Voodoo (also vodoun or vodun) is a religion that originated in Haiti
in the late 1700s. The precursor of voodoo was the religion of the Fon
people of West Africa who were brought as slaves to Haiti. Voodoo
means “spirit” in the Fon language. In Haiti the Fon systems of veneration
of the spirits came in contact with other African religious traditions
and French Catholicism to produce what we call voodoo. It has
spread via emigration to New Orleans, Louisiana, and other major
cities in the United States, most notably New York City.
The central religious activity of voodoo involves possession of
devotees by a number of African deities. In ceremonies led by a priest,
each possessed individual enacts a highly specific ritual performance
involving dance, song, and speech appropriate to the particular possessing
deity. Possession is directed toward healing, warding off evil,
and bringing good or evil fortune.
Voodoo postulates a complex and extensive pantheon of divinities
that are referred to as loas or mystères. A supreme being who created
the world, called the Gran Met, is acknowledged, although he is
too distant from the world to be worshiped. Voodoo focuses instead on
the more immediate divinities, serving the loa in return for favors for
their devotees. As with African tradition, ancestors are revered.
In voodoo the human being is pictured as being composed of five
ingredients: n’âme, z’étoile, corps cadavre, gros bon ange, and ti bon
ange. Corps cadavre refers to the physical flesh; n’âme is the vital energy
that allows the body to function during life; z’étoile refers to the star
of destiny of the particular human being; gros bon ange (literally, “big
good angel”) and ti bon ange (“little good
angel”) constitute one’s soul. The gros bon ange
enters humans during conception and is a portion
of the universal life energy that is part of
the life force that all living things share. The ti
bon ange, by contrast, is one’s individual soul or
essence. This “small soul” journeys out of the
body when one dreams, as well as when the
body is being possessed by the loa. It is the ti
bon ange that is attacked by sorcerers.
When one dies, according to voodoo belief,
the soul is present near the corpse for a week.
During this seven-day period, the ti bon ange is
vulnerable to capture and can be made into a
“spiritual zombi” by a sorcerer. Assuming the
soul has escaped this ugly fate, the voodoo
priest ritually severs it from the body so that the
soul many live in the dark waters for a year and
a day. At that point, relatives ritually raise the
soul, now referred to as esprit (spirit), and put it
in the govi. Govi spirits are fed, clothed, and
treated like divinities. Later, they are set free to
abide among the rocks and trees until rebirth.
Sixteen embodiments later, spirits merge into
the cosmic energy.