The Three Kings Day Luck Baths

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Haitian Vodou maintains several traditions from an older Catholic standpoint than our majority modern culture; the tradition that’s most germane to today’s post concerns the Feast of Three Kings, otherwise known as the Epiphany.

In old Catholic tradition, the Epiphany is the commemoration of the day the Wise Men from the East arrived to gift the infant Jesus with their presents of Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh; this date is the reason we give Christmas gifts… it’s just drifted over time to something we do *on* Christmas instead of a celebration of Twelfth Night.

Vodouisants work the Christmas Baths for breaking up the last years’ accumulated negativity, but our tradition abhors a vacuum; where there was once negativity, there’s now an energetic hole where the negative used to be…. so we complete the circuit by performing blessings that fill the space where the negativity once sat. For New Years, this becomes a special Good Luck bath priests make for their community, tapping into the Gifts of the Magi to bless the New Year with love, prosperity, happiness, and luck. Continue reading The Three Kings Day Luck Baths

The Christmas Baths

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So… we’re at that time of year again; holly berries, wreaths, carols, and the occasional Peppermint Mocha from that unnamed coffee giant with the twin tailed mermaid on the cups (yes; sometimes I let out my inner Basic White Girl) … and for those of us living in the parts of the world where the snow starts to swirl and temperatures drop, there can be a touch of confusion when it comes to tropical traditions and what this time of year means to those living on a sunny island in the Caribbean sea.

Just like certain days of the week have different associations based in hot/cool, Rada/Petro et al, so too do different times of the year; we say that this is one of the Hottest times of year (again, odd when you live in a place where its truly not even pleasant outside because of the cold, but bear with me) because to us this time of year commemorates the Divine descending to Earth and taking physical form in the body of a child. Continue reading The Christmas Baths

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt 3

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On the Care and Feeding of Spirits

In our first Deep Dive post, we started scratching the surface of Vodou’s philosophical underpinnings and the deep mysteries behind what we do; we jumped into the start of Colonial history for part 2, but today, we’re gonna get back into the philosophies behind How Things Work.

As we’ve mentioned so far, the African root philosophies that would birth Haitian Vodou in the cauldron of the New World shared the idea that all things are made of or contain a particular substance, or energy, that our limited language skills in English can only approximate as “Spirit”. This substance can enter into interactive relationships with other forms of energy, including human beings.

Now, before you jump out at me with a “But Houngan Matt, isn’t that too big of a jump to be believed? I mean, we’re getting into Xenu territory here….”, Id like to use a few examples from normal daily life around us to describe what I mean.

If you have a farm, a garden, or for you deep-city dwellers, maybe some houseplants, you’ll know that these are living beings Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt 3

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 2

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It can very easily be said, with full sincerity, that the history of Vodou is the history of Haiti, and in turn, the history of Haiti is the history of North America as a whole.

We only really get partial information passed to us in this country’s school system, namely choice little cleaned up pieces and factoids about how Europeans brought Africans as slaves to Haiti, the slaves rebelled and killed the Europeans in the Haitian Rebellion, and that somewhere along the way, Vodou happened. If you listen to the Pat Robertsons of the world, it seems that a pact with the Devil wrought horror upon horror and keeps the Haitians trapped in the poorest nation in the West, simultaneously existing to save and condemn. Generally the speaker’s perspective is entirely Eurocentric; either it speaks of the duty European descendants share in “saving” through Mission duty and charity, or it speaks bitterly of what the Europeans “lost” to revolution and violence.

Either way, Vodou… just happened. Sometimes they’ll say the slaves’ African beliefs fueled their rage and their revolt… but that just points in blanket-statement fashion to an entire continent and pretends that not only were those primitive people easily snared and harvested wholesale by roving bands of slavers, but also that they seemingly shared a single belief system across the entire landmass, and of course that belief system is so simple it’s entirely encapsulated in the word “African”. Are you noticing a trend here? We do the same with the “Native Americans” any time the question of smudging with Sage comes into conversation… but anyway… that’s pretty much where the story closes. Haiti happened in a paroxysm of bloody revolt, and Vodou… just happened.

For Part 2 of our Deep Dive, lets put aside the theoretical topics and philosophies of the previous post for a moment and switch over to History; we’ll bounce back in the next post, and we’ll piece together more as we look back and forth between the underpinnings and the overview.

One of the fascinating aspects we find when we start honestly looking into Haitian Vodou’s formative stages is an area of history that Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 2

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 1

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Have you ever noticed, when you search for information about Vodou, especially from the Haitian perspective, that everything available for reading (or watching, with the rise of Vodou video on sites like Youtube) jumps to the how-to-work-with-named-spirits parts of the practice, but that nowhere is there information about the beliefs and the underpinnings of Vodou as a culture/religion/religiomagical practice?

Why is that?

For Vodouisants in Haiti, the answer is oddly simple; people raised in the culture, its religion, and the religions beliefs are steeped in the information from birth. While the information that is held behind the doors of the djevo/initiation chamber is still held only by those who have passed the doors, the underpinnings of the religion are freely known and culturally accepted because of simple immersion.

