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Title: The Way of Vodun
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Autumn_Heather
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(Date Posted:01/08/2009 07:07 AM)
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Vodun is sometimes called Voodoo, Vodoun, Vodou. Religions related to Vodun are: Candomble, Lucumi, Macumba, and Yoruba)

General background:

Vodun (a.k.a. Vodoun, Voudou, Voodoo, Sevi Lwa) is commonly called Voodoo by the public. The name is traceable to an African word for "spirit". Vodun's can be directly traced to the West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey. Its roots may go back 6,000 years in Africa. That country occupied parts of today's Togo, Benin and Nigeria. Slaves brought their religion with them when they were forcibly shipped to Haiti and other islands in the West Indies.

Vodun was actively suppressed during colonial times. "Many Priests were either killed or imprisoned, and their shrines destroyed, because of the threat they posed to Euro-Christian/Muslim dominion. This forced some of the Dahomeans to form Vodou Orders and to create underground societies, in order to continue the veneration of their ancestors, and the worship of their powerful gods." 1 Vodun was again suppressed during the Marxist regime. However, it has been freely practiced in Benin since a democratic government was installed there in 1989. Vodun was formally recognized as Benin's official religion in 1996-FEB. It is also followed by most of the adults in Haiti. It can be found in many of the large cities in North America, particularly in the American South.

Today over 60 million people practice Vodun worldwide. Religions similar to Vodun can be found in South America where they are called Umbanda, Quimbanda or Candomble. 

Today, there are two virtually unrelated forms of the religion:

bullet the actual religion, Vodun practiced in Benin, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Haiti, Togo and various centers in the US - largely where Haitian refuges have settled.
bullet

an evil, imaginary religion, which we will call Voodoo. It has been created for Hollywood movies, complete with "voodoo dolls", violence, bizarre rituals, etc. It does not exist in reality, except in the minds of most non-Voduns.

History of Vodun in the west:

Slaves were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church upon their arrival in Haiti and other West Indian islands. However, there was little Christian infrastructure present during the early 19th century to maintain the faith. The result was that the slaves largely followed their original native faith. This they practiced in secret, even while attending Mass regularly.

An inaccurate and sensational book (S. St. John, "Haiti or the Black Republic") was written in 1884. It described Vodun as a profoundly evil religion, and included lurid descriptions of human sacrifice, cannibalism, etc., some of which had been extracted from Vodun priests by torture. This book caught the imagination of people outside the West Indies, and was responsible for much of the misunderstanding and fear that is present today. Hollywood found this a rich source for Voodoo screen plays. Horror movies began in the 1930's and continue today to misrepresent Vodun. It is only since the late 1950's that accurate studies by anthropologists have been published.

Other religions (Macumba, Candomble, Umbanda and Santeria) bear many similarities to Vodun.

Vodun beliefs:

Vodun, like Christianity, is a religion of many traditions. Each group follows a different spiritual path and worships a slightly different pantheon of spirits, called Loa. The word means "mystery" in the Yoruba language.

Yoruba traditional belief included a chief God Olorun, who is remote and unknowable. He authorized a lesser God Obatala to create the earth and all life forms. A battle between the two Gods led to Obatala's temporary banishment.

There are hundreds of minor spirits. Those which originated from Dahomey are called Rada; those who were added later are often deceased leaders in the new world and are called Petro. Some of these are

bullet Agwe: spirit of the sea
bullet Aida Wedo: rainbow spirit
bullet Ayza: protector
bullet Baka: an evil spirit who takes the form of an animal
bullet Baron Samedi: guardian of the grave
bullet Dambala (or Damballah-wedo): serpent spirit
bullet Erinle: spirit of the forests
bullet Ezili (or Erzulie): female spirit of love
bullet Mawu Lisa: spirit of creation
bullet Ogou Balanjo: spirit of healing
bullet Ogun (or Ogu Bodagris): spirit of war
bullet Osun: spirit of healing streams
bullet Sango (or Shango): spirit of storms
bullet Yemanja: female spirit of waters
bullet Zaka (or Oko): spirit of agriculture

There are a number of points of similarity between Roman Catholicism and Vodun:

bullet Both believe in a supreme being.
bullet The Loa resemble Christian Saints, in that they were once people who led exceptional lives, and are usually given a single responsibility or special attribute.
bullet Both believe in an afterlife.
bullet Both have, as the centerpiece of some of their ceremonies, a ritual sacrifice and consumption of flesh and blood.
bullet Both believe in the existence of invisible evil spirits or demons.
bullet Followers of Vodun believe that each person has a met tet (master of the head) which corresponds to a Christian's patron saint.

