This book has received a lot of very favourable reviews and I thought that it might be important for balance to provide potential buyers with at least one dissenting view. On the plus side, Ross writes well and his descriptions of the actual practises of Vodou are clear and well researched. He talks from practical experience, so I felt that his descriptions of the ceremonies and ritual associated with Vodou were very good. He aims in the book to dispel myths and to try to give a better name to Vodou. Well he succeeds in the former, but I was left with a deep unease about the whole religion, so he failed in the latter. His descriptions of the initiation ceremony which involve plunging your hand into a cauldron of boiling oil, of rituals which involve being blindfolded for several days and his descriptions of zombies and curses [wanga] left me - frankly - terrified. No wonder the Catholic church tried to eradicate the religion. However, I'm sure all the descriptions were accurate, so anyone wanting to know about Vodou would find the book fascinating. On the negative side, he has a tendency to rant - against the West, against capitalism, against the Christian Church all of which seemed unnecessary in a book about Vodou. At times the ranting started to make me wonder whether he had had a wanga placed on him. The wild assertion that dictatorship is better than imposed democracy left me a bit speechless given the problems we had with Hitler, Stalin...... Where has he been? The last problem I had was with the factual accuracy of the background to the religion. For example, according to him the nasty Europeans were responsible for the slave trade and all the evil that got incorporated into Vodou. But a quick glance at any of the books written by Mungo Park [Scottish explorer of Africa about the time the slave trade was going strong] would have shown that Africa was universally at war with itself at the time the slave trade was at its height and the enslavement of enemy tribes was endemic. Most of Africa at that time was enslaved and the Arabs [in fact primarily the Arabs] came to take the surplus slaves, followed by Europeans. Timbuktu was a major Arab trading post for slaves. Slaves died - usually childless - in Arab countries. In the countries ruled by Europeans, the slaves lived and produced families - hence the 'legacy' of slavery in European former colonies. In reality, European involvement was tiny comparatively speaking. It doesn't excuse slavery, but the evil in Vodou was there long before the Europeans came onto the scene. So, overall only a book I would recommend if you can cope with the hysterics. Read it for the accurate and clear description of Vodou practises and for some of the very interesting research he did and quotes from on, for example, why the Vodou rituals are so effective [and in many cases so potentially harmful] The drumming section for example is particularly good.
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Ross Heaven is surely an interesting character! He has written quite a number of books on shamanism and healing - but Vodou Shaman is definitely not among the greatest! I don't have the expertise to criticise his other works, but there is something about Vodou Shaman that just doesn't click!
Ross Heaven has been initiated by a woman called Mambo Racine a couple of years back. Now he claims she is a fraud, that the initiations she performs are bogus and the knowledge she transmits to other people is not even worth mentioning - and indeed his claims are supported by 99% of the vodou community around the world!
But hey...he still claims to be a valid hougan, fully and truly initiated in Haitian Vodou? This makes no sense at all! If he was initiated by a fraud, then he is not truly initiated! If what his teacher taught him is bogus , then what he passes on as "vodou knowledge" is in turn also bogus! How can he still look at himself in the mirror and claim to be a "vodou hougan" if he knows that what he got in his initiation is not the real deal? Has he ever attempted to fix the situation by actually becoming a valid initiate of a true vodou house? No...he still claims that all is well but that the problem is with his initiator and not with him! All the people who have praised his book so much...are they actually initiated in vodou or are they just glad that someone wrote a book about the topic, no matter how genuine it is?
Am I the only one who raises these questions? Am I the only one who sees one "vodou fraud" accusing another? This is very simple, black or white stuff! Is Ross Heaven a hougan? No! Does he write about vodou with the knowledge of an initiate? No! As simple as that!
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