“That’s why I think Africans say that white people or Europeans go to church and speak about God, we dance in the temple and become God.”
— Wade Davis
Thank the gods for vodou! (1)
I admit that I don’t know exactly when it happened, or who started it, but the introduction of vodou to modern paganism has been a true gift from the gods. You’ve got vodou in my paganism? You’ve got paganism in my vodou? Yes we do, and they go great together.
In the West, we have a long tradition of the priestly caste attempting to take the people out of religious experience. Talking directly to the god(s) was deemed just too dangerous for the common people. What if the god(s) told you that your leaders were full of shit? That would not do.
Many religious scholars believe that the miracles Jesus performed in the bible–turning water into wine, walking on water–were actually parables for taking away the power of the priests. What do you mean you don’t need to be a rabbi to bless the sacramental wine or baptize someone? We better have the Romans nail that guy up.
Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this philosophy is Catholicism, where the parishioner is assigned the role of audience, with some kneeling or standing and the occasional droning of a hymn, while the priest goes through the motions of a prescribed ritual. Everyone’s been well cordoned off from god lest they get the wrong message.
Sadly, it was medieval churchmen that laid the foundation for ceremonial magick. While the magicians themselves tried to capture some degree of Gnosticism, they had little to work with in their own experience. So when Gerald Gardner took those forms from the Golden Dawn to establish Wicca, he inadvertently imported a hands-off approach to deity.
Lucky for us, when the Wiccan umbrella opened to a wide range of paganism, including those who wanted to re-create ancient practices, important questions were asked. If we know that Gardner wasn’t giving us the revitalization of ancient ways, what were they?
Historians didn’t have an answer. So much was lost, and so many of those pagans came from non-literate societies. The archeological evidence could only provide so many answers. We knew what their temples looked like and we knew what instruments they used, but it never gave us the whole picture of how they actually felt about their gods.
Well before Gardener, modern esotericists looked towards the East. But while Eastern religions often contained multiple gods, they usually included overarching monotheistic principles(2). They also suffered the same dumbing down that religions in the West went through, with the priests and monks guarding the doorways to the divine.
I credit anthropologists, especially guys like my hero, Wade Davis, for showing us the way. If you wanted a living and breathing example of how ancient pagans may have interacted with their gods, you need look no further than right next door, to Haiti. Vodou mambos and houngan have given us tools for experiencing the divine in the most direct ways.
What started as a few pagans bringing Vodou gods (lwa) into their practice has morphed into using Vodou practices to contact traditional pagan deities like Hekate and Odin. Devotees of particular gods now know their patrons in intimate ways. To be ridden goes beyond the warm fuzzy feelings of asking the divine to join our ceremonies. It’s a direct hotline.
When working magick, we now have better tools for reaching a deep and powerful current in the collective unconscious. It’s like grabbing a power line with your bare hands. Dangerous to be sure, but there’s few better ways to get a well needed jolt.
I recommend that any magician used to invoking their deities the old fashioned Golden Dawn way should get some drums, move their feet, and speak out in the voice of the gods. I know from my own work that abandoning myself fully to the divine presence has been a source of the most profound teachings I’ve ever experienced.
(1) I use the traditional spelling of voodoo to get people’s attention, but prefer the newer spelling used by scholars.
(2) Vodou has this as well, but not as strong.