25 True Things You May Not Know About Voodoo

Posted by , Updated on March 22, 2024

Voodoo often brings to mind images of magical spells and complex rituals. Originating from West Africa and brought to the Americas via the slave trade, this religion has a rich history. However, it’s essential to differentiate between real Voodoo and the Hollywood representation of it. Hollywood, as usual, has dramatized various aspects of Voodoo to increase ticket sales, merging different religious traditions and exaggerating or misattributing practices like doll-making and dark magic. For instance, the recent Disney film “The Princess and the Frog” features Dr. Facilier as a practitioner of black magic and Mama Odie, who is described as the “Voodoo Queen of the Bayou” (a nod to the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau), as a well-intentioned wizard. In reality, Voodoo is a community-centric religion that acknowledges one ultimate deity and several minor spirits. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Followers of Voodoo uphold a moral code and avoid causing harm to others. Drum and dance-filled ceremonies, brimming with energy, are a trademark of this religion. But this is merely scratching the surface. Learn more about the actual facts of Voodoo by checking out this list of 25 True Things You May Not Know About Voodoo.



Voodoo's roots

N'angaSource: Religion Facts, Image: Wikipedia

Voodoo is a spiritual expression that blends together indigenous African religions with animism and spiritism. Sometimes, shamanism and witchcraft are also thrown into the fray.


The two worlds

Voodoo_Altar_New_OrleansSource: Huffington Post, Image: Wikipedia

Voodooists hold central to their belief that there are two interrelated worlds: the visible and the invisible. Death separates us from the invisible world where our ancestors still watch over us.


The most famous versions of Voodoo

Ceremonial mask dance, Egungun, voodoo, AfricaSource: Religion Facts, Image: Shutterstock/Dietmar Temps

Voodoo is most known in three places: West Africa, Haiti, and Louisiana. Beyond there, it is sometimes practiced in places which had many West African slaves such as Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.


One god

Damballah_La_FlambeauSource: Huffington Post, Image: Wikipedia

Most Voodooists believe in a supreme being, though the deity is more distant and less accessible than lesser spirits. This monotheistic religion refers to god as Bondye.


The "lwa"

voodoo dancerSource: Religion Facts, Image: davidstanleytravel via Flickr

All voodoo practitioners are known for interacting with lesser spirits, often called “lwa”. The spirits often differ between branches and some have even been merged with Catholic saints after the collision of European Christianity and African Voodoo.


Relationship with the lwa

voodoo priest and the fetishSource: Huffington Post, Image: erikkristensen via Flickr

Voodooists develop relationships with the lwa to ask their advice and learn from their experience and connect with them on a spiritual level.


The lwa and nature

Voodo-altarSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

All of the lwa are connected to some sort of natural force, such as Ogou, the male lwa of iron and metallic powers.


Voodoo's status in Haiti

Affaire_de_Bizoton_1864Source: Encyclopedia & Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti, Bob Corbett, Image: Wikipedia

Voodoo is protected under the 1987 Haitian constitution, but this wasn’t always the case. In an attempt to ostracize the religion, the Catholic Church burned Voodoo shrines and beat its clergy in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.


Voodoo teachings

Voodoo_of_Abomey_(Benin)Source: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikipedia

Voodoo does not have a leader nor definitive scriptures.


Voodoo dolls aren't really a thing

voodoo dollsSource: Religion Facts, Image: krystalklearblue via Deviant Art

The commonly cited Voodoo dolls aren’t entirely Voodoo dolls but rather come from a type of African folk magic named Hoodoo. The dolls, often made to transfer a curse onto somebody, are made from corn shafts, potatoes, plant matter, clay, or clothes. Despite Hollywood’s over-hyping of the dolls, they are not used by most Voodoo practitioners.


Communication with the lwa

voodoo dance in beninSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Pixabay

Voodooists communicate with lesser spirits through prayer, animal sacrifice, possessions and drum/dance ceremonies.


