Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


If Haitian vodou isn’t demon worship, what is?

posted by Rod Dreher

Regular readers know that I hold anthropologist Wade Davis in high esteem, as I’ve been quoting extensively and approvingly from his new book “The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World.” As one would expect, he excoriated televangelist Pat Robertson for musing that the Haitian earthquake may have struck because the ancestors of today’s Haitians may have made a pact with the devil. From a NationalGeographic.com interview:

But it’s not just televangelists who have a dark impression of Haitian voodoo. Why is that?
The thing about African religion is that it’s very dynamic and astonishing. To see someone possessed by the spirit and actually become a god and handle burning coal with impunity and cut into the skin and so on–your reaction is either fear or disbelief for those of us who don’t know our god in this direct way.
There’s no question that in African religion there are very theatrical displays of faith.
The reason you cut yourself or handle burning embers is to show that a person taken over by the god is a god and can’t be harmed.

Elsewhere in that interview, Davis explains that in voodoo, or Vodou, practitioners summon up spirits of ancestors or various gods from the vodou pantheon, and invite them to possess their bodies. From a purely anthropological point of view, there is no judgment to be made here; one simply observes. I can’t find the passage from “The Wayfinders” in which Davis articulates the point, but if I’m remembering correctly, he believes that the various religious traditions of the world are profound articulations of human experience — this, as distinct from ways of knowing and experiencing intelligent discarnate beings that actually exist. What I’m saying is that as I read him, Davis doesn’t think that vodou worshippers are actually being possessed by spiritual entities.
This looks quite different through Christian eyes — and you don’t have to be Pat Robertson (whose remarks were at the very least cruel and in very poor taste) to think so. Take a look at this photo essay (from the public radio program Speaking of Faith) of vodou worship in Brooklyn, and listen to the commentary by the American photographer who shot the worship event. She speaks of worshipers being “mounted” by spirits, likening spiritual possession to sexual intercourse, and says near the end, “I kept saying to my vodou friends, ‘Oh, I wish I could get mounted by a spirit,’ but that never happened.”
Now, if this were merely some sort of psychological phenomenon, I would still find it troubling. Why would you want to have that experience, even if it is artificial? I understand the desire to lose oneself in the transcendent — it’s a deeply human desire, and not one always to be rejected — but what is the nature of the particular transcendental experience you are seeking? Are they all the same? I do not subscribe to Pentecostal Christianity, but I understand the craving for charismatic experience, and I am generally not troubled by it — though I see the loss of self, however temporary, to be a potentially dangerous thing, psychologically and spiritually.
But as a Christian, I don’t believe this is merely a psychological phenomenon. I believe that the vodou entities are real — and malevolent. Despite the syncretism with Roman Catholicism vodou tries to accomplish, there is nothing authentically Christian about it, and I too would think that this religion draws spiritual darkness around its followers and their communities. That does not mean that it causes earthquakes, for goodness sake! But I think it’s a mistake to see vodou as benign or positive. Serious question: if what you see on that photo slideshow isn’t demon worship — demons defined as malign spiritual entities — from a Christian (or Muslim, or Jewish) point of view, what is?
And: by what criteria do we decide whether a particular religion is merely mistaken, or positively destructive or otherwise a bad thing? I doubt very much that there is anyone in this forum, atheist or theist, who believes that all religions are equally the same, in terms of morality. But how do you decide which ones are religions with which you can agree to disagree, and which ones are positively harmful? Is there a universal test, or will it always depend on the particulars of one’s own religious/metaphysical viewpoint?
If you disagree, please do so without being disagreeable. Let’s keep this discussion on the level of comparative theology and culture.
UPDATE: To frame it slightly differently, what I’m asking us to think about is the limits of religious tolerance — not in a legal sense (I believe those vodou worshipers in Brooklyn have the right to do what they do), but in the sense of passing negative judgment on the beliefs of others. And if this strikes you as always and everywhere a bad thing to do, then the fundamentalist Mormon polygamy cult in the American West has a friend in you. For almost all of us, the question is not whether or not to draw a line, but where.



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Chuck Bloom

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm


It’s not a manner of disbelief (as a Jew) or being dangerous or malevolent. I just don’t understand it … in the same way I don’t understand uber-charismatic Christianity (snake handlers, whipping one’s self, etc.). Ultimately, I have always thought of a relationship with God as being purely personal – you and Him. Going far beyond that boundary always confuses me. The more demonstrative the worship, the more I don’t understand it.
But that’s me and probably no one else feels that way. I respect ALL religions but hardly understand how they get to where they’re going. Too many times I have seen services on TV where the congregation looks to be in great pain (tears flowing, etc.) and I wonder why people collectively would want to feel SO bad in order to try to feel so good.
Again, maybe it’s just me.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:33 pm


I have a personal stake in this issue, albeit at one remove: As a modern Pagan, I have direct contact with practitioners of voodoo. And, while I’ve never practiced it myself, I do have personal practices that parallel theirs in fundamental (as opposed to detailed) ways. To avoid having to decline certain requests to expand on that, let it suffice that I am nothing more than a knowledgable outsider to voodoo, that my personal practices are private, and that one does not need to know the details of my personal practice to engage this topic.
As a Pagan, I observe some egregious obstacles to discussing this topic, in no particular order:
The application of distinctly Christian terms — with all the accompanying connotations from Christian belief and tradition — to distinctly non-Christian practices and beliefs. Davis (and others) offer you a chance to approach this objectively, to understand it as well as an outsider can understand it.
It is a form of worship. It is not a form of this, that or the other sort of worship. Value judgments are appropriate, but not if they obscure the fact that what is moral to a vodoun is not what is moral for a Christian, and vice versa. I suggest that the spirit of the establishment clause of the First Amendment defines a secular interface between disparate religions, and that is the commission of a crime. Just as an example, we rightly convict people of animal cruelty in some situations, but there is no such crime involved with the ritual sacrifice of a chicken which includes cooking and eating it as part of the ritual.
Finally, a key point of affinity that I have with voodoo that is pertinent here: I do not believe that a spirit (god, demigod, whathaveyou) possesses them (or me). I believe that I am partaking of a spirit’s sentience, and the key that opens that door is not the loss of ego or self, but the temporary disengagement of the ego.
I shall send an invitation to some practitioners I’m aware of, who can address the issues here much more directly than I can.



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AC

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm


I, as a completely non-religious agnostic, draw the line at behavior. I don’t believe it’s possible (or at least it’s not possible for me) to judge a whole religion’s morality. It’s only possible to judge the morality of the people and their actions who make up a religion. In the case of a Vodou ceremony in which someone is “possessed” by an entity, I’d consider it morally neutral (unless it is performed as a deception).



