Se Bon Kè Krapo Ki Fè L San Tèt (SVP).

It is because the toad is too kindhearted that he has no intelligence.

This morning, I woke up to someone having commented on a post that the Tumblr user, crowwoman had written a while ago. For those not willing to click the link, the post is this, ” ‘The Lwa make the Vodouisant’ no ritual can make you a Vodouisant if you are not meant to be there, on the flip side no one can tell you that you cannot practice if you are meant to.” I remember when she initially made this post because it really made me feel better about some things that have bothered me over the last few months as I delve deeper and deeper into my voodoo research and attempting to incorporate what I learn to Papa Legba’s satisfaction. While her statement probably was not, specifically, taking into context people such as myself who have lwa that are not willing to let them join a society and become initiated [for whatever reason], the sentiment behind the statement really spoke clearly to me. It was around then that I stopped eschewing the terminology “Vodouisant” to describe what it is that I am for the lwa whom I serve.

Let me just reiterate what I just said here for a minute.

I said specifically that this very knowledgeable and lovely woman who puts her time and effort into writing tips like these for people who are scared, lonely, and worried about what they’re doing really assisted me in a moment of need. As I’ve written before, I spend a lot of my time thinking that I am bug nuts insane because some lwa showed up and said, “Hey, I want you!” As I’ve written before, I spend a lot of my time thinking that I am not cut out for whatever it is that Papa Legba wants me for. And as I’ve written before, I often feel like I can hardly do such a beautiful and vibrant way of life any justice whatsoever with my meager ramblings because I am coming at this from a point-of-view that is wholly separated, unique, and opposite from those who enter into it in other areas of America and those who are practitioners in Haiti. And yet, knowing all of this background knowledge, this woman really assisted me when she reminded me that the practice isn’t quite as important in as much as how you serve the lwa who have requested you. By that one little statement, she reminded me what I’ve read over and over again – that the lwa makes the servant, not the other way around.

So, this morning, the commentator on this helpful entry said, “I disagree with this a bit. Certainly, the Lwa can call to you if you’re uninitiated, but there is quite a bit that is not available if you are not initiated. Doesn’t mean you can’t work with the Lwa, but calling yourself a Vodouisant without initiation is a bit dicey.” This comment really blew me away. For the first, I wasn’t actually expecting to see it on my dashboard. (I sometimes forget that I follow people who actually do have some interest in voodoo and/or hoodoo, as I follow blogs that fall into both categories.) While I do not disagree with the statement regarding what is or is not available to those who are uninitiated because I know there is a decent chunk that I miss out on being a solitary practitioner, but the fact that whether or not I can call myself a Vodouisant may cause some troubles? It seemed like this person was working off of a specific definition of the word. So, being a word geek, I went to town to try and define what it is to be a Vodouisant.

The first definition that pops up when you Google search “Vodouisant” and “meaning” comes from this page, which defines the term as “a practitioner or initiate of Orthodox Haitian Vodou.” This is completely incorrect and I really do not know where this website gained this information. There is no such thing as an “orthodox Vodou” in Haiti. Each region focuses on something specific culturally. Some regions are based off the Dahomean traditions and focus more on that rada rites therein. Some regions are more focused on the petro rites. Though the basics of how a fet begins starts with the calling of Papa Legba to open the way, the rites from there are based entirely off of regional preferences. So, to utilize this particular definition of what a Vodouisant happens to be is incredibly misleading just based on the fact that at its foundation it is incorrect: there is no such thing as an orthodoxy in Haitian Vodou.

This translates further into the numerous societies that have cropped up across the United States based on the Haitian Vodou blueprint, either because the houngan and/or mambo were initiated in the Haitian tradition or because of transplanted Haitian emigrés. While they will remain focused on the roots as they were taught, they will also be able to incorporate other aspects into their traditions. There are mambo and houngan who utilize Tarot cards for their divination instead of going to playing cards or even cowrie shells. While I cannot say, specifically, what other items of American origin that we could find in Americanized societies, what can bet that syncretism with American values, beliefs, and items crop up periodically.

Also, by utilizing this incorrect definition, one is entirely erasing Louisiana Voodoo in any context. I have read the blogs of numerous men and women from that vibrant area with its own version voodoo who refer to themselves as “Vodouisant.” The history of Louisiana Voodoo is akin to that which is found in Haiti, and while some items are the same, many others are not. There are aspects to Louisiana Voodoo that one will not find in Haiti. Some examples include La Gran Zombi, different regional lwa, and one will notice that some traditions in NOLA are folk traditions from Europe and the indigenous population of that area. Haitian aspects tend to be either of African, Arawak, or French origins wherein the origins of that found in Louisiana is much more a “melting pot” of sorts.

