Altar by David Mayo.
One of the things I love to discuss about Vodou is how dynamic and inclusive the representations of the Lwas are. People usually laugh when I tell you that on Gede's altar, for example, you can find from Halloween ornaments to Joker or Beetlejuice action figures. I understand that this may seem very strange to us, used to the whole idea that seriousness and legitimacy are confused with excessive pomp. Catholic Churches have always specialized, for example, in using the good and the best for their representations - incredible artists, noble materials and so on. However, when we talk about Vodou, we are discussing a religiosity of a place without so many resources and that, mainly, values direct interaction with the invisible. This, of course, results in unexpected things, like these representations.
Francesco Ronzon did a very interesting job studying the images of Ogou in Belair, a slum in Port-au-Prince. In this work, Ronzon finds Ogou being represented by Rambo! Yes, I'm talking about the character played by Sylvester Stallone in the 80's. Let's see the figure of Rambo in the poster below, which is the exact image that Ronzon quotes in his article. There is no shortage of typical Ogou elements in Rambo: a soldier; muscles; weapons; and to complete: a red headband ( Ronzon ., F. (2002) Ogun , Rambo ., St. Jacques Spiriti , immagini and pratiche cognitive level vodou di Port - au -Prince (Haiti). La Ricerca Folklorica , (45 ), 53-70 ).
Evidently, it is not enough for someone to see similarities between a “pop” figure and a certain sacred figure for the “pop” image to also to represent the sacred. For example, despite his brilliant performance in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, we do not see images of William Dafoe in people's homes or in churches. To be a little less obvious, we also do not see images of Superman being worshiped as Christ, although many have already tried to explore the similarities between the two figures. Therefore, it takes more than a simple recognition process. Something must be able to sanctify something else that appears to be absolutely profane.
However, instead of investigating why none of this happens to Dafoe and Superman, let's focus on why Rambo is identified as Ogou in Vodou. For that we can rely on Donald J. Cosentino and his brief article “ On looking at a Vodou Altar” ( African Arts , 29). Cosentino begins his communication by highlighting the seemingly disconnected variety of elements on a Vodou altar. However, it is when he quotes David Byrne (yes, the musician) that says that the Afro-Caribbean altars are “Frozen waterfalls” and “ Visual jazz , constantly reworked and reactivated” is that Cosentino gives us a clear idea of what he is seeing.
What Cosentino is pointing out to us about altars is that they are alive. That are constantly being built through new experiences, new insights and everything else that is within the context of the server's life. In my mind, what is discussed for the altars can be carried without much difference to the representation of the Lwas.
So what, in fact, makes this collection of experiences and representations possible in Vodou ? Giving definitive answers is something I cannot do here, but my suspicions orbit around the fact that Vodou is a pulsating connection with the invisible. In contrast to having a distant and “conserved” spiritual world, in Vodou, we have a parallel and interspersed spiritual world. I have written this before: the visible world is a reflection of the invisible and vice versa. In this context, there is no absurdity in looking at a figure like Rambo and understanding that it is also a way of talking about Ogou.
Thus, when we realize this, we can resist the surprise in seeing these “unusual” representations and we can also open ourselves up to build our own interpretations of spirits and our experiences. What goes unnoticed by many, apparently, is that this plasticity does not vulgarize the spiritual, but that it is the consequence of the spiritualization of the profane.
What we have in the representation of Ogou by Rambo and Gede by the Joker is nothing more than what Mircea Eliade called Hierophany in his “Treatise on the History of Religions” - that is, the manifestation of the sacred through the profane. It is evident that a Rambo poster will always be a mere poster - paper and ink. However, in addition to that, when placed on the altar in Belair, for example, this poster becomes the focal point of the expression of the sacred and gains this double dimension. The important thing is to understand, to paraphrase a little Eliade himself, is that in a religiosity like Vodou that understands all expressions of existence as within a spiritual context, every profane object can reveal itself (or is already revealed, perhaps) as sacred.