There is definitely more information about my connection to this topic than could be contained in a single post, and after I finished yesterday’s sampling I realized maybe I should explain more. I have a book, Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism, which I was encouraged to pen by my dearly departed friend Isaac Bonewits, who also wrote the forward to the book. He convinced me of the need for something that would address every basic question that a practitioner might have. I am honored and pleased that I got to thank him for that while I still had the chance. A question that I think comes up a lot is my choice to term these traditions “pagan.” All the religions I am discussing here are earth-centered, honoring every element of existence.
Voodoo, Santeria, Obeah and the other Afro-Caribbean Pagan traditions, because of their all-encompassing nature, obviously raise much more than a few basic questions. John Gray, who used to write reviews for the Oshun Newsletter, of which I was editor, reminded me that his favorite reason for focusing on this topic was that it was never-ending, and this man wrote a 539-page bibliography called Ashe, Traditional Religion and Healing in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Diaspora: A Classified International Bibliography. It is because these topics are so vast that I am excited to launch this blog. I am very blessed to have had a wide variety of experience in my own Voodoo universe, paradoxically ranging from dancing on fire to singing in the water. As part of my association with the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple, I was fortunate enough to ride in the 2010 Krewe du Vieux float with Priestess Miriam and Grammy winner Dr. John, Mac Rebennack. Covered with ritual veves and divinely obscene props, the float was a living embodiment of the soul of Voodoo. I am also godmother of my own spiritual house, and I have to say it has been a wild and wonderful ride. I watched my ex-boyfriend go on fire during a Chango ritual (he was fine), and one of my goddaughters put him out with the closest thing at hand, an ANC flag. I have done Voodoo ceremonies in geodesic domes and cemeteries and everywhere in between.
In the Beginning…of Voodoo.My first initiation came from Mambo Bonnie Devlin, more widely known for her phenomenal drumming and musicianship. Her music is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in connecting with spirit. I then went on to join Priestess Miriam Chamani at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple in New Orleans. The temple does an immense amount of good works and is located at 828 N. Rampart Street across from Congo Square, both locales a must see for anyone visiting New Orleans. While my Santeria house is led by Ochun Olukari Al’aye and based in Florida. I am continually amazed and inspired by my spiritual family there, who most recently gave me the opportunity to watch a ritual drum being crafted with a chainsaw.
My academic career focused most specifically on ritual dance and possession on film. Informed by phenomenal women like Maya Deren and Zora Neale Hurston who were filmmakers, ritualists and anthropologists, I went on to create an experimental documentary Bodies of Water, focusing on Voodoo identity and “tranceformation.” It has been shown everywhere from Harvard University to the living room of the Royal Street Courtyard bed and breakfast. My favorite compliment on the work, which was designed to be a synesthetic foray into cinematic experience, came from a devoutly Catholic friend who said “Your film scares me; I feel like I am changing.”
It is my hope that this glimpse into the Voodoo Universe will continue to grow and change, as will all who choose to check us out here.