Possessed by Voodoo

Just another typical religious service in Haiti:

The ceremony begins with a Roman Catholic prayer. Then three drummers begin to play syncopated rhythms. The attendees begin to dance around a tree in the center of the yard, moving faster and harder with the rising pulse of the beat. The priest draws sacred symbols in the dust with cornmeal, and rum is poured on the ground to honor the spirits.

One woman falls to the ground, convulsing for a moment before she is helped back to her feet. She resumes the dance, moving differently now, and continues dancing for hours. It is perhaps no longer she who is dancing: She is in a trance, apparently possessed by Erzuli, the great mother spirit.

It is an honor to be entered and ‘ridden’ by a Loa, or spirit. In Haiti these rituals are commonplace: Voodoo is the dominant religion.

And how do modern, enlightened academics evaluate such practices?

“It is a religion in the same way Judaism or Christianity is,” said Bob Corbett, professor emeritus of philosophy at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. “Voodoo doesn’t have a sacred text, a church, or a hierarchical structure of leaders, but it is very similar culturally.” …

It was easy to meld the two faiths, because there are many similarities between Roman Catholicism and voodoo, Corbett said. Both venerate a supreme being and believe in the existence of invisible evil spirits or demons and in an afterlife.

Each religion also focuses its ceremonies around a center point?an altar in Catholicism, a pole or tree in voodoo. Their services include symbolic or actual rituals of sacrifice and consumption of flesh and blood, Corbett noted.

Two observations. First, isn’t Prof. Corbett’s reaction typical of contemporary Western thought? In our science-worshipping culture, religion is nothing more than a set of widely-held beliefs about how we got here, why things happen, and where we go when we die.

Second, voodoo is a classic example of the modus operandi of the Great Deceiver. He offers a counterfeit with just enough truth in it to be plausible.

Prof. Corbett made another observation I found interesting: “Our [Western] view is dominated by physical, touchable reality. In Haiti the spirits are as real as your wife or your dog.” He’s right. But professor, the spirits are real in St. Louis, too.

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