Voodoo is a religious and magical practice whose origins go back 10,000 years ago in the dawn of human civilization, having its origins in West Africa. Throughout this time it has been practiced in areas of Ghana, Togo, Benin, Gun, Lagos, Ogun and Nigeria. It is different from other religious practices in central Africa and we can also distinguish several ramifications of voodoo in its expansion across America: Haitian Vodou, Dominican Vudú, Cuban Vodou, Brazilian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo.
Voodoo beliefs focus on spirits called vodun and other elements that rule the Earth, such as forces of nature, rocks, trees, rivers… Apart from these natural elements there are also ethnic spirits that defend clans, tribes or nations. From this point of view there is an interesting parallelism between the vodun and the saints or angels present in Christianity. Voodoo beliefs share with other religions the thought that the spirits of the dead walk through the world of the living, close to their families and to priests who can communicate with them. As we will see in future posts, there are many coincidences between Christianity and Voodoo which resulted in Haitian Vodou.
Although there are different rituals and spirits, one of the most common practices within Voodoo is the belief of a divine Creator called Mawu or Mahu, a woman who gives birth to seven children, each one is associated to an element of nature: animals, land or sea. All creations are considered divine and contain some divine power, which is why medicines and herbal remedies have a connection with religious rituals. Voodoo talismans, also known as fetishes, are objects such as statues, dissected animals or human parts that are sold for their rejuvenating and healing properties.
Most of the ritual practices of voodoo are carried out by priestesses who celebrate all kinds of rituals: baptisms, weddings and funerals. They are very important figures within the community, they command the women of the group and take part in the organization of the market. When men go to war, they hold protection rituals to keep their warriors safe. The priestesses receive the call of an oracle at some point in their lives and then they join the convent to be instructed. The oracle also designates the high priestesses.
When European colonists began the slave trade in America, African slaves took voodoo to the other continent. The Europeans tried to eradicate the practice of voodoo by inculcating Christianity, more recently some totalitarian regimes in West Africa have also pursued this cult. However, this ancient religion found a way to evolve and adapt in various ways that can be found throughout different areas of America. In later chapters we will talk about the other variations of voodoo.