Voodoo is a subject that has long held a fascination for me. Growing up as a European child in East Africa and preferring to spend my time with the wonderful African people who cared for my family and myself rather than with my birth family, I was privy as a child to much that would otherwise have been unknown to me. Many years later and my ongoing and current connections with Uganda, Ghana and other areas of West Africa and South Africa have kept this fascination alive for me.
Voodoo appears to have its roots in Africa, and in research we are told that it is also spelt as Vodun, or Vudun [ meaning spirit] in the Fon and Ewe languages of Coastal West Africa, including South Eastern Ghana, Southern and Central Togo, and Southern and Central Benin.
Other spellings include Vodon, Vodoun, and Voudou and appear to have their origins with the Kongo peoples of the Congo and Angola.
We are told that Voodoo is distinct from other traditional animistic religions and beliefs held within the interiors of these countries. To its followers it is seen as a religion and is often tied up with the practise of Christianity in many areas as tribes have been converted.
‘The dictionary explanation of Animistic– in the existence of individual spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena, as well as the belief in the existence of spiritual beings that are separable or separate from bodies and the hypothesis holding that an immaterial force animates the universe.’
Vodun or Vudun appears to be the main origin for the practices of Voodoo in what was deemed The New World, presenting as Haitian Vodou, Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, Vudi in the areas of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Vodum in the Candomble Jege which is the Afro American Brazilian cult that the Vodous of the Kingdom of Dahomey brought to Brazil when the enslaved Africans from various regions of West and Central Africa where removed from their homelands as slaves.
In the main the practice of Voodoo or Vodun is based around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that are recognised to govern the Earth.
This belief covers a range of areas from the forces of nature and the individual spirits of rocks, water and trees to the sun and the moon, and what many would deem saints, angels, guides and the like
A great deal of emphasis is placed on the spirits of the ancestors and it is held that the spirits of the ancestors or the spirits of the dead live inside by side with the world of the living. Each family of spirits is said to have its own female priesthood, sometimes this is an hereditary lineage when it is passed down from mother to blood daughter.
Voodoo or Vodun recognises one God, who has assistants known as ‘Orisha’s’ and various other ‘spirits’ who serve an invisible mysterious force that can intervene in human affairs.
Patterns of voodoo worship around the world follow various dialects, gods, practices, songs and rituals. Vodun recognises one God with many helpers called Orisha’s who communicate with the Divine Creator
All of creation is considered divine and therefore each part of creation contains the power of the divine. This explains how medicines such as herbal remedies are understood, and explains the ubiquitous use of seemingly mundane objects in religious ritual.
Various titles are given to Vodun Deities depending upon the traditional base of the religion and these include Mawu, or Nana Buluku. Mawu the moon and Lisa the sun are seen as male and female aspects respectively, Legba the youngest child of Mawu, in some areas is seen as a young and virile man, while in others he is seen in the form of an old man.
Mami Wati- god or goddess of the waters is a very West African description, as is Gu. ‘Gu’ the God ruling iron is often called on to strengthen a curse or a promise. Many people carry nails or keys in their pockets for this purpose.
Sakpata, who rules diseases, Eshu, a messenger deity who relays messages between the human world and the world of the Orisha’s, is often depicted as a dark, short man with a large staff and often a pipe, candy or his fingers in his mouth. As the mediator between the gods and the living Eshu is said to maintain balance, order, peace and communication.
Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable creator god, Bondyè. As Bondyè does not intercede in human affairs, vodouists direct their worship toward spirits subservient to Bondyè, called lwa. Every lwa is responsible for a particular aspect of life, with the dynamic and changing personalities of each lwa reflecting the many possibilities inherent to the aspects of life over which they preside. In order to navigate daily life, many vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the lwa through the presentation of offerings, the creation of personal altars and devotional objects, and participation in elaborate ceremonies of music, dance, and spirit possession.
The worship of spirits remains a vital part of the practices of voodoo in Louisiana. Followers of Louisiana voodoo believe in one God and multiple lesser but powerful spirits which preside over daily matters of life, such as the family, the sky, and judgment.
Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, describes a set of religious practices which originated from the traditions of the African basis of Voodoo. It is a cultural form of the Afro –American religions developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African American population of the U.S. state of Louisiana . It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in West African Dahomey Vodun. They became syncretized with the Catholicism and Francophone cultures of south Louisiana as a result of the slave trade.
Louisiana Voodoo is a conglomeration of beliefs that has evolved over time and continues to adapt to its surroundings. As it has been a religion conserved by oral tradition, and is not based on a sacred book or canon and is followed by many, the beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo vary somewhat from person to person. Louisiana Voodoo combines elements of European and African beliefs, and Roman Catholicism. It is a dynamic religion that has both adapted to and shaped New Orleans culture
The core beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo include the recognition of one God who does not interfere in people’s daily lives and spirits that preside over daily life. Spiritual forces, which can be kind or mischievous, shape daily life through and intercede in the lives of their followers. Connection with these spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes, which represent Legba, Voodoo’s “main spirit conduit to all others.” Unlike the Judeo-Christian image, the Voodoo serpent represents “healing knowledge and the connection between Heaven and Earth.” Deceased ancestors can also intercede in the lives of Voodoo followers.
The main focus of Louisiana Voodoo today is to serve others and influence the outcome of life events through the connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors. True rituals are held “behind closed doors” as a showy ritual would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. Voodoo methods include readings, spiritual baths, specially devised diets, prayer, and personal ceremony. Voodoo is often used to cure anxiety, addictions, depression, loneliness, and other ailments. It seeks to help the hungry, the poor, and the sick as Marie Laveau once did.
Louisiana Voodoo is often confused with—but is not completely separable from—Haitian and Southern Hoodoo.
Haitian Hoodoo or Voodoo differs from Vodou in its emphasis upon Gris-gris, [small amulets and tokens] the voodoo queens, use of Hoodoo occult paraphernalia, and Li Grand Zombi (snake deity). It was through Louisiana Voodoo that such terms as gris-gris (a Wolof term) and voodoo dolls were introduced into the American language.
[Wolof is widely distributed language of the Wolof an ethnic group found in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania. Many Wolof’s appear to follow a Muslim tradition]
Voodoo talismans, called “fetishes”, are objects such as statues or often dried animal parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Sorcerers and sorceresses called Botono (or Aze/Azetos) are believed to cast spells on enemies on behalf of supplicants, calling upon spirits to bring misfortune or harm to a person or group. Animal sacrifice is a common way to show respect and thankfulness to the gods.
Voodoo talismans and fetishes are widely available on the internet with a brisk market being offered in a range of spells curses and Voodoo dolls of all descriptions.
Voodoo fetish market in Lomé, Togo.
According to Wikipedia
About 23% of the population of Benin, some 1 million people, follow Vodun. (This does not count other traditional religions in Benin.) In addition, many of the 41.5% of the population that refer to themselves as Christian practice a syncretized religion, not dissimilar from Haitian Vodou or Brazilian Cadomblé; indeed, many of them are descended from freed Brazilian slaves who settled on the coast near Ouidah. In Togo, about half the population practices indigenous religions, of which Vodun is by far the largest, with some 2 and a half million followers; there may be another million Vodunists among the Ewe of Ghana: 13% of the population of 20 million are Ewe and 38% of Ghanaians practise traditional religion. According to census data, about 14 million people practise traditional religion in Nigeria, most of whom are Yoruba practising Vodun, but no specific breakdown is available.
European colonialism, followed by some of the totalitarian regimes in West Africa, have tried to suppress Vodun as well as other African indigenous religions. However, because the vodun deities are born to each clan, tribe, and nation, and their clergy are central to maintaining the moral, social and political order and ancestral foundation of its village, these efforts have not been successful. Recently there have been moves to restore the place of Vodun in national society, such as an annual International Vodun Conference held in the city of Ouidah in Benin that has been held since 1991.
[From a personal perspective I have over the years had voodoo curses directed towards me on more than one occasion and often work with other people in similar situation.]