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April 25, 2013

Blogging From A to Z April Challenge Day Twenty-Two: V is for Voodoo

I'm sure you've heard of voodoo. How could you have not? The term is thrown around all the time: voodoo economics, voodoo dolls, voodoo computers, voodoo tactical, etc. Anytime someone wants to say something is weird and promises vaporware "magical" results, the term voodoo seems to come up. What is it about voodoo that inspires its extreme usage in our vocabulary?
Since we hear the term voodoo constantly but I think few of us understand what it really means, allow a brief explanation. Voodoo is a term for a set of religions that originated in the Americas when slaves from West Africa were brought to the region. These slaves brought with them some of the religious traditions from their home area, and the practice of that religion was banned by the slave masters in preference to Christianity. In an effort to still practice the old religion in secret, slaves began incorporating Christian rites into their religious practice so the slave masters would think they were practicing only Christianity when in fact they were actually still practicing many of the old forms.

Of course, as it tends to happen when a group practices a cultural phenomena in secret, the voodoo practices of the Americas started to diverge from the religious practices the slaves originally brought with them. And so today we have several strains of voodoo practitioners.

Everyone in the United States knows about Louisiana Voodoo. Just go to New Orleans and you can see its influence scattered about. It uses voodoo dolls, which you can even found sold in "innocuous" form at bookstores and other non-magical stores. And there are the voodoo princesses, or the women who administer over the various rites and ceremonies. Even during the last Super Bowl which was held in New Orleans there were voodoo-themed ads about the game.

And then there is Haitian Voodoo, which is so fascinating to so many since the religion is so widespread and practiced in the open. There are voodoo meetings, priests who walk around in special clothing, a whole system of deities, etc.

So why is it that voodoo and Satanic worship are often associated with each other? The only answers I have been able to come across in the writings of sociologists, occultists and others is that voodoo was demonized as a way of stamping its practice out in favor of Christianity, like what had been done with pagan religions in Europe. The problem is this effort pushed voodoo underground, making it even more alluring to the slave population and later to blacks in the area. It gave them a sense of identity and power outside of the structure that had been set up by whites. Some people argue that racism to an extent is behind the demonization of voodoo. That's probably the case. I think part of it has to do with fear of someone who can push pins into a doll and cause pain toward someone else. I have known quite a few people who are afraid of witches, who are typically white, for similar reasons.

Have you been to Louisiana or Haiti or anywhere else where voodoo is commonly practiced? What do you think of the religion? Is there anything to voodoo magic?

3 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Voodoo is a creepy thing. Ever seen the movie The Serpent and the Rainbow?

Julia King said...

I never knew voodoo is actually a religious practice--always thought it was the creepy, push pins into a doll type thing. There's an X-Files episode aboout voodoo. That one creeped me out, especially when the guy puts the doll in the microwave. Ack, what a terrible way to die.

Steven said...

Alex, never seen it. Maybe I will have to check that one out.

Julia, I remember vividly when that episode first aired. And don't feel bad, most people don't know voodoo is a religion.