Live and Let Die: Fear of a Voodoo Planet

Live and Let Die: Fear of a Voodoo Planet
by Stephen Grasso on 2007-09-22 17:36:34
tags: stephen grasso, voodoo

When I was young and my life was an open book, I used to say “live and let live”, but in this ever changing world in which we’re living, you sometimes need to step up and challenge pernicious ideas where you find them, raise a sword to ignorance and send bigotry home in a fucking ambulance.

As a western occultist who has been up to his ears in magic and witchcraft for well over a decade, I’m fairly used to the funny glances and uncomfortable silences that you get if your involvement in occultism happens to come up in general conversation. I tend to keep my trap shut about such matters when in company, and keep my various extra-curricular activities with bone wands, crossroads dirt and snake worship on a strictly need-to-know basis most of the time (like you do).

It’s annoying – in a world increasingly divided between the narrow absolutist positions of religious fundamentalism and militant atheism – that the perspectives of someone genuinely attempting to explore, in a down-to-earth and rational manner, the wealth of theory and practice consigned by the rise of industrialism to the pejorative waste-bin labelled “magic”, should still be treat like a raving lunatic at the very passing mention of an interest in these areas. But that’s the canvas we have to work with, and as long as bemused ignorance doesn’t escalate to witchburnings – literal or metaphorical – those of us ploughing away in this weird and neglected field don’t really have it so bad.

Until recently, I haven’t really had that much personal experience of having my spiritual beliefs and practices exposed to virulent prejudice and bigotry. As a white Englishman living in London, I’ve largely enjoyed the benefits of being able to get up to all sorts of supernatural mischief without anybody really giving that much of a toss. The worst I had ever had to deal with in the way of oppression is the occasional taxi driver or commuter raising an eyebrow, Roger Moore-style, if they happen to overhear something that they shouldn’t have. But over the last couple of years, as I’ve become a little more vocal in writing about my interest and experiences with the world of Les Mysteres, I’ve noticed the sands of tolerance begin to shift slightly in certain company. People have some funny ideas about Voodoo, even in occult circles.

Voodoo is a living and experiential tradition, and its manifest mysteries are not contained or revealed in easily digestable occult paperbacks or available over the internet. However magic in the western world – from the medieval grimoires of Agrippa, to the intellectual magical writings of Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn, through to modern day chaos magic – is largely a textual tradition, transmitted and sustained by the written word. Voodoo just doesn’t really lend itself to book learning, there are no step-by-step exercises that a person can follow out of a pamphlet to get from step A to step B, and it can only be apprehended through direct personal experience. So faced with this conspicuous lack of written information, when western magicians look at Voodoo, they sometimes seem to create a skewed caricature of what they think it is about.

Voodoo typically occupies an odd space in the collective imagination, similar to how the popular notion of Tantra involves western fantasies of 24-hour orgasmless sex marathons with saucy new age ladies in a variety of curious positions – a far cry from the depth and breadth of Indian esoteric thought and practice. Voodoo, likewise, seems to exist for people as a bizarre pop-culture collage of zombie movies, Baron Samedi coming out of the ground to harangue James Bond, giant space scorpions in the Invisibles, cameo appearances of Brother Voodoo in old Dr Strange comics, Lisa Bonet dancing with a snake in Angel Heart, and Eshu knows what else.

A certain dissonance seems to take place where otherwise intelligent people genuinely can’t seem to differentiate between the lurid Hollywood stereotyping of these traditions and the possibility that these ancient African mysteries might consist of something a bit more complex, meaningful and engaging than a sensationalist externalisation of some film director’s fear of black people. And this kneejerk demonisation of Voodoo is prevalent not only in right-wing religious fundamentalist circles – where you might reasonably expect to find it – but is far more widespread in contemporary occultism than many allegedly liberal counter-culture types might like to admit or acknowledge.

Voodoo and related African Diaspora magico-religious traditions have survived intact through prolonged and dedicated efforts to suppress them, with the gun and the slave whip, over many hundreds of years. So in the scheme of things, a few erroneous and misconstrued ideas floating around fairly marginalised territories such as the occult sector of the internet are hardly a credible threat to the healthy survival of these traditions. However, just because something is fiercely resilient to an unjust beating, doesn’t mean you should stand idly by when one is being dished out directly under your nose. So the purpose of this article is to take a closer look at some of the popular misunderstandings and misconceptions about Voodoo, examine some of the pernicious ideas that surface from time-to-time, and try to shine a bit of light on the darkness of ignorance.

The white darkness

One of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of Voodoo in popular consciousness is perhaps the nature of trance possession. There is a strong control freak element to a lot of western magic and a great deal of emphasis is placed on magical circles, wardings, banishings, and symbolic demarcations of space. One of the first things you learn in magic is often some variation on the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, which is an interesting and empowering rite with great depth and many applications, but can also foster a subtle underlying sense of “bad stuff out there” that constantly needs to be kept in check and swept away by the repetition of this and other formulae. From the very beginning, the aspiring western magician is conditioned to think about magic in terms of boundaries and safe space, and the divide between the ivory tower of the Magus and the messy and unpredictable sprawl of nature is magically enforced in a variety of ways.

The self-image of the Ceremonial Magician is that of a person of power who may choose to invoke deity or spirit within certain controlled circumstances, but generally does so for very specific reasons outlined and determined ahead of the ritual, and any deviation from this predetermined script is considered largely undesirable. So the idea of openly inviting another entity to take over your body for a period of time, with no magic circle drawn out on the floor and no control valve, tends to give a lot of people the horrors. There is a real fear about giving over control to an external force that I think emerges out of a distinctly western notion of self and other that is not really present within African magical traditions in quite the same way. I think it is possibly this fundamental difference in basic set and setting that makes practices such as possession sometimes appear hazardous and terrifying to the western mindset.

Perhaps this typical fear response to possession derives from the residual influence of pseudo-Christian grimoire magic that strongly permeates western esotericism due to its significant influence on figures such as Crowley and the Golden Dawn. The inherited wisdom of western esotericism teaches us to treat our interactions with all discarnate entities almost in the manner of the Goetia: A series of carefully brokered business arrangements entered into, sometimes with significant risk, that we must manage dispassionately, almost like colonial masters, calling on angelic names and words of power to back us up. By contrast, in traditions such as Voodoo, the nature of the relationships that are formed with deities and spirits are fundamentally familial, in the sense that the Lwa (the Gods of Voodoo) are considered ancestors of the human race with a real interest, care and compassion for their children, and an active involvement in the personal growth and development of those who serve them.

Deity work in western magic is often utilitarian in its focus and emphasis. Nine times out of ten, you approach deity or spirits because you are looking for something. For example, there is the well worn cliché of the magician who has a problem that needs to be fixed, say they want to get laid, so they pick up a handy God directory, such as Crowley’s 777 at best or “godchecker.com” at worst, and thumb through the section on Goddesses of Love until they find one that seems to fit the bill. A little like looking for a plumber in the yellow pages to fix a blocked drain. There is no prior contact or relationship in place before you summon them up and phone in your request, and very rarely will you follow up the interaction with any further conversation after you’ve got what you wanted. That is, until the next time you need something done – but when you’ve got a whole directory of deities to choose from, who’s to say you ever need to call the same number twice.

Voodoo has a fundamentally different dynamic for managing interaction with deity. You may go to the Lwa in times of trouble and ask for their help in certain situations, but much of Voodoo practice is celebratory rather than utilitarian, and concerned with understanding and honouring the living personifications of nature and consciousness that are the Lwa. Through regular service to the Mysteries you begin to develop close and meaningful personal relationships with deity – relationships that are based on love, respect and mutual support. Nobody comes to the door with these relationships already in place. They develop over time, through practice, and they continue to change and evolve with each passing year just like any other living relationship with another being. Any magic that takes place in Voodoo, does so within this broader context. You are no longer calling a random number out of the phone book, but taking your problem to a much loved relative who you speak to all the time, share a drink with every week and regularly invite over to dinner.

Any possession that takes place in Voodoo, also does so within this same context. You are not inviting an unknown alien presence to take over your body, but taking a backseat so your parent Lwa can step in for a time. There is trust, kinship and familiarity in these exchanges. A practitioner’s Lwa are with her all the time, a constant nurturing and supportive presence, and the moment of full possession is often more like a rising to the fore of a deep rooted part of oneself than a sudden invasion by some external agent.

Possession occurs most frequently between a practitioner and their particular patron Lwa, their Mete Tet, the Spirit of their head and patron Saint. A person’s Mete Tet is a force fundamental to their nature, a personality with whom they share many qualities and specifics of temperament. A forceful, practical, hard working person with aggressive qualities might have Ogun as their Met Tet. A great communicator who thrives on making connections between others, might have Legba as their Mete Tet. The qualities of a person’s patron Lwa might sometimes be latent or sublimated in their personality, but they will always be there, and the best way to get sense of which Lwa walks with you is by observation. What do you do in the world, what role do you fall into within your community, how do you negotiate the problems that life throws at you, what are you about at your very core.

One Voodoo practitioner who has a close relationship with Erzulie Freda Dahomey – the Lwa of love, beauty, luxury and dreams – describes her relationship with her Maitresse as such that it is often difficult for her to tell where her own personality ends and that of Erzulie Freda begins. Such is the closeness and familiarity that underpins interactions with the Lwa, including the act of possession, which she describes as being a little like lending a cardigan to her sister for the evening.

Perhaps the best way to convey a sense of possession in Voodoo would be to give an example from my own experience. It’s happened to me on several occasions, but this particular instance took place one evening during an important altar service that I made for Ogun, the God of iron, war, industry and getting things done. I had made good offerings of all the food and drink that he likes. Put on some music that he enjoys and which expresses his mysteries, old 1930s work songs and folk songs about blacksmiths. Shared some rum and beer with him by the altar. Had some conversations and told him what was on my mind. I had a problem that I wanted to talk to him about. I wanted to call on his help and blessings in a certain area of my life, so I spoke from my heart to the Lwa and lit a candle to represent my prayer.

Services for the Lwa are something I really enjoy. I love making altars, decorating them with the attributes of one of the Lwa, veves drawn in cornmeal, candles in their colours, annointed with their oils, perfumes and florida water, incense and sequined flags, music and drumming. I love the whole creative process and immersive sensory experience of this practice, as it is this that brings you close to the Lwa, and brings them closer to you.

I’d been at the altar for a while, just enjoying the sense of presence and communion, having the conversations, asking for a bit of support and help where it was needed. I relaxed into it and felt his vibe coming on, the heavy scent of iron, the energy and excitement of steel clashing against steel, the huge strength of his presence. I savoured this mystery, felt this power coursing through me, not as something foreign or invading but as a part of my own nature coming to the fore and finding full expression. The possession itself arose totally naturally out of this process of devotional celebration, with no sudden crisis but a gradual handing over of the reins.

It wasn’t full amnesiac possession. I was still sort of there, in the background, watching what was happening, but Ogun had stepped in. He marched up to my bedroom and started stamping his feet and clapping his hands, singing one of the work songs I had played for him. It wasn’t really my voice coming out of my mouth anymore. He danced up a real power and energy through his song, with his stamping and clapping, and I realised afterwards that he was casting a spell in the room where I sleep in answer to my prayer. When he had finished working his magic, I came back to myself and returned to the altar to assimilate what had just happened. It felt like a real blessing. It always does, when you make service and prayer to the Gods and they answer so directly and so dramatically.

Ancestors and atavistic powers

I think of the Lwa as the ancestral powers of the human race. Atavistic forces within the consciousness of the species that rise to the surface. So when I serve Ogun, I am acknowledging the first iron worker, the first guy who learned how to fashion the first tools and shape his environment, the power within humanity that built civilisation, the aspect of my nature that gets up and gets things done. I can see the mysteries of Ogun in my Dad a lot. He’s a carpet fitter and even in his 60s he still works hard seven days a week, hammering nails into floorboard to make sure there is food on his family’s table and to strive for a better standard of living. That’s the mysteries of Ogun right there, in action in the world, and when I pour rum for Ogun or cook him some food, what I am doing is strengthening my connection to that very human power. I’m recognising this power in myself, and feeding this part of my nature so that it will grow strong and healthy. This power is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, from Ogun to my Dad, to me. It’s the drive to get up and do a hard days work; the will, knowledge and action to make positive change to my circumstances; the iron in my belly that takes a stand for what is right.

For me, Voodoo practice is about recognising these powers within our nature and within Nature in its widest sense. Some of the Lwa are concerned with specifically human experience, such as Erzulie Freda, the personification of beauty, loveliness in all its forms and luxury beyond requirement. Making space in your life for Erzulie Freda is a recognition of all the things that are not fundamental to your survival needs but enrich and give purpose to your existence. You serve her with beautiful flowers, fine perfume, champagne, and delicate chocolates. She is the vision of beauty and perfection, but she cries tears of sorrow for the world because the reality of life on Earth can never live up to her perfect vision of how things can be. There are deep mysteries here that speak directly to us about crucial aspects of human nature and human experience, more so than I can possibly convey in a piece of writing like this, because such mysteries are ultimately experiential and imparted in the heat of magic.

