Vodou Religion | God, Spirits, Ethics, Magic and Women In Vodou

Vodou Religion

More About Vodou Religion

Haitian Vodou OR Vodou Religion is an African diasporic religion that developed in Haiti between the 16th and 19th centuries. It arose through a process of syncretism between several traditional religions of West and Central Africa and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. There is no central authority in control of the religion and much diversity exists among practitioners, who are known as Vodouists, Vodouisants, or Serviteurs.

The God Of Vodou Religion:

Teaching the existence of a single supreme God, Vodou has been described as monotheistic. Believed to have created the universe, this entity is called Bondye or Bonié, a term deriving from the French Bon Dieu (“Good God”). Another term used is the Gran Mèt, which derives from Freemasonry. For Vodouists, Bondye is seen as the ultimate source of power, deemed responsible for maintaining universal order. Bondye is also regarded as remote and transcendent, not involving itself in human affairs; there is thus little point in approaching it directly. Haitians will frequently use the phrase si Bondye vle (“if Bondye wishes”), suggesting a belief that all things occur by this divinity’s will. While Vodouists often equate Bondye with the Christian God, Vodou Religion does not incorporate a belief in a powerful antagonist that opposes the supreme being akin to the Christian notion of Satan.

Vodou has also been characterized as polytheistic. It teaches the existence of beings known as the lwa (or loa), a term varyingly translated into English as “spirits”, “gods”, or “geniuses”.These lwa are also known as the mystères, anges, saints, and les invisibles, and are sometimes equated with the angels of Christian cosmology.

The Spirits Of Vodou Religion:

Vodou revolves around spirits known as lwa. Typically deriving their names and attributes from traditional West and Central African divinities, they are equated with Roman Catholic saints. The lwa divide up into different groups, the nanchon (“nations”), most notably the Rada and the Petwo. Various myths and stories are told about these lwa, which are regarded as subservient to a transcendent creator deity, Bondye. This theology has been labeled both monotheistic and polytheistic. An initiatory tradition, Vodouists usually meet to venerate the lwa in an ounfò (temple), run by an oungan (priest) or manbo (priestess).

Vodou Religion teaches that there are over a thousand lwa. The lwa can offer help, protection, and counsel to humans, in return for ritual service. They are regarded as the intermediaries of Bondye, and as having wisdom that is useful for humans, although they are not seen as moral exemplars that practitioners should imitate. Each lwa has its personality and is associated with specific colors, days of the week, and objects. The lwa can be either loyal or capricious in their dealings with their devotees; Vodouists believe that the lwa are easily offended, for instance, if offered food that they dislike. When angered, the lwa are believed to remove their protection from their devotees or to inflict misfortune, illness, or madness on an individual.

Although there are exceptions, most lwa names derive from the Fon and Yoruba languages. New lwa are nevertheless added; practitioners believe that some Vodou priests and priestesses became lwa after death, or that certain talismans become lwa. Vodouists often refer to the lwa residing in “Guinea”, but this is not intended as a precise geographical location, but a generalized understanding of Africa as the ancestral land. Many lwa are also understood to live under the water, at the bottom of the sea, or in rivers. Vodouists believe that the lwa communicate with humans through dreams and the possession of human beings

Vodou Religion

The Relationship Of Vodou With Other Religions:

Despite its older influences, Haitian Vodou represented “a new religion”, “a creolized New World system”, one that differs in many ways from the traditional religions of Africa. One of the most complex of the African diasporic traditions, the scholar Leslie Desmangles called it an “African-derived tradition” while Ina J. Fandrich termed it a “neo-African religion”. Owing to their shared origins in West African traditional religion, Vodou has been characterized as a “sister religion” of Cuban Santería and Brazilian Candomblé, and there are also cases, such as that of the New York-based Mama Lola, in which individuals have been initiated into both Vodou and Santería.

