Voodoo



Haitian Vodou[1][2][3] (/ˈvd/French: [vodu], also written asVoodoo /ˈvd/Vodun,[4][5] or Vodoun[4][6] /ˈvdn/, etc.) is asyncretic[7] religion practiced chiefly in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Practitioners are called "vodouists" (Frenchvodouisants [voduisɑ̃]) or "servants of the spirits" (Haitian Creolesèvitè).[8]
Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable creator god, Bondye. As Bondye does not intercede in human affairs, vodouists direct their worship toward spirits subservient to Bondye, called loa.[9] Every loa is responsible for a particular aspect of life, with the dynamic and changing personalities of each loa reflecting the many possibilities inherent to the aspects of life over which they preside.[10] In order to navigate daily life, vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the loa through the presentation of offerings, the creation of personal altars and devotional objects, and participation in elaborate ceremonies of music, dance, and spirit possession.[11]
Vodou originated in the French slave colony of Saint-Domingue in the 18th century, when African religious practice was actively suppressed, and enslaved Africans were forced to convert to Christianity.[12][13] Religious practices of contemporary Vodou are descended from, and closely related to, West African Vodun as practiced by the Fon and Ewe. Vodou also incorporates elements and symbolism from other African peoples including the Yorùbá and Bakongo; as well as Taíno religious beliefs, and European spirituality including Roman Catholic Christianity, European mysticismFreemasonry, and other influences.[14]

Vodou is a Haitian Creole word that formerly referred to only a small subset of Haitian rituals.[15] It is descended from an Ayizo word referring to "mysterious forces or powers that govern the world and the lives of those who reside within it, but also a range of artistic forms that function in conjunction with these vodun energies."[16] In Haiti, practitioners occasionally use “vodou” to refer to Haitian religion generically, but it is more common for practitioners to refer to themselves as those who “serve the spirits” (sèvitè) by participating in ritual ceremonies, usually called a "service to the loa" (sèvis loa) or an "African service" (sèvis gineh).[15] These terms can also be used to refer to the religion as a whole.
Outside of Haiti, the term vodou refers to the entirety of traditional Haitian religious practice.[15] Originally written as vodun, it is first recorded in Doctrina Christiana, a 1658 document written by the King of Allada's ambassador to the court of Philip IV of Spain.[16] In the following centuries, vodou was eventually taken up by non-Haitians as a generic descriptive term for traditional Haitian religion.[15] There are many used orthographies for this word. Today, the spelling vodou is the most commonly accepted orthography in English.[6] Other potential spellings include vodouvodounvaudoux, and voodoo, with vau- or vou- prefix variants reflecting French orthography, and a final -n reflecting the nasal vowel in West African or older, non-urbanized, Haitian Creole pronunciations.
The spelling voodoo, once very common, is now generally avoided by Haitian practitioners and scholars when referring to the Haitian religion.[4][17][18][19] This is both to avoid confusion with Louisiana voodoo,[20] a related but distinct set of religious practices, as well as to separate Haitian vodou from the negative connotations and misconceptions the term “voodoo” has acquired in popular culture.[3][21]Over the years, practitioners and their supporters have called on various institutions including the Associated Press to redress this misrepresentation by adopting Vodou in reference to the Haitian religion. In October 2012, the Library of Congress decided to change their subject heading from "Voodooism" to Vodou in response to a petition by a group of scholars and practitioners in collaboration withKOSANBA, the scholarly association for the study of Haitian Vodou based at University of California Santa Barbara.
It is of popular belief that vodou (particularly Haitian voduo) is not simply a religion, but rather, an experience that ties both body and soul together. The concept of tying that exists in Haitian religious culture is derived from the Kongolese tradition of kanga (the practice of tying one's soul to something tangible). This "tying of soul" is evident in many Haitian vodou practices that still are exercised today. 

