|Why, yes, this image has everything to do with Vodou.|
I apologize for the length of time between each of my posts lately. It’s kind of tough to get back into the swing of college after a two year absence. I also apologize that this is a rant with absolutely no bigger message, point, or any good organization or clear thoughts. But let’s just get right to it.
Okay, here we go.
This is going to be one bitch of a rant.
Fuck, I really don’t want to do this.
Let’s talk about the affinity I have for Haitian Vodou and Louisiana/New Orleans Voodoo and why the hell I have such affection for such a random topic that obviously has nothing to do with my personal history or heritage. As my invisible/imaginary readers probably already know, I’ve been working on a novel project under the working title Demetrius and Chloe for the better part of three years now. Demetrius, the “antagonist” of the story, spent a lot of time in New Orleans under the roof of a modern Vodouisant (practitioner of vodou), who worked with a combination of traditional Haitian Vodou and the religious melting pot that is New Orleans Voodoo. Vodou themes and symbolism run rampant throughout the second draft of my novel, though hopefully I’m being subtle about it. Due to my novel project, I began studying Vodou in 2011 and found it to be the most fascinating and unique mythology into which I’ve ever delved. I’ve studied Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, the Haitian Revolution, and the history of voodoo in New Orleans (emphasis on slavery in New Orleans and the two Marie Laveaus and their family) exhaustively. In fact exhaustively is probably putting it lightly at this point. Vodou immediately became an obsession of mine and I’ve had tremendous respect and love for the religion ever since.
I’m going to take this moment to clarify: though the religion absolutely fascinates me and I adore it, I do not practice Vodou. As I mentioned previously in a blog post involving this, Vodou is a religion, and it is steeped in Catholocism. It includes the belief in a distant and all powerful god (Bondye), spirits that aid in the day to day of mankind for said powerful god (they are known as the loa/lwa), and the belief in a spirit world, obviously. I don’t believe in any of these things. My fascination with any religion, be it Greek or Norse or “Celtic” or Haitian, is my fascination for mythology. Vodou just hits the perfect blend of culture, history, and mythology to be Dee Catnip for my intellect. I simply adore it.
…Smash cut to American Horror Story.
I mean absolutely no offense to the multitude of friends and family that love AHS, but…guys, I’m sorry. I actively despise this show. I hate is as much as I hate Stuart Townsend. I hate it as much as I hate Anti-Stratfordians. I fucking hate American Horror Story. And there’s a specific reason why. I watched the entire first season, and basically came away with “It has great special effects, but it’s not my thing. Too many things irk me about it.” But I didn’t despise the show until season 3, when a coworker of mine came up to me and had a conversation with me that is burned into my rage brain forever:
Coworker: Hey Dee, you know a lot about voodoo. Can you answer a question for me?
Coworker: Do you know who Papa Legba is?
Me: (immediately extremely excited) YES! Papa Legba is one of the most important loa in Haitian Vodou. He’s the guardian of the crossroads, kind of the Mercury of the Vodou world. He likes to speak in riddles and play practical jokes, he walks with a cane because he has one foot in this world and one in the spirit world. No one can work with the other Loa without Papa Legba “opening the door” to the spirit world, so everyone has to pay him respect before doing anything else.
Coworker: Oh. That doesn’t sound like what I saw. Is he a bad guy?
Me: No, not at all. There aren’t really bad loa. Especially Rada loa. Legba’s really easy to work with.
Coworker: Does he have a skull face?
Me: What?....No. That’s Baron Samedi.
Coworker: Well, does he steal souls?
Me: Um…no. What?
Coworker: Oh. He’s a bad guy in American Horror Story. Marie Laveau sold her soul to him and she gives him sacrifices and stuff.
|What the FUCK.|
I honestly can’t remember if the conversation went any further. My vision went white and I felt a rage I haven’t felt in years. What the ever loving fuck?! Here it is, 2013, an age where in America we are painfully PC about nearly everything, and Vodou is being demonized as if it were the 17-fucking-hundreds again and idiots wrote in tabloids about human sacrifice and “naked darkie orgies” in order to create fear between the slave/”free people of colour” and the privileged whites! WHAT THE FUCK?!
