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#3744: How Vodou Heals, from Mambo Racine Sans Bout (fwd)


In Vodou, as in many other branches of the Afro-Caribbean religious diaspora, 
we do not split the roles of priest and doctor.  A Mambo is expected to be 
able to cure illness, both mental and physical illness.

There are considered to be two kinds of illness, natural and supernatural.  
We treat both.  An illness can be spiritually induced, either by a lwa which 
is offended, or by a specialist in malevolent magic for material gain, or by 
a layperson, or inflicted by the secret societies of the Sanpwel as a 
punishment for criminal activity.

Spiritually induced illness is treated by direct intervention with the lwa, 
which are called to the head of either the sick person or the Houngan or 
Mambo conducting the treatment, or some other individual.  Then, after the 
spiritual problem is resolved and the malevolent entites paid off or sent 
away or whatever, the person is treated with remedies for weakness and 

Natural illness or injury is treated with massage, herbal teas, antibiotics 
(available over the counter in Haiti, no prescription required), and other 
remedies. A natural illness is also treated in part by religious ceremony.

Haitian massage tends to be more vigorous than American-style massage for 
relaxation, and an injured body part, like a sprained ankle, can be put 
through some range-of-motion work that can even be painful.  My baptismal 
godmother Mambo Augustine treated me when I sprained my ankle just before the 
January 2000 Millennium Kanzo, and she really dug in there, explaining that 
two veins were crossed, one over the other, and she was putting them right.  
The la place (second in command) sat down and held my hand, but pain was not 
considered a reason to stop the treatment!  It worked, though.

In Haiti, a Vodouisant who is naturally ill also goes to a doctor or clinic, 
to obtain whatever help is available, and good Houngans and Mambos give their 
congregation members money to go to the doctor when it is needed.  Because 
Vodou does not have the quasi-governmental support that Christianity does, 
organizations like USAID or CARE do not work through peristyles in the same 
way they work through churches, so right now there are no Vodouisant-run 
allopathic medical centers in Haiti, the way there are Christian-run 
hospitals and clinics all over the country.

Vodou also treats mental illness, by summoning the ill person's lwa, or some 
other lwa, who can act to resolve the underlying cause.  Some cures are so 
rapid as to be almost instantaneous, some take longer.  The neo-Freudian 
theory that mental illnesses are caused by parental error isn't too much in 
vogue in majority-class Haiti, where parents have god-like power over 
children, and can beat them or deny them education at will. without fear of 
sanction from the state.  Mental illness is more apt to be attributed to 
frustration with life's circumstances; to "madisyon", meaning a sort of curse 
for really awful things done by the ill person's parent; or to reproductive 
health related issues, such as lactation or a partner's infidelity.

There is a whole list of illnesses in Haiti to which Americans do not fall 
prey!  And vice versa!  LOL!  And I am not talking about tropical diseases, 
either.  I mean that in the USA we name and define our illnesses differently, 
and behave differently.  In Haiti, a person who has recieved an insupportable 
insult, for instance, can "have sezisman", sezisman being shock, 
seized-up-ness, paralysis with rage, in which case the person lies down, 
refuses to speak or eat, weeps or more frequently is completely unresponsive. 
 This condition may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  Or the 
person can "twoufe", literally suffocate, meaning that the person can be so 
outraged that they cannot draw a breath.

For instance, a woman who is abused by her mate may often have an episode of 
sezisman, rendering her husband without anyone to cook, wash, and look after 
the children for him.  He will then go to the Houngan or the Mambo and there 
will be some determination made of an offended lwa in the wife's spiritual 
constellation - the treatment of which requires the husband to spend money 
on, and in some way affirm the value of, his wife!

A person who merely witnesses something horrific is also expected to be at 
risk for sezisman.  I remember over and over, when I was a UN Human Rights 
Monitor and I was down there in Port-au-Prince viewing cadaver after cadaver 
left by the Haitian Army and FRAPH and attaches et. al. people would say, 
"Now go home and lie down or you will have sezisman."  And I never really had 
a problem, you know?  I never threw up on the spot or fainted dead away no 
matter what I saw, but I started to feel "stressed", which is an American 
illness defined in an American way.

After viewing one particularly vile massacre scene I went home and followed 
the cultural model I had been shown!  I lay down, curled up and went 
incommunicado.  "Ah-HAH!  Sezisman!", said the people of my household.  I was 
then the recipient of massage, herbal teas, cuddling and coddling and general 
cheering up from my Houngan and Mambo buddies and others.

Now, in the USA I would have said, "I'm stressed, I'm traumatized", and got 
the same kind of treatment, more or less.  I would not declare and manifest 
the symptoms of "sezisman".  So that is a bit about how belief shapes 
manifestation, if you will.

Vodou ALWAYS heals.  We do not send evil against innocent people, we swear 
not to do that when we take the asson.  We can stop an aggressor, though, and 
we can petition for justice, which is usually quick in arriving.  :-)

Peace and love,

Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

"Se bon ki ra", 
     Good is rare - Haitian Proverb

The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html