Silence On the Path that We Tread.

I started looking into Vodou not that long ago. So, as an ‘expert’ I am nothing of the kind. I am just another bumbling pagan out there who happened to get sucked into this. With that in mind… I am not a mambo asogwe. What I’m about to ramble about is my UPG, feelings, thoughts, and ideas on the subject. Do NOT take this as a tenet for your practice. Do NOT quote me as a knowledgeable source. Do NOT quote me at all. I don’t mind offering advice or giving guidance, but I will not become a mambo or a teacher in this. I will only do what I feel is right.

I have been communicating with people in the “blanc” Vodou community for quite some time now. Almost from the get-go of my forage into this path, I have done a shit-ton of research, read a lot of blogs, and have come into contact with other people who are in similar paths as mine. (Although, again, they’re not the same since that is impossible.) I have asked a bazillion [possibly obnoxious] questions and will, probably, ask about twenty times that in the time to come. I have tried diligently to understand certain aspects of the Vodou mindset and practice. However, the one aspect (really? only one?) that continuously draws me up short is the Mandate of Silence.

Now, this isn’t actually a “mandate” but it seems to be pretty much across the Vodou board. Silence about practices, Lwa, and UPG are a near necessity. And this, to me, is one of the most astonishing and startling aspects I’ve come across. My mind was blown from the first moment of reading about it.

From what I can gather, the Mandate of Silence has been a part of the practice from the get-go. When the slaves were a-practicing in Saint-Domingue, to speak aloud of their faith was to invite punishment, usually in the form of not-so-swift death. The French plantation owners were not willing to tolerate the “idolatry” and “serving of demons/Satan” that they confused the ancient practices of Vodou with. (I am amused by the idolatry aspect since they were Catholic and I’ve often felt Catholics to be idolators.) This is why every Lwa has at least one counterpart in the array of Catholic saints: it was easier to hide their practice that way.

As time went by, the Mandate of Silence became engrained in the practice.

I think it was the fear of being punished that has led this practice to be as… quiet and unknown as it is. I think it was a conscious memory of how it used to be that kept them from speaking aloud. As it is, it has been only in the last 20 years that we have learned more than what Hollywood would have us believe. There have been people, of course, who have ventured into this prior (I am thinking of Tell My Horse when I say this) but they were few and far between. And of course, most were not willing to break the Mandate of Silence. As it is, a lot of the blanc and American books about Vodou are academic in nature.

As time has gone by, though, the Mandate of Silence stopped being due to fear of reprisals and became more about the fear of one another.

I have come to learn that there are many out there who would use the knowledge they’ve gained from Vodou against others. What I mean by that is that they would work negative magic against others and, if learning another’s UPG, they would subsume the Lwa in question, also to pursue personal gain (or for the hell of it). I am unsure if this is a generalized mindset infused during the learning process when one joins a particular society or if this is a mindset they develop out of what they learn. Hell, perhaps it is a more malevolent person (usually) who seeks Vodou out in the first place. Yet another falsehood perpetrated by Hollywood, I suppose.

But what gets me is that there are people out there—even possibly acquaintances or friends—who would want to bring harm to others and even to me. Perhaps it is my American upbringing or simple naïveté, but I cannot fathom this at all. To say that my mind is boggled is a complete understatement because that would lend credence to my mind bouncing back from this. In effect, my mind has frozen at this idea. This is neither here nor there, more of a tangent, but a very real aspect of the Vodou tradition… And another reason for the Mandate of Silence.

As a pagan, I started this blog to catalog my long, constantly morphing spiritual path. Initially, this whole project was just a regular blog that was more minded to the religious instead of the mundane. As time has gone by, the point in this blog and my feelings about it have changed. I started this all off as a small-thinking, childlike neophyte. I was just hoping to write out about what I was experiencing and practicing so I could watch it change or stagnate. However, now, I write to get myself out there and to be heard, to offer advice to others while still trying to catalog where my chameleon-like spiritual turnpike is constantly taking me. And it is now, at this moment, that I realize the core tenets here:

Be heard.

Offer advice.

These two things are the Big Stuff, the Big Guns.

And these two things are why I don’t think I can apply the Mandate of Silence to my practice.

