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The NEW YORK TIMES of August 14, 1925, printed the following news item:--"SEIZE PRICE LISTS OF VOODOO DOCTOR--POLICE GET CIRCULARS OFFERING 'WISHING DUST' AND LUCKY CHARMS TO NEGROES AT $1 TO $1,000.--Special to the New York Times.-ATLANTIC CITY, Aug. 13.--Twelve thousand circulars said to have been sent to this city by a New York voodoo doctor were seized by the police here today as they were being distributed to negro homes on the north side by six negro boys.

"The circulars bore the address of D. Alexander of 99 Downing Street, Brooklyn, N. Y.

"All sorts of love powders, wishing dust, lucky charms and incantations are offered for sale in the circular, with prices ranging from $1 to $1,000.

"'Guffer Dust, New Moon, No. 1, good, $50; Happy Dust, $40; Black Cats' Ankle Dust, $500; Black Cat's Wishbone, $1,000; King Solomon's Marrow, $1,000; Easy Life Powder $100; Tying Down Goods, $50; Chasing Away Goods, $50; Boss Fix Powders, $15, and Buzzard Nest, $100,' were some of the goods offered."

"Inquiry developed that 'Bringing Back Powders' were designed to return an errant wife or husband to a grieving spouse, 'Tying Down Goods' were said to keep the subject of one's affections from departing, while 'Chasing Away Goods' had the opposite effect. 'Boss Fix Powders' keep one's employer in a friendly mind."

Four days after the appearance of the foregoing in The Times, we find this despatch from Cuba on the first page of The BOSTON POST:--

"SAVE CHILD FROM TORTURE--RESCUED DURING VOODOO DEATH RITES--HAVANA, Aug. 17.--Paula Cejes, a three-year-old white girl, was saved from a horrible death at the hands,

{p. vi}

of Voodoo worshippers at Aguacate, Havana Province, today, due to the rapidity of a search after she had disappeared.

"Paula, who lives with her parents on the Averhoff sugar plantation, was enticed away by Voodoo worshippers who bound and gagged her in a cane field and were in the act of performing their rites when a posse of searchers came upon them.

"Rural guards later captured a white man and a colored man who had in their possession articles used by voodooists in sacrificing life."

It may have been items such as these that inspired William Buchler Seabrook to go to Haiti with the set purpose of learning first hand whatever he could of Voodoo and kindred practices. At all events, after some stay in the island, he published in 1929 The Magic Island which at once became the centre of heated controversy. To some it was a weird conglomeration of fact and fancy worthy of little serious consideration and of even less credibility.[1]

On the other hand, the usually conservative LITERARY DIGEST[2] apparently accepted it in its entirety as historic fact, and without question or cavil devoted five entire pages almost entirely to excerpts from its more startling passages and the reproduction of

[1. Note:--Magic Island was unquestionably received with fulsome praise by reviewers generally. Thus THE BOOKMAN, February 1929, p. 68: "It has been a long time since a volume has held my attention so completely as W. B. Seabrook's Magic Island. It is not a twice told tale but a vivid record of things seen." The NEW YORK HERALD-TRIBUNE, January 8, 1929: "Here in its own field is the book of the year." The NEW YORK EVENING POST, January 12, 1929, calls it "a sensational vivid and immensely important book." To the OUTLOOK, January 9, 1929: "It is a prize among travel books." While the SATURDAY REVIEW, February 23, 1929, declares: "Mr. Seabrook has done justice to this remarkable subject not only in investigating the system, but in presenting the results of his work."

The more thoughtful reviews, however, refuse to be entirely carried away by the general acclaim, and modify their praise with almost hesitant reserve. Thus the YALE REVIEW, Autumn, 1929, p. 185, makes the restriction: "He spoils much of his material by his exaggerated style and his dubious psychology." The AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY, September, 1929, p. 316, insists: "He has written as an artist, not as an ethnologist." And the NATION, February 13, 1929, p. 198, urges: "It is time for a tempered intelligent presentation on the manner in which they live, one that staying close to facts, probing under the surface, and eschewing rumors, will make quite as fascinating a tale."

We may be pardoned, then, if we seem to delay too long on Mr. Seabrook and his sensational book, but we must risk the criticism in the interest of fair play as regards Haiti and the popular estimate of Voodoo.

