Returning now to Georgianne's and my conversation with our Haitian businessman on a languid Tuesday evening in the Plaza Hotel, the point Raymond ultimately began to make was that Haiti, to rebuild itself, must call upon spirit to carry its people through an almost apocalyptic experience on January 12, 2010, an all but total collapse of the economy and infrastructure, not to mention the heavy psychological trauma and suffering the earthquake ushered in on top of the decades and decades of past national disasters, both man-made and natural. Having reached such a nadir, now it was time to bring about a rebirth of a new Haiti, rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes and rubble.
At this point the discussion segued into the reality of Haitian Vodou until, rather suddenly and casually, Raymond revealed that he himself was a Vodou houngan, or priest, and that he belonged to a Haitian religious society called The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity, actually an almost Masonic, even Theosophical title invoking one of the key words from the motto of the French Revolution of 1789: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", hardly what most people, prone to all the stereotyped caricatures of Voodoo in pop culture, would expect.
Raymond, acutely aware of the gross and fraudulent Hollywood image of Voodoo as nothing but zombies, black magic, curses and human sacrifices, went to considerable length expounding that this is indeed a absurd misrepresentation of real Vodou religion. He did point out, though, that there are two streams of Vodou as it is practiced in Haiti, what he calls the Vodou of the Peristyle, and the Vodou of the Temple.
Although peristyle and temple are often used as interchangeable terms, the former in Raymond's definition refers to that lower manifestation of Vodou that really does become too enmeshed with negativity, selfish desire and vain pursuit of money, while the latter world of which he is a part is in harmony with higher, universal principles promoting the highest good for all. Think of huckster, wallet-picking evangelicals driving around in Rolls Royces versus a Martin Luther King or Yogi Bhajan, founder of the 3HO Organization in America for a comparable dichotomy in our own country.
Raymond surprised me when he stated that his Order is quite aware of the ominous geographical and geopolitical events going on rightnow, the significance of the Mayan calendar and 2012, and that they believe that some heavy Earth changes are indeed about to take place that will challenge and transform humanity. His Order is attuned to that, he went on, and drawn toward becoming a part of the global movement toward greater Light that is evolving in the world today.
I found this quite intriguing because I believe that we really are on the cusp of a potent new world emerging from the embers of a dying, brutally degenerate, old world order, that yes Virginia, there really is an Age of Aquarius, and that there are many out there in the vanguard of these growing forces for positive change.
As if to emphasize this point, Raymond then graciously invited all three of us, Georgianne, Andre and me, to an actual Vodou ceremony the very next night, Wednesday May 12th, propitious timing to say the least, since that would be our last night on the island. We looked at each other with surprise, if not fascination and a bit of apprehension, and then nodded our ascent. We would meet him at the address he gave Andre, although we cautioned that due to other commitments, we may be late. He seemed unconcerned, as if he knew it would all work out.
Wednesday, as you will know if you read Parts 9 thru 12 in my series, had been a busy, busy day as we drove out Highway Two to more camps, then up to Macassin, down to the Darbonne sugar mill, then back to Port-au-Prince and on up to Petionville. Now, after dinner at the Cafe del Europe, Andre once again took us on a labyrinthine tour through the winding streets of Petionville and Port-au-Prince, now shrouded in growing darkness, until finally we were driving through a fairly posh neighborhood and down a dead end alley packed with parked cars.
I think I told myself, in an attempt at self-humor, that this is where the zombies will ambush us, and then we pulled up in front of a barely illuminated, gated wall while Andre squeezed into a tiny parking space, and we all got out. Someone, also barely visible, was beckoning us to enter through the gate.
We were immediately in some kind of large garden with trees, pacing toward lights and commotion in the rear. Suddenly scores of people were looming before us in an open, wood-framed, corrugated tin-roof edifice now flooding our vision, as guides quickly gestured for us to remove our shoes and step inside what was for tonight at least, the Order of the Light's Vodou Temple. And there we were standing, I am guessing, amongst some 50 to 75 people, most of them colorfully decked out in ceremonial robes. We ourselves had to don minimal attire, Andre and myself with scarves around our necks, Georgianne a scarf around her head.
Somehow, even though we were late, the heart of the night's ceremony had not yet begun. Perhaps such preliminaries as a ceremonial meal or announcements had been taking place. We were asked to be seated at the far end of what was a long room and facing almost everyone else, the Vodou altar at the other end, and soon realizing that we were not merely guests but objects of scrutiny. A fellow in a black fedora hat with a crimson robe on approached us, speaking English, to explain that the congregation would like to ask us each some questions that he would translate for us.
We agreed, and one at a time we were each brought up toward the altar, Andre going first if memory serves me, although he needed no translator, being fluent in both Creole and French, which, however, left me unable to understand what he was saying. Then it was my turn, and up I went, feeling somewhat stage-stricken. I was asked why I had come to Haiti and I explained that I was there to speak up for the Haitian people and their plight, to get the truth out about what was going on in Haiti.
I was asked what I knew and cared about Vodou, and told them that I actually had studied their religion to a degree, and had always been fascinated with it. Another practitioner asked how I would react to seeing a person actually become possessed before my very eyes. I could only say that I had dealt successfully with an individual in a terribly depressed, emotional state once publicly, so that I was not one to freak out easily. More questions followed, and then I ultimately asked a question: Could I photograph some of the ceremony tonight? They said they would discuss it amongst themselves.
When Georgianne came up, she was asked similar questions, giving heartfelt replies, and then there was a sort of discussion or huddle amongst themselves. Finally a spokesman announced that indeed we would be allowed to participate in the rest of the ceremony, and yes I would be allowed to take photos. He even went farther than that, asking if I would agree to promote their religion back in the States, to which I said yes, which is why I am even crafting this photo-essay. I would not be exposing the following pictures to the world if they had not wanted me to.
Several individuals got up and gave speeches, in English, mainly for our benefit, to explain, as Raymond had done the night before, that Vodou as they practiced it was a high calling, not an ethnocentric or parochial faith, but one truly concerned with, besides the primary goal of healing and resurrecting Haiti, international brotherhood and sisterhood and the advancement of all humanity, and a religion whose core tenet was Divine Love. And they strongly contrasted it with that form of Vodou that embraces elements of fear, darkness and destruction, rejecting this lower state of consciousness as a relic of the past.