Thoughts of an African witch on  ethnocentrism

It is an increasing source of frustration, this belittlement of African witchcraft when describing the different kinds of pagan practices throughout the world.

Frankly the only mention that ever alludes to it is the practice of Voodoo and Hoodoo, both immensely important and powerful forms of practice which I include in my own… but they are never retraced back to their sources, only to their most recent forms found in the Western parts of the world.

It started by a conversation with a French friend the other day, during which I was trying to explain the difference between Vodun and Hoodoo. I was appalled at her ethnocentrism. Western witchcraft was “legitimate” whereas “African “traditions were only backward and superstitious mumbo jumbo”.

I did not change her words unfortunately.

This sort of rebuttal is something I experience very often, and I’m not alone in this. Hence this slightly long and concerned rant.

I wonder if the source of said frustration stems from the ties it has to colonisation in not so faraway times, or the neo-colonisation that still steeps in anything tied to my continent. Our traditions (whether animist, polytheist, etc.) have been beaten, shot, rended from us in order to embrace whichever new monotheistic God came to tread on our soil. In order to survive, and to keep our traditions alive, we needed to conceal them. Cloak them under psalms and surats and give them a new name.  Merge them with what we have never known to keep them safe. 

I wish I had the time to start an in depth study about African religions, by an African for once. Something that has yet to be understood by folks from another part of the world, is that no matter how much you can read  about or experience a culture, there will always be a lens through which you will be experiencing it. A simple ritual will never have the full meaning and significance that it holds to someone who has been living this experience since birth. 

The point of this entire thought is simple: for the love of everything that still remains sacred on this planet, please don’t invalidate someone’s traditions when they don’t align with your own, especially when it’s so very obscure to you. And on the flip side, if you are going to build an interest in said traditions, respect their origins and understand the limits you will find in them for yourself.

When you write or talk about paganism or witchcraft throughout the world, please don’t ignore more than half of the population of the world. And by that, I mean African, Asian, Latin American and South American, Pacific, Mediterranean and other forms of paganism. I don’t mean you should document each and every one of them, hell I don’t know them all. I am eclectic in my practice, so it would be hypocritical of me to confine everyone in their own culture and shun the amazing possibility of sharing and adapting to each other’s paths.

But keep an open mind and invite discussion and education about what you don’t know. We are all just trying to make our own way after all.

P.S. If anyone is interested in a further discussion on the subject, I am more than happy to converse.

The Essence of Voodoo
Within the voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why “vous deux”, you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of One. So, in essence, what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. View you. We are mirrors of each others souls. God is manifest through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be honored in ceremonies. There is a sacred cycle between the living and the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end.

The Role of Voodoo in Haiti’s Recovery

The Spirtuality of Ayiti

Answering a question asked privately:

There are no necklaces for lwa in vodou. We do not do elekes/collares, and anyone passing necklaces off to you for the lwa is doing you dirty. The only thing even resembling a necklace that we get–and it doesn’t go around our necks–is our kolye, which notes some of the spirit relationships we have and what sort of initiate we are. Those aren’t made any time except as part of kanzo and they can only be made by a priest.

Similarly, paket kongo can only be made by a manbo/houngan asogwe, period. They can be made for anyone, can be sold online, and do not have to made in Haiti, but they cannot be made by anyone but an asogwe. They are not pieces of folded paper ties with string. They are not short and small bundles of fabric. 

If you are buying ritual items for vodou online–and paket kongo are just one of the things you can legitimately buy online–you should be asking the person you are buying from some questions, like who did they initiate with, when, where, and what their initiatory name is. Any priest worth what they are offering is happy to offer this information publicly–none of it is secret.

If they cannot answer these questions or refuse to, HUGE RED FLAG. Ask someone who knows about them, or seek services other places.

Further, as far as I know, 21 Divisiones/Dominican vudu do not make paket kongo. Neither does Palo or Lucumi or really any other religion–they are Haitian vodou specific, with a whole lot of very specific, non-public work going into them that someone who has not been made a priest can know. Buying fake paket kongo is not getting you what you want/desire, and can potentially fuck shit up for you big time. I have heard recent tales of people buying legit paket kongo and disassembling them to take the materials and make what they are passing off as paket kongo they made. Bad idea, totally fraudulent, and dangerous as heck.