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9 thoughts on “Silence On the Path that We Tread.

  1. There are some traditions in Wicca that are also all about silence and not sharing inner stuff etc. I can understand to a small point about wanting to keep sacred things personal, but when it hinders teaching and sometimes hurts us as a faith because one thinks “if they are keeping it secret it must be bad”, then I worry and fight against it.

    Vodou has always been interesting to me, but it also scares the pants off me. Its a much different path then I follow and while I would love to learn more about it, I am also not willing to take that step. I took an anthropology class once that discussed it all and I thought it was something that had a lot of meaning and faith behind it, but yes, the … harm and all that aspect of it makes me shy away.

    Good luck!

    • I was reading Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson last week. And one of the big things he went on about was keeping things quiet. I couldn’t help but shake my head, though. The book was written in 1970 so his “secrets are THE WAY” spiel was pretty high and mighty. But it really went to show just how secretive pagans are or tend to be or are initiated to be.

      I’m too dumb to be scared. XD

      No, I’ve been interested in Vodou since I was in high school. It is a little frightening and definitely different. But it’s so free-flowing that I think that, more than anything, should be something always taken from it. The fact that there aren’t some set liturgical rules is very freeing and tends to help morph practices across the board.

      • Yea. I understand that certain rituals people write for their own trads should be kept to initiates of their trad, because its personal, its theirs. But “general” info, normal witchy chatter, things that we could share with each other to help and enrich our community? Those should be shared imho.

        Well I hope you find what you need from it. I look forward to hearing about it through your blog.

  2. Oh, how do I understand thee…*grin*

    I will say, though, that there are other “mandates of silence” out there. Its just that Wicca has been solidly beating its head against the European traditions for long enough, and exposed so many of them now (against many people’s better instincts) that we don’t think there *could* be silence anywhere…except in the ATRs where most Westerners haven’t bothered to tread. Yet.

    And as far as the harming goes…yeah. That blew my poor little naieve “harm none” background mind. I mean, I’d gotten accustomed to the idea that defensive magic was acceptable…and I’d personally thrown out the threefold law by the time I’d started on the ATR paths but…the idea that people could be intentionally or unintentionally harming me…both people I knew and people I didn’t…well, that was quite the wake-up call.

    Like you, my journey’s brought me here, to the blogging world…and you’re right. Being heard and sharing what we’ve found makes it easier for all of us. Its hard for me though, to know exactly what to share. Exactly when to offer advice…and when to hold my tongue. I’m not very good at the holding my tongue thing…*sigh* Maybe someday I’ll figure it all out.

  3. I was brought up in the Vodou religion ever since I was a child. When I got interested, my parents didn’t tell me anything. They all hide their religion from everyone, including me. I’ve researched online in my early teens. That’s when my parents grew comfortable and I help them with celebrations. I don’t mind if people ask me questions but I too am not an expert and I am not initiated. So I answer what I can. In the past I write reports about Vodou in my class projects where others are fascinated and open their minds about the religion. Just like every other path there is the good and the bad. I have seen too much bad from the media and some books than good, so it doesn’t hurt to talk about it and hopefully erase ignorance.

  4. Well…*sigh*

    Yes and no.

    Having been involved with Wicca for years and years…and witchcraft…and seeing the overwhelming floods of people without any sincerity who decided they were witches because of this or that, who are either drop out after six months because things didn’t happen fast enough or because they’re no longer interested in rebelling against their parents or because it never worked well as rebellion or whatever…

    I worry about the floods of people heading for voudou now. I worry about a lack of seriousness, a lack of respect, a lack of tradition…I worry.

    At the same time, I want to learn myself & I want to share what I’ve learned so I really don’t know what the answer is…

    • I don’t think there’s any correct answer.

      I do worry about the flood, as well. On the pagan forum I am a part of, TC, there was actually a post asking about when Vodou had suddenly become en vogue in pagan circles. I, of course, had to wade into that. But you are right and so is the person who first started that post: more and more people are becoming drawn either intentionally or otherwise into the Vodou hemisphere. I can only hope that they are not doing so because they believe the Hollywood standard or because they are looking for a quick, bad fix for a shitty situation. Hope. It’s the important part, I guess.

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