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Vodou Religion - The History That Shapes Vodou Religion

Apr 23, 2008
Voodoo is the Dahomey word for spirit. It is often spelled as Vodou, or Vodoun - the typical Haitian spelling. Any spirit found in the natural world is vodou. Voodoo is a derivative of the world's oldest known religions which have existed in Africa since the beginning of human civilization - civilizations and religions estimated to be over 10,000 years old. Voodoo is a direct descendent of the religions of these ancient civilizations.

Vodou originates from the western nations of Africa, primarily from the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, which is now present day Benin. Vodou also came from the peoples of the Kongo as well as the Central African regions, including Bakongo, and the Yoruba of Nigeria.

Vodou can be considered a religion shaped more by the evolution of its practicioners than as a static dogma. Therefore, it's necessary to consider the evolvement of Vodou religion from within the framework of its history - politically and socially.

Vodou in general is a religion of tolerance. It freely borrows from other traditions to keep alive African beliefs. This is seen especially clearly in Haitian Vodou.

Haitian Vodou

Haitian Vodou is an initiatory tradition that is practiced by 90% of the population of Haiti - that is, the poor working class and the peasantry. The nation of Haiti that exists today is primarily composed of peoples whose ancestors were brought over as slaves from various African Tribes. The predominant elements of Vodou religion come from these old African religions that the slaves brought with them to Haiti, mixed with the Catholicism that the French forced upon them.

Vodou offers a system of beliefs that provides Haitians both meaning and solace - qualities that are in short supply in a country with no public schools, few working sewers, no public transportation, little industry, and no good roads. Haitian vodou is also highly eclectic: Attemping to recreate their religious culture in Haiti, African slaves expropriated a huge repertory of influences, including bits and pieces from the indigenous Taino Indians, Roman Catholicism, Freemasonry, and European mysticism.

Outlawed within slavery, Vodou needed a disguise if it were to survive oppressive ideologies from Europe. In fact many of the Lwa (worshipped spirits) are known to be of pale skin as opposed to African in their Descent.

These roots are quite evident in Haitian Vodou today. Because Vodou has had such influence on Haitian art and music, even Haitians who are NOT Vodou initiates and do not serve any particular lwa hold widespread respect for the tradition of Vodou.

Haitian art, for example, absorbs and interprets visual culture so masterfully because of its foundation in Vodou - a religion and way of life that was born and survived due to its history of accommodation and inclusion.

New Orleans Vodou - Hoodoo Voodoo

Appearing in the United States as early as the 1800s, Haitian Vodou surfaced mainly in New Orleans. Famed Vodou practitioner, Queen Marie Laveau, popularized it in the New Orleans area. But other forms of vodou existed in the United States dating back before the 1776 revolution.

Hoodoo and Voodoo are both practiced in Louisiana and have many things in common. However, there are differences between the two. Voodoo is a religion, and Hoodoo is an African-American system of folk magickal practice that has typically been handed down from generation to generation. HOODOO, though not a religion, is the folk magic of the common people in West Africa, just as it is in the diaspora today. From so-called love potions," to taking vegenace upon an enemy, Hoodoo is largely what has survived the religious persecution of the Africans enslaved in the New World.

A deep-rooted and serious religion with many rituals, spells, and practices - Voodoo takes believers into the spiritual and transcendental world. Vodou praticioners DO often experience the outcome or impact Vodou spells and ceremonies were meant to bring about. Communicating with passed loved ones, spiritual cleansings, healings and insight - For those who believe in the power, Voodoo is dominant.
About the Author
For an in-depth look into the Vodou religion, check out our Vodou book, The Art of Vodou - the only comprehensive Vodou guide available online.
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