Bonjou zanmi! Let’s talk about the role of Christianity in Haitian Vodou.
Haitian Vodou is a mix of African religious tradition, Catholic Christianity, and native Taino Indian religious practice. You can’t separate Catholicism from Haitian Vodou, not really; if you take it out, it’s not the same. Vodou uses Catholic prayers in its liturgies, the Catholic saints represent lwa, and we are even “baptized” and given godparents and a new name when we initiate.
That’s not to say that Vodou has an easy relationship with Catholicism, especially in Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the revolutionary who became the new Republic’s leader, tried to limit jurisdiction of the Catholic Church; in response to this, Rome stopped sending new priests and missionaries into Haiti. Haiti went for many years without official supervision from Rome, and the syncretization of Catholic practice and Vodou religion got even deeper. Men who knew the Catholic liturgy, or who had trained as priests but weren’t officially ordained, became what was known as “pret savann”, or “bush priests.” Pret savann are still important in Vodou today; they oversee the baptem ceremony at the conclusion of kanzo, and say the Catholic prayers in French during other ceremonies.
The night before I left Haiti this summer, I went looking for my godmother to say goodbye. I ran into my mama hounyo (an official position in the sosyete; she manages all the needs of the initiates during the time they’re secluded in the djevo) and asked her where my godmother was .
“Oh, li prale a legliz!” (She went to church).
Many Vodouizants take the same attitude as my godmother; going to Vodou ceremony on Saturday night and then to church on Sunday. Most Haitians, even Vodouizants, identify as good Catholics along with serving the spirits.
As for Protestant Christianity, that can be a bit more complicated. Many Protestant churches rail against Vodou and some Protestants have been known to harass and assault and even kill Vodouizants, or destroy Vodou temples. Even my sosyete has been picketed by Protestants, praying loudly and singing hymns outside while we’re in the middle of initiations.
However, there are plenty of “good Christians” who publically will deplore Vodou and call it devil worship, but as soon as they have a problem they can’t solve, off they go to the local manbo or houngan.
I myself go to Mass and say Catholic prayers. That’s how I was raised. I do know people who practice other religions along with Vodou, but the important thing is not to mix traditions. Don’t cast a Wiccan circle and call the lwa into it, and don’t put Thor’s hammer on a Vodou altar (although I can’t help but think that Ogou and Thor might get along well).
In order to practice Haitian Vodou, you have to understand its Christian roots and the Christian practices that still influence it and are part of its function.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the horror that is Charlottesville. I am disgusted and horrified by the racism and terrorism being perpetuated by Nazis and other white supremacists.
The Abrahamic faith that is Christianity says that when someone injures us, we are to “turn the other cheek”.
Haitian Vodou, though it has some roots in Christianity (namely Roman Catholicism), has no such tenet. Make no mistake, Haitian Vodou was the original Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about freedom from oppression and slavery, and a faith born of revolution. We Vodouizants do want to live in a peaceful world, but we also recognize that for most of history that hasn’t been possible.
Our spirits believe in revenge. They believe in justice, and if you ask them for those things, they will be granted to you.
I, as a white American woman, constantly work to unpack my own baggage having been raised in a racist society. I know that my largely English family (on my mother’s side) owned slaves in Barbados and brought them to the U.S. I must constantly remember that I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and I have to be better than they were.
The lwa demand that we be strong, and that we stand up to evil and oppression. We who practice this religion, especially those of us who are white, have a responsibility to speak out and act up. Because if you don’t stand up for your lwa, your lwa won’t stand up for you.
Hi everyone! I hope the summer is treating you well.
Spiritual hygiene is very important. We all attract spiritual “gunk” just by interacting with the world, and we can pick it up from other people. I’ll be posting a separate article on how to spiritually cleanse yourself, but this post is going to focus on your home.
Even if you live by yourself (as I do) it’s important to keep your home spiritually clean, in addition to being physically clean. Yes, I know, housecleaning isn’t the most exciting thing to do, but keeping a sense of order and cleanliness in your most personal space will be the best environment for your spirits to live in. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I physically and spiritually clean my house.
Here’s how I generally clean my house. Gather the following supplies:
-bucket of warm water
-Pine Sol (pine oil is a traditional cleanser spiritually, and Pine Sol has real pine oil in it)
-sponge or cloth
-regular cleaning supplies (like for the toilet and counters)
-Van Van or other spiritual cleansing type oil
-one tea light candle per room in your house
-straw broom with a wooden handle (optional)
PRO TIP: Add a few drops of the Van Van or other blessing/cleansing spiritual oil to all of your cleansing supplies and shake up the bottle, praying that your home will be cleansed and blessed.
Add the Pine Sol to the bucket of water and pray over it so that blessings and cleanliness will be in your house.
The first step is to physically clean: put away all the dirty laundry, books, papers, empty Domino’s boxes, etc. Get things organized. Then start from the top floor of the house in the back room; you’re going to work from back to front. If your place only has one floor, start in the back of the house. Dust and vacuum. Then use a sponge and the Pine Sol water to wipe down the baseboards of each room. If the room has hardwood or tile floors you can mop in there. But at the very least you should do the baseboards and the inside and outside of each door.
Work your way to the front door, then spend some time really cleaning this area; the front door of your house is where all your blessings enter; you want it to be especially blessed. Wipe down the inside and outside of the door from top to bottom.
When you’re all done with the bucket, take the water off your property and throw it out; don’t dump it down the sink.
