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#990: Vodou Initiation --- DeGraff replies to Grey (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I am most grateful to Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen for her
informative reply, which sheds light on what I see as ambiguous rhetorics.
So let's keep the light shining and let's continue the clarification

> OKAY!  Thank you, Michel, you have given me the opportunity I have been
> hoping for.  :-) And it's worth understanding, because it gives insight
> into the Haitian psyche.

Being Haitian, I surmise that one additional way (among many) to get
"insight into the Haitian psyche" is through critical introspection and
analysis --- or through "socio-analysis" (a la Bourdieu).

> The heart of the Vodou is the initiatory djevo, the room where initiates are 
> secluded during their ceremonies.  The djevo is a time capsule, a magic 
> carpet, and a Star Trek-style transporter all in one!  When you go into the 
> djevo and undergo the initiation cycle, you step outside of normal space and 
> time.  

I thank Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen for the clarification,
specially given the fact that "heart of Vodou" was peculiarly elliptical,
given the larger context which has now been filled him.  Who would have
thought that "heart of vodou" = "djevo"?  Ignorant me! But I now realize
that that the Mambo's earlier message could be analyzed as a matter of
enticing rhetorics.  Yet I must admit that, for a while, the phrase "heart
of Vodou" had a Conradian tinge that made me cringe.  Does "heart of
darkness" sound familiar?  Of course, the phrase "safely back out again"
adds to the the heart-of-darkness scenario (Bebe Pierre-Louis mentions

Please carry this thought experiment.  Imagine that you receive a
proselytizing letter from your local priest or bishop inviting you to a
tour to the Vatican.  The letter reads:

 "We will give you the real, true [Christianity], we will take you right
 into the heart of the [Catholic Church] and safely back out again!"

Of course, you can repeat the experiment by replacing Christianity with
Judaism, Islam, etc., and "Vatican" with "Jerusalem" or "Mecca".  Do
bishops, rabbi and ayattolahs need to promise `safe exit from the heart of
their religions'?  

My point here goes beyond the Mambo's invitation message.  Words do have
power as they can `color' (no pun intended) how we think about, and
perceive, the entities they refer to.  So, let's make sure words serve our
intents instead of allowing them to create shades of connotation and veils
of stigmatization.  Too often, the negative connotations and the stigma
become `habitus of thought' or `psychological reflexes' --- `seconde
nature', as the French say.  And we must be specially conscious when we
refer to a culture that still suffers a long history of prejudice.  (But we
all know that, so I'll stop preaching.)

> So DO, come with me, Michel, or go with someone else, but if you come
> with me I promise you I will take you safely into the heart of the Vodou
> and safely out again.  You will be remade, reborn, renamed.  And you will
> be empowered, strengthened... aaahhhhh, I could go on and on.

Aaaahhhhh.  This is a lovely and touching invitation.  And God knows how
much we ALL need power, strength, rebirth, etc.  --- ask our Haitian
brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic.  But Bon Mambo Racine Sans
Bout Sa Te La Daginen seems to assume that I am unfamiliar to the "djevo"
experience and that I would not want to feel `unsafe' if led into it.  This
may be one (or two) assumptions too many.

Please, remember that, after all and above all, the TRUE djevo is a
deeply-spiritual place that leads to deeply-private encounters.  There,
TRUE initiates abandons their souls to their faith and give up any desire
for "safety".  I just cannot imagine a TRUE kanzo worrying for "safety".
And in my own (Haitian) psyche, safety is antithetical to TRUE faith.  (OK,
OK, I said I'd stop preaching...)

> Peace and love,

This I accept with no critical analysis whatsoever.  And I return the good
sentiments: lape` ak lanmou, ak one` epi respe` pou Bon Mambo a.  All my
comments (including likely errors of interpretation) are in the spirit of

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
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