Le vaudou comme il est
Voodoo: l’histoire, les mythes contre les faits et les récits
We live in a world that has two topics that are hot button issues: politics and religion. The latter is the explanation for billions that explain our existence in this world. Religions like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism encompass the majority of the world’s population. With religion comes also the topic of agnostic and atheism, who are on the other side of the spectrum and question the existence of a deity or higher power. Interestingly enough, even within religious ideas, there are faiths that have positive and negative connotations. With all the denominations and religions in the world, voodoo is easily identified as one that has a negative reaction from people and considered “taboo” in many cultures.
Voodoo, also known as vodou and voudon, originated from Western Africa and spread throughout the continent, eventually to the Americas (n.a, 2015.) The original idea of the voodoo religion was influenced by the ancient customs of ancestor worship. In the religion, voodoo teaches the belief of a supreme being named Bondye; being uninvolved, the worshippers pray and dedicate their spirituality to numerous other deities, who are in charge of varying aspects of life (n.a, 2015.) This is similar to the Roman and Greek mythologies, and the Hindu faith, with thousands of deities; however, voodoo believed in the concept of souls, and assured that their soul transfers to another dimension with death.
In a way, voodoo is a religion based on energy and souls, siding on the side of spirituality. The biggest concern for voodoo believers was for the person to be in sync, and to connect their souls with the right energies. However, this belief was tested and contested throughout history, especially with one particular historical action. During the 1500s, the European powerhouse nations Spain, Portugal, France and England were colonizing different continents and discovering new areas of the world, thanks to Christopher Columbus. While the countries would argue about what new area was considered their property, the entire continent of Africa was colonized by Europe.
Saying that Africans were shortchanged during the Atlantic slave trade is an understatement. Bartered as goods, the slave traders sent the African population to their newly conquered area. The reason for this was due to the discovery of profitable natural resources that were unknown in Europe. The Americas was their new home for living and work; being human capital, the African slaves were not given a choice of where they were to be placed. The majority stayed in North and South Americas, along with the islands in the Caribbean. With the slave trade came also the religion of voodoo, which was still influential and important to the Africans, despite their new status.
However, Europeans strongly objected the Africans’ religion once they discovered their culture. Shocked, dismayed and disgusted, the vast majority of Europeans were either Catholic or Protestant, and could not fathom any other religion besides their particular denomination and Christianity. Slaves were not only physical property to the colonists, but they also felt the need to “convert” the Africans. Sincerity was not their intentions; furthermore, the conversion process was expected to take place in a week, and no exhibition of religious beliefs besides Christianity were permitted. Instead, Christianity was used as a form of control against the slaves, who were already stripped of their property, personal identity and choices in general.
As one can imagine, these are the catalysts that gave birth to the stereotypes of voodoo. For approximately 300 years, the slave trade existed in North America alone; this is not including the rest of the world. Countries like Haiti were built on the idea of the slave trade and producing enough goods to keep the conquerors happy. Known for its voodoo connection, Haiti was originally a French colony- the nation was known as a Catholic one (Handwerk, 2002.) Converting to Catholicism, the slaves began to make parallels of their religious beliefs to the Catholic religion, praising saints as they would their own deities. This was a way for them to revolt against their owners and retain a sense of their identity. For example, Saint Peter was seen as Papa Legba, the gatekeeper of the spiritual world (n.a, 2015.)
With these disguises, voodoo was still in practice, but more sinister methods were occurring. What the owners failed to consider is that all religions have their flaws, even their own Christian faith. For example, one can judge Christianity harshly under the Spanish Inquisition and English Civil War, when Christians were massacring each other over different denominations. Voodoo is a religion that has a sole purpose of achieving a high level of spirituality. Believers were beginning to want to revolt against their owners, who had them working in undesirable conditions, abusive in nature and hell bent on taking away their freedoms for the sake of profit.
Voodoo’s ugly side included magic and sorcery that were produced to evoke curses and harm towards the owners and anyone else who sided with the opposition (Alexandre, 2015.) This side is what is infamous to the majority who hear about this religion. There have been numerous stories that outlined voodoo’s bad side, which includes Haiti’s freedom. According to the Africans, they were successful because they were able to “scare” and affect their French conquerors, who finally gave up the colony to be independent. Haiti is the one example of a successful slave revolt, who went back to their older customs and beliefs shortly after. For the rest of the population, voodoo was not as prevalent, unless one was to enter the Louisiana area of New Orleans.
The most famous stories for the American regions is the one involving Marie Laveau; you might have heard of this person on American Horror Story. The series actually based their character, played by Angela Bassett, on a real woman during the time of slavery. Being the daughter of a Creole woman and freed slave, Marie was a mother and wife, who became a widow young and only had one child live into adulthood. Becoming a hairdresser, Marie was well known to cure people of their ailments and diseases, and was known as a voodoo queen (Danger, 2014.) This story highlights the good in voodoo, which the show counters and contradicts completely.
All that being said, Voodoo should be considered as the main religion of the Black African Continent. Like is Hinduism, there is a supreme god and several deities helping him to rule the Universe.
However, some frightening and mystical aspects in Voodoo practice are common. That includes: animal sacrifices, spirit possessions, and wild sex orgies.
It is also a common practice for Voodoo priests to take drugs, smoke cigars and drink alcohol in order to cajoling spirit who will come to possess their bodies during the main ceremony.
As those practices were seen as satanic rituals to Christians, they were strongly prohibited under the penalty of death. That’s why creative African slaves of Caribbean islands disguised their true religion under Catholicism, hiding the Voodoo gods behind the names of the Christian saints.
What concerns the Voodoo black magic, it took popularity and was spread worldwide nowadays. The main idea in that kind of practice is based on voodoo doll that might be composed using some elements of the physicall body of the victim, such as nails, hair, or even saliva and blood. This doll, in fact, once built, represents the victim’s entity, and is used to subjugate the will of man or to harm a person.
You may read the true story on voodoo black magic in our article: “Voodoo – The real story”.