A Personal Aspect On Voodoo- Guest Article
Guest Article: Dr. Durand (Alex)
Voodoo – The Underestimated Healing Religion
It’s a dark night in the even blacker night of the bayou; even the moon at full light cannot penetrate the secretive space of intertwined trees and blanketed Spanish moss. At full dark, a shriveled woman casts dark curses upon unfortunate souls, cackles while she slips pins into poppets, all the while sacrificing a chicken on a profane altar. Unfortunately, it is an image like this that so often springs to mind when “Voodoo” is spoken. Television, movies, religious practitioners of many varieties have all vilified the religion and often sought to marginalize it. Oddly enough, even within the pagan community, I’ve often been met with hushed tones or speculative, skeptical gazes when I mention that it is part of the path that I follow. There is an inner part of me that takes brief amusement from this, but there is a deeper concern that the many gifts that voodoo offers the world are marginalized. Of these, I have a particular topic that is very often overlooked because of the supposed deeply dark side of the tradition – that topic is healing.
The work of healing is so often done is small ways that do not call attention to either themselves of the practitioners. Indeed, as witches have known from time immemorial, those who practice the healing arts are often the first to be demonized, and ultimately even dispatched in all manner of creative ways. The voodoo practitioner of the colonial and slave times was almost always an elderly woman or man. She was almost always a slave, although sometimes, she might have been a freedwoman. Other slaves, whether they be those in the midst of pregnancy and childbirth or those whose bodies were bending and breaking under the work they were forced to do, would find in her a comfort. Often, that comfort came in the form merely of words of wisdom. Just as often, it came in a poultice that healed physical brokenness. Or a broth of herbs that fought off the fevers and diseases of the tropical and subtropical climes where enslavement dominated. It was in the ritual of touch and magic, and in the rituals of mourning when the pregnancy came to stillbirth or in which both mother and child perished.
As slavery gave way to share-cropping (better only in name, in all practicality), and then to Jim Crow oppressions, the healing practices came out of the darkness of night. But, perhaps the greatest gift of the voodoo practitioner was not the healing of body or even the comforting when the body simply could do nothing but succumb to the indignities of life. Perhaps the greatest gift was hope; not milquetoast hope of pie in the sky or the sweet by and by, but fierce, rebellious, determined hope. The hope that Ogoun, loa of iron, fierce protector and warrior, but also loa of healers embodies. To ask Ogoun to help, to protect, to guard is to invoke a power that is forged in the fiery heat of the blacksmith’s shop. To light the candle and reach out to protect another is to feel the power of Ogoun arc out and surround them with fearsome protection. But, even more than that, it is a radical statement of personhood and independence and freedom that fires the blood and feeds the spirit and encourages the soul, even in the midst of the most demeaning sorts of humiliation and denigration. Voodoo is that tradition that says people are full human beings, even if other human powers strive to oppress them. That defiant spirit is the motive engine of healing – it is the raging against the dying of the night, it is the warrior empowering the spirit. Simply put, voodoo seeks to heal body, mind, and spirit in a world that so often wants to cripple, infirm, and crush. Voodoo says no.
The spirit of voodoo (voudun, vodu, vodun) is not a spirit of darkness or black magic – it is a spirit of healing, long before it is anything else, and it is a spirit of defiance in the face of fear, hatred, marginalization and disease.