Other Lwa are less concerned with everyday human experience but the very condition of being alive itself. For instance, Dambala Wedo, the Great Sky Serpent, is a manifestation of the life force. He winds up the poteau mitan, or central pole of the temple, with his serpent consort Ayida Wedo in an image reminiscent of the Caduceus. The ancestors are said to be carried on the back of this Great Serpent, in a way that recalls the DNA double helix. Dambala is life itself, vitality, peace, compassion, purity and healing. Working with Dambala feels a lot like working with Chi, and you come away from Dambala services feeling refreshed and strengthened at your core in a similar way to how you feel after an hour of Tai Chi or Chi Kung work.

The mysteries of Voodoo are deep, complex and express all of Nature, all of human experience, and the many and varied mysteries of life on Earth. Clearly possession in Voodoo takes place within a complex ecology of relationships, interaction, mutual support, personal growth and understanding. Yet this process is continually misunderstood and misrepresented by both the media, and by many magicians, as being something broadly akin to the classic demonic possession portrayed in films such as “The Exorcist”. A malignant, hostile invading presence that takes over the body of the hapless, and often deluded, primitive worshipper to work their wicked will in the world and cause misery and suffering to all involved. The disconnect between these two ideas of possession is staggering, but if a person is unable to conceive of a familial and cooperative foundation for magic, then possession is always going to appear frightening. How we frame our interactions with Gods and Spirits to a large extent dictates the sort of experiences that we are likely to have from those interactions, and a narrative based on control, distrust, coercion and subjugation is going to produce results far different from one based on love, trust, faith, respect, family, and mutual cooperation.

Offensive and derogatory stereotypes of Voodoo abound, most frequently issuing from the mouths of those who have either limited or no direct experience with the matters they are discussing, but nonetheless appear to take some sort of weird pleasure or titillation from identifying an enemy without. Patterns of abuse such as this are often nothing more than examples of frightened humanity trying to shore up its ego against the night. It is a defence mechanism where you take all of the things that terrify you about yourself, about your own nature, about the human condition and the state of the world, and you project them onto a convenient “other” – deemed the cause of all the ugliness of mankind and existence. Sometimes, among magicians, this other might be a supernatural entity that you see yourself in opposition to, and with which you spend hours engaging in entirely subjective, largely delusional, astral combat. In other instances, it might be a particular magical tradition that you have convinced yourself is evil and destructive and must be kept at bay. It is a train of thought and a pattern of behaviour that may in its early stages simply alienate you from a few friends, but as history demonstrates, when followed to its ultimate conclusion it ends in the construction of gas chambers.

African traditions such as Voodoo are frequently denigrated by western practitioners to the level of the demonic, the insectoid, and the Qliphotic. As an example, during the Q&A session of a talk I gave on the subject a few years back, one of the attendees excitedly brought Kenneth Grant into the picture and started vigorously asserting that the Lwa were the entities who occupied the Tunnels of Set on the reverse of the Tree of Life. As I’ve attempted to illustrate, the Voodoo pantheon is just as broad and varied as that of any other culture, with its Gods and Goddesses of love, passion, war, industry, peace, purity, compassion, death, fertility, motherhood, the forest, the seas, the sky, and so on – Yet you rarely hear people claiming that, say, the Norse pantheon or the Greek pantheon are actually the denizens of the reverse of the Tree of Life. I don’t claim any expertise in the minutia of Kenneth Grant’s cosmology, having only read one or two books in his Typhonian series, but from what I know of the Tunnels of Set, it’s simply not a place that Belle Mademoiselle Erzulie Freda Dahomey would ever be seen in a million years. All of that slime would ruin her new dress and I suspect their facilities for keeping champagne chilled would leave much to be desired.

In another instance, last year I saw the blurb for a talk that someone was giving in London on working the “left-hand path”, that slippery and ill-defined of beasts. In his introduction he claimed he would be discussing entities such as “Dambala: the dark and destructive serpent god of Voodoo”… That would be Dambala, the God of peace and purity. The father of the pantheon, the great serpent in the sky and divine epitome of life itself, called on primarily for healing, purification, nourishment and cleansings. Bruce Forsyth is more of a dark and destructive force in the world than Dambala, and the most basic academic account of Haitian religion would make Dambala’s role within the pantheon fairly clear. Yet some sense of entitlement seems to send people out on the occult scene preaching bizarre depictions of Voodoo that don’t really appear to be rooted in anything more solid than their own rich fantasy life, tendency to read escapist literature as objective fact, and presumably a lot of drugs.

Coming across this sort of material, as I do from time-to-time, is a bit like catching somebody getting themselves worked up into a creepy, masturbatory, BDSM fantasy about your parents. It’s difficult not to interpret some of the positions above as plain racism, pitching as they do the black-skinned Gods of Africa as a kind of evil counterpart or antithesis to the goals of, traditionally white-skinned, traditional western magic. Yet it is often an unconscious racism, with the perpetrators of these misconceptions not necessarily comprehending that there might be anything fallacious or problematic in their depiction. This knee-jerk distrust of African divinity seems so deeply ingrained in western culture that it seems to pass without comment or interrogation most of time. Sometimes the language of discourse about these matters itself can be highly informative into unconscious patterns of racism that can emerge out of our processing of another culture’s spirituality. For instance, I came upon one internet discussion where someone was happily referring to the Lwa as “critters”, and it occurred to me whether he would also refer to a God like Zeus or Thor as a critter, and if not, why apply the different criteria of judgment?

This desire to demote African divinity from the status of Gods is scarily prevalent among certain occultists and rarely seems to get questioned or unpacked. It is as if there is some deep-rooted prejudice that manifests itself as a need to relegate the deities of an entire continent to the more manageable category of lesser spirits simply masquerading as Gods to dumb natives who don’t know any better.

Incey wincey spider climbed up the spout

One of the most persistent and persistently annoying misconceptions about Voodoo is that it is all about giant scorpion gods floating in space who want to turn you into kung fu assassins and/or death, corpses and zombies. It’s another instance of people taking comic books and horror movies as their primary sources, and not bothering to look any further or consider any information that does not conform to their falsely constructed supposition. One of the main inadvertent sources for these misconceptions among western occultists is Grant Morrison’s seminal comic, The Invisibles, which did much to popularise occultism generally and chaos magic specifically during the late 1990s. The Invisibles was a great comic, and its weaving of conspiracy fiction, occultism and autobiography made it required reading for a generation of would-be bedroom sorcerers. Although largely fictional in its scope, its author is a practising magician of many years standing, therefore its themes and ideas have been adopted as key principles of magic by many readers, and the work as a whole is often considered an occult text.

In an issue of the comic entitled, “A Season of Ghouls,” the author tells the tale of a Haitian Mambo taking care of her community in modern day Brooklyn by calling on the Lwa Papa Ghede for protection. It’s one of my favourite stories from the series, both well researched and based on some of the author’s own experiences and experiments with Voodoo. However the research for the issue spans both traditional Haitian Vodou, and the Voudon Gnosis of Chicago occultist, Michael Bertiaux, whose infamous and long out-of-print tome “The Voudon Gnostic Workbook” became something of a holy grail in the occult world, with sought-after photocopies of the text regularly changing hands for hundreds of dollars on Ebay. Bertiaux was a priest in the Episcopal Church who travelled to Haiti in the 1960s as a missionary and received initiation into the Jean-Maine lineage of Vodou, an aristocratic Haitian house with strong Gnostic elements.

There is a clear and identifiable Vodou line of transmission that runs through Bertiaux’s work, but it equally draws on elements of Thelema, Tantra, Shinto, Martinism, cottaging and the work of pulp horror writer HP Lovecraft to create a unique synthesis significantly removed from the practices of traditional Haitian Vodou. His work includes notions such as astral lycanthropy, where the magician takes on a shamanic were-spider form for various journeying purposes; and makes reference to certain “insect Lwa” such as Baron Zaraguin and his family, who are concerned with time travel. On a cursory read of the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, the insect Lwa actually seem to play a fairly peripheral role in Bertiaux’s system, yet the fictional appearance of these entities in the Invisibles – portrayed as menacing, extradimensional, monstrous insect intelligences – has somewhat cemented the notion that such beasts are the axis upon which, not just Bertiaux’s idiosyncratic system of magic, but Voodoo as a whole is assumed to revolve.

This patently incorrect impression of Voodoo cosmology is frequently taken as the starting point for further unfounded speculation and ill-informed conclusion jumping, reaching its apotheosis in the rather ugly and offensive idea that the entire pantheon of Lwa are a form of predatory and parasitic insect spirit. This process of othering invariably considers the Lwa as a homogenous whole, a seething, volatile mass of astral tarantulas and swarming psychic locusts that could devour the body and soul of any foolhardy magician who strays too close to their territory. Conspicuously, such forthright demonisation generally avoids any reference to the actual complex human personalities of the Lwa – and they are profoundly complex and profoundly human.

For instance, Erzulie Dantor – frequently represented by images of the Black Madonna with child – is a Lwa much concerned with the right speech and right action of her devotees. She’s the Big Momma on the block, trying to keep her children on the straight and narrow. The tough single mother with a knife between her teeth, overcoming the odds to make ends meet and put food in hungry mouths. She is both loving mother and fierce protector, a wellspring of compassion and the epitome of “tough love”. She likes listening to R&B records, drinking strong Haitian rum, smoking filterless cigarettes and enjoys offerings of roast pork and dark chocolate. She is a woman of the world who can teach her children how to overcome any adversity and grow up strong and resilient like her. She loves her babies and would do anything to keep them from harm, but understands better than anyone that the friction of the world is the soil in which we must grow. Where would the nuanced personality, good taste and spiritual concerns of such a complex and classy Lady be accommodated in the horror show insect feeding frenzy envisioned by paranoid minds and outlined above?

Attempting to identify a parallel between the Lwa and the insect world is a bit like asserting that the Norse pantheon are actually all really squirrels because of the presence of the squirrel Ratatosk on the world tree, Yggdrassill. It is both random and non-sensical, and would be entirely derisible were there not something both offensive and politically unsavoury in this movement to equate the divinities of West Africa with the insect kingdom. It is somewhat akin to racist depictions of ethnic minorities as being subhuman or only a few steps removed from animals, and to come across this sort of odious doctrine festering in the backwaters of contemporary occultism is something of a call to arms for anyone opposed to racism and religious intolerance.

Yet such squeamishness towards the insect kingdom itself is also worth further interrogation. Insects, beetles, spiders, ants and flies are among the most emotive symbols of mankind’s fears and the subject of a thousand irrational phobias. It is telling that our species’ most common visual depictions of the monstrous and the unknown are invariably either insectoid or amphibious in form – either a cluster of gnashing mandibles and probing antennae or a mass of seething tentacles. From HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos to Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, we are confronted with images of the alien and the horrific that are culled from the natural world. It is as if we have an automatic fear response to these territories that are either too small and numerous, or too far beneath the ocean waves, to fall under mankind’s subjugation – so we make villains of them, and turn their image into a mask for our own internal horrors.

The naturalist, J.B.S. Haldane, was once asked by a clergyman what he might infer about the mind of the Creator based on his wide-ranging study of life on Earth. Haldane famously replied “an inordinate fondness for beetles” derived from the then-current count of beetle species at around 400,000. I’m by no means an insect-shaman, and my experiences of communication with the small ones that burrow and crawl is limited to encounters that arise naturally from sharing a garden with the fantastic panoply of life that exists right under our noses. For instance, asking ants not to extend their voracious empire over my patch and giving a bit of respect to the elaborate spider world in my shed that was there before I was. In such conversations, I’ve never really got a sense of the insect kingdom being these terrible emissaries of some extradimensional prison world, as they are sometimes painted by occultists; and I’m fairly certain that all such visions of insect horror have much more to do with the troubled emotional landscapes of the observer, rather than an objective glimpse of something fundamentally wrong with the universe. The little guys are only trying to eat, and reproduce and carve out a bit of space to live on this diverse planet like the rest of us. “All is well, and all will be well… in the garden” to coin a phrase.

The Lwa are not insect spirits any more than Mercury or Aphrodite are insect spirits, but Voodoo is broadly an animist tradition, and respects the consciousness and living essence of all things – from centipedes to roosters, beetles to bricklayers, ants to anthropologists. (Estate agents and recruitment consultants, at least in my personal cosmology, fall squarely outside of this category of respect, but I digress…) Voodoo is concerned with all of nature, and everything on the planet has magical significance. Trees and plants, fish and mammals, stones and sea shells, the wind and rain, the Sun and Moon. All is living, all is numinous, and by virtue of our mutual existence on the planet, we are constantly engaged in a living dialogue with all things. It is this dialogue that Voodoo is concerned with, and it could be described as a functioning technology for participating more fully and consciously in that ongoing dialogue.

