Would You Go to a Voodoo Funeral Home? Could you?

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The whole thing started with a hand. Not a mojo hand, made of herbs and other spiritual items, that jazz legends like Muddy Waters and Lightning Hopkins liked to sing about, but a real hand. J.S. Holland on the blog Report from the Florida Zone writes today about a Voodoo Funeral Home that found itself in an interesting situation back in the late 1990′s. The story is this, in November 1997 a hand was discovered in the Manatee River. The hand had been removed by funeral embalmer Paula Green-Albritton, in an attempt to make a “helping hand.”In addition to removing the corpse’s hand she had sewn 12 different dolls up inside the body, these were designed to hex her enemies and have them rot, just as the dolls themselves were rotting. One of the cursed people was her ex husband, when interviewed his comment was “she trying to run me crazy.”

Toothpick Voodoo. Photo by Juha-Matti Herrala. Licensed under CC 2.0

In the past I have spoken to a funeral director who told me that legally I was allowed to put anything inside the coffin that I wished. Some Afro-Diasporan traditions like Palo Mayombe require certain things to be done with the body after death. It is my understanding that there is an underground network of funeral homes that can be accommodating in those situations. It seems however if one is allowed to donate their body to science, why then are they not permitted to have it used for religious purposes. I’m not responding to an article written about why scientists dissect and dismember bodies for the good of the whole? Why is this any different? I’m not saying it isn’t, but should it be ? What are the legal ramifications, and why does this upset people so? Is it because it’s Voodoo ? Some people get offended by religious sacrifice of animals but not scientific testing , some people are outraged by both. Now, people and animals are every different, but I think some of the same religious freedom arguments can be invoked. I’m not saying that cutting off hands, or anything else is part of my experience as a Voodoo priestess and researcher for over two decades. There are extremists in any religious tradition and we should not all be punished for those who wish to drag an ancient religion down to it’s lowest common denominator. But why is the penalty for putting a note or a nail into a dead body, the same, if not worse than that for necrophilia. Many states did not even have laws against necrophilia on the books until recently.

A Helping Hand is a documentary made by Nathan Alexander and Nicklas Wilson about the case. The film is quite graphic, especially the investigations by the authorities, it gives all the details of what happened. It shows some of Paula’s intended victims, whose names were on the dolls. It interviews one old southern gentleman who explains his position thusly, “I don’t give a damn what they do [with his body after he's dead], I won’t know nothing about it… I’ll be damn lucky if I don’t go to hell anyway, just don’t cut my dick off and eat it.” However amusing that may be, this issue really does raise a lot of questions. No, I don’t believe anything should be done to a body against the individual’s and family’s wishes, but why aren’t people allowed to have their body treated as they want after death, especially in the case of Palo and other traditions that require certain bones to be utilized. Wasn’t the U.S. Founded on religious freedom?

Would you go… photo by Lilith Dorsey.

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About Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey M.A. , hails from many magickal traditions, including Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Her traditional education focused on Plant Science, Anthropology, and Film at the University of R.I, New York University and the University of London, and her magickal training includes numerous initiations in Santeria also known as Lucumi, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo. Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and in that capacity has been doing successful magick since 1991 for patrons, is editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly , filmmaker of the experimental documentary Bodies of Water :Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation, author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism and The African-American Ritual Cookbook, and choreographer for jazz legend Dr. John's "Night Tripper" Voodoo Show. She believes good ritual should be fun and innovative, and to that end she led the first ever Voodoo Zombie Silent Rave Ritual in July 2013, complete with confused Thriller flash mob.


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