The African slaves were forced to emigrate to the Caribbean and then to the New World at the beginning of the 16th century A.D. had no idea that their beliefs and religious practices will thrive. The trade slave was first eminent in the Caribbean and later in the United States, particularly in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Voodoo that grew and expanded in Haiti had its differences with the New Orleans Voodoo but the two sects have more commonalities than they care to admit.
Voodoo beliefs recognize that there is one supreme being who created the earth and the universe much like the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam belief that there is only one supreme God. Though the Muslims only have Mohammed as their revered prophet, the Roman Catholics have the saints and the Voodoo practitioners have their Loas. The Voodoo worshippers believe that the one supreme being is unreachable in terms of a personal relationship so that they turn to lesser deities called loas for their everyday guidance. Loas are the spirits of their ancestors, evil and good spirits, animal spirits and natural forces. The voodoo followers believe that anything they ask or “pray” for will be rallied by the loas to a supreme god. These loas found their counterparts in Roman Catholicism in the form of revered saints. Since the African slaves were not permitted to practice Voodoo in general and to worship their loas in particular, they masked their loas and their rituals in Roman Catholicism.
The Priests and Priestesses
Voodoo priests are called Hougans while priestesses are called Mambos. These hougans and mambos were chosen by revered ancestors or loas and received their “divination” from the said loas at the time when they were “possessed”. Voodoo rituals include a lot of spirit possession. Their job entails healing, conducting ceremonies and rituals to call and pacify spirits, fortune telling, casting spells and incantations and creating potions. The spells and potions are categorized and made according to a person’s needs. They do not come for free and as a matter of fact there are numerous websites selling potions and magic stones as cure-all, solve-all solutions.
Perhaps the most notorious of all Voodoo Queens was Marie Laveau. In the 19th century she was reputed to have special powers to cure and earned a hefty income by selling amulets, charms, magic powders, gris-gris and more.
Houngans (Male Voodoo Priest) or Mambos (Female Voodoo Priest) are usually people who had chosen by the dead ancestors (loas) and received the divination from the deities while he or she possessed. His tendency is to do good by helping and protecting others from spelled, however they therefore use their supernatural power to hurt or kill people. There are different stages to be hurdled before becoming a voodoo priest or priestess.
Voodoo believes that the human soul has two parts – the ti-bon-ange which means little good angel and gros-bon-ange meaning great good angel. It is believed that the gros-bon-ange is the life force of the body and that after death it must return to the universe. As a guarantee that the ti-bon-ange has a peaceful rest, the gros-bon-ange must be summoned back to earth through an elaborate ritual that involves the sacrifice of a large animal, preferably an ox. If the ti-bon-ange is not satisfied with the offering the little good angel might not be led to a peaceful rest and the spirit bounded to earth to wreck havoc on other.
Voodoo rituals are elaborate and mysterious. A voodoo temple is called a hounfort which is actually a columned space with a roof but no walls, much like a Greek peristyle. Voodoo ceremonies are held in a hounfort that has an altar at one end of the structure. The altar is filled with objects that are symbolical: food; money; candles; necklaces; amulets; ceremonial rattles; bells; drums; knives; sacred stones; bottles of rum and pictures of Catholic Saints. Saint Peter is Papa Limba and the serpent used in Voodoo ceremonies is called Li Grand Zombi which has an affinity to Saint Patrick. The “Hail Mary” and the Lord’s Prayer are also integrated in voodoo worship.
Voodoo rituals are full of secret languages and spirit- possessed dancing. The voodoo hougans and mambos eat a special diet before doing their rituals. It is the belief of voodoo followers that the spirit if the dead are with them during the spirit-possessed dancing and that touching the spirit-possessed dancers is said to be dangerous.
Amulets, talismans, gris-gris, statuettes representing loas, dried animal body parts are sold for medicinal purposes and for spiritual powers. Voodoo also has a dark side when participants call on the evil spirits and throw hexes on enemies.
It is quite hard to reconcile the authentic voodoo from the “commercial” voodoo. There are websites that sell different voodoo dolls and amulets to serve different needs and purposes. There’s a voodoo doll for luck, for money, for love and even an “all-purpose” voodoo doll. The pins sticking out of voodoo dolls may be passé but it is said that one can actually “talk” to a voodoo doll representing a real person and make that person do whatever it is you want him to do through the voodoo doll.
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