Voodoo, from vodun or vodoun comes from the West African word vodu which in Togo and in Dahomey means "spirits" or "gods". It is the popular religion of Haiti's peoples; a mixture of Catholic saints and native loa. It is also known throughout the West Indies and in South America by the names of macumba and candomble. Obeah is the West African ancestor of modern voodoo.
It comes from the name Obi, the snake-God, a word also meaning the "Spirit Of Evil". African slaves imported to the island of Santo Domingo brought their native religion with them. These rites include the blood sacrifice of fowls and goats, and at one time a young boy or girl. White Voodoo will only sacrifice white fowls or goats. Red Voodoo openly advocates human sacrifice.
Haiti's dictator-president Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier not only believes in voodoo but he is a "papaloi" ... a voodoo high priest. Most newspaper readers are unaware of the origin of his popular nickname "Papa Doc". A voodoo high priestess is called a "Mamaloi" or popularly mambo. Duvalier's dreaded secret police, the Ton Ton Macoute, is the militant right-arm of this "Black" magician. When the United States cut off aid to Haiti in disapproval of its policies, and in particular of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the latter put a curse on President Kennedy and all the Kennedy clan. He takes full credit for the tragedies that have befallen them.
Voodoo is a religion, a way of life, an expression of faith. Trances, possessions, clairvoyance, communication with "Spirits", powerful suggestion aided by beating torn toms, highly specialized rituals, prayers, pictures and all sorts of religious icons are used in their ceremonies. Children indoctrinated into voodoo from birth are just as fanatical and firm in their faith as any other religionists. Sometimes this fear-faith combination leads to murder as many newspapers have reported throughout the years.
Many of the early American black slaves brought with them their knowledge of voodoo and this, has been passed on to succeeding generations. Voodoo is the indigenous religion of the black man, especially the slave in the New World. It was and is an underground religion in opposition to Christian oppression. There was a furor in the town of Wetumka, Alabama in 1959 when the principal of the Cathmagy Elementary School, Mrs. Francis Webb Smith, was forced to resign her post after an investigation about numerous complaints that she taught "voodooism."
The Baron Samedi Cross
The Baron Samedi is the Master of the Cemeteries and is involved in black magic ceremonies. This cross is used in voodoo funeral rites.
Just this past year the New York Public Health service issued a warning against the importation and the buying of voodoo dolls. Sold primarily as novelties they pointed out that these dolls were capable of producing a poison-ivy type of rash and that they could be fatal to infants. In 1962 Newsweek Magazine reported: "The day's bargains included bat's blood, graveyard dust to counteract a charming, and death-to-thy-enemy candles.
The market, however, was not a trading post in the African bush, but a stall in New York City's steaming Harlem. Alarmed by the open and growing sales of do-it-yourself voodoo kits ... usually hawked alongside Madonnas and religious medals ... the New York Market Commission ordered a crackdown."
I can assure you that, crackdown or not, on leads given to me by friends, clients, and witches themselves, I visited some of these stores in Harlem, East Harlem, the lower Eastside of New York, upper part of West Manhattan and in Chinatown. In the Yellow Pages of the Manhattan Classified Phone Book there is a full page and a half of listings under the heading of "Religious Goods." The correct name for these stores is Botanicas. Most of them are legitimate, catering to orthodox religions. Others have voodoo paraphernalia "under the counter." Of course you have to know what to ask for. Then again since many Christian idols, medals, statues, candles and pictures are used in voodoo rituals the stores have no knowledge of their usage. I asked one owner about this. He shrugged and said "What they do with it is their business. I'm here to sell."
I have steadfastly refused to be horrified by the worse stories of voodoo and black magic when I also remember how thousands of slaves were torn from their families, and were beaten, chained, and starved, and how thousands died on the slaveships and their bodies were thrown overboard. Also, the stories of the deliberate breaking up of families by slave-traders in an attempt to "break their spirit", to prevent unity and strength do not horrify me. Or the plunder, rape and massacre of thousands of Aztecs, Incas and Mayans by the Spanish Conquistadores.
It's all the more amazing that the ancestral religion survived in the face of such brutality and deliberate genocide. But unbeknownst to the slave traders and the Plantation Owners they had also imported Obeah priests. Toussaint l'Overture, the son of an African slave of royal blood, was taught reading, writing and Catholicism as the son of a household slave. His father taught him African medicine, magic, the use of herbs, and his ancestral religion, Obeah.
The Maroons, bands of runaway slaves, united in their pride, and quest for freedom and voodoo, eventually became the nucleus of Toussaint's army. He became the Black Liberator of his people. An idealist, he agreed to negotiate peace terms with France, but was captured and imprisoned by Napoleon who didn't dare kill him but sentenced him to a damp dungeon cell with little food or clothing.
He died on April 17, 1803. Six months after his death the black army led by his chief general Dessalines, defeated the French and established the first Black Republic in the Americas, Haiti. It wasn't Christianity, the white man's religion, that made this possible, but Obeah, the black man's bond of brotherhood, practiced in secret, the unifying force that enabled them to overthrow their masters.
Though Voodoo accepts one Supreme God it believes that His power is expressed through hundreds of loa, spirits or lesser gods, each one with his own characteristics. Thousands gather annually on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for their public ritual to the Sea Loa. They plant candles in the sand, sing, and many go into trances or dance. Some become possessed of the loa, scream, cry, crash, and fall into a dead faint.
They give presents to the Sea Loa, Iemanja, anywhere from a bouquet of flowers to bottles of champagne and perfume. To call up the various loa by name they draw very precise images in the sand, called veves, ceremonial emblems, representing the Haitian Guede family. The one of death, Baron Samedi, features a cross and a skull.
A voodoo priest is a hungan or papaloi and the priestess a mambo or mamaloi. A hunfo is a voodoo sanctuary, a place of worship. A boko is a sorcerer or black magician. The tontons macoute, though now applied to Haiti's secret police, is the name given to wandering voodoo herbalists. The great voodoo gods of African origin are called rada the name itself a derivative of the ancient capital Dahomey, Arada.
The petro gods are the newer ones discovered in the Caribbean and the name comes from Don Pedro, a powerful voodoo priest (who lived in the early days of Haiti's colonialism.) Some of the most important voodoo gods are Legba. His symbol is the crutch which is hung in all voodoo sanctuaries. He is the Protector of hearth and home, and guardian of gates, fences, doorways, and meeting places. Under the name of Maitre Carrefour (god of the cross roads) he is the patron saint of sorcerers. Damballah-wedo is depicted as a big snake.
He is the patron of rain, rivers, springs and all watery places. Zaka is the patron of crops. Agwe is god of the sea. Sailors pray to him for a safe voyage. Gifts are sent to him in a boat. If the boat returns it means Agwe has refused the offering. The Guede are the spirits of death, the most notorious being Baron Samedi, who rules both the cemetery and its graves and sexuality in all its aspects.
In his book Les Zombis French writer C.H. Dewisme tells about a voodoo murder that happened during the American occupation of Haiti in World War 1. A voodoo priest cast a death spell on an American lieutenant who commanded the police department. This was in Port-au-Prince. The hungan let the lieutenant know that he would die by week's end.
The latter laughed it off. But on the night before the seventh day one of the officers returned to the station dead-drunk and in a combative mood. The lieutenant bawled him out for his improper behavior. At this the drunken officer pulled out his gun and shot the lieutenant ... dead!
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