Bassin Saint Jacques Pilgrimage

For hundreds of years the pilgrims have wended their way from the white cliffs of Ogoun to the luck baths, the Bassin Saint Jacques at Plain du Nord (Haiti).

Until recently the stagnant pool stood in the midst of a wide open space but walls have sprung up since then in a futile attempt by a corrupt local administration to limit access. No force on earth though could control the phantasmagoria.

A naked man rises slowly from the ooze before me. He might as well be the first man emerging from the primordial pool of protein soup itself, clay grown animate, his shrieking, distorted features sculpted from the same grey brown stuff as the earth, his clenched fists raised towards the heavens, the very image of Ogoun.

All around him his fellow pilgrims are swimming and sliding through the sludge now, old men and children, pregnant women proud as paleolithic fertility goddesses, their bellies heavy with new life, their faces touched by ecstasy, some of them screaming too, some of them chanting, all of them possessed.

To bathe here is to take on spiritual powers that can backfire with great force unless they are properly controlled. I’ve heard that having too much luck can turn a person into a werewolf and although Edelle assures me that I’m already a werewolf, I still make my prayers before entering the enclosure as I hate to imagine what this sediment is really made of.

There are people crowded everywhere around the verges of the pool, getting down on their hands and knees to drink the mud or scoop up bucketfuls to take home to their friends and families. Before leaving every one of them says a prayer, lights a candle and hurls it into the ooze along with generous libations of rum, Florida water and often the soft parts of animals, the hearts, lungs and lights. Despite the drifting incense the smell of putrefying flesh is thick enough to be almost tangible.

Specialised beggars work this muck, true denizens of the pit their thrashing bodies churning in the viscous grey fluid as they grapple for the choicest offerings, hands clasping desperately for half empty bottles and fistfuls of entrails. A vision out of Dante and enough to warm even Altes’ dark heart.

The White Darkness – Richard Stanley’s Voodoo Diary


Documentary, Portraits, Travel