Voodoo is considered to be one of the most mysterious religions in the world. Since there is little known about Voodoo and its sacred rituals, people tend to believe in superstitions and rumors about this religion. Many people associate it with wicked shamans, human sacrifice, haunted dolls, and even cannibalism. But in fact, all these misconceptions come from the lack of knowledge about Voodoo and its traditions. Voodoo or Vodou is a traditional Afro-Haitian religion which incorporates basic principles of medicine, philosophy, and justice. The religion is based on the idea that everything around us has its spirit. Voodoo practitioners claim that there are two worlds — a human and spiritual one. They always intersect and exist in mutual agreement with each other.

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Voodoo appeared almost 6,000 years ago and remained one of the most popular religions in Africa. It originated from two African kingdoms — Kongo and Fon which existed on the territory of modern southern Benin. Traditionally, Voodoo was a religion of slaves who wanted to preserve their cultural roots and national identity in foreign lands. West African slaves brought this new type of religion in different countries which elaborated it and created their unique cult. Voodoo practices can be still found in different parts of the world. In the Caribbean islands, the religion is called Vodou and is widely spread in Haiti and Jamaica. Haitian Voodoo is still the most popular religion among the native citizens of the islands. Vodou in Haiti has survived till nowadays because it turned into a creolized religion. The traditional African beliefs incorporated features of the Catholic religion and formed Haitian Voodoo. According to the findings, more than half of Haitian citizens practice Vodou today. As a result of contacts between African slaves and American native citizens, Voodoo still exists in various forms in the southeastern United States and New Orleans.

Only in West Africa alone there are more than fifty million Voodoo believers. Many people practice this religion in various countries of northwestern Africa as well as in southeastern Ghana and Nigeria, and southern and central Togo and Benin. There are approximately 30 million Voodoo followers in Ghana, Togo, and Benin today. In Benin, for example, Voodoo is an official religion and has about 60 percent of believers. In many African countries, Voodoo is not just a religion but a way of life. Like any other religion and philosophy, African Voodoo has main principles which serve as a background for sacred rituals and beliefs. The most important dogma of Voodoo is that every world — human or spiritual — has its hierarchy. There is one creator who has several lesser spirits and gods. Besides, everything in our universe works in concert and is a part of the whole. Finally, the spirits do not vanish without any traces; they are still present in our world and communicate with living beings.

Originally, Voodoo was an oral religion which was common among the people who tried to connect with the spirits of their late family members. That is why this religion does not have sacred books and holy texts. However, African Voodoo practitioners use different languages and dialects in their rituals. The word “voodoo”, for example, was taken from the Fon language, meaning “spirit” or “sacred”. Many other words of Voodoo practices came from the Kongo and Fon languages. Ounsi means “children of the spirits”, ountògi — “ritual drummers”, sosyete — “congregations”, kanzo — “ritual initiation”. In Benin — the historical center of African Voodoo — French is the official language. No wonder that one may hear some words of French lexicon in the ritual songs. Fon is the second language widely used in Voodoo. Although it is a local language which has no official status, it is spoken by the majority of central and southern citizens of Benin. Other important languages to be found in African Voodoo rituals are Dendi and Bariba, spoken in the north, and Yoruba, common in the center and east of the country.

Since Benin is considered to be a center of African Voodoo practices, it has many sacred places and activities. Benin’s capital city Cotonou is also known as the birthplace of Voodoo. Every year the locals gather together to celebrate Voodoo Day with sacrifices, prayers, and libations. Another important place for Voodoo practitioners is a fetish market in Lomé city which is located in Togo. Here, the Voodoo followers may purchase all the necessary supplies for the rituals, including animal bones, herbs, and talismans. These places reflect the atmosphere of Voodoo as a cultural phenomenon. The rituals often consist of ceremonial dances with colorful costumes and masks, accompanied by the sounds of drums. This tradition reflects the African culture of ethnic clothes and music. Animal sacrifices are also viewed as reflections of African traditions. By showing respect to spirits in such a way, Voodoo practitioners also underline their cultural background which is based on the worship of nature.

In conclusion, Voodoo remains one of the most prominent religions in Africa. Many Voodoo followers consider this religion a way of life and a way to preserve cultural heritage. The great number of Voodoo believers in different African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and Benin proves that religion is still relevant. At the same time, the variety of Voodoo principles and ritual traditions resembles the traces of other religions like Christianity and ethnic beliefs of African tribes. Nevertheless, there is a series of genuine Voodoo features which distinguish this religion from others and make it a unique phenomenon of the modern world.

  • Butler, Stuart. Benin. London: Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, 2006.
  • McAlister, Elizabeth A. “Vodou.” Encyclopædia Britannica. March 8, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Vodou.
  • Okanla, Karim. “Benin Marks Voodoo Day.” BBC. January 11, 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1756057.stm.
  • Wilson, Tracy V. “How Voodoo Works.” HowStuffWorks.com. February 16, 2007. https://people.howstuffworks.com/voodoo.htm.