voudou party in Brooklyn
October 3, 2007 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Stephanie Keith met a Vodou priest at a Buddhist interfaith event in New York. He invited her to photograph and experience the religious world of his Haitian culture. Ten ceremonies later, she offers her images and reflections on these late-night rituals [5 minute video].

Other videos by Stephanie Keith.

Voudou entry on Wikipedia.

Haitian pantheon.
posted by nickyskye (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Very nice, thank you.
posted by Roman Graves at 12:14 AM on October 4, 2007

Bit disappointed really. I was expecting Dr. Gillian McKeith, inspecting voodoo poo.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:08 AM on October 4, 2007

Well, ok....I was kinda hopin' for Lisa Bonet covered in chicken blood, but this was really cool none the less.
posted by Roman Graves at 1:20 AM on October 4, 2007

Great find nickyskye. Thanks for this post! Kinda takes me back to some of the funerals I attended (accompanying the musicians I was learning from) back in Nigeria, 1981: there I saw folks go into trance states like the narrator describes, always, of course, to the accompaniment of much drumming and dancing.

A couple of related videos of interest:

Voodoo. This is a kind of primer, and features some nice historic (B&W) footage of dancing, sacrificing chickens and such.

This National Geographic clip Haitian voodoo takes an interesting (and non-sensationalist) look at a Vodou priest in Haiti. There's some amazing footage here, as well as a bit of slamming drumming. (BTW, at 4:49 into this clip, there's a tiny bit of rara music fom Haiti, which uses drums and those big tubes that the revelers are blowing into. That stuff is really cool, and I'm reminded that it's one of those folk forms I want to do an FPP on, if I can find enough good material on the web...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:30 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Huh. I wonder what happened to Berto's father. Great links, flapjax. I always wished I lived in a town with an active voodoo community so I could experience some of this.
posted by Roman Graves at 2:00 AM on October 4, 2007

PeterMcDermott, that crazy bitch isn't a doctor.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:19 AM on October 4, 2007

PeterMcDermott, that crazy bitch isn't a doctor.

That's why I link to the article explaining about how sceptics made sure that she no longer represents herself as such in advertisements.

However, I really think she could make a fortune by creating a new Web 2.0 site. RateMyPoo with 'Dr' Gillian McKeith. You could use your mobile phone to send in shots of your turds, and the mail order doctor could have her community of gullibles doing the ratings on her behalf -- kind of a Slashcrap. Please mod parent turd UP!

Gillian would just have to comment on the most craptacular offerings, once a month or so, and she'd have her fans eating out of her hand. Not the hand she uses to wipe her bum, though. Or the other hand either, come to that.

OK, she'd have her fans eating out of her ass crack.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:14 AM on October 4, 2007

In other news, The Haitian from Heroes is the son of Voudou priest.
posted by JDHarper at 5:18 AM on October 4, 2007

This was wonderful -- thank you!

I've been a practitioner for...three years now? Something like that. She does capture the feeling of a service well -- that when everyone's 'on' and the drums are going and there's just this wall of sound from them and the singing, it feels like one great bit organism, this incredibly heady, ecstatic feeling. Also, that it gets inside of you, because it really, really does. The services are celebration, cathartic acts, acts of worship and acts of love, and everyone I've met who's been to a vodoun service is just stunned at how involving and how powerful the whole thing is.

(One nitpick -- there isn't always a 1:1 correspondence between lwa (spirits) and the saints associated with them. Papa Legba can be associated with both St. Jude and St. Lazarus, for different reasons. The associations also do not come out of any inherent characteristic in the saint -- it's based on what their lithograph looks like! So Damballah is associated with St. Patrick not because of what he did, but because St. Patrick's lithograph shows snakes at his feet.)

Flapjax -- have you ever read Elizabeth McAlister's book "Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora"? I haven't gotten to it yet, but it's supposed to be excellent. And Rara bands themselves are breathtaking. I got to see a few when I was in Haiti in February, and the whole experience was awesome, in the old sense of the word. You hear the music from far off, and then you see several hundred people jogging down the road behind the musicians, and they sweep by you in what I swear is an audible 'whoosh'. It's fun!
posted by kalimac at 5:36 AM on October 4, 2007

This is really fucking cool. To be fair, Roman, there's not a single post on metafilter where I'm not disappointed by the lack of Lisa Bonet covered in chicken blood.

kalimac, how did you happen to get into Vodoun? How often do you, or does one in general, attend services?
posted by Greg Nog at 6:09 AM on October 4, 2007

Morning, thanks for the great additional links flapjax and interesting anecdote kalimac. Seconding Greg Nog's curiosity.

There's a fairly large Caribbean population in New York City and I was intrigued to learn about late night voudou parties.

oh dear, the poor, deprived, aching MeFites, desperate for Lisa Bonet covered in chicken blood [nsfw]. Obviously, I should have included this on the [more inside].
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 AM on October 4, 2007

Last week I completed the draft of an article on postmodern zombie cinema which on the surface has little to do with classic zombie cinema and its debt/appropriation of Haitian culture and vodou (in particular).

What I'm reminded of is the intense attraction white Anglo-Eurpoean Americans for black African culture (and its diasporic legacies, which include Haitian culture). The enthusiasm and desire to experience cultures outside of one's own is fascinating, vexed, and laudable all at once.

