Voodoo: The Haitian Diaries

Wikipedia quotes passively: ‘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 much more than elsewhere.

But that does not conclusively lead to Voodoo’s being 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 fully formed national religion, so much so that it 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, active voodooists, claim they ‘serve the spirits’ but do not consider the practice something outside of Catholicism.

Belief system in voodoo

Now in Haiti, Voodoo is adhered to in various ways, some extremely personal. The belief system in Voodoo revolves around family spirits or ‘Loa.’ The spirits are believed to protect their ‘children’ or their successors from misfortune. In return, the spirits must be fed and cared for 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 low-income families conduct these rituals yearly, whereas the well-off ones perform them monthly. The Loa is considered 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 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 that one’s faith cannot be judged, but their practice is subjected to several opinions. There is a strong hint of an almost ‘trance-like’ sense of possession among the Haitians regarding their spirits.

Possession in Haitian voodoo

The practice of possession is not uncommon 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 practice.

In his article on Voodoo, Bob Corbett 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?’

Questions related to this subject have never been answered unbiasedly by anyone, probably because they are too eager to choose sides. But can Voodoo’s medieval history and link to Christianity be dismissed as magic? In the French colonies of the 1800s, Voodoo was practiced by enslaved people.

The colonialists allowed them to perform occasional dances. The performance was, in reality, voodoo services. This is just one of many instances of how Voodoo has consistently grown up beside the mainstream religion but never really seemed to have had a similar impact. After all, the bone of every religion in the world is faith.

Similarities with other religions

Voodoo was never treated as a religion from the very beginning- here. We see the effects of colonial rule. Just because Voodoo came to be associated with the enslaved people, it was tagged as something demeaning or ‘unholy.’ Voodoo may have practices similar to the Christian religion or Buddhism.

Still, for all we hear, it is a form of evil, aiding shady street sorcerers. The Haitian culture has always considered their national religion a source of pride; it is one of the reasons why Voodoo is still discussed worldwide, although mostly in criticism.

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

High-Priestess Doris