Come back inside and get your bottle of blessing or Van Van type oil. Start at the front door and dab a five spot of oil on the inside and outside of the door; a five spot is like the 5 side of a 6 sided dice:
Pray as you dress the door that only blessings will enter your home. Do this with all the doors in your house.
Once you’ve dressed the doors, take your tea lights and dress them with the blessing oil. Put one in each room of your house and light them, praying again for blessings.
And you’re done!
NOTE: If things have been icky or bad for you, an additional Haitian Vodou thing you can insert into this cleaning process before you begin cleaning with the Pine Sol water is: use the broom to sweep the whole house, even the carpeted areas, from back to front. Sweep all the way out your front door and out to where your property line ends. Then, break the broom and throw one half to the left and one half to the right. This breaks your cycle of bad luck. You don’t have to take this step every time you clean your house, but if things have been bad or unlucky you should try it.
In a future post I’ll talk about spiritually cleansing yourself!
Through the end of February, when you make a donation to the ACLU, I will give you a Vodou card reading at no extra charge.
You can donate here.
Once you’ve donated, send me a screenshot of your confirmation at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll schedule a time to talk.
Thanks in advance! Mesi!
Bonjou zanmi! This time of year is very important for those who serve the lwa. Christmas is a time for the Petwo spirits, those hot and revolutionary lwa. Think about it: God came down to earth and was made flesh (as Jesus). What more magical activity could there be? 🙂
I’m available for readings (called “leson”) throughout the holiday season; a card reading can give you knowledge of which spirits walk with you and the forecast for your new year. I also do Vodou lamps and candles and can make you good luck baths that you can take in your home. If you live within reasonable distance of Boston, I can come to you and administer the bath for an extra good luck boost! Baths and magic work are priced on an individual basis. Card readings are $60.
Contact me here or email me: manbomary at gmail dot com for more info. Have a blessed holiday season!
Bonjou zanmi: My Vodou house, Sosyete Nago, is located in Jacmel, Haiti. That area was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Matthew. Main roads and bridges were flooded away, which means food and gas are going to be hard to come by for the foreseeable future. Would you please consider making a small donation through my brother Houngan Matt’s fundraising page? All the money will go directly to my house to help them get through the clean up of the storm. Mesi anpil!
When spirits do work for you, or when you feel the need/impulse to say thank you, there are some great things you can do:
- Light a vigil candle for them (in their color, with their saint picture if they have one, etc)
- Read the Bible or another holy book to them
- Pay them with food or drink. General catch-all things you can offer are alcohol, coffee, plain water, sliced fruit (avoid lemons and limes; they’re too harsh), flowers (yeah, it’s not a food, but still a good idea). Different spirits may take different types of food; if you’re dealing with lwa from Haitian Vodou, ask a manbo or houngan what specific foods a spirit takes
- Have a Mass said for them at a Catholic church. In Catholicism, dedicating a Mass to a person or saint is common. Call your local parish and ask. You will probably need to pay a small amount of money; usually it’s around $10 U.S. Try to attend the Mass if you can.
- Write them a poem or song and present it to them.
- Give them something for their altar. I have a few toy soldiers on my altar for Ogou, and some toys for Legba.
- If they did something REALLY big for you, ask a manbo or houngan to give them what’s called an “action de grace”. This is a small feast or feeding for your spirits.
These are the most common things you can do to say thanks to your spirits. If you can think of any more, leave a comment!
Many Haitians are farmers; it’s a very agriculturally based economy. Back when the slaves freed themselves from their French owners, many went up into the mountains and began sustenance farming on small plots of land. This is where the Kouzen family of spirits came from.
Kouzen just means “cousin” in Kreyol. It’s a familiar term of address for anyone regarded as a friend, not just a family member. You could translate it to “friend” or “man” or “dude.” There are many Kouzen spirits (Kouzen Zaka Mede, Azaka Tonne, Minis Zaka); the most well-known of these is Kouzen Zaka.
The saint image commonly used for him is St. Isidore the Farmer, as illustrated above. This saint was so devoted to God that God sent His angel to plow Isidore’s fields so he could pray.
Kouzen is an agriculture spirit. He makes his living off the land. He is a “work lwa”. He loves to work on just about anything, and he likes to be busy. He is a bit shy and suspicious of outsiders, but once he gets to know you you are a member of his fami (family) and he will work so hard to provide for you.
His color is blue, especially blue denim (the outfit of a Haitian peasant). He will take white rum as an offering but his favorite liquor is made with white rum and wormwood.
He is excellent to talk to in regards to herbs and herbal medicine. Since he is a work lwa, he is excellent to talk to if you’re having trouble at your job. However, you have to pay him for his work (well, you have to pay all the spirits for their work in some way or another) and he can drive a hard bargain. Remember, you have the right to bargain with your spirits for a fair price.
His favorite food is a stew called tchaka. It’s made with pinto beans, corn, beef, and chayote squash. Recipes may vary but here is a good one. BIG IMPORTANT WARNING; when you cook for Kouzen it is VITALLY important that you do not taste his food. If you do, he will think you are stealing from him, and Kouzen hates thieves.
Kouzen has a special bag (note he has a bag over his shoulder in the above picture) where he keeps all his things. When I work with him and I put things in his bag, I tell him before hand, “Kouzen, I’m opening your bag to put this in.” I also tell him when I’m closing the bag. That way, he knows I’m not stealing from him.
Kouzen loves women, and he is a commonly married spirit. He is also good to go to in regards to marriage and relationships. Surprising, I know, but when he finds you a partner the relationship is solid and “grounded” and it will last.