Voodoo and Kemetism: Where The Twain Shall Never Meet.

Yesterday, Devo posted a really excellent question in the FaceBook group, The Island of Misfit Pagans. (By the way, awesome group with some kick-ass discussions.) Now, as I’ve said, whenever she starts asking things or poking at things, I tend to sit up and listen to what it is she really wants to know. So, she asked, “Lots of people seem to believe that if you are heavily recon slanted, or that if you base a lot of your practice out of a history book, your practice will be dry and lifeless. Do any of you have an opinion on this? Do you think someone can be heavily historically influenced and still have a thriving practice? Or do you think that UPG and innovation needs to exist in order for a practice to work well?” I started thinking about a proper answer. I felt the niggle of something important here so I gave her a simple answer, I think you need a little UPG to have a practice. BUT. I prefer learning in a book for my Kemetism. Not so much with the voodoo. And then I made mention that I would blog about this in the near future, so here I am.

I’ve thought about this entry since I started it about two days ago. Things keep coming up and breaking my concentration when I try to write it, so I’ve had a lot of thinking going on. (NO! NOT THINKING!) I was thinking about it at the slow parts when I was watching Prometheus on Saturday. I was thinking about it after I finished reading chapter two in Secrets of Voodoo by Milo Rigaud. And I was thinking about it all day yesterday in fits and spurts, trying to piece together why I was holding a candle to this obvious double standard…

…because that’s what I have going on here. I mean, I’m willing to do the hard work and the leg work and the reading for my Kemetic path, but I don’t think it’s as necessary when it comes to my voodoo flavoring? Why is that?

Now, at first, I thought I was just full of it. I had written my comment on the sly, in the quick. I wasn’t fully in my head when I was writing this response, actually. I was on the way out the door to go somewhere when I did a quick rush response. And figured I’d get into more depth in this post, which has been interrupted over and over and over again whilst trying to write it. However, I’ve thought about why I’m so able to be full of shit about this in regards to the flavoring versus the start of my path. And I realized that my comment, written as it was with lots of things going on and it being little more than an afterthought comment, was probably more profound and more full of truth than anything else I could have said. If I had sat down and responded with the gist of my above statement, but in full-fledged form… I could have back-tracked. I could have left that comment as it was and then fleshed it out later with half-truths or just ignored the topic entirely. (INTERRUPTIONS I TELL YOU!!) So, after a lot of thought, I’ve realized that the quick little comment I had left was probably the most truthful on the subject as I could possibly come to.

But, the question still remains, why?

I’ve thought about a lot of reasons for this. I don’t like what they say about me, either.

I thought that maybe it was because I had been paying attention to Kemetism and ancient Egypt for so long that it is ingrained within me to read up on it. I’ve read just about every book that I own about Kemetic practices. (Two are on my “queue” to be read.) I’m so obsessed with all things ancient Egypt that I fly through books based on the country or on my religion in very little time. Sometimes, I take longer as I pick through what I’m reading and actually, you know, think about it. But for the most part, I can fly through those books in no time flat. But, I have a fairly long list of books in my voodoo “queue” that I’ve peeked at, started to read, or just added to the ever-growing pile. Every time I’ve gone to pick them up, something else has caught my attention. I’ve noticed that when it comes to the voodoo books I suffer a queer form of ADD: I can’t sit still long enough to digest a chapter, much less some of these books which are hundreds upon hundreds of pages long. And again, I know there is a real reason for this, but I couldn’t say.

Maybe I don’t give voodoo the same street cred as I give my Kemetic practice? This particular answer is a hard truth, I don’t like what it says about me, and I think it may have something to do with it. Maybe it’s the ingrained laughter that comes when we start talking about folk remedies and folk tales. I mean, these two aspects aren’t quite in line with voodoo, but it’s similar. It wasn’t until the 1980s, or even later, that people began to accept voodoo as more than just a “silly” practice that Haitians do. Rationality says something like “this is fake” and years of being influenced by outside sources has it seen as Hollywood would prefer us to. Consciously, I know that none of this is the case. It’s a real religion with so much flavor added into it that you’d never be able to eat the whole meal. But, somewhere inside of me, I don’t seem to give it as much seriousness as I do with my Kemetic practice. WHY?!?!? WHY?!?!?!? (Legba is snickering at me right now. “The questions aren’t always important,” he says.)

As I said earlier to someone, I’m not usually so obsessed with the “why” of things. It is, as it is.

