New Orleans, Religion, Vodou

My Vodou Apprenticeship

I first saw someone possessed by a lwa when I was 19 years old.

I was not in Haiti, nor were the drums pounding. No ceremony had been performed. A friend, who said she was a medium, told me about the lwa: archetypal ancestors who speak through the living.

Bored, I told her I wasn’t interested; that didn’t sound likely to me. She said she could prove it.

Incense was lit, the lights were darkened and she began her spasms as the “spirit” took hold. I sat across the room shaking my head. Was this the best performance she could muster?

Then everything changed.

The Baron came through, one of the death spirits of Vodou. The shift in the room itself was palpable. I was jolted by a presence that even I could feel, and sat as straight as a roof-pillar for the next eighty seconds.

This began a lifelong interest in the beautiful faith of the diaspora, Vodou.

Vodouns after Fête Gede 2012. Picture by Saumya Haas.

La Source Ancienne

In the past I’ve found closed doors around Vodou. While my scholarly knowledge grew, my practical experience remained at a standstill, blocked by my lack of Haitian or even African ancestry.

But that changed with the friendship of Urban (Conversion or Initiation?) and Saumya (What is Voodoo?) and with La Source Ancienne, the community of Vodouns who initiated them in New Orleans. Open to people of all races, their house (temple) practices a very public, very community-oriented flavor of Vodou.

Vodou ceremony is a swirl of music, dance, laughter and visionary trance. It is experiential, and nothing you have read here or elsewhere gives you any sense of what that means.

I would enjoy simply being lost in it every week.

But the community can use more than that. During my six months here, my mission is to learn as many songs as I can—so that I can contribute another voice and, in turn, carry the ancient words to others.

And I’m chasing down the drummers to learn the beats, too.

I’m not formally apprenticed. There is no formal apprenticeship here. You just learn by doing and if you stay around long enough, you know something. Very different from the European way of my other religion.

This is New World, and that’s where we live. The Caribbean lies ahead of me, many more gods along the way. It’s time to see the rest of my heritage.

What will it reveal?