During the first half of the twentieth century, the Marasa were the subject of considerable scholarly attention. Bearing obvious connections to African twin cults, devotion to the Marasa was seen as strong evidence for the survival of African practices in the Americas. In subsequent decades, as scholarly interests shifted, the Marasa received less academic attention. Nonetheless, the Marasa remain a central component of the religious lives of Vodouisants, particularly for those who are twins, triplets, or for people in families with multiple or unusual births. Marasa is an entire family of spirits—parents, siblings, ancestors, spirits of unbaptized children, and allied unusual people—that in its complexity has often confused outsiders. Careful examination of the Marasa, their mirror-like qualities and merging of many existential states—living, dead, one, many—provides insight into the ways that Vodouisants believe that the spiritual world interacts with the physical world. The Marasa are renowned for their power as healers. However, their strength as healers is equaled by their power to afflict misery, a source of anxiety and crisis for parents saddled with the task of raising powerful and cantankerous twins. Only through regular ritual action and the careful observance of taboos can this existentially perilous condition be managed with success. But to those who enjoy their favor, the Marasa bestow good fortune, economic prosperity, spiritual power, and insight into the secret workings of the world of the spirits.
Dreams are vital sources of liturgical novelty in Haitian Vodou –and this novelty is, itself, an underdescribed and understudied quality that the religion possesses. Classic scholarly descriptions have tended to portray Vodou as a living artifact, tradition-bound and slave to formality. On the contrary, Vodou is constantly responding to unique lived scenarios with novelty –a generative capacity reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s natality. Dreaming plays a key role as provocateur and shaper of this natality. Additionally, it serves as a vouchsafe for belief; as a transformative force; as a form of divination; and as a source for theological and liturgical information. This article focuses, in particular, on why dreaming in Vodou has received so little scholarly atten- tion. Additionally, it examines how Vodou priests and priestesses utilize dreaming in their work with clients, as well as the role that dreaming plays in the enactment of spiritual marriages, and in recent responses to the 2010 earthquake.
Vodou is frequently invoked as a cause of Haiti’s continued impoverishment. While scholarly arguments have been advanced for why this is untrue, Vodou is persistently plagued by a poor reputation. This is buttressed, in part, by the frequent appearance in popular culture of the imagined religion of ‘‘voodoo.’’ Vodou and voodoo have entwined destinies, and Vodou will continue to suffer from ill repute as long as voodoo remains an outlet for the expression of racist anxieties. The enduring appeal of voodoo is analyzed through its uses in touristic culture, film, television, and literature. Particular attention is given to the genre of horror movies, in which voodoo’s connections with violence against whites and hypersexuality are exploited to produce both terror and arousal.
Gine, a word which means “Africa,” has been an important site of contested meaning in Haitian Vodou. As a continent, it is a lost homeland. As heaven, it is a source of longing and a hoped-for eschaton. As an aesthetic category, Gine has served as a form of religious capital through which various competing social forces have attempted to create and maintain orthodoxy. With the rise of the priesthood, Gine increasingly became a resource only the clergy could summon and control. Yet, the clergy’s innovation of ritual acts to summon Gine into any space made it possible for Vodou to survive in the form we know today. Scholars and artists—many of whom were “outsiders”—also played a substantial role in identifying which traditions would come to be seen as the most “authentic” expressions of Vodou.