Comp. Std. 270N
Voodoo: The Possession of the Spirits
Within the small
third-world country of
believe that Voodoo is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old,
originating among the Fon-Ewe tribes of
Haitian Voodoo is an interesting blend, comprised of a strict monotheism mixed with the worship of many spirits (Caistor). Haitians believe in one all-powerful deity, Bondieu, who is manifest in all and has reign over the entire universe, the spirits, and all of life. Under Bondieu, there are three general categories of spirits that Haitians believe control and direct the universe. Loa are spirits that embody the major forces of the universe. They control characteristics of nature such as the wilderness, the grave, and the fresh waters. There are hundreds of loa, each in dominion over a specific aspect of nature. In addition to loa, there are spirits that are not well understood and even somewhat mysterious; these spirits are sometimes referred to as the “twins,” because they represent the contradictory forces in nature, such as good and evil, happiness and sadness, health and illness. In this way, the twins are comparable to the Chinese yin and yang. It is believed that if they are honored, these spirits will give the worshipper the better side of these contradicting forces. The souls of dead family members constitute the final group of spirits. After death, these ancestors stay with their families and help them navigate through the trials of life. A Voodoo worshipper believes that when he dies, his soul will remain on earth to provide guidance to his family (Corbett).
Voodooists believe that it is important to honor and care for all of the spirits, as it is believed they become weak over time and depend on humans for nourishment. Rituals and sacrifices are used to rejuvenate them, and it is believed that the life force of a sacrificed animal will transfer to the spirit, in essence “feeding” it (Guynup). On an individual level, each household will set up one or more tables for their ancestors and honor them with candles, perfumes, foods, drinks, pictures, or other effects that please them (Rock). Bondieu and the spirits are also honored at ceremonies, where groups can congregate and worship. Houngans and/or mambos lead most of the Voodoo ceremonies. A tree or pole is central to the ceremony, and drumming and dancing almost always accompany the rituals (Corbett). These rituals are done to gratify Bondieu and the loas. An animal, such as a sanctified chicken is sacrificed in order to satisfy loas, which are sustained by the life energy that is released during the sacrifice (Corbett). During the ceremony, worshippers can be “mounted,” or possessed, by a loa. The loa will take complete control of the individual and will offer advice, give cures, and prophesy to the assembly (Rock). Possession is usually accompanied by frenzied dancing, and after some time has passed, the loa will release the exhausted individual.
There are two
main types of Voodoo in
While the vast
majority of Voodoo follows the “sweet” loa, some believers focus on the
“bitter” loa, spirits that are ill tempered and demanding of their worshippers
Power is not limited strictly to the Petro believers; even in Rada Voodoo, houngans and mambos possess power, such as the ability to kill animal sacrifices by simply pointing loa fetishes at them. There is no known scientific reason for these occurrences, other than the sheer power of Voodoo. In an August 1995 article for National Geographic, journalist Carol Beckwith tells of the strange events that she witnessed while researching Voodoo for her story:
A woman splashed sand into her eyes, a man cut his belly with shards of glass but did not bleed, another swallowed fire. Nearby a believer, perhaps a yam farmer or fisherman, heated hand-wrought knives in crackling flames. Then another man brought one of the knives to his tongue. We cringed at the sight and were dumbfounded when, after several repetitions, his tongue had not even reddened. (Beckwith 111)
Participants of these rituals claim that the spirits protect them and would allow no harm to befall them.
To the Haitians, Voodoo is the true path, and fulfillment comes through service to the spirits. Some worshippers hold a fearful respect of the spirits, while others joyfully worship and love the spirits. After death, Voodooists aspire to join the other spirits and help future generations. But until that time comes, they persist in their struggle of poverty, somewhere in between the physical and spiritual realms, relying on Bondieu and the spirits to carry them through the day, through this life and into the next. This is the power that is Voodoo.
Guynup, Sharon. “
“Origins Of Voodoo.” The Afrocentric Experience.
Rock, Michael. “More about Haitian Vodou.” Erzulie’s
Authentic Voudou: Honoring the Great Voudou
Goddess of Passion, Pleasure, and Prosperity. 2004.