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a319: Corbett comments on Leah Gordon's new book: THE BOOK OFVODOU: CHARMS AND RITUALS TO EMPOWER YOUR LIFE

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

Comments by Bob Corbett
January 2002

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 meaning 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.

Bob Corbett