Throughout the decades, Vodou (the spelling most scholars use) has been the most misunderstood religion after Wicca. Most of the fear, hate, and misinterpretation has been the result of racism and lack of knowledge about this belief system – Hollywood has always portrayed Vodou as a dark, often violent religion in such movies as Angel Heart, The Serpent and The Rainbow, The Skeleton Key, and Voodoo (the same as has been done with Wicca and other non mainstream systems of belief).
Vodou is actually a healing religion, one of ancestor worship and music and spirit intermediaries and energy. It’s not about good versus evil, turning your enemies into zombies, or dancing with snakes and sacrificing chickens and drinking blood from skulls or black chalices. It’s not an organized religion with church leaders, worship buildings, bishops, or even a book like the Bible or Koran. In fact, Vodou has always been practiced in secrecy – firstly, due to the slaves having to hide the truth of their serving the deities they’d brought over from Mother Africa from their White masters who forced Christianity and Catholicism upon them; secondly, because the religion has been misinterpreted over the years and practitioners fear bringing it into the mainstream as a result of misunderstandings.
Because slaves came from all over Africa, voodoo doesn’t come from a single African tradition but several. Plus, over time, voodoo adopted some of the traditions of other religions, especially Catholicism. Slaves were forced to practice Catholicism by their masters, so some of those rituals and symbols became central to the practice of voodoo.In addition to involving ancestor worship, the voodoo practitioner creates important relationships with spirits.
“Voodoo believes in one god,” Leslie Brice, independent Vodou scholar, said, “but they believe that this god is too remote and too far away from human life.” So instead of seeking help from god directly, spirits, who act as intermediaries, are the key points of contact. These spirits, known as lwa, have various characteristics, Brice said. Which lwa are right for a specific person would be revealed through ceremony.
“There is a lot of room for how people practice and communicate” with the lwa, Brice said. On an individual basis people might create personal altars and contact the spirits by making offerings, such as the pouring of libations or meditation.
There are no voodoo churches; worshipers congregate in “houses.” Details of rituals and the service of spirits might vary from house to house, she said. There are stronger spirits that believers invoke that are supposed to have great powers, Brice said. Some houses don’t work with the strong spirits, she said. But “it’s not a question of good and evil. It’s about energy and how it is used.”
Particular objects are also an important part of communicating with the lwa, said Brice, who is also an art historian. She was first drawn to the religion because of the vibrant nature of the religious objects used in ceremonies. “Voodoo really makes artists out of the practitioner,” she said. – Lexington Herald Leader
My cousin gave me a copy of Voodoo For Dummies and I found it extremely interesting. I credit the book for giving me a better insight into Vodou, though I already had a less negative stance towards it after having covered the religion for a paper that I did in university for the class Myth & Religion. I feel that if a lot of White people practiced Vodou, a more positive image would manifest.
Just as there are differences within other faiths, there is great variation within Voodoo beliefs and practices. In places and times where conditions are very desperate, Voodoo is often focused on survival. In my New Orleans community, many Voodooists feel that part of religion is service to their community, so there is an emphasis on healing and social activism. We also have many artists and musicians in our community, further reflecting New Orleans’ unique cultural spirit.
If Voodoo is just another religion, why does everyone think it’s scary?
Racism clouds our view of Voodoo. It is rooted in slavery and intricately connected to this hemisphere’s political and social evolution. Voodoo was first practiced in America and the Caribbean by slaves of African descent, whose culture was both feared and ridiculed. Slaves were not considered fully human. Their religion was dismissed as superstition, their priests were denigrated as witch doctors, their Gods and Spirits were denounced as evil.
One of the only successful slave revolutions in modern history occurred in Haiti in the late 1700s. Slaves of African descent overthrew European rulers and took control of the country. Many slaves were Voodooists, and some of their military leaders were priests who inspired and organized their communities to fight for freedom. The Haitian Revolution provoked fear in other European and American colonies that were reliant on vast numbers of slaves as plantation labor. The imagery and vocabulary of Voodoo (and other Afro-Caribbean religions) became threatening and ingrained in those cultures as something horrifying, associated with bloodshed and violence. It was brutally repressed in most places. It became taboo.
Over time, American culture became fascinated by this mysterious tradition and began to depict it in movies and books as sensationalized horror. “Voodoo” practices were dreamed up by Hollywood; most of the disturbing images fixed in our minds are something we saw in a movie. Hollywood created a mythology that we have taken as truth. “Voodoo” has become part of modern folklore as something evil that can hurt us. – Huffington Post