Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Spiritual Heritage

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9780738701837: Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Spiritual Heritage
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The True Account of
One Woman's Odyssey into Voodoo

In midlife, native New Yorker Sharon Caulder left her successful physical therapy practice to find her soul among the Voodoo people in Benin Republic, West Africa. Mark of Voodoo is the story of her amazing experiences with sub-Saharan African Voodoo-the root of all Voodoo-including her initiation into the spiritual hierarchy as a full-fledged chief, and her romance with the Supreme Chief.

Dr. Caulder speaks candidly about karma, evolution, tantric sexual systems, sacrifice, and spirit possessions. Hers is the first book to explain what happens during Voodoo rituals from both the visible and invisible perspectives.

This revealing account contains graphic anthropological details of rituals and sacrifices, and includes 16 pages of color photos of the people in the book, their rituals, and practices. Filled with adventure and romance, this is a story that will speak to your psyche and your heart.

First Runner Up for the 2003 Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) Award for Best Biographical/Self-Help Book

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About the Author:

Born and raised in the United States, Sharon Caulder is an African Voodoo chief and holds a Ph.D. in Mythology and Depth Psychology. She has also earned professional credentials in physical therapy, psychology, and neuroscience. Currently she maintains a spiritual healing practice in Oakland, California, where she receives clients from throughout the U.S. and the world. She works with people with conditions that range from the physical (such as cancer) to the psychological (such as schizophrenia), including eating disorders, addictions, and spiritual crises.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Opening the Door of the Invisibles
I woke up at around 4 a.m. Afraid to oversleep and too excited to go back to sleep, I got out of bed. I threw on some pants and a T-shirt and waited until five for Martine to show up. Not sure that I would hear the motorbike from my room, I went down to the front door and out to the gate. Martine was not there and it was still pitch dark so I decided to go back to my room. I was to soon learn that one of Martine's less-endearing habits was to be chronically late.

Martine actually arrived in plenty of time at 5:30. The ride to the compound was bumpy and sandy. A few times we had to get off the bike and walk it over or around some obstacle. Martine drove and I sat on the back. When we finally got to the compound about ten minutes later, the gate was still locked. Martine pressed a buzzer and knocked several times before a young boy of eleven or twelve opened the gate and led us to the sitting area outside Daagbo's quarters.

As Martine and I sat in the moonlight on the veranda, I looked around the courtyard. Directly across from us was a concrete well shaded by a wooden awning. A wooden bucket hung from the winch on a rope. Surrounding the courtyard were three or four small huts, each with a name above the door. Martine told me they were the names of Voodoo deities. They were the same names that appeared beneath the pictures on the wall on the outside of the compound. The hut closest to us was a temple of Avelekéte, who, I was to later learn, is one of the manifestations of Mami Wata, mother of water.

Near the entrance to Avelekéte's temple was a pile of something I couldn't make out at first in the semidarkness. I was startled when I realized it was a pile of bones that was perhaps two feet high. Not knowing whether they were human or animal, I walked over to inspect them and was relieved to see that the skulls were clearly those of animals.
On the compound wall to the left of the bones was a mural of Daagbo. He was standing under a parasol on a giant turtle's back in a small boat floating on the ocean. He held a ceremonial staff in his left hand. As I bent over to look at the turtle more carefully, I suddenly heard eerie murmurs echoing in the courtyard. I looked over at Martine who looked ready to bolt out into the street. As I walked back toward her, I realized that the sounds were whispers coming from a small window in Daagbo's quarters. In the dark stillness of the early morning, the whispers felt like auditory smoke drifting out of the walls. For a moment the voices became more distinct, and Martine breathed a sigh of relief.

"It's Daagbo and some woman," she said. "They're just talking."

A little later a tall woman who was probably in her early forties came out. She nodded to us, walked to the gate, and left the compound. Then Daagbo appeared in a white toga and said he would be ready in a little while. Martine and I passed the time talking about her children, the hardships of women in the society, and her own life. She had gone to language school in Accra, she said. Her father, who was a schoolteacher with political connections, had been influential in getting Daagbo out of prison when the government was on one of its anti-Voodoo campaigns.

Martine went on to tell me that her family on her father's side had been powerful in Ouidah for centuries. She was a direct descendant of Cha Cha de Souza, a Portuguese slaveowner―in fact, the biggest slavemaster in Ouidah's history.
I said, "You seem to be proud of that, Martine."

Picking up on the criticism in my voice, she said, "But he was different from the other slavemasters. After a while, they all went home. But he settled here and made Ouidah his home. He built a huge compound on the highest hill in the village and took fifty African women as his wives."

