Basic Principles Background
Ask a hundred different voodoo priest about voodoo and you will get a hundred different answers.
The word 'vodun' — the Haitian word 'Voodoo' is derived from — comes from the African Fon Language which is still spoken today in Benin. Vodun means "divinity" or "Idol".
The history of voodoo does not start, as many people believe around 1500 AD in Haiti, but about 15,000 years before Christ in Africa. Thus, the real source of voodoo is the Egyptian pyramids. These people would later come to be called 'Yoruba'. They were slaves to the Pharaohs and Kings. These people were later released however they never forgot the unbelievable things that they saw. They had a profound admiration for God and desired to know him.
At This time the Yoruba crossed into Africa from Egypt, using a route which crossed over into Afica from the Nile and into Niger. In this area of today's Nigeria, at the time, was a culture called the 'Nok'. Between 200 and 500 BC, The Yoruba met the Nok and the two cultures slowly began to merge. Under the leadership of the Yoruba king Oduduwa, the people of Yoruba settled down in the city of Ile-Ife, which was considered a holy city by the natives. Descendant of this nation conquered large areas and laid the foundation of the Yoruba kingdom and spread voodoo through all of his conquered lands.
In 1492 AD Columbus discovered an island, known today as Haiti, which he named "Hispaniola". Very quickly, the settlers discovered the sugar cane and tobacco, the benefits of cotton and agricultural wealth of Hispaniola. The original inhabitants of Hispaniola, proved to be poor slaves, and very susceptible to diseases. King Charles V of Spain ordered the deportation of 15,000 blacks from Africa to meet the demand of the Spanish colonists in Hispaniola. As indeed belonged to many but not all, of the black slaves of the Yoruba ethnic group, soon began to merge cultures and religions, and laid the foundation for today's voodoo.
Today it is estimated that from the 16th to 19th century nearly 12 million people were deported from Africa. Of the survivors a little bit more than forty percent presumably went to the Caribbean (Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica), possibly also many to Brazil, approximately five percent to North America and the remaining in Spanish, French and Dutch South America. Therefore Haitian voodoo developed, the Cuban variation of Voodoo Santeria as well as the Brazilian variations of Voodoo Candomble and Umbanda.
In the historical consciousness of the Haitians Voodoo has an extraordinary meaning and as well played a role in Bois Caiman, and in the ensuing revolution. This has made the voodoo into a kind of national religion of Haiti. Thus today Voodoo has a certain military symbolism, which is not found in other Afro-American religions.
In 1996 Voodoo became an official national religion in Benin. April 4th 2003 opened yet another new chapter for the Voodoo religion. Voodoo was made the official religion of Haiti. Priests and priestesses in Haiti now have the same rights as their Catholic counterparts. They may perform formal marriages, baptisms and conduct funerals. A few years ago Voodoo was recognized by the pope as a separate religion, because Voodoo priest have healed so many people and their healing power has become very well known.
The Central Core
Around which everything revolves.
In this central core of voodoo worship is Loa (god, divine being, good spirit), Oracle, ancestral worship and reincarnation. Heaven and hell do not exist in Voodooism. Why?, In Voodoo they believe in reincarnation. The deeds of a person influence his next life. Someone who has been a good, honest and faithful person has the chance to ascend to Loa. Thus they are given not only the power and influence but the opportunity to shape the world. If the person has not behaved well and was angry the person will be again born as a human and begin a new life cycle. He again well have every opportunity, but all the temptations from before well still threaten and entice him.
If the person was not good in their life it is possible that in his next life he will be punished by Loa. This could be a spiritual or physical impediments. However the belief of voodoo involves primarily light punishment for offenses. However, serious offenses will be punished with misfortune or illness, or the rebirth as an animal. If the person was particularly bad, they can be reborn as Diab, as a demonic creature that only aspires to harm the living or dominate you. Voodoo believers believe that Loa as well as Diab are Omnipresent. Therefore both take part in ones everyday life and are informed about all actions and misdeeds of believers.
Loa Rada and Loa Petro.
Voodoo folloowers divide godly creatures into loa Rada and loa Petro. It is not such a strict division as between angels and demons in Christian religion. Loa Rada were working on the creation of the world, on making rules and life-keeping. Here are the gods like Loco (god of woods), Agwe (god of sea), Erzulia (the goddess of beauty). Some gods belong to both groups. Legba (god of crossroads), can be invoked as loa Rada to bring the wealth but also as loa Petro to cause a disaster. Loa Petro are a group of demons that are called mainly to cause destruction. The bond of African traditions with cults of native Indians living in Haiti made Voodoo in Haiti a very dangerous practice in terms of harmful rituals. Invocation of any loa Petro always means risking damage of body and soul! Therefore we want to warn those people, who are not prepared for such act, against such action.
Legba or Elegba, Eshu, Ellegua. [Papa Legba]
God of crossroads, singer, fighter, fool, guardian of the door into the spiritual sphere - he appears as either a child or a hunched old man (old man with a crutch).
In Haiti voodoo Legba is worshipped in two different forms: as a child or as a hunched fragile old man. Both these forms express his speed and unpredictable behaviour. He is seen as a cheater but also as a messenger of destiny. He is a rebellious child and a wise man at the same time. In some myths Legba is a thief as he has stolen the secrets of gods and gave them to people.
Every ritual starts with invoking him and ends by saying goodbye to him. This is because he is the guardian of the door, therefore the contact with him enables better communication with other gods. During the ritual he is acting as a messenger of gods as he is translating the words of gods (ghosts) into human language. Those who died can return back to the world of living people if they obtain Legba's blessing.
Shango or Xango, Chango. [Nago Shango]
God of fire, fighter, judge, lord of the lightning and thunder - brave, healthy looking man.
