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Mars, L. Devereux, G. (1951). Haitian Voodoo and the Ritualization of the Nightmare. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(4):334-342.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(4):334-342

Haitian Voodoo and the Ritualization of the Nightmare

Louis Mars, M.D. and George Devereux, Ph.D.

Approximately eighty years ago one of the pioneers of modern anthropology, E. B. Tylor (19) attempted to show that belief in the survival of the soul after death could be derived from the fact that it was possible to “see” the dead in dream. Since Tylor's time large amounts of new data have revealed the importance of dreams and visions for a proper understanding of the latent meaning of social practices and institutions. In view of these facts it is rather surprising to note that the general problem of the institutionalization and ritualization of dream experiences has received only very scanty attention. In fact, psychoanalysts often tend to work in the opposite direction, seeking to derive insight into the latent meaning of dreams through a study of the manifest content of social practices and institutions. Thus, in seeking to interpret the meaning of nightmares, psychoanalysts have drawn heavily upon anthropological data (9, 17).

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that experiences resembling the nightmare can be ritualized in a manner which was first described in Freud's analysis of primitive ritual (7). It must be understood, however, that, as Róheim (15) has shown, these collective “neurotic symptoms” differ from individual ones, in that they are socially conjunctive, rather than disjunctive, and frequently promote adjustment to reality.

The Horse in Haitian Voodoo

Voodoo is the animistic religion of the rural population of Haiti, a former French colony which, for more than 150 years, has been an independent republic, populated chiefly by the descendants of imported African slaves.

The Haitian peasant believes that the world is ruled by a Master, supreme dispenser of all worldly goods, who punishes the sinner and rewards the virtuous.

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