"No doubt the cream of the crop," I said, saddened to see this beautiful young black woman taking pride in being descended from someone who had destroyed her own people. She ignored my comment.

"He had hundreds of children," she continued, "and began to become part of the culture. He even worshiped Dagóun, a Voodoo deity, and built a temple for him. It's still standing right down the road. I'll take you there tomorrow and introduce you to my cousin who is the chief."
By now the sun was just starting to come up and the compound slowly came to life. The cocks crowed and goats started scampering around, romping and playing with one another.

Then young boys, anywhere between the ages of four and twelve, started to appear. They gathered naked around the well, pulled up water in a bucket, and lathered one another with a lump of black soap. Giggling with delight as they poured the cool water over each other in the chilly air, they showed no sign of shame in front of Martine and me.
"Where are the girls?" I asked Martine.

"They're inside. They'll bathe later in private with their mothers."

Once the boys had washed themselves, they ran inside to get dressed. Some of them appeared again a few minutes later to fetch water for the adults who were waiting to bathe inside their huts. Other boys came out to do other chores―things, Martine told me, such as delivering messages, making fires for cooking, or going to vendors to buy food.
After a while the women came out, many with clay pots or enameled metal bowls on their heads, others carrying reed baskets. Martine explained that the ones with pots and bowls had food to sell, and the ones with baskets would fill them with bread from the nearby bakery. Some of them had stalls from which they sold their food, and others walked up and down the roads. The few older men in the village began to drift out after them, but they seemed to have nowhere to go.

The younger men were the last to emerge. Many seemed solemn or angry. The majority of them, Martine said, would spend the rest of the day idling about. I had already noticed young men milling around in small groups smoking dope outside the compound. Other small groups stood about ogling women. A few loners leaned against trees. Some of them stared out with vacant eyes as if they had already given up on life. Others were feeding on rage. When I passed some of these, they looked at me with stark hatred in their eyes.
I asked Martine how people earned money in this small village thirty miles outside Cotonou.

"It's very difficult," she said. "Most of the men are unskilled, and there are few jobs in the village for the Voodoo people."

Around nine o'clock Daagbo came out and told us that he was waiting for certain people to arrive before starting the rituals. Several young children then ran up to him, bowed, and put out their hands. He took coins out of his pocket and passed them out with a fond smile. He made jokes with the children and enjoyed each one. Later I learned that many of the youngsters in the compound were his own children or grandchildren.

When Daagbo went back inside, I asked Martine why he had given the children money. She explained that they would go to the street vendors to buy their first meal of the day―which in many cases might be their only meal. This surprised me because I had assumed that the preparation of meals would have been a community enterprise. Later, I always kept extra food around so that I would have it to feed hungry children. As I was to discover, Daagbo was often short on money and could not always protect the children in this way.

I started to get annoyed at sitting around for so long. By now we had been waiting for several hours. I was still operating on an American clock and had not yet adjusted to the local rhythm. Every time Daagbo came outside, I had Martine ask him when we would be ready. He always said, "We have to wait." I would gradually learn that we were waiting for a number of things. Villagers were often late. The ancestors and deities had their own peculiarities and were directed by many different circumstances in their supernatural realms. And the astrological considerations were numerous and complicated. It would often take hours for all pertinent aspects to move into alignment so that plans could proceed.

Daagbo was standing in the doorway of his quarters when a heavyset woman of perhaps thirty-five or so ambled across the courtyard toward us. She had a warm, welcoming look and had obviously been prepared for my arrival because she didn't look at all surprised to see me. As she approached Daagbo she prostrated herself at his feet and kissed the ground. He greeted her and motioned with his hand for her to rise. She turned toward Martine and me and gave me a broad smile, which I returned. After she spoke to Martine in Fon for a moment, Martine formally introduced me to her as Nana, Daagbo's assistant. Knowing the attitudes toward women in the country, I was surprised that he had a female assistant. That told me something about his character.

Nana immediately began to speak to me alternately in Fon and French, to see if I spoke either. When she saw that I spoke no Fon and very little French, she told Martine that she spoke almost no English, but would be willing to tutor me in Fon. I accepted.

As we were chatting, a young girl of about eight or nine approached. She walked with an exaggerated limp because her left leg was considerably shorter than her right. Her left foot drooped down like a wilting flower. She held her left arm close to her body with her hand balled into a tight fist. To my surprise, she came right up to me as if she knew me. I reached out for her as I assessed her physical condition to see if I could help her during my stay. Fortunately, her intelligence and speech appeared to be unaffected by what was clearly a trauma that had damaged part of her brain. Nana introduced the girl to me as her daughter and excused herself for having to take care of some errands.

