Voodoo: The Haitian Diaries

by High-Priestess Doris on September 10, 2018

Wikipedia quotes in a rather supine manner: ‘Voodoo is a religion practiced chiefly in Haiti.’ This geographical distinction is not only wrong but also hugely dismissive. It is correct that voodoo is practiced in Haiti as a religion and is probably valued there much more than it is valued anywhere else in the world.

But that does not conclusively lead to the fact that voodoo is a provincial theory, preached and practiced only by Haitians. It is on its way to becoming one of the most appealing forms of witchcraft and has gained recognition worldwide. But in Haiti it is a full formed national religion, so much so, that makes Voodoo a dominant part of their culture and way of life.

Surprisingly, the Haitians who practice voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics chiefly because Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti and most voodooists believe that their national religion, voodoo can co-exist with their official one. The Roman Catholics of Haiti, who are active voodooists, claim that they ‘serve the spirits’, but do not consider the practice something outside of Catholicism. Now in Haiti, voodoo is adhered to in various ways and some of them are extremely personal. The belief system in voodoo revolves around family spirits or ‘Loa’. It is believed that the spirits protect their ‘children’ or their successors from misfortune and in return, the spirits must be fed and taken care of through periodic rituals, where food, drinks and gifts are offered to the spirits to appease them.

But these practices differ in every family, according to money, class, religious beliefs etc. For instance, some poor families conduct these rituals on a yearly basis; whereas the well off one, perform them in a monthly order. The Loa is considered to be a family member, only more special, as it is a spirit. They are perceived to be having their own separate identities. But this cycle is mainly intimate and the spirit protects only its own family, not others.

A lot has been written on the Haitian Voodoo religion and culture, which according to some critics ‘seemed ridiculously dependent on black magic’. The fact is one’s faith cannot be judged; but their practices are subjected to a number of opinions. There is a strong hint of an almost ‘trance-like’ sense of possession among the Haitians, when it comes to their spirits. The practice of possession is not uncommon there and is commonly the backdrop of their religious rituals and performances. The realism behind these methods cannot be judged, but it can be used to learn more about their forms of practises.

Bob Corbett, in his article on voodoo asked a question, which went on to become a significant one in the world of witchcraft: ‘Is it voodoo that has caused Haitian fatalism or is it the history of the Haitian experience that has created voodoo’s fatalism?’ Question related to this subject have never been answered in an unbiased way by anyone, probably because they are too eager to choose sides. But in reality, can voodoo’s medieval history and its link to Christianity be dismissed as magic? In French colonies of the 1800’s, voodoo was practiced by the slaves. The colonialists allowed them to perform occasional dances. The performance, were in reality, voodoo services. This is just one of many instances how voodoo has always grown up beside the mainstream religion, but never really seemed to have had the similar impact. After all the bone of every religion in the world is faith.

The thing is voodoo, was never treated as a religion from the very beginning- here we see the effects of the colonial rule. Just because voodoo came to be associated with the slaves, it was tagged as something demeaning or something ‘unholy’. Voodoo may be having practices similar to Christian religion or Buddhism, but for all we hear, it is a form of evil, acting as an aide to shady street sorcerers. The Haitian culture has always considered their national religion to be a source of pride; it is one of the reasons why voodoo is still talked about in the world, although mostly in criticism.

Now, stigmas can be erased if tried; maybe in a decade or two, voodoo will be treated as a religion or respected as something special. But as of now, the belief in voodoo is largely influenced by the preconceived notions which we inherited from our forefathers; unless the stereotypes are fixed, maybe we would never be able to truly understand the Haitian culture.

High-Priestess Doris

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