Archives For Haitian-Americans

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

After the 2010 Haitian earthquake there was quite a bit of attention on the religion of Vodou, though largely that attention was not positive. Immediately after the quake there were triumphalist smears from figures like Pat Robertson, and allegations that it was Vodou that held Haitians back from progress. While there were emerging “Vodou voices” rising up in defense of the religion, most notably Max Beauvoir, but more often than not the centrality of Vodou to many Haitians was often ignored. So it is a breath of fresh air to read Silvana Ordonez’s piece on Vodou among Florida’s Haitian-American community for the Miami Herald, talking about how the faith brought solace and re-connection after tragedy struck.

“A Voodoo ceremony makes you feel as light as a feather,” explained [Mambo Ingrid] Llera. “That’s where we go for therapy. We don’t go to the doctor, we go to Voodoo.” In ritual ceremonies, which typically last from several hours to several days, Voodoo practitioners pray, sing and dance to the rhythm of drums. “A wonderful combination to get connected with the unknown world, which is the spiritual world,” she added. “That’s where we release it all and find strength.” Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, more Haitians in South Florida have reconnected with Voodoo, according to local practitioners. “They have no choice, but to go back to their roots. It is registered in their DNA, this is who they are, this is where they feel more comfortable, this is where they can forget things,” said Llera. Llera has also witnessed a interesting phenomenon: a wave of young Haitian-Americans joining the religion of their ancestors.”

There’s been a quiet trend of Haitian-Americans re-embracing Vodou for years now, but its been only sporadically covered by journalists. These younger converts seem more willing to speak out about their faith, and a show willingness to fight popular misconceptions.

“Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.”

While still small, there seems to be a growing number of Haitian Vodou practitioners who are raising their public profiles. For instance, last year saw the production of a Canadian documentary entitled “Real Voodoo” which looks at the effects of anti-Vodou rhetoric in Haiti, and interviews Haitian-Canadian practitioners like La Belle Deesse.

“Based on the people seen in this film, those who practice voodoo seem to be more likeable, more  relaxed, happier in their lives and more open-minded toward others and their beliefs, than the people who rail against it.”

Haitian Vodou in its homeland faces immense challenges, from anti-Vodou violence, to aggressive proselytism by Christian groups receiving federal funding from our government. At the same time, Vodou tourism is held up as a potential economic goldmine for a Haiti that wants to rebuild itself. Lost in this push-pull is the lives of Vodouisants worldwide, and how their faith nourishes and sustains them. As the Haitian diaspora grows, and Haitian Vodou becomes a point of pride within those communities, we could see a new paradigm for this faith, how it is received by non-initiates, and how these practitioners interact with their motherland. It is far too easy to lose sight of how Vodou serves its adherents in the lofty geopolitical and cultural discussions about Haiti and its future, forgetting that Vodou is a source of solace and enrichment. Silvana Ordonez’s article is a welcome corrective to that trend.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: The Irish Times reports that Barry Raftery, emeritus professor of archaeology at UCD, and one of Ireland’s leading Celtic scholars, has passed away after a long illness.

“Professor Barry Raftery (Professor Emeritus, Archaeology, University College Dublin) died peacefully at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin on Sunday August 22, 2010. Professor Raftery retired as Professor of Celtic Archaeology in the UCD School of Archaeology at the end of August 2007 after a long and internationally distinguished career. As a former student wrote in appreciation, Barry was an inspired teacher and communicator, always encouraging colleagues and students in developing their research and careers. His work and humanity will ensure that he will be always remembered and treasured.”

Raftery was probably best known to many Celtic-oriented Pagans as the author of “Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age”, a tome that has been recommended in various contexts within Celtic Reconstructionism and modern Druidry. While Raftery was not a Pagan, and almost certainly didn’t write his works with reviving Celtic forms of pre-Christian religion in mind, I’m sure there are many Pagans who are raising a glass in honor of his work.

Who Was That Atheist? After shocking the town of Marion, Illinois by threating them with a lawsuit if they approve a Ten Commandments monument without also opening it up to a Wiccan display, The Southern digs into the history of atheist activist Rob Sherman.

In 1986, Sherman started his first legal battle against the mixing of government and religion, as he challenged the mayor and city of Zion, located near the Wisconsin border, on the inclusion of religious symbols on municipal logos, material and property. His efforts were successful and landed his name on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, on the city’s 10 o’clock newscasts and on national television talk shows, including those of Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue and Larry King. He said he took up the mantle of promoting his cause across the state and nation simply because no one else was doing so. “I’m the only one doing it. Most people suffer from poultry syndrome, so they don’t take on these cases. They’re chicken.”

It remains to be seen if there will be a Constitutional showdown in Marion. The city council may decide to indefinitely table the decision on whether to accept the offer of the Christian monument on public lands rather than risk expensive litigation. However, if legal action does progress, with a Wiccan caught in the middle, I’d like to find some on-the-ground sources living in or near Marion that can clue me in to local Pagan attitudes towards this situation.

