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8185: Discipline in the Haitian Vodou Tradition Before, During and , After Initiation (fwd)

From: Racine125@aol.com

I'd like to talk about the development of an individual before, during and 
after initiation in Haitian Vodou; and about the discipline required of 


Prior to initiation in Vodou, a person may have some spiritual abilities all 
on their own.  They may have useful dreams, they may undergo possession.  
There is a whole tradition of "kwakwa practitioners" in Haiti, sometimes 
called "Houngan djakout" (since they are almost inevitably men).  One such 
individual known to me works with his uncle, also a kwakwa man, and I have 
begun a website for him at 
http://members.aol.com/HealingMagicMan/healing.html .  He and his uncle also 
attempt magic, and are successful often enough that they have some degree of 
reputation in their own community.

However, the uninitiated person is in some ways at risk - they are not 
protected against malevolent magic, for example, directed against them by 
other and possibly more powerful competitors.  Their heads have not been 
prepared to receive the lwa, and thus the onset of possession in these 
individuals is usually rather violent - the individual may be thrown to the 
ground, they might accidentally bang their head or roll into a fire or 

More significantly, they are not really "tuned up", so to speak - it's like 
running electrical current through a wire which is not a good conductor.  The 
resistance causes heat!  That is why a lot of uninitiated practitioners have 
"tet cho", hot heads, they get a little crazy sometimes.  I don't mean they 
break with reality, just that they get wound up and nervous.

The person may also not know enough to clean themselves after removing 
negative entities, they may not know how to avoid offending a particular lwa 
unwittingly, and so on.


During initiation, the person dies.  Over and over we tell initiates, "You 
are a 'mo an vakans', a dead person on vacation!"  We sing songs during the 
ceremonial baths about how the person is now dead, they are removed from the 
world of the living.

Once in the djevo, the gestation period begins.  The person is a fetus, 
really, and they are carefully grown and fed and formed into a new 
individual.  Their "point lwa", which may or may not be their met tet, is fed 
and honored, as is the met tet if that differs from the point lwa.  Their 
heads are consecrated.  Their bodies are protected by means of "gardes" or 
other methods.  The djevo itself is considered to be the greatest "garde" in 
the world, the best possible medicine - and the most virulent possible 
poison, should the initiate talk about the secrets of the djevo to 

When the new initiate is born, they come out of the djevo.  The initiate is 
protected against any and all malevolent magic sent their way.  It just won't 
work against them.  This is one of the most common reasons why people in 
Haiti decide to become kanzo, to protect themselves against malevolent magic.

An initiate will have a longer life, better health, better finances, a 
generally happier and more powerful life.  This is true even if they stop 
right there, never serve in the Vodou tradition, never go to a dance and 
never honor a lwa again.


Over the years following an initiation, an initiate is expected to respect 
the discipline of the tradition.  Although we do not have a "rule book" in 
the sense of a written manual, a few of the main points might be summarized 
as follows:

1.  Never reveal the secrets of the initiatory djevo to a non-initiate, under 
any circumstances.  Be cautious in discussing these matters with initiates 
from other houses than your own.

2.  Never renounce your spiritual parents, your maman kanzo and papa kanzo, 
and at the rank of suleliye the person who gives you the asson.

3.  Continue to support your house, work within that house where you are 
protected from jealously competitive Houngans and Mambos.  Bring new 
candidates to your house to increase the size of your house's membership.

What happens if someone breaks the rules?  Well, it depends.  A person who 
reveals the secrets of the djevo will of course be ostracized by their house 
and by any other Vodouisant, initiated or not.  This is probably a "life 
sentence", there is no way a person can take back their words once they have 

In a traditional Haitian community, that person would probably get a visit 
from the Sanpwel, the secular society composed of notable Vodouisants which 
enforces cultural norms.  They might get a relatively mild punishment, a 
wanga which renders them unable to speak or which makes them sick and unable 
to support their family, for instance.  If they persist in their folly, they 
might become a target for zombification.

A person who renounces their parents doesn't have to be punished, because 
they are punishing themselves.  Who is your papa?  Who is your mama?  The 
person can't answer, at least they can't answer truthfully, so their claim to 
be an initiate is... well, not terribly well received!  And once again they 
develop that "tet cho", that hot head, they go from one house to the next 
looking for acceptance.  The word for this in Creole is "bat bounda", meaning 
colloquially "rump beating"!  LOL!  In other words, the person wears out 
their body walking around and looking for something that they are not going 
to find.

