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1 The Origin of Dreams from the Haitian Vodou Perspective Athna C. PattersonOrazem University of Florida As the two major means of communication between humans and the lwa dreams and possessions play crucial roles in Vodou. But what causes these dreams? How are they related to possessions? In Vodou, the soul consists of the gwo bonnanj and the ti bonnanj The ti bonnanj is ones individual soul or essence (Lewis, 1995: 256), while the gwo bonnanj is the life giving divine particle ( Hebblethwaite, 2012: 242). The ti bonnanj is the sour ce of personality, character and willpower, while gwo bonnanj is the spiritual equivalent of the body (Dlita, 1988: 199), the life force which keeps all sentient beings alive (Davis, 1985: 181). Duri ng dreams and possessions the ti bonnanj travels outside of the body. This belief that the soul literally leaves the body and experiences another world during dreams is present in most traditional cultures (Lewis, 1995: 256). Dreams and premonitions are scattered throughout Mama Lola in a matter of fact man ner proportionate to the value of dreams in Vodou. The chi ld Alourdes anticipated that a dog would bite her even though it showed no signs of unfriendliness (Brown, 1991: 214). Joseph Binbin Mauvants sudden disappearance was explained to his relatives in a dream ( Brown, 1991: 33) Clement Rapelle was informed that Philomise would heal his son and where to find her in a dream ( Brown, 1991: 204214). All of these dreams are connected to the lwa though less direct ly than the vision in which zili Danto told Philo not to persist in her attempts to abort the child who would become Alourdes (1991: 207214). Just as Alourdes would become h er mothers spiritual successor and Rappelle would prove to be a spiri t sent means of prosperity, Alourdes bitten leg and subsequent disappearance served as a reminder from the lwa of unpaid spiritual debts. Mauvant returned to Africa, his hom eland but also the spiritual homeland of Vodou. As introduced above, t he role of dreams in Haitian Vodou is very similar to that of possessions Lwa communicate with humans in dreams offering warnings, blessings and protection (Hebblethwaite, 2012: 285) The lwa reveal songs (2012: 36) as well as religious instruction (Brown, 1991: 77), practical knowledge and medicinal remedies. As during possession, Vodouists are concerned with the lwa who is present, taking little or no notice of the identity of the chwal1 (Mtraux, 1959: 143144) The dreamer, unlike the chwal has the capacity to remember the dreams ; as such, a lwa may return to clarify a message conveyed in an earlier dream (1959: 144145) Any lwa can come into an initiates dreams to sleep with them, even if the devotee has not reserved a particular day for the lwa ( Lomax, 2009: 130). One can be possessed during sleep ( Mtraux, 1959: 144). H owever dreams are not necessarily caused by lwa Dreams serve as a medium for communication an in between world in which the human and the divine spirits can meet much like the space around the potomitan. Rigaud (1953: 289301) draws an interesting comparison between possession and chemical chain reactions: one prepares the reactants (the people) and the conditions (the environment), and when this is done the re actions start slowly, becoming increasingly frequent. It seems that dreams in this way are not unlike possession; if one is open to their presence, one is more likely to experience them. This is supported by Mtrauxs observation that people are especially reluctant to awaken an oungan or a manbo since they are especially prone to 1 The chwal (literally horse) is the person being possessed during a possession; the lwa enters the head, displacing the ti bonnanj so as to control or ride the human.