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AC

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm


My moral system being solely based on how a person treats other people (directly and indirectly), that’s the only criteria I can use to judge someone. Since the vast majority of religions do not act monolithically, I cannot morally judge an entire religion.
What about the human sacrifice of indigenous cultures of Central and South American history? I can morally judge that practice (it is evil), but not the entire religion.
This also would get into the definition of a religion- is judging Catholocism solely by the actions of one Pope legitimate, or all Popes, or all Popes and Cardinals, etc.? Do I have to consider the whole history of a religion? I can go so far as to say “on the whole, I think Roman Catholocism and most modern forms of Christianity do more good than evil today”, but that doesn’t mean I think it was true yesterday, or 1000 years ago. It doesn’t mean I think that Roman Catholocism and other forms of Christianity have done more good than evil in its entire history.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Thanks for that, Franklin. I agree with you that it’s important to try to understand a religious practice from the point of view of the practitioners. But surely you don’t think that such broad-mindedness (which I think it praiseworthy, as a method of gaining understanding) requires us to suspend ultimate judgment, do you? I mean, I would hope you would attempt, as an imaginative exercise, to understand what it means to live and to worship as, say, a Southern Baptist. But I don’t think that obliges you as a Pagan to withhold personal judgment on the beliefs and practices of Southern Baptists. From your own point of view, some of what they do may be deeply wrong — not just mistaken, but immoral and even spiritually dangerous. Likewise, from a SB point of view, your religious practices may be dangerous.
I’m intrigued by what you seem to describe as your contact with sentient entities as part of your religious practive. From a Christian POV, that’s dangerous, and forbidden. Would you feel comfortable sharing more details about what that entails, and what your experiences have been? From your perspective, what are the forms of contact with spiritual entities that you’d describe as dangerous, forbidden, etc.?



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Shelley

posted February 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm


From a Christian perspective looking at the Vodoun, it looks like demonic possession. Semantics is a big factor in this. The Vodoun uses the term “possession” by a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit of God (Allah, Jehovah). In purely definitional terms, that is the antithesis of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. So based only on the word the Vodoun use, yes, this is demonic possession.
How does one get beyond semantics, word usage, to the essence of what is happening? Semantics, in my opinion has been at the root of all religious dispute.
From the photos, it looks a little bit like charismatic Christian worship. Except that the Vodoun are openly asking a spirit with a different name and who accomplishes different tasks, to enter them and use them.
I’m with Rod on this one. I think it is a demonic possession.



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Your Name

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm


(BTW, Wade Davis started his professional career as an ethnobotanist without anthropological training; so maybe he shouldn’t be characterized as an “anthropologist.”)
I guess I hear what you are saying, but to me it seems a point of view that is only sensible to another Christian. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that in your world view, there’s God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (and you acknowledge that Charismatics may be “taken” by the Holy Spirit), and then there are Demons (maybe angels too, but you don’t mention them). You accept possession by loas (or orishas in Santeria) as real, external, and attributable to independently existing spirits, but you do *not* think the spirits doing the possessing could be aspects of the Holy Spirit. This leaves only Demons.
There are two other possibilities: 1) the possession comes from within — it is an aspect of individual personality being expressed in a psychologically dissociative state, and given a cultural interpretation. Christian Charismatics call it the Holy Ghost; Voodoo practitioners call it a loa. Both are psychological/cultural projections; 2) African spirits are real, and not necessarily malevolent. Their followers do not regard them as malevolent.
From my POV as a non-Christian, loas and orishas seem just as real as your God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Or as unreal, whichever you prefer. If they actually exist, they need not be defined as malevolent. On what basis do you make that judgment? Their followers do not seem to be under their orders to do dreadful things, whereas I’ve heard many devout Christians make the claim that their God has commanded them to do things I personally regard as pretty dreadful. In fact, the Old Testament is full of examples.



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lancelot lamar

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm


In listening to those who have left Voodoo for Christianity, they are clear that they were trafficking with evil spirits and serving Satan when they were involved with Voodoo.
They express such relief at being delivered from subjection to this world of evil spirits by the presence of the one Spirit that should possess us, The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ, the one true God.
I think we have to take their testimony just as seriously as those who continue to practice Voodoo, and this makes impossible the easy, multi-culti indulgence of Wade Davis and those who claim that all religions are OK.



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me

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm


Being a good child of our age, I hate to pass judgment on people or religions. I generally think of various religions as being the results of people’s quest to find the divine. And I think that when one looks for the divine, one will find something of the divine. I think that Christianity is the best, most true and complete revelation of the divine that we humans have been given. But as a rule, I am able to recognize that there are many things about the divine which other religions have been able to come to some knowledge of. However, in the last few years, I have come to believe that while Christianity may not be the only good religion, there really are religions out there which are evil. For example, the ancient Central and South American Indian religions which relied heavily on blood sacrifices to please the gods. And on several occasions I have read accounts by people who had been practicing traditional, animistic religions and once was able to spend some time talking with someone who had previously practiced an animistic religion. These people had all converted to Christianity and said that one of the reasons they did so was because they realized that Christian descriptions of demonic powers were compellingly similar to they gods and spirits they worshiped. These people were quite firm in their assertion that their previous religions were demonic and that the spiritual experiences they had interacting with their gods and spirits were in fact interactions with the demonic. Not having these experiences myself, and knowing how poor humans can be at interpreting even their own experiences, I have a hard time simply declaring voodoo or animistic religions demonic. However, I think it is entirely possible and probably spiritually dangerous to engage in these activities.



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JMorrow

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:28 pm


I’d agree that no matter our religious background its appropriate to articulate our judgments. After all, there is a reason par your example Franklin is not a Southern Baptist, and describes himself as a Pagan. There is a narrative that makes sense for him. We make those judgments daily.
As a committed Christian, I’m always concerned about the spiritual forces we let in or bar from our lives. But, and here is where Christian diversity plays a role, its very difficult for coming from a Protestant mainline perspective to articulate those boundaries and to map a spiritual world. How do you know where you are on a map that you don’t experience or look at daily?
Part of the problem is that Scripture gives guides, but is not necessarily of one mind. The plagues of exodus have been interpreted by some to suggest the conquering of various natural spirits (at least that’s an interp I’ve heard among West African Xtians). Saul uses a sorcerer to try to conjure up a dead Samuel, but what is it that talks back to him? The Gospels most directly refer to demonic powers, and Paul talks about Powers and Principalities as a broad spiritual term. Jewish theology articulates some of these same stories of spiritual encounter differently than Christians do. They don’t flesh out the concept of Satan like Christians do.
Can I really say that every spiritual experience is either a direct encounter with an Angel or a Demon? With the voice of God or of Satan? Again, thats not to say there are not spiritual realities out there. But perhaps they are more complicated than we think. The subject could certainly use more bandwidth in contemporary theology.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm


If Haitian vodou isn’t demon worship, what is?
An elaborately fanciful superstitious belief reinforced by the Haitian culture.
To frame it slightly differently, what I’m asking us to think about is the limits of religious tolerance — not in a legal sense (I believe those vodou worshipers in Brooklyn have the right to do what they do), but in the sense of passing negative judgment on the beliefs of others.
Following Thomas Jefferson, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”



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Lasorda

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:57 pm


Rod, You are a Christian. I am a Christian (A Roman Catholic). You and I both know that these people are worshiping demons. I realize that you have to cater to a broader audience and hear differing points of view. But I am a bit rattled by that photo essay. I think I need to hear you acknowledge, as a witness to the risen Christ, that what is going on in that photo essay is wicked and dangerous. Those people are putting their immortal souls at risk of eternal damnation. You have a duty, I think, to condemn that practice in the name of Jesus Christ. I mean, come on. They are asking to be possessed by a snake demon that claims to be the counter-part of St. Patrick.
I realize that to all of the non-Christians commenting here I must sound like a loon. I get it. Call me a loon. But, Rod. Come on. Please speak out a bit more definitively about the grave implications of this practice. What to you think Our Lady thinks of this practice? What do you think she would want you to say? here is a time for ecumenical conversation and there is a time to reject the evil one. I’m not sure i see how ecumenism helps here.