Waking to the world

Nature can be both the brilliant scarlet of a butterfly’s wing as it alights on a dew-covered leaf on a spring morning – and it can be red in tooth and claw. Voodoo, therefore, is not a saccharine-coated new age religion concerned only with sweetness and light, but contains within it all of the possibilities that are within nature. Just as you cannot easily ascribe binary categories of “good” and “evil” within the complex ecosystems of nature, so it is in magic. There are two principle rites of Voodoo, the Rada and the Petro, denoted by the colours white and red. The Rada Spirits are those concerned with coolness and freshness, whereas the Petro Spirits are hot and volatile. It would be incorrect to consider the Rada Lwa “good” and the Petro Lwa “evil”, as a Sorcerer might conceivably work dubious magic with the help of the Rada Lwa, or alternatively do good work for their community with the help of the Petro Lwa. They are simply two modes of being in the world: temperate and fiery, calm and passionate, sober and drunk. They are complimentary to one another and both are necessary for a balanced understanding of nature.

The moral compunction of the Voodoo practitioner is not dictated from on high by some abstract spiritual force, but is self-determined and a matter of personal responsibility. Ultimately, each of us – whether we are practicing magic or simply living our lives in the world – are accountable for our own actions and the effects and repercussions of those actions upon others and upon our society. We make up our beds and then we have to lay in them, for better or worse. Not every Voodoo practitioner is necessarily going to be a clean-shaven warrior of light on the side of little shops, china cups and virginity. There are as many dodgy characters operating within African Diaspora magico-religious traditions as there are in any other grouping that contains a broad cross-section of different individual human beings, be it western magic, martial arts, the Eastern guru scene, the corporate sphere or the ruthless back-biting world of competitive flower arranging. Human weakness, selfishness, and the destructive impulse are not exclusive to any particular grouping, and the catalogue of atrocities perpetrated throughout history in the name of gentle Jesus meek and mild, would seem to demonstrate this.

There are no “good” magical traditions and there are no “evil” magical traditions. What seems reasonable and expedient to a middle class sales executive living off a comfortable salary in suburban Hertfordshire, might not align directly with the motivations and survival needs of a single parent struggling to feed her family on a low income in Port-au-Prince. Context is everything, and when observing and interpreting some of the darker corners of Voodoo, it is important to keep in mind that this is a tradition that has been kept alive through terrible trial and adversity. There are Lwa within the pantheon who reflect this: the sorrow, the rage and the desperation of their children taken to a brutal land and abused by white westerners for money. There are Petro Lwa that embody this hurt and anguish, as fierce as the fires of revolution and swift as a cut throat in the night. But they are not the whole story, simply a point on the full spectrum of human experience. Voodoo contains all of life and all of nature. Some of what it contains may not be entirely palatable to prissy notions of polite spirituality, but nature doesn’t always come in the form of daffodils and baby piglets. Arguing with that basic reality of life is a bit like trying to debate ethics with the storm that just blew over a tree and totalled your car – and it is the basic realities of life with which Voodoo concerns itself.

The most basic reality of life to which we are all ultimately subject is, of course, death. The image of Papa Ghede or of Baron Samedi – the archetypal grinning skeleton with top hat, coat tails and cane – is one that has permeated western culture, showing up on everything from record covers to Bond movies. Perhaps it is because our culture is in denial about the inevitability of this most basic of life functions, that we react so negatively to visual representations of skulls, skeletons and the accoutrements of the cemetery. It is difficult for us to accept that a deity so strongly associated with the tomb could possibly be anything other than evil personified, but in Voodoo, Papa Ghede is far removed from the grim reaper or pale rider of European mythology. Ghede may dress in black and live in the cemetery, but he’s a good guy. He’s the first ancestor of man, the first one to ever die, and he’s there on the other side waiting for us. He’s the Godfather of Souls who looks out for us at that final crossroads that we all face in life. He reassures us that it’s all right on the other side, cos he’s there and he’s dancing the banda, smoking a fat cigar and flirting with all the girls. Ghede is about life as much as he is about death. You can’t have one without the other, and it is only through the awareness of our inevitable death, that we can truly grasp the value of every precious living moment that we have on the planet. His symbol is the skull, because a skull is the shell of a human life. It’s a sacred object, and we’ve all got one. Ghede reveals to us this nakedness of our being, the beauty and joy of our basic physical existence.

These may be uncomfortable mysteries for us to look at, especially in the West, but there is no denying that they are the facts of our existence. It is the business of the magician to face the realities of her consciousness and condition on the planet. If your magical work is constantly gratifying – an endless pleasure dome of candy floss and ego-massage – and never throws up any material that you find challenging or difficult to work through, then no real growth can occur. It is through stepping outside of our habitual comfort zones and moving through our conditioned responses, that we receive wisdom and empowerment.

In Haitian creole, this process of growth that occurs through contemplation of the Mysteries and interaction with the Lwa is called connaissance. It is a somewhat enigmatic term that implies a deep understanding and intuition developed directly from one’s practice. For we do not simply go to the Lwa when we want something, but for the teachings that they reveal and the personal evolution that they bring to us. Unlike western magic, with its notion of a celestial climbing frame from Malkuth to Kether, or certain Eastern doctrines that pursue an eventual escape from the physical, an enlightenment or attainment of Nirvana – Voodoo is concerned with a gradual revealing and instinctive comprehension of the mysteries of nature and existence that are all about us right here and right now. It has many parallels with Tantrik practice, in that the world about us is considered the ultimate reality to which we are habitually blinded and conditioned from fully perceiving. There is no escape hatch to be found, and the Garden of Eden is all about us if we only have the eyes to perceive it.

Forever changes

Relationships with the Lwa and Orisha permit us to engage deeply with certain mysteries that impact upon our lives all the time and which we are continually involved in. For instance, the Orisha Shango is the God of thunder, fire, passion, masculinity and power. He is a great King – thought to have once incarnated as the fourth King of the Yoruba – and a mighty warrior, formidable magician, great lover and unsurpassed dancer and drummer. His symbol is the double-headed axe, which suggests that power can cut both ways. The sacred tales of Shango reveal a complex picture of the interplay between power, passion and a fiery nature, and the consequences and responsibilities that come with these mysteries. A relationship with Shango can teach us how to navigate these forces as they appear in our lives, and by honouring this Orisha we are effectively opening a dialogue with deep elements of ourselves – and elements of human nature itself – that otherwise would remain abstract and impersonal.

Similarly, in Haitian Vodou, the various Erzulies – such as Erzulie Freda, Erzulie Dantor and La Sirene – are each expressive of a different mode of femininity. They represent different ways of being in the world with their own specific strengths, powers and characteristic solutions to problems. As you come to understand something of the nature of these Lwa, and begin to honour the presence of these mysteries in your life – not just in your magical practice, but in your actual life, in the circumstances of your personal history, reflected in people that you know, and as immanent facts of your every day experience – you start to see how the Gods are not just a soap opera of mythic characters endowed with superhuman powers, but living processes that we are intimately immersed in.

Erzulie Freda is a seductress who slowly reveals glimpses of herself to her devotees, her mysteries unfolding like a burlesque revue: A colourful spray of flowers that catches your eye, a love song on the radio, a glass of champagne on a summers day, a pretty girl who passes you on the street, a quickening heartbeat, a fleeting exchange of glances, the scent of fine perfume, the best day of your life, your first kiss, the love you feel in your heart, so much that you think its going to burst, the most perfect thing you can think of, so much beauty that tears start to well up, how did you get so lucky, lying next to someone that loves you, not a care in the world, everything coming up roses, a whirl of parties, and music and dancing, the time of your life – and then the sorrow that comes when you realise that these things are fleeting. That life on earth is also struggle, and suffering, and dog-eat-dog, and your inability to square that, and the tears that come in droves when you remember how lovely it was and not being able to understand what happened. How did we get to this? Why has it all gone bad? What did I do wrong? Isn’t it a pity how we break each other’s hearts. And suddenly you’re not just crying for yourself anymore but for the whole world, and all the sorrow there ever was comes through that tiny crack in your perfect day, and the tears don’t stop falling and you cry yourself to sleep. Erzulie Freda is this totality. Hers is a mystery that we return to again and again throughout our lives, in different permutations and life situations, an infinite wardrobe of experience supplying her with fresh costume changes as she dances onto the floor for another number.

In the image of the Mater Dolorosa, most frequently used to represent Erzulie Freda Dahomey, the Virgin’s heart is pierced with a lance but it does not bleed. Erzulie feels this sorrow, her tears fall, but it does not kill her. Her sorrow runs its course, she transforms it, she finds beauty again. She’s your heart’s desire, the best thing that ever happened, and when she smiles and winks at you, there is no sorrow, there is no heartache or sadness, and her presence makes a hazy memory of discontent. Erzulie Freda dispels these things with a twirl of her fan.

Nothing is static in Voodoo. The Lwa themselves never just represent one thing, but a range of experience, all the possibilities inherent in a certain mode of being. Connaisance develops as we start to observe the motion of these currents in our lives, and learn how to speak directly with these forces of nature, feeding and nourishing them when their presence and influence is weak, soothing and placating when their presence is heated or volatile. Bringing the balance and equilibrium that we require in our lives for stability, but understanding that friction and turbulence are also facts of existence and often necessary for further growth and evolution to occur.

Confrontation with the mysteries is nourishing and fulfilling, but it can be challenging. The nature of your relationship with a particular Lwa will directly reflect the nature of your relationship with the mystery that they represent. For instance, a misanthropist who doesn’t believe in love, has hardened her heart against the possibility of romance, and despises all sentimental gestures and frivolity – might find her relationship with Erzulie Freda to be problematic to say the least. Likewise, someone who never gets anything done, avoids hard work as much as possible and is squeamish about confrontation, might find that they don’t really see eye-to-eye with Ogun. Such clashes of personality with the Gods can be intimidating. Once you have opened the door to experiencing life through this lens, the presence of the Lwa can be alarmingly real – so finding yourself on the wrong side of them can be disconcerting. But it is through these encounters that real change can occur, and we are given opportunities to transform ourselves and our world.

A living relationship with deity, with its up and downs, its challenges and its tribulations, provides a theatre in which you can heal and resolve the issues that you have with their field of mystery. Over time our hard-hearted misanthropist can work out her problems with Erzulie Freda, heal the quarrel taking place in her soul and let love in. Our work-shy layabout can learn how to communicate with his Ogun, long-neglected and under-nourished, and discover vast reservoirs of energy and determination that he thought were closed to him. We go through life mistaking our conditioning, our habitual responses and well-worn behaviour patterns to be the entirety of our being. Early traumas and formative experiences in childhood, or adulthood, can leave us convinced that certain qualities or ways of being are simply closed to us – barricaded off and denied us – the exclusive province of others more gifted or confident.

Through introspection into the Mysteries, you come to understand that these gifts and qualities are not random trinkets doled out arbitrarily at birth, but living Powers that can be accessed and conversed with. Perceived difficulties can be resolved through this process, you can close the distance between you and whatever qualities you are estranged from, and entirely new relationships can blossom into fruition. In our dealings with the Gods, there will always be those with whom we feel a deep affinity, great mysteries in whose presence we are comfortable, and it is important to cultivate and strengthen these connections. But the real task of the magician is in the process of working with deities who we don’t have an affinity with, whose mysteries we don’t really understand, and whose presence makes us feel distinctly awkward and uncomfortable.

If you can change this through your regular practice – take a problematic relationship with a deity, and through your effort and devotion, repair the damage and make it healthy – the repercussions can be profound and wide-ranging. It is not just one relationship in the theatre of magic that you are changing, but the entire lens through which you habitually process a certain mode of experience. If you can fundamentally transform how you relate to core mysteries of life such as love, sex, strength, passion, work, conflict, parenthood, birth, growth and death – in the context of your relationship with the Lwa who govern these areas – then your world becomes a very different place, full of very different experiences and possibilities. This is the Great Work. It can sometimes be difficult, challenging, frightening, tough going – but nobody said real magic was supposed to be a walk in the park. We live in a world with a lot of problems, sickness, and fear. In our journey to consciousness we have grown apart from nature. We have grown apart from our bodies. We walk around like brains in jars, animating robot arms and robot legs to ferry us to work and back. Our survival instincts sublimated by mechanised living, we shuffle around paranoid, alienated, debt-ridden cities searching for meaning. We’ve been taught to see the living world as either decoration or resources to be plundered, and march on towards environmental disaster looking for someone else to blame. We perch at the top of the food chain, but we don’t like to get our hands dirty. We hide our barbarism in murder factories behind the scenes and call it something else. Our separation from nature is a chronic dis-ease – we speak of it as something alien and other to us, but we are as much a part of nature as spiders and magpies and trout. We are animals in the jungle. Intelligent monkeys who have learned to use language and fashion tools to shape our environment. We’ve got this far and accomplished so much, but without awake awareness of our condition within nature, we are destined to self-destruct and take countless other species with us to extinction. This separation must somehow be repaired at a cultural level. If there is any metaphorical reality to the Biblical Fall, then that is it. If there is any Abyss for us to traverse on our camel, then it’s right there. We already have a wealth of tools, passed onto us by our ancestors, for enabling this process. Many of them buried, hidden and occulted from the perspective of western society, but not too difficult to unearth if you dig around in the right places.

