Origins of Voodoo
is a derivative of the world’s oldest known religions which have been
around in Africa since the beginning of human civilization. Some
conservative estimates these civilizations and religions to be over 10
000 years old. This then identify Voodoo as probably the best example
of African syncretism in the Americas. Although its essential wisdom
originated in different parts of Africa long before the Europeans
started the slave trade, the structure of Voodoo, as we know it today,
was born in Haiti during the European colonization of Hispaniola.
Ironically, it was the enforced immigration of enslaved African from
different ethnic groups that provided the circumstances for the
development of Voodoo. European colonists thought that by desolating
the ethnic groups, these could not come together as a community.
However, in the misery of slavery, the transplanted Africans found in
their faith a common thread.
began to invoke not only their own Gods, but to practice rites other
than their own. In this process, they comingled and modified rituals of
various ethnic groups. The result of such fusion was that the different
religious groups integrated their beliefs, thereby creating a new
religion: Voodoo. The word "voodoo" comes from the West African word
"vodun," meaning spirit. This Afro-Caribbean religion mixed practices
from many African ethnics groups such as the Fon, the Nago, the Ibos,
Dahomeans, Congos, Senegalese, Haussars, Caplaous, Mondungues,
Mandinge, Angolese, Libyans, Ethiopians, and the Malgaches.
The Essence of Voodoo
the voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that
nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why "vous deux",
you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something
else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree
that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of One. So, in essence,
what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other.
Voo doo. View you. We are mirrors of each others souls. God is manifest
through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be
honored in ceremonies. There is a sacred cycle between the living and
the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end. Rituals include
prayers, drumming, dancing, singing and animal sacrifice.
serpent figures heavily in the Voodoo faith. The word Voodoo has been
translated as "the snake under whose auspices gather all who share the
faith". The high priest and/or priestess of the faith (often called
Papa or Maman) are the vehicles for the expression of the serpent's
power. The supreme deity is Bon Dieu. There are hundreds of spirits
called Loa who control nature, health, wealth and happiness of mortals.
The Loa form a pantheon of deities that include Damballah, Ezili, Ogu,
Agwe, Legba and others. During Voodoo ceremonies these Loa can possess
the bodies of the ceremony participants. Loa appear by "possessing" the
faithful, who in turn become the Loa, relaying advice, warnings and
desires. Voodoo is an animist faith. That is, objects and natural
phenomena are believed to possess holy significance, to possess a soul.
Thus the Loa Agwe is the divine presence behind the hurricane.
and dance are key elements to Voodoo ceremonies. Ceremonies were often
termed by whites "Night Dancing" or "Voodoo Dancing". This dancing is
not simply a prelude to sexual frenzy, as it has often been portrayed.
The dance is an expression of spirituality, of connection with divinity
and the spirit world.
is a practical religion, playing an important role in the family and
the community. One's ancestors, for instance, are believed to be a part
of the world of the spirits, of the Loas, and this is one way that
Voodoo serves to root its participants in their own history and
tradition. Another practical aspect of Voodoo ceremonies is that
participants often come before the priest or priestess to seek advice,
spiritual guidance, or help with their problems. The priest or
priestess then, through divine aid, offer help such as healing through
the use of herbs or medicines (using knowledge that has been passed
down within the religion itself), or healing through faith itself as is
common in other religions. Voodoo teaches a respect for the natural
the public’s perception of voodoo rites and rituals seems often to
point to the evil or malicious side of things. There are healing
spells, nature spells, love spells, purification spells, joyous
celebration spells. Spirits may be invoked to bring harmony and peace,
birth and rebirth, increased abundance of luck, material happiness,
renewed health.The fact is, for those who believe it, voodoo is
powerful. It is also empowering to the person who practices it.
Voodoo and its fight to survive.