I did find something of very important interest though that actually does tie into all of this. I’m having a difficult time as I read Secrets of Voodoo by Milo Rigaud. I might get into my issues at a later date in time. But, in chapter two, the author went on to say that there wasn’t any hardcore book to turn to for all the answers. There wasn’t anything but the loa to turn to when it comes to running a practice. And pretty much, in effect, what he was saying was that the voodoo tradition is entirely based on UPG. It’s what the loa have to say that makes the practice what it is today. He said that, partially, this is why some of its gone so downhill (not quite sure what he meant by that, honestly) but it’s how the start of the religion came about. And it’s something that’s continued. And this really resonated with me, especially in lieu of my comment to Devo’s questions.

I said that I found the book-learning easier for Kemetism but not so with voodoo. Why? Why? And as I’m reading that chapter, and as I’m reading those particular gems, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t just that I’m a snob about various religions. (Though, you know, it’s possible.) Maybe it was the simple fact that Legba’s been leading me around (“LIKE A DOG – HEE HAW,” he says) this whole damn thing almost from the get-go. Everything he’s ever said to me, pointed me in the direction of, demanded that I write about, and all of that has always had some very significant moment later on. But it’s always been about what he’s had me do and say and think and feel as opposed to what I could find in a book. And I wonder if maybe he was just doing it the way they used to do it – the way of the loa.

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30 thoughts on “Voodoo and Kemetism: Where The Twain Shall Never Meet.

  1. FWIW, I am of a similar slant. I read tons and tons and tons of books on Kemeticism, Egypt, etc. I know the history of the country. I know it’s culture. It’s ticks. It’s practices for death, life, whatever. I’ve read so many books on it.

    However, in Shinto- I’ve read (count them) 2 books. 2. That’s it. I know very little about JP history. About Shinto history. About how things actually, you know, work on a larger scale. I pretty much listen to what Barrish-sensei says, and treat it like gold (kinda the way some KO members do with Tamara, ironically). I know why this is- but I thought I would share all the same, to show you that I think it’s a bit normal for people to place different emphasis on each practice.

    • Phew! I’m glad I’m not the only person.

      I’m working on my second book in voodoo, actually. And I do know some of the Haitian history since, you know, most of the voodoo books feel the need to recap it. (And by recap, I mean say the exact same thing over and over again.) I mean, it’s pretty important to the overall practice of voodoo because without that history there wouldn’t be any voodoo or not as we know it, but still.

  2. It’s perfectly fine to have different feelings or opinions of different branches of belief, even if you practice both.

    I agree that perhaps media and societal memory may have influenced how you feel about your voodoo practice on the outside, but also that Papa Legba has been doing his ‘job’ if you will, leading you, directing you internally to what you need to know and do.

    Perhaps it’s as simple as you feel more comfortable with your kemetic practice so it’s easier to read those books than it is voodoo ones.

    Kemeticism and voodoo are very different practice structures. The egyptians were all about knowledge and the collection of, and voodoo, if I recall right, was mostly passed down parent to child, orally and by physical practice. It might just be as simple as you feel how different they are, and are just naturally doing what feels ‘right’ to you. :)

    • I definitely do feel more comfortable with my Kemetic practice. I’ve been working at it and learning about it since I was a wee one. I remember taking out all of the books in the library that I could about ancient Egypt and my library, in that regard, is always growing. Whenever I turn to my goddesses and Kemetism, it feels like I’m putting on a well loved and worn pair of clothes. With voodoo, it’s like I still haven’t gotten them broken in as well. I mean, Legba helps with that. His jokes and his laughter make things worth while, but it’s still not quite… right, I guess.

  3. I think it depends on the religion of choice too. With voodoo, especially in American New Orleans culture, the followers had to hide to so much of it, covering it up with Catholic biblical names and references, and keeping their practices physical and passed on via word of mouth, so as to not get caught. The nature of it became more free and self guided by the Loa because it HAD to be.
    Whereas something more widespread or officially accepted, would have had the means for writing down books and methods. Ancient Egypt had many widely used practices that were openly written about/talked about.

    So I think perhaps it depends on the nature of the environment surrounding a certain religion. Also I think some people need reading/history to feel stable in stepping on a certain path. If you’re feeling shaky, you’ll often stand in one place. But if you can read historical methods and practice them, you might feel a solidity that allows you to move forward so you can grow. So perhaps it is personally circumstantial based on a person’s confidence level??? I don’t know.
    Good food for thought though!

    • I definitely have confidence issues. So, that, too, could be a possible answer. And it is easier with Kemetism because I know that I could look in a book or find something on the Internet that could point me in the right direction if I’m doing something wrong. Whereas with voodoo, I have to ask someone else’s opinion before I can move on or hope to find it in my head because Legba put it there.

