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1 Possession Frank Grey University of Florida One of the most intriguing aspects of Haitian Vodou is the role that possession plays in both the Haitian culture and in the Vodou religion. This paper will discuss the differences between how Haitians view p ossession and how many people in the American culture view it. A good place to begin is exploring how possession is brought on in the Vodou context and why it takes place. The last thing to cover will be the effects that pos session events have on the well being of not only the individual being possessed but also on the community What is most interesting about how possession is viewed is the difference between American and Haitian cultural views. To practitioners of Vodou, ceremonial possession is a desir ed event In American culture, especially that of Hollywood's Catholicism, possession is most often seen as a highly negative event requiring exorcism of some force which is often labeled as a demon. Although possession is not always appropriate in Vodou, one example being the possession of children mentioned by Brown ( 1991: 252), it is usually not harmful to the person and is easily handled by the oungan or manbo who sends the l wa away with a shake of the ir ason ( rattle ) (Hebblethwaite 2012: 32). This is much different from the Hollywood presentation of someone being forcefully taken over by a demon that refuses to leave. There are ideas related to good posses sions, such as having the Holy Spirit come to reside inside of a person, but for the most part, th e two cultures have an almost opposite view of possession. The act of becoming possessed in Haitian Vodou culture can be a time consuming process due to the need to echofe or to heat things up (Brown 1991: 362). The act of heating up is very important to get the people in the ceremony into the correct mind set to be able to receive the lwa There are two main methods of reaching this state of mind, sensory deprivation and overload. Sensory overload is most common in Vodou and involves the use of music and rhythm to induce trance (Lewis 2003: 5). Several items play an important part for this in Haiti the decorations, the ason, the drums, and the songs. The first step is to set the ceremonial area with the proper decorations. The appropriate colors must be hung up around the ceremonial area, the appropriate foods that the lwa to be celebrated enjoys most must be placed on the altar and the vv or the artistic symbol which represents a l wa must be traced which is most commonly done on the ground with c ornmeal or other powdered foods. This preparation contributes to possession by putting the l wa being served into the minds of the people there. This is when the Vodou leader begins the Vodou ceremony with a shake of the ason, the mystical rattle of the oungan or man bo. After Legba, the guardian of gates and crossroads, is celebrated, the music of the l wa that is being celebrated begins. T he practitioners sing, dance, and provide libations to the l wa This is where the ason, the drums and the songs come int o play. Vodou music features a repetitive beat composed of a mix of the drums, the ason, and the kloch ( cowbell ). This reinforces the cyclical nature of the Vodou songs and is very important to reaching a dissociative state of mind. This is a state of detachment in which two streams of consciousness can occur simultaneously and it is required for possession. Dissociation is an altered state of consciousness in which the identity of one's self is altered and now represents that of another (Bourguignon 2004: 3). After a while, the repetition of the music, songs and dancing will create a state of mind where one is highly susceptible to possession by spirits. The whole ceremony works together to create an atmosphere in which possession is not only acceptable, but is desired. In Haitian culture possession can serve many purposes which lead to an enhancement of

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2 the physical well being of the individual and the community T he act of holding a ceremony, becoming possessed, and sharing this experience with others of the same community leads to social bonding in which the participants unite as a family. This family works to take care of each other in hard times, leading to a collectively hig her emotional and physical wellbeing This has several health implications in cluding lowering stress, something that is highly prevalent in Haiti and often exhibited in w omen who don't have much power in their lives (Bourguignon 2004: 1). Possession also seems to be utilized as a coping mechanism and a way to express and understand the chaos in their lives (Wallace 1995: 5). This is an important aspect for many Haitians because of the poverty and hardship that they have to deal with every day. One example, is the occurrence of possession in children who were taken away from their p arent s while attempting to enter the United States. In this situation, possession s occurred as a means of emotionally coping with the childrens fear and powerlessness (Brown 1991: 252). Also important are the chara cteristics associated with the l wa These characteristics are highly applicable to people of Haiti because they represent diverse emotions, help to explain things that are happening to them, and provide a social reference point. The lwa help the people make decisions in their everyday lives and w ork to bring out the better attributes of the individual (Brown 1991: 254).

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3 Bibliography Boddy, Janice. 1994. Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality. Article in The Annual Review of Anthropology Vol 23. No 1. pp 407434 Boddy, Janice. 1998. Spirits and Selves in Northern Sudan: The Cultural Therapeutics of Possession and Trance. Article in American Ethnologist Vol 15. No 1. pp 427. Bourguignon, Erika. 2004. Suffering and Healing, Subordination and Power: Women and Possession Trance. Article in Ethos Vol 32. No 4. pp 557574. Hebblethwaite, Ben jamin 2012. Vodou Songs i n Haitian Creole and English. Philade lphia: Temple University Press. Lewis, I.M. 2003. Trance, Possession, Shamanism, and Sex. Article in Anthropology of Consciousness. Vol 14. No 1. pp 2039. McCarthy Brown, Karen. 1991. Mama Lola A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Zane, Wallace. 1995. Ritual States of Consciousness: A Way of Accounting for Anomalies in the Observation and Explanation of Spirit Possession. Article in Anthropology of Consciousness Vol 6. No 4. pp 1830.