I can’t…I can’t continue with this. It still makes me so mad. Suffice it to say, I loathe American Horror Story for shitting on a religion that is already so demonized and so misunderstood. And it’s all misunderstood because of historical prejudices and slavery justifications back in the most shameful period of American history. Slave owners demonized Vodou in order to keep the “coloured classes” down. They straight up made up newspaper articles about having witnessed demons, orgies, and all manner of things that would terrify good white Christians in order to perpetuate this. And it’s still prevalent today?!
…I’m sorry, but that’s all I can say without bursting a blood vessel in my brain. I can rant about this for hours, but it might actually fucking kill me. Moving on.
Unfortunately, largely due to the show’s popularity, “voodoo imagery” is rapidly replacing Dia de los Muertos sugar skull imagery as the newest ethnocentric fad for Americans to latch onto. And I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to be around for this fad. Top hats and skull face paint are everywhere, decorated with bones, and no one has any understanding of what loa they’re even mimicking, or what loa even are, or that there are people who practice this religion and whose families have been persecuted for generations upon generations simply for practicing this religion. Hell, Vodou fucking blended with Catholicism because slave owners tried to stamp it out and convert their slaves to Catholocism, so Vodouisants practiced in disguise, using saint imagery to represent the loa they worked with in order to avoid a goddamned lynching.
I’m getting too angry.
Deeeeeeep breaths, Dee. Deeeeeeeeeep breaths.
Anyway, back in August, I decided that for one of my many Halloween costumes, I wanted to try and do a female representation of Baron Samedi, my second favourite loa (my first favourite is Damballah, who is a giant white snake. That’d be tough to pull off.) Baron Samedi is the loa of death, healing, sexuality, reproduction, and the lord of the Guede, a family of loa who are essentially loud-mouthed, cursing, hilarious spirits of the dead. I fucking love Baron Samedi. He curses, he jokes, he swigs rum with scotch bonnets steeping in it, smokes cigars, and causes all sorts of good-natured mayhem with the other loa, who find him and his family very rude. The Guede are the most popular loa family in Haiti, because whenever the Guede are called or work is to be done with them, it’s a fucking party. They’re hilarious, lewd, and wild, and Baron Samedi and his wife, Maman Bridgette, are no exception, though they command immense respect. It’s said that if the Baron refuses to dig someone’s grave, no age or illness or infirmary has the power to kill them.
Unfortunately, it is the Baron’s image that has become synonymous with “voodoo” in this fad: a human skull with a top hat and a cigar, a suit or tuxedo. Not many people stuff their nostrils with cotton (I won’t either) or wear sunglasses with one eye punched out, but yeah, Baron Samedi’s signature look has become the new sugar skull in our pop culture. So in honoring my favourite loa with my own interpretation of him, I am also perpetuating this horrible demonizing mess of a fad. This week at Ination, there is a theme: Voodoo Carnival Freak Show. It sounds like an amalgamation of the most recent AHS seasons, and it probably is. For a long time I intended to suck it up and go as Baron Samedi, blend in with the rest of the skull faces and top hats, but now I don’t really know what I should do. I spent money on my costume. I want to walk around with a cigar in my mouth, swigging rum and handing out cards with the image of Saint Expedite (or Saint Yves, I haven’t decided which, they’re both affiliated with the Baron), but I feel like I’d be furthering the ethnocentrism despite my own personal affection and respect for Vodou. I might just have to abandon my beloved costume project and go with a more “carnival” theme—belly dancer, etc.
I know that this entire rant makes it seem like I’m a pretentious douche canoe with a stick up my ass, but seeing Vodou/Voodoo once again demonized and whitewashed into popularity is a tough thing to watch when I have such love for it. I don’t believe that Ination or my old troupe, who is doing a “voodoo-themed” performance, or anyone who is participating in the fad has anything against Voodoo or even really thinks about it past “it’s fun!” I totally understand that. The same thing happened with Dia de los Muertos. It’s just a fad, and it pisses me off that I can’t just shrug it off and go, “Whatever, it’s all in fun.” I guess we’ll see what happens with my costume and what I decide to do. Maybe I’ll be able to say “fuck it” and go all out.
Sorry about this rant not really having much of a moral or a point, and I really do sincerely apologize if this offended anyone. Love you all. Better posts to come!