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Founder: Unknown

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 Mass regularly.

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 paths.

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 are

  • Agwe: spirit of the sea

  • Aida Wedo: rainbow spirit

  • Ayza: protector

  • Baka: an evil spirit who takes the form of an animal

  • Baron Samedi: guardian of the grave

  • Dambala (or Damballah-wedo): serpent spirit

  • Erinle: spirit of the forests

  • Ezili (or Erzulie): female spirit of love

  • Mawu Lisa: spirit of creation

  • Ogou Balanjo: spirit of healing

  • Ogun (or Ogu Bodagris): spirit of war

  • 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 blood.

  • 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 patron saint.

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

  • Chanting

  • 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 ancestors.

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.

Cult Beliefs:

  • 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.


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