What do we really know about voodoo in the West? Almost nothing. Not even the correct spelling. Even now my computer underlines Vodou (its correct name) in red to inform me of a typo.
But feel the phoney word voodoo in your mouth. It could be the first word a baby might form. A fantastic word – so many Os. For most of us in the English-speaking worlds it has a somehow sexy, implacable feel, but one that is also dark and dangerous. This comes courtesy of the Western Empire’s “reality tunnel”. History is, indeed, the propaganda of the victors. No wonder they were scared. Vodou inspired the only successful slave revolt in history, defeating first the superior firepower and numbers of the French, then the British a few years later. Black magic could be the only rational (sic) explanation
Its easy to see how the Empire’s belief in the power of the rational mind to civilize “primitive cultures” would lead it to demonise Vodou. Vodou recognises other dimensions much greater in scope than the narrow little world that, even now, our culture insists is the only true reality.
Vodou, born in slavery, was more generous in its attitudes towards other beliefs. It absorbed them, adding to its pantheon of Gods and rituals. A profoundly adaptive belief.
You can read this book in many ways: as a history of the Vodou religion and its influencing cultures; or perhaps you want to immerse yourself in the rich mythological landscapes that are opened up to Western readers for the first time. But the real meal offered here is to go on a journey into the essence of Vodou – for Ross book calmly reveals how we can make contact with and attune ourselves to these spiritual realities. By use of elegant rituals and the focused creation of altars, we can all make contact with the loa, the guides from these dimensions.
These techniques seem naturally alien to us. In Christianity, altars and direct communication with God(s) has been the prerogative of priests. In Vodou, direct contact is the way. Some of the details may seem crazy to us. But this is just a cultural difference; one of many that we need to jettison if we are to explore other cultures in any real depth, beyond the prism of our own cultures matrix.
And this, for me, is the great benefit of immersing myself in the exotic waters of such a rich system – to step outside of my own indoctrination and try out some other possibilities concerning my perception of life. When we do this we enrich our lives, enabling us to get a different perspective on some of our more limiting beliefs.
The two areas in which I am particularly beholden to Vodou are those of the trance state and the use of altars. I love using altars to focus my intention on what I want to bring in to my life. A sacred, still space, amongst the hubbub of daily affairs. Altars of bones, sculptures, images, drums, crystals arranged in a way that means something to me. Connecting me to my source.
For the last nine years, I have also taught a system of movement called The Five Rhythms. It is a system by which people can safely enter and exit trance states, devised by a brilliant Californian called Gabrielle Roth, whose background included the healing arts, theatre, and dance. She studied different cultures, spiritual techniques for entering trance/meditative states particularly Vodou and devised her elegant system with urban Westerners in mind.
Trance is a place where I feel I can return to my source. It wipes the slate clean of all the bullshit I have accumulated. It eases the grip of my conditioning and allows me to step outside of the limiting beliefs that compose my personality. It is a powerful primal state of intuition, creativity, and healing.
I also believe that it is the state that so many of us have used drugs to get in touch with. We know there is something more real out there than the dream we live in, and our spirit is magnetically drawn to it. Until this natural drive is addressed and given other, healthier, pathways, drugs will remain the most popular shortcut.
The White Rabbit beckons at the entrance to the wormhole
Vodou Shaman: The Haitian Way of Healing and Power, by Ross Heaven, is published by Destiny Books (November 10, 2003). ISBN-10: 089281134X.