  4. You are reading one of the more difficult books right now (“Secrets of Voodoo”), and keep in mind that it is a translation and Rigaud has some other influences in his writing (such as Freemasonry, although there likely already was some influence there in Vodou that predates him). While Vodou book-learning is getting easier, it is more about doing than reading, and then there is the challenge of finding reputable people to show you how to do. Because Vodou is not a reconstructed religion, I think one has to walk a fine line between developing one’s own practices and honoring tradition, at least in Haitian Vodou, in my opinion.

    • I did actually want to ask you something about that book. It was because of your list that I bought it.

      The big issue I’m having is that he keeps talking about Legba as the be-all, end-all. And I understand that he is very big and important in voodoo. Without him, there would be no opening of the doors and no discussion with any of the other lwa. But he makes him seem bigger than I always thought of him, I guess? It’s like Legba comes first and then Danballah, but I always saw Danballah as bigger than Legba.

      • The local mambo has told me that the French version is quite a bit better and has more info in it (but that doesn’t help those of us who don’t read French). Upon my 2nd reading, I found a lot of RIgaud’s info did not always match with other sources, so I just accepted it as his take on Vodou. Plus Rigaud was a member of the upper class in Haiti, so his beliefs and practices likely varied from that of the less-privileged people of Haiti. And Vodou has always been more a religion of the common people.

        Like you, my understanding was also that Legba is important but not the be-all end-all. While both Legba and Damballah are from the Rada nachon and therefore old, I thought that Damballah was actually older than Legba, if memory serves me correctly.

        What I do find valuable in Rigaud’s work is the sheer volume of lwa, correspondences and songs he includes in his book. I have not found many books who mention that many lwa.

        • I did love the huge list of the lwa he had in there. I had never heard of so many different names and as he said, there were others that didn’t make the cut! I wonder what each of the lwa he has listed do for others. You know?

  5. That’s a really interesting commentary, thank you for that. I don’t know if it because I came to formal Kemetic instruction ‘late’ or if it’s a personality quirk of mine, being a Pisces, but I rely very much on what impressions and messages I get from the neteru than what I get from Kemetic books.

    Don’t get me wrong, I devour books, sites and things pertaining to ancient Egypt but when it comes my sense of being Kemetic, a lot of it is experiential, ‘in the Spirit of Kemet’. I’m sure newly resurrected Kemetic priestess would have much to say about my lackadaisical approach, to which I would say, “Eh! Been there, done that!” :-)

    • The only reason I try to steer clear of UPG in my Kemetic practice is because I’m always worried that I’ll end up speaking with a netjeri as opposed to the gods themselves. There are lots of little demons out there who would love to eff around with the practice itself. I’m rapidly growing to the point where I have to decide whether or not I should keep sitting on the pot, so to speak, but it still worries me. I’ve seen so many people get screwed up because some little spirit or demon wanted to feel big and powerful.

      • The netjeri thing is worrisome. Even if it’s a friendly one. Maybe netjer X has netjeri answer his phone when he’s busy. They are helpful, but have a sense of mischief. So they write down messages, but they don’t always get them right. And they ask for pop tarts and squirt guns. You can’t get good help in the Duat these days. XD Feed the netjeri, make them more powerful… they ask for more stuff, which you give them…

  6. For one thing, your Voodoo and Devo’s Shinto have an unbroken tradition. If you’ve got a question, you can ask someone. Figuring out who to ask, and the possibility that they won’t answer you, or won’t give you an answer that immediately makes sense are different problems. But the people with the answers are THERE.
    Related to it, if Devo, for example, decides to write something about Shinto in a blog, a Shinto priest could come along and say “you are totally wrong.” Everybody is speculating to a greater or lesser degree in Kemeticism. The priests have all “Gone West.”
    The other big one is that “The WORD” is half of Heka. Both Hu and Sia can be closely linked to writing things down, and reading what is written. If you took those away, you would totally gut Kemeticism, IMO. From the little I know, you could remove the written word from both the other traditions and hardly miss it.

    • I think that is up for debate in Shinto. They, too, have the concept of words being magical. Words play a large role in the practice and the rites. Much like with Kemeticism, if the Norito were lost- we’d lose a large part of what Shintoism is. However, as you’ve mentioned, Shinto is still up and running- not broken. And so there is no need to go out and recreate the wheel.

    • There is something there with the asking bit. I mean, I don’t have a huge swathe of people that I could ask for voodoo information, but I have just enough to be able to get a decent answer. But in there lies a problem, too. As Camylleon said in another comment, there are so many different little bits and pieces just based from society to society. So, what I learn from John Doe may not be what’s being done over at Jane Doe’s society and so therefore, to her, could be construed as “wrong” or “silly” or “not complete.” Or, or, or.

