AskDefine | Define voodooism

Dictionary Definition

voodooism n : a religious cult practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries (especially Haiti); involves witchcraft and animistic deities [syn: voodoo, vodoun, hoodooism]

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English

Noun

voodooism
  1. a religious cult, from Haiti, involving witchcraft and sorcery

Extensive Definition

Vodou (Anglicized: Voodoo) is a name attributed to a New World syncretistic religion, or family of religions, based on the faiths of the Fon, Ewe, and related peoples of West Africa (see West African Vodun), of the Kongo people of Central Africa (see Lemba), and of Christianity. It is found in areas of the African diaspora, especially Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Brazil. This article is primarily concerned with the form of the religion as it is practiced in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. See Louisiana Voodoo for the Afro-creole tradition of New Orleans, Santería and Arará for the forms local to Cuba, and Candomblé and Umbanda for Brazil.
In Vodou [voo - doo], all Creation is divine and therefore contains divine power, which can be accessed by practitioners. The core functions of Vodou are to explain the forces of the universe, to influence those forces, and to influence human behavior. Vodou oral traditions carry genealogy, history, and fables. Adherents honor deities and venerate ancestors, both ancient and recent.
When the word Vodou is capitalized, it denotes the religion. In lower case, it means the spirits of the religion.

African origins

The word voodoo derives from vodũ, which in Fon, Ewe, and related language (distributed from contemporary Ghana to Benin) means spirit or divine creature (in the sense of divine creation).
The cultural area of the Fon, Ewe, and Yoruba peoples share common metaphysical conceptions around a dual cosmological divine principle Nana Buluku, the God-Creator, and the vodou(s) or God-Actor(s), daughters and sons of the Creator's twin children Mawu (goddess of the moon) and Lisa (god of the sun). The God-Creator is the cosmogonical principle and does not trifle with the mundane; the vodou(s) are the God-Actor(s) who actually govern earthly issues. The pantheon of vodoun is quite large and complex. In one version, there are seven male and female twins of Mawu, interethnic and related to natural phenomena or historical or mythical individuals, and dozens of ethnic Vodous, defenders of a certain clan or tribe.
West African Vodun has its primary emphasis on the ancestors, with each family of spirits having its own specialized priest- and priestesshood which are often hereditary. In many African clans, deities might include Mami Wata, who are gods and goddesses of the waters; Legba, who in some clans is virile and young in contrast to the old man form he takes in Haiti and in many parts of Togo; Gu (or Ogoun), ruling iron and smithcraft; Sakpata, who rules diseases; and many other spirits distinct in their own way to West Africa.
European colonialism, followed by totalitarian regimes in West Africa, suppressed Vodun as well as other forms of the religion. However, because the Vodou deities are born to each African clan-group, and its clergy is central to maintaining the moral, social, and political order and ancestral foundation of its villagers, it proved to be impossible to eradicate the religion. Though permitted by Haiti's 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.
Today in West Africa, Vodun is estimated to be practised by over 30 million people. Vodoun became the official religion of Benin in 1996. Both American and Caribbean variations of the faith system center on ancestral spirits and two main pantheons of Lwas; tribal relationships are de-emphasized.

Haitian Vodou

In Haitian Vodou or Sèvis Lwa or "Service to the Spirits" in Haitian Creole (kreyòl ayisyen), there are strong elements from the Bakongo of Central Africa and the Igbo and Yoruba of Nigeria, although many different people or nations of Africa have representation in the liturgy of the Sèvis Lwa. Islam has also been noted in some services. Among these other nations are the Taíno and Arawak Indians, venerated as the indigenous population (and hence, a form of ancestors) of the island now known as Hispaniola. A large and significant portion of Haitian Vodou most often overlooked by scholars, especially English-speaking ones, until recently is the Kongo component. The entire Northern area of Haiti is especially influenced by Kongo practice. In the North, it is more often called Kongo Rite or Lemba, from the Lemba rites of the Loango area and Mayombe. In the south, Kongo influence is called Petwo (Petro). Many loas or lwas (also a Kikongo term) are of Kongo origin such as Basimbi, Lemba, etc.
Haitian creole forms of Vodou exist in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, parts of Cuba, the United States, and other places that Haitian immigrants dispersed to over the years. However, it is important to note that the Vodoun religion existed in the United States, having been brought over by West Africans enslaved in America, specifically from the Ewe, Fon, Mina, Kabaye, and Nago groups. Some of its more enduring forms still exist in the Gullah Islands. There is a re-emergence of these Vodoun traditions in America, which maintains the same linealritual and cosmological elements as is practiced in West Africa. These and other African-diasporic religions such as Lukumi or Regla de Ocha (also known as Santería) in Cuba, Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil, all religions that evolved among descendants of transplanted Africans in the Americas.

History

The majority of the Africans who were brought as slaves to Haiti were from Western and Central Africa. The Vodoun practitioners brought over and enslaved in the United States primarily descend from the Ewe, Anlo-Ewe, and other West African groups. The survival of the belief systems in the New World is remarkable, although the traditions have changed with time and have even taken on some Catholic forms of worship. One of the largest differences, however, between African and Haitian Vodou is that the transplanted Africans of Haiti were obliged to disguise their loa (sometimes spelled lwa) or spirits as Roman Catholic saints, an element of a process called syncretism.
Roman Catholicism was mixed into the religion to hide their "pagan" religion from their masters, who had forbidden them to practice it. Any practitioners caught doing anything outside of the Catholic religion would be subject to execution. To say that Haitian Vodou is simply a mix of West African religions with a veneer of Roman Catholicism would be correct. To this day, many uneducated Haitians practicing this religion will integrate Roman Catholic practices by including their prayers in the ceremony. Throughout the history of the island from the day of independence of 1804 to the present, missionaries repeatedly came over to the island to convert the Haitians back to the Christian religion into which they were forced. This has set many Haitians to project vodou as an evil religion, from the influence of the missionaries to abusive practitioners who use vodou to persecute. Practitioners want to convince other religious groups in the Haitian Islands that their religion involves God as much as Christianity.
Vodou, as it is known in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, is the result of the pressures of many different cultures and ethnicities of people being uprooted from Africa and imported to Hispaniola during the African slave trade. Under slavery, African culture and religion was suppressed, lineages were fragmented, and people pooled their religious knowledge and from this fragmentation became culturally unified. In addition to combining the spirits of many different African and Indian nations, Vodou has incorporated pieces of Roman Catholic liturgy to replace lost prayers or elements. Images of Catholic saints are used to represent various spirits or "mistè" ("mysteries", actually the preferred term in Haiti), and many saints themselves are honored in Vodou in their own right. This syncretism allows Vodou to encompass the African, the Indian, and the European ancestors in a whole and complete way. It is truly a Kreyòl religion.
The most historically important Vodou ceremony in Haitian history was the Bwa Kayiman or Bois Caïman ceremony of August 1791 that began the Haitian Revolution, in which the spirit Ezili Dantor possessed a priestess and received a black pig as an offering, and all those present pledged themselves to the fight for freedom. This ceremony ultimately resulted in the liberation of the Haitian people from French colonial rule in 1804, and the establishment of the first black people's republic in the history of the world and the second independent nation in the Americas.
Haitian vodou crossed over in the United States as early as the 1800s, but surfaced mainly in New Orleans. One practitioner that popularized it in the area was the famed Vodou Queen Marie Laveau, but other forms of vodou existed in the United States dating before the 1776 revolution. Because of the system imposed to slaves in all of the British colonies in the western hemisphere, many masters were able to control their slaves to make absolutely no attempt to practice any religion of African origin. Drum beats heard by the master in the American territory would cause slaves to be subject to punishment.
Over the years Haitian Vodou had received a negative reputation by the ignorance of the Americans, Europeans and people throughout the world that were exposed to Haitians. Missionaries had reported it, but it wasn't until the latter half of the 19th century that a book written in 1886 by Sir Spencer St. Johns, Hayti, or the Black Republic, accused Haitian Vodou practitioners of practicing cannibalism. Throughout the 20th century, Haitian Vodou was depicted by Hollywood as being an evil and menacing religion with spells by witch doctors and tales of zombies. However, by 1950, a film director named Maya Deren did a three-year research project from 1947 to 1950 in which she showed vodou as a religion of beauty and magnificence. She even wrote the book The Divine Horseman, which gives details about the religion.
Though Vodou had a bad reputation in the early half of the 20th century in America and Haiti, by the 1960s Haitians migrating to the United Stated began to grow in greater numbers. Though the practice was acceptable but did not constitute a religion, Haitians began to expose its practice in the larger Haitian communities in New York, Miami, Chicago, and Philadelphia and even in Montreal and Paris. Though Haitians practiced and showed their vodou pride throughout the country and even during Mardi Gras, Haiti did not recognize vodou as a religion until April 4, 2003.
Today Vodou is practiced not only by Haitians, but by Americans and people of many nationalities that are exposed to the Haitian culture. However, because of the demand some impose on vodou, high priests and priestesses began the abuse of exploiting their clients and asking high monetary funds for work that brings no result. It can be said that the culture of vodou is becoming a dying religion due to the greed of many who practice. It is known that the majority of Haitians involved in the practice have been initiated to become a Houngan or Mambo. In Haiti, a houngan or mambo is considered a person of possible high power and status who can make a significant amount of money. It's a growing occupation in Haiti that attracts many impoverished citizen to practice this field, not only to have power but to have money as well. Many vodou practitioners with a hunger to live a life of money and power go into this field to exploit foreigners and Haitians who are uneducated about vodou into their web of scams to collect many monetary funds with exchange of poor quality work.