Voodoo, and its related traditions, is one such body of knowledge and practice. It can teach you to feel kinship with fire and iron, the river and the ocean, the city and the forest. It can help you reach your ancestors and draw on their great strength and support in all that you do. It can show you how to be awake – present in the moment – standing on clean Earth with the Sun, and Moon, and the infinite canopy of space above. It can wake you to a world of mystery, a world of magic, a world of animism and spirits.

This is heavy gear. Stepping into such a world can take some acclimatisation. If it were an easy hop, skip and jump away from the nose-dive of western culture and its excesses, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in such a predicament. Magicians are pioneers, operating in areas that aren’t even supposed to exist, according to the dominant discourse of western society. We’re teaching ourselves to swim in strange waters, and navigating by whatever maps have been passed down to us by previous generations. It can be difficult at times, but the rewards are genuine and possibly imperative for our species continued health and survival.

If you’re in this game, you need all the help and support you can get. There is no time for territorial disputes and magical pissing contests. It’s not a time to be drawing up battle lines between this tradition and that. There is one earth and one sky, and a proliferation of different cultural perspectives on the same human predicament. We live in an age of unprecedented global communication, and the opportunity to understand the world’s diverse magical traditions as a single body of knowledge has never been greater. If you choose to squander that by spreading paranoia and disinformation about traditions that you simply do not understand, then you have lost your way. If you believe the snares and flytraps of your ego are greater than the truth of my heart, then you are mistaken. The business of a Doctor is not to wage petty skirmishes with those floundering in the darkness of their own fear and ignorance, but to heal sickness and treat illness wherever it occurs. There are many sharp weapons in my house, but the sword of forgiveness cuts deepest. Wake up. There’s work to be done.

Stephen Grasso is a writer and artist based in London. He gets up to some weird business with rum and smokes, handfuls of dirt, meat and bone, sticks and stones, blood and iron, fire and water. He’s writing a book on his experiences with things that aren’t supposed to exist. It will be out when it’s done.

Comments

Awesome article. Thanks for letting K64 post this.

by szul on 2007-09-24 14:13:53

A great piece on the many shortcomings of crypto-white lightism and Western Hermeticism in general. Synergies certainly exist along a broad continuum in and around the Fertile Crescent, Indus Valley and Mediterranean. But even these similarities can be vastly overstated and the tendency to look for these synergies betrays a certain bias. Shoe horning other traditions into the Western model is woefully naive at best. The Yoruban traditions expressed in Voodoo (sorry guys, I’m an American) bear relevance to anyone interested in knowledge of some of the most primordial spirits of human kind. In private conversation Mr. Grasso’s comments about ancestor worship extending back to the plains of Africa was most enlightening. Also worthwhile is the author’s treatment of differing traditions in Voodoo. Note the lack of dismissiveness and the serious treatment of the OTOA / CN current. Kudos for that.

I’m also interested in this article from the point of view of a witch. I am interested very much in tradition and individual relationships to them. While an bona fide initiate of a Haitian Voodoo cult, Mr. Grasso is also an individual with his own take on things, not a prefabricated “viewpoint” regurgitated ad nauseum. He not only sheds light on a truly esoteric subject- the straight dope on Voodoo- he also holds a lantern for all seeking to connect with whatever mysteries they may find resonance with.

So, Mr. Grasso… esoZone 2008?

by UlyssesLazarus on 2007-09-25 23:30:23

While an bona fide initiate of a Haitian Voodoo cult

I’m not, actually. I do have a fairly complex line of transmission, but that departed from orthodoxy long before it got anywhere near me. I practice direct contact Spirit work, which is probably closest to what you might call “New Orleans-style Voodoo” than it is to anything else. In a nutshell: go out to the crossroads, meet the Lwa, trust them to directly teach you everything you need from thereon in. I believe in a sincere, honest, organic practice that is rooted in place and ancestors and develops directly out of your interactions with the Powers. If the Lwa made it clear to me that I should go off somewhere and pursue formal initiation, then I’m there. But in the last ten years, there has been no shortage of teachings, initiatory trials, learning curves, love, joy and mysteries right here on my doorstep within the living hoodoo landscape of London. That’s good enough for me right now.

The Yoruban traditions expressed in Voodoo

Haitian Vodou is actually more influenced by Dahomean culture (what is now known as the Kingdom of Benin, where Vodou remains the national religion), alongside influences from the Congo regions and elsewhere. There is a Yoruban influence in Haitian Vodou, but it is not as pronounced as in places like Cuba and Brasil, where the Diaspora religions of Santeria, Candomble, Umbanda, Macumba, etc have been far more heavily influenced by Yoruban culture.

So, Mr. Grasso… esoZone 2008?

Can’t really commit to anything until nearer the time, but it’s a possibility isn’t it, if you guys are putting another one on next year. I might even have this book of mine finished by then.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-09-27 09:30:20

Wonderful article – and a fine piece of writing to boot! The amount of ill informed prejudice that has infected the occult scene is incredible, and the only antidote to this is the open and honest discussion of genuine, direct experience of the tradition in question.

As a Western magician (in the Traditional sense), I know exactly how you feel.

That might seem like a joke, but imagine if the majority of the Voodoo scene was made up of magicians that claimed to practice Voodoo, but in fact only subscribed to a misrepresentation (such as the ‘insect demons from hell’ nonsense), and then your tradition was criticised/judged on the basis of a fantasy completely divorced from reality/direct experience?

Imagine then if various aspects of your tradition were discussed on a purely metaphorical basis by people with no direct personal experience of those aspects?

I think your article is a very important piece of writing, and an exemplar of how discussion of all things magical should take place.

It’s a shame you end by misappropriating certain terms from the Western tradition, thereby reducing the very real experiences of my life and my tradition to mere metaphor. Would you not agree that this only goes to dismiss the reality of my own personal experience and tradition, thereby perpetuating the misrepresentation of Western magick?

The sad thing is, I know people will read this and scoff at the very idea of genuine experience within the Western tradition – which only goes to show how deep the prejudice goes.

by Alan on 2007-09-27 09:55:51

“It’s a shame you end by misappropriating certain terms from the Western tradition, thereby reducing the very real experiences of my life and my tradition to mere metaphor.”

Where do you think I did that?

by gypsy lantern on 2007-09-27 11:00:52

It might seem like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, and I really don’t want to take away from the focus of your piece, but the Western tradition is in a very sorry state at the moment and I feel I need to address this (it isn’t altogether unrelated however, as I feel we are both concerned with tackling prejudice). I do not believe it was your intention, as I know you are more than qualified to know the truth in these matters, but by reducing genuine verifiable experiences afforded by the Western tradition to metaphor only goes to promote the vague and often fantastical view of the Western tradition that is prevalent within the magical community.

‘If you can fundamentally transform how you relate to core mysteries of life such as love, sex, strength, passion, work, conflict, parenthood, birth, growth and death – in the context of your relationship with the Lwa who govern these areas – then your world becomes a very different place, full of very different experiences and possibilities. This is the Great Work.’

I certainly agree with the point being made, but this is not the Great Work. I’m all up for an eclectic approach to magical practice, but if we’re honest, the Great Work has nothing to do with the Lwa or Voodoo. The Great Work is a Western term for a metaphysical process, or mystical/profound experience, as taught within the Western tradition. I do not point this out to invalidate the very real and invaluable transformation that you speak of – but it is not the same thing, just as the Hollywood image of Voodoo, often used as a metaphor on this basis (e.g. ‘Voodoo economics’), is not the same thing as your practice. No doubt some will challenge the very idea that the term Great Work actually relates to something specific, and that I’m an egomaniac (isn’t everyone that takes the Western tradition seriously?) for even pretending to know what it means.

And this is my point: the Great Work, in its original Western sense, is a very specific term for a very specific experience! I do know what it means, based on very real direct experience, through my practice and tradition. Anyone can experience it for themselves, but in order for people to realise this, the fantastical or vague idea of the Great Work needs to be challenged.

Just to be clear, I believe the Great Work can be accomplished from within any tradition, and it is known by many other names all across the globe – but simply practicing magick does not mean this work has been engaged, nor are the results gained in the material, emotional, sociological, physical or mental realms of experience the same thing, no matter how profound.

‘We’ve got this far and accomplished so much, but without awake awareness of our condition within nature, we are destined to self-destruct and take countless other species with us to extinction. This separation must somehow be repaired at a cultural level… If there is any Abyss for us to traverse on our camel, then it’s right there.’

I cannot help but take this as dismissive of the validity of the experience of crossing the abyss, or even of the existence of said abyss. I know very well that there is and has been an incredible amount of crap peddled around the occult scene regarding this stuff, especially by pompous armchair transcendentalists (not to mention deranged cult leaders and nazi naths) that use the Western tradition as a means of expanding their egos, but this must be challenged or we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a pretty good indicator of how far the Western tradition has fallen when it is preferable to consider crossing the abyss as a metaphor for tackling ecological issues rather than indulge the rather ridiculous popular conception of this experience.

Again, it appears as though I’m being a little over the top, jumping on two instances within a very well written, important piece of writing. But people listen to you Stephen, and with good reason. I think you are playing a very important role in the development of the magical community, and I think you could contribute, if only in a small way, to the rehabilitation of my tradition by refusing to take part in its obfuscation.

by Alan on 2007-09-28 09:08:40

Alan, thanks for your positive feedback and comments.

I find the boxes that people like to place around “traditions” a little frustrating sometimes. Human beings and their individual magic are generally a lot stranger and more complex than the neat genre categorisation of tradition will allow for. For instance, alongside my Voodoo practice, I dedicated my life to the accomplishment of the Great Work in 1999 when I signed my forms as a Probationer in the A.’.A.’., under “Frater Mercurius”. That’s big magic that doesn’t let you go – full stop. I have not found this at all incompatible or to be in conflict with my Voodoo practice, any more than it is incompatible with my martial arts practice. From that moment on, I have attempted to engage with the work of the A.’.A.’., according to my individual Will, which is not the same as yours, Crowley’s or anybody else’s. My approach to this work probably involves more rum, cigars, spirit possession and dubstep than that of most other western magicians, but it wouldn’t be my magic, or my Will, if it didn’t. I perhaps have a radical interpretation of the A.’.A.’., and one which does not limit itself to the letter of the curriculum left by Aleister Crowley and George Cecil Jones, but static magic is dead magic as far as I’m concerned.

You accomplish the Great Work according to your Will. There is no other way to do it. It is my Will to practice Voodoo, and the Great Work accommodates itself around that as effortlessly as it would if it was my Will to practice, say, Golden Dawn-style ceremonial magic, itself an eclectic mix of many different syncretised cultural influences anyway. Nobody ever seems to kick up a fuss about the influence of the Egyptian mysteries (albeit reconstructed) on western magic, but Egypt is no less a part of Africa than Benin or Nigeria. Your statement “The Great Work has nothing to do with the Lwa or Voodoo” makes as much sense to me as the statement “The Great Work has nothing to do with the Mysteries of the Universe.” It’s almost as if you are falling into the same common western magic pitfall that I highlighted in my article: failing to recognise the African view of the Mysteries of existence to be as valid a lens for understanding the Universe, as, say, the Hebrew, the Greek or even the Victorian fetishisation of reconstructed Egyptian ritual.

My comments about the Great Work and crossing the Abyss, in the article above, were not made flippantly or intended to be read as metaphor. I was being deadly fucking serious. I’m not really of a mind to joke about this gear. The work of the A.’.A.’., in practice, is the work of the individual, each according to their own Will, but it has planetary implications. The work of the A.’.A.’. is effectively the work of the planet and the human species. Awake awareness of our place within nature, our role as custodians of the Garden, our responsibilities as sentient beings on Earth within a larger Universe, all of this is integral to my understanding of A.’.A.’. If you have a conception of the “Great Work” that doesn’t accommodate “tackling ecological issues”, then I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Life is an ecological issue. The developing consciousness of the living, breathing, pulsing organism that is all life on Earth is the Great Work, writ large, as far as I’m concerned, and it is fundamentally an ecological issue. It begins in the microcosm of your own practice and has Universal ramifications.

My Voodoo practice is something that exists in parallel to my other work as an Adept of the A.’.A.’. and a western magician. But they have always been complimentary and supportive of one another. It’s a bit weird, but there you go. As far as I’m concerned A.’.A.’. – macrocosmically – is about the human race sorting out its problems, developing its consciousness of its place within nature and the Universe, and stepping up to the challenges that come with that developing consciousness. All of which is something that the ancestors of the human race, and the Powers of nature and consciousness on Planet Earth, can pretty much get behind. I don’t see any conflict. There is one Earth and one Sky, and human animals might squabble and bicker amongst themselves, especially when it comes to lineage and tradition and other forms of tribal war, but we are all in this together. The A.’.A.’. is not about tribal war. It’s about life on the planet, here and now.

