African diaspora religion which comes in two major flavors: Haitian Vodou (also Vodun or Voudoun) and New Orleans
Voodoo. Both derive from West African Dahomeyan religions, along with Lucumi/Santeria, Umbanda, Candomble, and similar beliefs, which share certain similarities. The slave trade brought these beliefs to the New World, where they became syncretized with the Catholicism and Francophone culture of the slave owners, with a little Native American influence where applicable.
Louisiana Voodoo is closely tied to hoodoo, a form of folk magic from which come the famous gris-gris bags and mojo hands. Many such practitioners officially identify as Catholic. Haitian Vodou is an ecstatic religion, focusing on possession by the spirits or lwa (loa). This is known as being ridden by the lwa, where the worshipper acts as the "horse" of the lwa. While possessed, the "horse" acts as the lwa itself, and is treated as such.
Although the lwa seem to go by many names
, at least in Haitian Vodou the names represent different personalities/aspects of those lwas. So although there are multiple pantheons/nations (Rada
being the most significant), with different personality traits (anme
), they are the same individual, and a different individual all at the same time. Vodou's into paradoxes like that. For example, Ezili can have the suffix of Freda or Danto. The former is the romantic side of love, focusing on lovers, and the latter can focus more on children. It's kind of like how all the manifestations of the Virgin Mary are still the Virgin Mary, even though they all have their own traits.
Kreyol (Creole) is the language of Vodou, and all common religious songs are in this language.
Some key points in Vodou:
- There is a supreme creator god, Bondye (Bon Dieu, the "good god"), but he is far removed and does not intercede in mortal affairs.
- Worship is centered on the lwa (loa), who serve Bondye and can communicate with mortals.
- Ancestor veneration also plays a key role in Vodou.
- In the New World, the lwa became syncretized with Catholic Saints with similar roles.
- There is a concern with witchcraft, and being cursed by those who wish you harm.
- Many lwa have aspects of magic, healing and sex.
- Papa Legba
- Also known as Elegba, Atibon Legba, Ellegua or Exu. Legba is the keeper of the crossroads and the opener of roads. He must be invoked before speaking with any other lwa, as he opens the gate to let them through. He is a master of communication, and sometimes a trickster. Usually appears as an old, bent black man with a cane, a straw hat, a satchel, and a corncob pipe. Often he is depicted with twisted limbs or covered in sores. He wears a large ring of keys, to open any door. Has a fondness for rum, tobacco, and candy. He is syncretized with St. Anthony.
- Baron Samedi
- The Baron is famous as the fearsome keeper of the dead, but also presides over sex and resurrection. Since no-one can die until the Baron accepts him or her, he is often asked for intercession in grievous injury or illness. He appears in formal black tails and top-hat, with a skull for a face, or with his face painted to resemble a skull. He wears smoked glasses with one lens popped out, to keep an eye on his offerings, and smokes cigars. He drinks rum with 21 hot peppers steeped in it. He and his minions, the Ghede, are known for being disruptive, crude, and overtly sexual, because the dead have no need for mortal inhibitions. He is married to Maman Brigitte, but still chases after mortal women. He is often invoked in magical workings for his great power, particularly in black magic.
- Papa Ghede
- Said to be the first man who ever died. In some traditions, he is the kinder counterpart to the Baron. Like all Ghede, he is known for crude sexual humor and for dancing the banda, a dance that mimics copulation. He drinks raw rum that has been steeped with hot peppers, calling it "tiger's piss". He is especially protective of children.
- Erzulie Freda
- Also known as Ezili Freda, Maitresse Mambo Erzulie Freda Dahomey. The very popular lwa of love, beauty and wealth. She is light-skinned and beautiful, with long, fair hair (imagine Beyoncé as a Caribbean deity and you're not too far off). She demands the finest things, yet it is never enough. She ends up in tears because all the finery cannot make up for the pain and imperfection of the world. She is thus syncretized with the Mater Dolorosa. She likes jewelry, perfume, pink champagne, white or pink cakes, fine chocolate, and rice pudding. In some traditions, she is the patron of gay men. She is a powerful mambo (priestess) and can destroy any evil magic (ouanga) by her mere presence.