I’ll start by telling you this: the vast majority of what you know about voodoo is wrong, from rituals right down to how it is pronounced. We were lucky enough on one of our many trips to New Orleans to take a voodoo tour lead by a practicing High Priest named Robi. I’ll list what he taught us in this post to help spread the truth about this religion!
1) We’ve been saying it wrong.
That’s right! All this time we’ve been pronouncing it voodoo – and many times I still unfortunately let it slip. When we can’t even say it right, how can we say we know anything about it? The correct pronunciation is Vodou (voh-doo). Literally correct pronunciation is the least anyone can do for someone’s name or their religion, so let’s start there.
2) Vodou is a matriarchy.
Being raised Catholic which is run by the Pope (man), Cardinals (men), Bishops (men), Priests (men), etc….I just really liked this idea. There is no priestess as well known as Marie Laveau. I could write an entire blog post dedicated to this woman, but instead I’ll refer you to this interesting bio from Ghost City tours.
3) Vodou is a monotheistic religion.
Those that practice Vodou believe in one God, similar to Christianity. They believe in one creator and then there are other various spirits which Robi called “Loa” and explained that the Catholic equivalent would be saints.
Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to practice Vodou back in the day (even though this country was supposed to have freedom of religion, right?). They had to hide their practice behind Catholicism. Robi treated it a bit like a check list.
Oh, worshipping just one God? CHECK.
There are saints, which are above man but below God? CHECK
It is tragic they had to hide their true religion, but they managed to do so because there are a lot of the same elements. The reason you see a lot of Catholic imagery (crosses, pictures of Mary and other saints, etc) is they used this imagery to represent their Loa, to keep them from getting caught. Many still do this today as a way to pay homage to their ancestors, to stay connected with them in the way that they worshipped.
One of the most misrepresented Loa is Papa Legba. After all, if you’ve seen AHS: Coven you know that he’s a nightmare inducing demon from hell which has newborns sacrificed to him. If you couldn’t guess, that’s no where near accurate. Robi said that Papa Legba LOVES children and his demeanor can be described of that of a grandfather.
4) There are no sacrifices.
Many believe that there are animal (look no further than AHS to see them killing snakes) and even human sacrifices performed in this religion. That is total fiction, probably used to make Vodou look like dark magic. The only time animals are killed are in order to feed the community. It would look like a “sacrifice” when it’s done during a Voudo ceremony I guess, but it’s not to appease spirits; it’s to feed the people.
5) There are no Vodou books.
There are no vodou books. None. They don’t write anything down and have a vow of secrecy. Meaning that when you go on vacation and you buy a “voodoo book” you’re actually being ripped off. The best way to learn about the religion is to go right to the source.
6) There is no raising of the dead.
While they are encouraged to be connected with their ancestors and worship the various spirits/Loa, there is no actual raising of the dead or zombies at work. During rituals a person may be used as a vessel, meaning they would be possessed by a spirit. Here it doesn’t have the negative connotation that it has in the Catholic church and many are open to being a vessel.
7) Voodoo dolls aren’t real.
I’ll repeat that: voodoo dolls aren’t real. There is no dark magic involved with Vodou, so a doll that harms people serves zero purpose. The idea of a voodoo doll is due to the mashing of medicinal practices of the time with witchcraft (where dolls known as poppets are used to cause harm). Back in the day, these dolls were used as a medical record. If you went to get treatment for a stomachache, they would place a pin in the record doll’s stomach; whenever you came back with another problem (let’s say a headache) they would ask, “Oh, and how is your stomach?” If it was better, they would remove the pin (while also adding a pin to note the headache).
This was the most mind blowing part to me because the idea of voodoo dolls has been pushed on us all so hard! To quote Robi, “Hollywood got y’all messed up!”
I really hope you enjoyed this post and that you were able to learn something! I’ll link to my resources below, including an article where they interviewed Robi! You can find many videos of his tours on YouTube if you’re interested.