Is Haiti’s Government Shutting Out the Diaspora? This past Friday Haiti ruled that hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean was ineligible to run for president, most likely stemming from residency requirements. While Jean initially said he’d respect the decision of the Provisional Electoral Council, he now accuses the government body of “trickery”, and implies that there’s an effort to shut out candidates from the Haitian diaspora.

“Jean told VOA he is appealing to Haiti’s government to address a number of concerns about the approval process used by election officials, who authorized 19 candidates for the presidential vote. He said candidates who have lived outside Haiti were mostly excluded by the provisional electoral council, or CEP. “It looked like every other candidate that was out was a diaspora candidate and that is a form of prejudice on the CEP’s part,” he said. As part of his election campaign, Jean had hoped to reform the relationship between Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have fled the country. He said, if elected, he hoped to change the constitution to remove a ban on dual citizenship, and offer many Haitians abroad a chance to vote in elections.”

Among the other candidates that were rejected are Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph, the former ambassador to the United States. Both say they will challenge the ruling, though the government says there is no appeal to the CEP’s decision. Some are saying a political crisis could emerge over this decision. Meanwhile others, like political activist and Vodou practitioner Ezili Danto, say this media circus is all a distraction from larger political games being played out behind the scenes. Both Danto and Lewis G. Parker argue that Wyclef, even if he could run, would be a problematic figure to lead the country. As for the Haitian diaspora, would it be beneficial to allow dual citizenship and voting rights? In what direction would it steer the country?

More Visionary Folk from the Electric Eden: The Observer has a profile of author Rob Young and his new book “Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music”, which explores the mythic history of folk music in the UK, starting with its revival at the hands of Cecil Sharp.

“Sharp met hundreds of what he called “the common people”, who sang songs to him that had been passed down to them through the generations, songs that retained their mystery and power even though the events that inspired them – anything from a good harvest to the murder of an infant – had long since passed into myth. The songs were, in fact, the transmitters of those myths, evoking an older, predominantly agrarian England that increasingly existed only in memory.

What happens to that mystery and power, though, when a folk song is “put into an evening dress”? That is one of many complex questions that resounds through Electric Eden, a book that, for the most part, is a surefooted guide to the various tangled paths the English folk song has since been taken down by classicists, collectors, revivalists, iconoclasts, pagans, psychedelic visionaries, punks and purists.”

I’d just like to say that I’m very, very excited to read this book (now if it would just get a release date in the US). I predict it will become a must-own for those tracking the birth of modern Pagan music, which I feel also began with Sharp, and then bred with the very folklorists that helped launch Wicca into the spotlight. For more on this, and two other promising books dealing with music, please check out my post from last month.

An Unforeseen Upside to the Mosque Debate? Over at The Moderate Voice Kathy Gill, inspired by the rancor of the “ground zero mosque” debate, starts to approach the question of who exactly profits from the dominance of monotheism.

“If politics is both “a system used to allocate those things which are important to society” and “the authoritative allocation of value,” then religion plays an incredibly large role in politics because religion is the basis, the foundation, of most people’s value judgments. And the differences between political parties in the United States are reflected in values: this is good, that is bad (distribution of charity – church, state or other means); this is right, that is wrong (abortion, death penalty, who is taxed and how). When investigating murder or other nefarious deeds, the first question is this: who benefits? So what is the role of monotheism in our modern society? Who benefits?

Gill quotes Jonathan Kirsch’s “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism” in her piece, which comes to some uncomfortable conclusions regarding the benefits of monotheism. One wonders how many modern polytheists once asked the questions that Gill now poses.

That’s all I have for now, but before I go I just wanted to quickly link to two more Pagan perspectives on the Park51 community center and mosque that I overlooked in yesterday’s post. “The Mosque, the Mirror, this Moment…” by T. Thorn Coyle, and “Why The New York Mosque Debate matters to Pagans” by Ed Hubbard. Both are worth checking out.

Have a great day!

I have some more post-earthquake Haitian Vodou coverage. First,  WBUR in Boston interviews a Haitian-American Vodou priest from New York about his faith, and explores how Vodou is helping survivors in Haiti cope with this massive tragedy.

“Erol Josue lost more than two dozen friends and extended family in Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The Voodoo priest, who lives in New York, says he has spent the past week saying traditional Voodoo prayers … Voodoo is playing a central role in helping Haitians cope with their unthinkable tragedy … even as Haitians mourn the death of tens of thousands of people, Voodoo gives them an eternal perspective, says Max Beauvoir, the supreme servitor of Voodoo, or the highest priest, in Haiti.”

