Indeed, Holly references all the usual suspects: Court de Gébelin, Fabre d’Olivet, Eduard Schuré, and Eliphas Levi (the Abbé Louis Constant) are all cited in this work, placing it firmly in the lineage of French esotericism, Theosophy, Freemasonry, and magic. This is especially the case with Levi, of whom Crowley believed himself to be the reincarnation. Except, in Holly’s view, Africa and Vodun were the source for all European esotericism, including Freemasonry:
Sur ce point je n’ai personnellement aucun doute. Car DAm-Bha- Lah, la Mere Divine, la Négresse universelle, le COEUR QUI VIVIFIE l’humanité, est seule capable de réaliser la parfaite solidarité, basée sur l’Amour, entre Noirs et Jaunes. Cela, parce que Dame, la Grande Négresse du Ciel, est la Patronne des uns; Lah, le
Grand-Petit Mulâtre du Ciel, le Dieu panthéistique des autres. Donc la Nation haïtienne se tournera—pour l’adoration dans le plus pur sentiment de fraternité—vers le Soleil Levant et son Fils Lumineux
—c’est-à-dire, en termes ma;onniques, vers le GRAND-ORIENT personnifié par la Reine du Midi et son fils Chiram. En effet, le Salut de la Patrie dépend plutôt de la Franc-ma;onnerie que l’Eglise. Et le Voudo, c’est la Mere de la Franc-ma;onnerie comme on vient de le l’entrevoir dans les pages précédentes.116
(On this point I personally have no doubt. For Dam-Bha-Lah, the Divine Mother, the Universal Negress, HEART THAT QUICKENS humanity, is the only one able to achieve perfect solidarity, based on Love, between the Black and Yellow [races]. This is because Dame, Great Negress of Heaven, is the Patroness of each; Lah, the Grand Little Mulatto of Heaven, is the pantheistic God of the others. So the Haitian Nation will turn—or worship in the purest sense of brotherhood—towards the Rising Sun and his Son of Light—that is to say, in Masonic terms, towards the GRAND ORIENT personified by the Queen of the South and her son Hiram. Indeed, the Health of the Country depends rather on Freemasonry than the Church. And Voudo is the Mother of Freemasonry as we have just had a glimpse in the preceding pages.)
Here Holly shows us that he has an esoteric interpretation of the names of the gods of Vodun, dividing Dambhala into separate syllables, each of which has its own meaning and relevance. This is something that Grant himself does, to similar effect, as in the following word analysis from his Ninth Arch, the last in the Typhonian Trilogies series:
Frater Achad interpreted the thirteen-lettered word MANIFESTATION as concentrating the magical formula of the Aeon of Maat whose ‘lesser cycle’ was to manifest through her daughter, Mâ. This is correct so far as it goes, but there is more to it. The daughter typifies the Pythoness of Maat as the unawakened (i.e. virgin) priestess in her magnetic and oracular sleep. The essential formula may be schematized thus:
Mâ = entranced medium, ‘lesser cycle’ (of the sixteen kalas)
ni = Amen, the Hidden God—the Sun behind the sun (Set- Isis/Sothis).
festat = Cairo, the locus of the Double Current: Aiwass/Nu-Isis ion = Aeon; the ‘Greater Cycle’ wherein the seventeenth kala is secreted (i.e., the ultimate and Secret-ion).117
We will note that in both cases there are references to the Sun, and the Pythoness of Maat may have something in common with Holly’s Dambhala. While Dambhala normally is considered to be a male deity, his symbol is also the snake. In Holly’s paragraph above-cited, however, Dambhala is female since Holly focuses on the first syllable of the word, Dam, and sees in it a reference to the French word for woman, Dame. So Dambhala becomes, for him, the Divine Mother and Universal Negress, as well as the fons et origo of Freemasonry.
