Image by Suju-foto at Pixabay.
In this article I comment a little on the work of Adam McGee entitled “Dreaming in Haitian Vodou : Vouchsafe, Guide and Source of Liturgical Novelty ”. I have rarely read an article about Haitian Vodou that integrates the values of practice with academic interest so well. Mcgee points out in this work that dreams are important elements in Vodou and that they serve both to introduce innovations and to maintain the ordinary liturgical and ceremonial fluidity.
McGee quotes a passage from Métraux in which this researcher notes that it is considered dangerous to wake up a houngan (oungan, the spelling may vary and there are reasons for that, but let's leave that topic for another moment) because he may be in that very moment of his sleep receiving important messages from the spirits. This observation by Métraux already indicates that sleeping and dreaming are serious parts of life in Vodou .
It is talking about the following expression in Kreyòl - nan dòmi mwen (in my sleep) - that McGee starts his discussion. For him, in Kreyòl the dream is not expressed as something that has a proper individuality. In other words: dreaming is a natural part of sleeping. Thus, the author understands that as natural as sleeping is also dreaming and that there is nothing that separates the reality of the dream from the concrete reality in a very radical way.
However, there are differences between dreaming and being awake. McGee understands that dreaming is more "porous" and that, therefore, allows for easier interaction between the spirit world and a particular person. Thus, contact with spirits is made in a major way through dreaming. So, in dreams, messages and instructions are passed on and all kinds of interactions take place - even loving interactions between Lwas and people.
It is through these interactions that McGee understands that liturgical innovations can occur. The author cites the case in which a dream led him to "baptize" his dishes for Marasa, something that would not have been carried out had the dream not pointed this way. On the other hand, McGee also stresses that dreams can come to reinforce certain things that are already considered to be expected within customs and liturgy. For example, when a mambo (manbo , another possible spelling) dreams about the Lwas in their forms of Catholic Saints. Therefore , in addition to being just sources of innovation, dreams are communications .
Still, McGee says that dreams lead people to seek the help of priests and that the priests will also use the dream to find possible solutions to their customers. Dreams are also “sought after” in various Vodou rituals, such as Kanzo and iluminasyon. We clearly see that the dream dimension is widely explored in Vodou and, therefore, McGee classifies Vodou very properly as a “dreamed religion”.
Interestingly, McGee mentions several elements that are observed by the priest to try to decode the dream. Dreams are not always straightforward and they do not always come with clear messages. For example, according to the author, the Lwas usually appear using the appearance of people known to those who dream. So, the sex, the skin color, the mannerisms, the clothes of that person and many other details are indications that help to unveil which spirit would be talking to those who dream. It should be noted that these are not determining factors when viewed in isolation. For example, a feminine spirit may take the form of a man - there is no strict rule about this.
I believe that this brief discussion about Mcgee's work was enough to make it clear how much dreaming is relevant in Haitian Vodou. I recommend reading the original article which has more details and briefly touches on very relevant issues such as syncretism.
McGee's article can be found here: