Haitian Vaudou in Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn Vodou: New York Spirit

Photographer Stephanie Keith captures Haitian Vodou ceremonies in East Flatbush, Brooklyn

A vodouisant—practicer of Vodou*, the Haitian religion—lies on top of a trough in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Covered in a shroud, he waits for a spirit named Gede, representative of death and resurrection, to inhabit his body. And photographer Stephanie Keith is there to document his interaction.

For nearly eight years, Keith, a Brooklyn resident, has captured on film the Vodou ceremonies conducted by the Haitian immigrant population. She has participated in some 40 events.

The Vodou ceremonies, conducted in Creole, are timed to Catholic saint days and occur sporadically throughout the year. During the meetings, participants call on various Vodou spirits, demigods created by a god named Bondje, in order to worship them.

Sometimes the spirits enter the room; sometimes they don’t. In either case, worshippers honor and sing to the spirits they’ve called.

The events are spiritual and rooted in tradition. They’re also nothing like the stereotypical, doll- and animal-sacrifice-filled ceremonies of movies and fiction books. “The Vodou I’ve come to know bears no resemblance to Hollywood Vodou,” says Keith. “It’s not an evil, shrouded in mystery thing. It’s all about bringing the community together and helping people out with their problems in life.”

*Vodou is the Haitian spelling. Many people know it as Voodoo.

Keith documents various Vodou ceremonies below:

Mambo Marie Carmel dances during a party interlude called "chat" when participants sing about their grievances. Her rainbow-colored dress is representative of the spirit Dantor. There are seven Dantors in the Vodou pantheon, all symbolized with a different color.
(Stephanie Keith)
During a Dantor ceremony, Mambo Marie Carmel readies herself to call a spirit by lighting candles in a homemade spiritual object.
(Stephanie Keith)
At a spiritual wedding ceremony, Vodou practitioners marry the spirits in order to have a more personal relationship with them. Here, a Vodouisant shows off the three rings she will be using to marry three spirits (Ogou, Danballa and Cousin) that night.
(Stephanie Keith)
An altar is set for Gede, the spirit of death and resurrection. Gede lives in the cemetery and is represented by the color purple, coffins and skeletons.
(Stephanie Keith)
A Vodouisant calls a spirit at a Gede ceremony.
(Stephanie Keith)
When Gede arrives to the ceremony, he first inhabits the head of a specially chosen Vodouisant, who lies on a trough covered in a shroud. The shroud approximates the "dead" nature of Gede.
(Stephanie Keith)
Hougan Jean Claude is possessed by the spirit Ogou. Ogou is the male warrior spirit who wields a machete during the ceremony. Ogou is also considered one of the important motivating factors in Haiti's successful rebellion against their slave masters.
(Stephanie Keith)
Mambo Stephanie is affected by the spirit Kafou at a Petro ceremony. Kafou is known to cause pain and suffering to people in general but also to those unlucky to feel Kafou's wrath at a ceremony. Petro refers to a group of spirits who are on the hot, intense, evil side of the Vodou pantheon
(Stephanie Keith)
Hougan Jean Claude is possessed by the Petro spirit named Kriminel. Kriminel is known as one of the most dangerous spirits in the Vodou pantheon. While possessed, Hougan Jean Claude steps into fire but is not burned.
(Stephanie Keith)
Hougan Jean Claude is possessed by the Petro spirit named Kriminel. He collapses when Kriminel leaves his body.
(Stephanie Keith)
Mambo Marie Carmel hosts an initiation ceremony in the basement of a building in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
(Stephanie Keith)
Hougan Rodolphe is possessed by the spirit Gede. When possessed, Vodouisants cover their faces with talcum powder to approximate the pallor of death.
(Stephanie Keith)
Respond Now
  • wonderful photos – they beautifully bring to life and illustrate an interesting piece. thanks for helping demystify voodoo and stimulate interest in this fascinating religion, ive had some good books on the subject on my amazon wish list for ages, time to send off for them and read up!

  • Also, in Vodou, they do believe in God and that God is far beyond humans and that the Lwa are more like angels. Even the Lwa know that they are not above God or equal to God either.

  • Animal sacrifice is talked about in the old testament. Lets not forget that.

  • The hatred towards it comes from biased and prejudice people that are uneducated and disagree with and hate other religions that are not theirs, as well as, racism.

  • With that, why is it considered wrong to sacrifice animals in religious ceremonies?

  • When it comes to religion, the animals are prayed over, certain songs are sung, and the animals are thanked for the giving up of their lives. The whole process is clean, respectful, and what some may refer to as “Kosher.” The animals are not wasted and the meat is cooked to feed the people present. The only time an animal is not eaten is when negativity is transfered from a person into the animal.

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  • The hatred towards it comes from biased and prejudice people that are uneducated and disagree with and hate other religions that are not theirs, as well as, racism.Animal sacrifice is talked about in the old testament. Lets not forget that.Also, in Vodou, they do believe in one God and that God is far beyond humans and that the Lwa are more like angels. Even the Lwa know that they are not above God or equal to God, either.

  • When it comes to religion, the animals are prayed over, certain songs are sung, and the animals are thanked for the giving up their lives. The whole process is clean, repsectful, and what same may refer to as “Kosher.” The animals are not wasted and the meat is cooked to feed the people present. The only time an animal is not eaten is when negativity is transfered from a person into the animal.With that, why is not considered wrong to sacrifice animals in religious ceremonies?

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  • Voodoo no matter how you spell it is disgusting. Animals are sacrificed regardless of what this savage priestess says And sometimes humans.  They also shrink human headsits a sickening ritual that has no place in our nation. 

  • It’s so sad to see how this community is opening spiritual doors that only the name of Jesus Christ can close.  The other sad part is that these spiritual curses will affect future generations of their family too, unless they call upon the name of Jesus Christ.

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Why are you assuming these practitioners don’t pray to Jesus as well? They are opening doors much older than him and that He had no problem opening Himself. Sounds like you’re just having a personal fear reaction and disguising it as pity for others.

      2 Replies - Reply Now
      • Of you had an ounce of intelligence you’d be dangerous. 

      • 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

    • “these spiritual curses will affect future generations of their family too”… Yeah, just like you spreading your ridiculous fairy tale religion around like the virus it is. In short, if more people minded their own business, like the people this article is about, the world would truely be a better world.

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • You are correct Alberta! God is pretty clear about not worshipping anything but Him, because everything else is counterfeit and evil.BigJ and Godbucket, Jesus loves you too and died for your sins as he did for mine and Alberto’s. Alberto and I aren’t judging nor fearful of this worship, we just recognize it for what it is and we pray that it is defeated in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. 

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