For many the word Voodoo conjures up sinister images. Images of sacrifices, zombies, and curses. The truth is, this is only a small representation of Voodoo culture. A representation that Voodoo so wrongly deserves. Many of the worlds religions are full of good and bad, so why should Voodoo be looked upon as any different.
During the second part of the 17th century, regretfully the beginning of the slave trade, seems to have been when Voodoo was born out of a need and necessity. Many different African tribes such as the Bambara, Foula, Arada, Mandingue, Fon, Nago, Iwe, Ibo, Yoruba, it's people and beliefs were thrown together and forced to work amongst the plantations of the Caribbean Island of Haiti.
Being suppressed and often beaten by their unforgiving plantation owners, only drove the different tribes, and their belief systems together in unity. The practice of this new "religion" grew amongst the many thousands of slaves, and honoring the spirits and gods by dancing, chanting and performing magick amounted to a resistance, an escape from their constant beatings. Being caught practicing these "Pagan" ceremonies only resulted in server punishment handed out by those in charge. This only served to strengthen the belief in Voodoo, and forced it to be practiced in secret locations, hidden from the plantation owners eyes.
To try and demoralize the slaves from believing in the power of Voodoo, the Governors forced the plantation owners to have all new slaves who were bought to the island baptized, and instructed in the Catholic religion. This was the intention anyway, but after the baptism took place there was seldom any instruction in the Catholic faith. Many of the plantation owners would not even permit priests onto their land, fearing that they would see the cruel atrocities being handed out to the slaves. This only forced the practice of Voodoo further underground.
The slaves now began to play the plantation owners at their own game. They would practice Catholicism in front of them, and when their backs were turned, continue to perform Voodoo rituals and services. Slowly the slaves began to infiltrate their Voodoo beliefs and rituals into the Catholic services held in church. This was done by while publicly praying for the Catholic saints, they would be secretly honoring their own spirits and God. Now the plantation owners would even permit the slaves to light candles and 'Pray' openly.
Catholic beliefs and worship now became integrated into Voodoo, and for many this only served to enrich this new religion. Voodoo had come of age!
The God of Voodoo
Voodoo is a monotheistic religion recognizing only one God, not unlike Christianity. The God of Voodoo, Grand Maitre created everything, and so can destroy everything if he wishes to do so. He is so powerful and aloof that he cannot be contacted directly by humans, unlike in Christianity, but is reached through spirits called
The Loa are also known as Mysteries and can be divided into three separate divisions. The Guedes, the Loa spirits representing death and the dead. The Rada, which are the more gentle among the Loa spirits, and the Pethro. The Pethro are the Loa that become angered easily and turn violent on occasions during the ceremonies.
The Loa can be male or female in form and represent many things. Some can be the forces of the universe, some the forces of nature, and some the spirits of departed family members.
The Mysteries can represent everyday life, from good to evil, life to death, Sexuality and reproduction, health and well-being.
These supernatural sprits number into the hundreds. Here is a short list (some with definitions), of some of the Loa spirits that are worshipped and invoked by the Voodoo devotees.
The Loa are invoked by the Priest or Priestess during ceremonies, and proceed to posses some of the individuals who worship. These individuals are called the "horse". The Loa act and talk through the possessed. The Practitioner of Voodoo believes that when he or she is possessed by the Loa, the human soul is replaced momentarily by the Loa. To go against the wishes and requests of the Loa is to risk the wrath of the spirit, and this could result in harm or even death to the believer.
The Priest and Priestess
The Priest in the Voodoo religion is known as the Houngan or Papa, and the Priestess as the Mambo or Manman. They are regarded as almost royalty with their religion.
It is their responsibility to not only lead the religious ceremony's but also to act as prophets, family and finical advisors, even doctors and magickians within the community.
If a Papa or Manman is unable to fulfill the needs and questions of the community they may consult with the Loa, seeking to further their knowledge.
The Papa and Manman are only held responsible to the Loa, and during religious ceremonies they speak directly to the Loa, taking power and wisdom from these supernatural beings.
The Oum'phor is a large area that can be both covered or uncovered. It is the holy of holies. The
There may be many chambers within the temple, each dedicated to one particular Loa. If there is only one chamber it may have several alters assigned to each one of the Loas to be worshipped.
On the walls of the Oum'phor are hung veves with elaborate ritual designs
The Pe is the name given to the Alter stone used in Voodoo. It is square or rectangle in shape and is raised of the ground to about chest height
Placed upon the Pe are items used in Voodoo and its rites such as, magick jars containing the spirits of people who worship Voodoo, rattles, bells ,drums and ritual jewelry, even books on the Occult.