Vodou and spiritualism

After a day or two of preparation setting up altars, ritually preparing and cooking fowl and other foods, etc., a Haitian Vodou service begins with a series of Catholic prayers and songs in French, then a litany in Kreyòl and African "langaj" that goes through all the European and African saints and lwa honored by the house, and then a series of verses for all the main spirits of the house. This is called the "Priyè Gine" or the African Prayer. After more introductory songs, beginning with saluting the spirit of the drums named Hounto, the songs for all the individual spirits are sung, starting with the Legba family through all the Rada spirits, then there is a break and the Petwo part of the service begins, which ends with the songs for the Gede family. As the songs are sung spirits will come to visit those present by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. There are some cases where some practitioners who seek attention would pretend to get possessed. There are times when the houngan would drink until he is very drunk at the end of the ceremony. Some practitioners of these vodou ceremony fall into being fooled by the vodou priest. When a ceremony is made, only the family of those possessed is benefited. This is the greatest time these mambo or houngan can take your luck if they ask for champagne from you. Beware when that occurs. Sometimes these ceremony have some dispute going among the singers because of the way its sung. In Haiti, these vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. But in the United States, vodou practitioner and the priests/priestess takes it as a folly party. Each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and will give readings, advice and cures to those who approach them for help. Many hours later in morning, the last song is sung, guests leave, and all the exhausted hounsis and houngans and manbos can go to sleep.
On the individual's household level, a Vodouisant or "sèvitè"/"serviteur" may have one or more tables set out for their ancestors and the spirit or spirits that they serve with pictures or statues of the spirits, perfumes, foods, and other things favored by their spirits. The most basic set up is just a white candle and a clear glass of water and perhaps flowers. On a particular spirit's day, one lights a candle and says an Our Father and Hail Mary, salutes Papa Legba and asks him to open the gate, and then one salutes and speaks to the particular spirit like an elder family member. Ancestors are approached directly, without the mediating of Papa Legba, since they are said to be "in the blood".

Values and ethics

The cultural values that Vodou embraces center around ideas of dishonor and greed - to the family and society, and to oneself. There is also a notion of relative propriety — and what is appropriate to someone with Dambala Wedo as their head may be different from someone with Ogou Feray as their head. For example, one spirit is very cool and the other is very hot. Coolness overall is valued, and so is the ability and inclination to protect oneself and one's own if necessary. Love and support within the family of the Vodou society seems to be the most important consideration. Generosity in giving to the community and to the poor is also an important value. One's blessings come through the community and there is the idea that one should be willing to give back to it in turn. There are no "solitaries" in Vodou, only people separated geographically from their elders and house. A person without a relationship of some kind with elders will not be practicing Vodou as it is understood in Haiti and among Haitians.
In the view of some the Haitian Vodou religion is an ecstatic rather than a fertility based tradition and because of this, the religion has technically no prohibitions against gay men and lesbian women. Although homophobia is a world-wide phenomenon and may be prevalent in Vodou-practicing countries, a homosexual can practise Vodou with no doctrinal issues. In Haiti, for example, Vodou is normally the only spiritual outlet a homosexual will have.

Orthodoxy and diversity

There is a diversity of practice in Vodou across the country of Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. For instance in the north of Haiti the lave tèt ("head washing") or kanzwe may be the only initiation, as it is in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, whereas in Port-au-Prince and the south they practice the kanzo rites with three grades of initiation – kanzo senp, si pwen, and asogwe – and the latter is the most familiar mode of practice outside of Haiti. Some lineages combine both, as Manbo Katherine Dunham reports from her personal experience in her book the Possessed Island.
While the overall tendency in Vodou is very conservative in accord with its African roots, there is no singular, definitive form, only what is right in a particular house or lineage. Small details of service and the spirits served will vary from house to house, and information in books or on the internet therefore may seem contradictory. There is no central authority or "pope" in Haitian Vodou since "every manbo and houngan is the head of their own house", as a popular saying in Haiti goes. Another consideration in terms of Haitian diversity are the many sects besides the Sèvi Gine in Haiti such as the Makaya, Rara, and other secret societies, each of which has its own distinct pantheon of spirits.