Because Bondye (God) is unreachable, Vodouisants aim their prayers to lesser entities, the spirits known as loa, or mistè. The most notable loa include Papa Legba(guardian of the crossroads), Erzulie Freda (the spirit of love), Simbi (the spirit of rain and magicians), Kouzin Zaka (the spirit of agriculture), and The Marasa, divine twins considered to be the first children of Bondye.[23]
These loa can be divided into 21 nations, which include the Petro, Rada, Congo and Nago.[24] The Petro and the Rada contrast most with one another, because the Petro are hot or aggressive and restless, whereas the Rada are cool or calm and peaceful.[citation needed]
The Loa also fall into family groups who share a surname, such as OgouEziliAzakaor Ghede. For instance, "Ezili" is a family, Ezili Danto and Ezili Freda are two individual spirits in that family. Each family is associated with a specific aspect, for instance the Ogou family are soldiers, the Ezili govern the feminine spheres of life, the Azaka govern agriculture, the Ghede govern the sphere of death and fertility. Each of the loa is associated with a particular Roman Catholic saint.
Those in the Haitian Vodou practices that serve the loa are the Bokor. The Bokor are the Vodou priest/priestesses who can be hired to perform various sorcery. The Bokor practice both light and dark forms of magic.
Vodou's moral code focuses on the vices of dishonor and greed. There is also a notion of relative propriety—and what is appropriate to someone with Dambala Wedo as their head may be different from someone with Ogou Feray as their head. For example, one spirit is very cool and the other is very hot. Coolness overall is valued, and so is the ability and inclination to protect oneself and one's own if necessary. Love and support within the family of the Vodou society seem to be the most important considerations. Generosity in giving to the community and to the poor is also an important value. One's blessings come through the community, and one should be willing to give back. There are no "solitaries" in Voodou—only people separated geographically from their elders and house. A person without a relationship of some kind with elders does not practice Vodou as it is understood in Haiti and among Haitians.
There is a diversity of practice in Vodou across the country of Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. For instance, in the north of Haiti, the lave tèt ("head washing") or kanzwe may be the only initiation, as it is in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, whereas in Port-au-Prince and the south they practice the kanzo rites with three grades of initiation – kanzo senp, si pwen, and asogwe – and the latter is the most familiar mode of practice outside Haiti. Some lineages combine both, as Mambo Katherine Dunham reports from her personal experience in her book Island Possessed.
While the overall tendency in Vodou is conservative in accord with its African roots, there is no singular, definitive form, only what is right in a particular house or lineage. Small details of service and the spirits served vary from house to house, and information in books or on the internet therefore may seem contradictory. There is no central authority or "pope" in Haitian Vodou, since "every mambo and houngan is the head of their own house", as a popular saying in Haiti goes. Another consideration in terms of Haitian diversity are the many sects besides the Sèvi Gine in Haiti such as the Makaya, Rara, and other secret societies, each of which has its own distinct pantheon of spirits.