2. February 23, 1929, p. 35 ff.]

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several photographs. One single reference to "the element of the occult which Mr Seabrook seems to believe" is the nearest approach to a guarded caution about the actuality of the most improbable details, a few of which may be mentioned in passing,

Thus, for example, at the "blood baptism," a truly voodooistic rite, when the author was to receive the "ouanga packet" prepared for him by Maman Célie, after the preliminary sacrifice of two red cocks and two black, an enormous white turkey and a pair of doves," in due course the sacrificial goat was led forth. "He was a sturdy brown young goat, with big, blue, terrified, almost human eyes, eyes which seemed not only terrified but aware and wondering. At first he bleated and struggled, for the odor of blood was in the air, but finally he stood quiet, though still wide-eyed, while red silken ribbons were twined in his little horns, his little hoofs anointed with wine and sweet-scented oils, and an old woman who had come from far over the mountain for this her brief part in the long ceremony sat down before him and crooned to him alone a song which might have been a baby's lullaby."[3]

After a further ritual with the goat, Catherine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Maman Célie was led in by her brother Emanuel who "had to clutch her tightly by the arm to prevent her from stumbling when they brought her to the altar. Maman Célie hugged her and moaned and shed tears as if they were saying good-bye forever. The papaloi pulled them apart, and some one gave the girl a drink from a bottle. She began to protest in a dull sort of angry, whining way when they forced her down on her knees before the lighted candles. The papaloi wound round her forehead red ribbons like those which had been fastened around the horns of the goat, and Maman Célie, no longer as a mourning mother but as an officiating priestess, with rigid face aided in pouring the oil and wine on the girl's head, feet, hands and breast. All this time the girl had been like a fretful, sleepy, annoyed child, but gradually she became docile, somber, staring with quiet eyes, and presently began a weird song of lamentation."[4] The song

[3. Seabrook, Magic Island, New York, 1929, p. 61.

4. Seabrook, l.c., p. 62.]

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itself is summed up in the last verse: "So I who am not sick must die!"[5] The author then continues: "And as that black girl sang, and as the inner meaning of her song came to me, I seemed to hear the voice of Jephtha's daughter doomed to die by her own father as a sacrifice to Javeh, going up to bewail her virginity on Israel's lonely mountain. Her plight in actuality was rather that of Isaac bound by Abraham on Mount Moriah; a horned beast would presently be substituted in her stead; but the moment for that mystical substitution had not yet come, and as she sang she was a daughter doomed to die."

"The ceremony of substitution, when it came, was pure effective magic of a potency which I have never seen equaled in Dervish monastery or anywhere. The goat and the girl, side by side before the altar, had been startled, restive, nervous. The smell of blood was in the air, but there was more than that hovering; it was the eternal, mysterious odor of death itself which both animals and human beings always sense, but not through, the nostrils. Yet now the two who were about to die mysteriously merged, the girl symbolically and the beast with a knife in its throat, were docile and entranced, were like automatons. The papaloi monotonously chanting, endlessly repeating, 'Damballa calls you,' stood facing the altar with his arms outstretched above their heads. The girl was now on her hands and knees in the attitude of a quadruped, directly facing the goat, so that their heads and eyes were in a level, less than ten inches apart, and thus they stared fixedly into each other's eyes, while the papaloi's hands weaved slowly, ceaselessly above their foreheads, the forehead of the girl and the forehead of the horned beast, each wound with red ribbons, each already marked with the blood of a white dove. By shifting slightly I could see the big, wide, pale-blue, staring eyes of the goat, and the big, black, staring eyes of the girl, and I could have almost sworn that the black eyes were gradually, mysteriously becoming those of a dumb beast, while a human soul was beginning to peer out through the blue. But dismiss that, and still I tell you that pure magic was here at work, that something

[5. Ditto, p. 63.]

