Everything wants to be naked these days. There is naked pizza, naked popcorn… naked fruitcake, we have all seen enough of those. Clearly some things should keep their clothes on. Voodoo and Vodou are religions born in secrecy and struggle. They were raised up on the bruises of the oppressed and fed on the strange fruit of those who did not survive these horrible injustices. The spells, formulas, rites, and practices were performed in secret because they were illegal and powerful. Now they can be naked and exposed, and naked meaning without clothes. The Voodoo religion for hundreds of years wasn’t allowed to be exposed. Laws like the Black Codes prevented people from worshiping as they choose. In addition to legal stopgaps, there has also been a long history of demonization and sexualization of Voodoo.
One of the ways the popular media has chosen to portray New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou is as a religion focused on highly sexualized rites and orgiastic possession. In my experience as a Voodoo priestess and scholar, nothing could be further from the truth. Sex is seen as a beautiful union between loving participants, but it is private. If you wouldn’t do something in front of your grandparents, then you shouldn’t do it in front of your spirits or Lwa. Unfortunately the roots of this finger pointing practice stem from a long history of sexualizing minority cultures by the Western world. Back in the day we would use terms like “Jungle Fever” to talk about the erotic desire for the “other.” There is the classic film Angel Heart, where incest, orgy, and nakedness seem to walk hand in hand with New Orleans Voodoo… and the Devil, played by Robert DeNiro. Hmnnnnnn, these depictions truly do defy rational comment. The cult classic Blacksploitation film Sugar Hill features the power of Voodoo alongside a battery of 1970’s pimps and prostitutes.
There is a celebration of life present in all elements of New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou. The sacred divinity of the elements and ourselves is worshipped on every level. By definition Paganism is a pro-naked beast. It centers on the inherent divinity of the Earth, the elements, ourselves. I include New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou under the umbrella of Paganism because at their core these religions see the sacredness in all things. There is the Haitian Vodou goddess Erzulie, also known as Ezili, who is synonymous with the blessings of the waterfall. Each year thousands make the pilgrimage to bathe in her sacred waters at Saut d’Eau. Erzulie’s domain is the watery realm of love, not because people bathe partially naked for her in the waterfall (it’s hard to bathe with your clothes on), but because she represents all the sweet waterfalls of love have to offer for us. These religions are beautiful and wondrous let’s remember to respectfully celebrate them in all their glory.