Friday, June 19, 2009

Is This a Real Practice?

One of the things you learn pretty quickly when studying true crime stories that are supposedly linked to esoteric practices is that prosecutors often exaggerate anything that sounds like an occult connection to sometimes ridiculous extremes. These exaggerations are usually obvious to magical practitioners like myself, but they sail over the heads of people who've never studied occultism and honestly have no idea what esoteric spirituality really entails.

For example, I've covered the case of Joy Johnson and Joseph Craig who were accused of sex crimes related to a "Satanic cult" that nobody in their area had ever heard of. The prosecutor went so far as charge one of their neighbors, I suppose in order to dig up somebody else so that he could justify the existence of a cult. In the end, however, the neighbor was released since it was pretty clear to the judge that she had nothing to do with any sort of cult, let alone any of the alleged criminal activity. Johnson and Craig remain charged with the sexual abuse of two other individuals and have yet to go to trial, but the "Satanic cult" elements have been completely dropped from the state's case - probably because the prosecutor made them up made them up when he found out the two practiced esoteric spirituality.

The conduct of the prosecutor involved in that story provides some context to this one.

A New York City woman has been accused of burning her 6-year-old daughter during a voodoo ritual and then ignoring her cries for help and sending her to bed.

Prosecutors say Marie Lauradin poured an accelerant over her daughter during a Haitian practice known as Loa and made her stand naked in a ring of fire, engulfing her in flames.

I'm not that familiar with Voudon, but I do recognize a few elements such as the ring of fire. I know that strong alcohol is also used in Voudon rituals, so that could be the "accelerant" prosecutors are talking about. However, I'm wondering if anyone out there can confirm whether or not this combination of the two sounds like something that Voudon practitioners actually do. Specifically, it seems to me that if it is common to have someone stand naked in the center of a ring of fire and then pour alcohol all over them there would be a lot more serious burn injuries going around the Voudon community than I've ever heard of. Or could this be the result of some serious technical problem in the ritual, like making the ring of fire too small or using too much alcohol?

I don't really know what happened here aside from the child being injured, but I also am well aware that statements from prosecutors can be profoundly unreliable when a case has anything to do with alternative religions or magical practices. Can anybody out there clue me in? Was this a poorly done version of a canonical Voudon ritual, or are portions of the charges outright fabrications?

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Unknown said...

>>However, I'm wondering if anyone out there can confirm whether or not this combination of the two sounds like something that Voudon practitioners actually do.

I know fire itself plays a part in some variations of how one wants to perform voudon (dancing around fires with masks on, lighting candles, etc.), but I bloody well know you don't douse someone with an accelerant in voudon and set them on fire, unless you want them dead. Fire and role playing are things I've seen used with african practices, but no one was a briquet.

>>Was this a poorly done version of a canonical Voudon ritual, or are portions of the charges outright fabrications?

I never trust any prosecutor or cop when it comes to saying if things are of a religious intent. Look at how often they throw santanism around and make it synonimous with devil worship. I'd bet 50 bucks he's exagerating.

Fred McCaughey said...

I doubt it's a vodou working; santeria and vodou are the ultimate occult 'other' and a favorite punching bag for bigots their view is 'we have religion and spirituality, they have barbaric devil rituals'. And I'm not just talking about right wingers, left wingers and PETA have spewed so much vile crap about those beautiful traditions; for example check out this link:

Let's analyze it shall we?

”Although the right to hold faith in any religion is protected under the First Amendment, whether this includes the right to conduct religious slaughter of animals is unclear and therefore problematic.”

Santero and Houngans have consistantly won court cases to practice their beliefs, PETA wouldn’t want you to know that of course.

“These rituals often take place in secluded areas or at secret meeting places, and most of these groups do not have rosters or membership listings, so they are difficult to track.”

A few words that stand out ‘difficult to track’ in other words PETA would like their followers to spy on Santeros and Hougans because to them the life of a chicken matters more than freedom of religion or privacy.

“Meanwhile, countless animals are tortured and killed in the name of religion.”

According these idiots the life of a chicken is more important than freedom of religion.

“The goat’s blood was mixed with that of a chicken and drunk by all of the participants.”

An attempt to demonize santeros; I’m no expert on Santeria or Vodou but I wouldn’t be surprised if PETA actually made that up. Also note how they include a ‘human sacrifice’ link.

“If you discover evidence or have knowledge of any case of animal sacrifice or mutilation, contact the police.”

Translation: pester the police about law abiding people practicing their religion freely and ask them to harrass people are guilty of nothing but practicing a religion you don’t like.

“To protect your own animal companions from theft for animal sacrifices, keep them indoors, on leashes, or closely supervised. Black cats are especially vulnerable around Halloween, when people look for them to use in their “festivities.”

