Voodoo or Vodou is a syncretic African American magico-religion with such variety that it is very difficult for sociologists to study. It has its roots in West African Vodun spirituality imported to the Southern United States along with the West African people kidnapped from their home continent and sold here as slaves. For many, their native religion was forbidden by their new masters and some were encouraged to adhere to the Christian faith instead. Some embraced Christianity and blended it with their native beliefs while others continued to practice their native religion while dressing it up in Christian disguise for the benefit of their captors. This led to a blending of two faiths that, because many slave communities were strictly isolated from others, was unique to the area in which it occurred while still holding true to its core. Thus, Haitian Voodoo and New Orleans Voodoo have some differences from one another but still also very similar, especially to the casual observer.
Voodoo worship is mostly centered around the Caribbean, especially in Haiti and the Southern United States, most notably in New Orleans, Louisiana but Voodoo practitioners can be found throughout the United States and in other parts of the world as well. It is no coincidence that the influence of Voodoo was and remains most strongly felt in areas where fresh slaves from Africa were brought in regularly. The West African form, Vodun, still exists in Nigeria and Ghana and is adhered to by some people there though Islam and Christianity have both made their presence strongly felt.
As the broadest and simplest possible definition, Voodoo is a religion in which its adherents honor a family of Gods they call the loa who advise their followers through direct contact after prayer, chants, sacrifices, and ecstatic dance. The loa may choose to “ride” a participant, or possess them, at which time the loa may use the participant’s voice to offer advice or simply to dance, drink and have a good time.
The loa (Or in New Orleans, the Orisha) are secondary Gods to the great creator God who is no longer interested in human affairs. Each loa is responsible for a different aspect of Nature or human life and like the Gods of many other pantheons they have very strong personalities. They like what they like and many have certain offerings that they prefer and indeed people that they prefer to help out or wreak havoc upon. For some loa, the world is their playground. For others, a garden to tend. Some loa have spouses, brothers, sisters, and regular social habits. For instance in a ritual to Ghede his peasant-like brother Azacca may show up.
Voodoo is often associated with Black Magic, Voodoo Dolls, curses and zombies. While divination, sympathetic magic, and charms do tend to go hand in hand with Voodoo, Voodoo is a religion first. Whether the spells used by Voodoo practitioners are harmful or helpful depend largely on the individual situation, the need of the client, the judgment of the Houngan or Mambo and perhaps the advice of the loa. Much Voodoo magick has been worked for healing, not just human illnesses, but also social ills such as crime, drug addiction, and poverty.
Some of the loa are:
Agassu – A loa mason with hands like claws.
Agau – Makes earthquakes.
Agwe – A loa from the sea, who must be given wet towels, champagne, and other things to appease him.
Ayida – Goddess of the rainbow and wife of Dumballah. Her job is to hold up the earth.
Azacca – God of agriculture, of the country. He eats messily and likes to gossip. He will chase girls and considers children to be investments.
Chango – God of lightning. His favorite foods are apples, yams, corn, and peppers.
Congo Savanne – This loa eats people. He grinds them up like corn.
Dumballah – A father figure and the serpent god. He is generally benevolent but he does not communicate well as though he already expects us not to understand.
Erzulie – Loa of dreams, love, beauty. She is jealous, but also very refined. Wedded to Dumballah, Agwe, and Ogoun.
Ghede – Also known as Papa Ghede and Baron Samedhi he is the god of death and keeper of cemeteries. He is enamored of women. The people he possesses do not remember what they did or said afterward. This may be for the best since Ghede has a crude sense of humor. However, he is also famous for protecting children.
Jean Petro – Leader of the evil loa, the petro and a symbol of rebellion and rage. He may be a tulpa created by a Spanish slave named Don Pedro.
Legba – The old man who guards the crossroads. When he possesses someone, that persons limbs are twisted and horrible to see. Papa Legba is one of the seven African powers. He enjoys corn, candy, and rum.
Loko – Guardian of sanctuaries. He appears in the form of a butterfly. Mambos and Houngans receive their knowledge from Loko
Marinette-Bwa-Chech or simply Marinette – A sworn servant of evil she is respected by werewolves who hold services in her honor. Those possessed by her confess to horrible crimes, hooking their hands into claws, screeching like an owl and scratching at the ground. She is a petro loa.
Obtala – A merciful spirit who rules over the clouds. He brings protection and peace. His favorite foods are black-eyed peas, pears, and coconuts. One of the seven African powers.
Ogoun – A warrior, spirit of the sky. He is usually helpful and knows a lot of magic. Practitioners do a sword or machete dance to honor him. When someone needs help winning a court case, they call on Ogoun.
Oshun – One of the seven African powers. She rules over the rivers. Her favorite foods are pumpkin, cinnamon, oranges, and pastries.
Oya – The goddess of the winds of change. She rules over the marketplace. One of the seven African powers. Her favorite foods are eggplant, plums, grapes, and red wine.
Ti-Jean-Petro – A dwarf with one foot. He assists in wickedness.
Yemaya – A lady dressed in blue who rules over the seas. One of the seven African powers. She protects children. Her favorite foods are cornmeal, molasses, and watermelon.
More Information Online
“Descriptions of Various Loa of Voodoo”