Friday, June 12, 2009

Vodou in your Backyard

The religious and folk magical practices which make up Sevis Gineh unquestionably have their roots in Haiti: many of the lwa came to the New World from Africa. But you needn't travel to Port-au-Prince or Benin to serve the spirits. They can be found in your hometown if you only know where to look.

Do you live near a crossroads? If so, you can leave offerings there for Legba. Pour some cane syrup out on the ground and ask him to "sweeten" your life and your luck. The Baron and Brigitte can be found in any cemetery: look for the largest cross in the place and place your offering of flowers, rum and/or tobacco beside it. If you have an armory or a military base near you, that's a great place to pour out some rum for Papa Ogou: if not, go to your nearest train tracks. The Simbis often make their home near streams, while Erzulie Freda has been spotted in many flower gardens... and if you live near the ocean, why not go to the beach for a chat with Met Agwe and La Sirene?

While scholars have generally focused on the more popular lwa, much Vodou magic involves djabs - wild spirits which are often tied to a particular place and which can be powerful allies and protectors. When you're out for a walk in your neighborhood, is there a gnarled old tree which catches your attention? Is there a big rock which looks like a face when seen from a certain angle? Is there a patch of land which makes the hair on the back of your neck rise every time you walk through it? You may be in the presence of a djab: why not try to make it your friend and ask for its aid the next time you want to do some wanga?

Vodou has become inextricably linked with Roman Catholicism and its practice of saint-veneration. Those who want to honor Danto can spend some time at a church dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa or Our Lady of Perpetual Help... and of course St. Philomena or St. Clare are always glad to talk to those who come to their shrines and pay them honor. (Not to mention that Catholicism is a wonderful source of magical and mystical wisdom in itself: like the best perverts, the best Houngans and Mambos generally identify as Catholic).

When you start looking for the lwa and the mysteries around you, you'll learn a new way of seeing. You'll discover that the Divine can be found not just at holy sites and sacred places, but in the day-to-day workings of your life. That is one of the most important lessons which Vodou has to offer, and it's one which is open to anyone regardless of their initiatory status.