What Do You Know About Voodoo?

The Religion of the Ancestors

Olivia Meadows
4 min readNov 25, 2020
image courtesy of Zimbe

Vodun (meaning spirit) also known as Voudou, or Voodoo, is a religion originating from West Africa that combines Catholicism and Traditional African Religion when practiced in America. Many sectors within the African Diaspora such as Haitian Voodoo, Louisiana Voodoo, Santeria and Candomblé, are practiced throughout the world, particularly in the Caribbean. Keep in mind, traditional African Voodoo was not merged with Catholicism until the slaves were transported to America and the Caribbean. Because the slave master forbid servants from their native religion, to continue practicing, the slaves combined their religion with Catholicism.

Followers of Voodoo known as Voodoosaints or Voodists, believe in a supreme God (Bondye) and typically center around spirits and divine principles that regulate the Earth. A veve is a geometrical tool or drawing used to attract the spirit, or Lwa one wishes to utilize during a ceremony.

Each Loa or spirit has its own unique veve. When several Lwa are needed the veve will include the ritual emblems of all the Loa’s involved. Veve’s can be both complicated and simple. Drawn on the floor of the peristyle, (temple) using cornmeal, palm oil, gunpowder, or ashes, the veve serves as a portal or astral force which allows the Loa spirit to descend to Earth and assist the priest during a Voodoo ceremony. During the mounting (a term used to describe the Lwa’s who take over the priest’s spirit, the person is sometime observed speaking in a different voice or demonstrating strange acts or body movements during the possession as the mambo or priest receives the message from the spirits and relays the message to the ceremony attendees.

The Spirits

The Creator (Bondye) embodies a dual cosmologic principle of Mawu Lisa. Mawu, representing the moon and Lisa — the sun, are portrayed as the twin children of the Creator. Lisa is the Sun god who brings heat and strength, as well as the day. Mawu, the moon goddess, provides the cool of the night, peace, fertility, and rain. Other popular spirits or Loa include Mami Wata, who rules the waters, Erzuli, who has dominion over love, and Ogun, the overseer of war and defense as well as Papa Legba, the owner of the crossroad. Similarities between the Roman Catholic doctrine allowed slaves to merge their native religion to Catholicism, subsequently creating an opportunity to practice Voodoo without fear of reprisal from slave masters. Due to Hollywood representation, most societies associate Voodoo with satanic worship, cannibalism, and evil.

Voodoo misinterpretation began as early as 1791 at the Bois Caiman ceremony in Haiti. Bois Caiman, meaning alligator woods, was the site of enslaved Blacks who were planning the first successful slave rebellion known as the Haitian Revolution.

Bois Caimen Ceremony, Haitian Revolution

On the night of August 14, 1791, slaves from nearby Haitian plantations gathered to participate in a secret ceremony held in the woods by Dutty Boukman, a Jamaican mambo and Voodoo priest.

During the Bois Caiman ceremony, Dutty Boukman invoked the Voodoo Lwa, Ogun, the god of war, to defeat the French army, securing Haitian Independence.

Led by general, Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian Revolution is the only successful slave revolt on record. During the 2018 movie, Black Panther, we witnessed a few traditions associated with Voodoo, including ancestral worship (calling upon deceased bloodline for guidance), the use of herbs for healing, applied science and cosmos of the universe, African dance, as well as respecting nature and community bonding.

One of the most recognized figures of American Voodoo is Marie Laveau.

Marie Laveau

A renowned Voodoo practitioner, herbalist, and midwife, Laveau was a free woman of color born 1794 in the French Quarter of New Orleans, to plantation owner Charles Laveau and his mistress Marguerite, who was reportedly Black and Choctaw Indian.

Though many African Americans tend to fear their ancestor’s religion, it is important we understand the dynamic and relevance of the native belief system. While we may not agree with every aspect, undeniably Voodoo is a part of the African American history.

The Basic Beliefs of the Vodou (Voodoo) Religion (learnreligions.com)

Veve — Wikipedia

The Abeng and My Conscious Pen: Dutty Boukman in Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman)

The Haitian Revolution: Successful Revolt by an Enslaved People (thoughtco.com)

Marie Laveau — Wikipedia

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (P.S.): Hurston, Zora Neale: 9780061695131: Amazon.com: Books

Marie Laveau I

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PlanetAroundtheSun — Etsy

Marie Laveau I and II — Etsy