Know who you are buying from and know what they are empowered to do. Please.

anonymous asked:

(1/2)I have a question about roots. Basically i have a sort of urban/modern supernatural-ghost-story-esque diddy featuring two black-hispanic siblings who's family is rooted in 'witchcraft'/spiritualism. But I'm in a constant debate of where to really root their magic. I've done some exploratory research in Vodun and Santeria, as well as having some basic ideas about how to get the magic to work, but I find myself a little hesitant to really try and commit to anything out of fear

(2/2) of not doing it justice or not representing the beliefs properly– as well as not really even knowing where to start. I don’t really want to rob these kids of their heritage per say, but i don’t really wanna mess it up super bad either, and i find myself really just needing a place to sort of grab my footing in this whole business. Do you have tips, hints, or words of advice when trying to tackle these kinds of conceptual decisions?

Afro Latina and Witchcraft

Hey there, Anon!

There is NOTHING in this world that you can do that will not be met by criticism. There is NOTHING in this world that you can write without someone criticizing it.  Ultimately, my tip is to literally just pick something and run with it.  Do it.  You’re going to make mistakes. That’s what editing and beta readers are for.   You are going to have to edit this thing and re-write it at least twice in the first place, so WHY you have to edit it is arbitrary when THAT you have to edit it is inevitable. Just do it.

Are you afraid of being called out as a racist?  Don’t be.  What you’re going to be called out as is *ignorant*, which is something you can not help and should not feel bad about – just fix it.  If someone says, “This is racist,” listen to them and make edits, and don’t take it personally. You made a decision out of ignorance.  Join the club. Learn from it.  We all did it, and we all will.  

Are you afraid of misrepresentation by omission?  Not even Ayn Rand could write a book of a length thorough enough to cover the vast and nuanced subject of Afro-Latino witchcraft/magico-religious practices.  Don’t worry about it. Just write your story. Your mission is as a storyteller. You are not an anthropologist on a mission to represent a culture, so don’t try to be one.  Be a storyteller.  It’s okay if you don’t cover everything.  It’s not okay if you don’t tell a story.  

Are you afraid that if you mix two beliefs that people will cry “appropriation”?  You are dealing with cultural beliefs which are the very result of acculturation.  Afro-Latino magicoreligious beliefs are an admixture of many cultures from various extremes of the globe, some of them neither African nor Latino in the most remote sense.  For example, hoodoo (an Afro-American magical system which has no liturgical worship elements, distinct from voodoo) is named for the Scottish word for witchcraft.  Its rituals and ideas derive from Scottish, West African (from places like present-day Benin, Nigeria, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo), and Native American (I believe mostly Alabama, Choctaw and Coushatta) influences. Within a practice you will have variations (or even contradictions) on how things work, especially rituals, because you’re dealing with a belief system that evolved over time without ANYBODY writing it down for the longest time (due to illiteracy or persecution or both).

This is not, of course, a meal-ticket to copy and paste things willy-nilly, but it is basis for some wiggle-room: you are dealing with a belief set which is the product of acculturation and syncretism.  Period.  You are dealing with a set of beliefs that one can have multiple memberships in: a Palero can be a Santero who grew up with Espiritísmo.  A brujo can have a lot of tricks up his sleeve that he learned from hoodoo, or even use new age healing crystals and it’s no big deal.  Some of these beliefs have NO liturgical worship in them and others do, hence their compatibility, just like how you can have Christians who do tarot because tarot cards don’t tell them one way or the other about Jesus, and you have Protestants who are Futurists and who are Preterists within the exact same denomination.  Belief is nuanced and rich from person to person, even in the same religion, even in the same denomination, even in the same household.

So, JUST DO IT MAN.  When you fall down get up and keep going.  When you screw up, fix it.  After all, even if you write a book about the culture YOU are intimately familiar with due to being a part of and have NO compunctions about possibly getting anything wrong or mis-representing something, you will STILL have major problems with the book in your first few drafts and you will STILL have to re-write it at least once, probably twice or thrice, hell, maybe nine times.

What are you waiting for?

- Rodríguez

This is supposedly a picture of Felicia Felix-Mentor. She is arguably the most famous case of zombification in the Haitian (and East African) religion of Vodoun (Voodoo). She apparently stumbled into a local Haitian village on 24th of October 1936. Her eyes were beyond function, she was barefoot, dressed in rags, and reportedly could not stand the direct sunlight. She was later identified as the long deceased relative of a local family, the Mentors. They said Felicia died in 1907 at the age of 29. 

Even though zombification is still shrouded in mystery and is subjected to massive fascination even to this day, the phenomenons’ anomalous and paranormal proportions are often toned down in the Western society in favour of more scientific explanations. These scientific explanations are, to me personally, almost as interesting as the legend though.

