The stairs leading to Rolanda Delerme’s basement open onto a dazzling tableau: Pink and green feathers in jars, sequined bottles, a life-sized mannequin holding a knife, altars packed with Catholic saints.
“Welcome,” the voodoo priestess says, dressed in a headdress and flowing white robes.
Voodoo temples such as this are said to have thrived for years in the homes of Haitian émigrés in Montreal, hidden from the judging eyes of outsiders. But now devotees have started a movement to bring voodoo and its rituals out of the shadows.
“I want to open my door. I want to tell people: We exist. We are not devil worshippers,” said Ms. Delerme, a fourth-generation voodoo priestess, or mambo, who was born in Haiti but lived in the U.S. before settling in Montreal.
“We want to defend our culture and traditions,” she said in her home on an ordinary suburban street in Montreal’s West Island. “Voodoo is still being stigmatized.”
Ms. Delerme, 34, has taken on a daunting task – pulling back the veil to try to demystify one of the most secretive and misunderstood religions in the world. This month, she and a group of “voodooists” took the unusual step of holding a press conference in Montreal to announce a Canadian “national voodooist confederation.”
The group has rented a tiny office in Montreal’s multiethnic Park Extension district, printed up business cards and let the news media into their once off-limit temples.
There’s no shortage of work to do. Even as their devastated homeland struggled in the wreckage of last January’s earthquake, voodoo came under attack. U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson blamed Haiti’s suffering on its onetime slaves who “swore a pact [with]the devil.” They have been cursed ever since, he said.
His words reverberated as far as Montreal and the voodoo temple in Nirva Chérasard’s home in Repentigny, northeast of Montreal. She held a funeral wake for the earthquake’s victims.
“This is yet more negative propaganda,” said Ms. Chérasard, who also works as an employment adviser in Montreal. “It pushed us to feel we have to organize even more. We have the right to defend ourselves when we’re attacked for no reason.”