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very real and fearful was occurring. For as the priest wove his ceaseless incantations, the girl began a low, piteous bleeting, in which there was nothing, absolutely nothing, human; and soon a thing infinitely more unnatural occurred; the goat was moaning and crying like a human child. . . .[6]

"While the papaloi still wove his spells, his hands moving ceaselessly like an old woman carding wool in a dream, the priestess held a twig of green with tender leaves between the young girl and the animal. She held it on a level with their mouths, and neither saw it, for they were staring fixedly into each other's eyes as entranced mediums stare into crystal globes, and with their necks thrust forward so that their foreheads almost touched. Neither could therefore see the leafy branch, but as the old mamaloi's hand trembled, the leaves flicked lightly as if stirred by a little breeze against the hairy muzzle of the goat, against the chin and soft lips of the girl. And after moments of breathless watching, it was the girl's lips which pursed up and began to nibble the leaves . . . . [7]

"As she nibbled thus, the papaloi said in a hushed but wholly matter-of-fact whisper like a man who had finished a hard, solemn task and was glad to rest, 'Ça y est' (There it is).

"The papaloi was now holding a machette, ground sharp and shining. Maman Célie, priestess, kneeling, held a gamelle, a wooden bowl. It was oblong. There was just space enough to thrust it narrowly between the mystically identified pair. Its rim touched the goat's hairy chest and the girl's body, both their heads thrust forward above it. Neither seemed conscious of anything that was occurring, nor did the goat flinch when the papaloi laid his hands upon its horns. Nor did the goat utter any sound as the knife was drawn quickly across the throat. But at this instant as the blood gushed like a fountain into the wooden bowl, the girl with a shrill, piercing, then strangled bleat of agony, leaped, shuddered, and fell senseless before the altar."[8]

But let us pass to an even more grewsome narrative. According

[6. Ditto, p. 63 f.

7. Ditto, p. 65.

8. Ditto, p. 66.]

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to Seabrook, Celestine, the daughter of Antoine Simone,[9] "although under thirty, was reputed to be secretly the grande mamaloi of all Haiti, its supreme high priestess."[10] The author adds: "And not only Celestine herself but her father, Antoine Simone, president of the Republic, was reputed to be active in black sorcery. It was commonly said that magical rites and practices occurred even within the confines of the palace walls and probably they did."[11]

In explanation, then, of his chapter "Celestine with a Silver Dish," Seabrook writes: "The story of the silver dish is based on the evidence of two credible eye-witnesses, one a Frenchman who may still be seen and talked with at the Cape, the other a Haitian now dead. I talked with numbers of people about it and found none who questioned its approximate truth. It is current among the Haitians themselves; so they will forgive me for including it." . . .[12]

"One moonlight night in the Spring of 1909--it was during Easter week--the Frenchman who now lives at the Cape was sitting in one of the vine-covered summer-houses with his Haitian friend. . . . Towards one o'clock in the morning they heard a tramping of feet from the direction of the palace, and presently saw a black sergeant with two squads of soldiers marching toward the stable yard, along a pathway of the deserted gardens. They passed close to the summer house. Behind them, at a little distance, came Celestine. She was barefooted, in a scarlet robe, and carried in her hands a silver dish.

"In a small, open, moonlit glade, close to the summer house, the sergeant halted his eight men, and lined them up at attention, as if on a parade ground. Except for his low voiced commands, not a word was spoken. Celestine in her red robe which fell loose

[9. Note:--The author spells it with a final e, Simone. While in Jamaica, the family themselves always spelt it simply Simon.

10. Seabrook, l. c., p. 117.

11. Note:--As one who knew the Simons in Jamaica, I can categorically deny both this assertion as well as the plausibility of the pseudo-voodooistic murder which is shortly to be described.

12 Seabrook, l. c., p. 121.]

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like a nightgown to her bare feet, laid the great silver platter on the grass.

"The sergeant handed Celestine a forked bent twig, a sort of crude divining-rod, and stepped back a little distance. Celestine, holding the wand loosely before her, facing the eight soldiers standing at attention, began a gliding, side-stepping dance, singing her incantations of mixed African and Creole in a low voice alternating from a deep gutteral contralto to a high falsetto, but never raised loudly, pointing the wand at each in turn as she glided to and fro before them.

"The men stood rigid, silent as if paralysed, but following her every movement with their rolling eyeballs as she glided slowly from end to end of the line.

