this reason, disturbances in health or luck are a sign that relationships have been disrupted and may need to be mended. Vodou rituals heal individuals and groups “by exercising, strengthening, and mending relationships among the living, the dead, and the spirits” (Brown 1991: 346). The only way to control health and luck is through “the care and feeding of family, in the largest sense of that term” (Brown 1991: 346). For this reason, Vodou rituals usually involve feeding and caring for the spirits of ancestors. Vodou rituals work simultaneously on the sick physical body/self and on the larger collectivity of humans (Augustin, 1999).
In her volume on Haitian Vodou, Deren (1983) describes the oungan’s major role as medical, explaining that both an extensive knowledge of herbalism and the use of diagnostic rituals are central to healing in Vodou. Oungans search for “non-physical” or “unnatural” causes of sickness, which may be a “punishment for failing to serve [the] loa properly” (170). Deren emphasizes, however, that oungans are not opposed to biomedical treatments and may refer patients whose cases are beyond their scope of expertise.
Protestant and Catholic Churches and religious practices in Haiti help people cope with mental and emotional problems, and provide a parallel system of healing. Religion in Haiti offers a sense of purpose, consolation, belonging, structure and discipline. Religion can increase self-esteem, alleviate despair and provide hope in very difficult and trying circumstances. Health professionals working in Haiti may use spiritual leaders as allies because they can encourage clients to seek help and adhere to recommended treatments. Religious and spiritual leaders can serve as ‘consultants’ or ‘co-therapists’. They may be trusted more readily than conventional mental health professionals or medical institutions.