When most people hear the word “Voodoo” they immediately think of rag dolls being endlessly poked by pins or just the entire country of Haiti. But before you form judgments on the beliefs of others because of what society tells you, I would simply suggest doing your research first. Before you all think I am a practicing Voodoo-tarian; pump your brakes. I am simply telling you what I have learned from my internet travails so far. Never have I practiced it. So lets dissect what Voodoo is.
The actual originating name is Vodun. Vodun has several spellings such as Vodon, Vodoun, Vodou, Voudou, or the one we are akin to… Voodoo (in America). Vodun means “spirit” in the Fon and Ewe languages of West Africa. Vodun originates from the Fon people in the country of Benin. It can also be found in other west African countries such as Togo, Ghana, and Nigeria.
Vodun is the worship of the divine female deity, Nana Buluku. She was the most influential deity in the West African past. She is known as the Nana Bukuu among the Yoruba people and the Olisabuluwa among Igbo people. Some choose to worship her directly while others worship the lesser Gods that originate from her. Nana Buluku gave birth to the moon spirit Mawu (female), the sun spirit Lisa (male), and the entire universe. After doing this, she left the matters to Mawu and Lisa, referring to them as Mawu-Lisa, an androgynous spirit. In some regions, Mawu and Lisa were thought to me man and wife. Mawu provides the cool of the night, peace, fertility, and rain. Lisa brings the day and the heat, and also strength and energy. An African proverb says ‘When Lisa punishes, Mawu forgives. Mawu-Lisa created the world, numerous minor imperfect deities to bring order the world, plants, animals and humans in four days.
The process was as follows:
- Day 1, Mawu-Lisa created the world and humanity
- Day 2, the earth was made suitable for human life
- Day 3, humans were given intellect, language, and the senses
- Day 4, mankind received the gift of technology
Sounds like the creation story in the bible minus three days doesn’t it?
It is thought that Mawu bore seven children – the lesser Gods if you will – Sakpata: Earth, Xêvioso (or Xêbioso): Thunder, Agbe: Sea, Gû: War, Agê: Agriculture and Forests, Jo:Air, and Lêgba: The Unpredictable. Sounds kinda like Captain Planet doesnt it?
Known as the youngest son of Mawu, Legba is the chief of all Vodun divinities. It is only through contact with Legba that it becomes possible to contact the other gods because he is the guardian at the door of the spirits. He is the guardian to around 100 deities.
These deities were called upon by humans in various rituals which to the modernized world looks somewhat barbaric. But to a Vodun’s practicing eye, it is normal and expected. In the Vodun belief unlike in the modern day where you pray to your higher being, the use of physical things and nature are used to call upon Vodun deities to fix the issues in the human world. In the 15th century, as West Africans arrived unwillingly on the American shores, they held onto what little they had, which included their beliefs, the best way they could while adhering to a new diminishing way of life. Vodun would become Voodoo, and other religions like Santaria, and Candomble – modified versions of the original.
Variations of Voodoo exist today in places like Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Louisiana, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and other countries in the Caribbean as a result of the Modern Day slave trade. The main religion of Benin with 17% of the population, about 1.6 million people, is that of Vodun. As of 1991, Benin holds an International Vodun Conference held in the city of Ouidah in Benin every year. Besides those who claim Vodun as their main religion, about 41.5% of the population practice Christianity with a syncretized version of Vodun. The same can be said in the Americas. In the Catholic sect of Christianity, saints have taken the place of the lesser Gods once worshipped in the Vodun traditions.
Are you all scared yet? I would suggest that all not view Voodoo as the work of the Devil because from my research it seems like it was the original religion of West Africa and to conquer the people from this region, colonizers had to make its colonized believe that what they believed was wrong and the work of the devil. Wouldn’t it make sense that in the work to mentally enslave a race of people, you would also remove them from their spiritual connection which links them to whom they are? Just saying, doesn’t it make sense? Food for thought I suppose.
P.S. Check out this gem (link) that I found on the Smithsonian website. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-trial-that-gave-vodou-a-bad-name-83801276/