Why Vodou work isn’t free

There’s a Haitian proverb:

mambo (houngan) pa travay pou gran mesi
“Mambo (Houngan) doesn’t work for a big thank you.”

This means not only that good mambos or houngans aren’t doing spiritual work for the adulation of the millions, or for the show of it – but also that they don’t work for free.

There is a distinct difference between charging for one’s time/effort/materials and the prices I see some people charging for their services. I have seen variances of hundreds of percent. I know a houngan who charges less than $50 for a reading that takes him the better part of a day to prepare for; I know another who spends considerably less time, charges several hundred – and gets it.

Is there a difference between charging and overcharging, or is every Vodouisant who asks to be paid for his or her work a bad person?

You get what you pay for, and what you pay for something is not always in money, whether in Haiti or anywhere else.

I cannot attest to knowing a single initiate, “good” or “bad,” who works for absolutely nothing in return, even if that payment is non-monetary in origin.  Everything costs something to somebody.  There is no such thing as free when it comes to the spirits.  If it doesn’t cost you in dollars, it’s going to cost you attention, work, effort or maybe even responsibility.  It WILL cost you something, period.

This is not a bad thing at all.  It is the way the entire universe works.  The Lwa themselves cut deals with people and each other, and sometimes those deals are sealed with money.  If Metres Mambo Ezili Freda tells me that the work I want her to do for me is going to cost me a party I have to pay for in her honor, does that mean she’s a fraud too?  After all, the grocery store isn’t going to accept my undying love and thanks in return for all that champagne and cake…

What I have learned over the years is the sign of a good mambo or houngan that can be seen in the way they price their services is that the good ones ALWAYS work with each individual and that individual’s personal circumstances.

If you really need work done but you cannot afford it, ethical Vodouisants will arrange payment plans,  scale down the work or accept lesser payment.  Sometimes they’ll let you pay for work later, or pay for it in forms that aren’t monetary, if their own finances allow it, and sometimes if they don’t, if Spirit tells them to.

Additionally, during the entire process, they will be honest and up front with you about costs.  If something is going to cost more than it was estimated, they’ll explain why and quickly. You won’t suddenly be told after you have invested in a reading or a work that suddenly it’s now going to cost you another (insert ridiculous amount here), or suddenly that there are MORE problems than the original reading/work revealed that (surprise!) require yet more money.

Just like if you were shopping for a dentist or a guy to fix your plumbing, you have to be savvy.  Ask any potential Vodouisant you are considering to hire to do magical work on your behalf for estimates on that work.  Comparison shop.  Talk to their clients, both the satisfied ones and the unsatisfied ones.   The “good” mambos and houngans sort themselves out fairly quickly if you do this for yourself.

Enough rant for one night, but this is a subject that irritates me on both its extremes:  the one extreme where people think that the more you pay for something the better it must be AND the other extreme, where money is evil and anyone who wants or needs it must also be evil.

People should not assume that just because they paid $2000 for something it’s guaranteed to work when only Bondye can guarantee anything, or, conversely, that a houngan who can barely feed his kids is “bad” if he asks for $50 to spend the next three days working on your problem.  Both extremes are far from the truth.

More sacrifice-related links; more on Denmark

Discussion on the PantheaCon sacrifice panel is beginning. Here are two blogs that discuss it:

“A libation without a prayer is a spilled drink” by John Beckett

PantheaCon 2014: A Reflection” by the Anomalous Thracian (See his own website for the uncensored/uncondensed versions here)

Additionally, there’s been some more information on something being fishy in Denmark, notably that neither kosher nor halal have been conducted in the recently-made-illegal manner in Denmark for some time, and some Jewish and Muslim Danes are beginning to wonder if this is just a sneaky way to discriminate against them instead. Additionally, Denmark’s institutional concern for animal rights doesn’t appear to extend to zoo animals.

I’ll keep gathering information. Currently I’m trying to find out if the panel was recorded as it seemed to be, and if that will be made public. I also had a very long follow-up interview with the Coru that will be appearing somewhere soon, along with thoughts from other panel participants, and I’ll post links to that once I have them.

Animal sacrifice in the news

Last weekend at PantheaCon, I was part of a panel discussion on sacrifice (of all kinds, hosted by Coru Cathubodua). I mentioned at one point during the conversation, when we were talking about the utility and place of animal sacrifice in particular, that “any person who has eaten kosher or halal meats has taken part in animal sacrifice.”

When I got home, I found this article about kosher/halal practices in Denmark waiting for me to read. There are many things to say about it, both from the sacrifice standpoint and also the standpoints of religious and animal rights, but right now, I just wanted to post a link before I lose it.

Denmark Ban on Kosher and Halal Slaughter Comes Into Effect as Minister Says ‘Animal Rights Come Before Religion’

Old Posts Restored; back after PantheaCon

An older version of the website surfaced long enough for me to grab the articles off from it and export them to this blog. Now you can read what I had to say about U.S. aid to Haiti after the 12 January 2010 earthquake, and various shenanigans that kept it from getting to its destination, as well as some small snippets of news. Enjoy!

In the meantime, I’ve just returned from the PantheaCon religious conference, where I offered a demonstration of part of a Vodou ceremony for the Lwa Danbala, and where I was asked to speak on Coru Cathubodua‘s excellent panel concerning sacrifice. There’s already been some conversation about this panel around the Internet, and I expect there may be more as more people get home and start getting their thoughts together. I have a few more things to say, too, but first I could use some sleep.

Four years later

It started with a text.

Hey there was just a bad earthquake in Haiti, is Mami Marie OK?

I was in the car that afternoon, waiting for my downstairs neighbor to come out of the appointment I’d driven her to. One of my initiate daughters, ti-Marie, pinged me with the text. Immediately I phoned my Vodou mother, Mambo Marie; I knew that she had returned from her trip to see the family in Port-au-Prince only a few hours before. I managed to catch her.

“I’ll call,” she said. “I’ll call you back.”

I turned on the car, and the radio news.

None of the news was good. A massive, shallow earthquake had hit near Leogane, right before dinnertime. The only thing the reporters seemed to know was that the airport was “damaged” and that there were reports that the cathedral – and the palace – The Palace? – had fallen down.

That was when the panic set in. The family lakou is in a neighborhood very close to the Palace. And if that big, fancy,  well-built thing had fallen down…

My neighbor came out of the building. I drove home, went upstairs to the apartment I had two floors above hers, grabbed both my phones, and started making calls.

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