In an earlier post, we met Stanford anthropologist Tanya Marie Luhrmann, who immersed herself in the spiritual practices of modern witches and evangelical Christians to learn more about the psychology of religious experiences. She was not the first scholar to use herself as a guinea pig in this way. Maya Deren, a filmmaker and dancer, went to Haiti to document Voodoo rituals in the 1940’s and 50’s, and ended up being initiated into the religion.
Although Deren was not an anthropologist, she worked with those who were when she abandoned her film project to write Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. Her book climaxes with Deren’s first-hand account of being possessed by the Voodoo goddess Erzulie.
Deren tells us what happened before and after she was overcome by the loa, the goddess, but she cannot describe the experience itself, because she wasn’t there. Erzulie was there instead. Continue reading