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rj

posted February 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm


Lancelot writes:
In listening to those who have left Voodoo for Christianity, they are clear that they were trafficking with evil spirits and serving Satan when they were involved with Voodoo.
BREAKING: Converts from one religion to another believe the religion they left worships the wrong higher power(s) and prefer their new religion. Film at 11!



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Dharmashaiva

posted February 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm


To assume (even within Christian tradition) that the only spiritual beings with whom one can get into contact, or be “possessed” by, are necessarily malevolent spiritual beings (demons), is an unfounded assumption.
I would also say that, one way to determine if malevolent spiritual beings are involved, is to look at the every-day life of the person in question.



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Dharmashaiva

posted February 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm


Lasorda,
You wrote:
“They are asking to be possessed by a snake demon that claims to be the counter-part of St. Patrick.”
Just for the record, it should be recognized that Jesus Himself compared Himself a snake, in John 3:14-15. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that they must adopt the wisdom of the snake (Matthew 10:1-16), when going out into the world.



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm


Lasorda: Rod, You are a Christian. I am a Christian (A Roman Catholic). You and I both know that these people are worshiping demons. I realize that you have to cater to a broader audience and hear differing points of view. But I am a bit rattled by that photo essay. I think I need to hear you acknowledge, as a witness to the risen Christ, that what is going on in that photo essay is wicked and dangerous.
Sorry, I thought I was clear: I do think this is demon worship, no two ways about it. But for purposes of this blog discussion, I don’t think it’s all that interesting to have a discussion around “It’s demon worship!?”/”No, it’s not!”; I’m more interested in talking about this in context of how we determine which religions and religious expressions are tolerable, if mistaken/untrue, and which are positively dangerous. I’m not trying to be squishy re: my views of the topic; I’m just trying to engage as many people as possible in what I think is the more interesting angle to this discussion. Again, I think this stuff is spiritually dark and malevolent, and not benign or positive in the least.



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Lasorda

posted February 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm


Sorry, Rod. That video really freaked me out.



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Geoff G.

posted February 4, 2010 at 2:40 pm


Just to throw another wrinkle into this discussion, Socrates mentioned his “daimōn” (basically a sort of tutelary spirit) on several occasions. Read the Apology again, where he discusses this in detail.
My question is, assuming such a spirit was real, was it “dark and malevolent?”
My own instinct was that the nascent Church found it useful to cast such things as “dark and malevolent.” It helped eliminate the competition. No doubt it serves a similar purpose in missionary work today.



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David J. White

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm


My question is, assuming such a spirit was real, was it “dark and malevolent?”
Some of Socrates’ fellow Athenians certainly seemed to think so. According to Plato, ne of the charges for which he was prosecuted was “nomizein kainous theous”, i.e., acknowledging new/novel/strange divinities.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm


Excellent questions, Rod. I’ll try to avoid being vague, but the balance I need to walk between wanting to share and needing to keep private is not an easy one.
I’ve come back to this after more than a dozen subsequent posts, and I will answer them separately.
Rod, the first and most important answer is just another question: Why is it dangerous? The Christian POV is that it is, that’s enough, stay away — something every parent should admit to saying to the children at some point. I don’t mean that Christians are children. I do mean that there is a body of experience that is not readily explained (or even accurately described), and it makes perfect sense to go to the default, safe assumption.
I cannot emphasize enough that when I describe something personal, I don’t need to hear or see from someone else “but it was different for me!” See my previous post about subjective value versus moral judgment. I am not projecting my experience on anyone else. Indeed, sit me down with a beer and some time, and you’ll hear me say at least once that, given a foreknowledge choice, I’d not have chosen some of it.
My personal POV is that yes, it can be dangerous, and I have the bruises and scars to prove it. But, they are physical injuries, not spiritual. My spirit is protected, in like manner to any cleric or annointed priest. I don’t approach spirit without a purpose, and I don’t ever have a purpose that is solely selfish, or is explicitly intended to do harm.
How I am protected crosses another line I’ve avoided, and that’s comparisons to the beliefs of others. In this, I must concede that it is very difficult for me to approach many things without the benefit of the terms and semantics of others. For example, while I avoid using “the devil” or “Satan” as a lable, I can comfortably disclose that I have met The Adversary, in the flesh. I know evil, and I know it in the spritual sense.
why am I not “damaged” and someone else is, from such an encounter? I have a hunch, being less than a theory but more than total ignorance, and that hunch is about fear. We enter mundane situations with fear, and in hindsight we can see that the fear made us more vulnerable to hurt and failure. In my personal experience, that logic holds true in the spirit world. If I may offer my personal assessment of Christian teachings, it is that it goes too far towards ignorance of the spirit, and disarms its believers by making fear the most common reaction (we fear what we don’t understand, no matter what our beliefs are).



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Rod Dreher

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm


Geoff: My own instinct was that the nascent Church found it useful to cast such things as “dark and malevolent.” It helped eliminate the competition. No doubt it serves a similar purpose in missionary work today.
Geoff, Wade Davis points out that what we intend to exterminate we first demonize. I think that’s true. On the other hand, your political (if that’s the right word) interpretation of this dynamic excludes the possibility that there really might be malignant spiritual entities involved in Vodou worship. If you don’t believe these beings exist, okay, I get that. But normative Christianity accepts that they are real, that they are part of creation. It’s an error to call everything one doesn’t understand “of the devil,” but from a Christian perspective, it’s also an error to say that the demonic realm (i.e., abode of discarnate intelligences devoted to evil) doesn’t exist.



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Buzz Corry

posted February 4, 2010 at 3:19 pm


The underlying feature of all religions is the manipulation of every human’s fear of the unknown so as to exert power over them. Do it my way and give me all of your money. Same can be said of all forms of government.



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Lindsey Abelard

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm


But how do you decide which ones are religions with which you can agree to disagree, and which ones are positively harmful? Is there a universal test, or will it always depend on the particulars of one’s own religious/metaphysical viewpoint?
A religion is harmful if it causes actual physical or psychological harm to people, especially those who want nothing to do with it. This is the only objective definition of harm that can work for believers and skeptics alike. Obviously, this Islamist movement that believes that their god commands them to commit anti-social acts against others that do not share their belief would certainly qualify as a harmful religion that is not acceptable in modern free societies. I don’t know about this voodoo stuff. Since I don’t believe in the existence of any kind of spirit, I consider it purely a psychological phenomenon. If it results in its practitioners causing harm to themselves or others, they I would say, “yeah, it should be stopped or discouraged”. If not, I see nothing wrong with it and there is no reason to censer it.
To me, voodoo is an integral part of African-Caribbean culture. It part of the cultural flavor of the region, much like the Baptist church is an integral part of American South culture. Religion is a part of culture.