Followers of Vodun believe that each person has a soul which is composed of two parts: a gros bon ange or "big guardian angel", and a ti bon ange or "little guardian angel". The latter leaves the body during sleep and when the person is possessed by a Loa during a ritual. There is a concern that the ti bon ange can be damaged or captured by evil sorcery while it is free of the body.

Vodun rituals:

The purpose of rituals is to make contact with a spirit, to gain their favor by offering them animal sacrifices and gifts, to obtain help in the form of more abundant food, higher standard of living, and improved health. Human and Loa depend upon each other; humans provide food and other materials; the Loa provide health, protection from evil spirits and good fortune. Rituals are held to celebrate lucky events, to attempt to escape a run of bad fortune, to celebrate a seasonal day of celebration associated with a Loa, for healing, at birth, marriage and death.

Vodun priests can be male (houngan or hungan), or female (mambo). A Vodun temple is called a hounfour (or humfort). At its center is a poteau-mitan a pole where the God and spirits communicate with the people. An altar will be elaborately decorated with candles, pictures of Christian saints, symbolic items related to the Loa, etc. Rituals consist of some of the following components:

bullet a feast before the main ceremony
bullet creation of a veve, a pattern of flour or cornmeal on the floor which is unique to the Loa for whom the ritual is to be conducted
bullet shaking a rattle and beating drums which have been cleansed and purified
bullet chanting
bullet dancing by the houngan and/or mambo and the hounsis (students studying Vodun). The dancing will typically build in intensity until one of the dancers (usually a hounsis) becomes possessed by a Loa and falls. His or her ti bon ange has left their body and the spirit has taken control. The possessed dancer will behave as the Loa and is treated with respect and ceremony by the others present.
bullet

animal sacrifice; this may be a goat, sheep, chicken, or dog. They are usually humanely killed by slitting their throat; blood is collected in a vessel. The possessed dancer may drink some of the blood. The hunger of the Loa is then believed to be satisfied. The animal is usually cooked and eaten. Animal sacrifice is a method of consecrating food for consumption by followers of Vodun, their gods and ancestors.

Evil sorcery:

The houngan and mambos confine their activities to "white" magic which is used to bring good fortune and healing. However caplatas (also known as bokors) perform acts of evil sorcery or black magic, sometimes called "left-handed Vodun". Rarely, a houngan will engage in such sorcery; a few alternate between white and dark magic.

One belief unique to Vodun is that a dead person can be revived after having been buried. After resurrection, the zombie has no will of their own, but remains under the control of others. In reality, a zombie is a living person who has never died, but is under the influence of powerful drugs administered by an evil sorcerer. Although most Haitians believe in zombies, few have ever seen one. There are a few recorded instances of persons who have claimed to be zombies.

Sticking pins in "voodoo dolls" was once used as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of Vodun in New Orleans; this practice continues occasionally in South America. The practice became closely associated with Voodoo in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies.

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Autumn_Heather
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RE:The Way of Vodun
(Date Posted:01/08/2009 07:08 AM)

Origins of Voodoo


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.

They 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

Within 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.


 

The 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.

Music 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.

Voodoo 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 world.

Unfortunately, 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.

Despite 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.
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 re-discover.

 
The Power of Voodoo

The 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.

Haiti's government has officially sanctioned voodoo as a religion, allowing practitioners to begin performing ceremonies from baptisms to marriages with legal authority.

Many 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.

Voodoo 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.

In an executive decree issued last week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide invited voodoo adherents and organizations to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

After swearing an oath before a civil judge, practitioners will be able to legally conduct ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, the decree said.

Aristide, 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.

"An 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.

Voodoo 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.

Though 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 spirits.

"It 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."

There 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.

Voodoo 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.

But 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.

In 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


At 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.


Once 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.
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Autumn_Heather
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RE:The Way of Vodun
(Date Posted:01/08/2009 07:08 AM)

Hoodoo vs. Voodoo
 
What is the difference between Vodou & Hoodoo? Aren't they the same?

