As a youngling, I was brought up with the knowledge that many different religions existed, and was given the opportunity to research for myself, whenever I felt the desire, what they entailed. I knew from an early age that it was up to me to decide what to believe in, to pick whatever suited my understanding of the world and if I felt like it, I could go ahead and do whatever I felt was right. Through research and experimentation, I figured out that I am the kind of person who needs to place faith purely in myself, because I am definitely too stubborn to live for anyone but me, or for anything except for where my passion lies. The understanding that religion is an utterly ridiculous waste of time strengthens more and more with every day that I spend in this body.
Perhaps it was my early introduction to researching and exploring human nature that keeps me from wanting to properly take part in the society that my European ancestors helped to create. I know enough about my ancestral history, going back thousands of years, and to see that I come from brutal lineage. I often find myself feeling physically repulsed by many aspects of the human race- especially the bit that makes certain groups kill other groups just because they look and behave differently- that I then feel ashamed of being a descendant of the groups that were most taken by this urge. Regular readers may have noticed this attitude of mine towards humans already. No doubt you find it funny, but I suppose one has to in order not to shoot one’s self in the head.
However, despite my personal beliefs, I am still fascinated by the idea of spirituality, religion, faith and worship. Last week I saw a book of photographs taken in Haiti during their Carnival time over 15 years, which explores how the ancestral history of the country has influenced the contemporary culture of the people- which is heavily drenched in religion- in the time before the giant earthquake shattered their already weak economy. I love documentary and portrait photography, but the combination of these photographic elements and the cultural aesthetic of that region resonates deeply within my psyche, so I had to get it. And holy balls, I’m glad I did.
Vodou is one of the few religions I never delved into as a teenager. The complicated nature of the belief system is not one that can be grasped at such a young age I suppose, especially with no understanding of the difference in racial and religious history that created it, on top of the flippancy with which it is generally portrayed in pop culture. Even though I was raised in an open minded environment, it was still within a society that is able to actively ignore death, hide racial injustices, and gloss everything so it shines nicely, even if it is jagged and rotten underneath. Now that I am able to grasp that the world is a lot nastier than it pretends to be, I actually GET Vodou.
The people of Haiti have been fucked over completely- first, the native population were massacred by the Spanish, and then slaves were forcibly brought from Africa to tend the Spanish crops. French pirates had a hefty part to play in all the killing and such too.
Vodou came about because the African slaves needed to hide their continued dedication to their own religion, which they did by including Catholic symbols at their altars, a process which is known as syncretism. Throwing the dog off the scent so to speak. After the Haitian Revolution, and the people claimed independence from the Europeans, Vodou was solidified as the way of the people. They picked what they felt was right and went with it, keeping the Catholic symbols as a reminder of the past. There is an incredible resilience of spirit within the modern Haitian population, which stems from the love and respect for their brutalised ancestors, which is a large part of why I respect this resourceful and creative culture.
There is a “God” (Bondye) in Vodou, but it does not have anything to do with humans. He is not worshipped, but instead it is the messengers between humans and Bondye, lesser entities called “Loa”, that the rituals and prayer etc are directed towards. Each of the Loa have different personalities, like human beings, and are either representatives of an aspect of traditional African spiritual beliefs, or of influential people in the history of Haiti. There are too many to name and describe in this article, but each one has their place in Haitian society, can “help” in certain ways, but can also fuck shit up in certain ways too. It’s great! So invigorating to read about after years of fairy tales about guys who did stuff and said stuff and then the church came and divorce was a sin but now it’s not a sin and condoms were a sin and now they’re not a sin and blah blah blah… Vodouisants actually physically interact with each other, and the Loa, in fantastic rituals that connect them with the earth and their past. Fucking groundbreaking shit.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on this topic, nor do I have the words or the space to describe how inspired I am by this culture that is so open in their acceptance- and their embrace!- of death as a part of life, pain as a means to reach a new perspective, light and dark as equal parts of the cycle of our planet, and in turn our existence on it. So if you find a spare moment, read some essays on it all. Or go there. I definitely plan to at some stage very soon. Or at least look at some photos of Haitian Carnival. So freaking good.