A voodoo doll is a sensational caricature of voudon.(Image credit: Voodoo doll picture via Shutterstock)
Voodoo is a sensationalized pop-culture caricature that voudon, one Afro-Caribbean faith that source in Haiti, though followers have the right to be found in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, the united States and also elsewhere. It has very small to do with so-called voodoo dolls or zombies.

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Voudon refers to "a entirety assortment of social elements: personal creeds and also practices, including fancy system of individual medical practices; a device of ethics transmitted across generations proverbs, stories, songs, and also folklore... Voudon is an ext than belief; the is a method of life," created Leslie Desmangles, a Haitian professor at Hartford"s Trinity college in "The Encyclopedia the the Paranormal" (Prometheus Books, 1996).

Voudon teaches belief in a supreme being referred to as Bondye, an unknowable and also uninvolved creator god. Voudon believers worship many spirits (called loa), each one of whom is responsible because that a details domain or component of life. So, because that example, if you space a farmer you could give praise and offerings come the spirit of agriculture; if you space suffering from unrequited love, girlfriend would praise or leave offerings because that Erzulie Freda, the soul of love, and also so on. In addition to helping (or impeding) person affairs, loa can likewise manifest us by possessing the body of their worshipers.

Followers the voudon likewise believe in a global energy and a heart that have the right to leave the body during dreams and also spirit possession. In Christian theology, spirituality possession is usually taken into consideration to it is in an plot of evil, either Satan or some demonic entity trying to enter an unwilling human being vessel. In voudon, however, possession by loa is desired. In a ceremony guided by a priest or priestess, this possession is taken into consideration a valuable, first-hand spiritual experience and also connection v the heart world.


background of voudon

Voudon source with servants who combined elements of your West african traditions and beliefs with the roman Catholicism applied upon lock by your masters in a process called syncretism. A 1685 regulation forbade the practice of afri religions and required every masters to Christianize their slaves within eight job of your arrival. Slavery was condoned by the Catholic Church together a device for converting africans to ethically upright Christians. Slaves required to take on Catholic rituals thus gave them double meanings, and also in the process many of their spirits became connected with Christian saints.


Furthermore, Desmangles notes, "Many of the African spirits were adapted to their new milieu in the new World. Ogun, for instance, the Nigerian spirit of ironsmiths, hunting and also warfare took on a brand-new persona... He ended up being Ogou, the armed forces leader who has led phalanxes right into battle versus oppression. In Haiti today, Ogou inspires plenty of political changes that oust undesirable oppressive regimes."

Though Haitian slavery finished in the at an early stage 1800s, pendant of voudon were regularly persecuted by authorities who demonized their religion. One 1889 book titled "Hayti, or the black color Republic" (Filiquarian, 2012) falsely attributed person sacrifices, cannibalism and other atrocities come voudon, further spreading fear of the religion. Countless fundamentalist christians still regard voudon and also voodoo with suspicion, shortcut it v the occult, black magic and Satanism. Also today "voodoo" is often used together an adjective to explain something that is unknowable, secret or simply unworkable (for example, in 1980 George H.W. Bush famously disparaged Ronald Reagan"s monetary policies together "voodoo economics").

Voodoo and also zombies

The more sensational aspects of voudon, together as belief in zombies and animal sacrifice, have provided fodder for numerous television shows and also movies in the type of voodoo. Zombies room an especially great example of how a spiritual element deserve to be taken the end of context and also become a an international phenomenon.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "zombie" first appeared in English about 1810 when chronicler Robert Southey discussed it in his book "History the Brazil." however this "zombi" was no the acquainted brain-eating manlike monster but instead, like many voudon loa, a West african deity. The word later came to suggest the vital, human force leaving the covering of a body, and ultimately a creature human in type but lacking self-awareness, intelligence and a soul.

The initial Haitian zombie were no villains but victims. Haitian zombies were claimed to be human being brought back from the dead (and periodically controlled) v magical way by priests dubbed bokors. Sometimes, the zombification to be done together punishment (striking fear in those who thought that they could be abused also after death), but often the zombies were stated to have actually been supplied as servant labor ~ above the island"s farms and also sugarcane plantations (though no evidence of the zombie-filled farms was ever before found).

The voodoo famous in movies and also fiction bears tiny resemblance to actual voudon ideas or practices. Voodoo has end up being a prominent function of the brand-new Orleans travel industry, with many shops, tours, exhibits and also museums capitalizing on the city"s historical (and, some specialists say, tenuous) connection to voudon. The course, stripping spiritual objects and rituals out of their initial context for commercial exploitation is nothing new: evil Chinese-made native American dream catchers because that sale in ~ dollar stores.

In the end, voudon has actually a greatly undeserved reputation together a sinister religion. Though some voudon rituals involve animal sacrifices, it is hardly unique; many other spiritual traditions involve animal bloodletting, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. The irony is that voudon"s best-known and most sensational features — including voodoo dolls and also zombies — have little to carry out with its yes, really beliefs and also practices.

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of unconvinced Inquirer scientific research magazine and also author of six books, including "Tracking the Chupacabra" and "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: just how to fix Unexplained Mysteries." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.

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Benjamin Radford is the negative Science columnist because that Live Science. The covers pseudoscience, psychology, metropolitan legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has actually a master"s level in education and also a bachelor"s level in psychology. That is deputy editor of hesitant Inquirer scientific research magazine and also has written, edited or contributed to much more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: how to resolve Unexplained Mysteries,""Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and also Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The clinical Search for Spirits,” the end in autumn 2017. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.