On this journey, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions attach themselves to pagans and even to Christians who look at voodoo, in any way. There are the basic misconceptions that can be chalked up to over-active imaginations coupled with the sensationalist Hollywood viewpoint of what voodoo “is.” And then there are the misconceptions that seem to be attached, strongly, to opinions. Now in either case, we are doing a severe disservice to a religion that has been able to grant an entire nation its freedom. If we can openly respect and not assume about other pagan religions and even some of the Christian ones as well, we should be able to look openly at voodoo, as well. What we need to consider is that all of us are wearing blinders in some fashion, whether it be based on opinion or what Hollywood has dreamed up this week when it comes to zombies and voodoo. One of the main misconceptions I’ve found lately is that voodoo is part and parcel with Catholicism, which isn’t the case at all. I hope that with this entry, I can put some of those fears to rest.
A lot of people have been willing to talk to me about their issues with voodoo. And for a lot of them, a big problem is the fact that it is rife with Catholic imagery and prayers. Here we are as pagans, pretty much eschewing the Christian religions of our birth but suddenly being pulled to a religion that uses it daily. Talk about an issue! And I completely understand and even agree with the fears and issues that this possibility imposes on those of us who are not comfortable with Christian imagery, prayers, and offerings.
Now, whenever I meet up with others who are willing to admit that this is a huge stepping stone, and one that may or may not break the bank, a particular woman comes to mind. She’s mentioned a time or two (*cough* Camylleon *cough*) that one of the hardest parts of being a hard polytheist and working in both a voodoo/Santeria framework has been the Christianity that is rife in the religion. She has had to contend with the two aspects of her practice and meld them into one. She has to not only work with the images and prayers, but she also has to contend with their belief in one God. (Yep, that’s right. Not just “a god” but as in the One.) Now, I’m pretty freaked out that someone has been willing and able to do that. I can safely admit that I am not that person. So, it is with my framework in mind that I write this post. For those who would like to hear her take on it, maybe she’ll finally write the post I’ve been bugging her about.
After begrudgingly picking up my first book on voodoo, I went into it with a more open mind than I would have a few years ago. I think that helped me in making careful decisions, not just in who I was willing to seek out and work with but also in regards to the Catholic question. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up a book or look up a blog, start reading it, and have to have an open mind. But I think it helps. What really aided me was the first book in question: The Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan. Now, I am not his biggest fan. Everyone who has heard me talk about voodoo knows that this is the case and hell, even he knows that this is the case. (Yes, he really does.) But his book really helped me to understand a religion that isn’t quite understandable from a framework that is pagan. Sure, we can go into it just as easily as the next person, but it helps when you have someone who is or was (not sure which) a pagan and is willing to at least give you some good basis. And some of the good basis was that Catholic aspects to voodoo are NOT necessary.
This was eye-opening, mind-boggling, and so deliciously scintillating to me. While I had been interested in the religion itself, I had also come in with a preconceived notion. And that was that I had to work with the framework that was already presented. But after reading the history of Haitian Vodou, I realized that the framework was based on survival. I live in a day and age where keeping my religion afloat is only as necessary as keeping my Amendment rights alive and well. I didn’t need the same sort of tapestry to hide my religion as the slaves from Africa did so many years ago. And with that, a sort of… relief washed over me. Not only did I not need to have an image of Legba on my altar space (though I desire one), but I didn’t have to settle on something that shows him as Saint Lazarus. I don’t have to recite the rosary or sing a hymn to get them to talk to me. And I don’t need to have their prayers memorized to offer them service, either.
I know that when you look at something or someone on the outside, you tend to just assume that what you’re looking at is how it is. This isn’t always the case. We all talk about not judging a book by its cover, but let’s face it. We’re all human. And that’s what humans do. They take one look at a person or a thing and just assume a whole bunch of shit about it. This was the case for me – and I think the others who are looking in voodoo’s direction but can’t quite make up their minds about it – and it’s taken a lot to get me out of this frame of mind, especially where voodoo is concerned. But, I’ll tell you this. If you pick up your first book about it and it’s an easy-read like mine was, you’ll change your mind pretty quick.
And if not, well. I’m being told that I’m a guide here. So, look me up and I’ll do some guiding.