"Voodoo" is maybe not the right word
May 20, 2016 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm presently reading a (post?)cyberpunk novel, Richard K Morgan's Broken Angels. Like William Gibson's Count Zero and others in the genre, voodoo, its practitioners, and its beliefs are an element of the plot and setting. I haven't got the faintest idea about the religion, not even what its proper name is. What should I read / watch to remedy this?

I'm mostly interested in reading (or watching! documentaries please) about nuts-and-bolts practices and beliefs, as well as distinctions between voodoo/vodou and other syncretic religions. If there's a piece out there specifically talking about how white sci-fi authors have used these concepts, that would also be great.

This is the sort of thing I'm looking for, though it is quite focused on Gibson and doesn't appear to have been written by an actual practitioner.

Also, at the risk of making this question sound like it's for a school assignment (it's not), anything that could shed light on the relationships between voodoo beliefs and the broader themes of camaraderie or collectivism or warfare would be especially interesting.
posted by 4th number to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A couple years back the Field Museum had a really great Haitian Vodou exhibition. The exhibit subsite is still online and worth poking through.
posted by phunniemee at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2016

Voodoo is an official religion in Benin, where about 15% of the population practice it. It is different from santeria, which is a mix of voodoo and Christian beliefs practiced in the Western hemisphere. There is no difference between voodoo and vodou except spelling.
Google will answer most of your questions.
posted by irisclara at 12:15 PM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is pretty good, although older and specific to Haiti.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:27 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a few steps out from what you're looking for, but Robert Farris Thompson's Flash of the Spirit is such a wonderful book it should be mentioned. It's essentially art history, but more broadly it's about how various African systems of thought and aesthetics manifested themselves in the New World. Really great stuff on vodun/voudou/voodoo.
posted by neroli at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Voodoo IS the proper name of the religion. Voodoo/Voudou/Voudon/Vodou are all acceptable spellings. You'll see lots of alternate spellings for voodoo-related words (lwa/l'wah/loa, for instance).

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston.

The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic by Wade Davis (please note it is NOTHING like the movie that was extremely loosely "based" on this book).

Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti by Leslie G. Desmangles.
posted by erst at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I came in to suggest Mama Lola, which along with the Zora Neale Hurston reference is one of many ethnographies available online at the Open Library for free checkout. I think it addressed the specific themes you're interested in, although you'll have to skip along to sections connected to the lwa relevant to each theme and poke around in the narrative bits about Mama Lola herself to glean stuff from context.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm really happy you asked this question. Vodou is a desperately misunderstood and wrongly maligned religion, and whenever it comes up in conversation I do my best to clarify misunderstandings and encourage others to read legitimate literature on the subject.

Thirding Mama Lola. Very readable ethnography. One of my favorites. I also agree with others about Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse.

The filmmaker Maya Deren's Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti is an excellent in-depth work on Vodou; her film footage of Haitian Vodou ceremonies in the 40's and 50's was later edited into a documentary of the same name, which you can find on Youtube.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:57 AM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

And for another novel with a voodoo theme, try Green Eyes by Lucius Shepard.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:24 AM on May 21, 2016

Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau obviously focuses on Mme. Laveau specifically, but it also has a lot of information on the social context of New Orleans Voodoo in the 1800s, and the role of women in American Voodoo. I think it's the best-researched and least sensational book about her.

I'm not sure how accurate it is, but Emma Bull's Bone Dance is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel where the magical elements are based in Voodoo. It's very original and a fun read.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:22 PM on May 21, 2016

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