Original Artwork ©Julie Cox, 2008
I took the class because it sounded cool. "Independent Study: Vodou." How edgy that would look on a transcript! Much more interesting than "Intermediate Biblical Studies." At the time I knew exactly jack about Vodou. A junior religion major with a double major in art, I was eager to jump into anything esoteric and exotic. I had no idea at the time how it would resonate with me - or how much trouble it would eventually bring.
I must admit that one of my chief motivations for joining the four-person independent study was a keen interest in an esoteric and exotic young man Ill call Mike, who was heading up the class. He was lovely; taller, stronger and paler than myself, with long brown dreadlocks and striking features that you would not call handsome until you had listened to him speak. He was mysterious and startling; he showed up unexpectedly and left before you realized he was leaving. He would be affectionate and interested in all you had to say one day, then disappear for a week. Behind his close-set blue eyes he seemed to be hiding secrets, mysteries you pondered that hed already figured out. He was strange, beautiful and maddening, and he got a kick out of it.
So it was with Vodou. Just when I thought I had the religion figured out, it would surprise me. The veves (chalk drawings for the gods) were beautiful; their behavior and practices were at once profane and utterly sacred, startling and strange until I got to know them, then utterly fascinating and enticing. I could read all I wanted about the loa of the Vodou pantheon, but by virtue of my pedigree and locale, I was denied any direct contact with the culture. Look, but dont touch.
There was Papa Legba, the gatekeeper between this world and the world of the loa; Danbala, the serpent-rainbow god; Ezili, goddess of love, but not how you might think; and Baron Samedi, god of the dead, a trickster and a lech, for whom I harbored a deep dislike until I met him. More on than later. And of course the people who worshipped the loa, who made libations and sacrifices of blood and feathers, who danced in the steps of the spirits and invited them into their heads, to be "ridden" as a rider mounts a horse, to speak with a gods voice and touch with a gods hand. It was submission-power, power by proxy, adoration and exchange, and all so wildly foreign I had no place to put it in my neatly categorized post-Protestant-pagan brain.
There were no historic counsels that laid out the foundations of Vodou, no sacred texts or prophets. It was hearth-magic, mentor to student, and the more I knew, the more I realized I couldnt understand it from reading a book. I grieved for the insurmountable distance between myself and a religion with which I had become infatuated. I grieved also for my poor heart, since I also now knew that my adoration for Mike would go unrequited (thank my various gods). I asked the universe for relief. Oddly enough, it answered.
I had a dream. I encountered a baby baka, an evil spirit, who had been captured by a group of people. There was some debate as to what to do with the baka, for while it was a bad spirit, it was also only a baby, and not beyond redemption. There were two elementary school aged boys there, and I said to the crowd, Look, take the baka and bind it to these two children. They have good hearts, and can teach it to be good and kind, and keep it from doing bad things. Then, when they are older, they will have a powerful spirit to protect them.
At this point in the dream a familiar figure showed up - Baron Samedi, who as I have said before I did not initially care for. He was there in his top hat and battered suit, leaning on his cane, leering with his deaths grin. He laughed and danced. He liked my solution, and he liked me, the clever white girl. He asked me to marry him, to be one of his wives.
I dont remember what my answer was.
Some years later I was advised that if I had said yes, Baron Samedi would have continued to pester me, as I wasnt living up to my wifely duties. This came as a relief, mostly since it meant that I had no obligation to a very intimidating spirit. If I had obligations to fill to him, I dont know how I would have managed, since I was so far removed from the Vodou tradition. In pondering my evasion of this somnolent engagement, I began thinking about what would attract my children, what would pull them in, fascinate them, what would be denied them. (I was lucky, as it turned out, that Mike did not requit my amour. My life has turned out far happier than his has, though perhaps not as interesting.)
So when my children are old enough I will tell them about Baron Samedi and how he once showed up in my dreams, and how I suppose I must have turned him down. Its a tale that will be told alongside of other magical adventures, such as the Harrowing gone wrong under an unexpected lunar eclipse; the raindance that became a tornado; the summoned spirit that wouldnt go away and was eventually trapped in a stone beneath my pillow; the times I met Fox and Horse, and how birds can look like toads in the spirit world.
I wish to share these experiences with my children for several reasons. First, to be open and honest with them about my life, my mistakes and my beliefs. I want to maintain an open dialogue with them so that when they begin to come into their own, they will be able to talk to me about belief and experience, more so than I was ever able to do with my parents. I also hope, like all parents do, they will learn from my own misadventures. In hindsight, my biggest problem was that I had no real teacher. My studies in Vodou are the most obvious example, since it is an intense religion that I took a formal class on and yet could find no true instruction.
My personal religion has been trial and error, sometimes dangerous and frequently foolish. Ok, so Im still mostly foolish when it comes to magical Work. But at least my kids will have some instruction, some initiation, into dealings with spirits. The magical world is fascinating, alluring, mysterious and beautiful. And sometimes, like Mike and the Baron, you are better off keeping it at a distance. Be careful what you call for; sometimes they answer.
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.