Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger recently explored the history of vodou in the episode entitled “Stained Glass”. In a short scene, Tyrone visits Evita, who gives tours of the resting place of the Vodou priestess Marie Laveau. Louisiana knows her as the Creole practitioner of Vodun.“Vodou is at its core, a diverse collection of religious and cultural traditions that can either standalone, or be added to your faith,” Evita tells the group, as Ty watches.
Aside from the beautiful cinematography and the New Orleans-inspired set design, Marvel is also showcasing the importance of women in vodou.
People travel from all over just to see Marie Laveau, a staple of the religion. It is uniquely significant because women are not typically not held in the same esteem as men in religious practices. They are not always allowed to hold a leadership position or be priests or rabbis. Women apart of voodooism find themselves in the inspiring position to not only be in the same standing as men, but lead them.
A woman’s role and black femininity is hyper-relevant in vodou tradition and spirituality. For instance, the main loas (or senior spirits) all manifest as women. Similarly to cultures within Africa or the African diaspora, there is often a strong matriarch who heads the family.
So, does culture mimic religion or is religion mimicking culture?
Ezilis, or female spirits, are thought to be manifestations of the Virgin Mary within Haitian Vodou culture. Each one of the female spirits represents women empowerment and disempowerment through their physical appearances and actions; Women from varying socioeconomic statuses are able to see themselves in the spirits, which is partially why vodou is considered a religion of autonomy because their [the spirits] messages are enigmatic and catalyze action rather than making commandments.
The ezilis are more tangible aspirations because they reflect society more honestly. Women apart of judeo-christian religions must look for themselves in representations of Jesus’ mother, someone who is perfect and less identifiable.
One ezili described is Lasyrenn- a Black mermaid who beckons people to go with her back to Ginen (Africa), Africa also meaning wisdom. When people, mainly women, are captured by Lasyrenn, they disappear for 3 days at a time. When they return, they come back with a heightened knowledge of a healer. Subsequently, they also return with fairer skin and straighter hair.
A Black mammy-ish figure called Ezili Dantò is said to be an evil spirit, or baka. She is childbearing, sexual (not hetero), unmarried, temperamental and mute. However, Dantò’s muteness is not to be conflated with silence because her audible noises have very specific meanings. For example, Ezili Dantò makes a sound like a, ‘dey-dey-dey’, which honors the mother of a new child. Dantò also vomits blood alongside the woman murdered by her partner.
Ezili Freda, a white, affluent and vain woman is the epitome of men’s dreams and women’s superficial values. She is known for being sweet, but having a nasty temper. Freda adorns herself with jewels and men, and so her identity is ingrained in upper-class women.
There is story of a Haitian immigrant named Alourdes, who goes missing at age 7 for three days, yet she never receives religious instruction like the story with Lasyrenn tells. After her journey, Alourdes finds herself identifying with Ezili Dantò, who she refers to as “mother”.
Dantò looks and acts more like a woman of lower social class, yet she still is independent. Ezili Freda is of course the opposite of that, and Alourdes exemplifies all three spirits. While she craves autonomy and knowledge, she also craves the romantic attention and beauty that Freda has.
Without the inclusion of female spirits, especially ones that are liberated, it is unlikely that female practitioners in voodooism would feel as connected to the spirits. Part of the religion emphasizes maintaining a close relationship to the ezilis, and through that relationship, Alourdes gains empowerment.