Vodou, an Introduction for Beginners

Vodou, an Introduction for Beginners

Vodou (Also spelled Vodoun, Voodoo, and several other variants) is a syncretic religion combining Roman Catholicism and native African religion, particularly the religion of the Dahomey region of Africa (the modern day nation of Benin). It is primarily found in Haiti, New Orleans, and other locations within the Caribbean.

Monotheistic Religion:

Followers of Vodou, known as Vodouisants, believe in a single, supreme godhead that can be equated with the Catholic God.

This deity is known as Bondye.

The Lwa:

Vodouisants also accept the existence of lesser beings, which they call loa or lwa, which are more intimately involved in day-to-day life, (as opposed to Bondye, who is a remote figure). The lwa are frequently invited to possess a believer during ritual so that the community can directly interact with them.

The relationship between humans and lwa is a reciprocal one. Believers provide food and other items that appeal to the lwa in exchange for their assistance.


Vilokan is the home of the lwa and the deceased. It is commonly described as a submerged and forested island. It is guarded by the lwa Legba, who must be appeased before practitioners can speak to any other Vilokan resident.


Animal Sacrifice:

A variety of animals might be killed during a Vodou ritual, depending upon the lwa being addressed. It provides spiritual sustenance for the lwa, while the flesh of the animal is then cooked and eaten by participants.


Rituals commonly involve the drawing of certain symbols known as veves with cornmeal or other powder. Each lwa has its own symbol, and some have multiple symbols associated with them.

Voodoo Dolls:

The common perception of Vodouisants poking pins into dolls does not reflect traditional Vodou.

However, Vodouisants do dedicate dolls to particular lwa and use them to attract a lwa’s influence.

Non-Standardized Practices:

There is no standardized dogma within Vodou. Two temples within the same city might therefore teach different mythologies and appeal to the lwa in different ways. As such, the information provided here cannot always reflect the beliefs of all Vodou believers. For example, sometimes lwa are associated with different families, Catholic saints, or veves. Some common variations are included here.


African slaves brought their native traditions with them when they were forcefully transported to the new world. However, they were generally forbidden from practicing their religion, so they started to equate their gods with Catholic saints and perform their rituals using the items and imagery of the Catholic Church.

Relationship with Christianity:

If a Vodou practitioner considers himself Christian, he generally professes to be a Catholic Christian, and many Vodou practitioners do also consider themselves Catholics. Some see the saints and spirits to be one and the same, while others even today still hold that the Catholic accouterments are primarily for appearance.


Popular culture has strongly associated Vodou with devil worship, torture, cannibalism and malevolent magical workings. This is largely the product of Hollywood coupled with historical misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the faith. Slave uprisings in Vodou-influenced areas such as Haiti were violent and brutal, and white settlers came to associate the religion with the violence, as well as embrace many unfounded rumors about them.




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