Voodoo: The Haitian Diaries

by High-Priestess Doris on September 10, 2018

Wikipedia quotes in a rather supine manner: ‘Voodoo is a religion practiced chiefly in Haiti.’ This geographical distinction is not only wrong but also hugely dismissive. It is correct that voodoo is practiced in Haiti as a religion and is probably valued there much more than it is valued anywhere else in the world.

But that does not conclusively lead to the fact that voodoo is a provincial theory, preached and practiced only by Haitians. It is on its way to becoming one of the most appealing forms of witchcraft and has gained recognition worldwide. But in Haiti it is a full formed national religion, so much so, that makes Voodoo a dominant part of their culture and way of life.

Surprisingly, the Haitians who practice voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics chiefly because Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti and most voodooists believe that their national religion, voodoo can co-exist with their official one. The Roman Catholics of Haiti, who are active voodooists, claim that they ‘serve the spirits’, but do not consider the practice something outside of Catholicism. Now in Haiti, voodoo is adhered to in various ways and some of them are extremely personal. The belief system in voodoo revolves around family spirits or ‘Loa’. It is believed that the spirits protect their ‘children’ or their successors from misfortune and in return, the spirits must be fed and taken care of through periodic rituals, where food, drinks and gifts are offered to the spirits to appease them.

But these practices differ in every family, according to money, class, religious beliefs etc. For instance, some poor families conduct these rituals on a yearly basis; whereas the well off one, perform them in a monthly order. The Loa is considered to be a family member, only more special, as it is a spirit. They are perceived to be having their own separate identities. But this cycle is mainly intimate and the spirit protects only its own family, not others.

A lot has been written on the Haitian Voodoo religion and culture, which according to some critics ‘seemed ridiculously dependent on black magic’. The fact is one’s faith cannot be judged; but their practices are subjected to a number of opinions. There is a strong hint of an almost ‘trance-like’ sense of possession among the Haitians, when it comes to their spirits. The practice of possession is not uncommon there and is commonly the backdrop of their religious rituals and performances. The realism behind these methods cannot be judged, but it can be used to learn more about their forms of practises.

Bob Corbett, in his article on voodoo asked a question, which went on to become a significant one in the world of witchcraft: ‘Is it voodoo that has caused Haitian fatalism or is it the history of the Haitian experience that has created voodoo’s fatalism?’ Question related to this subject have never been answered in an unbiased way by anyone, probably because they are too eager to choose sides. But in reality, can voodoo’s medieval history and its link to Christianity be dismissed as magic? In French colonies of the 1800’s, voodoo was practiced by the slaves. The colonialists allowed them to perform occasional dances. The performance, were in reality, voodoo services. This is just one of many instances how voodoo has always grown up beside the mainstream religion, but never really seemed to have had the similar impact. After all the bone of every religion in the world is faith.

The thing is voodoo, was never treated as a religion from the very beginning- here we see the effects of the colonial rule. Just because voodoo came to be associated with the slaves, it was tagged as something demeaning or something ‘unholy’. Voodoo may be having practices similar to Christian religion or Buddhism, but for all we hear, it is a form of evil, acting as an aide to shady street sorcerers. The Haitian culture has always considered their national religion to be a source of pride; it is one of the reasons why voodoo is still talked about in the world, although mostly in criticism.

Now, stigmas can be erased if tried; maybe in a decade or two, voodoo will be treated as a religion or respected as something special. But as of now, the belief in voodoo is largely influenced by the preconceived notions which we inherited from our forefathers; unless the stereotypes are fixed, maybe we would never be able to truly understand the Haitian culture.

Blessings,
High-Priestess Doris

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The History of Magic in Buddhism

by High-Priestess Doris on August 11, 2018

Buddhism is a religion predominant in Indian subcontinent and also many of the Asian countries that surrounds a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices largely based on teachings attributed by Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Lord Buddha (meaning “the awakened one” in Sanskrit and Pali).

Lord Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help living beings end suffering (dukkha) through eliminating ignorance (avidyā) by way of understanding and seeing dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) and eliminating craving (taṇhā), and thus attain the highest happiness, nirvana.

When the word Magic is mentioned the immediate thought that comes is of mysterious, unusual and superhuman acts. Magic, to most people, is essentially the wish to be outstanding, to be powerful, and to be capable of accomplishing the impossible. Although magic can be used to punish the evil and help the needy, it can also be misused to endanger humanity. Magic can also be used for medical needs.

Magical wonders are all around us. According to the most common classification, there are six main categories according to Buddhism. These are celestial vision, celestial hearing, the power of knowing others’ minds, the power of performing miracles, the power of knowing past lives, and the power of eradicating all defilement. Besides the classification of six magical powers mentioned above, the scriptures also classify magical powers based on the different levels based on how the power is acquired. From Da Sheng I Chang (The Essays on Mahayana Meanings), magical powers were divided into those attained through cultivation, meditation, casting spells, or evil spirits. According to Tsung Ching Lu (Records from the Lineage Mirror), magic can be obtained through five methods: cultivation, meditation, spells, karma, and spirits.

A magical worldview is an integral part of traditional Buddhism, and then there is no difficulty in accepting the concepts of higher-knowledge (abhinna/abhijna) and powers (iddhi/siddhi), and their manifestations as magical abilities acquired as a result of advanced level samadhi and jhana practice. But it should be acknowledged that in the early Buddhist texts which describe these powers and abilities, there are severe restrictions as to their use, and some scholars have detected an ambivalent attitude towards them in some early texts. The Buddha himself used his powers on many occasions, always in order to teach the Dharma to others. As Buddhism spread from India to other countries with established magical traditions, it had to be able to compete with and exceed the powers and attainments of the indigenous traditions such as Taoism, Shinto, and Shamanistic magic.

It appears that a large part of the appeal of Buddhism in both China and Japan lay in the ability of the monks to offer greater magical power and protection to individuals and the state, than the indigenous methods. The reputations of the early Dharma teachers in these countries lay in their abilities as healers, rainmakers and exorcists.

Vajrayana Buddhism, also known as Tibetan Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and Lamaism: is called the “diamond way,” which by implication means it is the precious, changeless, pure, and clear way. It developed during the fifth to sixth centuries A.D. as Buddhism spread through northern India, Nepal, and finally Tibet.

At that time, the prevailing belief of Tibet was the Bon religion, “a mixture of shamanism [a form of witchcraft], magic, and primitive nature worship.” Vajrayana was born when these practices, along with magical formulae designed to obtain magical powers, were incorporated into Buddhism (A.D. 600–1200). Included in the Vajrayana tradition are a number of advanced meditative techniques: yoga, special hand gestures (mudras), spells, and chants. It also derives many of its doctrines from Vedantic and Tantric influences.

Magic is hope in times of trouble; it is the saviour during upheaval; it is an expedient means for preaching. Magic must be experienced in ordinary living. Finally, the Buddhist perspective on magic and the supernatural are, Magic Is Not the Ultimate, Magic Cannot Mitigate the Force of Karma, Magic Is Inferior to Virtues, Magic Cannot Surpass Emptiness.

Blessings,
High-Priestess Doris

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