Voodoo is a spirituality. It is a way of life for some and a religion for others. Voodoo was born from the meeting of the traditional cults of the Yoruba gods and the Fon and Ewe deities, during the creation and then the expansion of the Fon kingdom of Abomey (now Benin) in the 17th and 18th centuries, as a result of the slave trade. The term that defines religion itself derives from the African term voodoo, which translates “spirit” and / or “divinity”. Voodoo is an ancestral cult that relies on the energies and forces of nature. It is therefore essential to know and respect the principles of the 4 elements of nature which are air, water, fire and earth.

The origins of voodoo?

Originally from the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, voodoo is the cultural foundation of the peoples who came through successive migrations from Tado to Togo, the Aja peoples (including the Fons, the Gouns, the Ewe and to a certain extent the Yoruba) who constitute a majority of the population in the south of the States of the Gulf of Benin (Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria).

Often demonised by Catholics, the voodoo religion has suffered greatly from colonisation. Ten years after independence, voodoo worship was banned by a Marxist leader who came to power in a coup. His successor eventually lifted the ban, but voodoo continued to be equated with witchcraft by evangelists.

At the time, slaves were not allowed to practice an African religion. Indulging in their religion or culture was strictly forbidden by the settlers, punishable by death or imprisonment. Therefore, it was practiced in secret because it had to be unnoticed. So there is a very mysterious veil over voodoo culture and few people really know what it is.

From the 17th century, captured and enslaved men from this region of Africa spread voodoo worship in the Caribbean and the Americas. Voodoo is therefore found in different forms in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil or even in the United States, especially in Louisiana. It has also spread to North Africa, where it is found in different forms, the best known being Gnawa in Morocco mixed with Berber-Muslim religious folklore. Despite a presence of Muslim and Christian religions, voodoo is still present. Today there are 50 million voodoo followers around the world.

Rites and beliefs

Voodoo is often associated with black magic, but it goes far beyond that. It is about using your conscience and the minds to impact the things of life.

For this, the followers of voodoo use fetishes which are represented by many objects. It is at the same time the divinity, its representation and its symbol. Some fetishes are more important than others. These deities often linked to an element of nature such as lightning or the earth, which can also be linked to a very specific place such as the Temple of the ‘’Aïzan’’ deity, a protective fetish of the Houndjro market in Abomey (former capital), one of the historic cities of the ancient Dahomey kingdom. Since the 19th century, the cultural and religious management of the Abomey Houndjro market has been entrusted to the Azon family. This circular block is the oldest fetish in the country and plays a major role in the country.

Voodoo dolls serve as voodoo rites as representations that embody a person, and not always for perverse purposes. Currently, this religion sometimes mixes the characteristic elements of the original religion with elements of a Christian nature. Among the elements safeguarded by the original religion is the voodoo doll which is suitable for gathering the essence of the person to be defended or avenged. Indeed, despite beliefs, voodoo dolls are not necessarily used for witchcraft purposes. Above all, they have a role of protection and benevolence.

Voodoo is very present in some cities. New Orleans is imbued with it, and we find it everywhere in Abomey, in every district, in frescoes on the walls and in statuettes frozen on the ground. Messages between voodoo and the communities flourish on every street corner as a sign of the guardian of the villages.

The stereotype of an evil voodoo cult remains present in everyone’s consciousness, even if one is of another faith. The belief in its power is stronger. We note that literature and cinema have shaped our image of voodoo, but it is actually a very living spirituality practiced by the descendants of African slaves.

Voodoo can be described as a religion, a culture, a heritage, a philosophy, an art, a language, a style of music, a power, an oral tradition or even rites. What is certain is that there are different interpretations of Voodoo. Some are demonised, others are considered sacred. But today, its practitioners fearlessly display their belief, and voodoo has endured from generation to generation.  Would you like to participate in the annual voodoo festival in Benin ? Take your place.

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