Moving is a never-ending process. We’ve had some new neighbors move in next door over the past couple of weeks. Seeing their boxes reminded me that we have many we still haven’t unpacked and sorted after over two years. (That’s what attics are for.) One of the novelties I found while doing so recently was one of those bookstore impulse buys at the checkout counter, “Voodoo Lou’s Office Voodoo Kit.” This was actually a joke gift given to my wife some years ago. In all probability it was me that insisted we not throw it out. Perhaps I was saving it as an object lesson. One of the religions I very briefly discuss in Nightmares with the Bible is Vodun. This African diasporan religion is frequently demonized as “voodoo” because of its supernatural beliefs.
Many religions, of course, harbor supernatural beliefs. The ballots are still being counted on whether such things exist because we can never wrestle them into the laboratory to measure them with instruments designed for physical applications only. Vodun isn’t the source of evil perpetrated by the cheap (and often exploited by horror) “voodoo doll” narratives. It is a complex blend of traditional African religions brought into forceful contact with Roman Catholicism. We shouldn’t treat it as exotic, nor should it be a codeword for evil. Like most religions vodun is an attempt to navigate the world of the gods and spirits that people everywhere believe in, even if they can’t be quantified. The religion was mysterious when first noticed by travelers from the United States and it quickly became fodder for horror films.
We tend to judge religions just because they’re different. One of the more insidious aspects of global religions is that they create the illusion among their believers that they are the “only true religion.” Those who study religion professionally know that all religions are “syncretistic.” There is no such thing as a “pure” form of any religion. Just try getting a Calvinist and Catholic to come to a common understanding of what Christianity is. Both want to claim their version as the true one. Religions, however, have developed as ways for people to cope with the world as they’ve experienced it. Just because fewer people believe one way we can’t assume their religion is inferior. Vodun, in which I’m no expert, is far more complex and sophisticated as might be suggested by and impulse buy for frustrated office workers. Still, it works as an object lesson.