When it comes to foreigners, though, the story is different… Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 1

The Met Tet, or the Guardian of the Head

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A common thread shared by the many different religions in the West African Diaspora is the idea that each person has a special connection to a particular spirit within that tradition, and that when the individual becomes an initiate they will be ritually marked as a child of that entity, receive that entity’s mysteries, or any other possible language that could be used to describe the sealing of the relationship, and Vodou is, of course, one that many think of first.

That said, the most famous instances come from the Yoruba-language-speaking peoples that Vodou knows as the Nago Nation in religions such as Lukumi and Candomble, where the process is known as Making the Saint, or Crowning. In those traditions, the individual’s main protective spirit is public knowledge as, passing that ceremony, the now-ordained individual is known to have received and become a priest/ess of that particular spirit’s mysteries.

Where the different religions of the African Diaspora begin to differ, however, is in the cosmological cores the traditions are wound around; to the adherents of Yoruba-language-speaking-people’s descendent traditions, the cosmology comes from an ethnic group historically found centered around what is now the nation of Nigeria. While Haiti inherited quite a bit from that ethnic group (including some of our most famous spirits!), the cosmology *we* inherited comes mostly from a territory a bit to the north of Nigeria in what is now Benin… centered in the Fon and Gbwe ethno-linguistic groups. (We’ll take a deep dive into cosmology soon, I promise).

While Vodou certainly shares the idea of a central guiding and protective spirit for each individual, there are some major differences in how we handle the idea when compared to the Diasporic religions around us. Continue reading The Met Tet, or the Guardian of the Head

The Soul and the Body

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Unlike many commonly known Western spiritualities, with their focus on the corporeal body and immortal soul as dualist identities, Vodou looks at the individual human in a unique way, composed of many separate but unified pieces, held together by being alive and flexible in their arrangement. The Western view of a Body animated by a singular Soul is comparatively simple in relation to the Vodou vision of the many factors that come together as the basic ingredients brought together to make a person.

These pieces are thought of as placed by God during the creation of the individual life, and upon death are ritually separated and allowed to go to their separate destinations.

The body is, obviously,  the most physical of the pieces, and itself is viewed in pretty typical fashion. In Kreyol it is called the kò kadavr, corps cadavre in French, basically the ‘physical body’ or ‘body/corpse’ if you will. Continue reading The Soul and the Body

Little Altars Everywhere

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As we progress deeper into the lessons here, one thing that is going to come across as a fairly repetitive idea is the notion of points of concentrated spiritual power or essence; in Kreyol, the word is ‘pwen’, from the French ‘point’, which if you’ll forgive the pun brings us back around to our own.

Pwen are places, objects, hidden messages behind songs; pwen are concentrations of spiritual energy that are made, launched, thrown, gathered, or gradually built, depending on the nature of the pwen in question. The concept of pwen is a very wide and complex idea hidden behind the simplest of words, but for today’s essay Id like to examine in depth a single aspect.

I want you to take a moment, breathe, and think about your favorite spot in your home. You know, that place where you’re instantly comfortable, the place where, when the grind of the workday gets to that spot where you just would give anything to be home again, that you’re envisioning. Is it the long part of the sofa in the livingroom, stretching out before the television? The armchair off to the side where the side table is in perfect reach? The computer desk with all your gaming equipment perfectly arranged to plunk you into your favorite world with no wasted time? If you’re reading this, who knows? You may actually be reading this from your favorite spot, you lucky duck. (Otherwise, well…. I promise I wont tell your boss.)

For most of us, we nest; we find the spot we like the most or which makes us feel the most ‘at home’, and our energy in a way claims it. (My stepfather used to be like that about his office; if I wanted to really mess with him all I needed to do was turn a single book around so the binding faced the wall…. he couldnt find the disturbance itself, but he knew *something* was off.)

For Vodouisants, this place is often our Altar.  Continue reading Little Altars Everywhere

How To Begin

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A great deal of the questions people have for me, in my role as a public Houngan and introductory teacher of this (AMAZING) religion, all revolve around the notion of where to begin the journey into Vodou. I’m a fairly typical American, not born to Vodou and not born to Haitian culture, so it makes complete sense to me that a great deal of my responsibility to this religion, its culture, and its spirits, boils down to being able to articulate the journey I’ve personally gone through so that others can use my experience to find their own way in.

Mine’s been an interesting journey; a few times I fell for things that, in retrospect, I really shouldn’t have, and in many ways put me farther away from what I was looking for than I knew at the time. Some of the lessons have been hard, and some have been downright humiliating… especially falling for frauds that, for a time being, I was even defending and advocating for without having the slightest clue that I was just another rube being taken advantage of and lied to. I’m far from a perfect being; it took me a while to realize what was going on, and right about that time the only explanation I can give is that my spirits led me through a series of seeming coincidences that led to me finding an utterly amazing House, and through that, taking initiation as a Houngan in my priestess’ Vodou family, Sosyete Nago. Continue reading How To Begin

Lies to Children

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“We cannot teach children the danger of telling lies to men without realizing, on the man’s part, the danger of telling lies to children. A single untruth on the part of the master will destroy the results of his education.”

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them as steps to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

As an educator, one of the subtle behind-the-scenes choices I have to make each time I’m faced with Continue reading Lies to Children