"For a long ten minutes that seemed interminable, Celestine glided to and fro, chanting her incantation, then suddenly stopped like a hunting-dog at point before one man who stood near the center of the row. The wand shot out stiff at the end of her outstretched arm and tapped him on the breast.

"'Ou la soule, avant!' ordered the sergeant. (You there, alone, step forward.)

"The man marched several paces forward from the ranks, and halting at command, stood still. The sergeant, who seemed unarmed, drew the man's own knife-bayonet from its scabbard grasped the unresisting victim by the slack of his coat collar, and drove the point into his throat.

"While this was taking place, the other seven men stood silent obediently at attention. The victim uttered not a single cry, except a gurgling grunt as the point went through his jugular, and slumped to the grass, where he twitched a moment and lay still.

"The sergeant knelt quickly over him, as if in a hurry to get .the job finished, ripped open the tunic, cut deep into the left side of the body just below the ribs, then put the knife aside, and tore out the heart with his hands.

"Black Celestine in her red robe, holding the gleaming platter before her, returned alone beneath the palm trees to the palace,

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barefooted queen of the jungle, bearing a human heart in a silver dish."[13]

The general reaction on the author of such scenes, whether given as personal experiences or otherwise, is utterly appalling.

Thus he tells us in connection with the ceremony described a few pages back: "Not for anything, no matter what would happen, could I have seriously wished to stop that ceremony. I believe in such ceremonies. I hope that they will never die out or be abolished. I believe that in some form or another they answer a deep need of the universal human soul. I, who in a sense believe in no religion, believe yet in them all, asking only that they be alive--as religions. Codes of rational ethics and human brotherly love are useful, but they do not touch this thing underneath. Let religion have its bloody sacrifices, yes even human sacrifice if thus our souls may be kept alive. Better a black papaloi in Haiti with blood-stained hands who believes in his living gods than a frock-coated minister on Fifth Avenue reducing Christ to a solar myth and rationalising the Immaculate Conception."[14]

Of an earlier function at which he was present, he wrote: "And now the literary-traditional white stranger who spied from hiding in the forest, had such a one lurked near by, would have seen all the wildest tales of Voodoo fiction justified: in the red light of torches which made the moon turn pale, leaping, screaming, writhing black bodies, blood-maddened, sex-maddened, god-maddened, drunken, whirled and danced their dark saturnalia, heads thrown wierdly {sic} back as if their necks were broken, white teeth and eyeballs gleaming, while couples seizing one another from time to time fled from the circle, as if pursued by furies into the forest to share and slake their ecstacy.

"Thus also my unspying eyes beheld this scene in actuality, but I did not experience the revulsion which literary tradition prescribes. It was savage and abandoned, but it seemed to me magnificent and not devoid of a certain beauty. Something inside myself awoke and responded to it. These, of course, were individual

[13. Ditto, p. 122 f.

14. Ditto, p. 61 f.]

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emotional reactions, perhaps deplorable in a supposedly civilized person. But I believe that the thing itself--their thing, I mean--is rationally defensible. Of what use is any life without its emotional moments or hours of ecstasy?"[15]

We must not be surprised, then, that after watching the construction of the "ouanga packet" that was to preserve him "safe from all harm amid these mountains"[16], when bid to make a prayer, this should be the author's response: "May Papa Legba, Maitresse Exilee and the Serpent protect me from misrepresenting these people, and give me power to write honestly of their mysterious religion, for all living faiths are sacred."[17]

And how was this unholy pact carried out? Candidly, the glaring mistakes in ritual that the author makes in connection with his description of a Catholic funeral service,[18] which is open to the whole world to witness, does not inspire confidence in his exposition of the esoteric functions that are jealously reserved for the initiated alone.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Seabrook has divided his volume, perhaps of set purpose, into two distinct parts. First we have 282 pages devoted to the general story with weird fantastic drawings, more suggestive than illuminating, wherein the details are at variance with the text. Then follows, 52 pages under the general caption, "From the Author's Notebook" together with 27 photographs by the author. This second part is made up of quotations from standard authors and other references, with very few personal experiences and those of the most ordinary type.

While accepting, then, the latter portion of the book at its face value, it would seem safer to classify the earlier section as that sensational type of narrative that has become associated with the name of Trader Horn. This impression is strengthened by the fact that many passages in the story, especially those placed in the mouths of Louis and other informants, read almost as paraphrases

[15. Ditto, p. 42.