Next to the Oum'phor is a roofed and partially enclosed courtyard called the Peristyle. The floor of the Peristyle is made of beaten earth and surrounded by a wall of about four feet in height. This wall is to allow spectators who are not properly dressed for the occasion, or who are not regular worshipers to witness the ceremonies and celebrations.
Contained within the walls of the Peristyle are seats or benches for the members of the Oum'phor to sit on.
A fire is kept constantly burning in the center of courtyard. Within the fire, and standing upright is an iron bar. This bar represents sexual desire.
The Peristyle is where the sick amongst the worshippers are taken to be healed.
The most important feature within the Peristyle is the square wooden post at its center. This post is called the Poteau-mitan, the wood of justice.
The post is usually set in to a stone circular pedestal. This pedestal acts as a alter on which sacrifices to the Loa are placed.
The Poteau-mitan is placed in the center of the peristyle as this is said to be axis of all Voodoo magic. The top of the Poteau-mitan represents the center of the sky, the bottom the center of hell.
A spiral design winds its way up the Poteau-mitan and is the image of two serpent Loa.
On the side of the Poteau-mitan is hung a whip. The whip is a symbol representing redemption and obligation to and from penitence, the mastery of Voodoo and the faith in its power.
Within the area surrounding the Oum'phour are trees that are used as a place of sanctuary for the Loa. These trees are often decorated or painted, and have areas to place lighted candles and food as gifts to the mighty Loa.
Ritual singing and dancing around these trees often takes place.
Veves and Ritual Flags, Veves are impressive ritual designs that are mostly traced or drawn onto the ground of the Peristyle or the Oum'phor, but they may even be put onto any of the ceremonial items being used.
The veves are representations of the astral forces and figures. The veves are drawn using a variety of materials such as wheat flour, brick dust, face powder and wood ashes. Sometimes even gunpowder.
Depending on the particular ceremony, and which Loa is to be called, depends on which type of material is used to draw the veve.
Each of the Loa's is represented by a colour, so flags are made and flown in the Oum'phor during the rites. These flags have designs drawn on them again to represent the Loa/Loa's being invoked.
When not in use the flags are placed against the Pe to renew their magickal energy.
Food for the Loa
During the ceremonies ritual food and drink is offered to the Loa. Each of the Loa spirits have their favorite foods.
The correct food and drink must be offered during rituals so as not to offend and upset the Mysteries, but to bring forth their power and wisdom.
While the ceremonies are being performed batteries of drums are rhythmically beaten to raise the magickal energy within the Oum'phor.
Each of these drums have a significant meaning within the ceremony. Most represent the Rada and Pethro Loa.
The Voodoo devotees who play the drums are called the hountorguiers, and are guided and watched over by the Loa spirit, Papa Hounthor.
Blood sacrifices, which are for the most part chickens, are used to increase the power during ceremonies.
The sacrifice is rubbed against all four sides of the Poteau-mitan, the center post. It is then sprinkled with alcohol before have its crop plucked. The sign of the cross is then made over the bird before and it's throat is cut. The blood from the sacrifice is then poured on, and around the center post, and onto the ground where a veve has been traced.
It is very rare for human sacrifice to take place, but unfortunately on occasions it has been known to happen. This kind of sacrifice is connected only to the black magic rites within Voodoo, and which are only practiced by very few Voodoo devotees today.
The practice of black magic rites only goes to make up for abut 5% of all Voodoo rituals. The other 95% being performed for good and healing purposes.
Voodoo is a very complex religion and much deeper in form than it first appears. It does not deserve to be painted as black and sinister, but allowed to stand side by side with other religions from around the world. When you look closely, and scratch the surface of other belief systems and religions that claim to be the " ONE TRUE RELIGION", Voodoo shares many characteristics with them
Voodoo has not just been thrown together in some kind of mish mash way, but has grown and developed over time. Lets also remember that Voodoo has many "Catholic" beliefs incorporated into it's so called "primitive rituals and ceremonies", and many Catholic Saints are still worshipped by Voodoo devotees today. All too often in today's society if something is not understood it is frowned upon, and consequently mocked. Voodoo's darker reputation has not been helped over the years by its gross misrepresentation from within the world of film and media. Why do so many have a blinkered view of different religions from throughout our world. Who is to say which one of them is right, and which one is wrong? After all, each of us need something to believe in!