Voodoo, Vodun, Vodoun, or Vodou. Religions related to Voodoo are: Candomble, Lucumi, Macumba, and Yoruba). New Orleans Voodoo is a conglomeration of cultural and spiritual belief systems strongly influenced by the ancient Voodoo religion of Africa, the Vodou religion of Haiti, the healing arts of Native American people, the folk magic of Europe, and Catholicism. Voodoo is culture, heritage, philosophy, art, dance, language, medicine, music, justice, power, storytelling & ritual. Voodoo is a way of looking at and dealing with life. It heals and destroys, is both good and bad, and is simple in concept and complex in practice. Voodoo reflects the duality of the nature of the rattlesnake; its poison is toxic but its poison is needed to heal the same toxin. Voodoo is open to all yet holds many secrets & mysteries to those who are uninitiated.
Voodoo has its roots in the trauma of many people. It originated from the African ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean in bondage. Christopher Columbus set the stage in 1492 for the development of Voodoo when countless Tainos were murdered in an attempt to enslave them during the colonization of Hispaniola. With a lack of indigenous people to function as slaves, and the cost of European servants prohibitive, the slave trade between West and Central Africa began (Long, 2000).
In 1697 the French acquired one third of Hispaniola and worked the slaves literally to death. The average survival rate of slaves at that time was only about 10 years. This made the slave population ripe for continual replenishment, and the slave population grew from several thousand to half a million. The slave population was extremely diverse with many different tribes representing many religions, languages, and belief systems. It is during this time of the French occupation that the basic structure of Voodoo as we know it today developed.
The colonizers believed that by separating families and individual nations, the slave population would not unite as one people. On the contrary, the Africans found commonalities in their belief systems and religions and began invoking their own spirits and practicing each other’s religious rites. In addition, the surviving Taino Indians exerted some influence over the practice of Voodoo, especially in the area of the healing arts. As well, the indentured servants of Europe brought their folk magic, which was incorporated into the Voodoo religion. The Roman Catholic Church, ever finding ways to convert people to the church, and the entity to which the French answered, insisted on treating the slaves better and had them baptized and instructed in the practice of Catholicism (Hanger, 1997). The slave population soon began to mask their rituals and beliefs in Catholicism. It is the conglomeration and syncretism of these diverse cultural belief systems that comprised the first Creole religion and makes Voodoo what it is today.
To make a very long story short, the slaves eventually rebelled and drove out the French and the Catholic Church. Years of oppression and persecution followed, with the Voodoo considered Satanism by the Catholic church and evangelical Protestants. This caused Voodoo to go underground and flourish. The Catholic church eventually made peace with the Voodoo and it is now accepted as an established religion.