Famed ethnobotanist Wade Davis argued in his two 1980’s book on the subject, after having performed extensive field research, that the Vodoun zombie probably has pharmacological explanations; the individual subjected to zombification is given a cocktail of two special powders. First, the individual is given something in order to appear dead, i. e. body functions appear as if they have been shut down but technically, the person is still alive. Such a poison could for example be found in the flesh of the putterfish (tetraodontidae), and is called tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin is a very powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin which could cause deathlike states in human beings, he argued. 

Then another powder would be given the ‘zombie’, perhaps a very potent deliriant hallucinogenic compound, such as datura. This would make the person delirious, insane, intensely hallucinating, disorientated, and mentally numb. Thus would, according to the hypothesis, the zombie be created through the two-step process of first “killing” the person and then “reviving” him or her into this frenzied, delirious, emotionally cataclysmic and hallucinating state. 

This, however, is only a mere hypothesis and has been subject to a lot of criticism from the academic community. There is to date no scientifically definite explanation to the mystery of the vodoun zombie. 

In vodouism, the covenant is established by the permission of the creator, the “Granmet”, with the intermediate entities name vodouns. The relationship between the supreme being, the lwa, and the devotees facilitate the syncretism with the saints and the angelic beings of the Christian religion. In that perspective, Vodouism should not be confused with idolatry, as the Lwa does not receive adoration from the devotees, but are used as agents for interaction in the universe. However, the bartering covenant with these entities have become a burden, a hindrance to the point that the adepts must seek liberation moksha from the parasitic abuse impose by the vodouns in search of the bliss found in the sensible world.

The supreme self is the universal self-considered eternal and the changeless, having no beginning and probably will have no end. This is different from the concept of the Universe presented by modern science and biblical revelation. For the latter, the universe in spite of its eons in existence is a finite dimension with a beginning and an end. Also, it is not changeless. It is essentially permanence. It is permanent evolution or becoming. 

There is a possibility of a quasiperfect resting state in the universe when one reaches the non-dynamical form of the entropy, such as rejoining the limbo of the universal pool of dark matter. But even there exists the likelihood of some event coming from somewhere to stir the uniformity of resting potential into a dynamical state. Biblical eternity is a total “otherness” a dimension completely foreign to the universal self, an X-dimension that cannot be reached unless the dimension itself draws space-time into its realm. We cannot experiment with it and the established mathematical abstractions about it. 

There can never be interactions between science and that world. The only things science can say it is that it’s the ultimate otherness, an otherness that can be approached only through mystical revelation or theophany. Science is no threat for that X-dimension. The scientist as well as the philosopher, the theologian, and the common man or woman must seek that ultimate reality with the same means; that is , a mystical and particularly the postmortem status, found its expression in a vivid manner in the African-Haitian spirituality system. 

Adepts continue to live side by side with the shadow world of the dead. In the monotheistic religions of the world, heaven or hell are far ways from the realm of the living, although rituals can still influence the status of the deceased beings in purgatory, Limbo, Gan, Eden and the like. In the Catholic denomination, the departed ones o the paradise can hear the intersession or prayer of the earthlings, but For Haitians, the Voodoo afterlife is right there, next door, a parallel Universe. It extends its realm in the ponds, the rivers, the waterfalls, the trees, the house, the govis, the hounfort, and the through channeling, the decease, and the lwa can join the assembly of the living and share their material, sensible world. 

Unlike patriarchal religions, The Vodou afterlife is not a visionary rumor world created purely by imagination without any physical support. In order to attain liberation (Moksha) from the ritual entrapment, the devotee must discover his/her own power of creation in space-time. He must receive that Illumination either own his/her own or through a teaching. He/she must know the truth, and the truth will set her/him free. He/she must realize that through his/her office, the entities of the vodou realm receive perpetuation and the physical currency that allow them to enjoy the sensible world and to impose their will on the living. 

The quasitoral oblivion of vodouns in North America is a case in point, as is the progressive dinclinsing in Haiti. In all likelihood, the African-Haitian Spiritual system is waiting for a new prophet, its own Buddha. It would be the coming of an enlightened Hougan/Manbo who, having seen the entrapment in the world of desires and the bondage of rituals, would seek an outlet toward the freedom of the “Granmet’s” eternity. However, to make such a switch in destiny, the seer must have received a clear alternative; it will not be an easy task, as it will required hundreds of years of teaching and experimenting with the alternative to have it.

-RegInal Crosley, MD. (Maryland) is a physician specializing in internal medicine and Nephrology