Voodoo, also known as Vodun, Vodou and Vudu, is a collection of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices that originates in the area of western
Africa known as Benin. The practice of Voodoo in Africa predates the keeping of modern records and is likely derived from a form of
. When slaves were first brought to America from west Africa, they brought their traditional
spiritual beliefs with them and these have since morphed into the modern practice of Voodoo.
The aspects of Voodoo which the general public is most familiar with are the Voodoo curse, or Voodoo doll and the notion of zombies. The practice of
cursing individuals, either directly or through a doll or poppet, is very ancient indeed and is practiced in a number of religions, including
indigenous European religions (Reference
). Similarly, whilst the concept of zombies does seem to stem
from a genuine practice, it is largely restricted to certain areas of the island of Haiti and is not a defining feature of Voodoo as a whole. Like
many misunderstood religions, Voodoo has suffered from a series of stereotypical portrayals, often through television and movies which choose to focus
on the less popular, though more sensationalised aspects of the beliefs and practices. For a more balanced portrayal of the reality of Voodoo,
Wikipedia has an excellent, concise article which outlines the origins, beliefs and practices of Voodoo, as well as touching on the popular
misconceptions surrounding it. You can read the article here
. Similarly, Religious Tolerance.org has a
very informative article on Voodoo which explains quite well the difference between the reality of the actual religion itself and the sensationalised
image of it portrayed by Hollywood. Read it here
Practitioners of Voodoo acknowledge the existence of a single creator God, but believe this God to be distant and not personally connected to His
creations. Although this singular God is often associated with the God of Roman Catholicism, He is often referred to as Bondeye ("Good God") and the
links with Catholicism stem more from the forced conversion of slaves to that religion and the subsequent need to hide aspects of their indigenous
beliefs behind the facade of the more acceptable religion of their slavers.
To prevent persecution of this sort, practitioners of Voodoo were forced to identify their native spirits - the Loa, or Iwa - with appropriate
Catholic Saints, Angels and religious figures. For example, the Loa known as Papa Legba
, who stands
between the world of the Loa and the world of Humans, is often identified with Saint Peter, since he is viewed as a gatekeeper who opens the door to
allow humans to communicate with the divine. Other Loa are identified with Saint Michael and the Virgin Mary and Voodoo shrines often feature
paintings or statues of Catholic saints.
The practice of magic in Voodoo is an accepted, though not essential aspect of the religion. Just as a Wiccan need not practice magic in order to be a
follower of the Wicca religion, so too a practitioner of Voodoo need not necessarily practice magic to be an accepted practitioner of Voodoo. Magic in
Voodoo involves contacting and invoking the Loa to ask for their intercession in a specific task. Usually, this task involves healing the sick or
blessing some event, such as a birth or wedding. Priests in Voodoo can be male (houngan) or female (mambo). A typical ritual involves offering gifts
to the Loa, often in the form of alcohol or the sacrifice of an animal such as a chicken or a goat (but never a human - again, this is a misconception
made popular by Hollywood). Those involved will dance wildly, chant, beat drums and shake rattles, until one of them is possessed by the Loa. When
this occurs, that person is said to be ridden
by the Loa.
Like virtually all beliefs that have a magical constituent, Voodoo acknowledges that there is a dark and a light side to magic. Whilst houngan and
mambo use their magics to aid people (healing the sick, blessing people, asking the Loa for luck or protection for individuals), practitioners of dark
magic, although rare, do exist. Known as bokors (or sometimes as caplatas), these are the individuals most likely to place curses on people or cause
illness or bad luck. Although an aspect of Voodoo, bokors are not typical of the practitioners of the belief, in the same way that Wiccans who use
magic for dark purposes are not indicative of that faith.
There is far more depth to Voodoo than I can hope to explain here. I have met a number of practitioners myself and have studied the beliefs and
practices at university. For more information, visit the links I have provided, but please do not hesitate to ask me if you have any more questions
regarding Voodoo, Miranda. I hope my answers have helped you understand the reality of Voodoo a little better and appreciate that Voodoo is far
richer, complex and not nearly as scary as Hollywood makes it out to be. Remember that most religions that are misunderstood are accused of terrible
acts. Christianity, when it first began to take hold in the Roman Empire, saw its followers accused of deeds such as heresy, practicing magic,
starting the Great Fire of Rome and other, more vile practices (Reference 1
). From the previous posts, it
is clear that some people will disagree with my statements concerning Voodoo and that's fine. I shall not debate the veracity of the statements I
have made. I shall ask only that you investigate the subject more if you find it interesting, keep an open mind and choose for yourself what it is you
believe. If that is that Voodoo is an evil, Satanic religion, then fair enough.
EDIT - Important
Please note that I have referred to Voodoo as a religion based on my own, personal considerations of what constitutes a religion. Many do not consider
Voodoo a true religion, referring to it more as a series of practices or beliefs.
[edit on 24/9/05 by Jeremiah25]