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Mama Lemba is possessed. Bursting into the voodoo priest's hut, she squawks, flaps her arms and passes on a message from the spirits before snapping out of her trance.

"In Guineau there is no embargo," she says dreamily after awakening, referring to the ancestoral African homeland she believes her spirit travels to during ceremonies and will return to after death."The luas (spirits) are like the saints in Christianity," explained Kathy Grey, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed former schoolteacher from Massachussets, now a voodoo priestess. "The only difference is that they come when you call them."

But Haiti's celebrations of the mystical Africa-based religion voodoo for now are thoroughly earthbound, contending with the strictures of life in a nation struggling under tight sanctions imposed against its military leaders by Washington and its allies.

In years past thousands would have converged on this tiny village this week for days of dancing and celebration.

But this year only a few hundred worshippers made it, and those carried more humble offerings than usual for the voodoo gods.

"Usually there are too many people to count. The embargo has kept them away," said village priest Ari Vin Pierre, 62.

Soukri is only a three-hour drive north of Port-au-Prince but the price of gasoline, now up to $10 a gallon, has emptied the decaying highway and prevented all but rich Haitians or those within walking distance from attending.

Hundreds of believers who might have come from Miami and New York also have been grounded by a ban on commercial flights to and from Haiti.

Pilgrims dressed in rainbow-colored clothing and shaking rattles to summon the spirits walked for hours in the burning sun to reach this village of mud and thatched roof huts set amid fields of millet and banana trees.

The hypnotic rhythm of voodoo drum beats, passed down unchanged from the religion's origins in 16th century Africa, carried for miles on the steamy air and built to a crescendo as a priest drew a knife across the neck of a sacrifical black bull.

Glassy-eyed women in white dresses danced with freshly killed goats around their shoulders, passing the limp, bleeding carcasses to others in the crowd. Later the meat would be cooked and shared among the worshippers.

Noting the ancient power of the spirits and of God, the descendants of slaves said the embargo, the threat of invasion and generations of oppression by whites and blacks will pass.

"Our house may be burned but the knowledge will remain there," chanted a throng of dancing worshippers, with glazed eyes and foreheads beaded with sweat.

"I believe they can protect us in the name of God and the name of Guineau," said welder Jean Marie Louis, 24, when asked how the spirits could protect Haitians from a U.S. invasion.

About 80 percent of Haiti's seven million people are Roman Catholic, but most combine that belief with some form of voodoo.

Louis, part of Haiti's legion of unemployed, wore clothing with a color for each spirit, and a St Christopher medal around his neck. He carried a ceremonial machete to commemorate the spirit of iron, Hogou Ferrailles, and the sword of St. Jacques.

The priest poured raw cane alcohol on the ground for the spirits, then took a drink himself. A pregnant woman in a white dress pink with goat blood writhed on the floor.

Pilgrims laid cakes, pieces of meat, liquor and flowers in front of a burning candle. Pictures of the Catholic saints, which some of the voodoo spirits mirror, adorned the altar.