L’Amee Celeste (the Heavenly Army) is a Haitian religious cult. I admit right here and now that I have not seen most of what I will describe in this essay. Outsiders are not usually able to see all the practices of the Heavenly Army because of the secretiveness of the movement. It is also necessary to note that the practices within the movement varies from group to group. It is not a standardized set of practices and beliefs, but there are many aspects that all of the groups seem to incorporate.
Some will be outraged that the Heavenlies groups are described as a merger of Pentecostal and Voudou practices. Some will not want any outsider descriptions at all. Part of this is from the Haitian culture, which is enigmatic (as well as a culture of imitation, survival and animism). An enigmatic culture does not want to be understood fully by outsiders. So, the Heavenly Army movement is something Haitian, and the Haitians don’t want it to be understood. It is their own, and they want to keep it for themselves.
So, how do I know about L’Amee Celeste? I’ve spent enough time in Haiti that I’ve developed a network of friends who trust me enough to tell me about many things Haitian including the Heavenly Army. These facts about the Heavenly Army are therefore anecdotal rather than verified and observed facts.
As in many cults, the Heavenly Army groups use robes to identify their faithful. Most of those who use robes choose blue robes. It is a point that needs to be made that in a nation as poor as Haiti, any money they have is better needed for food and necessities rather than costumes. However, to be fair, people who attend Protestant churches also feel the need to “dress up” in Sunday clothes. Shoes, pants (or a dress) without holes, and a white shirt are also an expense for the poor in Haiti. It seems that religion is always expensive for the poor.
The Armee Celeste uses native music rather than translation church music from America and other cultural Christian groups. This is a departure from traditional Christianity in Haiti.
I’ve forgotten to make this point: Haitians are quick and strong to say that the Heavenly movement is Haitian! This is said in a way to let outsiders know that they do not believe they need to defend the Heavenly Army. And, part of what makes the Heavenly Army uniquely Haitian is the music. Outsiders may want to make the connection between this music and Voudou, but the leaders of the movement will respond (if they care to respond) that it is just a Haitian expression of their faith in God.
I am told that the pastors (leaders) often activate the Holy Spirit in the women adherents by touching their genitals. I am told that sometimes a person is healed by hitting the sick person with sticks.
What I now for sure is that the one time I visited a L’Amee Celeste group, the pastor called me to the platform, as would have happened in any Protestant church in Haiti. And, while I was there, I did not see the exceptional practices that I have been told about. This is the main reason why I feel comfortable in saying that they don’t care to demonstrate their Haitian uniqueness to outsiders.
Or, perhaps I’ve been given inaccurate information by my Haitian friends. All things are possible in Haiti.