For the record, I also want to note that to equate or associate religion with pseudo-scientific medicine is on the other side of cultural bigotry. Not naming names, here, but you're being an asshole Mr. you-know-who-you-are.
posted by mistersquid at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2007

Uh-oh. Strong words. Papa Legba says this will not end well.
posted by pracowity at 7:18 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

For the record, I also want to note that to equate or associate religion with pseudo-scientific medicine is on the other side of cultural bigotry.

For the record, I wasn't attempting to equate the two. I'd never heard of Stephanie Keith, so I genuinely assumed we were talking about Gillian McKeith.

That said, I personally think of all religion and pseudo-science as Voodoo, so the cap definitely fits. It's just not a point I was trying to make here.

Presumably, it's just Xtians that we're allowed to LOL at?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:40 AM on October 4, 2007

For the record, I wasn't attempting to equate the two.

Ooh. Now I'm the sorry one. My sincere apologies, oh nameless one.
posted by mistersquid at 7:51 AM on October 4, 2007

MoreVideoFilter: Maya Deren's ritual footage in Divine Horsemen (torrent+video link) is ten thousands kinds of awesome.
posted by bhance at 7:53 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh great. Just great. I looked at those photos and was turned into a zombie. I don't even LIKE brains er.. br... ... br... braaaaaaaaains! Why, don't mind if I do. CRUNCH.
posted by tkchrist at 10:05 AM on October 4, 2007

Greg Nog:

Serendipity, sort of :) I met my Mambo at a big interfaith conference, attended a service there and a few classes, and then started going to House services. (Previous to this I'd been studying Vodoun through books for a year or two, so I had at least an academic grounding.) We generally hold one service a month; how often they happen depends on the House and the Mambo and geographical location. A lot of New York Houses have the traditional Saturday-night service every week, which is what you tend to find in Haiti as well. Other Houses will meet once a month, or a few times a year.

bhance -- awesome, awesome, awesome! Deren did some really interesting stuff, and I love Divine Horsemen -- have you seen "In the Mirror of Maya Deren", the documentary about her?
posted by kalimac at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2007

My sincere apologies, oh nameless one.

Completely unnecessary, squiddy. My skin is like that of the alligator.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2007

Thanks for the tip on that book, kalimac. I'll keep an eye out for it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:24 PM on October 4, 2007

There used to be a store that sold all manner of plants and indoor trees in Soho. And in the basement was one of the best collections of Haitian voodoo art I had ever seen. Do you remember it Nickyskye?

(like this)
posted by vronsky at 3:47 PM on October 4, 2007

An interesting, informative comment kalimac.

Drat, vronsky, never saw that place. Wish I had. Surprised that I didn't, since I know Soho well and sold African art next to an elegant Haitian folk painter, Francis Paraison for 15 years, until his recent death. Wonderful voodoo flags and great site you linked.
posted by nickyskye at 4:40 PM on October 4, 2007

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Zora Neale Hurston's book Tell My Horse, the Voudoun Priestess Marie Laveau, this movie, or the documentary "Divine Horsemen, The Living Gods of Haiti".
posted by lunachic at 6:12 PM on October 4, 2007

Oh yes, bhance did.
posted by lunachic at 6:14 PM on October 4, 2007

I am very excited to see any posts on vodou: thank you, nickyskye! Vodou & Buddhism have been my main academic interests for nearly a decade now, so it's especially awesome to hear about an houngan (vodou priest) at a Buddhist gathering :-)

For those just finding out about the religion, I wanted to stress that the Wikipedia pantheon link is a great beginning, but just the tip of the iceberg: a vodou participant, even in Haiti, may never interact with (or even hear of) some of the more locally-specific aspects of certain lwa (but everyone is familiar with the core members of pantheon such as Legba, Ezili, etc). Vodou is a religion in constant flux, passed on orally and without a static canon (there is no Vodou Bible, no Vodou Sutras, nor is it likely there ever will be), giving it a fascinating cosmology and set of beliefs, as wide-ranging and varied as the people who participate.

lunachic offered some necessary links, but again, just the tip of the iceberg: Hurston, Marie Laveau, Maya Deren and The Serpent & the Rainbow are often the first things people know about vodou, and tell a lot about common conceptions and misconceptions.

The Serpent & the Rainbow is a horror movie version of Wade Davis' ethnobotany studies in Haiti, and obviously isn't the best intro to the religion but it is filmed in Haiti and is entertaining. Wade Davis' much contested work is well-worth investigating if the zombie & witchcraft aspect of Haitian folklore interests you (and how can it not?). And they are, I must stress, part of folklore and the occult: witchcraft is not the main or even condoned part of serving the spirits.

Marie Laveau and her surrounding mythology comes out of the Southern US version of voodoo, a completely different thing than Haitian vodou, but definitely related.

Hurston and Deren's works are groundbreaking, riveting and valuable to vodou research, and some ways have not been surpassed by more recent scholars; but I think it's important to mention that they were created at the beginning of the 20th century, and reflect Haitian religion of that time.

Further reading...

JDHarper, that's fascinating, I had no idea!

kalimac, I've read McAlister's Rara! and it's great, some of the best recent research out there, especially on homosexuality in vodou & Haitian life (a topic not much studied at all, sadly).

Yeah, we should definitely talk about Haiti more.
posted by ibeji at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2007

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