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The religion of Voodoo
First and foremost Voodoo is a religion. It is the dominant religion of Haiti. Voodoo is a religion that originated in Africa and was brought to Haiti by slaves, where it is still widely practiced by most inhabitants. Many of the practices and descriptions of Voodoo belief may sound to us like superstition, but then, imagine the beliefs of Christianity to people who know nothing about it. Most aspects of this religion are positive and it affects all aspects of the people’s lives, such as morality, economics, safety, relationships and health.
In Voodoo there is one God, Bondye. The three important categories of other spiritual beings are: Loa, The twins, and the dead. Loa are the various spirits of family members. The spirits of the major forces of the universe are: good, evil, reproduction, health, and all aspects of daily life. Loa interacts with the people of the earth. They mount people now and again during religious ceremonies and they give messages, and even cause various good and bad things to happen to people. The twins are a curious and rather mysterious set of forces of contradictions, good and evil. If honored now and again in religious services they will tend to help you have the better side of life. The dead is mainly the souls of one’s own family members who have died but have not yet been reclaimed by the family. Ignored family dead are dangerous. Honored and cared for family dead are helpful. The central and key aspect of Voodoo is healing people from illness. Such healing activities probably constitute sixty percent of all Voodoo activity. Healers heal with herbs, faith healing with the help of Loa and other spirits and, today, even with western medicine.
The priesthood of Voodoo contains both men (houngan) and women (mambo). Their functions are: healing, performing religious ceremonies to call or pacify the spirits, holding initiations for new priests (tesses) (kanzo service and taking the ason), telling the future and reading dreams, casting spells and creating protections, creating potions for various purposes (from love spells to death spells).
Another central feature of Voodoo is the service, the religious rites of the religion. These are usually held outside, under a rough roof and around the poto mitan, the center pole. A houngan or mambo almost always directs these. Drums are used extensively to provide music and dancing is absolutely essential to the whole service. Services are fully participatory. Not only the houngan and mambo participate, but nearly everyone present. A master of ceremonies (La Place) is often present. A hounganikon directs the music and motion. Hounsi (women only) are serving ladies, usually dressed in white. Those in attendance are nearly all participants and most can be mounted by Loa. In most services the Loa mount people. That is, they come and take over a person’s body for a time. When the Loa come the person is gone. It is not clear where the person goes. The body is the body of the person, but it is really the Loa. If a Loa mounts a female person, he is referred to as he, not she, during the mounting. Nearly every Voodoo service has animal sacrifice. By killing the animal one releases life. The Loa are exhausted by the taxing task of running the universe. Thus they can receive this life sacrificed to them and are re-juvenated. They are usually quite happy about this.
There are two primary sorts of Voodoo and they are: Rada and Petro. The Rada is a family spirit Voodoo of the relatively peaceful and happy Loa. Petro is a black magic Voodoo and the Voodoo of angry, mean and nasty Loa. Dangerous things happen in Petro including death curses, the making of zombi and wild sexual orgies.
Humans have two spirits and a body. Ti-bon-ange (little good angel) is similar to the conscience in the Western understanding of people. Gros-bon-ange (big good angel) is similar to the soul in Western theories of person, except the soul is much more separate from the person than is a western soul. For example, when the person goes before God for judgment it is the gros-bon-ange which presents the person to God and makes the person’s case.
The black magic aspects of this religion play a very minor role and are not typical of Voodoo. In the early to mid-nineteen hundreds, there were exaggerated claims about Voodoo and movies portrayed followers as ignorant people who were obsessed with evil. Werewolves, zombies, the casting of spells and the use of Voodoo dolls were sensationalized as the common practices of these people. In actuality the use of black magic is rare but this stereotype remains with us even today.
The use of Voodoo dolls is unheard of in Haiti and most places where the religion is practiced. The only recorded serious use of the dolls, among Voodoo worshippers, was in the New Orleans area in the early nineteen hundreds. Hexes were cast to bring either good or bad luck to another person. The doll was used to symbolize that person. The sticking of pins into the doll was to reinforce and direct the spells that were cast.
Within the Voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why “vous deux”, you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of one. So, in essence, what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. .............
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