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Mesmerizing Vodou

Frater Vameri

I have argued numerous times that Haitian Vodou drinks from different fountains. This is something that I will never stop repeating. Continuing this discussion, I would like to comment briefly on Mesmer's possible influence on Vodou. This discussion is based on the article by François Regourd on mesmerism in Saint Domingue.

It is known that in 1784 - note that this is shortly before the fateful 1791 that will see the Bois Caiman ceremony and the “beginning” of the revolution - there was a mesmerizer in Saint Domingue. Madame Millet's account says that it could cause a number of scary effects on people such as making them suffocate or go into a frenzy.

The mesmerizer was Antoine- Hyacinthe -Anne de Chastenet de Puysègur, a naval officer. This official's brother was a direct disciple of Mesmer and he himself had learned directly from Mesmer, so the evidence points to Antoine being a legitimate mesmerizer. In fact, Antoine used his skills primarily for healing. It is not surprising that he became famous for this.

Antoine started to heal people and more people in the colony and his fame spread, generating nothing less than a "Mesmer mania". Evidently, Antoine happened to attract disciples and pass on his theories of magnetism and magnetic fluids, as well as his techniques.

Although Mesmer's techniques were already under attack by the most skeptical and intellectual elite and these criticisms have reached the colony, let's leave this debate for another time and focus more on how mesmerism may have spread in Saint Domingue.

It is Moreau de Saint- Méry, the man who gave an extensive account of life in the colony in the late 18th century, which will reveal that Mesmerism found disciples among blacks and slaves. In fact, there are indications that the slave owners used mesmerizers to heal the slaves because it was cheaper, faster, and could be done in several slaves at once.

There are indications that may point to the slaves beginning to mix the nocturnal meetings of a religious nature with the ideas of mesmerism. In 1786, we see the publication of a sentence punishing some slaves for meeting the night to practice magnetism - in the words of those who sentenced them.

Regourd notes that there is currently nothing that links Vodou directly to mesmerism - none of its obvious instruments or techniques are presente in Vodou today, for example. The author is aware of the fact that probably the view that Vodou used Mesmerism could be a purely view of the settler who tried to understand that cultural manifestation with the arsenal of language he had. Or even, a direct tactic to diminish Vodou , since for many, mesmerism was synonymous with quackery.

In other words, although we cannot, based on these data, conclude with any certainty that mesmerism has influenced Vodou , there is an investigative field that remains open. It is possible that some notions and even techniques have spread through Vodou meetings and have either not been fixed or have changed.

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