OST Question #12 - Voodoo

by Tim Powers

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OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Liz » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:39 pm

What do you think about Mate Care-For and the use of voodoo in the book?
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Buster » Mon Apr 04, 2011 5:04 pm

I think it is difficult to write about any religious beliefs in a work of fiction. "Voodoo" has such a lot of misconceptions around it, and such a mishmash of fact, fear and rumor connected with all of the widely varied religions that are often included under that term, that it is difficult to sort it all out. I was glad that Tim quite specifically defined the concepts he included.
Just thinking out loud, but don't all religions have some pretty peculiar beliefs connected with them when they are viewed through the eyes of non-believers?

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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby gemini » Mon Apr 04, 2011 6:32 pm

This is one of the things I like about historical fiction. It is fiction so you can buy into how ever it’s used in the story. I do see where some might see it differently when the characters are real and it’s your own religion.

I liked the voodoo aspects of the story and how well it fit into the pirates devil may care nature. It does put a different light on them when we realize Maitre Carrefours was protecting them. ( Leave it to the pirates to simplify his name to what they knew about him.)

One thing did bother me. If they could get his help just by doing the ritual or believing in him, then how could they end up hanged or killed as in Davies case?
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Apr 04, 2011 6:52 pm

It seems to me that Tim wrote the book expecting the reader already had a substantial amount of knowledge about voodoo and magic. I started making notes about words I didn't know already in the prologue and I stumbled along not understanding a lot of what I read all the way through. I have a bad habit of writing down the things I don't understand but never getting around to opening a dictionary.

When the tidbits came along, I found myself nodding and saying "Oh! so that was it meant!" "Oh! now I get it." But by then it was probably too late to fully understand because I doubt if I recalculated all the things I had missed. That was true of many of the characters and other things in the book, I suppose, but knowing more about the voodoo aspect would have made the book so much easier to understand and appreciate. If I had not watched enough POTC movies to be able to picture some of the battle scenes and other things mentally, I would have been even more lost.

I am not sure how Tim could have woven all the characters and action and mysterious aura of the story and still stop to explain everything to his readers without losing the flow and effectiveness. So maybe it comes down to me not being well-educated enough to read the book in the first place. Which is sad, because it is a cool story!

This is pretty much the norm for me, I feel like I should read the tidbits first and then the book!

(Sorry, Tim)

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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Apr 04, 2011 11:23 pm

I can't imagine a story about the Caribbean without some reference to Vodou, it's part of the flavor of the place. And no we really don't have a very large understanding of this religion and that has led our culture to embue it with a greater sense of the exotic or the "primitive" than is present. But, we see this tendency to look for mystery or, even better, to want mystery at the heart of many religious traditions. It's present in many organized religions like Catholic, Hebrew, Hindu etc. And it's assuredly behind us, back three or four generations: the old ways, the fairy. I guess humans need a way to name or define that which stands at the gap between the concrete world of things and the shifting world of spirit and dream: from gods to ghosts to magic. Among other things religion helps us organize the chaotic into something we feel we might almost be able to master.

When I came across "mate care for" in the book, I googled it and found a blog about OST which referenced Maître Carrefour himself. Given my prediliction for tracking down unexpected things I was besides myself: what a wonderful figure, Master of the Crossroads, standing at the doorway between the human world and the spirit world. This is a very ancient and powerful notion these figures at doorways, thresholds, leaving and arriving, ending and beginning -- our ghosts, angels, banshees, etc. He would have to be magical. I have to assume, because I really don't know, that Tim created this odd phrase 'mate care for' completely out of whole cloth and yet it makes complete sense: isn't this exactly what a bunch of sailors would do with the Haitian phrase "maitre-carrefour"?

