The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Voodoo, are the famous “Voodoo dolls”. Nothing could be more wrong!
The origins of Voodoo
Voodoo had its origins in Benin, it spread to Togo, Ghana and Nigeria, then in the Caribbean, Haiti, Brazil and Louisiana with the black slave trade. Voodoo, in the local Fon language, means “God” and since 1996 it’s the state religion in Benin. It has been freely practiced in neighboring states. This religion was condemned as a form of “black magic”, associated with Satanism and witchcraft. However, its followers managed to pass it on in secret.
Today there are several museums about this cult. We can find the “Soul of Africa Museum” in Essen, Germany, the “Musèe Vodou” in France in Strasbourg, and the “New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum” in New Orleans in the United States.
Voodoo venerates a supreme God, Mawu, which literally means “God is great”. He is the creator of inferior divinities, the Lao, that are nature’s forces, souls of the deceased. The Lao, led by Papa Legba, determine the men’s destiny. Under his command operates Ogou Feray, god of war and blacksmiths, Sakpata, god of illness, Hebieso, god of storms, Mama Wata the goddess of water, much feared by fishermen. One of the most beloved deities is Dan, the rainbow python, a sacred and untouchable animal. Just to name a few!
Voodoo is based on three key points: Veve, sacrifice and possession. Veve are symbols used to invoke the Loa. Animal sacrifice is the culmination of every practice. It serves to channel energy so that the chosen Loa can descend into the earthly world through the body of the shaman (possession).
Voodoo’s charm is therefore lies in the perpetual fusion between the world of the living and that of the dead. You have access to it through spirits, masks, fetishes, rituals and above all intermediaries, the shamans!
Being a religion passed down orally, there are differences between the various regions regarding the rites practiced. But above all, before being a religion, Voodoo is a philosophy of life. In fact, it does not only concern the religious sphere. Followers get in touch with the spirits of deities not only to communicate with the deceased but also for other reasons such as future predictions or solving problems of a different nature. One thing is certain: those who are initiated into Voodoo will be protected forever by the spirits. Voodoo also protects all people close to the initiate.
Voodoo temples and festivals
In Ouidah, the capital of Benin, stands the temple of the pythons. It’s a well-known voodoo sanctuary, where dozens of pythons live. Here the faithful ask forgiveness for their sins by making sacrifices.
In Togoville, lives one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses in the country, to whom thousands of faithful go every year, barefoot and wearing only a sarong.
The Black Deities’ festival is another occasion linked to Voodoo, which is celebrated every year in December in Aneho. Shows, concerts, propitiatory sacrifices, ceremonies and rites alternate, which involve the presence of the shaman.
Africa vs Luisiana
African voodoo is the ancient one from which the different variants originated and is based on the use of medical herbs and rituals to ingratiate the deities. Louisiana voodoo is a mix between Haitian voodoo and hoodoo, a magical system widespread in the southern United States. Its characteristic is that it prefers magical arts.
The practice of this ritual in Louisiana is linked to the figure of Marie Laveau. She began practicing the rituals learned from her mother, but especially following the mysterious death of her husband. Her official job was that of an hairdresser but in the back room she welcomed customers who wanted to come into contact with spirits.
We could define the type of voodoo practiced by Marie as a hybrid voodoo different from the past since it combines Christian elements and African magic. In a short time she becomes a powerful and feared woman who practices her rituals in different areas. In her garden the magical rites, in Congo Square she meets her followers while in Lake Pontchartrain the initiation into voodoo.
Dance, music and fetish
In general, the rituals involve a very specific code. Music and dance are always present as well as ceremonial clothes, Egun masks, symbolizing the spirits of the deceased, use of psychotropic substances and animal sacrifices.
The fetish, a term of Latin-Portuguese origin, is another characteristic tool of Voodoo, which has the magical ability to absorb spirits’ power. There are even markets dedicated to fetishes and products to be used during rituals. One of the largest traditional markets in Togo is the Friday one in Vogan. From Togoville or Aného it can be reached in about forty minutes. Here you can buy the products that are used during the rituals. Fetishes such as animal heads, dried frogs and reptiles, spices, fabrics, bones, feathers, amulets and lucky charms, dried leaves and plants.
The Lomé Fetish Market is specialized in objects and raw materials used in Voodoo rituals. There are even consultation rooms where feticheurs recommend the necessary ingredients to use to solve different problems. The fetishes, herbs and everything used, changes every time based on what you want to achieve.
Voodoo is a fascinating universe poised between two worlds. It has its roots in the essence of a people, it has shaped itself, passed down and evolved through the folds of time and space. A sort of room that resides in the soul, that puts in contact with the unknown, with the most mystical and primitive part of the human being.
What do you think?