While Holly is perhaps an unusual and suspect source for information on Vodun, we have a more professional expert in Milo Rigaud. Rigaud— born Emile Rigaud—wrote a number of books on Vodun, heavily illustrated with photographs of ceremonies and diagrams of the vévés: the arcane symbols that attract the lwa to the rituals. While his books are comprehensive treatments of his subject, he also falls victim to the type of grand theories that obsessed Holly. He links the practice of Vodun to Egypt and to Solomon’s Temple, among other places, and he quotes Holly approvingly in this instance, implying that he agrees with the Egyptian- Ethiopian-Assyrian roots of Vodun and their contribution to western, European esotericism and Freemasonry.118
Both Holly and Rigaud are Haitian authors, men who knew their country and its religious culture as well as anyone, but who wrote about it from a Francophone point of view. Creole is the language of the people in Haiti, and French is the language of the government and the intellectual elite. An educated Haitian, interested in religion and spirituality, first would seek for information in French which inevitably would lead to the fields of Martinism, Freemasonry, the various Gnostic churches, and authors like Eliphas Levi and Papus (Dr. Encausse) and many others, all of whom did, indeed, exert an influence over European and American occultism both through their books and through the organizations and secret societies they joined or founded. Holly and Rigaud would have found in these sources confirmation of what they already believed to be
true: that their religious culture was part of a continuum of spiritual experience that began in Africa—everywhere in Africa, including Egypt, the Sudan, and Ethiopia—and thus had tendrils extending as far as the salons of Paris and the secret societies of London, Germany, and elsewhere on the continent.
It’s the perceived racist attitude towards Vodun that irritates anthropologists, however. They will insist that Vodun is a religion, and while they do not deny the magical aspects of the religion they will condemn any attempt to see in Vodun anything smacking of the titillating or suggestive. The approach of Bertiaux is attacked by experts who claim that he represents a colonialist and racist stereotyping of Vodun of the type we find in Lovecraft, for instance. By associating Vodun with sexual rituals and contact with supra-mundane entities—what many average observers would call “black magic” in a purely pejorative way (and perhaps as a thinly-veiled racist allusion)—Bertiaux is seen to be contributing to the Hollywood concept of Vodun as “voodoo” with all the weird rites and licentiousness that the term suggests.
There are problems with this analysis, however. It has become fashionable to assert that any interest in indigenous religions by white observers, be they academics and scholars or journalists and authors of popular books on the subject, is suspect. Edward Said implied as much in his ground-breaking book, Orientalism,119 when he castigated western, European attempts at describing Asia as rooted in colonialist and racist attitudes towards Asians, attitudes that were composed of equal parts of fear, disgust and desire. While Said’s thesis has been criticized recently,120 it is still a difficult hurdle for non-indigenous observers to overcome for it is assumed that they are, ipso facto, tainted by the same vulnerabilities. This is even more pronounced among those who go overboard in attacking other non-indigenous observers whom they believe to be inappropriately reverent when it comes to religions like Vodun, for they can be accused of manifesting “white guilt” or some similar desire to be absolved of their race’s historical crimes against non-white populations. It is truly a no-win situation, but usually is apparent in academic circles where the near- impossibility of staying above the fray is pronounced. Among occultists there are no such anxieties. In the quest for greater and greater occult power all avenues are fair game, and since occultism can be viewed (by some) as largely psychological and emotional, the racial and sexual
stereotypes of any “cult” can be mined for their connections to deeper psychological complexes in the operator.
Yet there is another problem for the mainstream apologists for Vodun, and that is that there are secret societies in Haiti that are responsible for some of the bad press that “voodoo” gets, and which gave us the infamous “zombie powder” among other things. These societies specialize in those elements of Vodun that could be considered magic as differentiated from religion. Wade Davis has written two books121 on the subject of these societies which were the basis of his ethnobiological fieldwork in Haiti during which time he was actually initiated into one of these groups. The vigorous attempts by some anthropologists to downplay the more sinister aspects of the Haitian religious experience fall apart in the face of this type of scholarship. Of course, a case could be made that the Haitian secret societies—such as Bizango, Zobop, the Secte Rouge, etc.—bear as much relationship to traditional Vodun as the Church of Satan does to the Roman Catholic Church … but Davis demonstrates that there exists a much closer bond between the secret societies and normative Vodun than one would suppose, and that these secret societies perform much the same function as the “Illuminati” or “Freemasons” are alleged to do in European countries: they are the real “masters” of the country, operating behind the scenes and meting out punishment where necessary to maintain order in the Haitian communities.122
Therefore, for our purposes we can acknowledge that what anthropologists call “Vodoun” or “Vodun,” etc. represents an assembly of various African religions under one convenient (albeit misleading) umbrella and that as a religion it deserves the same respect as any other; but we must also acknowledge that such things as curses, blood sacrifice, and even zombification also exist as part of the Haitian religious/occult experience just as antinomian secret societies and “satanic” occult groups exist within the normative white European Christian or Jewish religious experience. And it is within the context of the Haitian secret societies, such as the Bizango, that we find the greatest correlation with the ideas discussed by Bertiaux and Grant.
