When you hear the word “voodoo”, what exactly comes to mind? Do you feel uneasy or uncomfortable based on the images you associate with the word? Would you feel at ease knowing that a friend or neighbour of yours practiced voodoo?
Thanks to the way that Hollywood has portrayed the voodoo religion, you may think that people who subscribe to voodoo are extremely strange worshippers of dark spirits. In movies, voodoo is depicted as mysterious and evil, and the people who believe in voodoo either have strange things happen to them, or they do strange things to others. But, like most things in Hollywood, it’s important not to believe everything you see.
The voodoo religion isn’t quite as weird as you might think. There are also some principles in the religion that are similar to more widely accepted methods of worship. Yes, there are voodoo dolls, and yes, spirits are often summoned in voodoo. However, the reasons for these actions aren’t always to cause harm or to bring bad luck. If you’ve been wondering what voodoo is really all about, this should answer some of your questions. Here are interesting and thought-provoking things you didn’t know about voodoo.
12. There’s No Voodoo “Literature”
Voodoo doesn’t have a scripture the way that Christianity, Judaism and Islam do. Instead, the religion is centered in the community, and the people who practice voodoo are encouraged to be responsible for their own actions while empowering the community. Instead of reading from a religious text, those who follow voodoo teachings are taught to embrace the entire human experience and to make the right choices for themselves. Of course, there are also people who use voodoo for their own benefit, but this is often the case in every religion. Instead of pastors or rabbis, the clergy in voodoo are referred to as Hougan (priests) and Manbo (priestesses). These individuals serve as the spiritual authorities, and they often lead out in religious ceremonies. However, the clergy continue to stress the importance of community involvement and personal responsibility.
11) Animal Sacrifice Is A Spiritual Aspect Of Voodoo
Chances are you’ve seen an animal sacrifice in a movie that showed an aspect or two of voodoo. Sacrifice is a part of the religion, but it’s not because people who practice voodoo are blood-hungry. It is believed that the loa, or the spirit world, use energy to communicate with mortals and to complete their daily tasks. Sacrificing animals and offering these animals to the loa is a sign of combining the animal’s life force with the life force of the loa. This is said to rejuvenate the loa’s spirit. The animal’s blood and meat are cooked and consumed as part of the sacrifice ceremony. There are also spirits that have an animal associated with them. For example, chickens are the animal associated with the Damballa.
10. There’s a Voodoo Pantheon
Similar to Christianity, voodoo has a pantheon. There are three main tiers to the religion, much like the Trinity. The top tier is a single God, who is present but distant from humanity, and all-powerful. The loa, or the spirits that interact with mortals, are the second tier of voodoo. The deceased relatives or ancestors of people who practice voodoo are also said to play an important role in their lives. The third tier of voodoo is the mortals themselves. One of the main concepts of voodoo is that these three tiers are often interacting with each other. One of the most important loa is Papa Legba, who is the gatekeeper between the divine and the mortal realms. This is similar to the Christian depiction of St. Peter. Papa Legba is also responsible for keeping people safe while they travel, and protecting the home.
9. Voodoo Is a “Healing” Religion
A number of people may think that the purpose of voodoo is to put hexes and curses on people. However, healing is encouraged in voodoo. In fact, one of the most important reasons that people summon a spirit is to ask for healing for someone who is injured or sick. In voodoo, healing is believed to be a spiritual concept as well as a physical one. Those who are skilled in voodoo can focus on helping to heal a broken heart or changing an individual’s luck in life. People also ask voodoo clergy to heal someone who is suffering from a disease. The priests and priestesses in voodoo do, however, acknowledge that they aren’t all-knowing when it comes to treating or diagnosing a disease. If a situation is beyond their control, they will recommend modern medicine or herbal remedies.
8. There’s More to Marie Laveau Than You Think
Marie Laveau is one of the names that is often associated with voodoo. What she is most known for has become debatable over the years, but she is credited with doing lots of great things in her community. Laveau was believed to be born on a plantation to a Creole slave owner and his half black, half Native American mistress. Laveau was married at a young age, but her husband mysteriously disappeared. She then entered into a common law marriage and had 15 children. One of her children, Marie Laveau II, followed in her mom’s footsteps and became a voodoo priestess. This fueled rumors that Marie Laveau I defied death and lived longer than any mortal should. Marie Laveau was known for helping those in need, and selling gris-gris to those who needed it. She was also a hairdresser, which gave her plenty of time to provide counsel to her clients. Laveau was known for performing public rituals and bringing more attention to voodoo, as well as helping the hungry and homeless in New Orleans. Those who visit the city even leave offerings at what is believed to be her grave and ask for guidance.
