Vodou/Vodoun Cosmology and History
Vodoun, is the popular system of belief and the religious practice of the overwhelming majority of the population of Haiti. Its moral precepts, generally admitted as unfailing, embrace all the many aspects of life. Be they in the political, the social or the economics' domains; be they in the foreign affairs; or be they in the public, domestic or individual fields of activity - the fundamental tendency is to consider all vital issues from a Vodoun standpoint.
Family disagreements, discords between employer and employee, disputes concerning land ownership, differences of opinion and of point of views, problems created by birth, education, health, work, death...find their solutions in Vodoun, for that system of belief is the interpersonal as well as the collective conflicts mediator of the Haitian people.
For, implicitly enfolded in the entire Vodoun system, is a "Code of Ethics" which accurately fits the socio-cultural, historical, political and economic realities of the community and serves as an instrument of peace and harmony for everyone.
This gives all Haitians their psycho-social specificities. Practicing Vodoun, or not, all Haitians are Haitian. That is to say that all Haitians must accept the standards set by the community. That Religion, thus, constitutes a motivating factor which conditions the Haitian's views and attitudes towards the World. One's appreciation is consequently influenced by the many forms of activities and the fundamental aspects of that collective human experience.
This finds some of its explanations and justifications in the fact that Vodoun has its set of Norms and Values to which everyone, by devotion, conviction, attachment or by simple social conformism, automatically adheres to because the religion is lived by the majority. The teachings are revealed to very many Haitians and the precepts are instructive to all who naturally see the well founded grounds for them. This explains why Vodoun, whenever and wherever it is practiced, gathers the adhesion of the majority of the population.
The mode of transmission of Vodoun's precepts isn't limited to individual and group revelations. They also, carried through the Tradition, a whole oral sapient literature in the form of prayers, litanies, religious songs, mythological stories, charades, maxims, proverbs and even some secular and funny anecdotes about boys and girls that everyone repeats across the country. They too carry the norms of behavior as well as the philosophical reflections about GOD, the Great Master, or better yet, the Great Mistress Who govern the Universe; Nature, which is man's environment; and reflections concerning the human being.
In other words, the Theological, Cosmological and Anthropological conceptions are continuously expressed in appropriate terms and in simple language to everyone's cogitation.
In the Vodoun sapient literature, one always finds, implicitly or explicitly expressed, two main aspects:
1. The first one which deals with the subjects of PRACTICAL AND MORAL PHILOSOPHIES and exposes the popular wisdom born from individual and collective experience. It can be defined as containing propositions which convey the precepts of conduct and of moral standards, objectively recognized as being valid. Those are willingly followed by everyone who would like to consider him/ or herself, and who also want to be recognized by others, as "REASONABLE" and as a "SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE" person.
2. The other one which treats of problems concerning mainly Religious and Moral life. Presented as SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY, it deals with what is generally considered "The INACCESSIBLE" to the individuals or to the collectivity by means of experiences. It then concerns three main subjects: the existence of God; the immortality of the Soul; and the Human being seen as Soul in a perishable package. The Freedom of Will is an important aspect of those considerations.
The Vodoun Master Medical system basically boils down to a simple principle: that of the dynamism of a certain concept of Life named Energy. The mythical genesis of Vodoun teaches that the Universe includes two worlds, that of the Visible and that of the Invisible.
These two worlds are by no means seen to be distinct: quite to the contrary, they are assumed to interpenetrate one another, mingling continually. Much larger than the Visible world, the Invisible one is replete of energies, including the spirits of all those who have existed since the beginning of times. It also includes the forces of the universe. Of a finite number, these 401 spirits constitute what one might call "God" or even "Spirits of the Ancestors". They constantly intervene in human matters and "mount" people by a process which is defined as trance or possession. These spirits play a very important role in the diagnosis of illness which is often revealed through dreams, along with the appropriate treatments.
The 401 facets of the divine referred to as "lwa" are systematically categorized as elements of earth, water, air and fire (Petro divinities). The individual "lwa Mèt tèt" therefore belongs to these 401 divinities. Possession by the lwa most currently occurs during Vodoun ceremonies; but it may also take place at any time - especially in stressful situations. Furthermore, a frequent type of possession is associated with sleep. Recognized as a valid and legitimate form of cultural expression, possession is considered a means to free the individual of inhibitions and frustrations. It acts as a psychic outlet.
Typically, there are two sorts of possession. The first is called "bosal" (or "rough"): here, the person releases all excess energies built-up within him - or herself, often through violent thrashing of the body and generally disorganized, "wild" behavior which is nevertheless understood, interpreted and considered to be of great significance to all. The second, more controlled, implies a re-organization of the self to achieve harmony within self and with the various forces of nature in the universe. In this case, the individual tibonanj is understood to be displaced and replaced by one of the 401 lwa. The person then is re- equilibrated by the very process of his/her absorption within these higher forces. Indeed, at this moment, individual identities disappear making way for the total affirmation of the divinity who may choose to soothsay, sing, dance, carry out amazing feats such as glass or fire-eating. Or, to cure illnesses.
The human being is also seen as a Force, or as an energy of a lesser dimension, which explains why each possession is specifically modulated according to the individual’s personal Nanm. Furthermore, at times the functioning of the personal energies needs to be synchronized, so as to fit within the range which is considered to be that of harmony.
Animals, plants and everything else that possesses life are also seen as energy. Unlike the phytotherapeutic type of medicine which utilizes herbs for its chemical contents, herbs used in this type of medicine are rather seen as energy channels, though they may also contain biologically active substances.