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Ben

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:26 pm


Rod,
From an atheist perspective, I would only judge based on how a person’s actions impact others. As someone else pointed out, religions are not monoliths and it would be unfair (and likely untrue) to paint an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
That said, I can see “passing negative judgment on the beliefs of others” if their beliefs routinely do harm to others. And this would most certainly not be the “harm” when someone may say the mere existence of other beliefs or opinions do them harm.
You mentioned the fundamentalist Mormon polygamy cult. On the surface, I have no problem with it. If 15 men are married to 139 willing women, that’s their life. I may (and do) think it’s a wee bit odd and could be harmful, but that’s their lives. Where it crosses the line is when women are forced into it. And children. It’s one thing to teach your children about your beliefs, quite another to force a 12 year old into a marriage with a 47 year old man on his 17th wife. If things like this happen frequently enough to members of this cult, I think my outlook would swing pretty starkly to the negative side, with the caveat of I know there may be people involved in the cult that do not act like this.
I obviously can’t speak to your point of Voodoo being demonic possession. From an outsider’s perspective, I can only offer that this looks incredibly similar to many charismatic Christian videos I have seen. Obviously there are plenty of differences, but what comes down to is me seeing people completely lost in the bliss and power of the moment. For others that don’t share that same religion (or worldview), it can look odd/scary/”what-the-fudge-is-going-on?”/etc. Setting aside the Brooklyn basement vs smallish megachurch scenery, I don’t see the difference between the two. Both have believers asking to be taken over by the spirit(s) they believe.



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AnotherBeliever

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:47 pm


You could claim that Hindus, many Africans, and most Native Americans/American Indians also worship demons, I suppose. Hinduism is the only one of those religions I have direct knowledge of, as my sister-in-law is Hindu (from Nepal.)
I know there is evil in this world, and I suppose it is possible for it to take on the semblance of individual entities.
But I am not so quick to assume that a Hindu in a temple is laying down fruit and water and incense for and praying to a demon. Their view of God is rather kaleidoscopic, to put it mildly. I don’t think their viewpoint is true, but I am not going to go so far as to say they aren’t worshiping God. Only God could answer that question.
I only know that they are not technically idolaters – they are aware that the statues are only representations. Most also hold that the various gods they worship are only manifestations of a higher God. This viewpoint was common in most religions prior to the advent of Monotheism.



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JMorrow

posted February 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm


Rod,
You said:
It’s an error to call everything one doesn’t understand “of the devil,” but from a Christian perspective, it’s also an error to say that the demonic realm (i.e., abode of discarnate intelligences devoted to evil) doesn’t exist.
While I fully agree with that statement, the question for common discernment is what can we know about these “disincarnate intelligences” and how can we know it?
One suggestion I’d offer is that the Christian faith seems not to offer a comprehensive spiritual cosmology. Though there are religions that do. What is does present has been culled together from Scripture, traditions, theological inquiry and personal testimony. Together these amount to more of a spiritual compass than a spiritual roadmap. For me the quality of Xtian discernment regarding religious practices, uncommon phenomena and syncretism does not require exhaustive knowledge. Instead it requires us to delve into the character, motive and repercussions behind an action that we take. Like Another Believer, I just don’t know enough about all religions to assume what is underneath every practice. Discernment just takes time and awareness.



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Your Name

posted February 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm


And if this strikes you as always and everywhere a bad thing to do, then the fundamentalist Mormon polygamy cult in the American West has a friend in you. For almost all of us, the question is not whether or not to draw a line, but where. Apples and oranges, Rod. The Mormon cultists (FLDS) have been around for nearly a century. As they, like mainstream Mormons (I am not Mormon, I am athiest) were sober, industrious, and not burdensome to the community at large, they were tolerated by society and ignored. The issue is not running around like idiots, with contorted faces and shouting gibberish, as the Voudou practitioners are doing. They are harming no one. THe issue with the FLDS is not some Orville Reddenbacher type getting it on with a roomful of Kathy Bates lookalikes, it is real issues of child abuse, statutory rape, spousal abuse, etc. This is why the FLDS was brought to the attention of the public at large.



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Lasorda

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm


some Orville Reddenbacher type getting it on with a roomful of Kathy Bates lookalikes
Dude, whoever you are, you are a comedy genius. I’m going to be dining out on that joke for months.



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Jon

posted February 4, 2010 at 7:51 pm


I don’t know that I agree that the spirits are necessarily demonic. I believe that there may exist spiritual entities that are neither angelic nor demonic, but rather natural beings of this world (and they may the source of ancient tales of gods). Which is not to say that one should have traffic with them. I suspect in fact they are rather indifferent if not unaware of humankind and shamans and the like who seek intercourse with them are simply tapping into their power without their deliberate involvement– which is about as dangerous as playing around with high voltage electric wires.



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Turmarion

posted February 4, 2010 at 8:58 pm


In C. S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength, Merlin is brought back to 20th Century England to help fight the evil organization NICE(!), and he does so by magic. There is a brief exposition explaining that he does so by invoking spirit beings. Ransom explains that in earlier ages of the world, some spirits were more or less neutral and that it was still lawful for those with the knowledge to do so (some of them, like Merlin himself, even Christians) to manipulate them to work seeming miracles.
Gradually, though, all spirits, as all humans, are ultimately moving in one of only two directions: toward or away from God. It is implied that by modern times the spirits have been more “sorted out”. It is also explicitly stated that what was relatively innocent at one time is more dangerous and tawdry, even borderline sinful, in modern times. In fact, Merlin is a relatively impure vessel from long use of the occult, and this is why he has be the one to do what needs to be done, while Ransom cannot do so directly.
From a Christian perspective, at least, this is an interesting model. It may be that some spirit beings contacted in some religions are benign, some malignant, and some more or less neutral. It may also be that the context in which they are contacted and/or manipulated is relevant to their effects on the individual. Personally, I think any kind of possession-type phenomenon is creepy and questionable (or from a Christian perspective, downright evil). Even in the period in my life when I was considering non-Christian religions, I would still have been creeped out by such things and avoided religions that practiced them.
Greco-Roman Christians had mixed feelings about their erstwhile pantheon. Some considered them demons outright, but even Paul in reference to the pagan Greeks quoted the playwright who said, “We are his children, too.” Ultimately the great pagan literature was not discarded, since the Iliad and the Odyssey and such were seen as having nobility and value even for those who no longer served the Olympian Gods. Perhaps the special conditions of prolonged slavery and involutary transportation to a new country acted against a similar process occuring among the West Africans of Haiti and the Caribbean.