I don’t want anyone to read all of this and come away with the impression that what I practice is some kind of post-modern syncretism of Voodoo and western magic. That’s not what I’m driving at here. I’m not selling you “Chaos-Voodoo” or any shit like that, and I am acutely aware of the issues around cultural appropriation that arise out of western magicians approaching the magico-religious traditions of cultures other than their own. There are simply several different strands to my magical practice, all of which happen to be important to me in different ways. I don’t feel the need to shoehorn them together into any one clumsy meta-framework in order to benefit from them, hanging the Lwa on the Tree of Life or whatever, anymore than I feel the need to bring Tai Chi moves into Silat class. I just have several “areas of business” and spend rather a lot of time pursuing them to the best of my ability.

I think you could contribute, if only in a small way, to the rehabilitation of my tradition by refusing to take part in its obfuscation.

“Western magic” is not a closed system. I am a western magician. This is my tradition as much as it is yours. Regardless of what the specifics of my practice actually entail, for instance if I was practicing Tibetan Buddhism rather than Voodoo, I would still be a western magician in the sense that I am a magician born and raised within western culture. There is no getting away from that. Voodoo is about place and ancestors, and it deals in realities. It would do me no good to ignore the reality of my own personal background and that of the culture I grew up in. I live in London, a City with a rich magical history, and to my mind, it makes no sense to ignore that or pretend it didn’t happen or somehow has no relevance to me.

What would the international magical landscape look like without John Dee and Edward Kelly, the Golden Dawn magicians, the Theosophical Society, Aleister Crowley and his crowd, Dadaji, Dion Fortune, Austin Osman Spare, TOPY, the Chaos magicians of Leeds and London and elsewhere? In a very real and pragmatic way, these are my direct magical ancestors. I am very much indebted to all of these people who have kept the mysteries active and alive in my country, in my City, in centuries when such things have been totally unwelcome and otherwise edited out of culture and history – or occulted, if you like. For a country that, on the surface of things, doesn’t believe in magic and is actively opposed to this mode of thinking – it does have the habit of churning out magicians and continually driving a discourse on such matters within a culture where that discourse is largely scorned and unwelcome.

I am a part of this tradition. These are my magical ancestors. I have picked up the various threads that previous generations have left behind and I’m sewing my bit of the pattern every day in the course of my magical practice, and so are you, and so is everyone else who has picked up these threads and is practising magic in the west – even though it isn’t supposed to exist. New threads get sewn into this tapestry all the time, as the world turns, strange alliances come together, and unlikely bedfellows are made. What did western magic look like before Crowley spent a lifetime writing his chapter of it, for instance? What did it look like before the Golden Dawn? Every magician has to bring something new to the table, or else they are practicing historical reenactment – not magic.

From the perspective of my Voodoo practice, it makes perfect sense to honour and acknowledge all of these dead magicians as one particular branch of my magical ancestors that is feeding into the contemporary moment of my own practice, and to consider the magic that they have left behind and bequeathed to future generations, as a kind of ancestral magic that I have inherited as an English magician. There have actually been odd elements of western magic and freemasonry in certain Voodoo lines of transmission for hundreds of years. I’m not sure where that stuff came from or how it got there, but it serves as a precedent for the sort of organic dialogue that sometimes seems to be taking place between the two main branches of my practice.

If I wanted to get drearily predictable about this: “Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these he shall learn and teach.” But I dunno about anything like that. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just doing my thing, which involves several distinct lines of transmission from different parts of the world, which have come together in a particular time and place, and which for the most part seem to be fucking rather than fighting – at least in the context of my own personal practice. I think that’s a great thing. If you can’t respect that, then I don’t really know what to say to you other than: mind your own business and let me get on with mine.

But people listen to you Stephen,

Well they fucking well shouldn’t. They should listen to their gut instinct, their ancestors and the concept I’ve come to understand variously as the Thelemic True Will, the Ti Bon Ange and Z’etoile. I can’t give anyone any answers other than the ones that I personally find meaningful and which have enabled me to develop a fulfilling and empowering magical practice – and these are offered only as sign posts or a rough map of territories I have walked in the course of that practice. Take from it what you will, hopefully you will find some of it useful, but the job of a magician is to understand and then practice their own magic, not anybody else’s.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-01 08:09:35

Stephen, do you remember the last time we met when we both agreed how mental the A.’.A.’. is? (I have actually been talking about the A.’.A.’. whenever I’ve used the term Western Tradition).

In my previous post, I wrote:

‘I think you could contribute, if only in a small way, to the rehabilitation of my tradition by refusing to take part in its obfuscation.’

At best, I was hoping to highlight the common dismissal of many of the experiences afforded by the A..A.., usually on the grounds of fantasy, by those with no actual experience in such matters. I simply believed that your use of crossing the abyss as a metaphor only helped to re-enforce the idea that such an event is a fantasy.

Never in a million years did I imagine you would present a detailed account of your own direct personal experience within our tradition, offering evidence of the A..A.. as a living, breathing, relevant and genuinely important magical tradition, rather than the antiquated, Victorian, elitist, pseudo-mystical, impractical, snobbish, eccentric ‘hobby’ that it is often portrayed as (especially by those that claim to be of ‘direct lineage’ and ‘Thelemites’).

For that I can only be very grateful, as the open and honest discussion of our tradition, and the recognition of its validity, is very close to my heart.

However, from the tone of your reply, I can see that perhaps a misunderstanding has occurred. As you can see, I believe you are talking accurately and honestly about the A..A.. in your above post, as everything you have said concurs with my own personal experience and that of others I know.

I am fully aware of the role of the relative nature of magical tradition within the A..A.. Forgive me for the quotation, but it is one of my favourites:

22. “We therefore who are without the chains of ignorance, look closely into the heart of the seeker and lead him by the path which is best suited to his nature unto the ultimate end of all things, the supreme realisation, the Life which abideth in Light, yea, the Life which abideth in Light.” – Liber Porta Lucis

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, everything is part of the Great Work. Yes, this includes working with the Lwa. But as you can see, there is a ‘supreme realisation,’ and this is the ‘end of all thing.’ This, I think you will agree, is a notion of the A.’.A.’.. This is what I meant when I said the Great Work has nothing to do with working with the Lwa, in the sense that such a notion is not found in Voodoo i.e. the notion of the Great Work is found in the Western Tradition, or A.’.A.’..

I am not saying that working with the Lwa is not a valid part of the Great Work in the grand scheme of things.

However, if I am wrong (my knowledge of Voodoo is very limited indeed), I would very much appreciate it if you would let me know if this is not the case.

(It’s a damn shame I have to address this, but regarding some of your comments, I feel I need to be clear: I could not care less where a tradition originates from, the colour of the skin of its practitioners, its current geographical location, the popular conception of the tradition, and most of all, any opinion of a tradition based on a complete absence of actual experience)

My interest is not in drawing lines between traditions, or in drivel such as arguing over who has the best tradition, but in clarifying what the A.’.A.’. is, how one might become initiated, what it can offer and how best to accomplish the Great Work. This includes discussing concepts such as True Will, the role of the A.’.A.’. in terms of the planet (eat your heart out ultraculture), and the parts played by its initiates in the future of humanity. From your post, I can see you share the very same interests.

But with this comes the Great Work and crossing the abyss as actual attainable personal experiences, and they are just as real as everything mentioned in your post. Wherever I encounter a possible misreprentation of the A.’.A.’., for all the reasons given above, I feel it can only help matters to challenge it. Forgive me if you have found me disrespectful as a result of this.

When I said ‘people listen to you Stephen,’ you replied ‘well they fucking well shouldn’t!’

Hehe. You signed the forms mate!

by Alan on 2007-10-02 14:37:57

This is what I meant when I said the Great Work has nothing to do with working with the Lwa, in the sense that such a notion is not found in Voodoo i.e. the notion of the Great Work is found in the Western Tradition, or A..A..

It depends on how limited a view you take of the Great Work and the A.’.A.’. and how you are defining those terms. There are three ways of looking at it:

A) The A.’.A.’. is specifically the system devised by Crowley and Jones, and any divergence from the letter of this system or any non-lineaged approach to this material is invalid and not actually the A.’.A.’. at all.

B) The A.’.A.’. system of Crowley and Jones is one possible model of a specifically western system of magical attainment, but this model is not the actual A.’.A.’. so much as a “terrestrial” order designed to facilitate the initiatory processes of A.’.A.’. I think Crowley says as much somewhere or other. Furthermore this larger sense of A.’.A.’. also encompasses other western occult orders such as the Golden Dawn, and all other permutations of the “golden chain” of the western mystery tradition. However, what we call A.’.A.’. is specifically this western system of attainment and has no parallels with any other initiatory tradition found elsewhere in the world. We in the west have the copyright on this “Great Work” and only by following these specific methods will you get to this specific place, and no other culture has any clue about any of this particular stuff but us.

C) Like B, but without the last few sentences. The A.’.A.’. system of Crowley and Jones is one possible model of the golden chain of the western mystery tradition, but the western mystery tradition itself is simply one lens on the A.’.A.’. which is a far larger picture. The A.’.A.’. is something of relevance to the entire human species, possibly all life on Earth and possibly – if we want to get wildly speculative and cosmic – a process of becoming specific not just to Earth but of stellar and Universal consequence. It has many forms of expression throughout the world in all cultures. The label “A.’.A.’.” is really just something that Crowley and Jones put upon this process of initiation, and the grade system of A.’.A.’. is a viable western map for engaging with it. It is important to recognise this western lens on A.’.A.’. as a valid and important tradition with its own integrity and to respect it as such, but it is equally important to understand that when we talk about A.’.A.’., if we are not talking about Crowley’s specific order and its immediate antecedents, we are basically talking about the developing consciousness of life on the planet. Performing the Great Work of the A.’.A.’. is essentially taking individual responsibility for the spiritual development of the planet at a grassroots level by “obtaining knowledge and control of the nature and powers of your own being” and so on. As above, so below.

Personally, I subscribe strongly to perspective C. I see the A.’.A.’. as a particular western lens on something that is known by many different names and understood in many different ways by various cultures and traditions around the world. It’s the work of the planet. The work of every sentient being to whatever degree they choose to engage with it in their lifetime. Not just the work of some privileged Victorian white guys in funny hats and their copyists. You seem to share this view to some extent when you say: “I believe the Great Work can be accomplished from within any tradition, and it is known by many other names all across the globe.” Absolutely. Anywhere this process of spiritual development that could be described as “The Great Work” is found, this could well be described as the A.’.A.’. The full quote from Liber Porta Lucis (which, with Liber Tzaddi as a close second, is probably my favourite of the ‘class A’ writings) seems to bear this out quite explicitly:

“19. To you who yet wander in the Court of the Profane we cannot yet reveal all; but you will easily understand that the religions of the world are but symbols and veils of the Absolute Truth. So also are the philosophies. To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism.

20. The many change and pass; the one remains. Even as wood and coal and iron burn up together in one great flame, if only that furnace be of transcendent heat; so in the alembic of this spiritual alchemy, if only the zelator blow sufficiently upon his furnace all the systems of earth are consumed in the One Knowledge.

21. Nevertheless, as a fire cannot be started with iron alone, in the beginning one system may be suited for one seeker, another for another.

22. We therefore who are without the chains of ignorance, look closely into the heart of the seeker and lead him by the path which is best suited to his nature unto the ultimate end of all things, the supreme realisation, the Life which abideth in Light, yea, the Life which abideth in Light.“

The term “Great Work” or “Magnum Opus” seems to derive from medieval alchemy where it refers to the transmutation of base matter into gold. Taken out of its strictly alchemical context and applied to spiritual development, we could describe it a process by which a human being attempts to develop their consciousness, the nature and powers of their being and all of their faculties.

In “Dogma et Rituel de la Haute Magie”, Eliphas Levi tells us: “The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will.”

Crowley defines it here in a passage from “Magick without tears”: “The Great Work is the uniting of opposites. It may mean the uniting of the soul with God, of the microcosm with the macrocosm, of the female with the male, of the ego with the non-ego.”

Now despite admitting that your “knowledge of Voodoo is very limited indeed”, you seem to feel you understand enough about African and African Diaspora traditions to state categorically that none of these processes of spiritual attainment, uniting of the soul with the Divine, or emancipation of the Will, that might reasonably be described as “The Great Work” are present within Voodoo. Which sort of begs the question: where are you getting this from if not your own unexamined prejudices and uninformed assumptions towards something you don’t really understand very much about?

