The loa has been petitioned times.
Voudon, or Voodoo as it is vulgarly known, is probably the best example of African syncretism in the Americas. Although its essential elements originated in different parts of Africa long before the onset of the slave trade, the structure of Voodoo as we know it today was born in Haiti during the French colonization of Hispaniola. Ironically, it was the forced recombination of African slaves from different cultures that provided the circumstances for the development of Voodoo. Despite cultural and language differences and the inhuman institution of slavery, the transplanted Africans found in their various faiths a common thread.They commingled and modified rituals of various African spiritual systems, integrating their beliefs into a new religion: Voodoo, an Afro-Caribbean religion that mixed practices from the Fon, the Nago, the Ibos, Yoruba, Congos, Senegalese, Haussars, Caplaous, Mondungues, Mandinge, Angolese, Libyans, Ethiopians, and the Malgaches. Of these peoples, the Yoruba, who were taken from the empire of Dahomey (part of modern Nigeria), were the most numerous, and Voodoo can be most directly traced to the Yoruba religious system.
The word "vodoun" derives from vodu, meaning "spirit" or "deity" in the Fon language of Dahomey.
The Africans in Haiti used Voodoo as an integrating spiritual force, and in solidarity, they were able to survive the cruel persecution of the French, who forbade all African religious practices and severely punished the practitioners of Voodoo with imprisonments, beatings, torture, and death. They forced all slaves to undergo Roman Catholic Christian baptism and superimposed Catholic Christianity on them. The slaves responded to these and other oppressive subsystems of slavery through solidarity with each other, and continued to perform Voodoo rituals in secret, even at the risk of their own lives. The spiritual practice of Voodoo also continued openly, disguised as Catholicism: Voodoo deities, or loa, were identified with corresponding Catholic saints, and the worshippers incorporated Catholic statues, candles and holy relics into Voodoo rituals.
The religious struggle continued for three centuries, ending with the Haitian revolution of 1791; which began with a Voodoo ceremony and continued until 1804, when the Haitians overthrew their oppressors and won their independence, becoming the first independent black country in the western hemisphere. Today the system of Voodoo reflects its history. Modern rituals reflect the religion's background of spiritual solidarity under extreme oppression. At the same time, Voodoo is an exciting multicultural fusion, composed of elements of different rites and characteristic deities from all parts of Africa.
Cousin religions of voodoo are practiced throughout the Caribbean region, including in Jamaica and Trinidad. In Cuba, a syncretic religion called Santería evolved from Yoruba foundations mixed with Spanish Catholic beliefs. All of these Caribbean religions are related in belief structure and similar pantheons, but vodoun has many characteristics that make it unique among the Caribbean belief structures. A highly malleable religion, voodoo beliefs and practices can vary hugely from community to community in Haiti itself. Still widely practiced in Haiti, voodoo has migrated with Haitians to many other parts of the world, with particularly strong communities in New Orleans, Miami and New York City. Each of these communities have spawned new evolutions of voodoo. Worldwide, voodoo has fifty-million followers.
In Haiti, the African Yoruban beliefs mingled with the Catholic beliefs of the French settlers to form the syncretic religion, voudon. In reality, voudon is a product of the slave trade. Whites forbade slaves to practice their native religions on pains of torture and death, and they baptized slaves as Catholics. Catholicism became superimposed on native rites and beliefs, which were still practiced in secret. Tribal deities, or loa, took on the forms of Catholic saints. Worshipers saw the addition of the saints as an enhancement of their faith, and incorporated Catholic statues, candles and holy relics into their rituals.
Cousin religions of voudon are practiced throughout the Caribbean region, including in Jamaica and Trinidad. In Cuba, a syncretic religion called Santería evolved from Yoruba foundations mixed with Spanish Catholic beliefs. All of these Caribbean religions are related in belief structure and similar pantheons, but vodun has many characteristics that make it unique among the Caribbean belief structures. A highly malleable religion, voudon beliefs and practices can vary hugely from community to community in Haiti itself. Still widely practiced in Haiti, voudon has migrated with Haitians to many other parts of the world, with particularly strong communities in New Orleans, Miami and New York City. Each of these communities has spawned new evolutions of voudon. Worldwide, vodun has fifty-million followers.
Voudon is marked primarily by a belief in the loa, the gods that form the voudon pantheon. Devotees of voudon believe that all things serve the loa and so by definition are expressions and extensions of deity. The loa are very active in the world and often literally "possess" devotees during ritual. Rituals are practiced primarily to make offerings to, or "feed," the loa and to entreat the loa for aid or fortune.
Practitioners of voudon come together in a community, called a société. The société centers around a hounfort, where rituals are performed, and a primary priest or priestess, called the houngan and mambo, respectively. Voudon sociétés are very close-knit and provide a central organizing structure to small communities in Haiti.
Unlike many other Caribbean, Yoruba-based religions, voudon has a large, highly developed system of belief relating to the "dark" side of the loa and of human beings. Black magic is practiced by priests called bokors and by secret societies that splinter off from the main vodun communities. The existing beliefs in black magic--though not practiced regularly, by any means--are the sources of many misconceptions about vodun. Popular works of fiction and nonfiction and many movies have strengthened these misconceptions, which center mainly around false notions about cannibalism and zombification. It is my intention that these information pages will put some of these misconceptions popularly held about voudon to rest and will educate about the highly developed, complicated structure of beliefs that make up the religion of voudon.