Leah Gordon
London: Quarto books, 2000.
128 pages
ISBN # 0-7641-5249-1

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2002

At the end of my review there is a reply from Leah Gordon.

Apart from the stunning images of this little book, I was quite appalled by its content and implications. Leah Gordon says with the title that this is a book of "charms and rituals to empower your life." Yet this is misleading in many respects, one central one way being that only pages 91-123 concern the charms and rituals and the rituals are always spoken of as what happens in large groups in Haiti, hardly a recipe for how to "empower your life."

Perhaps more importantly on those very few and trivial 11 charms on pages 94-103 (that's 9 pages which center on the subtitle of the book!), Gordon utterly ignores the psychological, sociological and what Wade Davis has called the ethnobotanical impact of culture on the effective use of plants and chemicals in religious ceremonies.

The rest of the book contains accurate and extremely brief comments on various aspects of Haitian Voodoo religion. I was specially taken by a nice two page section on page 50-51 in which Gordon lays out a useful chart of the connections between Voodoo lwa and Roman Catholic saints. I have been working on a similar chart on my own web site and Gordon's is far superior to mine, and, for me, the most useful text item (if not only useful such item) in the book.

Despite all these negative things I say, the book is graphically stunning. I don't know if there is a single page that doesn't have some gleaming color photo of some ritual object or art work related to Voodoo. The graphics are simply spectacular.

On the whole the book bothers me a great deal. Voodoo is a serious religion. It has various rituals and spells and practices inside it which take believers into the spiritual and transcendental world, making both the physical world and transcendental world meaningful for the faithful, and ends up, for whatever reasons, often having the impact that the spells are desired to have.

However, taking these spells and charms out of context and presenting them like recipes in a cookbook seems to me highly cynical. The charms and spells are part of an entire world view, a milieu of belief and action. I am concerned that not only the charms and spells are useless, but the religion is denigrated in the process. I am not suggesting for a second that this is Leah Gordon's INTENT. Far from it. I don't know Leah Gordon personally and would have no idea of Gordon's intent. I am rather making a claim about what I expect will be the impact of this little booklet rather than the intent of the author.

I've been hard on Gordon's book. Yet the photos are vibrant and exciting and the chart on pages 50-51 suggests a good deal of serious research. Those are useful things and for me worth the price of purchase. I just hope the volume doesn't do a lot of harm along the way.


Leah Gordon

I would like to respond to Bob Corbett's comments about my book and would like to explain the story behind truely terrible sub-title and defend the book against the accusations of harm and denigration - I was commissioned to write an introductory book about Vodou by a packager in London - a packager is an intermediary in the publishing industry - they work with the author, designer and art director and produce the template for the book which is then sold on to various publishers around the world - they are a rather modern phenomena in the world of publishing and I was not aware of the implications they held for my work - I was glad of the chance to explain Vodou in plain and simple terms and to illustrate it with lush examples of Haitian art and in no way wanted to produce an after dinner do-it-yourself Vodou spell cookbook - the publisher asked for a number of charms that are in use in common Vodou practice - all of these charms are already published in one form or another - and you will find them in such serious tomes as 'Voodoo in Haiti' by Alfred Metraux and 'Secrets of Voodoo' by Milo Rigaud.

There is also a authors disclaimer in the front of the book that these charms mean nothing outside of Haitian Vodou religious practice. I did not imply in any of the book that these charms are the mainstay of Vodou practice, to the contrary I emphasise that ceremony is at the core of Haitian Vodou. As to the sub-title well this was a surprise to me and one which they did not tell me about until the final proof - these are the problems when a packager is desperate to sell the book to a publisher which then has its own economic perogatives - I had a simple choice after having worked very hard at writing and producing this book - I could have had my name taken off it - the publisher didn't care - they felt that they had conceded enough with the spelling of Vodou which was a long and tedious battle before I had even signed the contract - unfortunately after all the work I had done, and because I was quite proud of my writing in the book, the look of the book and the structure, my ego got the better of me and I left my name on the book and decided to weather the storm for better or for worse. This is obviously an example of the worse.

I must re-iterate though that the charms are not fabricated by myself but discovered through reading other books on Vodou which are well respected. My heart sinks every time I see the sub-title from hell - but I do think that the book is an accessible and colourful introduction to Haitian Vodou.


Art, Music, & Dance Book Reviews Film History Library Literature
Mailing List Miscellaneous Topics Notes on Books People to People Voodoo


Bob Corbett