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25 Facts You May Not Know About Voodoo

Few things conjure up more thoughts of spells and ritualistic ceremonies than Voodoo.[9] The history of witchcraft has its roots in West Africa, transferring to the Americas via the slave trade. But something that has become clear to us is there are two kinds of voodoo: the real kind and the Hollywood kind.[5]

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Hollywood has, in typical fashion, [4]exaggerated various parts of the story to sell more movies; it has mixed various religious traditions and has overstated (or wrongly attributed) various practices such as the making of dolls and dark arts.

Even the recent Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” used the character of Dr. Facilier as a black magic trickster and the character of Mama Odie (the “Voodoo Queen of the Bayou”, a reference to legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau) as an example of a positive magical conjurer.[1]

Voodoo is, in fact, a community based religion which recognizes one supreme being and various lesser spirits. (Sound familiar?) Voodooists emphasize a moral code and refrain from hurting others. [8]They are also known for their energy-filled drum and dance ceremonies. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Dig into the real facts about this kind of act in this list of 25 True Things You May Not Know About Voodoo.

1). Voodoo’s true self

Overall, Voodoo is not about black magic and spells,[4] but rather a community-based religion which focuses on healing and doing well to others. The religion helped African slaves persevere through harsh working conditions and continues to inspire and invigorate its millions of modern-day practitioners.

2). Traditional Voodoo law enforcement

Zangbetos are the traditional night guards in Benin and Togo. Made up of a man in a costume resembling a haystack,[9] the Zangbeto are traditional witchcraft guardians who patrol the streets at night and, if falling into a trance, can even be possessed by a lwa. Before the establishment of official law enforcement, the Zangbetos were the primary force of law in Benin.

3). Voodoo follows a moral code

Contrary to a false myth perpetuated in the late 1800’s to discredit African religions,[12] Voodoo has never included human sacrifice. Such an act would contradict its moral code which strictly prohibits the harming of others.

4). Current day adherents

About 4 million people in Benin and 5 million in Haiti adhere to Voodoo today,[10] among others in smaller groups across the world.

5). The reason for animal sacrifice

The practice of sacrificing an animal during this kind of ceremony is to give life energy to the lwa. The killing releases life which helps rejuvenate the lwa who have been busy managing the universe.[3]

6). St. Peter as Papa Legba

In Haitian Voodoo, [5]St. Peter is known as Papa Legba, the gatekeeper to the spirit world – similar to his position as gatekeeper to Heaven in the Catholic tradition.

7). Possession in Voodoo

Voodooists believe the lwa can possess a worshiper’s body during certain religious ceremonies. It’s also believed the soul can escape from the body while dreaming and during possession by a lwa.[11]

8). The legendary Voodoo queen

The legendary Creole Voodoo queen Marie Laveau was well-renowned in New Orleans and has been featured in numerous movies and books. Legend says if you draw an “X” on her tomb,[8] turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and scream out your wish, the Voodoo queen will grant it. (Unfortunately, the tomb has recently been closed to the general public due to vandalism.)

9). The origin of the word “Voodoo”

The word Voodoo comes from the West African language of Fon and means “spiritual entity”.[3] The Fon were and are an ethnic and linguistic group mainly centered around southern Benin.

10). The centrality of healing

Central to Witchcraft is healing people from illnesses.[12] Herbs are used and the lwa are invoked to heal the sick.

11). A Voodoo priest starts the Haitian Revolution

Boukman Dutty – a Voodoo priest – is widely recognized as starting the Haitian Revolution after making prophesies and declaring leaders at a religious ceremony in August 1791.[2]

12). New Orleans Voodoo’s roots

The Voodoo tradition in Louisiana and especially New Orleans was brought by African and Creole slaves fleeing the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century.

13). Voodoo was banned in Saint Domingue

In 1685, France banned any practicing of African religions in their colony of Saint Domingue. [9]Slave owners were required to Christianize their slaves within 8 days of arrival and many were baptized. Slaves didn’t give up their native religions but rather merged them with Catholicism to give the appearance to the slave drivers they had converted.

14). Clergy in Voodoo

Men and women can be ordained as clergy in the Voodoo religion and are known as Hougan and Mambo, respectively. [6]Though they can offer advice to followers, it is maintained that everyone is individually capable of their own enlightenment. A strong sense of community is nonetheless one of the central tenants of Voodooism.

15). Communication with the lwa

Voodooists communicate with lesser spirits through prayer,[4] animal sacrifice, possessions and drum/dance ceremonies.

16). Voodoo dolls aren’t really a thing

The commonly cited witchcraft dolls aren’t entirely witchcraft dolls but rather come from a type of African folk magic named Hoodoo. The dolls, often made to transfer a curse onto somebody, [9]are made from corn shafts, potatoes, plant matter, clay, or clothes. Despite Hollywood’s over-hyping of the dolls, they are not used by most witchcraft practitioners.[1]

17). Voodoo teachings

This kind of act does not have a leader nor definitive scriptures.[9]

18). Voodoo’s status in Haiti

Voodoo is protected under the 1987 Haitian constitution, but this wasn’t always the case. In an attempt to ostracize the religion, the Catholic Church burned witchcraft shrines and beat its clergy in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.[10]

19). The lwa and nature

All of the lwa are connected to some sort of natural force, [1]such as Ogou, the male lwa of iron and metallic powers.

20). Relationship with the lwa

Voodooists develop relationships with the lwa to ask their advice and learn from their experience and connect with them on a spiritual level.[5]

21). The “lwa”

All witchcraft practitioners are known for interacting with lesser spirits, [4]often called “lwa”. The spirits often differ between branches and some have even been merged with Catholic saints after the collision of European Christianity and African witchcraft.

22). One god

Most Voodooists believe in a supreme being,[2] though the deity is more distant and less accessible than lesser spirits. This monotheistic religion refers to god as Bondye.

23). The most famous versions of Voodoo

Voodoo people

Withcraft is most known in three places: West Africa, Haiti,[5] and Louisiana. Beyond there, it is sometimes practiced in places which had many West African slaves such as Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

24). The two worlds

Voodooists hold central to their belief that there are two interrelated worlds: the visible and the invisible. Death separates us from the invisible world where our ancestors still watch over us.[6]

25).Voodoo’s roots

This kind of act is a spiritual expression that blends together indigenous African religions with animism and spiritism. Sometimes, shamanism and witchcraft are also thrown into the fray.[1]

Source: List25

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