Returning to Paris last week I arranged to meet with a friend of a friend one Sunday to talk all things Vodou and felt privileged to receive a special ‘tour’ of the space in which he worships. The sevite (server of the Vodou spirits, Lwa) I met is originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti and practices Vodou from his Noisy le sec home in Paris. Currently in the middle of moving house, his alter had been mostly disassembled, but the varying objects and paraphenalia remained and he enthusiastically talked me through his own personal rituals and connections with the religion.
Not connected to any particular Hounfo or temple, other than his local Catholic church which he tries to attend most Sundays, my newVodwizan friend is mistrustful of Houngan (priests) and Mambo (priestesses) practising in Paris, whom he considers to be for the most part overly focused on financial gain, and since living in France has always preferred to worship in private. The same is true when he travels to Haiti, only then, this private worship is extended to include family members, with whom larger ceremonies are organised.
I got the impression that my friend was happy to have someone to chat openly to about his beliefs and he spoke with pride about his relationship with the spirit Ezili and her many faces. Whilst in Haiti I had interviewed a Sevite who had described his own mariage mystique to the two Ezili lwa Danto and Freda, so in Paris I was very interested to see the image of one sellotaped above the pillow of the left hand side of my friend’s mattress (laid on the floor of the alter room) and the other above his right hand pillow. To avoid any jealous spats, it is important to treat both equally, and as my friend explained on Tuesdays he serves Danto, while Thursday’s are solely reserved for Freda, preventing him from sleeping with any other woman on these days. Perhaps with slightly less enthusiasm, he answered questions I had about connections between Ezili Danto and same-gender loving Masisi in Haiti and we also spoke easily about how Vodwizan might wear a spectrum of gender traits during possession. For example, it has been known (and noted by others) for my friend to suddenly burst into song with ‘the voice of a woman’, as he explained to me.
His ex-wife, also seemed genuinely happy to meet someone who shares an interest in what has increasingly become, over recent years, an important part of her ex-husband’s way of life. ‘My husband practices Vodou and has transformed the basement of our Paris home into an alter room’, can’t always have been the easiest to drop into conversation amongst her French family and friends. This said, she was keen to arrange the meeting, driving me to their former marital home and giving space for her ex to showcase his cultural and religious beliefs. Furthermore I was particularly grateful to gain her perspective on the everyday practicalities and challenges of living with Vodou as a non-Vodwizan.
** Due to the private nature of my friend’s spiritual practice, I have not included names in this piece.