SITUation Report 1/98
The newsletter of the Society for the Investigation of the UNEXPLAINED, UK branch
A Note from the Editor
Two special reports from operatives this issue! A complaint from Ms McShane - just to prove we do listen to your worries! Honestly, though, complaints such as this are very rare. And a fascinating article from Celestina Mirande - useful for anyone planning a trip to Haiti!
Next issue more operative writings, including a spooky piece from Russell Osbourne...
Until next time,
SITUation Report, c/o SITU
13 November, 1997 re: Complaint
I am writing to complain about the situation that I now find myself in: for which I hold SITU entirely responsible.
When I joined your organisation some months ago I never suspected I would have to go to CENSORED (a bad enough fate in itself!) only to spend most of the time in a horrible little CENSORED.
Later, just as I was getting on famously with a nice policeman and an ever-so-slightly weird mortician, and starting to enjoy my stay in CENSORED (the carnival was great fun), I found myself being shot at! Even worse, thanks to the actions of my colleagues, I had to CENSORED the policeman in a night-club and flee CENSORED.
At this point I thought I could just leave CENSORED and go home – but no! My colleagues, obviously heavily under the influence of your insidious organisation, forced me to go to a dreadful little village called CENSORED. There the mad fools proceeded to climb CENSORED and illegally break into a CENSORED. I of course stayed well out of the way: but were my troubles over? No! Once again a brief dalliance, this time with a particularly hunky ski guide, was interrupted. I was forced to help my colleagues, by now clearly totally lunatics, escape from the CENSORED. To top it all at least two of our party went missing and when I returned to CENSORED I found I had lost my job and people were trying to kill me!
You really can't imagine for one moment that I joined SITU in order to end up in this situation. My money, to say nothing of my patience, is running out and soon I will have to ask daddy for a loan: and then he might 'ask' me to marry that dreadful Simon Sinthrome he's always on about (nothing against Simon personally – but he will wear those dreadful dark glasses all the time and his servants are totally gross looking).
Consequently, I would like you to reimburse me for my losses – preferably with a nice assignment in the Bahamas with more sensible, and preferably better looking, SITU operatives than last time.
Yours in disgust,
Greetings fellow operatives, the laughter of Baron Samedi be upon you. My name is Celestina Mirande in the French tongue of my home land, Haiti. Currently I am embroiled in an investigation in southern England, into a quasi-Egyptian sun cult. Information gathering is proving hard, and already one of my fellow investigators has been unmasked by the cult. Still, our group seems well balanced with many different skills and I have faith that we will succeed. But, it is not this matter that I hope to bring to your attention now. As a follower of vodoun, I thought it might be of interest and benefit to my fellow investigators to learn a little about my faith, which seems regarded as so mystical in modern Europe.
Where to begin? Perhaps back in Eve's homeland Africa, where ancient rites were taken with the slaves to the French colonies of the Caribbean where their own beliefs were forced to morph and mingle with Catholicism. The transformation of the African beliefs under the whip of the slave masters was a brutal one, but not even the beatings and the gallows of the white owners could defeat the beliefs of the faithful. Catholicism was simply superimposed on the secret rites and beliefs and the African gods became Catholic saints, fetishes replaced by candles, statues and holy relics.
The brief history over, the complicated part begins. Vodoun has simply hundreds of 'gods', known as loas or mystères, impossible (and sometimes forbidden) to name here. The loas will bestow favours in return for pleasing them, and to 'serve the loa' is held in the highest regard in Haitian society. Like all polytheistic religions the gods all have individual personalities representing facets of human nature - wise, warlike, sexual and cruel. The creation myth is a complex one and not always viewed as relevant to the modern vodounist, so I shall omit that here, perhaps it will be the subject of a later article?
I'm sure that I can anticipate your next question – tell us about the rites, Celestina, where live chickens are sacrificed over the squirming bodies of writhing virgins as they join in sexual communion with their god! James Bond films and schlock horrors aside, most vodoun rites are much more sedate. There are two main rites – rada: traditional African drumming, chanting and ecstatic trances where the more 'positive' aspects of the loa are celebrated, traditionally white is worn and animals are offered up to the gods. Also there is petro: derived from the tortured days of the slaves where violent dancing in red clothing signify the cruel and violent loa, mainly pigs are sacrificed to them. It is this balance of two opposites that I find important – how can there be good in the world if there is no evil? And, as a friend of mine replied when asked why she worshipped the 'negative' gods at all, surely we have more to fear from those loa who are regarded as evil?
There are many more aspects of vodoun that would be of interest but many volumes have been filled with their details, and I certainly do not have room to list them all here! My priestess training showed I had an aptitude for contacting the gros bon ange and the ti bon ange and for the arrangement and decoration of the oum'phor (or the temple), but these mysteries may not be spoken of to the initiated.
Before I complete this unworthy record, I thought it might be enlightening to discuss the misconception about black magic. I do not deny that the darker aspects of vodoun exist, for they certainly do, but not all, in fact very few practise them. Those who would follow that path are known as bokors and are more involved in sorcery than healing as other initiates are. Bokors are revered and feared in equal parts for angering them may mean worse than a death curse, it may mean the eternal slavery of zombification.
On this strange note, I bid you au revoir, and leave you with the warning not to accept a brightly coloured bottle, decorated with raffia and beads, the giver is almost certainly a bokor, offering you the vessel in which he hopes to trap your soul... pleasant dreams...