voodoo possession by al tyas the very word voodoo conjures up quite a storm for those of us who know little

about the subject, which is just about everyone outside of ghana, haiti and new orleans. animal sacrifice, dolls with pins and zombies are all misunderstood aspects of this fascinating and supernatural religion. however, although many aspects of voodoo (or voodou) can be terrifying to most people here in the united states, one fascinates me the most, and that�s voodoo possession. an important part of voodoo is ritual, and in ritual practitioners are possessed by the voodoo spirits (called lwa, or loa ) to the point of performing feats that are beyond our laws of reasoning! to really understand the concept of voodoo possession, we have to understand one major aspect of this religion, the lwa themselves, and their relationships with the practitioners. there are a few very important points to understand when it comes to the lwa of voodoo, and once it is understood that these entities actually participate in their own rituals causing the possessed to perform supernatural acts it can be understood that there is a constant active relationship among both the living and the non-living. an important thing to understand about voodoo is that it is not a pagan religion. many will tell you lwa are gods, but in my findings this is a common misunderstanding. in voodoo, there is only one god. however, like buddhism, the voodoo god interferes little in the lives of the people. it�s really not that interested; therefore prayers and devotions really aren�t needed. so whom do the voodoo people go to when they need help? the lwa! the lwa are active spirits that may or may not have been human at one time who assist the people of the religion with what they want and need, such as love, money, a house, babies or advice. they aren�t gods, because they don�t �live� forever. in fact, if the devotions to any particular lwa completely end, the lwa goes away as well. the lwa needs his or her people as much as the people need the lwa. confused? perhaps an example will be helpful: a fisherman has little business and he desperately needs to get more fish, and none are available. if he practices voodoo, he can offer a ritual to the lwa of the sea. agwe and sirene. if agwe and sirene accept his prayers and offerings, he�ll find plenty of fish! in turn the fisherman will have a devotion to the lwa of the sea. if no one has any devotion to agwe and sirene, they will fade away. therefore, they�re not eternal. now that we know the lwa are actual spirits who are constantly active in people�s lives, what makes them so interesting? in my opinion what�s fascinating about the lwa is their ability to produce some very unusual paranormal activity in both humans and objects that truly go beyond the forces of nature! lwa have special objects they like. some like rum, others candy, still others like fancy clothes. many voodoo practitioners will tell you that if a lwa wants something, they will let you know! objects will float around the room, masks and pictures on walls will turn up side down, objects can break, and people can be touched and even pushed. usually this isn�t because the lwa want something, it�s simply they want attention or something you have! the lwa can be pranksters as well, but they also have a dark side. haitians will tell you if you make a lwa angry watch out! put on a helmet and run because they can get very nasty. you have to remember to step out of the judeo-christian matrix when it comes to voodoo. most of the lwa at one time were human at some point but evolved to these powerful spirits, and many of them get easily offended and can really fly off the handle when not given the respect they feel they deserve! some of the lwa are always quick tempered, and others are exclusively used for black magic. just keep in mind

they aren�t guardian angels but have dark sides�that�s crucial in studying the lwa! in addition to the lwa making themselves known through moving or throwing things, they also possess their practitioners quite frequently. each voodoo ritual invites all the lwa in to participate, and remember, there are hundreds of them. they come in a precession, with dambala and ayida weddo (the fertility lwa) first. then papa legba, who holds the keys to the spirit world and lets the rest of the lwa participate in the ritual and opens communication of both sides. and then the party begins! these rituals aren�t solemn occasions, there�s dancing, drinking, and more dancing, especially when the ghede show up (the lwa of the dead who love to drink). then along comes the possession. people start having what look like nervous fits, jerky movements and throw themselves onto the ground in apparent seizures. when the recover, a lwa is visiting. by the possessed actions alone the other guests will know which lwa is visiting. some ride their possessed�s shoulders for a while, then others just knock the possessed on the ground in one big shove. regardless, the person by choice is possessed (only people who want to be possessed have the opportunity). during possession, the possessed person does some quite unusual feats. sometimes they dance for hours and pass our right on a fire without getting the least bit singed. some will reach into a fire and pull out a burning piece of wood and will not be affected by the flame. if a person is possessed by maman brigite, they will drink her favorite beverage, rum mixed with gunpowder! yet nothing will happen to the person! a person possessed by dambala will crawl up tall trees without using their arms or legs. the love lwa ezili-freda will choose a man or woman as her body, and will flirt in french with the men and hiss and spit at the women. a person possessed by agwe or sirene will swim for miles out to sea, even if the person never swam before. once the lwas of death comes, feats get even stranger with highly unusual amounts of food being eaten, and hard liquor consumed so quickly most people would be in the hospital! yet the lwa never act drunk, and never get hurt. they answer questions asked by the other participants, get adorned in their favorite clothing, and are offered their favorite foods and drinks. so what happens when the lwa leaves the possessed body? they remember nothing. and in haitian tradition no one who is chosen by the lwa is either praised or scorned. they were simply chosen. everyone goes back to their old lives until the have a ritual to the lwa again. questions or comments? please email me! if this works out id live to write more extensive on the lwa and their role in the voodoo tradition. thanks al tyas director, dcmag

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