VODUN – trying to grasp the ungraspable

‘VODUN – trying to grasp the ungraspable’
Reportage by Frederic Vanwalleghem

The town of Ouidah – Benin is the spiritual capital of Vodun in West Africa. Vodun is their national religion. Presently there are an estimated 50 million worshippers worldwide. An important aspect of the religion is spirit possession, through which the spirits speak to the devotees only for a short time during the ceremonies. This trance mechanism is a way to heal and get advice about daily matters. From a western point of view, Vodun is seen as mystique religion often associated with black magic, giving way to much misunderstanding.

I lived with the ‘Hounongan Zanzan Zinho Kledjé’ family who adheres the Gambada fetish or the serpent spirit, the basis of the well-known Damballah cult in Haïti. In Vodun and related African diasporic traditions a primordial way to obtain a spiritual experience is by being possessed by the Iwa or spirit. Through spirit possession the devotee and cult spirit become one. The members seem to immerse themselves in a hypnotic trance until one of the spirits starts to inhabit a body. Especially during possession, the identity of the spirit is clearly discernible. A silent and quiet person may become flamboyant and dramatic, dancing with grand gestures.

I was fortunate to encounter and document this intense experience. During a ceremony I witnessed the individual trance of two devotees. The numerous uncontrollable muscle spasms, vocalizations and peculiar eye gazes showed me this was an unfeigned event.

Link to the complete essay : fredericvanwalleghem.com

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Frederic Vanwalleghem, photographer/visual artist, who is from Belgium
also shot these two beautiful photo essays in Iceland, be sure to check them out:

Verid thid blessadir Islendingar
Making space