7. Voodoo Has Similarities to Christianity
Even though it may be disheartening for some people to admit, voodoo and Christianity actually have a few similarities, other than the three-tier model. In fact, Christian concepts are included in Haitian and Louisiana voodoo, and there are Christian counterparts for voodoo spirits. Aida Wedo is the counterpart to the Virgin Mary and Legba is the counterpart to St. Peter. The loa (or lwa), which are the collection of important spirits that are said to interact with each other, are often referred to as the Catholic saints they represent. Voodoo originated in West Africa, and those who practice West African voodoo believe, like Christians, that there is one God who rules over everything and everyone.
6. There Are Three Types of Voodoo
Three schools of thought and practice exist in voodoo. The practices in each type of voodoo are indicative of the influence of people from various parts of the world. About 30 million people in West Africa still practice voodoo, especially in Benin and Ghana. The beliefs and rituals are very detailed, and have remained intact since the beginning of the religion, since there is very little outside cultural influence. Voodoo in Louisiana is practiced in the state, as well as the southeastern region of the United States. This form of voodoo came from West Africa and includes French and Spanish and Creole influences. Haitian voodoo is specific to Haiti, but has also been influenced by French practices and Christianity.
5. The Catholic Church Accepts Voodoo
Voodoo has actually been accepted by the Catholic Church. There are so many parallels that exist between both of the religions that those who belong to both religions are able to co-exist peacefully. There was a time when voodoo practitioners who were also baptized members of the church were ridiculed for participating in ceremonies involving voodoo. These days, priests from the Catholic and voodoo religions are working together in an effort to bring both prosperity and peace to the continent of Africa, where voodoo originated. Pope John Paul II also talked about his respect for voodoo practitioners, and said that there was “fundamental goodness” in the work voodoo priests and priestesses are doing.
4. Voodoo Dolls Are Complicated
When you’re mad at an ex or want to get back at someone for hurting you, you may have joked that you were going to make a voodoo doll in his/her likeness. However, voodoo dolls are a bit more complex than that. The doll is a representation of the person in question, and isn’t supposed to be a small replica of that person. The voodoo doll is used to display pictures of the individual or a piece of hair from the individual’s head. There are also things attached to the voodoo doll to signify the intended fate of the person. For instance, people can attach money or perfume to the dolls to get the attention of the spirits and convince them to give that person good luck or prosperity. The doll is only used as a bad thing by people who want it to be negative.
3. Voodoo Leaders Aren’t Possessed
The priests and priestesses in voodoo are often accused of being possessed by evil spirits, and this is often the perception that is shown in movies. However, that’s not entirely accurate. The voodoo practitioners are the spirits’ servants, not the other way around. Priests and priestesses honor the spirits and ask them for help, and have to go through extensive training prior to any rituals being performed. The reason for the training is so they won’t dangerously or carelessly open themselves to being possessed. During a ritual, one of spirits that possess the body—the ti bon ange—leaves the body so that a loa spirit can take over. Which is called the ti bon ange, and is a part of the spirit that has the individual, and has to be guarded when a priest or priestess is in charge of a loa. The other section of the spirit is called gros bon ange, and it is shared amongst all living things.
2. There’s No Black or White Magic
Voodoo is not made up of white magic (good energy) and black magic (bad energy). There is not distinction between magic in the religion. When evil spirits are summoned and bribed by someone who is evil, that is referred to as red magic. This spirit’s color is red. If the loa possesses a person, the mortal’s eyes change to red, as a sign that evil is there. There are also times when this spirit turns evil, based on the wishes of the mortal that summons it. This, however, is in direct opposition to the original voodoo teachings, which are rooted in doing good and charitable things for the community. The main role of the practitioners in voodoo (women are called Queens; men are called Doctors) is to prevent red magic from occurring.
1. Snakes Play An Important Role In Voodoo
Snakes also have a role to play in voodoo, but not in the way you think. When you see practitioners that practice voodoo, dancing with snakes, it’s not just for the sake of being weird. The snake is one of the oldest mythos of the religion. Damballa (also called Danballa) is the oldest god in the voodoo religion and is also a serpent god. He is believed to be the one who created the world. It is believed that Damballa created water from the skin he shed, and his coals are made from the sky. Ayida Wedo, who is considered to be the rainbow, is Damballa’s wife. There is a love that is eternal, that is said to represent male and female energy. Damballa protects children, as well as people who are helpless. He also helps souls transition into the afterlife. When a priest or priestess is possessed by Damballa’s spirit, they hiss instead of speak.