By making unsupported statements like: “the Great Work has nothing to do with working with the Lwa, in the sense that such a notion is not found in Voodoo i.e. the notion of the Great Work is found in the Western Tradition, or A.’.A.’..” you seem to be asserting that there is no real sense of spiritual development within Voodoo. That there is no work on oneself, or development of one’s being and faculties, or union with the Divine, or emancipation of the Will, or uniting of microcosm with macrocosm, female with male or ego with non-ego. That there is no initiatory process by which the base matter of the aspirant is transmuted into the gold of the initiated adept. That the “Supreme realisation of the Life that abideth in Light” is something that your Voodoo practitioner couldn’t possibly hope to know anything about from their primitive jungle mutterings.

I’m not sure how you can make such a statement without then basically implying that Voodoo is just a bunch of savages jumping about in the dirt sacrificing chickens for material gain, and that its practices might get you closer to “nature” but there is no spiritual growth involved whatsoever. I know you don’t mean it to be, but it’s a bit patronising, prejudiced and misinformed from my perspective. It’s an attitude that seems to derive directly from traditionally dismissive western attitudes to the magico-religious practices of non-western cultures, that finds it difficult to comprehend that other cultures – who didn’t reject the magical perspective in the same way that western culture largely did from the time of the Reformation onwards, but held onto their mystery traditions despite all the odds stacked against them – might conceivably know a thing or two about such matters that our culture has largely forgotten. There is a rather arrogant assumption among many western magicians that the Great Work is the exclusive province of us enlightened intellectual white guys over here, and those primitive jungle dwellers couldn’t possibly have come up with anything comparable themselves. This needs to be challenged, because A.’.A.’. is the work of the planet, not the work of one specific culture.

What I have found in my efforts to pay attention to the mysteries of various non-western cultures, is that – surprise fucking surprise – many of them have incredibly sophisticated insights and tried-and-tested functioning technologies for engaging with the same core Mysteries of the Universe, that we as western magicians have had to cobble together and reconstruct from various secondary sources. Where we have had to constantly reinvent the wheel with each generation, continually going back to the surviving texts and individually trying to figure out what Agrippa, Dee, Levi, Crowley, etc were going on about – other cultures never went off-line in their understanding of the mysteries. These living traditions have been kept alive in one form or another for thousands of years, in some instances even surviving targeted attempts at genocide, and developing and updating themselves with changing times and changing circumstances.

For instance, there is a term found in Indian Tantra, the Sanskrit name of which escapes me for the moment, which is a virtually identical concept to the Thelemic idea of one’s True Will and the admonition that “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. What was divine revelation from on high to us as western magicians in 1904, has been right there, plain as day, within Indian Tantra for thousands of years. Similarly, the Thelemic notion “Every man and woman is a star” is pretty much right there in Voodoo as the concept of “Z’etoile”, the individual star in the sky associated with our individual destiny. If you believe that the African traditions are unconcerned with spiritual development, and just some sort of primitive sorcery, I’d suggest looking at the Yoruban Ifa corpus of divinatory wisdom, which is as staggering complex and sophisticated as anything found in western magic and concerned exclusively with the spiritual growth, development and evolution of mankind in harmony with the Universe. If the mysteries at the heart of the A.’.A.’. are indeed more than an “impractical, snobbish, eccentric ‘hobby’”, and I believe that they are, then by definition they must be relevant to ALL on the planet. Not just the preserve of people working within one specific cultural tradition.

The A.’.A.’. system of initiatory attainment as devised by Crowley and Jones, borrowing heavily from the Golden Dawn, is based around the structure of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, with each grade corresponding to the mysteries of a particular Sephiroth. I can tell you, from experience of working with both systems, that there are no Mysteries of the Universe encoded in the Hebrew schema that are noticeably absent from the African/African Diaspora understanding of the Universe, the information and understanding is simply arranged differently according to the culture performing the observation. It must be remembered that the Tree of Life diagram itself is intended as a model for understanding the processes of the Universe, and is not necessarily the empirical reality of things, so much as an effective means of describing and understanding “The Mysteries” and a useful framework for interacting with them. Other cultures have different structures for looking at our common experience of living as sentient beings on the planet Earth and trying to understand and describe the nature of that experience.

The highest grades of the A.’.A.’. correspond to the Supernals of the Tree of Life, and the Mysteries of those Sephiroth can be quite readily located in the African traditions. If you want to know something about “the Life that Abideth in Light”, try being possessed by Dambala or Obatala, and having direct experience of that substance of light and life from which all else is woven. If you want to know something about the mysteries of Binah, spend some time working with Yemaya or any of the Erzulies. Confrontation with these Powers is life-changing and immense. What they reveal to you through direct communication is every bit as profound and holy as that encoded in the western tradition or any other mystery school, and the process of working with these mysteries and accommodating this understanding into your life changes you utterly. If the process of bringing oneself into balance and equilibrium with the mysteries of the Universe (as described by the Sephiroth or another system of understanding) is not a valid definition of the “Great Work”, then I don’t know what is. And this process of spiritual growth and personal evolution is absolutely found within Voodoo and emerges directly out of your interactions with the spiritual forces known as Lwa and Orixa.

Note however, that you cannot directly append and asign Lwa or Orixa to the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life without diminishing both systems. Various magicians have attempted this, such as Sally Ann Glassman & Louis Martinie in their “New Orlean Voodoo Tarot”, but I find these efforts unsatisfying. There is no reason why the spiritual understanding of other cultures should be forced to comply with the map favoured by western magicians, as if this is the empirical reality to which all other non-western cultures must be made to conform. However, you can recognise that the same core Mysteries described by the Tree of Life, also weave through the Mysteries of the Lwa and Orixa – these same core forces and mysteries of existence are simply understood and arranged in different ways by whichever culture is observing. So the mysteries of a certain Lwa might weave through two or more Sephiroth, or several Sephiroth might describe the mysteries of a certain Lwa. All of which is perfectly natural, because the Tree of Life is simply one lens on these core mysteries of existence, not the empirical reality of the thing, and the Voodoo cosmology is another, and the I-Ching is another, and so on. The map is not the territory, to coin a hackneyed phrase.

Perhaps one of Crowley’s most interesting and important achievements was to bring certain Eastern elements such as the yoga of Patanjali and his understanding of the I-Ching, into the framework of his understanding of western magic. I think the effort to understand the magical structures of other cultures, without attempting to reduce them to the common denominator of your own culture’s preferred structure, but simply understanding them for what they are, the similarities and the differences, and being flexible enough to perceive through more than one lens, is important stuff, and I would say its very much in the remit of an Adept of the A.’.A.’., however you might personally frame or define that term. If none of this is making sense, I’d suggest blowing more sufficiently on your furnace!

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-03 12:44:42

Apologies if any of that came across as overly combative. I just feel quite strongly about some of this stuff. I understand that your comments above were in no way intended to come across as patronising towards African Diaspora traditions – but I hope I’ve done a reasonable job of trying to explain why they still read that way.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-03 16:28:04

For instance, there is a term found in Indian Tantra, the Sanskrit name of which escapes me for the moment, which is a virtually identical concept to the Thelemic idea of one’s True Will

It’s Svechecharaya , which according to the AMOOKOS western Nath tradition of Dadaji, translates as “ones own will path”.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-04 06:45:11

In terms of the three ways of looking at the A..A.. as presented in your post, I do indeed subscribe to viewpoint c).

However, it might help if I explain my current position in a little more detail:

I believe it is patently obvious to any serious magician that human beings are composed of many dimensions, one of which is the metaphysical. I am here using this term in its original Greek sense – a metaphysic is simply a language for describing mystical/profound experience. The A..A.. is one such metaphysic, albeit a Western expression, but nonetheless applicable to every man, woman and child on the planet (however, it is certainly not appropriate in a practical, relative sense for everybody, like it is for me).

Every esoteric religious and/or magical tradition to have graced the surface of this planet describes the metaphysical ‘plane’ as the root of all others, in the sense that it transcends but includes all other experience. The A..A.. metaphysic states that if you carry out a certain practice (the K and C of the HGA) on a daily basis, a developmental process will begin with predictable, recognisable stages, that will eventual culminate in what can be considered the completion of the metaphysical process, sometimes referred to as the Great Work, illumination or enlightenment.

I have performed the instruction for a number of years, and the metaphysic of the A..A.. has thus far proved itself accurate in describing and predicting my experience.

My direct, personal experience of this process has also disabused me of many of the frankly ludicrous notions about metaphysical experience that I have in the past entertained, and that I find are still entertained by many people on the occult scene that do not have any direct experience of the metaphysical whatsoever.

I started off as a Chaos magician, completely ignorant of the fact that such a process even exists. I performed the K and C of the HGA to gain more power (whatever that means). To the horror of my enlightened postmodern mind, I suddenly found myself experiencing events that I had previously considered to be nothing more than flowery, elitist, dogmatic metaphors belonging to an outmoded, hopelessly Victorian magical system.

A valuable lesson was learned – I knew fuck all about magick, just like every other joker who talks about the various elements of the A..A.. metaphysic as if they don’t exist, are too fantastical to be attained by the average magician or are nothing but poetical metaphors.

To address the metaphysical dimension in terms of direct, personal experience is not to ‘escape’ from life (although some think they can use it to do just that) or to ignore every other level of experience as invalid or inferior. Rather, to engage the metaphysical is to engage every moment of your life at the deepest level and to the most intense degree possible. This is why it is impossible for the Great Work to be anything but comprehensive – it involves the entire manifest universe, which includes the development of the human race. It is the biggest adventure, and everyone is already on it! Is it not sheer insanity to face it every second of one’s life, but refuse to engage with it? What then of those who actively deny its existence?!

As the metaphysical is fundamental to each and every human being, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should not be able to address it. In other words, given the right amount of effort, and a thorough understanding of the metaphysical process (this too can be found in every esoteric tradition), anyone can get enlightened.

The ecological issues you talk about in your post, and indeed every challenge we face, both now and in the future, can only be properly dealt with if we have a comprehensive understanding of the problem. This means engaging with the metaphysical. Can we really solve a problem if we don’t fully understand it? Can we really say we’re fully engaged with life if we refuse to acknowledge it at the most fundamental, basic level? There is nothing more important or bigger than this.

Sadly, there is a growing attitude in the magical community of dismissing the metaphysical based on false notions of what it is. There is the idea that only ‘real world’ material results count – sometimes sold as ‘getting things done – and that it’s time we put the notion of some high-minded vague state of bliss to bed.

However, enlightenment isn’t a state, but a process of fundamental insight into the ‘real world,’ in real time. It fundamentally changes your understanding and approach to everyday problems, your relationships with friends, family, gods, spirits, life, death and the world itself, in the most wise and practical way possible.

The idea that banging out a ritual to get your friend a job is somehow more practical than transforming a confused, terrifying and painful world into an intelligible, profound and compassionate one, first for yourself, and then for everyone else, is nothing short of delusional, and a tragedy for everyone concerned.

As the metaphysical transcends but includes all things, it is obviously a result of confusion or misunderstanding to think there is somehow a division between magick (or ‘sorcery’ that deals with the ‘real world’) and mysticism.

The source of this confusion lies in the nature of tradition.

Wherever there is a human, there is the metaphysical. It is as much a part of being human as having a body or taking a shit. Given enough time, any group of humans will eventually produce a good magician who will produce a metaphysic (like the A..A.., or Tantra, or Buddhism, etc) to describe their experience of what it means to be human at the most profound level. This is why there are a startling number of traditions that all appear to be describing the same phenomena, but in different terms.

However, not everyone has personal, direct experience of the metaphysical. As a result, some misunderstand the metaphysical teachings and promote a degenerated tradition. In other words, they do not know what they are talking about.

Many magical traditions are created, or appropriated, by people who have no direct experience of the metaphysical. This doesn’t mean a magical tradition that isn’t based on the metaphysical doesn’t have techniques that work. On the contrary, a tradition can teach very useful magical techniques, with ‘real world’ results, but these are techniques that work at a different level. Hence the staggering number of ‘good’ magicians, in the materialistic sense, that will never come across metaphysical experience.

A good example of a tradition that did not begin with metaphysical insight is Chaos Magic. But as I have said, the metaphysical is part of being human, and so it is therefore possible for a Chaos magician to get enlightened. But the focus of Chaos magic, which is essentially an approach of using belief as tool, is obviously not that of metaphysical experience. It is therefore not as useful as Buddhism in this respect.

I am concerned with my own metaphysical process, and that of the human race, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. Just to be clear, I do not recognise a division between ‘practical’ magick and mysticism – such a notion is a delusion. I am thus concerned with finding those traditions that provide a metaphysic based on personal, direct experience, and give instruction for achieving that experience. In light of this, it is my opinion that not every tradition has the same value when it comes to the Great Work.

