Points of Contention.
It has come to my awareness that there is actually an argument about what is real or legitimate Vodun and what is not. As I am made to understand by Africans in Africa, these arguments are simply not had in Africa because each adherent practices according to their local ancestral traditions or local adopted traditions if they have been displaced by war, poverty, or some other tragedy, or by feeling “called home” to a different area.
When a person from Africa moves away, they generally keep their home traditions and may add to them adopted deities from the pantheon local to where they live. Some in and outside Africa add deities they feel a particular affinity towards or who become part of their local reality by way of intermarriage or because that deity manifested and helped someone. Some are reclaimed or syncretized for a variety of reasons. How ever and when ever this is done, people find a balance that is respectful to both African and other belief systems and Ancestors.
No matter where Africans who were born in Africa or raised by Africans close to their home cultures are though, they do not forget the importance and practical legitimacy of the ancestral priesthood in Africa. One living and working outside Africa may function at a priestly level because there are no ancestral priests available, but one does not claim that just because they are being sane and practical about it, they are officially priests by the same rights as those in the ancestral line who have done the appropriate passages.
What some have done to cope with the low numbers of or lack of ancestral priests is to create diaspora orders with an independent hierarchy, structure, and traditions. So long as they are practicing along sound guidelines of the core of the Vodun belief systems, few if any Africans would see a problem with this. One of those core guidelines, of course, would be that the line of priesthood in Vodun is still ancestral, and that your having created a new order or house does not negate or override the legitimacy of those who have been practicing and living Vodun for the past 10,000 years.
Does Ancestral Mean Racist?
Some believe that the insistence on respect for the ancestral priesthood in Africa is racist. These are mostly people who do not understand what race and ethnicity is, and also believe that when one mentions this, they are saying that diaspora orders, systems, and houses are not legitimate. They do not understand that an African in the diaspora whose ancestry is mixed or not traceable or who the divination says is unsuitable has no more chance of becoming a higher level priest than the usual “yes you’ve been faithful to the principles now go make the world a better place” endorsement than a person of European ancestry. Those of us who discuss this issue in depth do not even call this a “glass ceiling”. It is a “glass floor”. The same glass floor applies to all who are not in the ancestral line equally, with no discrimination related to color.
The difference though, between Africans in the diaspora and others however, is that when an African in the diaspora practices Vodun, certain specifics of genetic features, cultural background, and historical and personal experience will come into play that do not in a person of other recent ancestry. We all originally trace back to Africa, but some things happened along the way.
In practical ways, a dark skinned person with very curly hair is going to have different experiences from Nature than a very pale skinned person with straight hair. Both can be just as right or just as wrong, but the former is going to experience the physical aspects of Nature in an African way while the latter will need to work at this to understand. Doing that work is a good thing. One of the steps that must be taken though, is understanding that work needs to be done for one to relate well to their brothers and sisters in Vodun.
Also, where a person of European ancestry most likely came to Vodun within a diaspora order or by way of books, the internet, or friendship, a great many Africans in the diaspora were born into Afrocentric systems. In an Afrocentric system, there is no hierarchy but the African hierarchy, and everyone outside Africa establishes relationships with those in Africa, and otherwise does the best they can with what they’ve got. Elders are family and associated elders, or in the case of those mixed with Native Americans, tribal elders. Someone’s rank within a diaspora system is meaningless, and less than meaningless if that person is so out of touch with Africans in the diaspora or in general that they do not understand or participate in African or diaspora culture.
I have noted a growing and very disturbing trend of some practitioners of European ancestry deeming Africans in the diaspora frauds because they concede to no hierarchy but those in Africa or those of a specific temple in Africa. Because they understand that Africa is their homeland or at least one of them, and try to do right by them, understanding that they will never be priests of the ancestral lines but loving the Orishas anyway because it’s not about rank for them, they have been subjected to some degrading and rather racist attacks from European descended practitioners who think their membership and rank in a diaspora order entitles them to look down on Africans who are doing right by their home regions or temples.
I myself was recently banned from a Facebook group for stating very truthfully that some people were out of touch with Africa and were “White to the bone” in essentially stealing from and then twisting an African faith and claiming dominion of it. I was called a racist for combating racism. Ironic, is it not? So I created the Afrocentric Vodun group so there would be at least one place on the internet for people of all ethnicities who understand they are adherents of an African faith.