Watch out everybody those savage brown people will kidnap frufru and sacrifice him to satan! In other words they’re encouraging their followers to fear Hispanic and Black people.

“Unfortunately, ordinances that prohibit the killing or maiming of animals for ritualistic purposes can be ineffective.”
Translation: “sadly we can’t make it illegal for people to practice their religion freely and do what they like in the privacy of their own homes.” I think this shows the totalitarian viewpoint of animal rights nuts.

“If all else fails, you can visit or call your local newspapers or television stations and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story might force officials to act or might scare the person causing the abuse into stopping.”
Here PETA shows their lack of respect for a person’s privacy; they encourage intimidating people with the media to get them to stop practicing a religion they hate; puritanism is back and it wears a ‘fur is murder’ shirt.

I expect almost everything I read or hear about vodou in the media or anywhere else to be inaccurate bullshit; that overrated comic the invisibles is also just as guilty of it.

Sator said...

Well, I dont know nothing about vodoo, but you know, I am more in High Magic, but living in México its interesting to take a look in folk practices. Like shamanistic practices or things like that. So, a couple of times I went with Brujos -thats how they call the folks magicians-.Those people name "limpias" the purification practice for banishing bad influences. So once Id went with a brujo who put me in the middle of a ring of fire -I was naked-. while he was praying. ¿does it works? Well poor people thinkit works, but I rely more in my banishing pentagrams ans hexagrams.
About the little girl burned, well. Fire its hard to handle, it could happen.

Unknown said...

There are many rituals in Vodou which involve igniting rum or Florida Water and then passing through the flame. (These are generally offerings to Ogou or the "hot" Petwo Lwa like Ezili Danto). Alcohol doesn't burn that hot, and if you pass through it quickly you'll barely get warmed up.

In this case it sounds like the child was either wearing something flammable or was soaked in something which caught fire. I've never seen this happen at the many Vodou rituals I've attended, but I'm sure it could.

If the child was burned, she should have received medical attention immediately: if she didn't, the parents may have something to answer for. But the ritual itself is nothing unusual nor, if done correctly, is it particularly dangerous.

Rob said...

I talked with Thomas Pendragon (Coyote Pendragon, ect). He studied Voodoo for years under different practitioners while he was living in Florida and New Orleans.

He says he's familiar with the ritual and it sounds real, and that the issues with the burning probably had to do with the circle being made too small.

He also said that this particular ritual isn't all that popular and is more of a Haitian thing, and also that the ritual itself would be dependent on the loa that was being worked with, and that's why this doesn't happen all that often.

Zandria Zatara said...

From Mambo Racine posted on

I would just like to make a little comment here:

Bathing a person with flaming alcohol is something we do all the time. If you soak a dollar bill in rum, throw it on the ground, and set it on fire, the rum will burn and you will be left with a soggy dollar bill, but the paper won't burn.

Yes, you can burn yourself severely. Yes, there are accidents. I once saw a young man burned on the inside of his thigh when too much Florida Water soaked his pants. I've seen other accidents too.

Usually in Haiti if you are sick or injured, you don't get very much sympathy. You are denied certain foods and you are made to endure privations and restrictions that are just maddening, and I really think a lot of these measures are intended to make people faking illness get tired of faking, it can't help an ill person to withhold food and care, but that's what often happens.

Also, in Haiti if you get sick or injured at night, forget it, because no one is going to go out at night to take you to the hospital, it just "isn't done".

So nothing that lady did indicates she wanted to hurt her child. It was an accident, and she was waiting for the sun to come up to see if the child still needed the doctor.

Of course I personally would have called 911 immediately. But I am an English-speaking citizen, I can say, "Yikes! We just had a horrible accident here." Maybe this lady couldn't. Maybe she was afraid that her visa wasn't right, or that she would be accused of deliberately harming the child, and so she wanted to wait and see how things looked in the morning, since the child obviously was not about to die.

Again, I would have done differently, but this woman is going to be crucified (excuse the mixed-religious metaphor) for Vodou, not for having an accident at home.

Peace and love,

Mambo Racine

Zandria Zatara said...

On a personal note, I used to be a stripper and this is an OLD trick. We used to cover parts of ourselves in foam alcohol and light it on stage. It burned off before the skin, or clothing, were burned. It is quite fun actually and makes for a great show.

The burns to the child were almost certainly and accident.

And in case you are not aware, hospitals and social workers are often not very friendly to "alternative" religions or immigrants.

Scott Stenwick said...

Thanks for the responses, everyone. I figured that this was probably some sort of accidental ritual injury, but I've learned not to necessarily take statements from prosecutors at face value, especially when dealing with alternative religious practices.