Voodoo is a word that strikes fear and suspicion in the hearts of many Westerners. This is due to the false impression created by the over zealous movie industry over the years. In fact Voodoo has its origins in Central and West Africa and is a very old form of religious belief. It is used primarily for good purposes - to ensure abundant fishing - to guaranteee that the rains come on time for a good yield of crops - and as a form of protection against harm. This protection can be insurance that your house is not struck by lightning - or that evil spirits do not enter - or that a marriage be blessed - or that a journey will be without hazard. The list of reasons to employ and summon a voodoo god is endless. Throughout West Africa Voodoo is practiced mainly in the countries of Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Each country - even each village - has its own pantheon of Voodoo gods and deities - some of which are unique to that village. But all Voodoo practicioners recognize a number of gods that are the same. They may be known by different names because of language differences, but they are the same gods that rule certain elements. One such universal Vodoo god is Shango - the god of thunder and lightning.
When slaves were captured and exported to the New World, many wound up in Brazil, Cuba and Haiti as well as The early United States. Voodoo in New Orleans took on a different form and survives today as a modified form of African Voodoo. The same thing happened in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. In the islands, Catholic priests feared the slaves might rise up in revolt. The practice of Voodoo was outlawed upon punishment which even included death. There were at least three Catholic purges of Voodoo in Haiti during the island's early history. It was forbidden even to play drums. The slaves knew that Voodoo was a common bond between them and cleverly incorporated their Voodoo gods into the guise of various Catholic saints. Thus they could continue to worship the Voodoo gods and the church was left believing that the "heathens" were worshipping Catholic saints. Voodoo continued for a time under this disguise and eventually the slaves rose up in revolt and attained their freedom. Haiti was the first liberated slave colony in the New World and it was brought about by the Voodoo cults. This is why Voodoo remains a dominant force in present day Haiti. As did Cuba and Brazil, the Haitians introduced new elements into the religion to accommodate their beliefs and the integration of Catholocism. One belief that Haiti introduced is "zombification" - the art of reviving the dead. It is a practice unique to Haiti and does not exist in African Voodoo. It is the cult of the Zombies that inspired Hollywood to exploit Voodoo in the horror genre of films. And it is because of this that Voodoo has been associated with something evil by the majority of Westerners.
This is a "Guardian of the Night"spirit dancer. They are found throughout the voodoo cults of West Africa from Aflao in Ghana - across Togo - across Benin - into the Yoruba land of Nigeria. The straw-rattan costumes are considered to be houses for the Guardian of the Night. Priests usually demonstrate an empty costume by showing it to onlookers who can see the inside. It is placed on the ground and prayers are chanted. Suddenly the costume begins to shake, indicating that the spirit has entered it and taken on its form. At the end of a dance or procession, the priests will again turn the costume up-side-down and show that it is empty - meaning the spirit has departed. Sometimesthere will be something left behind such as a bottle with a bird trappedinside. The bottle may be broken and the bird set free by the priests. There are many variations on this theme. Sometimes dogs or cats appear inside the empty costume and run away.
This is the High Priestess of Shango in Ouidah - Benin. she presides over any ceremony when Shango is invoked. She is considered to have a special relationship with the god. Any who would attend a Shango ceremony must first be screened by the priestess to determine whether they are worthy to witness the embodiment of the god in a priest or priestess. the High Priestess consults kola nuts and reads the signs. If the signs are favorable, the visitor may stay and witness the ceremony. It is thought that the kola nuts are one of the mediums of communication between the gods and priests.
Shango is the God of Thunder and Lightning. When his spirit is invoked, priests or priestesses go into trance and receive the spirit into their bodies. In this trance they will dance for very long periods of time. A group of drummers keeps things moving along - there can be many dancers who all receive the spirit simultaneously. A fair bit of alcohol is often consumed by both dancers and drummers.
The symbol of the serpent eating its own tail is one found throughout a number of cult religions. In voodoo it symbolizes the "Circle of Life" - or the completion of a cycle. It is because of this symbolism that serpents are held in high regard in Benin - the cradle of voodoo. This statue is in the Sacred Forest on the periphery of the village of Ouidah. There is an entire pantheon of voodoo gods represented in the forest in the form of over 40 statues. The Sacred Forest is also used for certain voodoo ceremonies at some times of the year.
Ouidah is well know for its cult of snake worshipers. The Sacred Temple of Serpents houses over 400 pythons which are tended by a priest cult devoted to the task. Live pythons are worn as ornamentation during certain voodoorites. The snakes are sacred and are protected under voodoo law. Nobody may kill a python without incurring the wrath of gods who are the spiritual embodiment of serpents.
Ritual scarification is carried out be some priestesses inthe Voodoo cults of Benin. These extremely painful episodes are carried out upon advanced priestesses in the hierarchy of the priesthood. The priesthood is, of course, held in high esteem by the community. Marks such as these are an instant form of visual recognition for the higher rank of priestesses. Oddly enough, the practice is not done by men or priests.
These are high priests and priestesses of the Voodoo Cult of Ouidah in Benin. It was taken during the same celebrations as the Dervish dancers.
These are Voodoo priests dancing a dervish in Ouidah, Benin. The occasion was a minor Voodoo holiday wherein homage is paid to all the gods of the Voodoo pantheon. The hooped skirts which flare out in the whirling motions are unique to the region and are worn by both men and women - but more commonly the men.
This is the shrine of Dankoly in central Benin. The shrine is located in the middle of nowhere and provides a local industry for the priest cult which attends it. Dankoly is the only Voodoo shrine in Benin used expressly for Revenge purposes. Pilgrims journey to Dankoly to curse their enemies and the God is much feared. The priest pours alcoholic spirits and palm oil onto the shrine invoking the God as the pilgrim pounds a small stake in the ground. During this action the pilgrim utters his curse and begs the God to inflict harm on the recipient of the curse. As you can see, this is a very old shrine. The mound is nearly 7 feet high and is composed of numerous sacrifices of blood, feathers, oil and alcohol. The many stakes - each bearing a curse - are seen surrounding the shrine mound.
The priest in this photo is holding a chicken whose poor unfortunate throat has been cut. The blood is dripping onto the shrine of the Voodoo God Shango. Shango rules Thunder and Lightning and is much feared in West Africa. These ceremonies are conducted to appease the God and ensure that calamity does not happen to the community. This cult is located in Ouidah - Benin - West Africa. Ouidah is the cradle of all Voodoo.
Voodoo is an Ancestral and Nature tradition, in which spiritual transformation is achieved via the direct communion with specialized Voodoo gods (of nature), born within the respective African lineage's, and the ancestors who served them. Honor and supplication is also bestowed to those ancestors who have evolved, and those who are in the process of evolving, as well as those who have lived lives that were both distinguished, and infamous/notorious. It is believed that lessons can be learned equally from all paths.
Voodoo 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 belief included a chief god Olorun, who is remote and unknowable. He authorized a lesser god Obatala to create the earth and all life forms. 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 are
There are a number of points of similarity between Roman Catholicism and Voodoo:
Followers of Voodoo believe that each person has a soul which is composed 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 or female. A Voodoo temple is called a hounfour (or humfort). At its center is a 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. Rituals consist of some of the following components:
The priests confine their activities to "white" magic which is used to bring good fortune and healing. However caplatas (also known as bokors) perform acts of evil sorcery or black magic, sometimes called "left-handed Voodoo". Rarely, a houngan will engage in such sorcery; a few alternate between white and dark magic.
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.
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.