Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti, but voodoo may be considered the country's national religion. The majority of Haitians believe in and practice at least some aspects of voodoo. Most voodooists believe that their religion can coexist with Catholicism.
Misconceptions about voodoo have given Haiti a reputation for sorcery and zombies. Popular images of voodoo have ignored the religion's basis as a domestic cult of family spirits. Adherents of voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics. In fact, the word for voodoo does not even exist in rural Haiti. The Creole word vodoun refers to a kind of dance and in some areas to a category of spirits. Roman Catholics who are active voodooists say that they ''serve the spirits,'' but they do not consider that practice as something outside of Roman Catholicism. Haitians also distinguish between the service of family spirits and the practice of magic and sorcery
The belief system of voodoo revolves around family spirits (often called loua or mist) who are inherited through maternal and paternal lines. Loua protect their ''children'' from misfortune. In return, families must ''feed'' the loua through periodic rituals in which food, drink, and other gifts are offered to the spirits. There are two kinds of services for the loua. The first is held once a year; the second is conducted much less frequently, usually only once a generation. Many poor families, however, wait until they feel a need to restore their relationship with their spirits before they conduct a service. Services are usually held at a sanctuary on family land
In voodoo, there are many loua(Loa). Although there is considerable variation among families and regions, there are generally two groups of loua, the rada and the petro. The rada spirits are mostly seen as ''sweet'' loua, while the petro are seen as ''bitter'' because they are more demanding of their ''children.'' Rada spirits appear to be of African origin while petro spirits appear to be of Haitian origin
Loua are usually anthropomorphic and have distinct identities. They can be good, evil, capricious, or demanding. Loua most commonly show their displeasure by making people sick, and so voodoo is used to diagnose and treat illnesses. Loua are not nature spirits, and they do not make crops grow or bring rain. The loua of one family have no claim over members of other families, and they cannot protect or harm them. Voodooists are therefore not interested in the loua of other families
Loua appear to family members in dreams and, more dramatically, through trances. Many Haitians believe that loua are capable of temporarily taking over the bodies of their ''children.'' Men and women enter trances during which they assume the traits of particular loua. People in a trance feel giddy and usually remember nothing after they return to a normal state of consciousness. Voodooists say that the spirit temporarily replaces the human personality. Possession trances occur usually during rituals such as services for loua or a vodoun dance in honor of the loua. When loua appear to entranced people, they may bring warnings or explanations for the causes of illnesses or misfortune. Loua often engage the crowd around them through flirtation, jokes, or accusations
Ancestors (le m) rank with the family loua as the most important spiritual entities in voodoo. Elaborate funeral and mourning rites reflect the important role of the dead. Ornate tombs throughout the countryside reveal how much attention Haiti gives to its dead. Voodooists believe the dead are capable of forcing their survivors to construct tombs and sell land. In these cases, the dead act like family loua, which ''hold'' family members to make them ill or bring other misfortune. The dead also appear in dreams to provide their survivors with advice or warnings
Voodooists also believe there are loua that can be paid to bring good fortune or protection from evil. And, they believe that souls can be paid to attack enemies by making them ill
Beliefs include zombies and witchcraft. Zombies are either spirits or people whose souls have been partially withdrawn from their bodies. Some Haitians resort to bok, who are specialists in sorcery and magic. Haiti has several secret societies whose members practice sorcery
Voodoo specialists, male houngan and female manbo, mediate between humans and spirits through divination and trance. They diagnose illnesses and reveal the origins of other misfortune. They can also perform rituals to appease spirits or ancestors or to repel magic. Many voodoo specialists are accomplished herbalists who treat a variety of illnesses
Voodoo lacks a fixed theology and an organized hierarchy, unlike Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Each specialist develops his or her own reputation for effectiveness.
Franois Duvalier recruited voodoo specialists to serve as tonton makouts to help him control all aspects of Haitian life. Duvalier indicated that he retained power through sorcery, but because voodoo is essentially a family-based cult, Duvalier failed to politicize the religion to any great extent.
Key terms in Voodoo
hounfo:the parish or region of a houngan or mambo's influence.
govi: a small earthen bottle into which the gros-bon-ange of dead ancestors can rescued. After a person dies the gros-bon-ange goes to the underwater place. A year and a day after he or she goes their the relatives can recall the gros-bon-ange. Unfortunately this is a very expensive service, requiring a significant animal sacrifice, often an ox. Thus it is often considerable time before the service can be done. If too much time passes the ancestor may get a bit restless and cause trouble--illness etc.
serviteurs: serious practitioners of Voodoo.
ason:the magic rattle of the houngan or mambo.
lave tet: (washing of the head) an initiation ceremony held for serviteurs after they have been mounted for the first time.
kanzo: the initiation ceremonies for those moving into a very serious level of Voodoo practice.
taking of the ason: the final initiation into being a houngan or mambo.
NOTE: Both kanzo and the taking of the ason are very secret services. However, in Alfred Mtraux's book (VOODOO IN HAITI), through observation and talking with people who were not too careful about the secrecy of kanzo, he has pieced together a detailed account of the ceremony.
verve: ceremonial drawings done in flour, of the various loa.
peristyle: the Voodoo temple. A tiny tiny place.
poto mitan:the center pole in a Voodoo peristyle. It represents the center of the universe and all dancing revolves around the poto mitan.
Les Invisibles:all spirits.
Les Mysteries: 1--the loa themselves. 2--sacred knowledge. Also called "konesans."
The crossroads:A central image in Voodoo. This is the place where the two worlds (earth and spirit world) meet. Virtually all Voodoo acts, even healing, begin with the acknowledgment of the
Some of the central loa in the Voodoo pantheon
Legba:An old man who is the gatekeeper between the two worlds, world of earth and the world of the Invisibles. He is the origin of life. The sun is one of his symbols, but he is also the source of regeneration and uses the symbol of the phallus.
Kalfu:(crossroads) is the Petro counterpart to Legba. He is the spirit of the night, the origins of darkness. The moon is his symbol. He can be placated, but is a dangerous loa.
Papa Ghede:Loa of death and resurrection. A total clown. Very erotic and comic. He is the lord of eroticism.
Dumballa:The father figure. He is the good snake. The source of peace and tranquillity. The egg is offered to him when he comes to mount a person. He is much loved and sought after. His wife Aida-wedo attends him.
Agw:The sovereign of the seas. Especially honored, as one might well expect, by people who live near the sea.
Ogoun.:The warrior. Today, too, the force of politics. Violent.
Erzulie:The earth mother. Spirit of the goddess of love. The muse of beauty. (Strongly identified with the Virgin Mary.) Her appearance (when she mounts someone) is one of cleansing, dressing, delicate foods daintily eaten. She can read the future in dreams. A much loved loa.
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