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2 communicating with the lwa via dreams, just as they are more frequently possessed (1959: 134). However, just as anyone could be possessed, anyone can dream. J ust as a person with medic al training is asked to treat illnesses, a manbo or an oungan may be asked to aide in the interpretation of dreams (Mtraux, 1959: 134146). It is important to note that dreams in Vodou are not solely divine Mtraux (1959: 144) differentiat es between mere simple fantasies of the imagination and genuine visions. Brown (1991: 209214) describes Philos dream of an old woman who tells her she will feed and take care of her. Philos neighbor laughs and dismisses it not as meaningless but as a byproduct of sleeping hungry . Philo later learns that the old woman was zili Danto These Vodou beliefs contrast sharply with Christian dream traditions. In the Christian tradition, true dreams come from God, but most dreams are diabolic in origin. D reams and prophesies were mistrusted by good Christians, indulgedin by heretics such as the Gnostics (Shoulman, 1999: 196199) These beliefs were rooted in a trend of domesticating dreams and visions such that they could reflect a connection with God without conflicting with the closed cannon of the Bible ( Shoulman, 1999: 195). The heretical connotations of dreaming included the denial of an otherworld discovered through dreaming ( Shoulman, 1999: 288). The limitation or avoidance of dreams in the mainstream Christian traditions might reflect a sentiment that it is not for humans to know what fate has in store for them; it also reflects a cultural trend towards rational evolution which discarded dreams as primitive, irrelevant, misleading, and even dangerous (1999: 289). Davis discusses the manners in which the scientific perspective or manner of thinking can be just as limiting as any other faith based system (1985: 173175). There remains a tendency to ascribe prophesy to hysterics, and Vodouists are dismissed by psychologists as myt homaniacs or groups of abnormal personalities displaying overwhelming psych ic disturbance, dual personalities and widespread racial pathology. ( Davis, 1985, 177179 and Dorsainvil, 1931: 111119) In fact, scientists have yet to discover the origins of dreaming; most scientific research addresses the physical aspects of dreaming such as the relation of bruxism, sleep talking, somnambulism and terrors to REM and nonREM sleep and possible evolutionary reasons for dreaming (Green et. al. 1968). V odou does not seem mutually exclusive to the three major competing dream theories (dreams occur as a part of memory consolidation, as expectation fulfillment, or due to random firing of brain signals) (Griffin 2008). However, no combination of these separate theories suffices to explain premonitions, prophesy, or factual knowledge learned within dreams Simply discounting such phenomena as erroneous human interpretation due to wish fulfillment without thorough and reasoned investigation is unscientific, reflecting a cultural mistrust and lack of understanding regarding dreams From a Haitian Vodou perspective, dreams originate from voyages of the ti bonnanj in an otherworld a time, atmosphere and space in which the lwa can interface with human s It is my personal opinion that such an interface may have a quantum physical explanation possibly involving symmetry breaking2 and genetic inherited memory3, which has yet t o be achieved by modern science. Works Cited 2 For more information, see Strocchis Symmetry breaking 2nd edition (2008), compiled as a part of the SpringerLINK Lecture Notes in Physics 3 For more information, see Inheiritance Beyond DNA (2010) an interview of Wolf Reik by Nicole LeBrasseur in the Journal of Cell Biology and William Walker Atkinsons The Subconscious and the Super Conscious: Planes of Mind (1909)

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3 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. Dorsainvil, J. C. Vodou Et Nevrose Port au Prince: Editions Fardin, 1931. Print. Green, Maurice R.; Ullman, Montague and Tauber, Edward S. Dreaming and Modern Dream Theory Modern Psychoanalysis Ed. Judd Marmor. Basic Books, Inc. 1968. Print. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. Vodou Songs in Hai tian Creole and English. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2012. Print. Kerboull, Jean. Vaudou et Pratiques Magiques Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1977. Print. Lewis, James R. The Dream Encyclopedia Detroit: Visible Ink, 1995. Print. Lomax, Alan. Haitian Dia ry: Papers and Correspondence from Alan Lomax's Haitian Journey 193637. Comp. Ellen Harold. San Francisco, CA: Harte Recordings, 2009. Print. Mtraux, 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. . Rigaud, Milo. La Tradition Voudoo et le Voudoo Haitien. Paris: Editions Niclaus, 1953. Print. 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 Origin of Dreams from the Haitian Vodou Perspective, Athéna C. Patterson-Orazem
Series Title: HAI3930, ANT3930, LAS3930, REL3938
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Creator: Raitano, Megan
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Raitano, Megan
Felima, Crystal
Place of Publication: University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
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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 Origin of Dreams from the Haitian Vodou Perspective
Athena C. Patterson-Orazem, University of Florida

