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1 The Perception of Dreams in Haitian Vodou : A Comparative Analysis of Christian and Haitian Vodou Dream Traditions Athna C. PattersonOrazem, University of Florida Whereas our modern scientific understanding of dreams remains largely incomplete, it is evident that dreaming is a universal phenomenon and as such is addressed within religion. Some religions such as Christianity, undermine the power of dreams ; others such as Haitian Vodou, empower dreams. This tendency reflects fundamental cultural and religious differences in the perception of dreams. In Vodou, dreams constitute an important means by which lwa communicate with humans; they convey warnings, blessings or offers of protection1 as well as songs2 and practical or medicinal knowledge3. Lwa a ppear as familiar people or objects, but pr ovide clues to their identity through colors, clothing, props or accessories.4 However, i n retelling dreams, people most frequently describe the lwa by his or her name with little or no regard towards the chwal5 adopted during the dream .6 In all of these characteristics, dreaming in Vodou is not unlike being possessed by the lwa The great importance of Vodou dreams is best exemplified in McCarthy Browns Mama Lola by a plethora of relevant dreams experienced by manbo Alourdes herself, her family past and present and her clients. The legend of Alourdes ancestor Joseph Binbin Mauvant refers to his appearance to his wife in a dream in order to explain his sudden disappearance he had returned to Africa7. Of course, this could easily be dismissed as superstition, or as an explanation made to children. However, the importance of the dream is marked. When Alourdes dreams of her mother, she knows everything going to be okay [ sic ] .8 Once she had decided to becom e a manbo, the lwa continu ed her Vodou education through her dreams9 just as they had for her mother10. Just as Alourdes Vodou religious heritage, history and knowledge are predominantly matrilineal, many dreams described in Mama Lola link mother and daughter while they are separated Alourdess mother Philo learn ed that her ow n mother, Sina, was dying through a dream .11 S imilarly Maggie Alourdes daughter experienced an equally accurate dream that her mother was sick.12 When Maggie is ill, Alou r des thinks and dreams about her constantly. In a nightmare experienced while she is being operated upon, a cobra finally frightened Maggie into 1 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs p 258 2 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs p 36 3 Mt r aux, Voodoo in Haiti p 143 4 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs p 258 5 Chwal the person whom the lwa rides during possession; in this case the chwal is the hu man form adopted by the lwa during a dream. 6 Mtraux Voodoo in Haiti p 143 144 7 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 22 33 8 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 123 9 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 77 10 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 205 11 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 142 154 12 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 245

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2 giving in and agreeing to take up the ason13; that very night, her mother dream ed of G d and understood that her daughter, once on the brink of death, would survive .14 Alourdes acceptance of the lwa s desire that she become a manbo was in part triggered by a dream experienced by her aunt Philo dreamt of her daughter s return a month before her actual return to Haiti ; her prior dreams had led her to know that all was not well with her daughter.15 H owever, such prophe c y is not exclusively between relatives. Clement Rapelle sought Philo for her healing and cardreading because th e lwa told him to consult her in a dream even though prior to the dream he did not know of her existence16. Just as not all dreams directly involve the lwa not all dreams are true. Mtraux differentiates between mere simple fantasies of the imagination and genuine visions17. When Philo dreams of an old woman who tells her she will feed and take care of her, Philos neighbor laughs and dismisses it as a byproduct of sleeping hungry.18 H owever, it is important to note that though the neighbor doubted that it was of divine origin, she did not doubt that the dream had a physical significance. While dreams of encouragement can be explained as expressions of latent desires, hopes and concer ns turned over to the subconscious during sleep, premonitions are less easily dismissed. Currently there are three major competing theories regarding dreams: dreams occur as a part of memory consolidation, as expectation fulfillment, or due to random firing of brain signals19. None of these explain dreams to a satisfactory extent, perhaps because none of these truly reflect a culture that empowers dreams. Davis states that the European cultures began to breed scientists four centuries ago, and philosophizes that the scientific perspective or manner of thinking can be just as limiting as any other faith based system20. This reflects the unwillingness of the scientists to accept phenomena they cannot explain phenomena that disturb them such as prophesy or the exis tence of gods, ghosts, spirits and dreams. Just as they are disturbed by dreams scientists are disturbed by possession. P sychologists are apt to diagnose V odouists (but not Christians) as mytho maniacs displaying overwhelming psychic dis turbance and widespread racial pathology21. Anthropologists have identified 360 out of 488 societies whose religious worship contains possession, including Christianity ;22 however this ancestry is clearly rejected as archaic and primitive The wary Christian view of dreams is in part due to the monotheistic and closed nature of the gospel The early Christian belief that true dreams must come directly from God discouraged dreams.23 By the Middle Ages a strong, basic mistrust of dreams was pervasi ve. In addition to this, true God sent dreams were considered the realm of exceptionally important persons such as saints kings, monks and select members of the clergy Dreams were n ot 13 To take up the ason is to take up the sacred rattle used to direct lwa and Vodou ceremonies, i.e. to become Vodou priest or priestess, a manbo or oungan. 14 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p 160 170 15 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 173 176 16 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 204 206 17 Mtraux Voodoo in Haiti p 144 18 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 209,210 19 Modern Theories of Dreaming Superseded: Lecture by Joe Griffin. Youtube Video 20 Davis The Serpent and the Rainbow p 173175 21 Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow p 177179 22 Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow p 179 23 Shoulman and Stroumsa Dream Cultures, p 189206