I see 'mate care for' as more than grace, more like a spell. I like the practical nature of the thing. It's just what a mate needs to care for himself, right?
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Liz » Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:07 am

nebraska wrote:It seems to me that Tim wrote the book expecting the reader already had a substantial amount of knowledge about voodoo and magic......This is pretty much the norm for me, I feel like I should read the tidbits first and then the book!
(Sorry, Tim)

This is reminding me of my dad, the 6th grade teacher. I don't remember him telling me this as a kid, but I do remember when he retired he shared with me that he always had his dictionary next to him while reading a book, and if he didn't know the meaning of a word, he'd look it up. I used to blow that off and never felt the need to look up a word. Then something happened to me when I joined a book club. It was the discussion that made me want to know more. And then when I started ONBC I got even more into it. And then DITHOT took it a step further. It makes me wonder if the average person even cares. They just read and accept what they read in the moment. I don't know. I think people can just enjoy a book based on what's there without having to know the history of every single word. But I'm glad you guys like to know more. I do wish that we could be a step or so ahead of you guys as you read the books, but life interferes.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Liz » Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:14 am

fireflydances wrote: I have to assume, because I really don't know, that Tim created this odd phrase 'mate care for' completely out of whole cloth and yet it makes complete sense: isn't this exactly what a bunch of sailors would do with the Haitian phrase "maitre-carrefour"?

I see 'mate care for' as more than grace, more like a spell. I like the practical nature of the thing. It's just what a mate needs to care for himself, right?

I can see pirates coming up with a more familiar pronunciation, yes. I had a hard time shaking "maitre-carrefour," though, which was how I pronounced it in my head through the entire book.

I think that there may be a couple of questions for Tim resulting from this question.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby stroch » Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:34 am

Well, he wouldn't have HAD a story without Voodoo; it permeates everything.

Since he guards the crossroads humans have to propitiate him to interact witht he spirit world and communicate with one another. I had always taken it to also mean that the crossroad was a place where a choice could be made, to go one way or another, to good or to evil.

I don't want to give the impression that people go a round sacrificing chickens all the time, but a lot of people have serious beliefs in the strength of the spirits personified in voudou. The students in my classes refuse to make those tourist voodoo dolls and they don't even want to talk about it in class. A few have said that its too scary and they don't want to take any chances.

As for the dictionary -- that's why I love the internet. You can look things up instantly, and even see the streets characters walked down.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:01 am

Just a nice little additional note on the significance of 'crossroads' throughout the world. This is a brief tour that focuses on ancient Rome, Greece; but there so much more we could uncover with time. In fact it's probably reasonable to say that the concept of the crossroad is embeded in the human mind in all places, all times.

CROSSROADS

A symbol of union, and in Jungian imagery a symbol of the Mother (the epitome and object of all union). The association of the crossroad with Witchcraft goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Classically the crossroad symbolizes a joining of three roads, the balance of opposites, and the meeting of time and space.

In the Aegean/Mediterranean area, crossroads were sacred to Hekate Triformis, and Diana. Ovid, an ancient Roman writer, speaks of Hecate as having three faces with which to guard the crossroads as they branched out. Verro, another ancient writer, equated Diana with Hekate and stated the images of Diana were stationed at the crossroads. Other writers of the period called this goddess Artemis-Hekate, and attributed the Mother Goddess aspect to her.

The crossroads are likewise associated with the ancestral spirits called Lasa or Lares. These beings were originally thought to be spirits of the forests and meadows, the fairy folk, and spirits of Nature. With development these spirits became associated with the cultivated fields, and eventually the Lara became protectors of the family and home, and associated with the hearth.

Also, in the archaic Roman religion small towers were constructed at crossroads, and an altar was placed before them upon which offerings were laid. Such towers were associated with Nature spirit worship and demarcation. Some claim that this may be the foundation of the concept of Watchtowers within Wicca and other forms of modern Witchcraft.

Since classical times the crossroad has been a favoured place for Witches to gather because of its link to Nature spirits and the moon goddess. Crossroads were also the construction sites for gallows, and suspended gages that contained bodies of criminals. Also, suicide victims, who were not permitted burial in hallowed churchyards, were frequently buried near a crossroad.


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PS Great post Stoch, it got me thinking.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Liz » Tue Apr 05, 2011 11:22 am

Thanks, stroch, for your point of view. It’s good to get the perspective of someone who has been more exposed to it.

