Origins, Meanings, And Myths Of Voodoo
Voodoo (Vodou, Vodoun, Vudu, or Vudun in Benin, Togo, southeastern Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Senegal; also Vodou in Haiti) is a name attributed to a traditionally uten West African spiritual system of faith and ritual practices. Like most faith systems, the core functions of Voodoo are to explain the forces of the universe, influence those forces, and influence human behavior. Voodoo’s oral tradition of faith stories carries genealogy, history and fables to succeeding generations. Adherents honor deities and venerate ancient and recent ancestors. This faith system is widespread across groups in West Africa. Diaspora spread Voodoo to North and South America and the Caribbean.African origins
The cultural area of the Fon, Gun, Mina and Ewe peoples share common metaphysical conceptions around a dual cosmological divine principle Nana Buluku, the God-Creator, and the Vodun(s) or God-Actor(s), daughters and sons of the Creator’s twin children Mawu (goddess of the moon) and Lisa (god of the sun). The God-Creator is the cosmogonical principle and does not trifle with the mundane; the Vodun(s) are the God-Actor(s) who actually govern earthly issues.
The Pantheon of Voduns is quite large and complex, though not complete. In one version, there are seven twins female and male of Mawu, interethnic and related to natural phenomena or historical or mythical individuals, and dozens of ethnic Voduns, defenders of a certain clan or tribe.
West African Vodou has its primary emphasis on the ancestors, with each family of spirits having its own specialized priest- and priestesshood which are often hereditary. In many African clans, deities might include Mami Wata, who are gods and goddesses of the waters; Legba, who in some clans is virile and young in contrast to the old man form he takes in Haiti and in many parts of Togo; Gu, ruling iron and smithcraft; Sakpata, who rules diseases; and many other spirits distinct in their own way to West Africa.
European colonialism, followed by totalitarian regimes in West Africa, suppressed Vodun as well as other forms of the religion. However, because the Vodou deities are born to each African clan-group, and its clergy is central to maintaining the moral, social, and political order and ancestral foundation of its villagers, it proved to be impossible to eradicate the religion. Though permitted by Haiti’s 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.
Today in West Africa, the Vodou religion is estimated to be practised by over 30 million people. Vodoun became the official religion of Benin in 1996.
Both American and Caribbean variations of the faith system center on ancestral spirits and two main pantheons of Lwas; tribal relationships are de-emphasized.Origin and usage of the term
Voodoo (Vodun or Vudun in Benin and Togo; also Vodou in Haiti; Vodon, Voudoun, Voudou, or other phonetically equivalent spellings) has various roots. These include the Fon, Mina, Kabye, Ewe, and Yoruba peoples of West Africa, from western Nigeria to eastern Ghana.
The word Vodún (Vodoun Vudu) is the Fon-Ewe word for spirit. The word Voodoo is primarily used to describe the Afro-creole tradition of New Orleans, Vodou is used to describe the Haitian Vodou Tradition, while Vudon and Vodun and Vodoun are used to describe the deities honored in the Brazilian Jeje (Ewe) nation of Candomble as well as West African Vodoun, and in the African diaspora. Voodoo or Hoodoo also refer to African-American folk spirituality of the southeastern USA, with roots in West African traditional or “folk” spirituality. When the word Vodou/Vodoun is capitalized, it denotes the Religion proper. When the word is used in small caps, it denotes folk spirituality, or the actual deities honored in each respective tradition.
Although the word “Vudu” (Ewe) and “Vodou” (Fon) are ancient words still extant in West Africa, some western scholars have speculated that the word “voodoo” is a transliteration of the French words vous tous (pronounced voo-too), meaning ‘you all’. The name vodu comes from the West African language, Fon meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘deity’. The Kongo rites, also known in the north of Haiti as Lemba (originally practiced among the Bakongo) and is as widespread as the West African elements. The Vodoun religion was suppressed during slavery and Reconstruction in the United States, but maintained most of its West African elements.
The Fon tradition in Cuba is known La Regla Arará.Myths and misconceptions
Public relations-wise, Vodou has come to be associated in the popular mind with the lore about Satanism, zombies and “voodoo dolls.” While there is evidence of zombie creation, it is a minor phenomenon within rural Haitian culture and not a part of the Vodou religion as such. Such things fall under the auspices of the bokor or sorcerer rather than the priest of the Loa.
The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in European folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, which is a local variant of hoodoo, is a mystery. Some speculate that it was used as a means of self defense to intimidate superstitious slave owners. This practice is not unique to New Orleans voodoo, however, and has as much basis in European-based magical devices such as the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa.
These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti would be referred to as pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port au Prince. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.
There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by voodoo worshippers in popular media and imagination, ie. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa.
Although Voodoo is often associated with Satanism, Satan is primarily an Abrahamic figure and has not been incorporated in Voodoo tradition. When Mississippi Delta folksongs mix references to Voodoo and to Satan, what is being expressed is social pain such as from racism, which is couched in Christian terms and blamed on the devil. Those who practice voodoo do not worship or invoke the blessings of a devil.
Further adding to the dark reputation of Voodoo was the 1954 thriller “Live and Let Die”, part of Ian Fleming’s widely successful James Bond series, which had been continually in print in both the English original and translations to numerous tongues. Fleming’s depiction of the schemings of a fiendish Soviet agent using Voodoo to intimidate and control a vast network of submissive Black followers got an incomparably greater audience than any careful scholarly work on the subject of Voodoo.