      In voodoo, there’s very little written word, actually. A lot of the ceremonies are society-specific. I mean, they all have similarities but each society brings its own flavor. And just because a society in eastern Haiti is doing it one way and a society in western Haiti is doing in in a similar way doesn’t mean they’re the same at all. In fact, it’s the small bits that make all the difference.

  7. I think the Lwa, being not “Gods” exactly, are just sort of *here*. Around us, all the time. I don’t think it’s necessary to follow the religion of Voodoo in order to communicate with them. Well, not all of them, anyway. Some are quite friendly and low-maintenance. Others are fairly (or extremely) complicated & have quite particular demands of anyone wishing to even *speak* to them. Some are better left alone altogether. There only is normally a problem with “meddlers” (people borrowing things from the religion without following the whole thing) is when they think they can play with anyone from the religion…and they try to contact one of the more particular or dangerous spirits. This is especially bad if they contact one of those Lwa for the wrong reason…*sigh*

    Unintentionally insulting a Lwa is still insulting a Lwa. Some of them have very long memories.

    And there we get to the real problem. Voodoo is a religion, but the details can vary *greatly* from house-to-house. Some houses will have much in common, others not so much. And that’s not even taking into account the larger regional differences. This information is not open to the public, and almost never shared, even house-to-house. So what is published will largely be based on one house’s point of view…or based on what little these houses will share with outsiders…which is often not much at all.

    When you look outside the metaphysical books on Voodoo and look to the historical and anthropological books about the cultures in which Voodoo was created…there’s a pretty big information desert. There are books out there, but they are harder to find (or often bigoted in one way or the other). And when you get to the history of Africa, it’s even harder. It can be done…but you have to really want to.

    On the other hand, Egypt has a wealth of information. Fiction, non-fiction, historical, anthropological, archaeological, philosophical, ancient, etc., etc., etc…as far as books on Ancient Egypt (as well as the modern cultures where Egypt once stood), there is a wealth of information. You have all the selection in the world…every single tiny little particle of Egyptian life has been studied and recorded…as much as possible, at any rate. So I can see why you would feel a love for reading these things. And because there is a history there that is so revered, I can see why you’d feel more of a need to read as much as you can. After all, the Ancients themselves were particular about the way things were done, so we must be as well, right? Whereas we have no such info about the Ancients of Voodoo…yet…

    • I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve cut all loa out of my life aside from Legba. He’s the most easy going to work with, in my opinion. Not to mention, the more I read of this book, the more I have to wonder how long he’s been “weaving” in my life. Whenever I ask him now, he just giggles. So, who knows how long he’s been around? But, honestly, it was the honest-to-the-gods fear that started me pulling back from all the other loa. I had to honor Freda and Papa Ghede. And when Freda showed up, I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I wasn’t ready or willing to do what she needed/wanted from me. And I didn’t want to get screwed over in the long run because I wasn’t ready or capable of doing what she needed and wanted.

      • With some of the Lwa…caution is *definitely* understandable. I have a great amount of feeling for Freda, but I would hesitate to work with her at this point in my travels, so I can certainly understand your hesitation!

        • I have the same hesitation with the Baron and Maman, though, too. And from what I have seen and felt and gathered, they’re some of the easier ones too. Maybe I’m just a Legba girl. And I’m really beginning to think I need to learn who my Met Tet is. Ugh.

          • As far as I know the offer is still on the table…and she’s gentle, trust me. I was shocked when I found out mine…shocked and yet not. It was weird, like when I found out I was a child of Obatala. It made sense, in a strange way…and yet I was shocked…lol

              • I would doubt that, honestly. OF was more than a bit off her rocker. I have the suspicion…can’t prove it, but it’s sitting on my chest…that most of the spirits she was in contact with were *not* the ones she thought they were…in other words, take EVERYTHING she said with a grain of salt. F*ck that, take it with a salt lick.

  8. Such traditions as Ceremonial magick and Kemetics have so much truly valuable work that has been done in and with it. It seems a crime not to at least look to this work. However, with such practices where the traditions are either so vastly varied, or they are not well documented, one must look to the deities associated with the belief and practice. Even in Heathenism where there is much work done, I feel I have learned more from Odin and Freyja than from any book.

    • I can see why you feel like Odin did the best in teaching. Isn’t that his main claim to fame? I know of few people who actively work with him, but every single one of them always go on about how he teaches them X, Y, and Z.

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