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16: Advice and Consent

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

16

ADVICE AND CONSENT

A few days later, I asked for my reading. As with Lorita, I’d been putting it off. The king agreed, pleased I’d finally come around, and set a time for that afternoon. I would follow a woman from Georgia who’d driven in especially. It all ran late, of course, but eventually one of the king’s daughters came to lead me back to the Afin. The Oba was in Iya Orite’s house—her own, now. From the outside the little two-bedroom looked like a trailer home that had taken root in stages; the interior was plain folks, too—paneled walls, sofas, big portraits of family on the walls, a few throw rugs, a TV.

Iya Orite was in the front room straightening book shelves and setting up an ironing board. Several village children had taken up spots near the kitchen in front of the TV, watching cartoons. Orite asked me to leave my shoes by the door—African custom. As I removed them, I saw the Oba in a wicker chair in the opposite corner. He greeted me with a big smile and motioned me over to one of two footstools separated by a straw mat he had laid out on the floor. We sat facing each other and without further small talk, as I was now a client, not an observer, he drew his opele, the babalawo’s divining chain, from a small pouch at his waist.

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Appendix I: Voudou in the Media

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

APPENDIX I

VOUDOU IN THE MEDIA

A representative sample of voudou accounts in the nineteenth-century New Orleans press easily shows the establishment, repetition and reinforcement of the negative cultural stereotype that has stuck with the religion. The stories usually appeared about the time of St. John’s Feast (June 24), a Catholic holiday also often said to have been used for voudou gatherings. In general the accounts involved a clandestine celebration in some swamp or backwood, about midnight, with wanton revelry, blood sacrifices, mumbo-jumbo singing and dancing, and were presided over by an eerie mammy or old man. The reporters were invariably white. Sensationalist and racist phrasings were commonplace, as was the creation of an atmosphere of murkiness and horror. It was as if the more bizarre and phantom-like the stories, the more likely was the audience—white, literate Orleanians—to believe them. I present here many of the accounts at length, not because of the sparkling nature of the reporting, but because each is a treasure chest of detail in the creation of what today we might call the “negative spin” on voudou mythology.

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5: Preacher to Priestess

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

5

PREACHER TO PRIESTESS

Consistently, effortlessly, she strode the line between voudou and Christianity—a path so strange and precipitous I could only watch in amazement. In the end, I could barely distinguish the two modes of Lorita’s spirituality, for they were as close to each other as the two sides of a zipper.

From childhood, she studied the Bible every Sunday, modeling herself on neighborhood preachers like the late Mother Fannie Bee Jorden (JUR-den) who ran the Holy Family Spiritual Church out of her own home, and took Lorita under wing, maybe saving her life. Even now Lorita refers to her own home back in the Ninth Ward as “Amityville”: a stepfather who beat her, a mother who called her crazy. Brothers killed. A nephew murdered. One of her sisters killed her man for beating her and cheating on her with her own daughter.

The church gave Lorita the family she needed. Before the santeria, before the palo, before all the movement into that strange terrain that would mark her as an avatar of that which had been lost from Africa—before all that came the Spiritual Church.

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Appendix I: Voudou in the Media

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press PDF

APPENDIX I

VOUDOU IN THE MEDIA

A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE ofvoudou accounts in the nineteenth-century New Orleans press easily shows the establishment, repetition and reinforcement of the negative cultural stereotype that has stuck with the religion. The stories usually appeared about the time of St. John's Feast Oune 24), a Catholic holiday also often said to have been used for voudou gatherings.

In general the accounts involved a clandestine celebration in some swamp or backwood, about midnight, with wanton revelry, blood sacrifices, mumbo-jumbo singing and dancing, and were presided over by an eerie mammy or old man. The reporters were invariably white. Sensationalist and racist phrasings were commonplace, as was the creation of an atmosphere of murkiness and horror. It was as if the more bizarre and phantom-like the stories, the more likely was the audience-white, literate Orleanians-to believe them. I present here many of the accounts at length, not because of the sparkling nature of the reporting, but because each is a treasure chest of detail in the creation of what today we might call the "negative spin" on voudou mythology.

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Part Two: The Road

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press PDF

7

IN HER CLASSIC 1953 study of Haitian vodun, The Divine

Horsemen, Maya Deren wrote that what she had really witnessed was that which we see in every culture-the operation of a unifying myth. A myth, to Deren, was "the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter."! I sought both the fiction and the matter of the American voudou legacy: spirit condensed into time and place, into persons, into something I could approach.

My task was somewhat more complicated than Deren's.

Haitian vodun is more or less openly practiced, and once Deren gained the confidence of the priests, she could be relatively certain that she was studying what she saw. The seeker of American voudou has no such security of observation. Rarely is anything that which it appears to be. I had certainly encountered that phenomenon in New Orleans, but that was but one city, one mutation. In the centuries of its repression in America, voudou had taken as many guises as necessary to survive. I would have little choice but to investigate all these paths: hoodoo, root medicine, spiritual healing, ju-ju, black magic, and dozens of other euphemisms and forms.

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