Voodoo (a.k.a. Vodun, Voudou,
VoDou, Vodoun) is commonly how this religion is called by the public. The name is traceable
to an African word for "spirit". Voodoo can be directly traced to the
West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey. That country occupied parts of today's Togo,
Benin and Nigeria. Slaves brought their religion with them when they were
forcibly shipped to Haiti and other islands in the West Indies.
It was actively suppressed during
colonial times. This forced many to go underground to continue their worship. It
is also followed by most of the adults in Haiti. It can be found in many of the
large cities in North America, particularly in the southern U.S. Slaves were baptized into the Roman
Catholic Church upon their arrival in Haiti and other West Indian islands.
However, there was little Christian infrastructure present during the early 19th
century to maintain the faith. The result was that the slaves largely followed
their original native faith. This they practiced in secret, even while attending
Voodoo is an Ancestral and Nature tradition, in which
spiritual transformation is achieved via the direct communion with specialized
Voodoo gods (of nature), born within the respective African lineage's, and the
ancestors who served them. Honor and supplication is also bestowed to those
ancestors who have evolved, and those who are in the process of evolving, as
well as those who have lived lives that were both distinguished, and
infamous/notorious. It is believed that lessons can be learned equally from all
Voodoo is a religion of many traditions. Each group follows a
different spiritual path and worships a slightly different pantheon of spirits,
called Loa. The word means "mystery" in the Yoruba language. Yoruba traditional belief included a
chief god Olorun, who is remote and unknowable. He authorized a lesser god
Obatala to create the earth and all life forms. A battle between the two gods
led to Obatala's temporary banishment. There are hundreds of minor spirits.
Those which originated from Dahomey are called Rada; those who were added later
are often deceased leaders in the new world and are called Petro. Some of these
Agwe: spirit of the sea
Aida Wedo: rainbow spirit
Baka: an evil spirit who takes the
form of an animal
Baron Samedi: guardian of the grave
Dambala (or Damballah-wedo): serpent
Erinle: spirit of the forests
Ezili (or Erzulie): female spirit of
Mawu Lisa: spirit of creation
Ogou Balanjo: spirit of healing
Ogun (or Ogu Bodagris): spirit of
Osun: spirit of healing streams
Sango (or Shango): spirit of storms
Yemanja: female spirit of waters
Zaka (or Oko): spirit of agriculture
There are a number of points of
similarity between Roman Catholicism and Voodoo:
Both believe in a supreme being.
The Loa resemble Catholic saints, in
that they were once people who led exceptional lives, and are usually given
a single responsibility or special attribute.
Both believe in an afterlife.
Both have, as the centerpiece of
some of their ceremonies, a ritual sacrifice and consumption of flesh and
Both believe in the existence of
invisible evil spirits or demons.
Followers of Vodun believe that each
person has a met tet (master of the head) which corresponds to a Christian's
Followers of Voodoo believe that each
person has a soul which is composed of two parts: a "gros bon ange" or "big
guardian angel", and a "ti bon ange" or "little guardian angel".
The latter leaves the body during sleep and when the person is possessed by a
Loa during a ritual. There is a concern that the ti bon ange can be damaged or
captured by evil sorcery while it is free of the body.
The purpose of rituals is to make
contact with a spirit, to gain their favor by offering them animal sacrifices
and gifts, to obtain help in the form of more abundant food, higher standard of
living, and improved health. Human and Loa depend upon each other; humans
provide food and other materials; the Loa provide health, protection from evil
spirits and good fortune. Rituals are held to celebrate lucky events, to attempt
to escape a run of bad fortune, to celebrate a seasonal day of celebration
associated with a Loa, for healing, at birth, marriage and death.
Voodoo priests can be male or female. A Voodoo temple is called a hounfour (or humfort). At
its center is a a pole where the God and spirits communicate with
the people. An altar will be elaborately decorated with candles, pictures of
Christian saints, symbolic items related to the Loa, etc. Rituals consist of
some of the following components:
A feast before the main ceremony
Creation of a veve, a pattern of
flour or cornmeal on the floor which is unique to the Loa for whom the
ritual is to be conducted
Shaking a rattle and beating drums
which have been cleansed and purified
Dancing by the houngan and/or mambo
and the hounsis (students studying Vodun). The dancing will typically build
in intensity until one of the dancers (usually a hounsis) becomes possessed
by a Loa and falls. His or her "ti bon ange" has left their body and the
spirit has taken control. The possessed dancer will behave as the Loa and is
treated with respect and ceremony by the others present.
Animal sacrifice; this may be a
goat, sheep, chicken, or dog. They are usually humanely killed by slitting
their throat; blood is collected in a vessel. The possessed dancer may drink
some of the blood. The hunger of the Loa is then believed to be satisfied.
The animal is usually cooked and eaten. Animal sacrifice is a method of
consecrating food for consumption by followers of Voodoo, their gods and
The priests confine their
activities to "white" magic which is used to bring good fortune and
healing. However caplatas (also known as bokors) perform acts of evil sorcery or
black magic, sometimes called "left-handed Voodoo". Rarely, a houngan
will engage in such sorcery; a few alternate between white and dark magic.
One belief unique to Voodoo is that a
dead person can be revived after having been buried. After resurrection, the
zombie has no will of their own, but remains under the control of others. In
reality, a zombie is a living person who has never died, but is under the
influence of powerful drugs administered by an evil sorcerer. Although most
Haitians believe in zombies, few have ever seen one. There are a few recorded
instances of persons who have claimed to be zombies.
Sticking pins in "voodoo
dolls" was once used as a method of cursing an individual by some followers
of Voodoo in New Orleans; this practice continues occasionally in South America.
The practice became closely associated with Voodoo in the public mind through
the vehicle of horror movies.
They believe in honoring the dead
They believe they are guided by the direct intervention
of nature deities whom have come directly to them to offer guidance, spiritual
evolvement, and blessings.
They believe in using divination.