Thursday, 11 March 2010

An invitation to spiritual intimacy

'Possession, contrary to popular belief, is not an embodiment of evil for the purpose of destruction or cruelty. It is rather an invitation to spiritual intimacy with the Spirit of God. It is akin to speaking in tongues, the advanced form of transcendental meditation, or a really powerful sermon that is clearly a result of Divine inspiration.'
Raising Little Spirits
'Raising Little Spirits' is a fantastic blog, written from the perspective of the adoptive parent of two Haitian children. Although Christian in background, the family is endeavouring to integrate Haitian culture and the Haitian religious tradition of Vodou into its daily practice. Check it out!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

About Vodou

The religion of Vodou, also known as Sevis Lwa, is an exciting and vibrant tradition full of colour, energy and light. Practitioners of Vodou often refer to themselves as Vodouisants. Vodou is linked with various magickal practices (and Vodouisants might very well practice these) but Vodou itself is a religion, not magick. Vodou has its roots in African spirituality and was brought over by slaves to Haiti and the Americas, although it has adapted significantly since then. It is open to anyone and everyone regardless of their racial background, gender or sexuality. Perhaps because of this, Vodou is growing in the UK and Europe, especially among various eclectic and magickal groups such as the modern Pagan movement.

What Vodou is...versus what it is not!

Some people will describe Vodou as a polytheistic religion, i.e. worshipping "many gods". This is not, technically speaking, true. The Vodou religion is monotheistic in that there is a belief in only one supreme deity, known as Bondye/Bondieu (God). Vodouisants might venerate a number of "spirits" or "angels", known as the lwa, but we do not worship them. Many Vodouisants also revere the Catholic saints and angels, and we will often have a shrine to our ancestors as well.

Some movies have portrayed Vodou is a cult, but nothing could be further from the truth. The modern understanding of the word "cult" seems to expect members to proselytize (seek to convert others to their way of thinking) and it also requires a single, charismatic leader to tell everyone else what to do. Well, Vodou is a very eclectic religion and practitioners do not seek converts. Furthermore there is no overarching body or church. Many will practice their path alone at home or sometimes with friends. Others might join a Society of fellow Vodouisants (frequently these Societies can be found online) and they may choose to train with an initiated priest or priestess, their Vodou "Papa" or "Mama", but these are far from cult leaders. (For those Vodouisants who wish to take their practice even further, the choice can be made to "take ceremonies" and become a Hounsi (initiate), Houngan (priest) or Mambo (priestess) themselves.)

Human Sacrifice, Zombies and Voodoo Dolls ???

Unfortunately a dangerous mix of Hollywood sensationalism, religious prejudice and cultural misunderstandings have led Vodou (which we spell differently from 'Voodoo' in order to distinguish it from the pin-in-a-doll stereotypes!) to be somehow seen as "dark", "evil" or "dangerous". When people mention this beautiful religion it will inevitably lead to jokes, based on ignorance and cultural difference, about various mythological phenomena like undead zombies, pin-stuck Voodoo dolls and even human sacrifice. These comments are not only bigoted and ignorant - they are also dangerously close to being racist.

Some religious extremists will label Vodou (like everything else they do not understand) as "devil-worship". In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Just like any religious tradition, Vodou is not for everybody, but many find its practice to be deeply positive and uplifting. Ceremonies are full of song and dance in praise of God and the lwa. It is really nothing like what you see in the films!

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