No. Most of what passes for "legitimate" Vodou in books, hollywood movies and popular culture, is actually the magicobotanical practice of Hoodoo, which is not a religion, and also has its origins in West Africa where it was a fully developed and very powerful tradition borne to specific ethnic lineage's gifted with the spirits to practice it correctly. HOODOO, though not a religion, is the "folk magic" of the common people in West Africa, just as it is in the diaspora today. From socalled "love potions," to taking vegenace upon an enemy, Hoodoo is largely what has survived the religious presecution of the Africans enslaved in the New World. Additionally, due to the laws passed perventing the African from practicing any African based tradition, "Hoodoo" (known as Ggbo in West Africa) was forced to undergo the same superficial transformation as did the Vodou religion (in which they hid their gods behind Catholic Saints). Hoodoo blended with acceptable Native American & European folklore and practice, but the actual methods and power behind it remained completely African.

Zombies and "Voodoo Dolls"

There are "'zombies" only in Hollywood, but not in Dahomean Vodoun. The Hollywood verison of Vodoun cruelly depicts Vodoun healers, priests/ess, and diviniers as little more than "mumbo jumbo" talking frauds, cannibals and witchdoctors, whose only goal is to steal the souls of their unsuspecting vicitms, rendering them helpless, walking zombies in the end. Additionally, the over embellished and sensationalized Wes Craven movie which he alleges is based upon the book by Wade Davis "Serpent & the Rainbow," did little to educate the public about the true Vodoun religion. Craven's movie instead only served to reinforce the racist and degrading sterotypes created by Hollywood and Christian evangelists of the Vodoun religion. Though there are socerers who might attempt such as feat, they are a seperate and distinct group from the ANCESTRAL RELIGION of Vodoun. The same as "Satanism" and its practitioners are viewed and considered the antithesis to Christianity by Christians. :

There are no "Voodoo dolls" used in Dahomean Vodoun.

What is a fetish in voudon and what are they used for?

The word "fetish" (fetiche) was first introduced by Portuguese merchants who did not possess any other word in their spiritual vernacular or experience, to describe the earthen mound and wooden vodou images enshrined in Dahomey. Today in West Africa, the word "fetish" is used universally and interchangeably with the word "spirit," to describe the vodou.

What are VOODOO DOLLS and how are they used?

There are no "Voodoo dolls" used in Dahomean Vodoun. A uniquely AMERICAN HOODOO phenomenon, and Hollywood stereotype, "voodoo dolls" actually have their current origins/usage from pagan Europe. Originally, known as "poppet dolls" (in early Europe), these dolls were used frequently as part of European folk magic and witchcraft as a form of both beneficent and maleficent magic. In Dahomen Vodou carved wooden images, known as "Bochio" were used largely for this and other purposes. However, due to the laws in the U.S and Canada that specifically prohibited Africans from practicing their ancestral religions, the carving of wooden images were also outlawed. In their place, the European "poppet doll" was modified and used in lieu of the wooden carved images employed in Vodoun, to symbolized a person, to PROTECT them from socerey and witchcraft. This is still being done in the magico-botonical art of HOODOO, but not in the ANCESTRAL RELIGION of Vodoun.

Lastly, Vodoun does not offer "how-to advice" to the non-initiated. That is also the domain of the tradition of
"HOODOO."


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Autumn_Heather
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RE:The Way of Vodun
(Date Posted:01/08/2009 07:09 AM)

Does Vodun practice ritual killing of animals?

Animals are sacred in the African Religions, and are used (as in ancient Biblical, Hindu and Holy Koranic texts) as offerings to the gods and ancestors in healing, initiation, and atonement ceremonies. Additionally,contrary to Hollywood hype, animals, though important, are not the central focus of most ceremonies. They are merely consecrated offerings, made sacred for communal meals by the intiate, to share with their gods and ancestors. The "rituals" surrounding this routine event are no more spectacular than the prepartion of foods and farm animals for a family meal, or the Jewish ritual of kashruth (Kosher slaughtering) in making an animal sacred for offerings and consuming. Animal offerings are a sacred, humane, and essential religious rite, that has been in practice in many cultures all over the world for thousands of years, even up until the present. 

In times past sacrifice was king. We believed we must pay for our gods honor and love and we did that by offering what was most sacred to us. We knew that life, and blood were so important we used them to honor our gods. There is no need to soften this.
 
People still do sacrifice, even in Baltimore City I can buy a chicken, in a cage, for 20 dollars for sacrifice and the law protects me to say that as long as the animal is not tortured it can be used as a ritual sacrifice.
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