Voodoo (often written and pronounced as “Vodou”) is a mystical/magic tradition deeply rooted in the African shamanism and magic traditions, but strongly influenced by Christianity, especially by Roman Catholicism.
Brought to the New World by African slaves, Vodou persisted throughout the centuries and is now a lively spiritual movement all across the southern states and in the Caribbean Sea region. Its true center is Haiti – the saying that Haiti “is 80% Roman Catholic, 20% Protestant and 100% Vodou” is all too true.
Contrary to common beliefs, Vodou is not all about creating zombies, killing chickens and summoning evil spirits. While Voodoo spells, nature spells or even necromantic spells do exist, it is mostly a way of serving and communicating with powerful spirits, called “loa” by hougans (Vodou priests) or mambos (priestesses). Loa sometimes can be asked to help the priests in return for their services. The priests and priestesses contact the loa during long rituals during which they are ridden (“possessed”) by the spirits. While it still has nothing to do with any form of black magic, it can be a mostly unsettling experience for those untrained in the ways of this form of magic. It is not recommended to try complicated Voodoo spells at home unless you are a hougan or mambo yourself.
While loa can be calm or dangerous, none of them can be called “evil” or “good” in a Christian sense of these words. The darker paths of Vodou can be used only by bokors (sorcerers that have learned both white and black magic), but even for them killing animals or creating zombies are nothing more than myths.
Introduction to Voodoo
Voodoo, much like the Wicca religion, is a misunderstood religion. It should also be noted that many traditions you find in Judeo-Christian religion can also be found in Wicca religion. That said, Voodoo, is also a religion that is deep in traditions like Wicca and Judeo-Christian. As such, Voodoo celebrates major life events like births, marriages and deaths, but the religion that began in Africa has evolved over time.
Voodoo, or more accurately ‘Vodun’, believes in a chief God named Olorun and minor spirits called Loa. In essence this practice is similar to Christianity. In Christianity there is a supreme god and then saints associated with particular activities or occupations. For example, in Christianity the saint of protection (or law enforcement) is St. Michael. In Voodoo the Loa spirit of protection is named Ayza.
It should also be noted that Voodoo goes by several different names or variations of the name including: Vodun, Vodoun, Voudou and Sevi Lwa. The term voodoo actually comes for the African word Vodun for “spirit”. Some anthropologists believe the religion goes back as far as the dawn of human civilization, or by conservative estimates 10,000 years.
Voodoo and Haiti
When Europeans began sending African slaves to the New World, Voodoo, as we know it today, was born in Haiti. Many slavers mistakenly thought by desolating the various African ethnic groups it would stop them from forming as a community. Instead, the opposite happened. These transplanted slaves fused their varying beliefs together to form the new religion we called Voodoo. Since that time it has spread to parts of the southern United States, as well as South America.
In 1884 an author named S. St. John wrote an inaccurate book called, “Haiti or the Black Republic” after exploring the West Indies region. In it, St. John described Voodoo as an evil religion, including descriptions of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and a host of other wicked acts. Naturally, this book caught the imagination of people outside the area that had never visited the place. As a result, the misunderstanding and fear of Voodoo began to spread, much of which is still present today. Hollywood also helped perpetuate the misconceptions with many movies that cast Voodoo in an unfavorable light.
Voodoo Priests and Temples
A Voodoo priest is called a houngan or hungan and a Voodoo priestess is called a mambo. A Voodoo temple is known as a hounfour or humfort. At the center of the temple is a pole called the poteau-mitan where the God and spirits communicate with the followers. At a modern Voodoo temple you might find an altar with candles, pictures of Christian saints or symbolic items related to the Loa.
The Power of Voodoo
Voodoo rituals are held at the temple to celebrate good fortune like a birth or a marriage. But the temple also provides an escape from misfortune like sickness or death. Sometimes the religion does involve an animal sacrifice where the animals’ throat is slit and the blood collected as tribute to the Loa. The animal is then cooked and eaten, acting as consecrating food for the followers.
The houngan and mambos of the temple do activities and rituals with white magic, which is used to bring good fortune and healing. However, there are people who practice Voodoo with evil sorcery, or black magic, called caplatas or bokors. Rarely does a hungan or mambo engage in dark magic, but a few do alternate between white and black.
In closing, Voodoo is a very ancient religion – one that is worldwide, seeped in tradition, with over 30 million followers in Africa alone.