Divine Horsemen – The Living Gods of Haiti

12 01 2010

Two excerpts from the Maya Deren film, shot in the 1950’s. Notice the rosary is said preceding the rites shown in the second excerpt.

Maya Deren observed in Haiti that people never asked if she believed in Voudou, but if she did Voudou. This reflects the sentiment that I read of another scholar who said that the point of Yoruba religion had little to do with what we would call faith or morals, but rather with the ways that supernatural forces can be invoked and manipulated.

Such a paradigm is useful in understanding such phenomena as rootwork, hoodoo, and folk Catholicism, often at the margins of various forms of Christianity. In this sense, there is no such thing as a “folk Catholic”, but rather a person who performs folk Catholic ritual. Catholics who believe in “folk Catholicism” do not perceive it as being all that different from “normal Catholicism” (if such a beast exists outside of the Internet and the American suburb). It is often not a matter of belief that separates these people from “regular” Catholics, but a matter of practice. “Folk Catholicism” only exists insofar as it works, and ceases to exist once it doesn’t work. To the outsider, it can seem to be an attempt to manipulate the divine. The common worshipper has enough “cognitive dissonance” to not perceive it that way.

(to be continued…)

Comment on a history of madness

12 01 2010

An article once again posted from Wufila’s blog, from the New York Times. An excerpt:

No one would suggest that we withhold our medical advances from other countries, but it’s perhaps past time to admit that even our most remarkable scientific leaps in understanding the brain haven’t yet created the sorts of cultural stories from which humans take comfort and meaning. When these scientific advances are translated into popular belief and cultural stories, they are often stripped of the complexity of the science and become comically insubstantial narratives. Take for instance this Web site text advertising the antidepressant Paxil: “Just as a cake recipe requires you to use flour, sugar and baking powder in the right amounts, your brain needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best.” The Western mind, endlessly analyzed by generations of theorists and researchers, has now been reduced to a batter of chemicals we carry around in the mixing bowl of our skulls.

An excerpt from my own comment:

And the final aspect I would address is the the relationship between holiness and what we would call insanity. St. Benedict Joseph Labre was certified, Grade-A loco, as were all of the fools for Christ in Russia and other places. What we would now call “shamanism” was probably presided over by people we would now put in rubber rooms. Modern civilization thinks “normalcy” is akin to godliness. Even our Christian hertiage doesn’t necessarily agree with this.