16. l. c., p. 48.

17. l. c., p. 53.

18. l. c., p. 118 f. Note:--For example, not only is the Dies Irae badly misplaced, but there can be no Credo in a funeral Mass.]

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from some of the authors who are mentioned later as references, and it seems as more than a coincidence that the quotation from Labat appearing on page 292 is probably copied without acknowledgment from Eugène Aubin,[19] as the same two variations from the original[20] appear in both places. The opening word has been changed from "ces" to "les" and "ils" has been omitted before "conservent."

It is not at all surprising, then, that Dr. Price-Mars of Petionville, Haiti, whom Seabrook actually mentions in the course of his narrative[21] should publish an indignant reply to what he must needs consider a gross libel against his native island.

Of Magic Island as a whole, Dr. Price-Mars says: "This is nothing more than a chronicle, a rather long chronicle, if you will, but throbbing, passionate, sensational. It contains whatever Mr. Seabrook has seen, or thinks that he has seen, in Haiti, during a few months stay. I am forced to remark that this book is throughout very amusing and very cruel--amusing, on account of the material replete with savage humor, and abominable, because the American reader, and even the Haitian who is not in a position to check up the facts advanced, is drawn to ask himself: 'Is what he relates true? In any case, these grewsome facts, such as are recorded, seem likely if they are not true.'"[22]

Dr. Price-Mars further states: "From the very beginning, Mr. Seabrook. . . . has grasped the two essential elements of Voodoo, religion and superstition; religion, whose rites are preserved by oral tradition alone, and superstition which is its grotesque caricature. Not only is this distinction unknown to nine-tenths of the Haitians, but most assuredly, as the writer expresses it, Voodoo is a cause of astonishment, nay of a scandal, for most of us. And it is on account of this disdain, of this fear of a fact, however important, in the life of our plebian and rural masses, that our pitiful ignorance records the sinister narratives

[19. En Haïti, Paris, 1910, p. 46.

20. P. Labat, Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de L'Amérique, La Haye 1724, Vol. II, p. 44.

21. Seabrook, l. c., p. 318.

22. Dr. Price-Mars, Une-Étape de I'Évolution Haïtienne, Port-au-Prince, 1929, p. 153.]

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of which we make ourselves the complacent echo. And it is no less in this way, that, as a ripple of culture, our mystic mentality displays itself. When, then, foreign writers arrive among us, I mean above all journalists who as a rule are in quest of sensational copy, they have only to imbibe at this fount of absurd beliefs the most marvellous discourses and put them on the lips of authentic individuals, to color them with an appearance of truth. Their misconception or even evil intention is nothing in comparison with the Haitian ignorance. How pitiful!"[23]

Dr. Price-Mars stamps the "Goat-Cry--Girl-Cry" episode as "A ceremony in which he pretends to have taken part. But to my way of thinking, this ceremony is a creation of his fertile imagination."[24] And again, he positively asserts: "As regards the ceremony of initiation, it is in every way false."[25]

Furthermore, after recounting the description of the "Petro Sacrifice" which Seabrook[26] claims to have attended, Dr. Price-Mars continues: "And was he, then, the spectator that he claims to be? I don't think so. It is probable that he did assist at Voodoo ceremonies. I personally sought to secure the opportunity for him, because, in the interviews that we had, I was made aware that he was familiar with the comparative history of religions, and the occasion seemed to me opportune to call attention to certain rites which indicate the antiquity of Voodoo, the solid foundation of my theory, to wit, that Voodoo is a religion. I was disappointed in my purpose, because I encountered a persistent distrust on the part of the peasants to whom I addressed myself, despite my long established and friendly relations with them. That Mr. Seabrook may have succeeded in winning the confidence of a Maman Célie. I am willing to concede to him, on the condition, however, that he does not dramatize the situation by depicting to us the peasant community whose guest he has been as a nook lost in the highest and most inaccessible mountains, isolated from all communication with urban centres. These conditions render his account absolutely

[23. Dr. Price-Mars, l. c., p. 154 f.

