For the longest time I can remember, I have had this notion that voodoo is all about black magic, dolls, zombies and nothing more…therefore never really given it a thought. Recently though, I came across a documentary on Papa Doc Duverlier and it changed everything. So here I am, writing about the new found object of my research in summary of course.
Voodoo is a religion that originated from West Africa and incorporates beliefs from other religions such as catholicism, free masonary,and American mysticism. Voodooists believe that the world is made up of lwa/loa (spirits) both in the material and the unseen.The role of humans therefore is to sevilwa (serve the spirits) which they do by giving offerings to the lwa, singing and praying,spirit possessions, religious rites, building alters, use of talismans and devotional items. The lwa are called upon during rituals by houngans who are the priests and mambo who are the priestesses and in return for the offerings are expected to give good health, money, advice and so on. Bokors are the practitioners of black magic such as creation of talismans that house spirits. In New Orleans voodoo, the devotees are led by voodoo Kings and queens such as the famous voodoo king and queen Bayou John and Marie Laveau respectively.
The main voodoo deities.
Bondye is the chief spirit and all the other spirits answer to him. He however isn’t involved human affairs.
Damballa is a lwa associated with serpents, water, rain and life. He helped Bondye create the earth and is portrayed as a large serpent. He is also in charge of healing magic, knowledge and wisdom. He’s depicted circling the earth, entertwined with his wife or among the branches of the sacred tree. He is known as the protector of physically challenged people. The humans possessed by him do not speak but hiss instead.
Ayida is the female consort of Damballa and is the lwa associated with rainbows, snakes, fertility,and water. She’s depicted as a large rainbow coloured serpent wearing a jeweled headdress and most of the time she’s entertwined with her husband Damballa.
Erzuli is the lwa of love,beauty, femininity and womanhood. She’s portrayed in different forms such as the black madonna or mulatto woman with expensive clothing and jewelry. She’s called upon when it comes to motherhood or feminine sexuality.
Papa legba is a spirit depicted as an old man with a straw hat, tattered clothing, cane and is escorted with a dog. He is the spirit in charge of crossroads and is believed to grant access to the spirit world. In other places he’s a fertility spirit depicted with an erect penis and in others he’s seen as the protector of children and a trickster.
Bawon Samdi is the spirit in charge of graveyards and is associated with death. He’s depicted in formal clothing that involves a top hat, tailcoat, black cane with a skull handle and dark glasses which are believed to protect his eyes from the bright light once he’s out of his dark realm. The firstborn male to be buried in the cemetery is believed to become the manifestation of Bawon Samdi. Bawon is also believed to be associated with resurrection. He is the lwa connected to powerful acts of magic such as calling upon long dead ancestors.
Maman Brigitte is the wife to Bawon Samdi and therefore associated with death and the afterlife. She is the only lwa depicted as a white woman with fiery red hair in bright sexual clothing. She is believed to be a protector of women and a powerful healer (if an illness is to great for her to heal, then she eases the pain by guiding her believer to the afterlife). The first female to be buried in a cemetery is believed to be the manifestation of maman Brigitte.
Ogou is the lwa of metals and is associated with blacksmiths and warriors. He is depicted as a big handsome masculine man with a machete and a three legged iron couldron. He’s also in charge of guarding sacred temples, protecting of his followers and punishing unjust people especially those who break oaths sworn in his name. Ogou is known for his passion to beautiful women and cigars.
Others include Agwe who is lwa of the sea and waters, Mami wata who is a water spirit in form of a mermaid and Agassou who is the half human-half leopard spirit who makes money out of cigars.
Zombies are believed to be people brought back from the world of the dead and controlled by bokors to carry out tasks or labor. The idea of a soul trapped in its body and yet has no control of its own body strikes fear in the hearts of many.
Voodoo dolls serve a different purpose in the religion which does not include inflicting pain on enemies. The dolls are used in rituals such as healing, they are hung from trees in cemeteries to open and maintain communication with long dead ancestors and attract lwas and invoke their influence on a person.