Voodoo Rituals

How Many Types of Voodoo Are There?

Is Voodoo a Religion?

What is Voodoo

Voodoo is not a religion but rather a variety of cultural and personal creeds and practices that originated in the West African kingdoms of Benin (the kingdom of Fon, also called Dahomey until 1975), Togo, and Ghana. Many words used in voodoo, including the word “voodoo,” which means deity, spirit, or sacred, come from the Fon language, which is similar to the Ewe and related to the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family of African languages. Some say voodoo’s roots in Benin began as much as 6,000 years ago. Voudon, more appropriately spelled Vodou, and referred to as voodoo for the remainder of this article, is practiced by roughly 60 million people worldwide. 

Voudon believers worship a creator god, Bondye (also referred to as Olohoum or the Grand Met), representing universal energy and other spirits called Loa or Iwa, whichare helpful spirits that can possess the body of those people who believe in them. Each of these spirits represents a particular area or domain of human life. Bondye followers also believe their souls can leave their bodies while dreaming and during spiritual possession.

Interestingly, one would think that Christianity and Voodoo have nothing in common. However, the central spirits in voodoo have Christian parallels. These similarities are likely due to West African slaves being forbidden to practice African religions and, instead, having Roman Catholicism imposed upon them by the church. Because of this, many of the following beliefs and rituals became synced between voodoo and Christianity. 

  • The Voodoo god, Bondye, is a supreme being who rules over all, much like the one supreme god in Christianity.
  • The Loa are saint-like messengers of god and dead ancestors who regularly interact with humans. Papa Legba is the gatekeeper between mortals and the divine, just like Saint Peter, who holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
  •  Aida Wedo typifies the Virgin Mary. 
  • Deceased ancestors and loved ones are worshipped at gravesites and in many other ways. 
  • Gedes, a celebration for a family of spirits who are personifications of dead ancestors, take place on All Soul’s and All Saint’s Day.
  • The Christian cross is a symbol that represents transition and life-altering choices along the voodoo spiritual pathway.
  • Catholic prayers and songs and are a part of Voodoo services.

More than one type of voodoo is practiced in today’s world, West African, the purest form, Louisiana, influenced by the French, Spanish, Creoles, and Haitian, influenced by the French and the Christian religion. 

African Voodoo

African voodoo is the oldest form of voodoo. It is the precursor to Haitian and Louisianna forms of voodoo. In African voodoo, becoming possessed is an integral part of voodoo. The person possessed is called a horse who is ridden by the loa or spirit. The one possessed can deliver messages to the congregation, speak in languages unknown to them, or move unnaturally. Sacrifice is also essential in ceremonies and rituals, often including chickens, goats, and other animals. 

Many Christians commonly consider possession to be something undesired, an act of evil, black magic, and a mark of witchcraft. However, in voodoo, possession is a means to experience the spiritual world firsthand. It can take several years of apprenticeship before someone is qualified for possession. There is no black magic in voodoo as it would be a complete contradiction to Voodoo teachings, which are focused on healing. One of the Voodoo practitioners’ roles is to make sure black (or red) magic is prevented before it begins. Additionally, voodoo priests and priestesses often become community leaders that help to care for others by handling disputes and providing medical care in the form of folk remedies. 

Summoning a spirit in a voodoo ritual is only to ask that spirit for assistance in healing those injured or sick or to request a bit of luck in the physical world. The difference in opinion between Christians caused voodoo to become falsely associated with the occult, Satanism, witchcraft, human sacrifices, and cannibalism.

It was the slave-trade that brought African voodoo customs to the Americas and other areas of the world.

Haitian Voodoo

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed his ship on an island known as Ayiti, which he renamed Hispaniola. Meaning, “Little Spain.” When colonists arrived, they built coffee, indigo, and sugar plantations, which relied heavily on slave labor. Hispaniola eventually became what is known today as the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Haitian voodoo developed in Haiti between the 16th and 19th centuries and has two significant cults, the Rada and Petro, from African origins. The Rada cult comes from Dahomey and the Petro cult, often considered Creole, has its roots among the Kongo. It is influenced by the traditional religions of West Africa and Roman Catholicism. Regardless of its influences, it strongly resembles African Voodoo. 

Priests and priestesses, known as houngans and mambos (respectively), conduct religious services. Anyone wishing to become houngans or mambos must become an initiate and enter an apprenticeship. Voodoo ceremonies take place in a honfour (a building or space), which serves as a sanctuary or temple or sanctuary.

Louisianna Voodoo

Louisiana voodoo was inherited from West African Voodoo and has existed since the early 1700s. Louisiana voodoo is a type of voodoo practiced mainly in Louisiana and the southeastern United States. Although it is called Louisianna voodoo, it is much the same as Haitian voodoo. It exists in various forms in New Orleans and the southeastern United States. 

In some cases, Louisianna voodoo is mixed with other traditions, such as the pagan folk practice known as hoodoo. However, the curses and spells that fall under the hoodoo umbrella are not voodoo practices at all.

Common Voodoo Practices

  • The worship of ancestors
  • Using objects to contain the essence of a spirit or for magical protection
  • The playing of musical instruments to invoke the loa, especially drums, bells, and rattles
  • Voodoo practitioners often use handmade dolls as conduits to contact specific loa or the spirit world. However, despite rumor, these dolls are never used to inflict pain or suffering on others.
  • Dancing in rituals while wearing masks and costumes, some of which are very elaborate.
  • Sacrificing animals to show respect, gain favor, or give thanks to god.
  • The carrying of sequin-covered flags called drapo through areas used for worship to show respect for the spirits.  
  • Divining activities for prophecy, such as tossing Palm nuts 
  • The association of specific colors, foods, plants, and other objects with distinctive loa
  • The placement of colorfully decorated bottles and kwi (a calabash shell bowl containing food offerings) on the voodoo altar
  • The carrying and use of Kongo packets (medicinal packets) that contain herbs and other items for healing

Final Thoughts

In practice, voodoo looks much like other traditional African religions where religious services, music, dancing, and singing are incorporated in celebrations. These celebrations often occur in nature, in the mountains, in groves of trees, and along rivers and streams.  While Christianity and voodoo may have been at odds by extremist groups in the past, they tend to overlap and coexist peacefully in the modern world. Pope John Paul II spoke about his esteem of Voodoo practitioners, particularly how their belief system centers around the use of plants and herbs for natural healing and the good they do in the world.

Sources

973TheDAWG.com, https://973thedawg.com/5-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-voodoo/

EN.Wikipedia.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Vodou

HowStuffWorks.com, https://people.howstuffworks.com/voodoo.htm

Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Vodou

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