Of course we Vodouisants are only human, and there will inevitably be 
conflicts between initiator and initiate.  That happens in all houses, and 
sometimes people will be angry enough to go and initiate again with someone 
else.  But an initiator can never, ever put anyone outside, never renounce an 
initiate.  We have the joke that if you initiate a monkey, it's YOUR monkey, 
and you have to manage your monkey!  LOL!

I once initiated a former domestic partner of mine, and gave him the asson.  
He deserved it, he had faithfully served the Vodou tradition without being 
initiated, for many years.  He needed it, too, because a blabbermouth 
initiate had revealed to him the secrets of the djevo (the blabbermouth was 
killed not long after by a truck which backed up into him an crushed his jaw 
and neck), thus putting him at risk for attack by any old bokor who might 
wish to kill him and make his "zombi" talk.  Although he had some character 
flaws which had their root in a very painful childhood, I was hopeful that 
the affirmation of the kanzo and the suleliye would improve his basic 
insecurity.  And to some extent I was right.

However, later our relationship ended, and to my great astonishment this 
person began naming someone else as the one who gave him the asson!  I was so 
furious, I was just beside myself.  I took this case to a few local Houngans 
and asked for advice.

"Oh, that man is a THIEF!", was their response.  This is pretty serious, 
since "thief" is one of the worst things you can call a person in Haiti, 
because thieves get killed when they are caught.

It later happened that at a meeting of all Houngans and Mambos asogwe 
convened for another reason entirely, this man and another Houngan, the one 
he falsely claimed had given him the asson, were violently ejected from the 
meeting - in part because of bad feeling about his renunciation of his true 
maman asson.  He certainly can't take any sort of public role, but there is 
more to it than that.  This man's economic situation went from bad to worse 
and from worse to abjectly miserable, his cows died and he could no longer 
follow his usual profession.  His health declined, his hair turned completely 
white in the space of a few months, and his build changed from attractively 
athletic to frighteningly thin.  Family conflicts forced him to leave his own 
house on his own land, and live elsewhere.

What happens if someone keeps the rules?  Well, all sorts of good things, of 
course.  The person has the continued support of their society, if they get 
sick they can expect to be cared for, and they will never be hungry or 

As they develop, their magical skills develop apace. They assist in 
ceremonies in their house, and at the rank of sur point or asogwe they begin 
to develop their own clientele.  Their finances improve as a result.  Finally 
a Houngan or Mambo asogwe may go on to found their own house, and make 
initiates of their own.  At that point the individual is considered to have 
achieved full spiritual maturity, and to have attained a place of honor and 
respect in the Vodouisant community.

Let me give another example from my own experience.  I used to work with a 
Houngan asgowe in an outlying area some distance from Jacmel, and I did three 
kanzos with him.  In fact, I am to call him "papa", since he gave me my 
second asson.

During the third kanzo I did with him, he arranged for one of his people to 
break into the foreign initiates' suitcases and steal their personal cash.  
Disgusted, I canceled a kanzo which was scheduled for the following month, 
left that area altogether, and went to live in another place in another area 
of Jacmel.

I explained to other people why I was upset and why I was not planning to 
work with that person or in that house any more.  I was heartbroken!  
However, I never said, "That Houngan is not my father".  I never responded to 
threats from him conveyed to me.  At the meeting of Houngans and Mambos 
asogwe which I mentioned above, he came up to me and greeted me in a very 
mocking way, but I responded with a respectful greeting and a ceremonial 
salutation, I called him "Papa" loudly enough for everyone to hear.  I got 
HUGE respect for that from the other Houngans and Mambos present.

And it happened that although I had no plans ever to build a peristyle in 
Haiti, a well-to-do non-Haitian woman who is not even a Vodouisant stunned 
Jacmel by building the biggest, most beautiful peristyle in Jacmel and then 
giving it to me!  Who told her to do that?  It wasn't me, I never mentioned 
any such thing to her!  It was Guinea's reward to me, of course.

We follow the discipline of the Vodou tradition because it works.  No one is 
perfect, as I have said before, but the tradition is perfect in the sense 
that the discipline it requires is not stultifying and restrictive but rather 
supportive and nourishing.

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