24. Ditto, p. 54.

25. Ditto, p. 172.

26 Seabrook, l. c., p. 28 ff.]

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improbable, because there is not a single peasant in a true rural centre who would consent to organize real Voodoo ceremonies for the sole pleasure of a stranger. On the other hand, the ceremony which he has described is only half true. At the very outset, he has committed a ritual absurdity in making the bull the principal sacrificial matter of the Petro. They sacrifice the bull as the fowl and the goat in nearly all the Voodoo ceremonies, but the victim proper to the Pedro is the pig. The absence of this animal in a ritual display of Pedro is equivalent to a blunder so stupid that it would falsify its meaning. Moreover, the sacrifice of the bull considered as a god, or symbol of a god, is totally unknown in Voodoo. It seems to me an invention or at least a very fantastic interpretation and which the footnote of Seabrook sufficiently explains."--This reference is to "the Bacchae" of Euripides.[27] Here we may leave Mr. Seabrook for the present.[28]

Just as fetishism was for a long time accepted as a generic term covering all that was nefarious in the customs of the West African tribes, so in the popular mind today, Voodoo and Obeah are interchangeable and signify alike whatever is weird and eerie in

[27. Dr. Price-Mars, l. c., p. 161 f.

28. Note:--It must not be supposed that what has been written is intended in any way to impeach the veracity of Mr. Seabrook. Personally I am convinced of his sincerity and straightforwardness and that in his really fascinating account he is no party to an imposition. Of course I can never agree with his extraordinary profession of faith, and I doubt if he really takes himself seriously in that regard. He was probably carried away by the spirit of his narrative.

As regards the story itself, I honestly believe that he has tried to stick to facts as he has seen them or in many cases as they have been told to him, with perhaps just a little of the personal element added for effect. But what I do fear is that he has been too credulous in accepting all that has been told to him.

The West Indian Negro, especially if paid by results, is a mine of "information." The workings of his imagination are extraordinary. A couple of years ago I was striving to collect all the various anansy stories, in connection with a folk-lore study of Jamaica. The teacher of a government "bush" school, seriously offered to invent for me all the stories, that I wanted if I gave him sufficient time and paid for the results. Fortunately for the value of my collection I was restricting the contributors to children of school age. I have no doubt that Mr. Seabrook must have encountered the same generous spirit, especially if he was paying by results.

Even the goat scene may have been a clever piece of acting. The histrionic powers of the West Indian are no wit inferior to his ability as a raconteur.

But in any case, no matter how we are to explain away the objective inaccuracies of Magic Island, even if we must invoke hallucination or that subtle form of hypnotic influence, such as is at times ascribed to Voodoo worship, let there be no suspicion that there is any intention of questioning Mr. Seabrook's honesty of purpose.]

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the practices of the descendants of these same tribes as they are found throughout the West Indies and the southern portion of the United States.

And yet technically, not only are Voodoo and Obeah specifically distinct, one from the other, both in origin and in practice, but if we are to understand the true force and influence which they originally exercised over their devotees, we must dissociate them from the countless other forms of magic, black or white, that have gradually impinged themselves upon them as so many excrescences.

Logically, then, we must begin our study, not in the West Indies but in Africa itself, going back as far as possible to the origins of the present day practices, and watching their development, both before and after their transplanting, through the medium of slavery, to new and fertile soil where they have become a rank, though exotic, growth.

The present writer first visited Jamaica in December, 1906, and he became at once intensely interested in the question of Obeah, and in a less degree in Voodoo. Since then he has made three other visits to the island and has spent there in all about six years. He has penetrated to the least accessible corners of mountain and "bush" and has lived for some time in those remote districts where superstitious practices are prevalent. He has steadily sought to extend his knowledge of the Black Man's witchcraft, both by conversation with the natives of every class and by seeking out its practitioners. He has conversed with professional Obeah men, whom, however, he has invariably found evasive and noncommittal. But despite this latter fact he has by chance, rather than by any prearrangement, had occasion at times to watch surreptitiously the workings of their grewsome art.

Meanwhile, for a quarter of a century he has culled the works of others and sought not only to familiarize himself with the smaller details of Voodoo and Obeah, but no less to discriminate judiciously between fact and fiction to the best of his ability. The result of his researches and observations are now set forth in the following pages.

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