While the first thing you might think of when you’re learning about Voodoo are the dolls, there is much more to the story. Not only did Voodoo begin in Africa, but it has a dark history of spreading around the world due to the slave trade. And as the practice and its practitioners were moved around the world, the original practice of Voodoo gained new influences, aiding in its ability to translate across time and across religions. Each location of birth and resurgence for Voodoo had its own characteristics. Here are the basics of African Voodoo, Haitian Voodoo, and Louisiana Voodoo.
African Voodoo: the ancient practice
According to some scholars, African Voodoo might be as old as the continent itself. Also known as Vudun, this Voodoo is still practiced in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, and Togo by around 30 million people. Those who still practice this form of Voodoo believe there are spirits all around us, helping to oversee the world of humans and beings. In this practice, there are gods who oversee the spirits and elements, while also overseeing the society as a whole. Those humans on Earth who are clergy are those who will deal with more minor concerns than the gods or spirits.
What’s consistent about this practice is that it believes that spirits and humans inhabit the same space. In this belief, it is clear that appeasing the spirits will help to make things better in the human space, while not paying attention to the idea of spirits might have negative consequences.
Haitian Voodoo: as slavery spread
Originating in Haiti, this practice of Voodoo is one of a combination of African beliefs and the Christian beliefs of the slave owners. Within the practice of Haitian Voodoo, there are Lwa, or spirits, that are under a higher God called Bondye. While Bondye does not meddle in human affairs, the spirits do, so the practitioners of this type of Voodoo will engage directly with the spirits to aid them with their lives and troubles.
This type of Voodoo is practiced in the Dominican Republic, the United States, the Bahamas, and in some parts of Cuba.
Louisiana Voodoo a.k.a. New Orleans Voodoo
As Voodoo spread even further into the new lands, it settled once again in the New Orleans area of Louisiana. The French, Creole, and Spanish speaking Africans brought over this tradition as slaves being purchased and moved to different lands. What makes this Voodoo practice different is that it focuses on the use of gris-gris (some call these mojo bags) and on Voodoo Queens. In addition, the worship of a snake deity is featured prominently in the workings.
Because of the closeness of New Orleans to Christian groups, those beliefs and practices became a part of the Voodoo tradition. Just as spirits are prayed to and worshipped in other forms of Voodoo, the Catholic saints became those who are worshipped in Louisiana Voodoo. Alongside the spirits, the saints have become respected parts of the practice of offerings and workings.
Across the lands, Voodoo spread with the movement of slaves and their descendants. Though the practice stems back to Africa, and there are consistent practices, there are just as many nuances that each practitioner brings to Voodoo. Whether through song, through rootwork, through dance, or through spirit possession, Voodoo is a vibrant tradition that continues to live in the people and in the understanding that spirits are among us. They follow us and they can help us heal.
But to really know Voodoo is to experience it and to feel the magic of working with ancient spirits and ancestors.
Ayibobo to all,
Mambo Marie-Brigitte La Croix and Mambo La Marassa Lola Donette