Maya Deren’s Magical Ethnographic Film of Haiti and the Wonder of Vodoun
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti journeys into the world of the Vodoun religion, communing with the drums and loa rituals, made by avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren between 1947-1951.
The viewer attends the rituals of Rada, Petro and Congo cults, whose devotees commune with the cosmic powers through invocations — ritual offerings, song and dance. The Vodoun pantheon of deities, or loa are introduced as living gods, actually taking possession of their devotees. Also featured are the Rara and Mardi Gras celebrations.
“Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti” explores the Vodoun religion of Haiti, filmed by Maya Deren during 1947-1951, and edited posthumously by Teiji and Cherel Ito (1971).
Although best known as a pioneer of independent experimental cinema, Maya Deren (born 1917 as Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, died in 1961 in New York City) was also a Vodoun initiate, and hence able to take her camera and recorder where few have gone before or since. The soundtrack conveys the power of the ritual drumming and singing. Maya went first to Haiti as an artist, thinking to make a film in which Haitian dance should be a leading theme. But the manifestation of rapture that first fascinated and then seized her transported her beyond the bounds of any art she had ever known. She opened to the messages of that speechless deep, which is, indeed, the wellspring of the mysteries.
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A Creative Force
Regarded as one of the founders of the postwar US independent cinema, the legendary Maya Deren was a poet, photographer, ethnographer, filmmaker and impresario. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) ranks among the most widely viewed of all avant-garde films, made with her second husband, Alexandr Hammid, in Los Angeles.
Originally a silent film with no dialogue, music was later composed by Deren’s third husband Teiji Ito in 1952. Her social circle back in New York also included Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, John Cage, and Anaïs Nin. She first traveled to Haiti with a Guggenheim fellowship grant in 1947.
Divine Horsemen – Vodoun Gods of Haiti
In 1947 wire recorders (which could operate on automobile battery power) had just come on the market and Maya Deren brought the first one to Haiti. Included in this album are some of the finest recordings ever made during religious ceremonies near Croix des Missions and Petionville. These selections serve as a soundtrack she shot there from 1947-1951 documenting Vodoun ceremonies and festivals.