Voodoo is more in the news since the earthquake in Haiti and lots of weird things are being said, especially about how other faiths do or should regard it. Here’s what I told Jonathan Mark over at the New York Jewish Week when he interviewed me for his wonderful article which even includes the story of a Jewish Voodoo practitioner.
“Do you want me to tell you Voodoo is magic and forbidden and contrary to Jewish tradition? OK, I can tell you that.
“But I can also tell you that there’s a deep theurgic impulse in Kabbalah, meaning attempts to manipulate the Divine. There’s a distinction between magic and ritual, which is that ritual tries to influence God; magic believes that it can influence God, whether God wants to be influenced or not.
“Now, that’s a very fine distinction,” says Rabbi Hirschfield. “So I don’t make fun of Voodoo, because anyone who prays to God in the hope of shaping what God does shouldn’t be making fun of Voodoo.
“We all love to tell the story of the Golem. If that isn’t shamanic,” continues the rabbi, “I don’t know what is. Some guy goes into an attic, recapitulates the Genesis story, making a person out of dirt, slaps [the Holy Name] on its forehead and it comes to life. Change that ever so slightly and you have a guy with a doll in Haiti.”
“Voodoo is one more spiritual mechanism for both bridging worlds, between life and death; for people to feel empowered in their relationship with God,” says the rabbi. “We shouldn’t confuse the rituals we reject, and the theology we reject for the underlying human impulses that are part of all of us.”
Once again we are reminded that if we look for differences in order to make our choices feel superior to those of others, we can always find them. We can also find the ways in which every religious tradition, from those most like ours to those most different, are responding to the eternal human needs for love, safety, meaning, health, forgiveness, inspiration, liberation, renewal, etc. It’s up to us.
This doesn’t mean that all traditions are the same or that they are “just” utilitarian responses to human needs. It means that there is some force in the world, one many of us call God, who is so loving that He/She/They/It provides a seemingly endless variety of ways to find what we need, and help us to meet the needs of others. In our crazy world, that’s something to bank on.