For those of us who don’t know much about voodoo, we might think of New Orleans, but like everything else we do in the United States, we have colonized voodoo, and stripped it off its origins. Voodoo, also spelled vodou, voudou, vaudou, or vodun, can be traced directly back to Haiti. It was and still is practiced as a religion for many African groups. When Africans were first enslaved and brought to America, they were forced to abandon their religions and convert to Roman-Catholicism.
When people think of voodoo, you might picture dolls with pins in them, or maybe a crystal ball. These images are far from the truth. Voodoo revolves around the ideology that “everything is spirit.” In the religion of voodoo, people worship spirits, mysteries, angels, and the invisibles.
The essence of the religion is to serve the spirits around them. Similar to other religions, they accomplish this goal through rituals. However, the big difference is they believe in spirit possession through their rituals in which they attempt to enter a different state of mind or trance. These spiritual possessions of their own bodies and minds allow them to communicate with their spirits, in which there is a hierarchy.
Spiritual possessions in voodoo vary from culture to culture in which the religion is celebrated, but most claim that possessions allow the earthly being to be given prophecies or instructions from spirits to pass on to those around them, or promptly fill those prophecies. Some other rituals include the sacrifice of animals to show their commitment to spirits, ceremonial dances, music, and clothing, and the creation of ritual objects.
Voodoo is often split up between African, Haitian, and Caribbean voodoo, but it is celebrated all over the world. The voodoo dolls that we see being sold across the internet and in markets in New Orleans have origins in Haitian voodoo. In Haiti, the practice of voodoo incorporates objects as a part of their rituals. These dolls, contrary to popular belief, are not a part of inflicting pain upon others, but rather as another medium to contact with spirits. They are just as synonymous with the religion as the use of pots, drums, clothing, flags in specific practices or rituals.
In the beginning of the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, when witchery was being persecuted out of fear, voodoo was lumped into this group. African groups who were enslaved in America were either forced to convert, or were persecuted for a multitude of reasons. Voodoo was charged with cannabilism, murder, and devil worship, eventually culminating in the anti-superstition campaign in the 1940s.
In many ways, voodoo is celebrated for its resistance to gender inequality and the patriarchy. Perhaps the most famous woman in voodoo is Mama Lola. She was born into poverty in Haiti, raised multiple children on her own, and became a prostitute to provide for her family. She moved to America in attempt to rid her life of poverty, and instead, was called by a spirit to become a mambo. She explains that becoming a mambo has eased the pain of life, brought her out of poverty and illness, and allowed her and her family to prosper. She is a major leader in spiritual being, and respected by those across the globe.
Voodoo knows no gender, but allows women to believe in spirits that represent the female gaze, rather than being taught that their god is a male and they must prescribe to that notion. The religion offers options.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!