What is the history of voodoo ?

The name VooDoo is traceable to an African word for “spirit”. VooDoo can be directly traced to the West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey. Its roots may go back 6,000 years in Africa. That country occupied parts of today’s Togo, Benin and Nigeria. Slaves brought their religion with them when they were forcibly shipped to Haiti and other islands in the West Indies.

During the colonial times VooDoo was actively practiced. “Many Priests were either killed or imprisoned, and their shrines destroyed, because of the threat they posed to Euro-Christian/Muslim dominion. This forced some of the Dahomeans to form VooDoo Orders and to create underground societies, in order to continue the veneration of their ancestors, and the worship of their powerful gods.” It is also followed by most of the adults in Haiti. It can be found in many of the large cities in North America, particularly in New Orleans.

An inaccurate and sensational book (S. St. John, “Haiti or the Black Republic”) was written in 1884.  This book described VooDoo as a profoundly evil religion. It included cannibalism, lurid descriptions of human sacrifice and so on. Some believed Voodoo priests were tortured with great force for the information.  The people outside of the West Indies caught on to this book and they were responsible for much of the misunderstanding of voodoo as well as the fear that is present today with voodoo. Hollywood found this a rich source for Voodoo screen plays. Horror movies began in the 1930′s and continue today to misrepresent VooDoo. It is only since the late 1950′s that accurate studies by anthropologists have been published.

Voodoo History

VooDoo, like Christianity, is a religion of many traditions. Each group follows a different spiritual path and worships a slightly different pantheon of spirits called Loa. The word means “mystery” in the Yoruba language. Yoruba traditional beliefs included a remote and unknowable chief God Olorun. This chief authorized God Obatala, a lesser god, to create all the life forms on earth. A battle between the two Gods led to Obatala’s temporary banishment. There are hundreds of minor spirits. Those which originated from Dahomey are called Rada; those who were added later are often deceased leaders in the new world and are called Petro. Some of these Voodoo followers believed that each person has a soul which is made of two parts: a gros bon ange or “big guardian angel”, and a ti bon ange or “little guardian angel”. The latter leaves the body during sleep and when the person is possessed by a Loa during a ritual. There is a concern that the ti bon ange can be damaged or captured by evil sorcery while it is free of the body.

The purpose of rituals is to make contact with a spirit, to gain their favor by offering them animal sacrifices and gifts, to obtain help in the form of more abundant food, higher standard of living, and improved health. Human and Loa depend upon each other; humans provide food and other materials; the Loa provide health, protection from evil spirits and good fortune. Rituals are held to celebrate lucky events, to attempt to escape a run of bad fortune, to celebrate a seasonal day of celebration associated with a Loa, for healing, at birth, marriage and death. VooDoo priests can be male (houngan or hungan), or female (mambo). A VooDoo temple is called a hounfour (or humfort). At its center is a poteau-mitan a pole where the God and spirits communicate with the people. An altar will be elaborately decorated with candles, pictures of Christian saints, symbolic items related to the Loa, etc.

One belief unique to VooDoo is that a dead person can be revived after having been buried. After resurrection, the zombie has no will of their own, but remains under the control of others. In reality, a zombie is a living person who has never died, but is under the influence of powerful drugs administered by an evil sorcerer. Although most Haitians believe in zombies, few have ever seen one. There are a few recorded instances of persons who have claimed to be zombies.

New Orleans Voodoo History

Sticking pins in “voodoo dolls” was once used as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of VooDoo in New Orleans; this practice continues occasionally in South America. The practice became closely associated with Voodoo in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies.

Voodoo-king is located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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