Initially Xango was worshipped by Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. Althoug he belongs among seven most powerful loa, he is not invoked in Haiti as often as other gods. He was born as one of the gods of earth and lived as a king of Oyo land on the earth with people.
Today he is worshipped as a god of justice. On the home altar Shango is symbolised by double axe or ram's horn. Invocation of Shango can help with legal proceeding or it can give more power and courage.
Oshun or Oxum, Ezili, Erzulie. [Erzulie Freda]
Goddess of love and power of creation, abundance and passion - beautiful, seductive young woman.
Oshun is African Venus of Afrodite. She is the beauty, sensuality and love. Erzulia is a lady of visual arts and her attribute are jewels. She spreads the joy of life and passion. She heals diseases with cold water upon which she rules. Her generosity feeds the hungry. She spreads universal abundance so that everybody can enjoy the beauty of creation.
Careful, though, she is also a mother of witches and she colours herself with the blood of her enemies, she is the ruler of a vulture.
Oya or Yansa, Aida-Lenso, Olla.
Goddess of wind, fire, water and rainbow; ruler of the nature, fighter - courageous, beautiful, passionate and unpredictable.
Oya is a goddess of sudden change. Her energy is shown also in the destructive power of wind storms, floods and earthquakes.
The Power of Oya stems in her speed and her ability to change things immediately.
Yemaya or Imanje, La Balianne [Yemalla]
Goddess of the sea - motherly, she gives nutrition, loving and desirable.
Yemaya is a ruler of the sea and personification of female power. She is watching all the powers that give nutrition and food and she takes care of female affairs. Yemaya protects child in the womb and also protects home. She has the powers to nurture and to destroy. Her task is constant renewal. In many countries people celebrate her on the days of full moon.
Obatala or Oxala, Batala, Blanc Dani
Goddess of heavens, personification of creative energy - old with white hair, kind and extremely powerful.
Obatala is goddess of creation of Yoruba tribe. Her/his name is the word for god as such. Obatala is man and woman at the same time. He/She is direct descendant of the highest and onmipresent god Oludumar. He/She personifies highest ethical principals such as justice, wisdom, abilities and generosity. He/She brings wealth and well-being to people, heals the most serious or even deadly diseases. Obatala is constantly trying to create therefore always fights for protection of sources and nature.
Ogun or Ogum, Ogu [Ogoun]
Wild man of woods, god of iron and smithery, protector of wealth and work, peaceful and dangerous man.
Nigerian god Ogun transforms wild forests into new land for gods. He uses machete and axes for making way through the woodland, thus he is called a god of pioneers and "The one who prepares the way“. Ogun teaches people how to use knife for self-defence in the jungle. He teaches the smith craft, he helps people to build houses for shelter. He is the father of civilisation and technology. According to the legend he was initially crowned as a king, but once people learned everything from him, he returned the crown and left for the forests.
Agwe or Agwe-Taroyo.
God of waters, lord of the seas, handsome, proud, he likes order, he takes care of his look.
He has strong character and tasks. He protects all the animals and plants and he preserves the harmony in nature. He is often compared to European god of sea, Neptune, from whom he probably took the trident as an attribute.
Agwe is called to calm the waves of the sea or ensure happy sailing, but mainly he is worshipped by those who fish and whose life depends on the life in the waters. People under his protection will never drown and water will never harm them.
Damballah or Aida-Wedo
Primordial god, god of snakes, he has a form of snake, he is universal power, protector of trees and waters- vivacious, strict and brave.
Damballah is a primordial and constantly renewing creature. He is the protector of universal knowledge, he is the original creative power (energy).
Another primordial god is Loco. He is the spirit of vegetation and male form of plants. According to the legend he was the first priest, who transformed from a human being into a loa. Therefore he is the intermediary between people and gods.If Loco appears at a ceremony, he could be recognised by a gnarled stick that he always carries with him or by his companion who always smokes a pipe and always accompanies Loco.
JHe is the loa of white magic. Simbi is depicted as a green snake and he is very wise. A person obsessed b y Simba is turning like a snake and is attracted by the water, because he is more than Damballah depending on the element of water. Simbi is also providing certain connection between people and ghosts, because among voodoo people the mythical other side is deep in the sea.
Symbol Petro has only dark character. It represents aggressive side of voodoo. As sacrifice is given goat’s blood for example.
Baron Samedie, Baron La Croix and Cemetiere Boumba
The speciality of voodoo is the worship of twins. They have an important meaning that has been transferred from African tradition. Special attention that is paid to live and dead twins has its roots in the veneration of godly twins: Mawa and Lisa. They symbolise active male and passive female energy, they personify the sun and the moon. Together they create a hermaphrodite (bisexual) god that symbolises inseparable divine unity. Twins, especially if it is a boy (Dossou) and a girl (Dossa) are considered as their earthly delegates.
The birth of twins is in every case associated with a number of problems as they are seen as exceptionally powerful creatures. They are foreseen as difficult, impulsive, sensitive and malicious (mischievous, vicious) beings.
In everyday life it is recommended to deal with both children the same way, as they react in a very sensitive way to any differences made between them. Families with twins often suffer diseases or bad luck, which is explained among voodoo people that the family did not complete the duty to Marassa.
Recommended reading:Heike Owusu - Voodoo rituals - backgrounds, practices and safeguards
Papa Sangha - practice of voodoo - Magic
Papa Sangha - Voodoo practice - new techniques, rituals and practices of the Voodoo
Papa Nemo - The path of Voodoo - From the basics to practice
Astrid Reuter - Voodoo and other African-American religions
Gert Chesi - Voodoo in Africa