Divine Magic (C4), a new series about "the supernatural" was at some pains to be polite about voodoo. The Hollywood vision of blood sacrifice and zombie strutting was, they insisted from the start, nothing more than a gross cultural slander. In reality, they explained, voodoo is "a complete religion that offers millions faith, tradition, and consolation". There were some problems with this project, and they were underlined by the ecumenical nicety of the American voodoo priestess included in the programme. "A fetish market may not look very nice," she conceded as the camera panned across an animal charnel house, "but remember they're not always used to hurt somebody." This seemed a slim comfort to me, as if an Anglican priest had agreed that, yes, a Bishop's crozier could come in handy in a street brawl but it shouldn't be forgotten that it had other uses beside. And the thought occurred more than once that for most of voodoo's 40 million adherents, often dispossessed and downtrodden, the "don't mess with me" element to the faith probably remains its principal attraction. Voodoo was originally a slave religion, after all, a consolatory dream of power elaborated by the powerless, in which cruelty was returned for cruelty. So you can imagine current worshippers (like their traditionalist Anglican counterparts) getting a bit shirty about all these trendy houdons downplaying the revenge element in favour of happy-clappy healing. Divine Madness betrayed its own gothic appetite, despite the pieties of its opening section, when it came to Baron Samedi, one of Voodoo's more important mythical functionaries. They depicted this caretaker of the dead looming out of the darkness, glaring maniacally at the camera and surrounded with a swirl of dry ice. Naturally this undermined the pitch for multicultural respectability - even the Archbishop of Canterbury might look a little menacing under such conditions. Anyone inclined to feel a surge of cultural superiority at this point, a preen of civilisation in face of such primitive belief structures, would have done well to change channels. Over on BBC1, by spooky coincidence, they would have found Baroness Samedi at work - Mystic Meg, shrouded in fake smoke as her congregation shrieked and wailed in devilish frenzy. I doubt if there could be a better candidate for a modern slave religion than Lottery fever. It reminded you, as Divine Madness had usefully clarified earlier, that adherents of voodoo don't fear zombies themselves - what they fear, above all things, is becoming a zombie.
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