Book: Tell My Horse, Zora Neale Hurston

“Gods always behave like the people who make them.”

This travelogue by American novelist, playwright, and anthropologist Zora Hurston chronicles not Satanism but voodoo, another religion that’s frequently the victim of stereotypes, hasty generalizations, and societal prejudices.

Hurston chronicles her own travels through Haiti and the Caribbean, transcribing the practices of local communities and her own insights about the myths and ritual observations of the islands.

Reader Guide

We should be careful not to conflate Satanism with voodoo or with any other particular religious or folkloric tradition just because they both happen to share a few similar but superficial stigmas.

Rather, Hurston’s book is a valuable resource because it illustrates a compassionate and highly empathetic sense of intellectual curiosity about her subjects, because the myths and traditions she chronicles are revealed to be highly humane and relatable despite trappings that some outsiders find intimidating, and because the story of voodoo turns out to be a remarkable illustration of what happens when religious beliefs adapt and respond to political isolation and disenfranchisement.

If there’s a big problem with the book it’s that Hurston’s travel writing tends to be scattered and there’s no particularly consistent style throughout. Critics have also noted that Hurston sometimes fabricated some elements of her non-fiction books and it’s hard to tell when she might be employing creative license with some of these accounts.

OH BTW: Hurston developed somewhat conservative political opinions that modern readers probably aren’t used to hearing from Harlem writers–she did not favor desegregation or support the Civil Rights movement during the ‘60s, for example–so don’t take the recommendation of the book as necessarily an endorsement of Hurston’s opinions about everything.