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3 beholden to common men and certainly not to women.24 T he role of dreams in the Christian culture dwindled to the point that the belief of an alternate reality discovered in dreams was considered heretical.25 Even now, the view that God frequently communicates to individuals through dreams seems to be held only by a minority of Christians. Prophesy is said to have largely ceased with or before the closure of the New Testament canon, remaining as a minor artifact among those sects which believe that Christianity is not at a perfect state but continues to evolve through Gods intervention26. In this way, dreams in the Christian tradition have largely become relegated to superstition, folktradition, or to a more bodily Freudian interpretation. The important role of dreams in Haitian Vodou relative to Christianity reflects profound fundamental cultural differences between the two religions, displaying the fluid and open nature of Vodou as a note worthy contrast to Christianitys prescriptivism and monotheism. 24 Shoulman and Stroumsa, Dream Cultures, p 276 25 Shoulman and Stroumsa, Dream Cultures, p 288 26 Hvidt, Christian Prophecy the Post Biblical Tradition p5 30 and 455466

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4 Works Cited Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of California, 1991. Print. Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Print. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2012. Print. Niels Christian Hvidt, Christian Prophecy the Post Biblical Tradition Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print. M traux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti Trans. Hugo Charteris. New York: Schoken, 1959. Print. Mindfieldscollege. Modern Theories of Dreaming Superseded: Lecture by Joe Griffin. YouTube. YouTube, 01 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. . Shulman, David Dean, and Guy G. Stroumsa. Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.


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Title: The Perception of Dreams in Haitian Vodou: A Comparative Analysis of Christian and Haitian Vodou Dream Traditions, Athéna C. Patterson-Orazem
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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Subjects / Keywords: Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
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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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The Perception of Dreams in Haitian Vodou:
A Comparative Analysis of Christian and Haitian Vodou Dream Traditions
Athena C. Patterson-Orazem, University of Florida

Whereas our modem scientific understanding of dreams remains largely incomplete, it is
evident that dreaming is a universal phenomenon and, as such, is addressed within religion.
Some religions, such as Christianity, undermine the power of dreams; others, such as Haitian
Vodou, empower dreams. This tendency reflects fundamental cultural and religious differences
in the perception of dreams.
In Vodou, dreams constitute an important means by which iwa communicate with
humans; they convey warnings, blessings or offers of protection1 as well as songs2 and practical
or medicinal knowledge3. Lwa appear as familiar people or objects, but provide clues to their
identity through colors, clothing, props or accessories.4 However, in retelling dreams, people
most frequently describe the iwa by his or her name, with little or no regard towards the chwal
adopted during the dream.6 In all of these characteristics, dreaming in Vodou is not unlike being
possessed by the Iwa.
The great importance of Vodou dreams is best exemplified in McCarthy-Brown's Mama
Lola by a plethora of relevant dreams experienced by manbo Alourdes herself, her family past
and present and her clients. The legend of Alourdes' ancestor Joseph Binbin Mauvant refers to
his appearance to his wife in a dream in order to explain his sudden disappearance he had
returned to Africa Of course, this could easily be dismissed as superstition, or as an explanation
made to children. However, the importance of the dream is marked. When Alourdes dreams of
her mother, she knows "everything going to be okay [sic]".8 Once she had decided to become a
manbo, the lwa continued her Vodou education through her dreams9 just as they had for her
mother1.
Just as Alourdes' Vodou religious heritage, history and knowledge are predominantly
matrilineal, many dreams described in Mama Lola link mother and daughter while they are
separated. Alourdes's mother, Philo, learned that her own mother, Sina, was dying through a
dream." Similarly Maggie, Alourdes' daughter, experienced an equally accurate dream that her
mother was sick.12 When Maggie is ill, Alourdes thinks and dreams about her constantly. In a
nightmare experienced while she is being operated upon, a cobra finally frightened Maggie into