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MH

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:16 pm


Rod asked, “If Haitian vodou isn’t demon worship, what is?”
From the point of view of an agnostic skeptic it seems like a really weird waste of time.
Rod asked, “by what criteria do we decide whether a particular religion is merely mistaken, or positively destructive or otherwise a bad thing?”
If the religion involves harming humans, or cruelty to animals then it strikes me as wrong. So the Aztec religion would strike me as evil because it involved ripping people’s hearts out their chests.
I would interpret “harming humans” pretty broadly, so religions which suggest that followers avoid medial care, or inflict psychological harm on them would also be wrong.



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Your Name

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm


Lasorda-Dining out? I thought you lived on Slim-Fast? :+)
Jon-Your speculations sound somewhat like the Muslin Djinn. They are described as mortal inhabitants of a not-quite parallel world that has flora, fauna, etc. They can only barely perceive us, but it is less difficult for them to perceive us than we them. An interesting subject for the Templeton Foundation? The Islamic literature make it clear that they are biological rather than angelic. Therefore, while supernatural of a sort, they are physical rather than discarnate beings.



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Hector

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm


Re: I believe that there may exist spiritual entities that are neither angelic nor demonic, but rather natural beings of this world (and they may the source of ancient tales of gods).
Interestingly enough, I brought this up in conversation with someone the other day, about Hindu theology. The Hindus believe in supernatural good spirits (‘devas’, which can be translated ‘gods’, but perhaps better compared to our angels), in supernatural evil beings (raksasas) and then in a class of nature-spirits (yakshas) that are neither definitively good nor evil, and are associated with trees, lakes, etc. In one of the Hindu epics, the hero has a long (and powerfully moving) conversation about morality and theology with one of these lake-spirits.
I don’t know how much C.S. Lewis knew of Hindu theology/mythology, but what he said in “That Hideous Strength” about “Neutrals” reminded me of the deal with the Yakshas.
We should remember that practitioners of Vodoun, Santeria, and the other Afro-Atlantic religions do explicitly identify the African gods with Christian angels like Michael, Raphael, and so forth.
It’s quite possible that some followers of Vodoun are invoking such angelic beings in forbidden or inappropriate ways. That doesn’t mean that Vodoun as a whole is evil, or demonically inspired.
On balance, I’d agree with what Turmarion has to say in his eminently sensible post. By the way, Turmarion, I loved ‘That Hideous Strength’. If you liked Lewis, I’d recommend you get into the books of Charles Williams as well.



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Hector

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:45 pm


Re: The Islamic literature make it clear that they are biological rather than angelic. Therefore, while supernatural of a sort, they are physical rather than discarnate beings.
Interesting. C. S. Lewis also speculates about such beings in ‘Out of the Silent Planet’, the first of the trilogy of which ‘That Hideous Strength’ was the third. The Hindu Yakshas, however, are definitely considered spirits, even if not specifically angelic or demonic.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 4, 2010 at 11:32 pm


If you enjoy speculation about deities, beliefs and comparisons thereof, I strongly recommend Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Courtesy warning: It is graphic in some places, and may require a strong stomach.
His premise is simple: Deities are created by humans, take on a life of their own but strictly faithful (ahem) to their natures as imagined by humans.
This seems eminently reasonable to me, based on my own experiences. One need not take it literally to see the value in it. It fits well, also, with Jung’s concept of archetypes and especially with how Joseph Campbell expanded on it in his works on myths, legends and ancient religions.
It makes sense to me because my core belief is that all things are connected in some way. I reflect myself, my essential humanity, back onto the spirit energy I encounter, and I submit that this is a requirement for any expectation of understanding it, let alone being able to communicate it to others. I see no difference between Yahweh, Allah, the Trinity, animal spirits, orishas or loas, or all the rest. They are real to those who believe in them because that is how they see them.



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John Spragge

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:58 am


I don’t think you can call a religion good or evil without reference to its theology, and I notice a distinct absence of any discussion of Voudon theology here. What do practitioners or adherents actually say about their deities or about the spirits they deal with.
Let me point out that any religion involves commitment, and that any commitment involves the risk of error. As a Christian, I risk discovering, at my death or at the end of time, that the only way the true union with the Creator lay in the 613 Mizvot, or the five pillars of Islam, or the tenets of some other faith.
Nor does the nature of a religious ritual automatically discredit it. Do you believe, or have you evidence, that practitioners of Voudon summon beings they know have evil intentions, or that they summon spirits with an attitude of indifference to the ethics or intentions of those spirits?



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Turmarion

posted February 5, 2010 at 10:05 am


Hector: It’s quite possible that some followers of Vodoun are invoking such angelic beings in forbidden or inappropriate ways.
I think this hits the nail on the head. My take is that honoring or asking intercession is appropriate–this is what traditional theology calls dulia, “service” or “honor”. However, when it slides into sacrifices (not necessarily of living beings–Voudun lwas are given offerings of liquor, tobacco, etc.) you’re treading into adoratio or latria, “worship”, which is lawfully due only to God. Attempts at control or manipulation of spirits, or possession, are, as the Monty Python troop might put it, right out, and are horrendously dangerous territory.
Great posts, by they way, Hector. Buddhists have similar entities, devas and asuras, and bodhisattvas are not unlike angels and saints. I think if we look at comparative religion and take people’s experiences seriously, we see that the spirit realm is far more complex than perhaps we like to think. This is why, in my opinion, dabbling in it can be dangerous from any religious perspective-you never know what you might get.
I actually have Williams’s The Greater Trumps, Hector, but I’ve not got around to reading it yet. Soon, hopefully! I’ve also heard that American Gods is good, Franklin, and I do like Gaiman’s writing. It’s also on my “to read” list.



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Your Name

posted February 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm


“Re: I believe that there may exist spiritual entities that are neither angelic nor demonic, but rather natural beings of this world (and they may the source of ancient tales of gods).” I concur with this also. I believe in the whole “Great Chain of Being” of how “higher” creatures can influence the actions of creatures “lower” than them.In his relationship with the biological world there are species of creatures from the plant and animal kingdoms that are quite benevolent to human beings, from the bacteria that line our small intestines to the family dog. Other plants and animals are fatal or dangerous to us. Others, like say a ladybug crawling on my skin, are pretty much neutral. Likewise going up into the spiritual realm I believe there are species, groups and entire kindoms of disincarnate creatures that are either predators, poisonous,benevolent, symbiotic, or neutral in the their relationship to human beings. As a Christian I believe that man, being a physical creature made from the dust of the earth, has very limited capacity to navigate the spritual realm above and around us and henceforth God forbids us to interact with the spirit realm in certain ways. There is a whole “wilderness” above and we would really not know whether the spritual creature we were interacting with was a predator,benevolent or a harmless one.



