What Comes After Postmodern

Culture as an Evolutionary Force

THE DAY OF THE DEAD: November 1st
∞ Published in UNO Driftwood November 14 2006 Vol 50 No 11 ∞  

 

New Orleans Celebrates Day of the Dead

Article and layout by Kimberly Pratt

Edited by Jason Saul 

Photos by Jeffrey Ehrenreich

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  Sallie Ann Glassman is well-known in New Orleans and beyond as a Vodou priestess who founded the Vodou society La Source Ancienne Ounfo. Each year Glassman hosts a Day of the Dead celebration that takes place on the evening of November1st.

   Traditionally, there are three days to the Day of the Dead celebration: October 31st, dedicated to children who have died; November 1st, dedicated for loved ones who have died, and November 2nd for the dead who don?t have anyone who is still alive.

  It is also significant that November is sacred to Gede in Haiti. Gede are the family of spirits that rule over the family of the dead, sexuality and regeneration, but Gede is typically spoken of as though he were an individual spirit.

  Gede is the mediator who heals and is the force of regeneration in the world. He is who you go to for life & death situations. Gede is also the patron spirit of New Orleans and is strongly associated with Mardi Gras.

  Glassman says that by dancing to rhythms, people loosen up things that have become atrophied and welcome in invisible forces that are otherwise kept locked out.  ?Something about those drums?they just crawl up your spine and make something happen." 

   The music and drum rhythms used in Glassman?s ceremonies are Creole or Haitian. There are not many recordings of the Haitian songs, and she must go to Haiti to learn them or have her Papa in Haiti sing the songs into a tape recorder so she can transcribe them ? a difficult and time-intensive process.

 

  

  The temple is set up for the ceremony with a number of altars, each dedicated to a particular Vodou spirit. After the ceremony, participants proceed to a nearby cemetery to leave spirit offerings for their loved ones who have died.

  The Day of the Dead ceremony seems to have acquired a life of its own. Sallie Ann suggests that if she were to fail to hold the Day of the Dead celebration on November 1st, people would show up anyway and break down the door to the La Source Ancienne Ounfo temple if needed so the ceremony could be held.

 

 

 

  Perhaps the most important source of knowledge that Glassman cites is working with spirits directly in dreams and in ceremonies, where the spirits possess you and tell you how they want the ceremony to be done.

  During the Day of the Dead celebration and other Vodou ceremonies, servitors say they allow spirits to enter their bodies and that they are in a state of "possession" by these spirits. Since the Day of the Dead is said to be ruled by Gede, Vodou servitors seek and emphasize his presence at the ceremony.

 

  While anyone who is said to be possessed by Gede appears and acts differently, it is understood that there will be behaviors and mannerisms you will recognize in Gede no matter who he possesses. Vodou servitors report that someone who is fully possessed will have no idea of what is going on. 

Photos by Professor Jeffrey Ehrenreich, who teaches classes on Shamanism, and on Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft for the UNO Anthropology Department. (Photos © Jeffrey Ehrenreich 2006-2019 All rights reserved)

 

CLICK HERE to read more from the interview with Sallie Ann Glassman...  

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

  


Something about those drums, they just crawl up your spine and make something happen."  

- Sallie Ann Glassman 


 

ABOVE: Voudou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman participates in the annual Day of the Dead Ceremony held at La Source Ancienne Ounfo Temple in New Orleans.


 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Celebrant possessed by Gede, the patron spirit of New Orleans. 

 

 

 

 

 

    



 

 

ABOVE and LEFT: Sounds of drums and the glow of candles enhance the Celebration.


 

  

 

 

 


  

LEFT: An altar with offerings to the lwa. A vèvè, a ritual drawing used to call spirits, can be seen at the center of the bottom tier. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Ceremony participants walk to a nearby cemetery, carrying offerings that they will leave at the cemetery gates. Candles are lit and prayers are offered for loved ones who have died.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Celebrant possessed by spirit of Gede.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Sallie Ann Glassman, head of La Source Ancienne Ounfo Temple, and Gede.

