It wasn’t that long ago that I became a Vodou priest. Not so many years before that I joined a [Vodou] House in New Orleans. I have always been a spiritual person, but I haven’t always been a religious one.
Your own personal relationship to your mystical side is spirituality, whether that includes God, Spirit, the spirits, just plain nature or something else. You don’t need religion to be spiritual. Anyone can do it. For years I had spirituality without religion. Then I initiated into a Himalayan Vedic tradition, some might call it Hindu, others would object to that (great theological and philosophical debates have come out of those traditions trying to define religion). Still I wouldn’t say I was religious. To be religious is to have two things: common belief (you could call this dogma) and community.
When I joined my House I took these on: we had common belief in Vodou and our community was a family. Becoming a priest strengthened that bond; I felt closer to my family. I had taken another initiation, passed another cross-road.
The House is there to make it happen, experience it with you and bear witness. You are all much closer on the other side: transformed. It’s powerful, difficult, lonely and touching. The Lwa is at work providing a spiritually powerful transformation.
This I knew; this I had done. Then suddenly it was different.
When I wrote about becoming Asogwe, I said next was to figure out what that meant. Helping run couche was another initiation. I could talk about how we prepared, cleaned, danced, sang and so on – it would all be true. The presence of the Lwa for the entire couche was a different matter. From the gross to the subtle, the intensity of their company made it transformative in entirely new ways.
Couche is both an intimate and a public event. That shared intimacy with the fellow oungans, mambos and the initiates strengthens that sense of family. It’s grueling for everyone. We’ve all endured something together – an incredibly powerful experience. I’m not sure it can be completely understood, communicated or even repeated. I believe it’s created anew each time: the personal and the shared – the spiritual and the religious.
My spiritual seeking throughout my life has led me down many roads. Eventually I became disenfranchised with religion altogether. I was agnostic, but not atheist. Science has yet to convince me where things come from, or if they can, before that and before that ad infinitum. Spiritual experiences you cannot deny undergoing are hard to let go of. In the face of being agnostic yet spiritual, meditation and Vedic traditions were a perfect step for me.
That step led me to Vodou. I could feel it, see it and recognize it. I could experience it. Most importantly, there was a community. Hello religion, I missed you. I didn’t know you could be like this.
Which is really what this is all about: religion is your spiritual family. You share common beliefs. You come together. You do ceremony. Friends, family: some stay close and see each other all the time, some distant and missed come home and celebrate together.
Vodou has re-enfranchised religion for me. I come home to my other family. When I’m away, I practice where I am. Couche saw that family grow. We welcome more people into it. We grow closer through it. We are proud of those who take additional steps of the initiate. There are always more crossroads and more initiations along the way. Sometimes you cross them hand in hand, arms locked together with your family present to see you through.
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