Firefly, thanks for the history of the term, crossroads. I had no idea. I need to mull all of that over for a while.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby gemini » Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:27 pm

stroch wrote:I don't want to give the impression that people go a round sacrificing chickens all the time, but a lot of people have serious beliefs in the strength of the spirits personified in voudou. The students in my classes refuse to make those tourist voodoo dolls and they don't even want to talk about it in class. A few have said that its too scary and they don't want to take any chances.

Here in Florida, animal sacrifice has been an issue that went as far as being defended by the ACLU. The Santaria religion won the right to practice their religion.

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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby Liz » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:12 pm

gemini wrote:
stroch wrote:I don't want to give the impression that people go a round sacrificing chickens all the time, but a lot of people have serious beliefs in the strength of the spirits personified in voudou. The students in my classes refuse to make those tourist voodoo dolls and they don't even want to talk about it in class. A few have said that its too scary and they don't want to take any chances.

Here in Florida, animal sacrifice has been an issue that went as far as being defended by the ACLU. The Santaria religion won the right to practice their religion.


Unbelievable! :shocked:
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby stroch » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:36 pm

Not really -- 20 years ago or so, my husband's aunt gave big, big parties at her home, and she hired people to bartend and serve. Not an agency, just people who worked as domestic help for her friends, and their friends.

No one would work in the kitchen with one woman named Lula because they said she was a hoodoo. They would go in to get trays of food, but not stay in the kitchen with her. She was tiny -- less than 5 feet tall, and wizened, with her hair pulled straight back in a bun, and she spoke in riddles. Even a simple question like, "Are there any more oyster patties?" had her muttering and talking gibberish and looking sideways at yo and making hand gestures. She was spooky, but a really excellent cook, and she never poisoned anyone that I know of.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:51 pm

When I lived in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s I routinely saw signs of animal sacrifice in Central Park of all places. A set off area with a rock formation that was just so, and sometimes there would be burned ashes, paint on the rock. You knew there was no way this place wasn't special, wasn't used as some form of altar. You live in NYC you don't give this stuff a lot of thought: all kinds of people, all kinds of life styles. Mind you, I wouldn't have messed with the spot, what was left. And no interest in returning at checking it out in the black of night.
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Re: OST Question #12 - Voodoo

Unread postby RamblinRebel » Wed Apr 06, 2011 4:07 am

stroch – thanks so much for your posts – they’re really quite eye-opening for me. I’m curious as to what age you teach, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m pretty sure I’d be in the same camp as your students. That was exactly how I felt about voodoo as a child, and I didn’t even have any real exposure to it; just whatever I got from books and t.v. But reading that suddenly brought back the feelings. Very interesting about Lula!

gemini – At first I found that shocking, then I read the link. Thanks for the education.

As for the question – what does voodoo bring to the story? Well for me it adds another layer of mystery and intrigue which makes the story all the more thrilling. As far back as I can remember I’ve been into all things supernatural: ghosts, magic, aliens, witchcraft, vampires, ESP, you name it. I started reading John Saul when I was 10. :yikes: Fascination with all things dark and/or seemingly impossible, I suppose. (Voodoo, Black Magic and Satanism really terrified me though. And my young, uneducated mind sort of lumped them all together in the same pot.) But back to my point… so you take a good pirate story and add a supernatural twist, and well, it kicks it up a notch for me. :cool:

firefly – There was evidence, or at least rumors, of animal sacrifice in the 70s where I grew up as well. When I was 7 my parents moved from Chicago to a very rural area in northwest IL. (Y’all actually touched on the area in a Public Enemies tidbit just before I joined the Zone.) But anyway, our next door neighbor happened to work for the Sheriff’s police, and he confirmed a lot of “odd” things at one residence in particular that was known to us kids as the “devil worshiper’s house”. He had been called out there on multiple occasions and he said there were stone tables in the overgrown yard, pentagrams and symbols inlaid on the floor, and other “really weird stuff” about the place. And of course there was the occasional missing farm animal in the area. Combine that with the rumors of chanting and hooded figures, etc., around this one property… Minimally it made good ghost story fodder for the local teens. But given what our policeman neighbor saw, there may have been some truth to it as well. It’s really hard to say. :fear:


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