To those who know the Voodoo religion, the names Michael Bertiaux and David Beth stand out as some of the most knowledgeable in the religion. I was very pleased, and greatly excited to be able to interview David Beth about his work and current projects. David Beth is one of the most influential initiates in contemporary esotericism. Born in 1974 to German parents in Angola and raised in Nigeria he lived and travelled for over a decade in various African countries where he developed a strong interest in indigenous polytheist and animist forms of spirituality. Living all over the world from Africa to the USA, UK and Brasil, David spent more than 20 years researching and studying within Afro-centric cults and spiritual systems but also received advanced initiation and empowerments in European initiatic currents. He is the author of Voudon Gnosis. For more information on his publications please have a look here: www.theionpublishing.com
How did you become involved with the Voudon/Voudou religion?
I developed an interest in African spirituality in general and Vodou in particular at a very early age. I was born in Angola, Africa to German parents who were greatly drawn to African life and metaphysics and who investigated the spiritual world and cults of African tribes. I grew up surrounded by cultic artifacts and tools, masks and art as well as a huge library devoted not only to African spirituality and philosophy but also to European metaphysics, religion and philosophy. The fascination my parents had for the African cosmos rubbed off on me very early as I found it to be a natural component not only to the active imagination of childhood but also to the magical and vitalist relation I developed with the African natural world within which I lived. These initial feelings and dispositions developed in more sophisticated ways especially during my years of residency in Nigeria, Kenya and the many intensive travels through Sub-Saharan Africa. Especially Nigeria had a huge influence on me in regards to my spiritual awakening. One of my major initiatic experiences happened in the sacred groves of Oshogbo at a sanctuary sacred to Oshun during which Orisha and cowries foretold many of my later spiritual works and travels and especially my role as a main bridge between the African Gnosis and the Western metaphysics which would lead to a spiritual revival of the primordial Gnosis in general. I would meet many representatives of African Vodou from Togo, Benin and Nigeria who provided spiritual insight and initiation into various aspects of our religion. West Africa is home to one of the richest and most diverse spiritual landscapes in the world and Nigeria, due to its size and political/economic importance, has always been a magnet for people from all over the continent who brought their spiritual beliefs with them and infused them into the local environment. I was fortunate to collaborate with initiates of IFA, Juju, Vodou etc. but also the Angola/Congo, it was however the Vodou which always played the most central role in my own work deriving from the African Gnosis.
How did you end up working with Michael Bertiaux?
I came to work with Michael Bertiaux after I became disenchanted by the usual Western Esoteric orders and approach to magic and spirituality. During my late teens and early twenties in the late 1980ies and early 1990ies I had developed an interest in the magical traditions and heritage of Europe and applied myself to the study of the usual suspects, Crowley, Levi, Golden Dawn etc. but coming from the African Gnosis found these systems always lacking in ‘life’ and ‘blood’. Their Judeo-Christian Universe with its logocentric and anthropocentric obsessions were miles away from the power and the intensity of the biocentric spirituality of an animate African cosmos in which Man is in constant natural communication with the enthusing powers of the All. The work of Michael Bertiaux seemed to be an interesting fusion between the Western and Afro-centric approach and I hoped to be able to develop my work within both spiritual worlds in one place.
Did you study with him?
I did indeed. I became a personal student and friend of his and we spent many months over the years together in Chicago working on the Gnosis. He is certainly one of my main spiritual influences and I consider him to be one of my spiritual fathers, he has always supported my work and our close relations continue to this day. Bertiaux unfortunately is very misunderstood, including by many ‘students’ of his system, since his writings often seem impenetrable and complex or appear incoherent. People then consequently tend to pick and choose whatever fits their own projections and ideas of what his work is supposed to be and thus distort its original intention and direction. His published writings only give a very muddy image of his real achievements since many of these publications were badly edited and randomly put together and all of them, whether they had anything to do with Voudon or not, are published under the foggy header of ‘Voudon Gnosis’. To understand Bertiaux and his system one has to possess a lot more information than is publically available, much of which is only passed on via initiation and transmission. Essentially Bertiaux’ system of esotericism and Gnosis is a system of spiritual idealism or mentalistic monadism, I think Bertiaux would jokingly call it a radical Leibnizian Universe, structured by mathematical and abstract logic. He brings this Universe to life by applying, amongst others, Voudon concepts and practices which he has inherited from his Haitian Voudon masters. This of course is a far cry from orthodox Vodou practice and Bertiaux would be the first to admit this. To come full circle with the previous question: At one point I was the head of Bertiaux’ magico-gnostic orders, the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua and the La Couleuvre Noire. Once I felt that my work in these orders was completed and with the support of Bertiaux I resigned from all offices to exclusively work with the Société Voudon Gnostique which developed from the inner core of the above mentioned organizations. The S.V.G. expressed my desire and need to recover the genuine Voudon transmissions Bertiaux had received from his Haitian masters (and which he had infused into a monadic, mental Gnostic system) and which he had passed on to me and to transfer them back into a biocentric and pan-daemonic (to avoid the misleading term ‘animistic’) system of Afro-centric spirituality. My learnings and initiatic transmissions from more orthodox Afro-centric environment mentioned above but also from my time living in Brasil (where I studied Umbanda, Quimbanda etc.) provided the environment in which these Haitian Voudon teachings have been embedded.
With other Voudon practitioners?
Yes, I have studied with Voudon practitioners from Africa but also Latin America and Haiti.
This is part one of this interview. Please check back in with the Voodoo Universe for the rest of this fascinating interview. As always if you like what you have read here, please remember to share, share, share.