It is practiced domestically, by families on their land, but also by congregations meeting communally, with the latter termed “temple Vodou”. In Haitian culture, religions are not generally deemed autonomous, with it being acceptable to attend both Vodou and Roman Catholic ceremonies. Vodouists usually regard themselves as Roman Catholics, and many Haitians practice both Vodou and Roman Catholicism. Other Haitian Vodouists also practice Mormonism or Freemasonry; in Cuba, Vodouists have also practiced Santería, and, in the United States, modern Paganism. Some Vodouists have absorbed elements from other contexts; in Cuba, some have absorbed elements from Spiritism. Some Vodouists reject syncretic approaches; influenced by the Négritude movement, they have sought to remove Roman Catholic and other European influences from their practice of Vodou.

Women In Vodou Religion:

Vodou has been described as reflecting misogynistic elements of Haitian culture while at the same time empowering women to a greater extent than in many religions by allowing them to become priestesses. As social and spiritual leaders, women can also lay claim to moral authority in Vodou. Some practitioners state that the lwa determined their sexual orientation, turning them homosexual; various priests are homosexual, and the lwa Èzili is seen as the patron of masisi (gay men)

Ethics Of Vodou Religion:

Vodou permeates every aspect of its adherent’s lives. The ethical standards it promotes correspond to its sense of the cosmological order. A belief in the interdependence of things plays a role in Vodou’s approaches to ethical issues. Serving the lwa is central to Vodou and its moral codes reflect the reciprocal relationship that practitioners have with these spirits, with a responsible relationship with the lwa ensuring that virtue is maintained. Vodou also reinforces family ties; respect for the elderly is a key-value, with the extended family being of importance in Haitian society

Vodou Religion does not promote a dualistic belief in a firm division between good and evil. It offers no prescriptive code of ethics; rather than being rule-based, Vodou morality is deemed contextual to the situation. Vodou reflects people’s everyday concerns, focusing on techniques for mitigating illness and misfortune; doing what one needs to survive is considered a high ethic. Among Vodouists, a moral person is regarded as someone who lives in tune with their character and that of their tutelary lwa. In general, acts that reinforce Bondye’s power are deemed good; those that undermine it are seen as bad. Maji, meaning the use of supernatural powers for self-serving and malevolent ends, is usually regarded as being bad. The term is quite flexible; it is usually used to denigrate other Vodouists, although some practitioners have used it as a self-descriptor about petwo rites.

Vodou Religion promotes a belief in destiny, although individuals are still deemed to have freedom of choice. This view of destiny has been interpreted as encouraging a fatalistic outlook among practitioners, something that the religion’s critics, especially from Christian backgrounds, have argued has discouraged Vodouists from improving their society. This has been extended into an argument that Vodou is responsible for Haiti’s poverty, an argument that in turn has been accused of being rooted in European colonial prejudices towards Africans and overlooking the complex historical and environmental factors impacting Haiti.

Magic In Vodou Religion:

Africana ritualism was perceived as irrational, exotic, demonic. It was a very primitive– perceived as a primitive, strange spirituality. So labels and captions aside, are these images of magic or are these images of religion or something else.

So it’s important to note that onlookers during this period of slavery and thereafter, characterized Black religions as a spiritual other. Fetishism, sorcery, witchcraft, hedonism these are the terms emerging out of the Western imperial encounter in the early modern era that ultimately rationalized the enslavement and domination of Black people, conceived by Christian missionaries and other colonial authorities.

Many of these ideas carried over into the United States, where they were viewed as retrograde superstitions and, at worst, evil, dangerous to the larger society.

Roots and root working specifically refer to the use of certain natural and organic objects in the performance of actions to make things happen, whether healings, poisonings, or supernatural prediction, which we call divination.
Conjure and conjuring refer to interactions with the spirits of humans or angels or saints or other spiritual beings, including the dead and the ancestors.

the functions of it, they ranged widely, as with any good magic retrieving lost objects, predicting the future, causing people to fall in love, gain riches and good fortune, and other mundane, universal, and ordinary concerns.

conjure workers draw from practices of collective struggle to address intergenerational trauma and healing justice. They perform ring shouts of mourning and celebration. In this season, in particular, they pray, they tend to the dead with herbs, tobacco, and sacred plants, to bless those who have come before. And they gather to sing, to pray, to dance together in the spirit of the ancestors.

 

World Religions

Sources: 1, 2

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