Monday, May 25, 2015

"Voodoo" Season 1 Episode 22

The episode "Voodoo" first aired on July 26, 1977 . It was directed by H.G. Stark and it was written and produced by Alan Landsburg.

I'm going to try and watch this unbiased, but the title troubles me. A show about Voodoo in the 70's could very easily be a caricature of Carribbean culture and beliefs. Sure enough, a brief history lesson gets us right into Haiti and a discussion of its poverty.

(Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic)

Nimoy declares that Haiti is the only country to go from "slavery to sovereignty in one bloody step". What are you implying Leonard? He tells us a bit more about Haitian culture. We learn about the Creole Language and that most Haitians are Catholic. Nimoy tells us that unofficially most practice voodoo, despite being officially Catholic. They follow the teachings of the Houngan and they introduce us to one. Papa Joie (not sure of the spelling) is identified as a local Houngan.

Papa Joie is a Voodoo priest, and supposedly one of the most powerful. We get to visit his Parish which is on a hillside near the Haitian Capitol of Port Au Prince. It is an area lacking in modern conveniences. But Voodoo is thriving here. Nimoy says that Papa Joie's teaching in Voodoo is deeply connected to the fortunes of the poeple living there. Nimoy next tells us that what their cameras have captured has rarely been seen by anyone who is not part of the Voodoo practices. Way to tease us!

Nimoy describes what we are seeing and is a bit creepy. Nimoy explains that Papa Joie has made no formal announcement. He just starts draw intricate patterns with a white sand on the gorund and the people begin showing up.

Drums are next brought in to summon spirits who will bring good health and good tidings.

A priest's power is measured by how successful they are in drawing in the spirits. So there is a lot of pressure on Papa Joie to get this right.

Now for a few minutes of drumming. We are told they are summoning the best spirits, and the harder they drum and with skill, the better the spirits. Even children are participating. It was a little creepy to start, but now it just looks like a typical dinner out at a Carribbean-theme Club. But we are only getting started. Papa Joie gives signals that the spirits are on their way. Chanting and dancing commence.

Not much is said over the next few minutes. But the dancing and singing are pretty cool to watch. We are told there is no set time. This goes on for as long as Papa Joie decides. Nimoy tells us they are looking for a "possession" which is the moment that a spirit enters and takes over a body. Within moments Nimoy announces as "a possession has occurred" while we witness a girl collapse and writhe in agony while others help.

I remember watching Jim Bakker on TV and seeing someone collapse in a similar fashion. Is Voodoo all that different from some other religions? Nimoy tells us the only danger in this is when the spirit leaves the body and takes the soul with it, leaving behind a zombie. Luckily this won't happen tonight because they have summoned good spirits. But he warns us the angry spirits will come tomorrow night "when anything can happen". Nimoy tells us that in many ways traditional Voodoo practices have been tainted by those practicing in the "Dark Arts". The Petro ceremony is coming later when angry spirits will be called forth and anything can happen. Papa Joie is preparing himself for this. He is often called on to banish demons, and heal the sick by the locals. We next get to see his sanctuary, in which elements of Catholicism have blended with Voodoo traditions. Nimoy tells us about the zombies who haunt the nightmares of Haitian children. Papa Joie uses talismans and cards to intrepet dreams and cast spells. He sometimes uses finger nail clippings and locks of hair to protect people. According to Papa Joie, spirits with maliscious natures must be appeased, if they are not satisfied it is dangerous for all involved.

"Occasionally the 'In Search Of... ' camera ventures into a world where few have been privileged to travel. The Petro Ceremony is one. Such a place is not for the timid. Sacrifice is part of affirment. So is fire. So is possession. It is a ceremony tainted by blood and enveloped by noise." Creepy lead in to what is about to come from Nimoy!!

Nimoy talks us through what we are seeing as darkness falls and the people start their ceremony. Interestingly they pray a traditional Catholic prayer during the ceremony and even use the cross.  A strange connection between the two religions. There is an animal brought in for the ceremony and everyone touches it. It's hard to tell if its a cow or a deer? Dancing and singing whip the people into a frenzy.

Apparently its a horse! As the person is being possessed by the spirit or "Loa", their spirit leaves the body to be carried by the horse. When the possession is over, the Loa may reenter the original body, which is the desired outcome. If that doesn't happen, the body becomes a zombie, Walking Dead style! Nimoy even uses that term and further explains they are cursed to live for eternity without feeling or thought. Over the next few minutes we witness a possession as the dancing and singing continue. We are told the spirit that specializes in communication is present. A possessed person writhes on the floor as Nimoy tells us that they will remember nothing of the possession.

Apparently Papa Joie has led them through the dangers and they now feel safe. The cereomny appears to be winding down. The spirits have been appeased, for now. The ceremony is over until it is needed again.

"The crowded, noisy, ragged world of Haiti breeds the Demons of Voodoo. But there are those who contend that the spirits that are set loose in the Rada and Petro are the very center of an enobling religion." Considering we saw no actual zombies and no one get hurt, I think he's probably right. Interesting how in the 70's I'm sure many people had stereotypical views of these people and probably saw Voodoo as akin to Black Magic or Satan worshipping. If nothing else, this episode took some of the mystery. and hopefully fear, away. I didn't really care for it though. The production quality was maybe the worst so far. I know it was shot in Haiti and its the 70's, but it was so dark you could hardly see what was happening. There were a few creepy moments, but mostly because I read the book The Serpent and the Rainbow when I was a teenager and so I knew some parts of this culture can be creepy. Maybe it would have felt creepier in the 70's with that stereotypical view of Voodoo in mind? Overall, it was a yawner and didn't do much for me. In fact it felt a little like making fun of their religion at times. This is definitely a dated episode and the first one I've ssen that I would advise skipping other than the pilot episode. I am hoping with two episodes left, they can end the first season on a stronger note!

You can watch this episode "Voodoo" below.

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