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.

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