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JohnFranc

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:30 pm


Rod asks: “what I’m asking us to think about is the limits of religious tolerance … in the sense of passing negative judgment on the beliefs of others.” That’s a fair question – here’s how I’d address it.
Is it meaningful and helpful to those who participate in it? Sure seems that way to me. Does it objectively harm its participants? Can’t see that it does. Does it attempt to deprive its followers of their free will, particularly children (which is my main complaint with the FLDS)? Don’t think so. I don’t see any reason for me to condemn it.
“If not demon worship, then what?” From an orthodox Christian viewpoint, I see how you can come to that conclusion. But perhaps the world is bigger than you allow – perhaps there are answers you aren’t considering. As a Pagan, I have had experiences that are similar in kind (though significantly milder in degree) to Vodou.
Perhaps it is exactly what its practitioners say it is – ecstatic experience of the gods and ancestors.



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Hector

posted February 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm


Re: Attempts at control or manipulation of spirits, or possession, are, as the Monty Python troop might put it, right out, and are horrendously dangerous territory.
Yes, I’d agree. There is certainly a lot of bad stuff that goes on within Vodoun, no argument there.
I think, though, that if we want the Haitians to stop trying to manipulate or be possessed by spirits (and I’d agree those are dangerous and forbidden for Christians), it would be better _not_ to say “your religion is false, and the orishas / loas are actually demons”. I think it would be more productive to say that “certain forms of worship are dangerous, wrong, and can never be pleasing to God”.
analogously, I think the caste system was a horrible and evil feature of Hinduism, for example. But the steps that India has made to rid itself of that system didn’t come about (at least not _directly_) because missionaries managed to persuade people that Hinduism was a form of demonolatry and that they should convert to Islam, Buddhism or Christianity. The pressure from these other religions (and from atheist intellectuals) certainly had an indirect effect, but the most important direct efforts were made by Hindu reformers (Gandhi was one, of course, but not limited to him) who decided that their religion needed to evolve and adapt organically, from within, and jettison some of the bad aspects of its past.
I think if we would like Muslims to abandon the subjection of women, and for Haitians to abandon some of the less salutary aspects of Vodoun, then the change has to come about the same way- from within.
I haven’t read ‘The Greater Trumps’, but ‘Many Dimensions’ was great, as was ‘War in Heaven’.



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Shazza

posted February 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm


Voodoo melds Christianity with ancient African spiritualism. Unless you equate Christianity with demonism — which when Christian dualistic “good vs. evil” is taken into account constituting belief, if not practice — I think you may be shooting yourself in the foot.



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antonella

posted February 5, 2010 at 7:16 pm


Look for evil you will find evil, look for good you will find good, it s only when you go without filters of preconceptions, also religious that you will find truth
With the filters of Cristianity they may be demons, with the filters of Voodoo they may be good spirits that can be likened to saints.
Without any of those filters and preconceptions they might be just neither good nor evil, as nature is neither good nor evil, as the universe is neither good nor evil, but both and neither.
This can be frightening and confusing when we are so fond of dicing everything neatly between good and evil, and when doing so puts our mind so at ease



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Julien Peter Benney

posted February 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm


Rod,
you question of “how do you decide which ones are religions with which you can agree to disagree, and which ones are positively harmful?”, is a very good one that even the most rigid conservative ethicists are generally very reluctant to discuss.
Take Benjamin Wiker as an example. Though he is very concerned about the spread of Epicureanism, which he believes to have overtaken Christianity as the basis of Western Culture, he does not discuss such modern religions as Wicca at all. (For instance, in both “Architects of the Culture of Death” and “10 Books that Screwed Up the World”, Wiker fails to give a single word to such proto-Wiccans as Jules Michelet, Johann Bachofen, Margaret Murray, Aleister Crowley or Marija Gimbutas). Yet, when I recall what Wiker writes, it is easy for me to say that:
1) the Boom Generation born in the 1940s and 1950s has as their ideology what could be called “Epicurean Puritanism”. By this I mean a desire to completely purge society from the influence of Christianity for a completely materialistic “do what thou wilst” ethics.
2) Wicca (as I know from reading its adherents) ascribes very strongly to this Epicurean morality
3) the period when Wicca emerged (the middle to late 1970s) was the very period when the influence of Christianity appeared to disappear from Western culture. Alogn with Wicca, this involved such musicians as AC/DC and philosophers like Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.
Given these facts, Wicca and neopaganism should perhaps have more attention. It is true that they are more developed in the US than in more secularised Europe, but the real place when Wicca and related ideals are most developed is the highly secularised Pacific Northwest – so that perhaps Wicca can be seen as the logical consequence of the radical Epicureanism I can associate with the Boomers.



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Franklin Evans

posted February 6, 2010 at 12:15 am


Julien,
Not knowing if you’ll return to a thread that has dropped off the main page, I thought I’d comment on your last post.
Wicca was the first “organized” sect of modern Paganism to acquire a significant number of believers. It grew out of a combination of factors that need to be noted and examined: Gerald Gardner’s decision to “come out of the broom closet” soon after UK removed the last of their witchcraft laws; a politico-philosophical break amongst the extent members of the Golden Dawn; a sincere efforts by some contemporaries of his in England and in the US to raise syncretism out of the swamp of dilletantism and fad/fetish.
I don’t mean to contradict your point about secularism, and the vacuum left by a growing dissatisfaction with the embedded Christian influences of the period. I do mean to submit that there was much more to it than that.
I’d be interested in your view of “radical Epicureanism”. That is a label I’ve not seen applied in this context before now.



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Rombald

posted February 6, 2010 at 10:05 am


I’m a liberal and a Pagan. I guess my limits of religious tolerance are where it slides into oppression, especially with violence.
Let’s start with religious texts. The Torah is profoundly evil, teaching genocide of non-Jews, and massively oppressive treatment of Jewish women, children, etc. I therefore think one must speak out assertively and/or bring legal sanctions against, anyone who attempts to put the Torah into practice, such as many Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews.
If Aztec religion were still in practice today, I would place it on the same level as extreme Evangelicalism or Judaism. However, most forms of paganism today seem at worst a bit flaky.
The Quran is less objectionable than the Torah, but still pretty horrific, much worse than Mein Kampf, for example. However, most Muslims seem to behave reasonably decently. I think this is because they twist the interpretion of the Koran in a benign direction, but I think we can go easy on intellectual dishonesty. I think that Muslims, except when they actually engage in terrorism or civil crimes (wife-beating, paedophilia, etc.) should be regarded as akin to Mystical Hitlerists, like Miguel Serrano, who have beliefs that have a vile basis, yet do not seem to act on that basis.
I do not approve of the Christian need to proselytise, but I think it should be tolerated. There is very little violent teaching in the New Testament, and much of its moral code seems positively admirable. I therefore see little need for strong hostility to Christianity itself. However, Christianity, especially Catholicism, has often behaved more like Islam, and we should be on guard against it doing so again.
In contrast with the obvious danger presented by Abrahamism, I am struggling to see the objection to Vodou. If you show evidence that it actually does psychological harm, then I would reconsider. I know nothing about its moral code – again, I would reconsider if I knew more.
Aesthetically and emotionally, the nearest thing I have seen to a Vodou ceremony is a couple of Pentecostalist meetings to which I was once taken. However, those meetings had a genuinely repellant edge, as they were in a semi-slum area, inhabited by unemployed, depressed, uneducated, dysfunctional people, and the minister played on their problems for his own power and financial gain. I am far from convinced that is the case with Vodoun, which does not seem to be all that hierarchic.
Another point is that I think we should be careful about harsh criticism of a religion/culture that has come from such oppression as in Haiti. By analogy, although I hate the Torah, I am aware of the risk of anti-Semitism if I shout that too loudly. Well, the Slave Trade and System were, if anything, worse than the Nazi Holocaust, and, although the French were driven out of Haiti 200 years ago, it has been repeatedly occupied by racist US forces.
Finally, I agree that most non-mundane beings are likely to be a mixture of bad and good, like humans. Someone mentioned the jinn, and of course there are elves and hobgoblins (and leprechauns, trolls, etc., in other countries). I know people who claim to have had contact with hobgoblins, and they report that they are on a level that, both morally and materially, does not fit human categories. In folklore, they are generally seen as mischievous rather than wicked.



