When Susan invited me to Day of the Dead, I accepted. Attending Voodoo rituals is not my habit, but I do write about faith, beliefs and spirituality. A quick internet search before I left revealed that the ritual honors the dead.
Susan and two of her friends who joined us for the ride downtown offered little additional information. They are Pagans. Voodoo is not their practice. A woman in the back seat handed me a flyer announcing the ritual and instructions for attending. The participants were asked to wear white clothes with purple headscarf or black and purple for Gede, bring an offering for the dead or for Gede, and bring something for the potluck supper that would follow the ritual.
My Pagan friends explained that the veil between the living and the dead is thin this time of year. Papa Gede is the gatekeeper who allows the dead to cross into this world. I asked them if the dead return after they “crossed.”
“They only stay if they have unfinished business,” said Susan.
The ritual performed that evening revolved around a concrete pole with a snake painted on it. I’d read about poles in the Bible. Even though God forbid Israel from erecting a pole, he did not leave them without one. When Israel developed a snake problem while camped in the desert, God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). The pole remained in Israel until King Hezekiah broke it into pieces and told Israel the pole was worthless. Big mistake, the pole foreshadowed Jesus death, but that is another subject. God is not against poles depending on what the pole represents.
The room filled to capacity with people from all walks of life: black, white, Asian, elderly, and children. A clean-shaven man wearing a business suit entered with a plant, his offering for Gede. A man stood behind me clad in a white shirt and skirt. A woman dressed in an orange jumpsuit affectionately clutching a chicken to her chest walked in. I over heard someone tell her that they would not be killing anything. She decided to stay.
“The possessions are ‘a light trance state,'” said Ms. Glassman. The possessed would be aware but unable to control themselves. Her instructions stood in stark contrast to “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” found in the Bible (1 Corinthians 14:32).
My Google search on Day of the Dead had not prepared me for the artistic beauty I observed when the ritual began. I know, darkness, skeletons, dead people, what beauty? I’m referring to the music and art incorporated into the ritual led by Sally Ann Glassman and Laurie Ann.
Laurie Ann led singing for two hours in French, a beautiful language, and she had a lovely voice. But I didn’t understand a thing she said or should I say sang. I don’t speak French. The experience reminded me of my youth in Germany. My mother dutifully brought me to mass which was spoken in Latin. I don’t speak Latin and didn’t understand a thing they said either.
During the ritual, Sally Ann drew intricate patterns on the floor using cornmeal. I could not have gotten lines that straight and in proper proportion using a ruler. Sally Ann and Laurie Ann stood at each drawing, sang, danced in a gentle swaying motion and bowed down to kiss the ground. Most of the people in the room bowed with them.
The final drawing looked like a cross on a pedestal and incorporated some color. Sally Ann completed the drawing with an X on the cross, a coffin on the right and shovel on the left. At some point afterward, several people lit sparklers.
Around 9:30 p.m., the participants were allowed to enter the area around the pole and dance. After several laps around the pole, a man stopped to simulate sex with one of the bongos. As I debated whether or not he had been possessed, my friends motioned that it was time to go.
On the way home, I asked my friends if they had ever been possessed. “NO,” they almost said in unison. “This is my second ritual,” said one woman, “but I don’t need someone extra in my head. The other woman said she didn’t want anyone else in her head either. Susan assured me that you have to be open to possession for it to take place.
The next day, I shared my experience with a friend. He cautioned me to be careful. “God sends strong delusion to people who have rejected him,” he said. He seemed to think that associating with people of other beliefs might make me a candidate for delusion. My heart was warmed by his concern, but I don’t share his fear. I haven’t rejected God, and I do not intend to invite spirits into my life who leave me aware of what I’m doing but unable to control myself.