As the two major means of communication between humans and the Iwa, dreams and
possessions play crucial roles in Vodou. But what causes these dreams? How are they related to
possessions?
In Vodou, the soul consists of the gwo bonnanj and the ti bonnanj. The ti bonnanj is
one's "individual soul or essence" (Lewis, 1995: 256), while the gwo bonnanj is the life-giving
"divine particle" (Hebblethwaite, 2012: 242). The 'ti bonnanj is the source of personality,
character and willpower, while gwo bonnanj is the spiritual equivalent of the body (Delita, 1988:
199), the life-force which keeps "all sentient beings" alive (Davis, 1985: 181). During dreams
and possessions the ti bonnanj travels outside of the body. This belief that the soul literally
leaves the body and experiences another world during dreams is present in "most traditional
cultures" (Lewis, 1995: 256).
Dreams and premonitions are scattered throughout Mama Lola in a matter-of-fact manner
proportionate to the value of dreams in Vodou. The child Alourdes anticipated that a dog would
bite her, even though it showed no signs of unfriendliness (Brown, 1991: 214). Joseph Binbin
Mauvant's sudden disappearance was explained to his relatives in a dream (Brown, 1991: 33).
Clement Rapelle was informed that Philomise would heal his son and where to find her in a
dream (Brown, 1991: 204-214). All of these dreams are connected to the Iwa, though less
directly than the vision in which Ezili Danto told Philo not to persist in her attempts to abort the
child who would become Alourdes (1991: 207-214). Just as Alourdes would become her
mother's spiritual successor and Rappelle would prove to be a spirit-sent means of prosperity,
Alourdes' bitten leg and subsequent disappearance served as a reminder from the lwa of unpaid
spiritual debts. Mauvant returned to Africa, his homeland but also the spiritual homeland of
Vodou.
As introduced above, the role of dreams in Haitian Vodou is very similar to that of
possessions. Lwa communicate with humans in dreams offering warnings, blessings and
protection (Hebblethwaite, 2012: 285). The Iwa reveal songs (2012: 36) as well as religious
instruction (Brown, 1991: 77), practical knowledge and medicinal remedies. As during
possession, Vodouists are concerned with the Iwa who is present, taking little or no notice of the
identity of the chwall (Metraux, 1959: 143-144). The dreamer, unlike the chwal, has the capacity
to remember the dreams; as such, a Iwa may return to clarify a message conveyed in an earlier
dream (1959: 144-145). Any Iwa can come into an initiate's dreams to sleep with them, even if
the devotee has not reserved a particular day for the Iwa (Lomax, 2009: 130). One can be
possessed during sleep (Metraux, 1959: 144). However, dreams are not necessarily caused by
Iwa. Dreams serve as a medium for communication an in-between world in which the human
and the divine spirits can meet, much like the space around the potomitan.
Rigaud (1953: 289-301) draws an interesting comparison between possession and
chemical chain-reactions: one prepares the reactants (the people) and the conditions (the
environment), and when this is done the reactions start slowly, becoming increasingly frequent.
It seems that dreams in this way are not unlike possession; if one is open to their presence, one is
more likely to experience them. This is supported by Metraux's observation that people are
especially reluctant to awaken an oungan or a manbo since they are especially prone to

1 The chwal (literally "horse") is the person being possessed during a possession; the Iwa enters the head,
displacing the 'ti bonnanj so as to control or "ride" the human.