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lauren

posted February 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm


I just want to say that it saddens me to see the mistreatment of what is truly a remarkable African Diaspora religion.
In regard to whether or not the practice of Haitian Vodou is “demon worship”– (and really, by throwing this hurtful term around, you undermine and disrespect the purpose and place that this religion has for Haitians and initiates around the world, including the U.S ) where does one come to the conclusion that the lwa/orisha are malevolent beings?
All spirits, gods, even the concept of God that comes out of the monotheistic religions of the Middle East–have dual natures. They are expressions of the complexity of human nature.
For example–Papa Gede is the lwa of the graveyard, of death, decay, as well as the protector of small children. What he represents, particularly in Haiti–given the nation’s history of slavery, violence, and revolution, is the regenerative powers of life. He is the trickster spirit of play, traditions, and celebration–and a necessary and even helpful and supportive lwa to call upon and honor during ceremonies.
Another example is the Ezili–La Syrenne, Danto, and Freda. This is a triple spirit lwa–much like the Morrighan of Celtic Mythology (triple goddess). Danto is characterized as a fierce, passionate, almost frightening and tyrannical force to be reckoned with. But she is also a woman scorned, seeking love and stability. She is a woman of many pains and desires–but also, the woman of sacrifice.
In Haiti, and particularly for Haitian immigrants to the United States, the mythology of Ezili Danto is helpful in providing emotional, psychological, and spiritual support.
For the poor immigrant woman of color trying to survive in the urban sprawl, of language and culture barriers–Ezili Danto is the model. This lwa isn’t just some concept drifting up in the realm of esoteric intellectualism–she has concrete and tangible effects in a person’s everyday mundane life.
As a young woman of color, and scholar of Afro-Atlantic religions, I feel the conversation about “what’s REALLY going on” during spirit possession and Vodou ceremonies can be more useful if we can view African Diasporic religions without that lens of the stereotypical “close-minded unrelenting Christian”.
Because if you aren’t willing to talk about these religions and traditions without the charged language that inspires fear and hate–we can’t have a conversation can we? And especially on such a sensitive topic such as religious expression and interpretation.
To call Haitian Vodou evil–is sorry and ignorant, I’m sorry. It just is. But if you are open to the conversation, and willing to put aside the popular culture notions of “voodoo” and “black magic”–you may learn something.
And on the matter of Haitian Vodou and it’s relationship to Roman Catholicism–the religion doesn’t traipse about pretending to be some from of Christianity. It is a syncretism of symbols and expression that the African tradition borrows in order to create something new–remember that religions are living entities and mold and change to the times and events in order to remain relevant to people’s lives.
The reasons why we see similarities in the experiences of church goers in a black southern baptist church– “gettin’ the holy ghost”–to the the spirit possession in Vodou, Candomble, or Santeria–is because the outward expression is precisely that of some sort of union, meeting, communication with the divine. The physical manifestation of contact with the divine ranges from ecstatic crying and dancing, to foot-stomping and shouting, to nervous breakdowns.
What makes any sort of religious experience dangerous is the elevation of the self, of the consciousness to that higher indescribable plane–that, outwardly, yes, looks like madness or loss of self-control. The realm of psychological and emotional phenomenon shouldn’t be taken lightly–as fancy, or magic, or nonsense.
Speaking from personal experience–I know what it is like to undergo religious ecstasy. In fact, my first encounter with it
–(whatever “it” was, because truthfully, I’m not sure what it was–the divine? God? Perhaps)–
occurred during English class a little over two years ago. I broke down in class–and even now, I search for answers, for direction in trying to understand what happened to me.
It may have been the moment–my mind and state of being might have just been perfect for the spirits to take me, for God to speak to me, or what have you–but, as Joseph Campbell has said, it is an experience that one never forgets, nor comes back from. For the world is forever new to the senses–you simply see things differently, you experience life differently. Now, yes, this is my own personal experience, but I know there are others who have gone through the same.
It was not painful, not physically. All I remember is that the pain was in my heart–like that of falling in love, of complete abandon and surrender to a higher power. And that kind of experience is something that humans search for–for answers to the meaning of life, of existence, of purpose.
Religion serves to answer those questions. You just have to be receptive and open to the possibilities. But I surely wouldn’t call experiences such as these “evil”, “malevolent”, “fanciful”, or “demonic”.
I’m open to everyone’s thoughts on this–so feel free to contact me at lcarde1@swarthmore.edu



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Bozanfe Bon Oungan

posted April 12, 2011 at 12:22 am


Guys, Im late to the table with this but have a few things that really should be said… and they’re said from the perspective of an actual initiate and priest of the religion here discussed.

WE DONT worship demons or “satan”. We worship God, and ONLY God is deserving of worship. Most of us are church going Catholics.

Now, before you try to insinuate that those two dont layer well because of Church law…you may wish to consider other Law, like the forbiddance against fabrics blending multiple fibers (remember that cotton/poly blend shirt? Its actually a death offense, according to the book) or things like not killing your children when they talk back to you… we all, in this modern day, pick and choose the aspects of Christianity we are comfortable having in our lives and adapt them to our notion of personal faith. All of us.

Do those who espouse belief in Christ to the exclusion of all else listen when he says only those who hate their father and mother can follow him? Probably not… but then, they havent been raised to accept the letter of the law as their faith, only its spirit in a modern context.

Much the same with us; bet you didnt know that EVERY Vodou service begins with something called the Priye Ginen, which begins with the same prayers we say at Church and continues through hours of 17th century hymns praising God, Jesus, Mary, and a whole litany of saints? We sing these not only because we believe prayer to God to be our first obligation, but also because these songs bless the congregation and the space to prevent anything ‘dark’ or evil to enter. We do not serve Satan and we do not allow him a place in our religious celebrations.

