Voodoo – Priests, Potions and Papa Doc

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‘There is not a shred of doubt in my mind today that the African, in his own mysterious ways, has harnessed one of the strangest powers of all — the thing they call Ju-ju.’

James H. Neal

Thousands of men were at work constructing the new harbour at Tema Port, Ghana. The colossal project involved the clearance of vast swathes of land with state-of-the-art bulldozers and machinery. However, in the midst of the bustling industry, one solitary tree trunk refused to budge. Despite being subjected to numerous attempts to uproot it from the ground, it appeared to defy all logic, and stood obstinately intact in the centre of the barren landscape.

‘This tree be Fetish’ explained a local tribesman to a government official who had been assigned to oversee the work. The civil servant was bemused and clearly did not understand this curious statement.

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A Fetish is said to represent a powerful spirit (loa).

Essentially, the man was suggesting that a powerful spirit (loa) dwelled within the tree. In Voodoo tradition if an object is said to be ‘Fetish’ it is effectively the host of such an entity. The only way that the tree could be removed successfully would be if a Fetish Priest was called in order to conduct an appropriate ceremony. Such a Holy Man was duly summoned. On arrival, the Priest explained that he would speak to the spirit and see if he could persuade it to move to another tree.

After entering a trance-like state, the Priest concluded that the ceremony had been a success, the spirit believed that the new harbour would bring many benefits to the local people and agreed to move on. Then, amazingly with minimal effort, the workmen were able to perform what was unthinkable a few hours before. The tree yielded obediently in the baked solid soil revealing a massive lattice of jagged roots for all to see.

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Baron Samedi the loa of the dead. Mainstream representations of Voodoo are much distorted.

There are many such incredible anecdotes regarding the mysterious religion most commonly known as ‘Voodoo’. In West Africa (where it originated) it is often called Vodun. As Alfred Metraux has noted, the peoples of this region have ‘kept alive beliefs and rituals inherited from the ancient religions of the classical East and the Aegean world.’ Voodooists identify with a sophisticated pantheon of Gods and spirits. Indeed, the religion may have evolved in the New World in countries such as Haiti, Brazil and the USA, but there remain clear similarities with the root practices. Christianity has been synthesised with Voodoo and particular saints have come to be associated with the loa (spirits) of Voodooism. For example Saint Patrick often represents Damballah-Wedo (the snake God) on account of his affinity with the reptiles.

Ceremony, ritual and trance are vital components of Voodoo, and the hunsi (initiates) meet at hunfort (a secluded place) to pay homage to the spirits. A clear hierarchy exists, and the hungan (priest) and/or mambo (priestess) will oversee the proceedings. Indeed, the sacrifice of animals, lively music and often frenzied dancing, led many westerners in the past to look down upon the religion and dismiss it as mere ‘sorcery’ or ‘black magic’. However, with an estimated half a billion followers throughout the world, Voodoo is clearly a vital aspect of daily existence for many.

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Papa Doc who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 used Voodoo to exert his control over the masses.

Many may view Voodoo with suspicion and disdain on account of its distorted mainstream image. Popular media representations such as Ian Fleming’s Bond novel ‘Live and Let Die’ have fuelled both intrigue and fear. The infamous Voodoo Doll, amulets, potions and the casting of spells represent a belief system which appears to be the complete antithesis of Christianity. Nonetheless, it must be understood that a true Voodooist is  aware and respectful of the subtle forces which exist in nature. The axiom of ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ should always apply.

Clearly more serious study is required regarding the origins, evolution and influence of Voodoo throughout the world. Alfred Metraux’s research on Haitian practices throughout the 1940s and 1950s is most illuminating. However, it is understandable that practitioners may choose to be less than forthcoming to academics when Voodoo is often regarded with such suspicion and contempt. In nations which ostensibly champion Christianity as the official religion, Voodoo is frequently dismissed as a cult and deliberately marginalised from mainstream consciousness.

The author of the article is David Fox, a professional entertainer and freelance writer based in the UK. Visit David’s website for more information: www.magician-midlands.co.uk.

Voodoo, Black Magic and Sorcery in Deepest Darkest Africa…

Title: ‘Jungle Magic’ Author: James H. Neal Year of publication: 1966
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A fascinating biographical account of supernatural occurrences.

A thick black powder spread across a car seat… The European thought nothing of it. But to his African companion it was a sign, a deadly sign of a Ju-ju attack. A curse so potent that its victim was helpless -and doomed.
 
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‘Jungle Magic’ is a fascinating text which will be of great interest to anyone with an interest in Voodoo, the Occult, and matters cognate. This startling biographical account of James H Neale’s first-hand experiences of the Voodoo religion in Ghana during British rule in the 1950s will make even the most sceptical of souls consider the power and potency of this ancient faith.
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Neal arrived on the Gold Coast in 1952 having been appointed to the position of Chief Finance and Supplies Officer by the High Commissioner in London. He was responsible for cracking down on numerous criminal gangs which were involved in activities such as fraud, extortion and the large scale theft of building materials. Neal’s investigative work lead to the convictions of many powerful figures who were operating in the West African underworld. Loyal friendships and alliances were forged during his dangerous missions but, inevitably, bitter and sinister disenfranchised enemies became commonplace and were more than willing to use black magic to kill…
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Initially Neal scoffed at the notion of Voodoo and sinister forces from unseen realms. Like many Europeans of the time he believed it was mere hocus pocus and superstition. In the introduction he recounts his first impressions on the subject whilst listening to the terrible stories of other government officials in the European Club in Accra:
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‘This was fascinating – intelligent men, level-headed and highly qualified in their professions, giving credence to a lot of mumbo-jumbo.’
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However, after witnessing the power of Voodoo on several occasions, Neal’s point-of-view is radically altered. Indeed, an almost fatal attack from a black Ju-ju man is the penultimate stage in his process of conversion. It is only after the intervention of a white Ju-ju man (his colleague’s uncle) that he is able to make a full recovery:
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‘I made up my mind there and then that Ju-ju was far more than the harmless hocus-pocus I had thought it to be.’
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The startling accounts of Neale’s experiences in this exciting environment ensure that ‘Jungle Magic’ is a real page turner. But perhaps it is the consistency of his objective and rational narrative voice which make the preternatural occurrences all the more believable and frightening. He appears to deliver his anecdotes in an unassuming fashion calmly inviting the reader to make up his or her own mind about the veracity of Voodoo. Neale’s strength as a writer is most certainly his sobriety when faced with with such a controversial, sensitive and unworldly subject.
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Sympathetic magic, as well as the usage of amulets, potions and ritual, are all evident within this seemingly unknown classic. Neal’s detailed and engaging accounts will be of great interest to anyone with even just a passing interest in the Occult. At the finale of the sensational final chapter, Neal concludes:
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‘I came more than ever to the conclusion that many of these African Ju-ju men had powerful secrets of which very little was known in the West, and that it has been passed down from generation to generation.’
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I am amazed that ‘Jungle Magic’ is currently not in print and hardback copies vend for around £25 on Amazon. I was very fortunate to pick up a paperback edition in a local bookshop for £5. Hopefully you will be able to procure a copy if this subject is of interest to you. Why not visit my website for more things magical? Magical David Fox.
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