communicating with the Iwa via dreams, just as they are more frequently possessed (1959: 134).
However, just as anyone could be possessed, anyone can dream. Just as a person with medical
training is asked to treat illnesses, a manbo or an oungan may be asked to aide in the
interpretation of dreams (Metraux, 1959: 134-146).
It is important to note that dreams in Vodou are not solely divine. Metraux (1959: 144)
differentiates between "mere simple fantasies of the imagination" and "genuine visions". Brown
(1991: 209-214) describes Philo's dream of an old woman who tells her she will feed and take
care of her. Philo's neighbor laughs and dismisses it not as meaningless but as a byproduct of
"sleeping hungry." Philo later learns that the old woman was Ezili Danto.
These Vodou beliefs contrast sharply with Christian dream traditions. In the Christian
tradition, "true" dreams come from God, but most dreams are diabolic in origin. Dreams and
prophesies were mistrusted by "good Christians", indulged-in by "heretics" such as the Gnostics
(Shoulman, 1999: 196-199). These beliefs were rooted in a trend of "domesticating" dreams and
visions such that they could reflect a connection with God without conflicting with the closed
cannon of the Bible (Shoulman, 1999: 195). The heretical connotations of dreaming included the
denial of an otherworld discovered through dreaming (Shoulman, 1999: 288). The limitation or
avoidance of dreams in the mainstream Christian traditions might reflect a sentiment that it is not
for humans to know what fate has in store for them; it also reflects a cultural trend towards
"rational evolution" which discarded dreams as primitive, "irrelevant, misleading, and even
dangerous" (1999: 289).
Davis discusses the manners in which the scientific perspective or "manner of thinking"
can be just as limiting as any other faith-based system (1985: 173-175). There remains a
tendency to ascribe prophesy to hysterics, and Vodouists are dismissed by psychologists as
mytho-maniacs or groups of abnormal personalities displaying "overwhelming psychic
disturbance", dual-personalities and "widespread" racial pathology. (Davis, 1985, 177-179 and
Dorsainvil, 1931: 111-119). In fact, scientists have yet to discover the origins of dreaming; most
scientific research addresses the physical aspects of dreaming such as the relation of bruxism,
sleep-talking, somnambulism and terrors to REM and non-REM sleep and possible
evolutionary reasons for dreaming (Green et. al., 1968).
Vodou does not seem mutually exclusive to the three major competing dream theories
(dreams occur as a part of memory consolidation, as expectation fulfillment, or due to random
firing of brain signals) (Griffin, 2008). However, no combination of these separate theories
suffices to explain premonitions, prophesy, or factual knowledge learned within dreams. Simply
discounting such phenomena as "erroneous" human interpretation due to "wish fulfillment"
without thorough and reasoned investigation is unscientific, reflecting a cultural mistrust and
lack of understanding regarding dreams. From a Haitian Vodou perspective, dreams originate
from "voyages" of the ti bonnanj in an otherworld a time, atmosphere and space in which the
Iwa can interface with humans. It is my personal opinion that such an interface may have a
quantum-physical explanation, possibly involving symmetry-breaking2 and genetic inherited
memory3, which has yet to be achieved by modern science.
Works Cited

2 For more information, see Strocchi's "Symmetry breaking" 2nd edition (2008), compiled as a part of the
SpringerLINK Lecture Notes in Physics.
3 For more information, see "Inheiritance Beyond DNA" (2010), an interview of Wolf Reik by Nicole
LeBrasseur in the Journal of Cell Biology, and William Walker Atkinson's The Subconscious and the
Super Conscious: Planes ofMind (1909).









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.

Dorsainvil, J. C. Vodou Et Nevrose. Port-au-Prince: Editions Fardin, 1931. Print.

Green, Maurice R.; Ullman, Montague and Tauber, Edward S. "Dreaming and Modern Dream
Theory" Modern Psychoanalysis. Ed. Judd Marmor. Basic Books, Inc. 1968. Print.

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

Kerboull, Jean. Vaudou et Pratiques Magiques. Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1977. Print.

Lewis, James R. The Dream Encyclopedia. Detroit: Visible Ink, 1995. Print.

Lomax, Alan. Haitian Diary: Papers and Correspondence from Alan Lomax's Haitian Journey
1936-37. Comp. Ellen Harold. San Francisco, CA: Harte Recordings, 2009. Print.

Metraux, 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.
.

Rigaud, Milo. La Tradition Voudoo et le Voudoo Haitien. Paris: Editions Niclaus, 1953. Print.

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