Voodoos and Obeahs: Phases of West India Witchcraft

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Publisher Description

It may have been items such as these that inspired William Buchler Seabrook to go to Haiti with the set purpose of learning first hand whatever he could of Voodoo and kindred practices. At all events, after some stay in the island, he published in 1929 The Magic Island which at once became the centre of heated controversy. To some it was a weird conglomeration of fact and fancy worthy of little serious consideration and of even less credibility.

On the other hand, the usually conservative LITERARY DIGEST apparently accepted it in its entirety as historic fact, and without question or cavil devoted five entire pages almost entirely to excerpts from its more startling passages and the reproduction of several photographs. One single reference to "the element of the occult which Mr Seabrook seems to believe" is the nearest approach to a guarded caution about the actuality of the most improbable details, a few of which may be mentioned in passing,

Thus, for example, at the "blood baptism," a truly voodooistic rite, when the author was to receive the "ouanga packet" prepared for him by Maman Célie, after the preliminary sacrifice of two red cocks and two black, an enormous white turkey and a pair of doves," in due course the sacrificial goat was led forth. "He was a sturdy brown young goat, with big, blue, terrified, almost human eyes, eyes which seemed not only terrified but aware and wondering. At first he bleated and struggled, for the odor of blood was in the air, but finally he stood quiet, though still wide-eyed, while red silken ribbons were twined in his little horns, his little hoofs anointed with wine and sweet-scented oils, and an old woman who had come from far over the mountain for this her brief part in the long ceremony sat down before him and crooned to him alone a song which might have been a baby's lullaby."

After a further ritual with the goat, Catherine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Maman Célie was led in by her brother Emanuel who "had to clutch her tightly by the arm to prevent her from stumbling when they brought her to the altar. Maman Célie hugged her and moaned and shed tears as if they were saying good-bye forever. The papaloi pulled them apart, and some one gave the girl a drink from a bottle. She began to protest in a dull sort of angry, whining way when they forced her down on her knees before the lighted candles. The papaloi wound round her forehead red ribbons like those which had been fastened around the horns of the goat, and Maman Célie, no longer as a mourning mother but as an officiating priestess, with rigid face aided in pouring the oil and wine on the girl's head, feet, hands and breast. All this time the girl had been like a fretful, sleepy, annoyed child, but gradually she became docile, somber, staring with quiet eyes, and presently began a weird song of lamentation." The song itself is summed up in the last verse: "So I who am not sick must die!" The author then continues: "And as that black girl sang, and as the inner meaning of her song came to me, I seemed to hear the voice of Jephtha's daughter doomed to die by her own father as a sacrifice to Javeh, going up to bewail her virginity on Israel's lonely mountain. Her plight in actuality was rather that of Isaac bound by Abraham on Mount Moriah; a horned beast would presently be substituted in her stead; but the moment for that mystical substitution had not yet come, and as she sang she was a daughter doomed to die."

Health & Well-Being
29 July
Library of Alexandria

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