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    The chief and the Priest

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    The priest and chief
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    The chief is seated by the side of the clearing in which the dancing takes place. Next to him is the fetish (or vodoun) priest. As part of the ritual, the faithful will greet the priest, partly to show respect, and partly to ask for favours, advice, treatment of illnesses, spiritual guidance or help with their problems. The priest will, through divine intervention, act as an intermediary between the devotees and the spirits, and tender his services by way of herbs and potions. The knowledge of natural remedies will have been passed down through generations. The priest has been given total authority from the Loas, and his powers can be compared with that of the Pope in the Catholic faith.

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    More misconceptions

    by grets Updated Apr 24, 2007

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    There are also an awful lot of misconceptions that vodoun originated in Haiti. Yes, it is the state religion in Haiti, but it was brought there by the slaves from West Africa during the French colonial time. I was quite perturbed to find that most web sites I found were devoted to vodoun in Haiti, in fact some did not even mention West Africa, when in reality, there are twice as many people practising vodoun in West Africa as there are in the Caribbean. So why are there twice as many web sites dedicated to Vodoun in Haiti as there are in West Africa?

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    Where are all the men?

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    Most of the dancing was done by women. A couple of hours into the ritual, a couple of young lads did get up to join and, much to the approval of everyone present. There was much cheering and clapping and they seemed to be rather embarrassed by all the attention. They didn’t last very long though, and soon went to sit down again, leaving the dance floor to the ladies yet again.

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    Comparisons

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    There are a lot of similarities between Vodoun and Christianity, as well as other world religions. Followers believe that the Vodoun universe was created by a Supreme Being, the Grand Met, but as he has now finished his work, he has moved on the other worlds to do similar work there. He is not actively worshipped. The Vodoun religion is headed up by the dual god/goddess of Mawu-Lisa. Mawu is the goddess of the Moon and Lisa is the god of the Sun. They are said to have seven sons and daughters, all related to natural phenomena or historical or mythical individuals.

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    The chorus

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    Chanting is an integral part of a Vodoun ceremony. The chorus is made up of a group of people, usually led by a strong spiritual woman. The idea of the chanting is to attract the Loa on the astral plane in order to attract them down to earth.

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    The musicians

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    A group of special people will provide the ‘music’ in the form of shaking rattles and playing drums. Three drums, covered with ox-hide, provide the rhythm. They represent the three atmospheres of the sun: the largest represents the chromospheres, the middle one the photosphere, and the smallest one the solar nucleus. The instruments will have to be purified prior to the ceremony. Drummers are called houn'torguiers.
    The large ritual rattles are called asson and are made from calabash. Symbolically these rattles represents the union of the two most significant magic principles: the circle at the round end and the wand at the handle. The rattle contains the vertebrae of the serpent, which is considered the bones of the ancestors as well as sacred stones. This is what makes the noise when it is being shaken. Eight different coloured stones are used to symbolise eight ancestral gods. Eight is a symbolic number in Vodoun religion, it represents eternity. By rattling the asson, the musician is calling the Loa to the ceremony.

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    Amazing control

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    I was amazed at the spatial awareness of the dancers, even when in trance. Not once did they collide with each other, and even whilst thrashing about, and appearing to be totally out of control, did they actually hit pr land on the audience. A few came worryingly close to where we were sitting, but they seemed to be able to miraculously stop within inches of our feet.

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    Drinking

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    Often the dancers would come back out of the shrine, drinking from a hollowed out gourd. This could either be homemade alcohol (there seemed to be an awful lot of that going around), or blood from a sacrificed chicken or goat. By drinking the blood whilst possessed by the Loa, it is believed that the Loa’s hunger is satisfied. After the sacrifice has taken place, the animal is cooked and eaten. This way, nothing goes to waste.

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    Never lose your bottle

    by grets Written Apr 24, 2007

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    Probably the most frightening of all the incidents during the dance, was the woman who came out dancing with an empty beer bottle in each hand. For a while she would just dance around waving her hands in the air, but as she became possessed by the Loa, she gleefully slapped her hands together, smashing the bottles in the process. She then proceeded to attempt to rub the broken glass in her face. She was quickly assisted by many onlookers, preventing her prom harming herself or others. Of course, the ground was now littered with broken glass which had to be cleared up to prevent anyone else from stepping on it causing cuts to their feet. This task appeared to be carried out with utmost efficiency, despite weaving in and out of dancers.