In addition to interviewing Erol Josue and Max Beauvoir, they also speak to Elizabeth McAlister, a Vodou expert at Wesleyan University. McAlister has been busy defending Vodou since the earthquake hit, writing sympathetic pieces for Forbes and Newsweek/On Faith. They are all part of a growing chorus of pro-Vodou voices that have emerged since Pat Robertson, David Brooks, Rod Dreher, and other commentators have implied, directly and indirectly, that the religion is partially to blame for the depth of the tragedy, and for Haiti’s ongoing social and economic problems.

Not that this has stopped the anti-Vodou onslaught. While Robertson has been (somewhat) muted after the outcry he caused, the Robertson-founded Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is staying “on message” concerning Vodou in Haiti. Running a “earthquake bringing Vodou practitioners to Christ” story.

“The Haitian government officially recognized voodoo as a religion in 2003. More than half of the country’s 9 million people are believed to practice voodoo. But for Polestier, the earthquake brought serious doubts about her religious practices. “I’m going to leave it. I’m going to leave Voodoo,” Polestier vowed. “It has brought me nothing but anguish.” It’s a sentiment Camille has heard repeatedly over the last few days as Haitians struggle to understand their hardships. “So many people are accepting Christ,” he said.”

Stay classy, CBN. Leaving their Robertson-connections aside for a moment, the CBN story feeds into a larger undercurrent of post-earthquake pro-missionary sentiment among (predominantly) evangelical Christians.

“A religious ministry group based in Albuquerque is hoping to provide comfort in Haiti by sending hundreds of electronic audio Bibles to earthquake survivors. The group, Faith Comes by Hearing , plans to ship 600 Bibles this week. “The people are thirsty for words of comfort, and they’re asking us for the Bibles,” said spokesperson Jon Wilke … Shortly after the 7.1 earthquake struck Haiti, group members rushed to figure out how they could get the Bibles to the disaster zone…”

I just bet they did! What “opportunity” to swoop in and evangelize while people are experiencing trauma! Still, one wonders if this zeal, and Vodou-demonizing, will ultimately backfire. It’s hard to say what religious narrative will dominate in the months, and years, to come. Could we see a stronger, resurgent, Vodou? Just as many younger Haitian Americans are exploring the faith?

In the meantime, one of the positive outcomes of this terrible tragedy may be the thrusting of Vodou, so long misunderstood, into the spotlight. We are starting to see the appearance of Vodou blogs, as American adherents try to gather news from Haiti. This emerging Vodou voice, along with a growing number of sympathetic scholars, could help shape public opinion, and give journalists better sources to turn to when exploring the religion.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on a resurgence of interest in Vodou among younger Haitian-Americans. Looking to reconnect with their cultural heritage, they are often drawn by half-remembered childhood memories of their parents and grandparents attending rituals and practicing Vodou.

It is hard to quantify the religion’s growth because Vodou is often practiced at home, said Elizabeth McAlister, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, who has written extensively about Vodou. But research shows the religion is becoming more prevalent among well-heeled first and second generation Haitians, as well as people of various backgrounds, she said. Ruby LaCroix, 39, of West Palm Beach became intrigued by Vodou when she began to study Haiti’s history in college. She left Haiti when she was 8 years old and had questions about some of the traditions she grew up watching her grandmother practice. “I was looking to find out more about myself, about being Haitian and what that means,” she said.

One thing that I felt was striking about the article was the attitudes of these new practitioners. Much like the largely European-based modern Pagan faiths, there is an emphasis on fighting misconceptions, taking pride in their religious choices, and a slow shedding of insularity among practitioners.

Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.

One wonders if a similar trend also manifesting among younger Hispanic, Latino, and Brazilian-American practitioners of Santeria, Candomble, and other related traditions, or if this is a uniquely Haitian-American phenomenon. Whatever the extent of this new interest in African diasporic faiths among younger people, it does seem to signal a willingness to step outside a purely Catholic/Christian identity among immigrants within a generation or two.

Ricardo Petit-Homme left Haiti when he was 4, and was raised a staunch Catholic. “From christening to penance and then confirmation, I did it all,” the 30-year-old interior decorator said. But not that long ago, he felt spiritually disconnected. He had dreams that needed to be interpreted, questions about his purpose and a burning desire to connect more deeply with his roots. He turned to Vodou.

It’s interesting that even younger Haitian-Americans who had no prolonged exposure to Vodou see that faith as a more genuine expression of their culture and roots than the Catholicism that is so dominant throughout the Caribbean. It is little wonder that I see Haitian Vodou (and other diasporic faiths) as a “cousin” to the modern Pagan faiths. There is so much overlap, not only in matters of theology and praxis, but in the motivations and attitudes of the newer converts. It should be interesting to see how this trend develops, and if we’ll see a gradual growth of networking, activism, and shared resources not only among the various African diasporic faiths, but with other religious minorities who have similar goals.