Friday, April 1, 2011

Still More on the Voudon Gnostic Workbook

My earlier post on Michael Bertiaux's Voudon Gnostic Workbook provoked a rather heated response from Star of Seshat.  I thought I would address some of her concerns here:
Kenaz, I have rarely read such an ill-informed polemic piece which can only be sparked by someone, desperately trying to sell mediocre books like Vodou love magic to a naive audience, while posing like a Voudon High priest while knowing obviously very little.
I'm not a "Voudon High Priest," nor have I ever heard that term used by any Haitian or Haitian-American. I am a Houngan Si Pwen, initiated in March 2003 at Société la Belle Venus #2 in Brooklyn New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St.-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre).  I leave judgment on Vodou Love Magic to my readers.  I will, however, note that commentary on Bertiaux and his lineage is a singularly inefficient way to drum up sales for a book on love spells.
You clearly have no idea of Haitian secret societies and their incorporation of martinist and other concepts which are clearly and strongly present in various lineages of zobop, bizango etc. Even a read of Milo Rigaud’s books, an authority on Voudon, would have explained a lot.
I know enough about the Secret Societies of Haiti to know that some of the words which Bertiaux, Beth, etc. toss around as synonyms describe different - and frequently mutually hostile - societies.  "Zobop" is not "Sect Rouge" is not "Bizango" is not "Vingblingding" is not "Sanpwel" etc.  The fact that these groups are often conflated in OTOA/LCN work raises a red flag for me - as does Bertiaux's conflation of Haitian Vodou (Voudon) and African-American "Lucky Hoodoo."  I do have some knowledge of Martinism, since my Mama Kanzo is a Martinist and since I've read a fair bit of Martinist literature in both English and French.  I stand by my original statement that I find little Martinism in Bertiaux's work.

All this being said, I am not an initiate in any Haitian secret society, nor am I an initiated Martinist. So it could well be that I have missed the parts which describe naked homosexual Guede oil wrestling or Afro-Atlantean time travel techniques. If this is indeed the case, my apologies to you, Messrs. Bertiaux, Beth and Willis and the OTOA/LCN.

Regarding Rigaud, take a look at his Secrets of Vodou, particularly the part where he describes the various spirits.  You'll see among his list "Erzulie La Belle Venus:" Rigaud encountered this lwa at the home of Mambo Edeline's grandfather.  And I have no doubt that Bertiaux was heavily influenced by Rigaud's work. (I also provided a link to another possible source in my original post: if you read French, you should definitely check out Her-Ma-Ra-El's book).
To accuse Bertiaux and his school of trying to remove Voudon from the hands of black people is similarly strange as the current head of the OTOA\LCN, C. Willis is black (while you on the other hand are very white :) – also the VGW is full of glowing excitement for African and Haitian Gnosis in various forms and Bertiaux tirelessly attributes all his knowledge to Mstr. Jean Maine, a black Haitian.
The comment about "removing Voudon from the hands of black people" came from Adam McGee, not yours truly.  I thought he raised many interesting points which deserved further discussion, but those were his words, not mine.

As far as Courtney Willis goes, I have never met the man nor have I seen a picture of him so I have no way of knowing his race.  From his name, I'm guessing that he is no more Haitian than I am.  If that is the case, his skin color is irrelevant: while the vast majority of Haitians are black, the vast majority of blacks are not Haitian.  And as far as Lucien-François Jean-Maine, how do you answer Peter Koenig's essay which discusses the difficulties in confirming the account of the OTOA's lineage?

As I said before, I think Bertiaux's work is an interesting piece of contemporary Surrealism and one which has had a great influence on many contemporary magical practitioners.  Like many writers before him, I believe Bertiaux threw in a creation mythos to give his ideas more historical heft.  (Would anyone have taken Gurdjieff seriously if he skipped the whole Meetings With Remarkable Men schtick and said "I came up with this stuff while I was selling carpets in some obscure Armenian market?")  But I think the evidence for the OTOA/LCN's Haitian lineage is shaky to non-existent, creation myths notwithstanding.