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    Dancing with baby

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    I personally found it quite scary to watch a dancer becoming possessed by a Loa or spirit. I was afraid for many reasons. Frightened they might hurt themselves or others, nervous of what they might do whilst they were not in control of their own bodies and mind. Worried that they were not going to ‘snap out of it’ and be able to escape from the possession. There have been stories of people who have been unable to control the Loa and have gone insane and died.

    One episode that rather concerned me was the mother with her baby on her back joining in the dancing. When she fell into a trance, I was anxious as to what would happen to the baby, but onlookers quickly stepped in and grabbed the infant before taking care of the possessed woman. All is well that ends well.

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    Possession

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    Dancing is an expression of spirituality. It is seen as a connection with divinity and the sprit world. The dancing and drumming intensifies repeatedly and repetitively until the dancer is possessed by their Loa, by which stage they appear to completely lose control of their body and some even appear to lose consciousness. Their limbs go stiff, they appear to fall backwards of they flail their arms and legs about, thrashing anyone and everyone in their way. This is the Loa’s way of having a bit of fun with the devotee. The Loa may even try to encourage the supporters to injure themselves or others. In order to stop them from harming themselves and others around them, fellow dancers come forward and grab the possessed devotee and lead them into the shrine until they come back to ‘normal’. Sometimes the possessed dancers would try and escape, or come rushing back out again from the shrine. I pitied Michael and Kristin who were sitting right next to the entrance to the hut; I think I would have been quite concerned for my safety. Michael did in fact move after a while. It is said that even foreigners witnessing such a ritual may fall into a trance and be possessed. That is a really scary thought, as we have not been brought up with this culture and would not know what to do under such circumstances. You are advised to move away if you feel yourself ‘going’, or if too many people around you go into a trance.

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    The Big Guardian Angel

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    Vodoun devotees believe that everyone has a soul which is made up of two parts: a gros bon ange or "big guardian angel", and a ti bon ange or "little guardian angel". The ‘little angel’ is the one that leaves the body when the Loa possess the dancers during a ritual. This is basically what happens when a dancer goes into a trance, and I found it quite scary at times to watch. The spirit will take over every movement of that person, they become the spirit and are no longer themselves, and the spirit will talk through the possessed – sometimes in a language they do not understand or even knew before they were possessed. The Loa will convey – through the possessed – advice, desires and warning. The ti bon ange is also known to leave the body when you are asleep and it is believed that it is vulnerable to evil spirits whilst outside the body.

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    The Loa

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    There are hundreds of different spirits or ‘Loa’ in the vodoun religion, and just like any other religion, each person has their favourite spirit that they worship. It was explained to us that during the dance, different music (drumming) is played for different sprits, and when you hear the tune associated with ‘your’ spirit, you get up and dance. The word ‘Loa’ means ‘mystery’ in the Yoruba language. These are some of the many sprits:
    Aida Wedo: the spirit of the rainbow
    Erinle: the sprit of the forest
    Mawu Lissa: the spirit of creation
    Oko: the spirit of agriculture
    Ayza: the protector spirit
    Agwe: the spirit of the sea
    It was also depend on the reason behind the ritual as to which spirit you will be worshipping. The number of Loas are increasing all the time, with the inclusion of local deities and ancestral spirits.
    Mawu Lissa is the Supreme Being, and represents both the male (Lissa) and the female (Mawu) side of life. Mawu Lissa however, although being two separate gods is also one god with a split personality. Mawu looks after the moon, the earth, the night, the rising sun and the west. Lissa, on the other hand, represents the sky, the day, the sun, the east and the sunset.

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    Communications

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    The purpose of ritual or service is to communicate with the spirits or Loa. Before the dancing takes place, offerings are made to appease the spirits, in the form of chickens, blood, food and other gifts. The Loa and the humans belong to each other and are interdependent – the humans supply food the Loa provides protection from evil spirits, health and good fortune. Rituals are held for a variety of reasons; the one we witnessed was to celebrate the New Year. Other occasions include births, marriages and deaths; healing, lucky events, to fight bad omens and fortune.

    The pictures show devotees sprinkling alcohol on the ground to attract the spirits.

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    The spread of Vodoun

    by grets Written Apr 23, 2007

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    Vodoun is a religion that can trace its roots back at least 6,000 years; some sources claim 10,000. It is freely practised in West Africa, and was in fact accepted as the state religion of Benin in 1996 where 80% of the population is followers. It is believed that over 60 million people practise vodoun worldwide, 30 million of which are thought to be in West Africa. Vodoun is widespread throughout the Caribbean, notably on Tahiti where it was proclaimed the state religion in 2003. It is also found in Brazil, the Guianas, Dominican Republic and parts of USA, introduced by the slaves.

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