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Title: Possession, Frank Grey
Series Title: HAI3930, ANT3930, LAS3930, REL3938
Physical Description: Course Material
Creator: Raitano, Megan
Publisher: Hebblethwaite, Benjamin
Raitano, Megan
Felima, Crystal
Place of Publication: University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
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Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Megan Raitano.
Publication Status: Unpublished
General Note: This is a collection of student essays from the Haitian Vodou class offered at the Universtiy of Florida. These essays are the results of a combination of in class material and independent research on individually chosen topics. The writing styles, citation styles, and views expressed in the essays are established by the students and do not necessarily reflect those of the professor or the Archive.
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Possession
Frank Grey, University of Florida

One of the most intriguing aspects of Haitian Vodou is the role that possession plays in
both the Haitian culture and in the Vodou religion. This paper will discuss the differences
between how Haitians view possession and how many people in the American culture view it. A
good place to begin is exploring how possession is brought on in the Vodou context and why it
takes place. The last thing to cover will be the effects that possession events have on the well-
being of not only the individual being possessed but also on the community.
What is most interesting about how possession is viewed is the difference between
American and Haitian cultural views. To practitioners of Vodou, ceremonial possession is a
desired event. In American culture, especially that of Hollywood's Catholicism, possession is
most often seen as a highly negative event requiring exorcism of some force, which is often
labeled as a demon. Although possession is not always appropriate in Vodou, one example being
the possession of children mentioned by Brown (1991: 252), it is usually not harmful to the
person and is easily handled by the oungan or manbo who sends the iwa away with a shake of
their ason (rattle) (Hebblethwaite 2012: 32). This is much different from the Hollywood
presentation of someone being forcefully taken over by a demon that refuses to leave. There are
ideas related to good possessions, such as having the Holy Spirit come to reside inside of a
person, but for the most part, the two cultures have an almost opposite view of possession.
The act of becoming possessed in Haitian Vodou culture can be a time consuming process
due to the need to echofe or to heat things up" (Brown 1991: 362). The act of heating up is very
important to get the people in the ceremony into the correct mind set to be able to receive the
iwa. There are two main methods of reaching this state of mind, sensory deprivation and
overload.
Sensory overload is most common in Vodou and involves the use of music and rhythm to
induce trance (Lewis 2003: 5). Several items play an important part for this in Haiti, the
decorations, the ason, the drums, and the songs. The first step is to set the ceremonial area with
the proper decorations. The appropriate colors must be hung up around the ceremonial area, the
appropriate foods that the Iwa to be celebrated enjoys most must be placed on the altar, and the
veve or the artistic symbol which represents a Iwa, must be traced, which is most commonly done
on the ground with cornmeal or other powdered foods. This preparation contributes to possession
by putting the Iwa being served into the minds of the people there. This is when the Vodou leader
begins the Vodou ceremony with a shake of the ason, the mystical rattle of the oungan or manbo.
After Legba, the guardian of gates and crossroads, is celebrated, the music of the Iwa that is
being celebrated begins. The practitioners sing, dance, and provide libations to the Iwa.
This is where the ason, the drums and the songs come into play. Vodou music features a
repetitive beat composed of a mix of the drums, the ason, and the kloch (cowbell). This
reinforces the cyclical nature of the Vodou songs and is very important to reaching a dissociative
state of mind. This is a state of detachment in which two streams of consciousness can occur
simultaneously and it is required for possession. Dissociation is an altered state of consciousness
in which the identity of one's self is altered and now represents that of another (Bourguignon
2004: 3). After a while, the repetition of the music, songs and dancing will create a state of mind
where one is highly susceptible to possession by spirits. The whole ceremony works together to
create an atmosphere in which possession is not only acceptable, but is desired.
In Haitian culture, possession can serve many purposes which lead to an enhancement of









the physical well-being of the individual and the community. The act of holding a ceremony,
becoming possessed, and sharing this experience with others of the same community leads to
social bonding in which the participants unite as a family. This family works to take care of each
other in hard times, leading to a collectively higher emotional and physical well-being. This has
several health implications including lowering stress, something that is highly prevalent in Haiti
and often exhibited in women who don't have much power in their lives (Bourguignon 2004: 1).
Possession also seems to be utilized as a coping mechanism and a way to express and
understand the chaos in their lives (Wallace 1995: 5). This is an important aspect for many
Haitians because of the poverty and hardship that they have to deal with every day. One example,
is the occurrence of possession in children who were taken away from their parents while
attempting to enter the United States. In this situation, possessions occurred as a means of
emotionally coping with the children's fear and powerlessness (Brown 1991: 252). Also
important are the characteristics associated with the Iwa. These characteristics are highly
applicable to people of Haiti because they represent diverse emotions, help to explain things that
are happening to them, and provide a social reference point. The Iwa help the people make
decisions in their everyday lives and work to bring out the better attributes of the individual
(Brown 1991: 254).









Bibliography


Boddy, Janice. 1994. "Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality." Article in The
Annual Review ofAnthropology. Vol 23. No 1. pp 407-434

Boddy, Janice. 1998. "Spirits and Selves in Northern Sudan: The Cultural Therapeutics of
Possession and Trance." Article in American Ethnologist. Vol 15. No 1. pp 4-27.

Bourguignon, Erika. 2004. "Suffering and Healing, Subordination and Power: Women and
Possession Trance." Article in Ethos. Vol 32. No 4. pp 557-574.

Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press.

Lewis, I.M. 2003. "Trance, Possession, Shamanism, and Sex." Article in Anthropology of
Consciousness. Vol 14. No 1. pp 20-39.

McCarthy Brown, Karen. 1991. Mama Lola A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press.

Zane, Wallace. 1995. "Ritual States of Consciousness: A Way of Accounting for Anomalies in the
Observation and Explanation of Spirit Possession." Article in Anthropology of
Consciousness. Vol 6. No 4. pp 18-30.