The element of Bertiaux’s unique cosmology that interests Grant is the idea that there are points chauds or “hot points” (or “power points”) in the universe that act as portals into other realms of experience, as “gates” to the “underworld.” The adepts who are capable of entering these points at
will are sometimes referred to as voltigeurs (or “leapers”) in the Bertiaux vernacular. These power points are located on the human body as well as at specific areas of the earth and in the cosmos, in perfect microcosm/macrocosm symmetry. It follows that if these points can be located simultaneously in the body as well as in the heavens (for instance) then physical manipulation or stimulation of those points is equivalent to opening the celestial gates, and a Tantric-type process can be pursued that uses the body and its hidden resources as a vehicle for celestial (and infernal) exploration. An essential characteristic of Tantra is the understanding that psycho-biological processes take place which alter consciousness. In rare instances, these processes may take place accidentally—through some form of physical or emotional trauma—but more often they are the result of careful practice and deliberate application of occult methods such as yoga, meditation, pranayama, and other means of interfering with the normal functions of the human body. If the body is a laboratory and a temple combined, then changing any of the body’s processes such as control of breathing, of heartbeat, contorting the limbs into uncomfortable positions for long periods of time, or even taking drugs that alter either the physical or the mental activities of the operator will produce a variety of results that are outside the normal range of human experience.
The occultist uses the tools that are available to seek control over the body’s autonomic nervous system—the system that regulates such things as breathing, heart rate, peristalsis, etc.—as well as control over the mind’s “autonomic” functions, processes that can be located in what the Freudians call the unconscious mind. This is all quite different from the way of the mystic in prayer who wants to unite with the divine through piety and good works. It is a mechanistic approach to consciousness and divinity that horrifies churchmen and the pious, offending them as much as do frank discussions of sexuality. The pious speak of love and marriage; sex is either not mentioned or is couched in euphemism. The magician speaks of everything in terms of the use to be made of it, its pragmatic application to the desired goal.
This is what one finds in Bertiaux as well as in Grant. It should be noted that Grant’s information concerning Vodun is purely of the Bertiaux variety. There is no attempt to offer an academic presentation of the material, no citations of scholarly works on Afro-Caribbean religion
juxtaposed with citations from the Voudon Gnostic Workbook just as there are no discussions of Roman Catholic doctrines or excerpts from the Lutheran prayer book. There is no devotional literature in magic. The interest of Bertiaux, Grant and Crowley is on spiritual techniques and esoteric technology. The cultural contexts of Vodun, Egyptian religion, to a lesser extent the Tantras, and even the Yezidis are ignored or at least unacknowledged in favor of the deconstruction of their respective technologies—the way a gear-head takes apart an automobile engine to see how it is put together. These techniques give rise—mostly through ritual— to otherworldly experiences that they then attempt to describe and analyze for a wider audience, with wildly uneven results. Grant’s presentation of the already complicated and sometimes hyperbolic Bertiaux material verges on the incomprehensible, and I contend that it is not meant to be read as linear prose but as a kind of free-association: language reduced (or elevated) to mantra and chant.
Bertiaux, like Grant, is obsessed with the dark side of esotericism. Traditional Kabbalah, alchemy, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism are all ignored in favor of the more sinister aspects of the spiritual experience, and ways are sought to contact entities that are believed to exist in other dimensions, entities that are nevertheless understood to be capable of interacting with our own. These are alien beings in every sense of the term: they are not beautiful in any conventional sense: no angels with harps, no long-bearded prophets. These are the monstrous shapes imagined by Lovecraft and other horror writers of his generation; except that for Bertiaux and Grant they are not figments of imagination and thus “not real,” but have an independent existence of their own. In the Bertiaux and Grant cosmology, Lovecraft did not invent these creatures: he saw them in his dreams, which are a time-honored method of communicating with the unconscious mind (in a modern sense) or with the spirit world (in a more ancient context). The gods of Vodun may have begun the same way as Great Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep; and the methods of contacting the one may be used to contact the other, and with similar—even measureable— results. What began in a dream may be contacted in a dream, or at least in a trance. The altered states so representative of spirit possession in Haiti— and recognized as such by Lovecraft in “The Call of Cthulhu”—are a way of re-dreaming the original dream, of going “back to Guinee”: to an African homeland that exists nowhere on earth, yet everywhere on earth.