let it bleed into a bowl until it dies.  I don't know what is humane about that.

But I do agree that that particular criticism is usually hypocritical and elitist, and the animals are treated with respect.  Which is more than can be said for livestock conditions.

I would have been more interested in this paper if it went more into the specifics of the rituals, and how those rituals work within the community and for the individual.  They certainly have a role on both, and this seems to almost mystify the whole thing to a level of hokem that a lot of western readings on non-Christian works do.

Maya Deren's film on the topic is a good start too.  I thought it was very moving and interesting.  And it helped bring a lot of the concepts home.


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