American Voudou: Journey Into a Hidden World
might well have been simply choosing those doctrines which found easy resonance with a deeply held African religious value system.
I never saw a sanctuary in which, not far from framed portraits of the Catholic saints, were photos or depictions of tigers, lions or other wild animals. Table-top altars for the dead or ill were frequently draped with animal skins and "luck" candles. Other altars displayed rows of candles and mounds of burning incense, and, especially voudou-like, offerings of food to the spirits. Almost all had busts of ancestor figures such as the Whitehawk or Blackhawk.
Often, I would observe church elders in their scarlet or purple robes and think I was watching a group of Catholic monsignors or even cardinals. Or I would notice the female "missionaries" or "ministers" dressed in white, with white kerchiefs atop their heads, and feel I was in a fundamentalist or charismatic Protestant service. Then, as the service progressed and the worshipers "fell" into possessive trances, danced in extended gospel jams, and lined up for the dispensation of prophecies, holy candles, oils or cakeson one occasion, cornbread squares with a dime inserted inside for luckI knew I was among true believers in a faith that had recombined its spiritual DNA into something of stunning symbolic portent.
In few other churches could a young woman bound for voudou have formed a stronger evolutionary link with the slave-assimilated Christianity of the Deep South. As Lorita became conversant and masterful in this relentlessly inventive mode of worship, she moved ever closer to what was waiting for her behind the veil of Christianity. The elements of the Spiritual Church were so compatible with those of voudou that she was able to move comfortably into the African practice without feeling she had compromised her Christianity. It took little imagination to see how such syncretization might have rooted itself,
     

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Pulpit, center-right, in St. Lazarus Spiritual Church. St. Lazarus, left, in cor-
ner. Fan on wall is an attribute of Oshun, Lorita Mitchell's orisha.
powerfully and perhaps revolutionarily, in the generations of tens of thousands of African Americansbut, as history unfolded, did not.
Even Lorita's pivotal encounter with voudou spirits, which ultimately led to her full initiation as a priestess and recognition of her African spiritual heritage, came cloaked in Christian imagery. Worn down by efforts to find a cure for Andrew's cancer, she had sat next to his bed in the hospital ''mad at God and at the church." The stricken twin was thin, with black circles around his eyes, and in pain. Nothing was helping. But one morning the boy awoke with news that would change all their lives. In a fevered dream he had seen St. Lazarus presiding over a feast. Lorita didn't know what the dream meant, but sensed it was important and decided to set up a feast in the saint's honor.
She wasn't sure exactly what she needed, so she went to the F&F, at that time still owned by Ricky Cortez. Though he was a stranger, Lorita told him of the dream. He seemed to understand, but Lorita was a skeptical woman in matters of the Spirit. What
     

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did some Cuban in a weird store know about St. Lazarus anyway? Cortez responded by unbuttoning his shirt. On his chest was a tattoo of the saint from the dream.
Lorita was hooked.
Cortez told her to burn a candle for St. Lazarus at her feast, and to set the candle at the rear door, along with a plate of beans and rice. Later, she used handfuls of the beans and rice to "clean" all her children of bad spirits. She saved herself and Andrew for last. But she said that when she tried to pick up the beans and rice for herself she couldn't open her hands. They were clutched tight as claws.
Disturbed, awed, she went back to Cortez and gave him $50 for a reading. He asked her if anyone had "passed the Spirit" at the services. She said she didn't knowshe didn't know what that meant. He asked

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