Let’s Quickly Talk about the “Voodoo Sex Ritual” Fire

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This issue has been tackled by others already, but I just thought I’d put my two cents in since this story is still popping up on my news feeds. It goes something like this: Two people have what seems to be a consensual sexual encounter in Brooklyn. Their intimate moments consummated on a bed ringed with lit candles. Sadly, one of those candles tipped over onto some fabric, starting a fire, a fire that couldn’t be put out. I’ll let Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano explain the rest.

“Time and time again we respond to tragedies that could have been so easily prevented,” Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said. “This fire had so many of those elements — candles left on the floor near combustible material, one of the occupants trying to douse the flames before calling 911 and an open door, which allowed fire to spread into the hallway. Hopefully others will learn from this tragedy.”

This is a text-book fire safety failing, one that sadly claimed a life. That couple could have been any ordinary careless couple, and had it been, this tragic story would never have made it past the local Brooklyn news. Yet, because of a certain detail, it has ignited the newswires.

“Fire marshals said the fire started around 6:40 p.m., when a woman visited a man in the building and paid him $300 to perform a voodoo ceremony to bring her good luck. The man was known in the neighborhood as a voodoo priest, the AP reported.”

That’s right, it was a Vodou ritual. So instead of candles, they are now “voodoo sex candles”, now a “voodoo sex ceremony caused [the] deadly Brooklyn fire”, instead of an overturned candle and bad reaction to the initial fire it started. Now, the press searches for ironic rejoinders to the dryer newswire accounts.

Nelson “Pepe” Pierre, 66, claimed “he could turn people into ghosts, move buildings, turn people into buildings,” said Patrick Louis, who also lived in the East Flatbush building. “But that day, I guess, he couldn’t turn that fire out.”

Yes, his magical powers couldn’t put the fire out! Because Voodoo/Vodou is silly and superstitious! Plus, sex ritual! OMG! Can you imagine this story being written in this sensationalist manner if the couple were evangelical Christians?

“Betty and Robert, despite being properly married and bible-believing Christians, were unable to call down the Lord’s aid in ending the blaze. Neighbors have wondered if it was the judgment of the Lord.”

A sentence like that, even from a tabloid, would have provoked a storm of controversy. Even the normally sedate New York Times uses the phrase “Voodoo candles” in their headline. CNN trumpets that “Voodoo sex ceremony starts fatal fire.” No, neither the ceremony, nor the sex, nor the religion of Vodou started the blaze. What started the blaze was a knocked over candle into flammable fabric. If an overturned candle had accidentally burned down a church, would the headlines call them “Christian candles”? If it had happened during a baptism in that hypothetical church, would the press say that “Christian baptism starts fatal fire?” No. Because one faith is seen as normal, and another is not. So the tragic death of a woman, and the loss of homes for dozens more, is reduced to a sensationalist punchline because Vodou happened to be involved.