For the nonbeliever, there is something profoundly disturbing about spirit possession. Its power is raw, immediate, and undeniably real, devastating in a way to those of us who do not know our gods. To witness sane and in every regard respectable individuals experiencing direct rapport with the divine fills one with either fear, which finds its natural outlet in disbelief, or deep envy. The psychologists who have attempted to understand possession from a scientific perspective have tended to fall into the former category, and perhaps because of this they have come up with some bewildering conclusions, derived in part from quite unwarranted assumptions.

For one, because the mystical frame of reference of the vodounist involves issues that can not be approached by their calculus—the existence or nonexistence of spirits for example—the actual beliefs of the individual experiencing possession are dismissed as externalities. To the believer, the disassociation of personality that characterizes possession is the hand of divine grace; to the psychologist it is but a symptom of an “overwhelming psychic disruption.” — Wade Davis from The Serpent and the Rainbow


The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti

Leslie G. Desmangles

As defined in its politically correct definition, voodoo is a “vibrant folk religion that has played and continues to play a major role in the religious lives of the common people of Haiti.” Among the politically incorrect, however, Voodoo appears to be among the most ancient and superstitious of human practices; the mixing of religion with black and white magic, and a threat to the neck of any unfortunate chicken within arm’s reach. Between these two interpretations we have the well-written, scholarly tone of Desmangle’s book. Informative and interspersed with interesting photos. JB

Publisher: University of North Carolina
Paperback: 218 pages

Famous Voodoo Rituals and Spells

H.U. Lampe

“The world’s most complete book of secret voodoo rituals and materials. Voodoo dolls, potions, herbs, oils, candles, incense, powders, hexes, crossings, etc. Hundreds of secret methods, spells, and exactly how to use them.” Published in New Orleans.

Publisher: Marlar
Pamphlet: 73 pages

Macumba: The Teachings of Maria-José

Serge Bramley

“Macumba is a way of life and belief that is followed by 15 million Brazilians, as well as millions more across the Western hemisphere. Yet it—along with its sister-religions of Vodun, Santería and Ifa—remains a little-known and largely misunderstood spiritual path… In a series of interviews, Maria José, a Mae de Santa (Mother of the Gods), explains the philosophy and practice of Macumba. She introduces the Orixas, a pantheon of deities who survived the Middle Passage to Brazil along with the African slaves.”

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 231 pages

The Magic Island

William Seabrook

“Journalist, adventurer and raconteur Seabrook describes in detail rituals that involve soul transferring, necromancy and resurrection, and relates stories of sorcery and witchcraft gathered in various circles of Haitian society. As research for the book, the author went to live in the jungles of Haiti, where he stayed with the family of Maman Célie, a voodoo priestess who initiated him into the religion and taught him its rites. Incisive and vivid, The Magic Island is an unparalleled investigative account told with sensitivity and courage by a traveler of wide experience.” Originally published in 1929. Illustrated with both expressionistic drawing and photos by the author.

Publisher: Marlowe
Paperback: 336 pages

Rituals and Spells of Santería

Migene Gonzalez-Wippler

“Takes us further into the practices of the followers of Santería.”

Publisher: Magickal Childe
Paperback: 134 pages

The Sacred Ifa Oracle

Dr. A.A. Epega and P.J. Neimark

Newly translated from Yoruba, this work presents the basis underlying such African-derived New World religions as Santería, Candomble, Macumba and Vodun. The Ifa Oracle presents a window on a universe that resembles the Chinese I Ching system and holds the answers for the practitioner. The Ifa practitioner believes that the future can be known if the nonquantifiable world of spiritual energy is used to comprehend the quantifiable world of matter. MET

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 549 pages

Samba in the Night: Spiritism in Brazil

David J. Hess

Written by an anthropologist, this is an account of field work and explorations into nonmainstream religions in Brazil and their exorcisms, psychic surgery, spirit mediums, poltergeists, spiritual healings, succubi and incubi. The author considers the relationship between spiritism and other popular religions in Brazil and how Spiritists re-create science and nature. MET

Publisher: Columbia University
Hardback: 214 pages

The Santería Experience

Migene Gonzalez-Wippler

“A definitive treatise about a religio-magical cult that reputedly has millions of indoctrinated followers in the Caribbean Islands, South America and Latin American sectors of the United States. The author gives vivid firsthand descriptions of exotic rituals that are instructive and fascinating to professionals and laypersons alike.”

Publisher: Magickal Childe
Paperback: 228 pages

Secrets of Magical Seals

Anna Riva

This has the look of one of those books that is mostly sold at the local botanica. It might be equally at home in a Sanrio store in the “Let’s Magic” section. Most of its loopy charm is derived from its attempt to be really completist about the subject of seals and shields and talismans. To its credit, it doesn’t claim to be definitive and it doesn’t urge the novice to attempt dangerous things. In fact, it sort of explains magic seals in such a way that if somebody were to dabble with the information provided here, they might end up visually customizing something to suit their own idiosyncratic needs. Among the pages and pages of visual offerings are: symbols of the planets, the seals of Solomon, Egyptian symbols, Gnostic seals, Islamic talismans, Chinese seals and seals of the saints. SA

Publisher: Indio
Paperback: 64 pages

Secrets of Voodoo

Milo Rigaud

“Rigaud was born in 1903 in Port au Prince, Haiti, where he spent the greater part of his life studying voodoo tradition. In Haiti, he studied law, and in France, ethnology, psychology and theology. The involvement of voodoo in the political struggle of Haitian blacks for independence was one of his main concerns after he returned to his country… Secrets of Voodoo traces the development in Haiti and the Americas of this complex religion from its sources in the brilliant civilizations of ancient Africa. This book presents a straightforward account of the gods, or loas, and their function, the symbols and signs, rituals and the ceremonial calendar of voodoo; and the procedures for performing magical rites are given.”

Publisher: City Lights
Paperback: 219 pages