The word Voodoo is African meaning ‘spirit or mystery’. The practice of Voodoo is probably as old as Africa itself and is estimated to have over four hundred million worshipers worldwide.
The original principles as practiced by the ancestors was to spiritually heal. Voodoo practitioners described their religion as a search for their ancestral roots and use it to seek wisdom through the attainment of a higher level of consciousness.
Voodoo entered the realms of western society with the West African slave trade, which began in earnest around 1510, when millions of Nigerians, Gambians and Ghanaians and others were transported to work on the plantations in America, the Caribbean and many parts of South and Central America. Subjugated and stripped of all humanity by their slave masters, many found solace and hope in their religious belief, which served to give them an inner sense of freedom.
They believe in one supreme spiritual God who is everywhere, who knows all and sees all. The practice of voodoo is a way of looking at life and dealing with it. This higher being is believed to be assisted by the ‘Loas’ who have special and individual responsibilities for the various aspects of their daily existence. These include the provision of food, love, work, and the elements such as sun, rain, thunder and lightening, through which they are supposed to make their presence felt.
Offerings from each harvest is made to the Loa in an effort to appease. They are also regularly consulted by worshipers for guidance and protection.
When the Africans arrived in the New World, they found their religious beliefs to be at odds with their masters and as a result they were forbidden to openly practice their religion. The European slave masters believed that by separating the different tribes it would create diversity, this was a ploy to prevent them from communication and possibly rebelling. This completely failed. The Africans, although from different countries, different tribes and different languages were able to find commonality in their religion by adopting each others’ idiosyncrasies within their religious practice.
They were forced to practice Christianity, namely Catholicism which they incorporated into their own practices. They found that the way their masters practiced their religion, i.e. Catholicism, was not a million miles from the way they themselves practiced their religion. For example they also used incenses, dressed up in costumes during their worship and prayed to their saints asking them to intercede on their behalf.
There is a thriving community of Voodoo worshipers in New Orleans estimated to be around 15% of the population. The enrichment of Voodoo practice in New Orleans began with the arrival of Haitian plantation owners who first sought refuge in Cuba during the Haitian revolution. Finding it not to be the safe haven they hoped for, they moved to French-speaking New Orleans, taking with them their slaves who shared their beliefs with the existing slave population of New Orleans.
The Voodoo that is practiced today is not the pure version that is still practiced on a daily basis in Africa. It is in fact a conglomeration of African ancestral worship, European folk magic and the influence of the Taino Indians, (the indigenous people of the Caribbean region), whose healing practices became a large part of Voodoo worship which makes Voodoo what it is today.
Voodoo is a much-misunderstood religious practice, perhaps due to the Hollywood imagery, which frequently portrays it as being associated with the occult, zombies, vampires and devil worshipers.