If you are looking for voodoo dolls, zombies, and black magic, you’ve come to the wrong place. Voodoo (voudou, Vodou, Vodun) is probably as ancient as civilization in Africa, making the belief system that is Voodoo at least as old as Christianity. It came to the Western Hemisphere with the slave trade and is still practiced in the Caribbean, the southern U.S., and many other regions around the world. Voodoo has nothing to do with Satan.
In fact, Voodoo shares many beliefs with Christianity and even uses Catholic symbolism (Partly to avoid unwanted attention during the slave days, Voodooists named the Lwa after Catholic saints and conducted rituals similar to Catholicism). Voodooists divide existence into the visible world and the invisible world. When we die we pass from the visible to the invisible and our ancestors can help us do that successfully. In addition to ancestors, Voodooists pay heed to Loa or Lwa. These are aspects of the spirit—sort of like the Greek gods and goddesses represented different aspects–Aphrodite for love and so on. People respect and pray to the Lwa for favors and guidance just as Catholics pray to specific saints. The Lwa are accessible and responsive whereas the one Good God, Bondye, is beyond human comprehension.
In addition to ancestors and Lwa, voodooist have immense respect and knowledge of the natural world. Wise women mix potions and charms using herbs and seek the wisdom of the ancestors in natural phenomena and divination. Priests and priestesses make up the clergy and they intercede and seek guidance for others from the Lwa.
Different Voodoo communities practice the religion each in their own unique manner. Voodoo has no sacred text, leaving the practices up to the specific community and ultimately the individual since no two people can experience spirituality in exactly the same way. Thanks to movies, misinformation, and racism, Voodoo has gotten a bad rap. The only voodoo dolls are those made to represent the Lwa used in prayers. See my post about Poppets if you want to know where using dolls to curse came from.
Just a few weeks ago, a local journalist reported on the efforts of a group of volunteers in Haiti. I was with her up until she told me the group (a Christian organization who does wonderful work in devastated areas all around the globe) came in contact with a Voodoo priest. She then proceeded to tell me the priest worshipped Satan and she sprinkled other tidbits of knowledge concerning Voodoo which seemed to come straight from Hollywood. I am left with only a few possibilities—discounting out-and-out lying, because I am not convinced anyone associated with the story is smart enough to lie. I suspect, the priest either told them what they wanted to hear or they interpreted his words the way they wanted to interpret them. The whole thing left me pondering the failings of American journalism. But this post isn’t about that.