La Source Ancienne Ounfo
La Source Ancienne Ounfo is a private Vodou societe that exists within my home. Its main purpose is to serve the Lwa and the community. To that end, ceremonies have been held every week for 25 years for the Lwa. Vodou is a living tradition. Our ceremonies are based on traditional Haitian Vodou, but incorporate ongoing inspiration and innovation. You will absolutely encounter some aspects of ritual in my home that are not traditional to Haitian Vodou and yet are absolutely legitimate to the ongoing development of Vodou as a syncretic religion. Fundamental to our practice of Vodou are respect and honor to the Lwa, to the house, and to one another. I wish to encourage each member of the house to come together in order to respond to the world with awe and appreciation. There will be no tolerance for personal power struggles or bids for attention. I cannot repeat often enough that these ceremonies are offerings for the Lwa and not FOR any one person in the Ounfo. Most Americans are so concerned with whether they are getting enough out of a relationship or out of any experience that they fail to notice how much they have to give or how rich they actually are. In giving to the Lwa, we are able to get past ourselves, our petty egos, and find that we stand for much more than ourselves. We are able to call the Gods, who respond by coming down among us. What more do we need?
La Sourcre Ancienne is an extended or consciously created family. It is an experiment in what family means. It would behoove each of us to reexamine those parts of ourselves that remain infantile or unbalanced and bring them into maturity with us. We do not want to enable behaviors that create the same old patterns of dysfunctional family that we are used to. To that end, I pledge to speak honestly and from the heart with each member of the house and to say, to the best of my ability, what it is that I am thinking and feeling. I expect the same in return. We can support each other in terms of empowerment, health, and freedom. Either a person is draining energy from the group, or they are contributing. The ceremonies are group efforts and have a life of their own. See to it that you don’t detract from that energy.
Members of this house will comport themselves with dignity and respect as they represent the house wherever they go and represent the Vodou religion and the trust of the ancestors. It is expected that all members who become Oungan or Manbo will hold themselves to a higher moral code as spiritual leaders of the community.
We are continually discovering what service to the Lwa implies. Sometimes it simply means offering a beautiful, heartfelt ceremony. Sometimes it means teaching strangers about the principles of Vodou, or helping people get over their fears or misconceptions. Serving the community often for us means sharing ceremonies with the public. We periodically do perform public street ceremonies in order to help alleviate the world of erroneous and negative impressions of Vodou. It is felt that all people have some aspect of God’s life force or energy and that all people are capable of being containers for the Spirit. Therefore, we are willing to honor a human need for meaningful connection with Spirit by performing these public ceremonies. The community has been very good to us, very tolerant and respectful of us. We can give back in this small way. Rabbi Heschel used to say, “humanity will not perish from want of information, but from a want of appreciation.” We will unquestionably continue to be under attack for these ceremonies. People will accuse us of being performers, of being in love with the media and fame, of being fraudulent, etc. etc. These attacks can be quite severe. As long as we continue to manifest certain powers – the power of conviction, the power to act from the heart – people will try to take those powers from us. They cannot prevail. Most people think that power can only be gotten at someone else’s expense, but there is an abundance of power in the world. Power = health. We are not concerned with gaining power over anyone else. We are concerned with healing ourselves and healing a broken world. If Vodou’s ancestors were able to persevere and maintain their faith in the face of slavery, then we can certainly stand up for what we believe in the face of our little challengers. Vodou is all about the movement from slavery to freedom, from disempowerment to power, from fear into faith. We have incarned at a time when the world is in dire need of healing. In Haiti, survival is so urgent that Vodou has to be practical and has to answer people’s immediate, personal needs. We have it much better here in the U.S. We need to focus some of our energy on the needs of the world and of the planet. We can do this by asking for guidance and instruction from the Lwa when they appear in ceremony, by doing more public service ceremonies, and by doing street ceremonies without rancor or arrogance. It is the duty of human beings to repair, rebuild and transform the world.
The Ounfo Today
There are only about 20 people in the Ounfo, and that is about all that the temple can handle. Even if we eventually find a location for an independent Peristyle (which is not something that particularly concerns me one way or the other – the Ounfo is small and hot as it is, but it is beautiful and it is a privilege of membership), I don’t think the societe can get very much bigger or the whole experience would become quite impersonal. On the other hand, we do not wish to withhold this great good from any sincere seekers and will always attempt to remain open to new people who wish to join. When a person elects to take Ounsi initiation, they devote themselves to a Spiritual path before the Lwa, and they become a son or daughter in the house.
We expect that all interested members of the house take it upon themselves to learn as much as possible about Vodou and the Lwa. There are a few books available on the subject. Use choir meetings and the time after ceremonies on Saturday nights to discuss any questions or ideas or experiences that you might have had. Serve the Lwa privately on your own to develop a personal connection to them and to your own power. I am always happy to answer any questions that I can, but please be sure that you can’t first find the answer to your question in my book, or someone else’s before you ask me. In Haiti a serviteur learns by doing. We have to learn by a combination of doing, studying, and practicing.
On a more practical note, La Source Ancienne Ounfo does not charge its members any sort of fee or any sort of tithe. Please be supportive in any way that you can, either by assisting and being present at any ceremonies that are actually paid for, or by occasionally donating coffee, creamer, toilet paper (!) or some cold, hard cash when you can. Please offer to repair or replace anything that you damage in my home. In return, the Ounfo is at this time supporting training for the drummers, and is researching and collecting sacred songs for the choir. The Ounfo is also committed to offering opportunities for its members to travel to Haiti for initiations with Edgar Jean Louis in Port-au-Prince. Each member, however, is expected to pay his/her own way and all expenses. In the future we hope to be able to bring Manbos and Oungans from Haiti to do workshops with us in the areas of dance, drumming, singing, and all areas of ritual preparation. We aim to have a household full of initiated and confident servitors. It would be most helpful if members of the house were willing to donate money, energy, expertise, and ideas to all these efforts.