Clergy in Voodoo

Ceremonial suit for Voodoo rites - Berlin 2010Source: Huffington Post, Image: Wikipedia

Men and women can be ordained as clergy in the Voodoo religion and are known as Hougan and Mambo, respectively. Though they can offer advice to followers, it is maintained that everyone is individually capable of their own enlightenment. A strong sense of community is nonetheless one of the central tenants of Voodooism.


Voodoo was banned in Saint Domingue

Voodoo_altar_in_TropenmuseumSource: Ancient Origins, Image: Wikipedia

In 1685, France banned any practicing of African religions in their colony of Saint Domingue. Slave owners were required to Christianize their slaves within 8 days of arrival and many were baptized. Slaves didn’t give up their native religions but rather merged them with Catholicism to give the appearance to the slave drivers they had converted.


New Orleans Voodoo's roots

The Voodoo tradition in Louisiana and especially New Orleans was brought by African and Creole slaves fleeing the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century.


A Voodoo priest starts the Haitian Revolution

Boukman Dutty – a Voodoo priest – is widely recognized as starting the Haitian Revolution after making prophesies and declaring leaders at a religious ceremony in August 1791.


The centrality of healing

Herb_collectionSource: Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti, Bob Corbett, Image: Wikipedia

Central to Voodoo is healing people from illnesses. Herbs are used and the lwa are invoked to heal the sick.


The origin of the word "Voodoo"

Gbe_languagesSource: Encyclopedia, Image: Wikimedia

The word Voodoo comes from the West African language of Fon and means “spiritual entity”. The Fon were and are an ethnic and linguistic group mainly centered around southern Benin.


The legendary Voodoo queen

Tomb_Marie_LaveauSource: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Image: Wikipedia

The legendary Creole Voodoo queen Marie Laveau was well-renowned in New Orleans and has been featured in numerous movies and books. Legend says if you draw an “X” on her tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and scream out your wish, the Voodoo queen will grant it. (Unfortunately, the tomb has recently been closed to the general public due to vandalism.)


Possession in Voodoo

JacmelVodouSource: Ancient Origins, Image: Wikimedia

Voodooists believe the lwa can possess a worshiper’s body during certain religious ceremonies. It’s also believed the soul can escape from the body while dreaming and during possession by a lwa.


St. Peter as Papa Legba

St. Peter as Papa LegbaSource: Ancient Origins, Image: Wikipedia

In Haitian Voodoo, St. Peter is known as Papa Legba, the gatekeeper to the spirit world – similar to his position as gatekeeper to Heaven in the Catholic tradition.


The reason for animal sacrifice

-Voodo-fetischmarkt-LoméSource: Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti, Bob Corbett, Image: Wikipedia

The practice of sacrificing an animal during a Voodoo ceremony is to give life energy to the lwa. The killing releases life which helps rejuvenate the lwa who have been busy managing the universe.


Current day adherents

About 4 million people in Benin and 5 million in Haiti adhere to Voodoo today, among others in smaller groups across the world.


Voodoo follows a moral code

SlaveDanceand_MusicSource: UF, Image: Wikipedia

Contrary to a false myth perpetuated in the late 1800’s to discredit African religions, Voodoo has never included human sacrifice. Such an act would contradict its moral code which strictly prohibits the harming of others.


Traditional Voodoo law enforcement

ZangbetoSource: Ancient Origins, Image: Wikimedia

Zangbetos are the traditional night guards in Benin and Togo. Made up of a man in a costume resembling a haystack, the Zangbeto are traditional Voodoo guardians who patrol the streets at night and, if falling into a trance, can even be possessed by a lwa. Before the establishment of official law enforcement, the Zangbetos were the primary force of law in Benin.


Voodoo's true self

Carnevale_di_viareggio_2014,_Voodoo_di_Carlo_LombardiSource: Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti, Bob Corbett, Image: Wikimedia

Overall, Voodoo is not about black magic and spells, but rather a community-based religion which focuses on healing and doing well to others. The religion helped African slaves persevere through harsh working conditions and continues to inspire and invigorate its millions of modern-day practitioners.