Voodoo is far different from the frightening primal and darkly twisted religion that is portrayed in popular culture. It is an over-arching term for the different types of tribal religions developed by Africans as their religions were affected by the influence of Christianity while in Africa and as they were forced to adjust their practices while in slavery. There are three main types of Voodoo: West African, Haitian, and Louisiana. West African is considered by many to be the purist form of voodoo, while Haitian and Louisiana voodoo are much more hybrid. It is important to note that Voodoo is not the same as Hoodoo, though many people use the terms inter-changeably (and often in a derogatory fashion). Hoodoo is little more than folk magic, using the techniques of the Congo people but lacking any of the important religious elements of it.
Voodoo: An Animist Religion
Voodoo is an animist religion. An animist religion is a religion that believes that all non-human entities are spiritual and have a soul. Animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder and lightening, rivers, etc., are all believed to have a soul or spirit that can be spoken to. Animism is one of the most ancient forms of religion, dating back to our earliest ancestors and their attempts to understand the world around them. Voodoo worships the Loa or Lwa, and the ancestors and plays a major role in the lifestyle of those who practice it. Furthermore, each of the different types of voodoo are unique to the culture that practices them, and even within those cultures there will be deviations and differences that make them unique to that family or village.
Voodoo and Catholicism
The merger of Voodoo and Catholicism was natural in many ways. There were definite parallels between the two systems of religion that made it easy for things like the Catholic saints to be absorbed and worked into Voodoo in the form of the Loa. There are two distinct types of Loa, the Rada Loa who are seen as the ‘good’ Loa; they are the guardians of customs and traditions. The Petro Loa are the ‘bad’ Loas. The Petro Loas are masters of magic, often seen as reckless forces of nature. Both will use defensive or offensive magic, and both may be appealed to for justice or assistance. As with any form of ‘magic’ the biggest problem with Voodoo isn’t the spirits themselves, but the people who are requesting help from the spirits. If you ask the Loa to do something with love in your heart that is entirely different than if you appeal to the Loas to do something harmful or cause someone to come to harm.
Types of Voodoo
There are three main types of voodoo: West African, Louisiana, and Haitian. While similar each of them have their own distinct ways of performing rituals and different influences. Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo was influenced not just by the Catholics of the area, but also by the general French and Spanish populations. It emphasizes the use of gris-gris, Voodoo queens, the acceptance and usage of Hoodoo tools, and their belief in the supreme being as Li Grand Zombi. Haitian Voodoo is a combination of different voodoo practices, combined by the different tribes of slaves who were brought together to work on the plantations as well as the Catholicism of their owners. These vodouists believe in Bondye and much like their Catholic counterparts believe that it is only through the Saints that they can speak with God, the Vodouists believe that it is only through the Loa that they can speak to Bondye. West African Voodoo is practiced the countries of West Africa and is less influenced by the traditions of Christianity. In these countries and villages Voodoo is a part of their everyday life; something more than a religion.
In practicing Voodoo there are a number of rituals and ceremonies that may be used. Some of these may be public or private and include everything from divination to taking a spiritual bath to open one up to healing, they may be a wanga or spell to help someone or a gad to protect someone. Anvwa Mo can be used to to smite an enemy or to protect someone using spirits of the dead, while a Pwen Cho is used to capture a spirit and control it. Pwen Achte is similar, except with this the spirit is given to someone else. In a Mariaj Lwa a person marries themselves to a Loa, binding themselves to the Loa. Some of rituals may involve animal sacrifice, but it is important to understand that in voodoo animal sacrifice isn’t done because of a desire to cause pain or harm, but instead to help re-invigorate the Loa because since Voodoo is an animist religion they believe that the energy of the animal is tied directly to the Lwa and so it will help to energize them.