My understanding of Voodoo, and the African Diaspora, is thus far mostly based on written material. I have never encountered anything that has approached a metaphysic in this material, although the idea that Olodumare is too far removed from man to hear his prayers smacks of an understanding of mystical experience. I attempted to deepen my understanding of the African Diaspora by approaching a Quimbanda house. They did nothing but make the tradition look bad, especially when I was told outright that the metaphysical must be ignored (of course, I don’t believe every practitioner of Quimbanda agrees with this approach). You are the only practitioner I’ve ever met of Voodoo (well, the only one I think genuinely practices it), and it was my sole reason in approaching you that I might hear from the horse’s mouth (pun intended) whether or not Voodoo recognises the metaphysical. Again, I am not interested in drawing lines between traditions – I only care about offering as much practical, accurate and useful knowledge regarding the metaphysical process as I can to those that might need it (via my site).

The Great Work is too important to indulge extreme postmodernism or the idea that all traditions serve the same purpose and all share the same initiatory function. Indeed, I wouldn’t look to Buddhism for accurate, in depth knowledge of possession work – it simply doesn’t have the same value as Voodoo in this respect. But this does not mean that I have ‘unexamined prejudices’ about a vast majority of the population of Asia.

“The ‘Supreme’ realisation of the Life that abideth in Light” is something that your Voodoo practitioner couldn’t possibly hope to know anything about from their primitive jungle mutterings.
I’m not sure how you can make such a statement without then basically implying that Voodoo is just a bunch of savages jumping about in the dirt sacrificing chickens for material gain.

Thankfully, I never made such a statement, although I do see how my comments may have come across as at least suggesting such a viewpoint, and therefore your response is understandable. As I’ve said above, the metaphysical process has nothing to do with tradition, although some traditions describe it better than others, and some have no conception of it at all. Based on my own research (as crap as that may be), I have never come across a similar conception of the Great Work in Voodoo, beyond what you have just written above (for which I am grateful). Perhaps that is due to my lack of experience, and I certainly don’t want to misrepresent a tradition due to my own ignorance, but I can only be honest. This is not the same thing as saying a conception of the Great Work doesn’t exist in Voodoo, nor does it mean I deserve to be painted with the stereotype of a bigoted Westerner, simply because I happen to be a Westerner who practices Western magick. Just to reiterate, there is no reason a Voodoo practitioner couldn’t be engaged with the metaphysical process, even if Voodoo did not contain such a teaching (I am not saying that it doesn’t, especially in light of your above comments).

Given my position, I am very grateful for the information you have provided regarding a metaphysic within the African Diaspora. I would be eternally grateful if you could recommend some material regarding this (I do not wish to practice Voodoo – I have the tradition that is right for me – but I do wish to be able to point people in the right direction should it be right for them. And who knows – maybe I’ll find a metaphysic that predicts my experience better than those I’m currently familiar with).

I do hope that I’ve been clear with my reasons for challenging the promotion of the idea that the metaphysical process doesn’t exist/is just a metaphor/cannot be attained by the average magician, why I think this is important, and that you can appreciate I have absolutely no preconceptions about Voodoo, or the African Diaspora, beyond those based on my judgement of the books I’ve read, my experience with a group of arseholes and the information that you have provided.

I do hope you’ll include the kind of info you’ve provided above in your book!

P.S. Liber Tzaddi is indeed a close second.

by Alan on 2007-10-04 15:15:29

Yeah, that’s all fair enough to me, Alan. Apologies again if I came off a bit abrasive in certain paragraphs above. As I tried to qualify, I didn’t wish to paint you with the brush of bigoted westerner, but you can appreciate how some of your unsupported statements about the lack of, as you put it, “metaphysical experience” in Voodoo can grate a bit.

You did rather confidently tell me: “This is what I meant when I said the Great Work has nothing to do with working with the Lwa, in the sense that such a notion is not found in Voodoo.”

Had you phrased your intent as a question rather than a blanket statement, for instance: “Is there a metaphysical component to Voodoo that could be compared to the processes found in western systems such as the A.’.A.’.?” I would have responded quite differently.

But as it stood, well, it’s all a bit familiar isn’t it. People tend to project their uninformed assumptions onto Voodoo, when they can’t possibly know anything about it without having actually practiced it themselves. Yet feel qualified to make all sorts of sweeping statements about what it is and what it isn’t.

As I wrote at the beginning of the essay above:

“Voodoo is a living and experiential tradition, and its manifest mysteries are not contained or revealed in easily digestable occult paperbacks or available over the internet. However magic in the western world – from the medieval grimoires of Agrippa, to the intellectual magical writings of Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn, through to modern day chaos magic – is largely a textual tradition, transmitted and sustained by the written word. Voodoo just doesn’t really lend itself to book learning, there are no step-by-step exercises that a person can follow out of a pamphlet to get from step A to step B, and it can only be apprehended through direct personal experience. So faced with this conspicuous lack of written information, when western magicians look at Voodoo, they sometimes seem to create a skewed caricature of what they think it is about.”

This stuff is just not in books. It is an oral tradition. Nobody has really written about this sort of material in Voodoo, largely because your average Haitian Mambo doesn’t really have access to the western publishing machine and even if they did, it’s not a text based tradition anyway, so there is no reason why they would feel compelled to spill all for Weiser or Llewellyn or whatever. It’s us guys in the west who have this compulsion to put everything down into writing and document in text. Not every culture transmits knowledge this way. As an example, the Yoruban Ifa corpus – that might well be described as the Yoruba “bible”, although it is closer to the I-Ching, in form, as a body of divinatory wisdom – was not written down as a book but transmitted from priest to initiate.

I think it’s fair to say that all inner, “metaphysical” aspects of all mystery traditions, tend to be veiled, obfuscated and occulted by definition. You can’t see them on the surface, you can try to put them in books but it doesn’t work, you can’t get it from a book, it emerges directly out of your practice. This is common to the A.’.A.’. as much as it is to Voodoo or anything else. To go back to Porta Lucis again:

“17. We shall bring you to Absolute Truth, Absolute Light, Absolute Bliss. 18. Many adepts throughout the ages have sought to do this; but their words have been perverted by their successors, and again and again the Veil has fallen upon the Holy of Holies.”

It’s powerful magic to be able to transmit a fraction of the real gear, to leave behind the edge of a thread that someone might be able to pick up and find their way through the maze of obfuscation and surface claptrap to the real Mysteries. For me, the mysteries that appear to be encoded in Tzaddi and Porta Lucis are at the heart of Crowley’s teachings. That’s what Thelema is about, as far as I’m concerned, that’s what the A.’.A.’. is about. But if you look at virtually 100% of the books churned out by the publishing industry that has sprung up around Crowley and Thelema, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s about something totally different. You can read twenty books on Crowley and come away with the impression that his Magick is one thing, when I really think it is quite another.

I come across people all the time who claim to be into Crowley and Thelema, but where they are coming from is just completely fucking unrecognisable to what I take from some of those writings myself. It does me head in. It’s as if there is a strong identification with certain surface elements and outward forms, you know, like unicursal hexagrams, the star ruby, the whole great beast and scarlet woman thing – whilst almost totally ignoring the beauty and simplicity of what writings like Tzaddi and Porta Lucis appear to be trying to communicate quite directly.

I really think you could attain the highest levels of initiation and then write down the fruits of that experience in the plainest language possible, and people still wouldn’t get it. They would think you were talking about something else and a whole industry would spring up around their misinterpretation. You don’t have to look any further than Christianity for an example of that effect in action, and still being played out today. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some magical traditions don’t attempt to record their mysteries in books at all, but switch people onto the real gear directly, person-to-person. You can only really get it, when you have had the experience of these things yourself, otherwise all of this stuff doesn’t make any sense at all. It appears to be something else.

Which, or course, is a bit of a fucker if you are a writer and part of your Will is to try and express the fruits of your magical experiences in written form, but at least we’re in good company.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-05 06:39:58

My experience is exactly the same regarding fans of Crowley and/or Thelemites. It does appear as though my tradition is indeed Thelema, but I can’t help cringing every time this occurs to me.

I think I’ve said this before, but initiation is not conferred by people. My approach to the A..A.. is exactly like that of your approach to Voodoo. Genuine contact with deity will teach you everything you need to know. It may come as a surprise to many Thelemites/Western magicians, but you don’t need to join the OTO, or any ‘direct lineage’ of the A..A.., perform all the practices prescribed by Crowley, or even learn anything about the Qabalah or the Tree of Life, in order to gain the Knowledge and Conversation. The whole practice is organic and spontaneous, and the notion that complete mastery of every ‘branch’ on the Tree of Life is required, like some kind of RPG with levels to be ‘completed,’ is just plain bullshit. Rather, the ‘grading’ system of the A..A.. is a map of a process, and in my experience, a very accurate one. What many magicians do not realise is that Crowley’s yoga has nothing to do with the metaphysical process – trance states do not equal mysticism – and so more often than not people think that attaining the higher grades is straight up escapism into some kind of nirvana.

I believe we are both in a very similar situation, except at the two extremes – there is no written material regarding Voodoo, and so fantasy fills the gap; whereas there is a shit load of written material regarding Thelema, the majority of which is complete bollocks. Both are a result of the absence of direct experience. I really do believe that it will make a difference to put work out there that is at least based on reality.

As it says in Liber B vel Magi:

1. In the beginning doth the Magus speak Truth, and send forth Illusion and Falsehood to enslave the soul. Yet therein is the Mystery of Redemption.

And:

14. Let Him beware of abstinence from action. For the curse of His grade is that he must speak Truth, that the Falsehood thereof may enslave the souls of men. Let Him then utter that without Fear, that the Law may be fulfilled.

Damn right. And seeing as no one else is bothering, it looks like we’ve got a lot of work to do…

by Alan on 2007-10-05 08:56:05

The whole practice is organic and spontaneous, and the notion that complete mastery of every ‘branch’ on the Tree of Life is required, like some kind of RPG with levels to be ‘completed,’ is just plain bullshit.

I’d argue that you’re missing something important here. By dismissing the value of the full breadth and depth of the grades attributed to Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, and instead focusing on the primacy of the HGA and Abyss experiences, you are perhaps in some sense cutting to the chase of the system – but by doing so, seriously diminishing your experience of the whole. No Sephiroth/Grade is just there for a laugh. If you are going to deal with the Tree of Life as a model at all, then you really need to deal with it in its entirity. Possibly a conversation to be had elsewhere though, as this is getting way off the subject of the original essay.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-05 10:06:02

My point was the idea of ‘completion’ and ‘complete mastery’ of a sephira is silly – if you wait for such thing, you’ll never progress. I think a lot of people do this, and that’s why magicians who have actually attempted the K and C of the HGA are so few.

Anyway, this is indeed way off the topic of your essay, and probably the longest comment thread I’ve ever seen. Congrats on a fine piece of writing!

by Alan on 2007-10-05 10:28:31

I’ve always thought that you were an extremely astute thinker Gypsy Lantern even if you’ve sometimes seemed to me as one who goes for the jugular. Your handling of this topic was extremely diplomatic given the drama of a few months ago. You’ve seriously sparked interest in me about voodoo/diasporia religion and even given me some ideas about my own pantheonic bent (norse). This truly is a fine piece of writing and I look forward to your book.

by GV on 2007-10-06 07:10:58

No offense Alan, but you’re not as sharp as you think you are.

gypsy lantern – ‘I perhaps have a radical interpretation of the A..A.., and one which does not limit itself to the letter of the curriculum left by Aleister Crowley and George Cecil Jones, but static magic is dead magic as far as I’m concerned.’

Just because most of the AA stuff was made up by Crowley/Jones doesn’t mean it is dead magic or isn’t a tradition. Someone made up the practice of Voodoo, too.

‘Deity work in western magic is often utilitarian in its focus and emphasis. Nine times out of ten, you approach deity or spirits because you are looking for something. For example, there is the well worn cliche of the magician who has a problem that needs to be fixed, say they want to get laid, so they pick up a handy God directory, such as Crowley’s 777 at best or ‘godchecker.com’ at worst, and thumb through the section on Goddesses of Love until they find one that seems to fit the bill. A little like looking for a plumber in the yellow pages to fix a blocked drain.’

That’s a massive sweeping statement. So the notion of the development of a relationship with a deity doesn’t exist in western magic? Obviously thelema doesn’t offer the same way of interacting with the mysteries as Voodoo does. What a narrow minded, materialistic westerner I am.

gypsy lantern – “We’ve got this far and accomplished so much, but without awake awareness of our condition within nature, we are destined to self-destruct and take countless other species with us to extinction. This separation must somehow be repaired at a cultural level. If there is any Abyss for us to traverse on our camel, then it’s right there.’

alan – ‘I cannot help but take this as dismissive of the validity of the experience of crossing the abyss, or even of the existence of said abyss.’

gypsy lantern – ‘If you have a conception of the ‘Great Work’ that doesn’t accommodate ‘tackling ecological issues’, then I’m afraid you’ve lost me.’

Nice sidestep!

by khephret on 2007-10-07 08:28:15

@corso: I’m not interested in this tit-for-tat shit. For all your ‘sharpness’, you seem to have missed the whole point of the conversation.

@fenris23: I couldn’t agree more, but I do hope you don’t think any of this was an attack on Voodoo, or that this is in anyway as retarded as the ultraculture shit storm.