The Spirits we serve (note the word serve; its not worship) are, to our religion, either Angels or ancestral spirits our ancestors once served in Africa, before the days of slavery; the religions of the many different nations our ancestors came from blended with each other and with the Catholicism of the French land/slave owners to become something called a Syncretic faith… NOT one that stands in opposition to any other faith, simply one that worships God AND maintains the traditions handed down through our families and bloodlines. To us, the most important spirits we take care of are those of our own ancestors, as we believe in keeping all aspects of our family together (this is MUCH like many faiths in Asia; few would dare consider the Buddhists to be ‘satanic’ yet they maintain VERY similar ancestor services to ours)

The truth of the satanic rumors, Im sorry to say, comes from antisuperstition campaigns headed in the 30’s by the American military, which was then in occupation of Haiti. All the “zombie” movies and stories began with the idea that civilized white americans were inherently better than the backwards people they were supposed to be shepherding… and the stories began to roll of things like orgies and black masses and dolls with pins; none of which are real.

(speaking of sex; its actually not a part of our ritualizing in any shape or fashion… “mounting” by a spirit has nothing to do with sex, but more to the metaphor of horseback riding. The spirit in possession will even refer to the body housing it as it’s “horse”. Its very, very far from sex.

To us, Vodou service is about the community, maintaining harmony in relationships between community members, their ancestors, and the spirits and angels… sex does not serve community goals; we know its there, as without it no community could survive as its a little necessary in the procreation department, but it essentially only serves the self of those involved, not the community… so it has no place in a community faith. We also believe in bodily/”energetic” cleanliness before approaching the Holy; no sex is permitted the day before a Vodou service so we are physically and spiritually clean while we are saluting and singing for God and his spirits.)

People generally dont seem to like these facts, as they truncate the racist idea that “those blacks” are doing evil or worshipping anything other than God… Im sorry to say the truth is a lot less salacious, but its also more beautiful than anyone with that closed a mind will ever be able to imagine. The songs, the dances, hearing everyone in the community sing together… its a beautiful thing the Hand of God has wrought. Sorry to dissappoint those who insist we’re summoning demons or having wild sex parties, but its just not the case.

Bozanfe Bon Oungan
(Houngan Asogwe, Sosyete Nago, Boston MA and Jacmel Haiti)



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Vodou Priestess Maria

posted December 24, 2011 at 1:04 am


If Haitian vodou isn’t demon worship, what is?

Hello Rod I am enchanted to answer your question. I am a Priestess Of Vodou and come from an occult bloodline. The Vodou religion is not demon worship In fact the only thing that is demon worship is Demon worship! In fact even most modern Satanist do not worship the devil. To most Satanists the devil is a symbol rather than an actual being. To be a true Demon worshiper, one would first have to believe in the God who cast that demon out of Heaven and then choose to devote his or herself to that demon.
There will always be those who believe that anyone who does not follow their religion or their branch of their religion is being deceived by a diabolical force and is dammed to an eternal torment of some kind. This has been a great recipe for one group to yield power over another.

Priestess Maria



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Seaki Ache'

posted May 29, 2012 at 11:50 am


Greetings to Everyone,
I have thought long and hard about responding to this thread, but as empathic clairsentient medium that has dealt with all of the above practices, I feel my little in-put will be valuable. I am a seventh generation “root-worker” born in Sao Paulo, land of the beautiful practice of Candomble, a practice very similar to Voudoun, and or Santeria, but raised in Louisiana from a small age. Many of these practices deal with spirits that are simply beautiful,benevolent, willing to help at all cost in many different human problems. But like my nana would tell me,”where there is so much light,darkness is not far behind”. The physical world we live in is but the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to having a FULL understanding of this physical plane. I can attest, that the spirit world is JUST as profound, real, and prolific, as the world we experience with our 5 senses, even more so. I give much respect and honor to the priest and or priestess of these practices, but they also, if they are honest, can speak on the inherent evil that lies in “meddling” in the spirit world with entities that are older than time itself, and far much more wiser than we are. I brought a halt to my initiation into Santeria, when I witnessed a unwanted “provocation” from a spirit that have become very close to my heart. If offerings are not made correctly,or given at the right time for “ache”, a normally benign spirit can wreak PURE HAVOC in your life. This to me seemed “petty”, as why “give to get”, when Mother Universe’s energy or “ache” is all around us, free of charge. This was when I began to realize the “two-faces” of many of these spiritual beings. Not that these beings are evil, but many of the spiritual beings seemed to have “personality flaws”, as humans, and I was NOT going to place my trust in a powerful entity that is capable of “human conditions”, such as jealousy, hate, and or malice. Over the years, I began to realize, through study and travel of other practices, that many of these beings are served in other countries, under different names ofcourse. Being a clairsentient medium, I have witnessed Ezili Dantor or Erzulie D’en Tort “energy signature”, though some-what different, in several different rituals in Thailand, worlds away from Haiti. This tells me that these spirits have a sort of “omni-presence” in our plane of existence, and are not centralized to one country or people, and or race. Understanding of these situations broadened my appreciation for these “Loa”, as they are called in Voudoun, as I began to conceptualize a “spiritual grid” that these ancient spirits “belong” to, a “spiritual hierarchy”, that envelopes many different cultures /religions, going as far back as ancient mesopotamia, some 5,000 years. I relate all of this information for one reason, for many to understand. These energies have been on this earth since the beginning of time, the are “multi-demenional” in character and behavior, and are VERY REAL. Some are spiritual essences of trees, water, earth, but on this earth, ALL has some sort of “ache” or “life energy”. Instead of fear, lets use this as an opportunity to understand our own religious practices and ceromonies,eventually finding a beautiful, but TRUE spiritual connection to The Allmighty.

Thank you for reading and Blessed Be :)



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Alden

posted August 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm


Good afternoon,

Firstly let me commend you on your words and religious tolerance. I do not practice Voudon, but the Regla de Osha (misnamed santeria by so many) there is nothing catholic about it..it is african to the core with some admixture of native culture and spiritism (especially the kardecian system). You say that these practices, the ones in voudon are demonic..as many say about “santeria”, that these are upper level demons posing as deities, and any adoration and sacrifice given is given to these demons…the abrahamic religions profess monotheism, and through their eyes every religion is a spawn of satan… So just because these practices in the african religions (appear demonic) the idols look scary,or its so primitive…doesn’t this lead to a misconception based on ignorance, just because it is not organized in a stone church, with golden crosees, excessive silks, and dogma… This makes it demonic?? All the shaman religions of the americas, etc.. All of them demons..it seems so easy to desregard and label religions which I may add predate the jews themselves as demonic…denegrate them, make them equal to the dark side…when so many of us who find ourselves in it live a positive life, and many have life changing events, there is bad in every religion on the face of the earth, but therein lies the human experience and humankinds manipulation of the same.. We fear what we truly do not understand, and immediately call it heresy or evil…when in all reality it is just a subjective expression of our limited comprehension of the universe…all roads will eventually lead to the beginning..we have a saying in our religion “ogbedi kaka ogbedi lele” in lukumi this translates to “knowledge was dispersed through the landsg”..leading to the exodus of the truth throuh many lands and the subsequent creation of religions. We profess tolerance, and let me add I was a christian once, I still believe in Jesus for his message was universal, and one which resonates in the true heart of santeria and other african religions..god bless you..



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