Practitioners of Haitian Vodou said they fear reprisals after authorities connected two separate but violent crimes against children to Voodoo rituals.
Police arrested two sisters in East Bridgewater, Mass., in January for burning, cutting, and permanently disfiguring a 5-year-old girl in what the culprits called a voodoo ritual intended to exorcise a demonic spirit. Police also arrested a mother in early February in Brocktown, Mass., for murdering two of her children during what she also claimed was a voodoo ritual. Practitioner of Haitian Vodou, who spell their voodoo variant differently to distinguish it from other forms of voodoo, said they feel that they are being “targeted” and that voodoo does not sanction child abuse of outright physical violence against anyone, according to The Associated Press.
“We are being targeted,” Vodou priestess Maude Evans told the AP. “I’m really concerned that that’s how it’s going to be from now on. They will do things and blame it on Vodou.”
Evans is a Haitian immigrant to the U.S. and currently operates as a Vodou priestess in the neighborhood of Mattapan in Boston.
The two recent crimes against children have, as Evans feared, further perpetuated the popular negative perception of Voodoo. The city of Brockton held a vigil for Lason and Edson “Marlon” Brito shortly after police arrested their mother, Latarsha Sanders, for murdering them during what she claimed was a botched voodoo ritual. Bishop Orlando Harris of New Life Christian Church led the vigil and not only urged the community to unite and actively care for one another, especially if they noticed any strange behavior from friends and family, but also openly denounced the practice of Voodoo, at which those in attendance applauded and cheered.
Sanders allegedly stabbed her sons, aged eight and five years old, in the course of what she claimed to be a voodoo ritual.
“It came out ‘wrong’ with the first one and for that reason she had to move on to the second child,” Assistant Plymouth District Attorney Jessica Kenny said according to New York Post.
“She said she stabbed him because she had ‘failed’ in the ritual with Marlon. She responded to police that she felt bad about what she had done. She told police she mopped up the blood on the floor. She indicated she used a kitchen knife to stab both of them and left it in the sink. She also indicated she cleaned up both of the children and placed them in separate beds,” Kenny added.
Police also arrested sisters Peggy LaBossiere and Rachel Hilaire the previous month for disfiguring a five-year-old girl in what they described as a a voodoo “cleansing bath,” originally developed in Haiti, and threatening to behead her 8-year-old brother with a machete. Police said the women rubbed the girl’s face with eucalyptus oil, Frankincense oil, water, and sea salt. The combined chemicals burned the girl’s face beyond full repair, and LaBossiere also allegedly blew fire in the girl’s face, according to The Enterprise. The women allegedly attempted the cleansing bath to free both children of demonic spirits that their mother claimed were causing them to misbehave.
Evans said the two cases, despite the suspects’ claims of practicing voodoo, contradict the tenets of Haitian Vodou.
“We don’t hurt children. It’s about healing,” Evans told AP.
Haitian Vodou forbids stabbing and other forms of harm against children in particular, according to Wesleyan University religion professor and specialist in Afro-Caribbean religions Elizabeth McAlister.
“Vodou never, ever sanctions stabbing or any kind of child abuse. It seems nonsensical,” McAlister told AP.
Voodoo, however, encompasses several variants with sometimes differing beliefs and practices that are tied together by belief in the same main deity and generally similar beliefs about the spirit world and mankind’s ability to interact with spirits. Testimony from Sanders’ family members about her obsession with voodoo, numerology, conspiracy theories, and the Illuminati indicate the possibility of mental illness, but the cleansing bath practices of LaBossiere and Hilaire, while inconsistent with an overview of Haitian Vodou, may very well be in line with some other variant of Voodoo.
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