Voodoo as a religion has its roots in traditional African religions. It original name is Vodu, but that paved way for the more widespread name; Voodoo. Other names referring to it include “Voudou, Vaudau, Voudoux, or Vaudaux” (Tallant 9). Captured slaves from West Africa carried its essential ideology into Haiti, then to America.
The practice of Voodoo involves, “complicated rituals and symbols” (Riguad 7). It involves the worship of spiritual deities, with priests called papa loa, which means “father of the spirits” (Felix 21), and priestesses acting as intermediaries between the spiritual world, and humanity.
Some of them also operate as oracles, revealing spiritual mysteries to those who seek their services. The term Voodoo also describes a charm that has supernatural powers known as juju. Adherents believe that it acts as a protective force over them. They also use it to mete out revenge on their enemies. Voodoo therefore refers to an entire religious system and to certain specific aspects of its practice.
Voodoo picked pace from the practices of a snake cult in Haiti during the slave trade period. The cult came from West Africa and spread with slave trade, in the Americas and to Haiti. As new slave communities grew in the Americas, different religious identities amalgamated into a unified faith as the slave communities tried to forge a common belief system to unify them in their new locales.
Felix says, “Voodoo became the intermingling of essential attributes of all the religions of the different African tribes to which poorly assimilated elements of Catholicism were added” (20). Voodoo got its form in Haiti, which was an important station during slave trade.
Missionary efforts among the slaves saw them incorporate elements of Catholicism in practice of the Voodoo religion. In the process, some Voodoo spirits replaced catholic saints because of close relationships between their roles.
Currently, it is common to find prayers offered to Mary and other Catholic elements such as the Lord’s Prayer and the sign of the cross forming part of the Voodoo liturgy. In fact, many Voodoo adherents are staunch Catholics. In America, Voodoo practice first took place in New Orleans before spreading to other states. This was because of the role New Orleans played in slave trade.
The Voodoo belief system builds on the idea of an all-powerful impersonal Supreme Being responsible for creation of the entire universe, but who does not get involved in day-to-day running characterized by the affairs of men. The adherents worship lesser deities known as Loa who are animistic spirits. The initial practice of Voodoo revolved around slave communities that sought to retain the vital link with their ancestral heritage.
Present followers include descendants of these slaves spread throughout the Americas. In addition, tourists all over the world visit Voodoo priests and priestesses in America and Haiti to obtain special charms and amulets for all manner of purposes. Its practice involves praying, dancing, and ritualistic expressions. It is important to distinguish between faithful adherents who actually believe in power of Voodoo, and those who participate in Voodoo recreational purposes.
The use of dolls in Voodoo is the enduring image of the faith system though this is only a piece of the entire system. This view, propagated by Hollywood horror movies, depicts Voodoo priests as spiritual powerhouses using the dolls to control the outcome of an individual’s activities. There are a number of opponents to Voodoo who believe it is evil. Official catholic faith rejects Voodoo as demonic and considers use of saints in the Voodoo liturgy as syncretism.
The question of whether Voodoo is fact or fiction is hard to answer sufficiently using a scientific approach. It does not lend itself to purely scientific investigation to determine its efficacy. This is true for all faith-based systems. Evidence given by practicing Voodoo adherents does not meet criteria for objective study because they are likely to associate ordinary outcomes to their faith. It is difficult to dissociate outcomes of Voodoo mediated occurrences from random chance.
The Placebo effect also applies to Voodoo. Someone may actually experience a favorable outcome because of participation in Voodoo rituals based on their belief in the efficacy of the service received. Taking a healing portion from a Voodoo priest may result in better physical health. We can therefore conclude that Voodoo is effective to the extent that such outcomes portray a positive relationship to Voodoo practice.
Voodoo has had many tangible consequences in the world. The most notable was the drive towards independence by Haiti, which begun in earnest during a Voodoo festival, where all the participants took an oath to fight for independence. Consequently, Haiti became the first predominantly Negro nation to attain independence. Riguad also attest to some of the effects of voodoo practice when he says, “a curious moral consequence of the slave trade was the exaltation of the African religion by an increase of faith in the Voodoo divinities” (12).
Berry identifies one of the mystifying occurrences of Voodoo when he says, “One of the most spectacular features of Voodoo is ritual possession trance, in which saints (loa) enter into and “possess” the practitioner, who can either be a believer (with no special psychological problem), a patient, or a priest/doctor who seeks to heal”. This shows that Voodoo is not without its share of paranormal occurrences that science cannot fully explain.
Berry, John, et al. Cross-cultural psychology: research and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Print.
Felix, Emmanuel. Understanding Haitian Voodoo. USA: Xulon Press, 2009. Print
Riguad, Milo. Secrets of voodoo. New York: Lights Books, 1985. Print.
Tallant, Robert. Voodoo in New Orleans. Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 1983. Print.