Voodoo's noble status as one of the worlds oldest religions, it has
been typically characterized as barbaric, primitive, sexually
licentious practice based on superstition and spectacle. Much of this
image however, is due to a concerted effort by Europeans, who have a
massive fear of anything African, to suppress and distort a legitimate
and unique religion that flourished among their enslaved Africans. When
slavers brought these peoples across the ocean to the Americas, the
African's brought their religion with them. However, since slavery
included stripping the slaves of their language, culture, and heritage,
this religion had to take some different forms. It had to be practiced
in secret, since in some places it was punishable by death, and it had
to adapt to the loss of their African languages. In order to survive,
Voodoo also adopted many elements of Christianity. When the French who
were the colonizers of Haiti, realized that the religion of the
Africans was a threat to the colonial system, they prohibited all
African religion practices and severely punished the practitioners of
Voodoo with imprisonment, lashings and hangings. This religious
struggle continued for three centuries, but none of the punishments
could extinguished the faith of the Africans. This process of
acculturation helped Voodoo to grow under harsh cultural conditions in
many areas of the Americas. The Power of Voodoo
Voodoo survives as a legitimate
religion in a number of areas of the world, Brazil where it is called
"Candomblé" and the English speaking Caribbean where it is called
“Obeah”. The Ewe people of southern Togo and southeastern Ghana -- two
countries in West Africa -- are devout believers. In most of the United
States however, white slavers were successful in stripping slaves of
their Voodoo traditions and beliefs. Thus Voodoo is, for most African
Americans, yet another part of their heritage that they can only try to
strength that the Africans in Haiti gained from their religion was so
strong and powerful, that they were able to survive the cruel
persecution of the French rulers against Voodoo. It was in the midst of
this struggle that the revolution was conspired. The Voodoo priests
consulted their oracle and learned how the political battle would have
to be fought in order for them to be victorious. The revolution
exploded in 1791 with a Petr— ritual and continued until 1804 when the
Haitians finally won independence. Today the system of Voodoo reflects
its history. We can see the African ethnic mixture in the names of
different rites and in the pantheon of Gods or Loas, which is composed
of deities from all parts of Africa.
Haiti's government officially sanctioned voodoo as a religion
Thursday April 10, 2003.
government has officially sanctioned voodoo as a religion, allowing
practitioners to begin performing ceremonies from baptisms to marriages
with legal authority.
who practice voodoo praised the move, but said much remains to be done
to make up for centuries of ridicule and persecution in the Caribbean
country and abroad.
priest Philippe Castera said he hopes the government's decree is more
than an effort to win popularity amid economic and political troubles.
"In spite of our contribution to Haitian culture, we are still misunderstood and despised," said Castera, 48.
an executive decree issued last week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
invited voodoo adherents and organizations to register with the
Ministry of Religious Affairs.
swearing an oath before a civil judge, practitioners will be able to
legally conduct ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, the decree
a former Roman Catholic priest, has said he recognizes voodoo as a
religion like any other, and a voodoo priestess bestowed a presidential
sash on him at his first inauguration in 1991.
ancestral religion, voodoo is an essential part of national identity,"
and its institutions "represent a considerable portion" of Haiti's 8.3
million people, Aristide said in the decree.
practitioners believe in a supreme God and spirits who link the human
with the divine. The spirits are summoned by offerings that include
everything from rum to roosters.
permitted by Haiti's 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious
equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black
magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil
will take more than a government decree to undo all that malevolence,"
Castera said, and suggested that construction of a central voodoo
temple would "turn good words into a good deed."
are no reliable statistics on the number of adherents, but millions in
Haiti place faith in voodoo. The religion evolved from West African
beliefs and developed further among slaves in the Caribbean who adopted
elements of Catholicism.
is an inseparable part of Haitian art, literature, music and film.
Hymns are played on the radio and voodoo ceremonies are broadcast on
television along with Christian services.
for centuries voodoo has been looked down upon as little more than
superstition, and at times has been the victim of ferocious
persecution. A campaign led by the Catholic church in the 1940s led to
the destruction of temples and sacred objects.
1986, following the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier's dictatorship,
hundreds of voodoo practitioners were killed on the pretext that they
had been accomplices to Duvalier's abuses.
| Priest at Voodoo Healing Hospital, Togo |
a Voodoo hospital in Togo, this priest acts as an intermediary between
a deity and patient. The highest state of being for a Voodoo believer
involves complete abandonment to the spirit of a particular deity. When
a worshipper enters this ecstatic state, his or her body is possessed
by the deity, who then speaks and acts through that individual.
every three years, in a palm grove by the sea, on the border of Ghana
and Togo, thousands of Voodoo followers gather for a spectacular
seven-day celebration called Kokuzahn, honoring their deity, Flimani
Koku, the ancient warrior god. In the past, Koku guaranteed protection
in combat and invincibility in battle, but today he provides defense
against witchcraft and evil. The festival begins with pulsating Voodoo
drum rhythms that send dancers spinning into intense states of
possession. In these altered states they exhibit strength and endurance
beyond normal capacity, oblivious to what they are doing and who they
are. Considered miracles, these superhuman feats defy credibility and
demonstrate the extraordinary power of their deity.