Dreading the Voodoo
The scene is set as darkness creeps across the swamp. Drums beat feverishly against the thick night air. A trance takes hold and bodies sway. Suddenly a man appears in a top hat and tails, half a skull drawn upon his face. He raises a knife and the hard edge glints beneath the moonlight. He has madness in his eyes as he approaches a terrified white woman. She is bound to an Oak tree, the Spanish moss hangs low about her torn dress. The drums beat faster. She struggles but to no avail. A scream pierces the night and ends in a gurgle of blood; her throat slit, she goes limp against the ropes. Thus begins so many Hollywood depictions of the mysterious religion known as Voodoo. It has tirelessly been maligned in fiction and movies alike, stemming in part from a racist motivation to cast all things “black” in a negative light, having originated on the so-called dark continent of Africa. Yet Voodoo is not anything like the evil way it has been depicted. It began on the west coast of Africa in an area known as the Dahomey kingdom which encompassed such modern day countries as Nigeria and Benin. The word Vodun means spirit. Voodoo has no written word the way Christianity or Islam possess. There is no Bible or Koran to reference and thus no hard lines of good and evil. Voodoo teaches balance. Only that which puts your life out of balance is wrong not necessarily a specific act in and of itself.
Voodoo came to the new world via the slave trade and because it had no hard and fast rules, it was malleable whenever it touched upon outside religions, philosophies, or ideologies. The first shipment of slaves arrived in New Orleans and began the mixing of the African religion with Catholicism. Both religions are monotheistic and both embrace a pantheon of spirits. In Catholicism the spirits are called Saints. In Voodoo they are known as the Loa. Slaves saw a chance to keep their own religion alive by synchronizing it with Catholicism and so the Loa became forever tangled up with the Saints. Papa Legba is the gatekeeper and is linked to Saint Peter at the pearly gates. Damballa is represented as a serpent and is thus equated with Saint Patrick for his ties to the snakes of Ireland. The sword wielding Saints are associated with Ogoun, the warrior spirit.
Many myths surround Voodoo and are a way to debase black religions. The Voodoo doll is an example of one such construct. True practitioners do not poke a doll bearing someone’s likeness. Voodoo dolls originated with sympathetic magic and are best illustrated with poppet dolls. Sympathetic magic dictates that a person can be impacted magically by actions directed towards something that represents them. This is where the poppet doll comes into play and can be used for the detriment of someone on the receiving end. Other myths center around human sacrifice and are appallingly inaccurate. There is no one being sacrificed in a Voodoo ceremony. That only happens in dime store novels and movies.
Voodoo, like every religion has a beauty within it and things to teach us. Hopefully this will inspire you to learn more about the religion in order to separate fact from the prevailing fiction.
Crescent City Historic Tours