I became interested in voodoo when I played research assistant (translation - driver, note taker, secretary and gopher) to one of the most eccentric professors ever to grace the hallowed halls of the University of Southern Mississippi - Dr. O (aka The Professor of Enemy Languages - He taught German and Russian.) The study of the voodoo religion as practiced in Louisiana was a passion of his and he did a great deal of research on the subject in the years I knew him. Research I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to, which resulted in my meeting some fascinating people and seeing some amazing and quite unbelievable things.
I don't really intend to post a long, drawn-out dissertation on voodoo today. If anyone has any specific questions or wants to be pointed to some great research resources I would be happy to do so. Just zip me an e-mail and I'll do the best I can to help. (email@example.com)
I will tell you most of the movies with voodoo themes have picked bits and pieces from various versions of voodoo or hoodoo and therefore don't give a really great picture of the practices of specific versions of the voodoo faith. Yes, it is a faith, a religion and its roots can be found in African spiritual practices, Catholicism, and rituals from many Caribbean island beliefs. A priest is called a oungan, a priestess a mambo. Spirits are lwa or lao and hold a similar position as saints in Catholicism. Catholic saints can be called upon as well. Gris-gris can be worked for good or evil and there is always a price to pay.
"How do you cast a spell on someone who doesn't believe?"
"Ah, bebe, when you work the gris-gris what they believe is not so important as what you believe. If you believe, you can make them believe."
Writing is very much like weaving a spell. We want to draw the reader into our world, sometimes into our very souls. There is no magic potion or ritual we can perform to make our stories an unforgettable part of our readers' lives, something they will never forget. Like the mambo we study, we learn our craft, we find out as much as we can about what our readers want and need. We use our words, our voice, our creativity and inspiration. We pour our hearts, souls, sweat and sometimes it even feels like our blood onto the page in the hope of working a spell of love, revenge, fame, fortune and every secret desire for our readers. We want the sorcery of what we write to wrap around them on every page, to drift into their minds, to creep up on them and to mark them as changed by what we have wrought.
But do we believe? Think of the writers whose work we truly admire. Think of those moments when you are curled up in your favorite chair and become so deeply involved in the story you are reading that the dinner has burned, the phone is ringing and the tornado warning is sounding and you haven't budged. Think of those books you've read and finishing it was like waking up from a dream. You have to look around and get your bearings because for a few hours you were at Hogwarts, you were hanging out at the Sanctuary Bar with Ash and the Dark Hunters, you were dancing the night away with a handsome duke. Of course you weren't really doing all of those things, but for a little while you BELIEVED you were. How did it happen? The author made you BELIEVE. You know how?
Reading those notes it hit me. If I want my stories to be real, to be magic, I have to believe. I have to believe my characters, my plot, my conflict, my setting - all of it - is real. At least while I'm writing it I do. I have to invest my entire self into believing in my story and believing in myself as the only person who can work the spell to make my story come to life. With all of the other things a writer must do I think a writer must believe in their story in order to make it believable. It may well be the final step, the final difference between those who write books and those who make magic.
"If you believe, you can make them believe!"
How about you? Do you believe in your stories? What sorts of things do you do to work your story magic? What books have you read and fallen under the writer's spell? How do you do that voodoo that you do? Are you a magician or a sorcerer's apprentice? Your fellow magicians want to know.