The day continued to wear on. The sun got higher and hotter, and Martine and I began to get thirsty. At some point Daagbo sent a couple of the children to bring us back cold drinks. I ordered a cold beer, and Martine asked for a soda. She told me that she didn't usually drink alcohol because she would become giddy after only two sips.

Around midday Martine complained that she was getting hungry, so we decided to walk over to the nearby village square where vendors sold various kinds of food. I told Martine that I was allergic to all meats except fish and turkey. That would really limit my choices, she said, since fish was much less common than goat or chicken dishes and no one sold turkey. It turned out that one of the vendors had fish, but it was so bony that I had to order a lot of pieces, along with some rice, to make a meal. Martine ordered a double portion of chicken and rice. I was surprised that such a thin woman could eat so much. It occurred to me that she might have worms in her intestines that were sharing her food.
We sat down under a large tree on a cement block that looked like the remains of some building. Everything in Ouidah seemed to be in some stage of crumbling. Before we started to eat, Martine sent a child to get us cold drinks. I ate my fish with a plastic fork provided by the vendor. I was surprised, given her manners at the hotel restaurant, to see Martine eating her chicken and rice dish with her fingers and spitting out the bones on the ground. I enjoyed the meal immensely. I hadn't expected it to be so fresh and tasty. Nevertheless, when I was finished and even though I had no signs of upset stomach, I downed four capsules of acidophilus as a precaution.

After the meal we walked back to the compound. We sat and talked for another hour at least. People came up to us to ask Martine who I was and why I was there. I asked her to tell them that I was there because this was where my people came from. They didn't seem to have the faintest notion of what I was talking about. It was becoming apparent to me that most of the people in Ouidah knew virtually nothing about slavery beyond the fact that something unpleasant had happened centuries ago. I began to feel overwhelmed with grief and disappointment. Having struggled for lifetimes to get home and back to my roots, and now having finally made it, I wasn't even recognized as kin. Instead, as a yovo, I was identified with the enemy.

Daagbo seemed relieved when I returned. Later I learned that he was always concerned for my safety, especially that I might be poisoned, kidnapped, or robbed. Eventually we were summoned into the ceremonial room of his quarters. As I walked into the room I noticed a weirdly shaped stick leaning in the corner next to the door. What really grabbed my attention was the strong spirit that was in the stick. "Who is that?" I turned to ask Martine. Nana, who was next to Martine, noticed my focus on the stick and asked Martine what I was saying. When Martine explained my question, Nana told me that it was Legba.

"Legba is the deity of the crossroads, the crossroads between this world and that of the deities. He is the messenger between humans and the deities." Nana went on to tell me that Legba is very sexual and appears in many different forms. I was to
see different manifestations of Legba throughout the Voodoo community.
To my surprise at least twenty people―men, women, and children―were already gathered in the ceremonial room. The room had no windows, so the only light came from the open door. As my eyes accommodated to the low light, I realized that it was a large open room with several pitch-black areas off in three directions. These spaces were impossible to see into from where I was. Off to the side of the room was a goat tied to a pole and several chickens with their legs tied together. The floor was concrete. The cold against my bare feet was quite refreshing after the sweltering heat of the village dirt roads and the torrid hot sands of the compound floor. We all sat around, and Daagbo sat in front of us on a bench. His feet rested on a small mound on the concrete floor. When he noticed me staring at the mound, he told Martine to tell me it was a deity. Nana was seated on a small stool behind Daagbo and to his left, prepared to assist him as necessary.
Everyone was in a very festive mood and was laughing and joking. Children ran in and out. Some of the men and women joked with me, talking through Martine. But some of the people just stared at me. They weren't used to seeing foreigners―or at least not in the middle of their religious ceremonies. Some surely must have questioned why Daagbo had let a yovo in, which was clearly against the rules.

Daagbo had two beautiful red-tailed gray parrots in a cage next to him. The door was open, but they mostly stayed inside. Frequently he would talk to one of them as he balanced it on his forearm. I could see that he was very fond of the birds and spoke to them spirit to spirit.

Suddenly the room became quiet as everyone's eyes turned toward the door. A very short older man of perhaps fifty was hobbling in on crutches. His left leg, which was lifeless, was swinging loosely. Martine whispered in my ear that he was the bocono, the diviner. His way of divining was through the deity called Fa. Everyone shouted greetings to him. Then he bowed to Daagbo as best he could, and the two of them talked softly for a couple of minutes. After that the bocono spread a cloth on the floor, untied a large fabric bag from one of his crutches, and dropped it down on the cloth. Then he lay down his crutches, sat on the cloth, and proceeded to take several ritual objects out of the bag and set them beside him. When everything was in place, he signaled to Daagbo that he was ready to begin.
Daagbo instructed Martine to move my chair n...

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