A Haitian Vodou temple is called an Hounfour.[25] After a day or two of preparation setting up altars at an Hounfour, ritually preparing and cooking fowl and other foods, etc., a Haitian Vodou service begins with a series of prayers and songs in French, then a litany in Kreyòl and African "langaj" that goes through all the European and African saints and loa honored by the house, and then a series of verses for all the main spirits of the house. This is called the "Priyè Gine" or the African Prayer. After more introductory songs, beginning with saluting Hounto, the spirit of the drums, the songs for all the individual spirits are sung, starting with the Legba family through all the Rada spirits, then there is a break and the Petwo part of the service begins, which ends with the songs for the Gede family.
As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. When a ceremony is made, only the family of those possessed is benefited. At this time it is believed that devious mambo or houngan can take away the luck of the worshippers through particular actions. For instance, if a priest asks for a drink of champagne, a wise participant refuses. Sometimes these ceremonies may include dispute among the singers as to how a hymn is to be sung. In Haiti, these Vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. But in the United States, many vodouists and clergy take it as a sort of non-serious party or "folly".
In a serious rite, each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and gives readings, advice, and cures to those who ask for help. Many hours later, as morning dawns, the last song is sung, the guests leave, and the exhausted hounsis, houngans, and mambos can go to sleep.
On the individual's household level, a Vodouisant or "sèvitè"/"serviteur" may have one or more tables set out for their ancestors and the spirit or spirits that they serve with pictures or statues of the spirits, perfumes, foods, and other things favored by their spirits. The most basic set up is just a white candle and a clear glass of water and perhaps flowers. On a particular spirit's day, one lights a candle and says an Our Father and Hail Mary, salutes Papa Legba and asks him to open the gate, and then one salutes and speaks to the particular spirit as an elder family member. Ancestors are approached directly, without the mediating of Papa Legba, since they are said to be "in the blood".
Houngans (Male Vodou Priest) or Mambos (Female Vodou Priest) are usually people who were chosen by the dead ancestors and received the divination from the deities while he or she was possessed. His or her tendency is to do good by helping and protecting others from spells, however they sometimes use their supernatural power to hurt or kill people. They also conduct ceremonies that usually take place "Amba Peristil" (under a Vodou Temple). However, non-Houngan or non-Mambo as Vodouisants are notinitiated, and are referred to as being "bossale"; it is not a requirement to be an initiate to serve one's spirits. There are clergy in Haitian Vodou whose responsibility it is to preserve the rituals and songs and maintain the relationship between the spirits and the community as a whole (though some of this is the responsibility of the whole community as well). They are entrusted with leading the service of all of the spirits of their lineage. Sometimes they are "called" to serve in a process called "being reclaimed", which they may resist at first.[26] Below the houngans and mambos are the hounsis, who are initiates who act as assistants during ceremonies and who are dedicated to their own personal mysteries.
A "bokor" is a sorcerer or magician who casts spells upon request. They are not necessarily priests, and may be practitioners of "darker" things and often not even accepted by the mambo or the houngan. Or, a "Bokor" would be the Haitian term for a vodou priest or other, working both the light and dark arts of magic.
The practitioners of Vodou revere death, and believe it to be a great transition from one life to another, or to the afterlife. In some Vodou families, it is believed that a person’s spirit leaves the body, but is trapped in water, over mountains, in grottoes, or anywhere else a voice may call out and echo for a span of one full year and one day. After this period, there is a ceremonial celebration to commemorate the deceased for being released into the world to “live again”. In the words of Edwidge Danticat, author of “A Year and a Day” –an article about death in Haitian society published in the New Yorker- and a practitioner of Vodou,
The year-and-a-day commemoration is seen, in families that believe in it and practice it, as a tremendous obligation, an honorable duty, in part because it assures a transcendental continuity of the kind that has kept us Haitians, no matter where we live, linked to our ancestors for generations.
After the soul of the deceased leaves its resting place, it can occupy trees, and even become a hushed voice on the wind.

The cultural area of the FonEwe, and Yoruba peoples share common metaphysicalconceptions around a dual cosmological divine principle Nana Buluku, the God-Creator, and the voduns(s) or God-Actor(s), daughters and sons of the Creator's twin children Mawu (goddess of the moon) and Lisa (god of the sun). The God-Creator is the cosmogonical principle and does not trifle with the mundane; the voduns(s) are the God-Actor(s) who actually govern earthly issues. The pantheon of vodoun is quite large and complex.
West African Vodun has its primary emphasis on ancestors, with each family of spirits having its own specialized priest and priestess, which are often hereditary. In many African clans, deities might include Mami Wata, who are gods and goddesses of the waters; Legba, who in some clans is virile and young in contrast to the old man form he takes in Haiti and in many parts of Togo; Gu (or Ogoun), ruling iron and smithcraft; Sakpata, who rules diseases; and many other spirits distinct in their own way to West Africa.
A significant portion of Haitian Vodou often overlooked by scholars until recently is the input from the Kongo. The entire northern area of Haiti is heavily influenced by Kongo practices. In northern Haiti, it is often called the Kongo Rite or Lemba, from the Lemba rituals of theLoango area and Mayombe. In the south, Kongo influence is called Petwo (Petro). Many loa (a Kikongo term) are of Kongo origin, such as Basimbi, Lemba, etc.
In addition, the Vodun religion (distinct from Haitian Vodou) already existed in the United States previously to Haitian immigration, having been brought by enslaved West Africans, specifically from the Ewe, Fon, Mina, Kabaye, and Nago groups. Some of the more enduring forms survive in the Gullah Islands.
European colonialism, followed by totalitarian regimes in West Africa, suppressed Vodun as well as other forms of the religion. However, because the Vodun deities are born to each African clan-group, and its clergy is central to maintaining the moral, social, and political order and ancestral foundation of its villagers, it proved to be impossible to eradicate the religion.