1 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs, p258
2 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs, p36
3 M6traux, Voodoo in Haiti, p143
4 Hebblethwaite, Vodou Songs, p258
5 (C .i./ -the person whom the lwa "rides" during possession; in this case the chwal is the human form adopted by
the lwa during a dream.
6 M6traux Voodoo in Haiti, p143-144
7McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p22-33
8 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p123
9 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p77
10 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p205
11 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p142-154
12 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p245









giving in and agreeing to take up the ason13; that very night, her mother dreamed of Gede and
understood that her daughter, once on the brink of death, would survive.14 Alourdes' acceptance
of the lwa's desire that she become a manbo was in part triggered by a dream experienced by her
aunt. Philo dreamt of her daughter's return a month before her actual return to Haiti; her prior
dreams had led her to know that all was not well with her daughter.15 However, such prophecy is
not exclusively between relatives. Clement Rapelle sought Philo for her healing and card-reading
because the Iwa told him to consult her in a dream, even though prior to the dream he did not
know of her existence16
Just as not all dreams directly involve the Iwa, not all dreams are true. Metraux
differentiates between "mere simple fantasies of the imagination" and "genuine visions"1. When
Philo dreams of an old woman who tells her she will feed and take care of her, Philo's neighbor
laughs and dismisses it as a byproduct of "sleeping hungry".s However, it is important to note
that though the neighbor doubted that it was of divine origin, she did not doubt that the dream
had a physical significance.
While dreams of encouragement can be explained as expressions of latent desires, hopes,
and concerns turned over to the subconscious during sleep, premonitions are less easily
dismissed. Currently there are three major competing theories regarding dreams: dreams occur as
a part of memory consolidation, as expectation fulfillment, or due to random firing of brain
signals19. None of these explain dreams to a satisfactory extent, perhaps because none of these
truly reflect a culture that empowers dreams.
Davis states that the European cultures began to "breed scientists" four centuries ago, and
philosophizes that the scientific perspective or "manner of thinking" can be just as limiting as
any other faith-based system20. This reflects the unwillingness of "the scientists" to accept
phenomena they cannot explain phenomena that disturb them such as prophesy or the
existence of gods, ghosts, spirits and dreams. Just as they are disturbed by dreams, scientists are
disturbed by possession. Psychologists are apt to diagnose Vodouists (but not Christians) as
mytho-maniacs displaying "overwhelming psychic disturbance" and "widespread" racial
pathology21. Anthropologists have identified 360 out of 488 societies whose religious worship
contains possession, including Christianity;22 however this ancestry is clearly rejected as archaic
and primitive.
The wary Christian view of dreams is in part due to the monotheistic and "closed" nature
of the gospel. The early-Christian belief that "true" dreams must come directly from God
discouraged dreams.23 By the Middle Ages a strong, basic mistrust of dreams was pervasive. In
addition to this, "true" God-sent dreams were considered the realm of exceptionally important
persons such as saints, kings, monks and select members of the clergy. Dreams were not


13 To take up the ason is to take up the sacred rattle used to direct lwa and Vodou ceremonies, i.e. to become Vodou
priest or priestess, a manbo or oungan.
14 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, p160-170
15 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 173-176
16 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 204-206
17 M6traux, Voodoo in Haiti, p144
18 McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola, 209,210
19 "Modem Theories of Dreaming Superseded: Lecture by Joe Griffin." Youtube Video
20 Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow, p173-175
21 Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow, p177-179
22 Davis, The Serpent and the Rainbow, p179
23 Shoulman and Stroumsa, Dream Cultures, p189-206









beholden to common men and certainly not to women.24 The role of dreams in the Christian
culture dwindled to the point that the belief of an alternate reality discovered in dreams was
considered heretical.25 Even now, the view that God frequently communicates to individuals
through dreams seems to be held only by a minority of Christians. Prophesy is said to have
largely ceased with or before the closure of the New Testament canon, remaining as a minor
artifact among those sects which believe that Christianity is not at a "perfect state" but continues
to evolve through God's intervention26. In this way, dreams in the Christian tradition have
largely become relegated to superstition, folk-tradition, or to a more bodily Freudian
interpretation.
The important role of dreams in Haitian Vodou relative to Christianity reflects profound
fundamental cultural differences between the two religions, displaying the fluid and open nature
of Vodou as a note-worthy contrast to Christianity's prescriptivism and monotheism.




































24 Shoulman and Stroumsa, Dream Cultures, p276
25 Shoulman and Stroumsa, Dream Cultures, p288
26 Hvidt, Christian Prophecy the Post-Biblical Tradition, p5-30 and 455-466









Works Cited


Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of
California, 1991. Print.

Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Print.

Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia: Temple
UP, 2012. Print.

Niels Christian Hvidt, Christian Prophecy -the Post-Biblical Tradition, Oxford/New York:
Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Metraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. Trans. Hugo Charteris. New York: Schoken, 1959. Print.

Mindfieldscollege. "Moder Theories of Dreaming Superseded: Lecture by Joe Griffin."
YouTube. YouTube, 01 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.
.

Shulman, David Dean, and Guy G. Stroumsa. Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative
History ofDreaming. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.