the voodoo that you do
September 25, 2009 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Looking to learn more about Haitian voodoo in America.

I'm looking for a good book or perhaps a documentary on Haitian voodoo and it's practices in America. Bonus points if its centered on New Orleans culture.

Most of the books I've run across seem to be spell books marketed to wiccans and spiritualists. What I'd like to find is a bit more academic. I'd like to explore the history and folklore and modern usage in urban and rural America.

I am aware of David Wade's "Serpent & The Rainbow" (and some of its criticism).

Thanks Mefi.
posted by cazoo to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti, is one of the classic texts. Granted, Wade endorsed it, so take that as you will.
posted by adipocere at 11:15 AM on September 25, 2009

Best answer: You should expand your search to include "vodou" (check that article's bibliography for sources).

Vodou Nation focuses on Haitian musical tradition and vodou.
Morality, Power, and the Vodou Tradition in Haiti
a list of resources
Haitian Vodou: Spirit, Myth, and Reality, from the American Academy of Religion
Mama Lola: a Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn
The Madonna of 115th Street
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'll throw this out — "Vodun" is also another useful search term.
posted by adipocere at 11:25 AM on September 25, 2009

Seconding Voodoo in Haiti which is sitting on my desk as I type. It's definitely a more academic approach to voodoo, the lore and its history without all the corny fantasy.
posted by katillathehun at 11:48 AM on September 25, 2009

Ned Sublette, who has written books on both the Caribbean and New Orleans, believes that the Vodou/Voodoo going on in New Orleans is not a direct lineage to past practices in the city's history, but is through recent links between practitioners and Haiti. He poked around a lot, trying to find out otherwise, but came up empty. The New Orleans Historic voodoo museum, however, believes otherwise.
posted by umbú at 12:33 PM on September 25, 2009

I just heard back from a historian friend who teaches a History of Voodoo course here in New Orleans, and he said that there is very little out there. His advice was to read Carolyn Morrow Long's biography of Marie Laveau ("A New Orleans Vodou Priestess") and then comb her bibliography for further sources. He also strongly advised that you steer clear of Robert Tallant's Voodoo in New Orleans. He also mentioned that Martha Ward's book on Laveau was a good, worthwhile read.
posted by umbú at 1:36 PM on September 25, 2009

Best answer: Most New Orleans vodou is for tourist consumption. I used to date a self-proclaimed priestess in the city and she described nearly all mutual acquaintances as "fakes". The most interesting book I have read recently which covers the field a bit more broadly is by a communications professor at U. Texas, Joshua Gunn, called Modern Occult Rhetoric.

He theorizes that the occult in modern civilization is dying its last gasp, that the energy behind it in its heyday was people wanted secrets, and the occultists provided them with the valuable craved secrets. The market for secrets is now completely saturated when you can look at the magazine covers at the grocery store checkout line and see Michael Jackson's drug addiction, Brad Pitt's adultery, Britney Spears' cellulite, and Patrick Swayze's ravaged physique.

You can find the real thing in New Orleans, but you cannot find it with google or in any media advertisements. You have to hit the sidewalks and devote plenty of time to the project. Little grocery stores' strange stock are a better marker than witchcraft or magic shops. The person who I thought was most authentic had a small store in the Treme that mainly sold liquor and cigarettes, but he had around twenty live chickens in stock at all times. If you have no African ancestry, you might have better luck if you can find an accomplice with African ancestry. Most published information is filled with errors.

The secrets protect themselves.
posted by bukvich at 1:52 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also the DVD of Angel Heart has documentary footage of authentic New Orleans vodou. It is total tripe.
posted by bukvich at 1:55 PM on September 25, 2009

I've been working on a letter to the Annals of Improbable Research on the subject of zombies for some time now; you might find some of the following articles useful:
Ackermann, Hans-W., and Jeanine Gauthier. “The Ways and Nature of the Zombi.” The Journal of American Folklore 104.414 (1991): 466-494.

Batty, G. David et al. “IQ in Early Adulthood, Socioeconomic Position, and Unintentional Injury Mortality by Middle Age: A Cohort Study of More Than 1 Million Swedish Men.” Am. J. Epidemiol. 169.5 (2009): 606-615.

Davis, E.Wade. “The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombi.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9.1 (1983): 85-104.

Davis, Wade. “Zombification.” Science 240.4860 (1988): 1715-1716.

Don Locke. “Zombies, Schizophrenics, and Purely Physical Objects.” Mind 85.337 (1976): 97-99.

Skokowski, Paul. “I, Zombie.” Consciousness and Cognition 11.1 (2002): 1-9.

Taylor, Patrick. “Anthropology and Theology in Pursuit of Justice.” Callaloo 15.3 (1992): 811-823.

posted by The White Hat at 7:45 PM on September 25, 2009

If you find a Haitian immigrant community, you will find active practice of vodou as a full cultural set of values and religious paractice. New York (Brooklyn and Bronx) Miami, and Boston have very active Haitian communities. Often, you can find people involved in Haitian folkore and drumming which is a way to introduce yourself to the vodou practicioners. Learn to speak some Creole before you go - it will help in getting accepted and letting people know you really are interetsed.
posted by zaelic at 9:40 AM on September 26, 2009

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