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Keeping it Real about VooDoo

When the slave traders enslaved our ancestors, it was told by our elders that VouDoo, commonly known as VooDoo by Americans, was the only religion that was familiar to most in bondage. The slave masters prohibited the slaves from practicing this religion. Marie Laveau introduced Voodo into America in Louisiana in the early 1800s. She was the firstborn free in her family. Her grandmother, Catherine, was purchased by a free woman of color. It is said that Marie's great-grandmother came to New Orleans as a slave from West Africa in the mid-1700s. Catherine was eventually able to buy her freedom and build her small home in the French Quarter, where Marie Laveau would live and become the legendary Voodoo Queen of America.

Voodoo integrated with other common customs and practices in our neck of the woods in my early years. We wore asafetida bags, a little grey, stinky, nasty-looking bag around our necks to ward off whatever. These little bags contained content similar to what was used in Gris-gris bags used by Voodoo priests. We also used strange lotions and potions not familiar to most. All of my siblings were birthed by midwives. My mother worked for a doctor for 53 years. I was born in 1944 and I was never attended to by or examined by a medical doctor until 1956. Nevertheless, my mother and my family still think highly of this doctor but our family received minuscule treatment from him, nor did he provide prenatal care, or deliver any of my mother's children. Through a keyhole in my parent's bedroom door, I witnessed my brother brought into the world by a midwife that some believed practiced Voodoo. We called it Hoodoo during my younger days. It was all part of the hand that we were dealt. We had to run with it.

First Day at Decota Grade School

Just like Henrietta Lacks, we were not privy to medical care up until about 1955. One year later, the courts desegregated the schools due to a supreme court decision of Brown vs Board of Education.

I remember my first trip to the doctor. We began taking vaccinations for just about everything. Still, I was required to continue wearing my little stinky asafetida bag around my neck. I felt that I would have been severely punished if caught without it. I do not know how we were viewed by others, but we were not like everyone else and we knew it, but it did not bother us at all. Children laughed and talked about us because of what they viewed as strange behavior, but we were programmed never to fear. My father would always say he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees and this is how we were programmed. His bravery was unfathomed at that time. We were programmed NOT to fear! Other blacks would avoid my father as they were fearful of being associated with him.

As the children circled and laughed at us on our first day at Decota, something inside me provided me with the strength to use their criticism as positive energy. Daddy always said that even when we die, we continue to live. "We live in another world." He would then discuss dreams. He spoke of how his father survived as a result of Voudoo. He scared people. He always said that our strength was between our ears. We were just unaware of it.

My mother's influence had a bearing on my thoughts also. With all of the horrors that existed because of slavery, my mom seemed to see a light at the end of the tunnel regardless of how dark it may be. She often spoke of her grandmother being a slave, but she would always say that her masters were good to her grandmother. Her grandmother was a seamstress and made all of the clothing for the master's family. Sometimes I did not know whether to be angry or be thankful. This slavery thing consumed a great portion of all conversation when I was young. I lived on the horns of a dilemma at all times.

It was customary that my father gives a speech whenever he drank his firewater. He always considered himself Creek. I knew nothing of this at that time. One day he started saying things to me that sounded like he was speaking in another language other than English. This seance-type behavior often occurred when he had a bad experience and it appeared that he had bad days quite often. The meaning from his babble was clear as a bell, however. I felt like I had experienced this same ritual before, but I could not understand anything about what occurred as a result of it. I felt strange but less stressed. This incident occurred approximately four years before I faced evil head-on in the woods in West Virginia. After that incident, I felt vulnerable as a deer in the forest during hunting season. From that point forward, I could only think of freedom in my head. I felt the same as my ancestors – enslaved! Everything that my father told me about slavery had invaded my spirit, and it has never left. From these things comes my energy. I love West Virginia, but I had to go. I pledged myself that when I left that I would only sojourn there, but never live there again if possible.

Is it a Religion or Cult?

The greatest deception has been that black people have been deceived about just about everything since our arrival on the infamous slave ship. Some say Plymouth Rock landed on us. We have an entire history to reestablish going all the way back to Kemet. We are slowly but surely learning more about ourselves. It has been enlightening just thinking of the many opportunities that present themselves in this erudition exclusively!

Many real-life situations have occurred in the lives of black people that go untold. Perhaps this is why some blacks attempt to cover the blind spots with myths and folklore such as the Willy Lynch letters etc. Although many of these stories are myths, they resonate with black people as the tales are not true statements but are statements of truth.

Voodoo probably isn't what you think it is. It might be easier to start with what Voodoo isn't: Voodoo isn't accurately portrayed in most movies, TV shows, and books. Even some documentaries and non-fiction books are misleading. Voodoo isn't a cult, black magic, or devil worship. People who practice Voodoo are not witchdoctors, sorcerers, or occultists. Voodoo isn't a practice intended to hurt or control others. Most Voodooists have never seen a "Voodoo doll" (unless, like you, they saw it in a movie).

Voodoo isn't morbid or violent. Voodoo isn't the same everywhere. Not everyone who practices Voodoo does it in exactly the same way or agrees on exactly the same things. This is how I understand Voudoo. I'm just saying...

So, what is Voodoo?

There have been court hearings about it, and it was prohibited to be used by slaves during the slave period in America. Blacks who have linage to slavery must answer the question for themselves through critical analysis, and please do not disrespect our elders include their historical input also. What do you think it is? I do not know, but I am interested in getting to the bottom of it. It may be the key to our survival. What do I know?

Just, John


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