The unspoken reality of the Dominican Republic is that an innumerable number of cultural Catholics throughout the thousands of villages are adherents to Dominican Voodoo. Originating from African occultism and often syncretistically hidden within the imagery and language of Roman Catholicism Dominican Voodoo dominates the spiritual worldview of many Dominican people. Dominican Voodoo is commonly referenced among the indigenous people as Las 21 Divisiones, a name denoting the 21 divisions among the spirits and their respective roles in the occult. As a missionary engaging the adherents of Dominican Voodoo as my principle target demographic I chose to connect with the foremost Voodoo practitioner in a neighboring village. Considerable worldview concepts were discussed, but emphasis of the conversation centered on principle Christian worldview doctrines: theology proper, hamartiology, revelation and soteriology. The differing understandings of these doctrines confirms that obedience to the Great Commission necessitates a pure proclamation of the God of the Scripture, His Gospel and a dependency on the absolute sovereignty of God to grant new birth.
Juanita, known as la bruja de Guajabo is a 62-year-old witch who was first possessed by her spirit or misterio at the age of seven. The spirits are referred to as misterio, caballos or by some witches as saints. The misterios have an African name and a corresponding Catholic saint’s name. Jaunita prefers to call them by their African names because she suggests this is the preference of the misterios. Candelo is the name of her principal misterio, known as San Carlos within the Catholic tradition. The exchange with Juanita was enlightening and lengthy covering close to three hours. It included a visit to her temple where she convokes her spirit and ministers to the hundreds of Dominicans who pay her in exchange for blessings, revelation from God, amulets and other phenomena associated with Dominican Voodoo.
The conversation began with an explanation outlining the Christian understanding of God and His purpose in creation. I sought to lay a foundation of the essential truths of my faith in order to hear Juanita’s beliefs related to those ideas. I shared that God is the eternal Divine Creator who spoke creation into existence. The intention of the earth was to be His dwelling place with man who He created in His image for His glory. Furthermore, I explained the fall of Adam and the reality that humanity is now at enmity with God because of their inherent sin. Left to themselves every individual remains spiritually dead and under the condemnation of God awaiting final judgment and hell. There is no possible way of working back into fellowship with God. No amount of spirituality, good works or behavioral modifications can reconcile man with God. It was important that she understood that God is the authority of the Christian and His means of communicating with His people is through the Scripture. It is the Bible that has testified that these doctrines are true. I carefully explained that because of the spiritual death of all humanity God sent Jesus His Son. Jesus who is One with God the Father and is God Himself came to die for the sin of God’s children satisfying His wrath and justifying by grace all who have faith in the atoning work of Christ.
Completing my Christian worldview summary Juanita responded that she has heard of all these beliefs that follow the traditions of Catholics and evangelicals, but she has experienced a different reality through her spirits. She elaborated that she believes there is a god, one who is personal and powerful. He is divine creator of all things and sovereign over his creation, the same as the Christian worldview. The god of Juanita desires relationship with humanity and will execute justice after death. The doers of good will go to heaven and the evil will receive hell. Evil for Juanita is disobedience to the revelation of god made through the spirits and treating other people wrongly. Aspects of her worldview superficially resemble the orthodox Christian worldview, but unfortunately the god of Dominican Voodoo is not the God of Scripture. Juanita’s god is, in reality, a perversion of God masquerading as the God of Scripture deceiving multitudes by counterfeiting His divine attributes through experiential encounters with humanity.
Not surprisingly Jesus plays no significant role in the worldview of Juanita. She recognizes His existence and identity as the Son of God. However, my understanding is that because Jesus has never physically manifested Himself to Juanita He does not hold the place of reverence of her personal misterios. Positionally, Jesus has equality with the other saints of Las 21 Divisiones, but is not a Redeemer, God incarnate or Intercessor between God and man. Brief conversation with Juanita would quickly reveal that the objects of her affections are her spirits. The misterios who she tangible communes with and experiences in her ceremonies are her gods, although she never actually articulates this verbally.
Upon rejection of the true identity and nature of Jesus I transitioned the conversation to formal worship and the ceremonies conducted by Juanita. I explained that for the Christian worship is knowing God in Truth, revealed through Jesus and the Bible and enjoying making much of Him. Eternal life is knowing God and enjoying Him forever in perfect fellowship (John 17:3). It is believed under Juanita’s worldview, however, that the ceremony where she convokes her spirits and surrenders her consciousness to them is the ultimate act of piety and worship. The spirits are god’s agent delivering authoritative revelation. Juanita is the emissary to creation able to communicate the messages sent. The vocation of a good witch is not something that is obtained through human will or desire, but rather an undeniable calling and gift that is to be received. Ceremonies are events where adherents of Dominican Voodoo come to receive healing, solicit an amulet or purchase a curse to combat an enemy. Drums, dancing and sacrificial offerings to the misteriotraditionally complete the ceremony. Juanita explains that in order to convoke Candelo she must chant a series of phrases that he wrote through her hand while she was unconscious and then offer his favorite offerings. These include rum, tobacco, money and fire. Frequently Juanita will eat glass and fire to convoke her saint. Evidence of these sacrifices and practices are apparent in her temple.
Desiring clarity I asked Juanita for the motivation behind these extreme practices. To summarize her response they are done to gain eternal life by helping people know god. A desire to go to heaven and to get to heaven one must obey the commands of god given through the spirits. Any relationship in this life with god is only attained through experiencing his power and revelation through the misterios. I shared that the Bible teaches God speaks through Jesus (Heb 1:1-2). Nevertheless, in Voodoo divine revelation does not occur through the Bible, but through the spirits. Affirmation of the Bible by Juanita is artificial and traditional. The misterios are intermediaries between god and man in the Dominican Voodoo worldview, not Jesus. The spirits take control of the witch and then communicate to amanuenses who document the words spoken. Juanita later interprets these dictations for the adherents. These are authoritative commands that please god and obedience to these prophetic words count towards earning salvation. Therefore, salvation and revelation are intrinsically connected. Obey the revelation of the witch and you go to heaven. Disobedience is equivalent to disobeying god and warrants damnation.
This worldview conversation has been one of the most valuable exercises in my tenure as a missionary. I conclude that the purpose of the misterios in Dominican Voodoo is entirely anthropocentric and demonic. It is about what the adherent can get out of the relationship from healing, salvation or prosperity. Based on the conversation with Juanita there is absolutely no thought given to the Divine God of Scripture, Jesus or the glory of God in this practice. Though not explicitly said, in praxis it is obvious that the spirits are the objects of worship. As a Great Commission believer this conversation has reminded me of one of the principle reasons Jesus told the church He has all authority and that He will be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20). Apart from the indwelt power of the Holy Spirit the Great Commission is impossible. Any hope of success against Dominican Voodoo will only come through faithful proclamation of the undiluted Gospel of Jesus from the Word. God must sovereignly awaken the deadness of lost people held in bondage to the spiritual strongholds within Las 21 Divisiones. Juanita has experienced in a tangible way the supernatural, but by the grace of God she and thousands like her will soon experience the supernatural rebirth of Jesus that will release her from the oppression of “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). May God cover this island with an authentic knowledge of His glory (Hab 2:14).