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 and Petwo being the most significant), with different personality traits (anme and doux), 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 (and is Rada), focusing on lovers, and the latter can focus more on children (and is Petwo). 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 of the "god of gods" variety, Bondye (Bon Dieu, the "good god"), but he is far removed and does not intercede in mortal affairs.
- Vodouisants serve the lwa, but they do not worship them. Worship is reserved only for Bondye. The lwa in turn 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.
- One form of lwa is the "Petro loa", which can be translated as an angry dark side of a spirit. The concept of "Petro loa" is linked to the harshness of slavery, the angry supressed side of slaves.
- Papa Legba
- Also known as Atibon Legba, or as Elegba, Ellegua or Exu in Yoruba or Santeria. 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. His dark side aspect is named Kalfu, and is associated with curses and misfortune, the impoverished, inversion of a wealth god, The Almighty Dollar. 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. This lwa is a large part of the reason that in the Southern US the traditional place to make a Deal with the Devil is at the crossroads, as in Hollywood Voodoo Legba is frequently Hijacked By Satan.
- 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, especially that of children. 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 to see in the world of the living and the dead, and smokes cigars. He drinks rum with 21 hot peppers steeped in it. He and the dead, which are called the Ghede, are known for being disruptive, crude, and overtly sexual, because the dead have no need for mortal inhibitions. He can also provide information, advice, and help to those who need it and ask. He is married to Maman Brigitte, but still chases after mortal women. He is often invoked in magical workings for his great power. The Baron is often thought of in connection with Black Magic, but there are other lwa for that purpose.
- 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. 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.
- The Ogou are technically a family of lwa. The Ogou are warriors, although they also have peaceful applications as craftsmen, metalworkers, field medics, and diplomats. According to some accounts he was the first of the lwa sent into the physical universe by Bondye to choose a suitable planet for Him create life on. Had a physical body at one point but it eventually died and his spirit now inhabits the Earth itself. One of the more well known lwa outside the Afro-Caribbean community thanks to making several appearances in the Shin Megami Tensei series of video games, most notably the first Persona.