As Stephen put it:

‘You did rather confidently tell me: “This is what I meant when I said the Great Work has nothing to do with working with the Lwa, in the sense that such a notion is not found in Voodoo.”

Had you phrased your intent as a question rather than a blanket statement, for instance: ‘Is there a metaphysical component to Voodoo that could be compared to the processes found in western systems such as the A..A..?’ I would have responded quite differently.’

You could be very much forgiven for thinking I was attempting to invalidate Voodoo as a metaphysical tradition when reading the above. But I wasn’t concerned with Voodoo here; rather, I was attempting to point out the Great Work as a valid Western magical experience. The fact that Voodoo has an equivalent notion (I should be more careful with my language) was not what I was disputing: I was simply trying to say there IS a specific Western idea called the Great Work, and I thought Stephen was simply appropriating the idea to describe something non-metaphysical (rather than something ‘non-western’).

I do hope that is clear, because the last thing I want is for the rather important conversation above to be considered commensurate with the racist, delusional, poisonous horse shit spread around by the ultraculture lot.

by Alan on 2007-10-07 09:43:51

I wanted to thank you for this wonderful interpretation of Voodou for my western eyes. I have been involved with Voudou since 2001, when I lived in a small rural town in Haiti for two and half years. It has taken me a long time to come to a deeper understanding of what it all means after years of ceremony and trips to Haiti, and ironically, when my konesans was getting a little deeper, I ran into your article. Timing is always synchronistic when living in the mystic.

Anyway, I would like to recommend a book for you to read. Something is telling me to suggest the The Ancient Secret of The Flower of Life by Drunvalo Melchizedek. This book, and meditation, has opened me up to the world of the mystic, and finally given me enough understanding to shed a lot of the inherent fears that have been ingrained in me from merely living in western culture. It has been a slow journey at times for me to come to a peaceful place within, and just let go, just be, thanks to the guidance of Dambala, and at other times too much for me take in at once. The life of the shaman is for everyone, and is for the enlightened evolution of planet earth, and the entire Universe. I give thanks to all guides and spiritual teachers who have come to me along this journey through the 3rd dimension. I am working to incorporate all sides of myself, to become whole, in my understanding of all the forces that be.

Your article is gives a clear interpretation of what voudou is, and brings like to the duality of good and evil. I agree that they are mere metaphors and feel it time for us all break the chains that enliven this form of mental slavery. Everything is light, there is no separation from god, because god is in all things, all creation. The fear, negativity, or ‘dark force’ is only an internal battle of the mind. You can break free once you understand that there is no separation; all is one, and we are all protected by the light of love, goodness, compassion and above all, forgiveness.

I am looking forward to your book when it comes out. You have a gift for writing and expressing topics, which are seemingly impossible to put into words. Because, as you know, Voudou is something that is to be felt through your own experiences. A journey into the astral planes, where the three, the trinity, meet as one (higher self, lower self, and middle self- or bon ange and ti bon ange)!

Thanks again, R_

by baker1 on 2007-10-07 17:11:26

No offense Alan, but you’re not as sharp as you think you are.

My name isn’t Alan. Please pay attention.

Just because most of the AA stuff was made up by Crowley/Jones doesn’t mean it is dead magic or isn’t a tradition.

That’s not what I was saying. Please pay attention.

That’s a massive sweeping statement.

Which is why I was very careful to qualify it with the words “often”, “nine times out of ten” and “well worn cliche” before I painted that particular picture in order to illustrate a tendency in contemporary western magic to approach deity from a utilitarian perspective rather than one based on relationships.

Nice sidestep!

The rather lengthy and involved conversation taking place above between Alan and myself could hardly be called a sidestep of anything.

If you have something you want to say, I would suggest you step up and say it, rather than making vague noises of disdain from the sidelines without actually contributing anything of meaning or value to the dialogue taking place in this thread.

I’ve always thought that you were an extremely astute thinker Gypsy Lantern even if you’ve sometimes seemed to me as one who goes for the jugular.

Sometimes the jugular is just there, juicy and expectant.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-08 06:05:50

I don’t have anything as profound or deep to say, as those before me have said (though it was very interesting to read).. I do want to say that this was a very well put together and thought out article.

by TridentBlue on 2007-10-10 14:53:48

I don’t know any voodoo practitioners, my sources about it being Maya Deren, “Secrets of Voodoo”, luckymojo.com, supermarket prayer candles, junk store hoodoo oil, and, of course, the Ultraculture google group. That said, I have plenty of questions:

To what extent is voodoo devotional? Every clip from the Divine Horsemen indicates to me that by-and-large many of the ceremonies revolve around communal rituals, which it seems tend to double as town barbeques. Even the teachings around the dead (e.g., like the petite bon ange and ti bon ange first residing, then gradually merging with their patron god), etc., show much more of an interest in maintaining continuity than, say, in most Western practices, or even the Graeco-Egyptian ones. How does this influence practice, particularly for an A.:A.: guy in the UK?

Secondly, my impression of voodoo is that much of it is difficult for someone like me, who practices vipassana and knows his way around the tree of life but is largely familar with chaos practice, to really “get” a model that doesn’t seem to have, at least from an outsider’s perspective, much in the way of “advancement”, if you will.

by Insideoutsidein on 2007-10-10 16:42:29

To what extent is voodoo devotional?

Well… to every conceivable extent. That’s a weird question. Where are you going with it?

Every clip from the Divine Horsemen indicates to me that by-and-large many of the ceremonies revolve around communal rituals…

I am of the opinion that Haitian Vodou cannot really be practiced outside of Haiti. As soon as you take it somewhere else, it becomes something else. Hence Voodoo in New Orleans, Brooklyn, Paris and London are all a bit different, they take on some of the character of the City, and certain things are adapted to the conditions of the environment where they are being practiced. There are some things you can do in, say, rural Haiti, that you can’t do so easily in a tower block in New York. So it adapts. It’s a living tradition. It can do that.

However, the core of Voodoo service remains one of personal devotion to the Spirits and communal celebration. You generally keep altars for the Lwa of your house and spend some time at those altars each week in communion and conversation with the Spirits. If there is a Saint’s day associated with a particular Lwa, then these can be celebrated communally at certain points through the year. It’s a bit like throwing a birthday party for a particular Lwa. These communal celebrations can be as small or as large as there is community around you who gets it. Sometimes the smaller services, with just a handful of people, some good food, good music, and so on, are more satisfying than things attempted on a larger scale. To hold really big Haitian-style services, you really need a yard, pro-drummers and dancers who know all the rhythms and dances, and a lot of training and experience. These things can be difficult to pull off in an urban setting, but Voodoo is imminently adaptable to virtually any circumstances.

How does this influence practice, particularly for an A.:A.: guy in the UK?

I sort of resent being labeled “an A.’.A.’. guy” like that. I think a person can only ever practice their own magic, and that magic might not necessarily be limited to the convenient genre categories that occult bookshops might like to place around “traditions”. When does it ever work like that in real life? You perhaps can’t really get more of “an A.’.A.’. Guy” than Aleister Crowley, but did that stop him traveling the world and seeking out the mysteries in every corner of the globe where he could find them? Did that stop him pursuing his interest in yoga and I-Ching, which were arguably at least as important to him as the western magic stuff at various points in his life.

For me, “the A.’.A.’.” is largely a particular western term for something of global significance which different cultures approach through different and often extremely diverse lenses. In its widest sense, I see it as our evolutionary impetus. If you are trying to grow, to overcome your personal limitations and work through your problems, to understand the nature and powers of your being, your place within nature, and ultimately your place in the universe – then that is the work of “the A.’.A.’.” I would argue that this is not an endeavour reserved for magicians, occultists, or other “special people” – but something of relevance to ALL on the planet. It has as much to do with the choices that you make about how you live your life, as it does about ritual magic. Any dedicated magical practice will tend to put you on the inside track of this evolutionary process, but every single human being is engaged in this work. For me, “the A.’.A.’.” is simply about waking up and taking responsibility for your individual being and your place on the planet.

As a western magician – by which I mean, someone who grew up within western culture and felt the pull towards “magic” – I am very interested in the particular western lenses that we have inherited for engaging with this sort of material. It’s fascinating stuff. I think I’d be a bit ignorant if I didn’t attempt to get to grips with it and understand this material and what it seems to be about. However, my core practice is Voodoo, because this is what I find most fulfilling and empowering. This is what speaks to my heart. But that doesn’t preclude me also being interested in how the same sort of spaces are navigated by western magicians, Indian tantrics, or whoever else. So long as you have a grounded practice in something, that doesn’t flit about here and there like a leaf on the wind, I think its pretty natural to want to look at how other cultures on the planet describe and interact with similar territories of being.

that doesn't seem to have, at least from an outsider's perspective, much in the way of “advancement”, if you will.

Look – in my martial arts class there are no belts and no grading. Does that mean that after ten years of practice, there is no “advancement”? I think it really is an unconscious symptom of western cultural imperialism to seemingly not be able to understand how their could be “advancement” within a tradition if it doesn’t have something directly comparable to western magic grades or some other clearly defined “ladder of attainment”. I find it pretty offensive that you can’t imagine how there could be any “advancement” in Voodoo. What do you think people are doing it for? What do you think the point of it is? How many times do I have to go over this same ground? If you pardon my “Kreyol”, of course there is fucking advancement in Voodoo!

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-11 07:08:55

Sorry, it’s just massively frustrating having to deal with this sort of bizarre assumption that these traditions are somehow static and don’t lead you anywhere, or promote any any kind of mental, emotional or spiritual growth in their practitioners – when nothing could be further from the reality of this practice. I thought we’d already covered this in some detail above.

by gypsy lantern on 2007-10-11 07:58:26

I thought I might add that actually, voudou, is one of the only practices that is perpetually “advancing.” It is the most fluid of religions, although it is debatable whether or not is even a religion. It allows for the constant evolution of the practice, the taking of new meanings and ancestors as time moves on and the people’s understanding changes. You can visit a small rural town in northern Haiti and feel like you are in Africa, with similar rythms and rituals, while you can drive away from there 4 hours to port-au-prince and experience voudou(Petro) which has completely different rythms and rituals for the same lwa, although they have different ones as well. Then you can skip to another island, like martinique, Guadaloupe, Cuba, or Jamaica, and experience a totally different type of voudou with the core similar spirits and rituals, and a litany of different ancestors that reached divinity.

On the contrary Voudou is much much different than most westerners can concieve because they live far too much in the left side of the brain, male energy and understanding that requires logical understanding, although voudou is far from this type of understanding. It requires that you completely seperate from the logical side of the brain, and learn how to feel, to embrace your emotions and mother earth, and Just let go, let it be, and let the forces take you where ever it is you need. You may need to visit one of these countries first to understand what is like to live in the right side of the brain and to be connected to mother earth, where you can finally have an understanding of the ‘Ti bon Ange” the lower self or the shadow self.

If you are living in the western world and want to understand the mystical side of life, maybe you should look into mystical practices here, that have history and inherent understanding. The Druids practices aren’t that far off from being identical to voudou. Most pagan understandings of the supernatural are all one and the same, with slight variations in the “how to” part, how to connect, how to give thanks. It’s all so much simpler than you think.

You just need to give your self some time to feel. Voudou is for everyone, and when you come to and understaning of what it is, it has evolved, because now it can be expressed through a new lense. Ad infinitum!

by baker1 on 2007-10-11 20:55:42

If anyone’s found the above conversation between myself and gypsy lantern interesting, you might like to check out a parallel conversation I was having at more or less the same time with another initiate of Voodoo here:

http://www.thebaptistshead.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=244&Itemid=32

Edurado, the guy I interviewed, rather kindly provided quite an extensive bibliography at the the end of the talk, should anyone like to check out some books on the African Diaspora.

by Alan on 2007-10-23 06:20:30

Erm, that should say ‘Eduardo’.

by Alan on 2007-10-23 06:21:22

“I find it pretty offensive that you can’t imagine how there could be any ‘advancement’ in Voodoo. ”

I’m not questioning it, I’m asking about it. And yes, I also participated in a martial art where there were very few (four) ranks so there was little point in getting caught up in them.

“Sorry, it’s just massively frustrating having to deal with this sort of bizarre assumption that these traditions are somehow static and don’t lead you anywhere, or promote any any kind of mental, emotional or spiritual growth in their practitioners when nothing could be further from the reality of this practice. I thought we’d already covered this in some detail above.”

I realize after i posted that you had covered a lot of the territory—it’s just very difficult for someone like me, who is active in one tradition where the territory is really clearly mapped out, and who participated in the nightmare hodge-podge that the western tradition was, to get my head around some of it. It is very foreign.

on the other hand I am not interested in hearing about “connecting to the right side of my brain” or whatever, or anyone claiming that the Eastern traditions are seeking an “escape” in the non-physical.

by Insideoutsidein on 2007-10-24 08:46:27