I went further with researching the definition of the term, though. A French definition website popped up in my options and I looked it over. I tried to do a Google translate of that definition and this is what came up, “borrowing animist rites of voodoo cult (or voodoo or voodoo).” Well, I don’t really know if that’s really accurate, either. It’s not really about animism, per se, but about the role one takes when they start serving the lwa. So, I scrubbed that down and went to this page. While that website could not actually define the term, it did give me some Wikipedia answers. While I’m loathe to use Wiki for much of anything these days, it did say, “practitioners are called ‘vodouists’ (French: vodouisants, voduisɑ̃ ) or ‘servants of the spirits’ (Haitian creole : sèvitè).” It still isn’t telling me anything, though, is it? All it is saying is that there doesn’t appear to be an accurate translation from French into English and that it’s the people who practice the religion in some form or another that are called such.

I have to say that while the commentator’s comment rang true for me in a way – how can I call myself a non-initiated Vodouisant – I have to say that there doesn’t appear to be any one accurate definition. Blanket statements in this framework are not likely to work just based on how many different ways someone can be a servant of the lwa, never mind how many different people come at this serving from numerous different directions.

But without definitions and without bothering to look things up, the statement really kind of bothered me for the fact that my lwa asked me to stop eschewing the terminology specifically. Around the time that Papa Legba told me in a fit of pique that I’m acting like a scared wuss by not using the word Vodouisant, the crowwoman entry came around. Coincidences are common, of course, but it seemed a little too near to the time period where Papa Legba and I argued about terminology to be “just” another coincidence. Whatever the actuality of that event was, the entry made me feel better and I began to start actively referring myself to thus at the behest of the lwa whom I serve. If those whom we serve ask us to do something, should we refrain merely because someone else may find it difficult to swallow? I do not deny that I am a non-initiate. I do not hide this from anyone or anything. I’ll say it again, I am not initiated and I have been asked not to be. Does that make what I do any less valid than someone else who is initiated? Possibly. But does that mean that I have to tiptoe around when I’ve been asked, specifically, for something because I’m worried other people won’t like it? No. It doesn’t.

All it means is that I need to get over myself and get over my fears if I’m going to be the servant that these lwa want me to be.

And besides, frankly, calling myself a Vodouisant is loads better than the Baron’s suggestion of, “the servant of the dicks.”

4 thoughts on “Se Bon Kè Krapo Ki Fè L San Tèt (SVP).

  1. I don’t disagree with you that there are many definitions to the word. It’s just been my experience of folks with a variety of backgrounds–Louisiana, Haiti, American, and others–that they all use Vodouisant to indicate initiates. I’ve seen people blacklisted from certain soseyetes for calling themselves Vodouisants without initiation and I’ve seen more than one Lwa get very, very angry at people calling themselves that without doing proper [read: initiate] work. For me, I would rather walk on the side of caution and in a way that doesn’t negate any of the Work I do on behalf my God and the Spirits than to claim a title that may get me in the door somewhere, but not help me or Them long term. As I said elsewhere, for me, it has been entirely possible to say no particularly if I have solid reasons to.

    • I understand what you mean and where you are coming from with your point-of-view. I appreciate that point-of-view, actually, and more often than not, I err heavily on the side of caution when it comes to what I discuss, when I discuss it, and with whom I discuss it.

      As far as the black listed comment, I get a lot of flak from everyone when it comes to the voodoo portion of my practice. Point of fact, if I’m not getting some form of hate mail because I’m a white person practicing, then I figure it’s a good day. And if I’m not getting people who stare at me strangely when I bring it up outside of my private community, then again, it’s a good day. I’m kind of used to being the lone wolf here – as I’ve been told will be the path I’m to tread at least for a while. I do appreciate the warning, though.

  2. I think that if they specifically told you to use the term, then you use the term. If you’re their servant, then you’re their servant. They might deliberately want to make people uncomfortable. (Servant of the dicks? Lol!) There is absolutely no way to use the term in that way that will be accepted by all. Real learning doesn’t come cheap.

    Spoken by a (not really) (former) heyoka. ;)

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