Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vodou Cult of the Black Madonna

Because of the religious syncretism between Catholicism and Vodou, it is difficult to estimate the number of Vodouists in Haiti. Vodou practitioners believe that if they obey all taboos imposed by their loa and offer proper sacrifices, their loa will come to them whenever they call.  Haitian Vodouists who adopt the Catholic faith transfer their spiritual understanding of the loa onto to their understanding of the Catholic saints.  Rather than letting go of their old traditions when they convert, they simply choose images and ideas from their new faith and add them to the beliefs they already hold about the spiritual realm.  For example, Haitian understanding of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the daily sacrifice of the Mass are intermingled with their Vodou understanding of sacrifice.  "The intent and emphasis of sacrifice is not upon the death of the animal, it is upon the transfusion of its life to the loa; for the understanding is that flesh and blood are of the essence of life and vigor, and these will restore the divine energy of the god." Thus the Haitian understanding of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is mixed into their understanding of the loa. In a rural Haitian household one might typically find one or more tables set out for the ancestors, spirits and saints that the family serves with pictures or statues, perfumes, foods, and other things believed to show them honor.  Catholic devotion to Blessed Mother is often mixed into this ancient devotional practice in a way that causes concern to those trying to promote true devotion to Mary and the Catholic saints.  Catholic prayer to Our Father and the Hail Mary prayer are commonly used to salute the ancestral spirits along with the loa and the saints on days dedicated them.