Myths and misconceptions

Vodou has come to be associated in the popular mind with the lore about Satanism, zombies and "voodoo dolls." While there is evidence of zombie creation, it is a minor phenomenon within rural Haitian culture and not a part of the Vodou religion as such. Such things fall under the auspices of the bokor or sorcerer rather than the priest of the Loa.
The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in European folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, which is a local variant of hoodoo, is a mystery. Some speculate that it was used as a means of self defense to intimidate superstitious slave owners. This practice is not unique to New Orleans voodoo, however, and has as much basis in European-based magical devices such as the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa.
These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti would be referred to as pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port au Prince. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.
There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by voodoo worshippers in popular media and imagination, ie. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa.
Although Voodoo is often associated with Satanism, Satan is primarily an Abrahamic figure and has not been incorporated in Voodoo tradition. When Mississippi Delta folksongs mix references to Voodoo and to Satan, what is being expressed is social pain such as from racism. Those who practice voodoo are not attempting to worship or invoke the blessings of a devil.
Further adding to the dark reputation of Voodoo was the 1973 film adaptation of the thriller Live and Let Die, part of Ian Fleming's widely successful James Bond series, which had been continually in print in both the English original and translations to numerous languages. Fleming's depiction of the schemings of a fiendish Soviet agent using Voodoo to intimidate and control a vast network of submissive Black followers got an incomparably greater audience than any careful scholarly work on the subject of Voodoo. (See Mr. Big, Baron Samedi.)

Notes

References

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  • Alapini Julien, Le Petit Dahomeen, Grammaire. Vocabulaire, Lexique En Langue Du Dahomey, Avignon, Les Presses Universelles, 1955.
  • Anderson, Jeffrey. 2005. Conjure In African American Society. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Argyle, W.J., The Fon of Dahomey: A History and Ethnography of the Old Kingdom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Chesi, Gert, Voodoo: Africa's Secret Power, Austria, Perliner, 1980.
  • Chireau, Yvonne. 2003. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Cosentino, Donald. 1995. "Imagine Heaven" in Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. Edited by Cosentino, Donald et al. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Decalo, Samuel, Historical Dictionary of Dahomey, (People's Republic of Benin), N.J., The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1976.
  • Ellis, A.B., The Ewe Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Chicago, Benin Press Ldt, 1965.
  • Fandrich, Ina. 2005. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans. New York: Routledge.
  • Le Herisee, A. & Rivet, P., The Royanume d'Ardra et son evangelisation au XVIIIe siecle, Travaux et Memories de "'Institut d'Enthnologie, no. 7, Paris, 1929.
  • Long, Carolyn. 2001. Spiritual Merchants: Magic, Religion and Commerce. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  • Saint-Lot, Marie-José Alcide. 2003. Vodou: A Sacred Theatre. Coconut Grove: Educa Vision, Inc.
  • Tallant, Robert. "Reference materials on voodoo, folklore, spirituals, etc. 6-1 to 6-5 -Published references on folklore and spiritualism." The Robert Tallant Papers. New Orleans Public Library. fiche 7 and 8, grids 1-22. Accessed 5 May 2005.
  • Thornton, John K. 1988. "On the trail of Voodoo: African Christianity in Africa and the Americas" The Americas Vol: 44.3 Pp 261-278.
  • Vanhee, Hein. 2002. "Central African Popular Christianity and the Making of Haitian Vodou Religion." in Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora Edited by: L. M. Heywood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 243-64.
  • Verger, Pierre Fátúmbí, Dieux d'Afrique: Culte des Orishas et Vodouns à l’ancienne Côte des Esclaves en Afrique et à Bahia, la Baie de Tous Les Saints au Brésil. 1954.
  • Ward, Martha. 2004. Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.
  • Warren, Dennis, D., The Akan of Ghana, Accra, Pointer Limited, 1973. 9.
voodooism in Arabic: فودو
voodooism in Bulgarian: Вуду
voodooism in Catalan: Vodú
voodooism in Czech: Voodoo
voodooism in Danish: Voodoo
voodooism in German: Voodoo
voodooism in Spanish: Vudú
voodooism in Esperanto: Voduo
voodooism in French: Vaudou
voodooism in Korean: 부두교
voodooism in Hindi: वूडू
voodooism in Croatian: Vudu
voodooism in Indonesian: Voodoo
voodooism in Italian: Vudù
voodooism in Hebrew: וודו
voodooism in Georgian: ვუდუ
voodooism in Kongo: Vodu
voodooism in Haitian: Vodou
voodooism in Lithuanian: Vudu
voodooism in Dutch: Voodoo
voodooism in Japanese: ブードゥー教
voodooism in Norwegian: Voodoo
voodooism in Uzbek: Vudu
voodooism in Polish: Voodoo
voodooism in Portuguese: Vodun
voodooism in Romanian: Vaudou
voodooism in Russian: Вуду
voodooism in Sicilian: Vudu
voodooism in Simple English: Voodoo
voodooism in Slovak: Voodoo
voodooism in Serbian: Вуду
voodooism in Serbo-Croatian: Vudu
voodooism in Finnish: Voodoo
voodooism in Swedish: Voodoo
voodooism in Thai: ลัทธิวูดู
voodooism in Turkish: Vudu
voodooism in Chinese: 伏都教

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