What Is Voudou?

  When you think about New Orleans, certain images come to mind. Saints (religion and football) as well as sinners (decadent behavior)--celebration (Mardi Gras) along with tragedy (Hurricane Katrina)--a wealth of cultural richness comingled with fierce material poverty. The list is a long one and certainly includes the practice of Vodou.

  Although often called “voodoo”, vodou is the preferred spelling for the actual religion, as opposed to the spellcraft or Hollywood version. Many people even in New Orleans do not have a clear understanding of how practitioners of Vodou--called servitors--define its philosophy and core elements.

  The following explains the evolution of Vodou and its basic principles. This information comes from Obi Okara, the creator of the Afrocentric Experience website (www.swagga.com), and is presented in this article with his permission. Okara pulls together facts and commentary about historical events and contemporary trends presented from an Afrocentric perspective.

  Vodou is a derivative of the world’s oldest known religions that have been around in Africa since the beginning of human civilization. Some conservative estimates date these civilizations and religions as being over 10,000 years old. This then identifies Vodou as probably the best example of African syncretism in the Americas.

  Although its essential wisdom originated in different parts of Africa long before the European slave trade, the structure of Vodou as it is known today was born in Haiti during the European colonization of Hispaniola.

  Ironically, it was the enforced immigration of enslaved Africans from different ethnic groups that provided the circumstances for the development of Vodou. European colonists thought that by desolating the ethnic groups they would not come together as a community. However, in the misery of slavery, the transplanted Africans found a common thread in their faith.

  They began to invoke not only their own African Gods, but to practice rites other than their own. In this creolizing process they comingled and modified rituals of various ethnic groups. The result of such fusion of different integrated religious beliefs was the creation of a new religion: Vodou.

  The word “Vodou” comes from the West African word “vodun,” meaning spirit. This Afro-Caribbean religion mixed practices from many African ethnic groups.

  Within the Vodou society, it is believed that there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is the meaning of “vous deux”, you two, you too. Vodou teaches that the universe is all one--each thing affects something else--scientists know that, and nature knows it. Indeed, any spiritualists agree that we are not separate and that we all serve as parts of One.

  So, in essence, Vodou says that no matter what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. View you. Vodou claims that we are mirrors of each others souls. It says that God is manifest through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be honored in ceremonies and there is a sacred cycle between the living and the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end.

  The serpent figures heavily in the Vodou faith. The word Vodou has even been translated as “the snake under whose auspices gather all who share the faith”. The high priest and/or priestess of the faith (often called Papa or Maman) are the vehicles for the expression of the serpent’s power.

  The supreme deity in Vodou is Bon Dieu. There are hundreds of spirits called Loa who control nature, health, wealth and happiness of mortals. The Loa form a pantheon of deities that include Damballah, Ezili, Ogu, Agwe, Legba and others. During Vodou ceremonies these Loa can possess the bodies of the ceremony participants.

  Loa appear by “possessing” the faithful, who in turn become the Loa, relaying advice, warnings and desires. Vodou is an animist faith, wherein objects and natural phenomena are believed to possess holy significance, to possess a soul. Thus the Loa Agwe is the divine presence behind the hurricane.

  Music and dance are key elements to Vodou ceremonies. Often termed by whites “Night Dancing” or “Vodou Dancing”, it is not simply a prelude to sexual frenzy but an expression of spirituality, of connection with divinity and the spirit world.

  Vodou is a practical religion, playing an important role in the family and the community. One’s ancestors, for instance, are believed to be a part of the world of the spirits, of the Loas, and this is one way that Vodou serves to root its participants in their own history and tradition.

  Another practical aspect of Vodou ceremonies is that participants often come before the priest or priestess to seek advice, spiritual guidance, or help with their problems. The priest or priestess then, through divine aid, offer help such as healing through the use of herbs or medicines (using knowledge that has been passed down within the religion itself), or healing through faith itself as is common in other religions. Vodou teaches a respect for the natural world.

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