Charlatans in Vodou

COPYRIGHT 1996 - Mambo Racine Sans Bout

No reproduction without consent of author

Charlatans abound in Vodou, as in many other religions. Because Vodou has been maligned in America, the real nature and regulations of the faith are not commonly known. This makes it easy for any fraud to set him or herself up as a "Voodoo priest", "King of Vodou", "Gro Mambo", "Voodoo Queen", or whatever. Unsuspecting visitors have no information by which to measure the veracity of the charlatan's claims, and easily fall prey to their greed.

One useful test is to ask the person posing as an authority, "Who initiated you, where, and when, and at what rank?" According to the tradition, the person MUST respond, immediately and fully! If they can not, they are not what they claim to be.

Common sense will exclude other pretenders - a Mambo is not, for instance, a "representative of Jesus Christ"! Mixing religions, running ceremonies without competent clergy present, constant demands for large amounts of money, all are indications of fraud. Titles deriving from other sources, such as "Queen", also indicate fraud. The three ranks in Vodou are kanzo senp (simple kanzo), si pwen, or sur point in French (on the "point", or patronage, of a particular lwa) and asogwe. All three grades are open to men and women.

Claims of exclusivity, such as, "I am the only true Houngan, or Mambo, in the United States", are also indications of fraud. There are many authentic, practicing Houngans and Mambos in the United States, even at the rank of asogwe. The conditions in the house of the person claiming status as a clergy person of the Vodou should also be looked at - a Mambo, for example, does not drive a Mercedes-Benz while her hounsis sleep on the floor!

There are other tests - secret handshakes, passwords, and so on, but unfortunately these are known only to real, properly ordained Houngans and Mambos, and not to the general public.

When a Houngan or Mambo holds a public ceremony, we do not make people pay to attend any more than a Catholic priest makes his congregation pay for Holy Communion. And we do not include entertainment in the form of jazz bands or reggae singers!

Charlatans can have Internet web pages, and participate in newsgroups - that is all part of the American tradition of freedom of speech. One woman posing as a priestess even sent a .gif image of an invitation to a ceremony; to the newsgroup soc.culture.haiti. On this .gif, the name of the lwa being honored was misspelled, the public was advised that admission would be charged ($15.00 in advance, $20.00 at the door, I kid you not!) and another attraction was listed as part of the program - a "Latin jazz" horn ensemble! This would be laughable if it were not so pitiful. This same woman now has on her website a text of a phony possession by the lwa Baron, in which she curses "f*cking white people", and so on.

There is a difference between these individuals, and those persons who, while not initiated or ordained, have a sincere interest in Vodou and sometimes make services for the lwa. Anyone can make a food offering, anyone can set up an altar or pray, anyone can make up new songs for the lwa. That is no sin, and these individuals will be the first to admit that they are not clergypeople or leaders in any way.

I urge the public not to let the few charlatans discourage efforts to learn the truth about this religion, or participate in it. Vodou is a wonderful faith, with flaws and shortcomings and strengths and power, just like any other religion.