The Voodoo Project: Catholic Symbiosis.

On this journey, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions attach themselves to pagans and even to Christians who look at voodoo, in any way. There are the basic misconceptions that can be chalked up to over-active imaginations coupled with the sensationalist Hollywood viewpoint of what voodoo “is.” And then there are the misconceptions that seem to be attached, strongly, to opinions. Now in either case, we are doing a severe disservice to a religion that has been able to grant an entire nation its freedom. If we can openly respect and not assume about other pagan religions and even some of the Christian ones as well, we should be able to look openly at voodoo, as well. What we need to consider is that all of us are wearing blinders in some fashion, whether it be based on opinion or what Hollywood has dreamed up this week when it comes to zombies and voodoo. One of the main misconceptions I’ve found lately is that voodoo is part and parcel with Catholicism, which isn’t the case at all. I hope that with this entry, I can put some of those fears to rest.

A lot of people have been willing to talk to me about their issues with voodoo. And for a lot of them, a big problem is the fact that it is rife with Catholic imagery and prayers. Here we are as pagans, pretty much eschewing the Christian religions of our birth but suddenly being pulled to a religion that uses it daily. Talk about an issue! And I completely understand and even agree with the fears and issues that this possibility imposes on those of us who are not comfortable with Christian imagery, prayers, and offerings.

Now, whenever I meet up with others who are willing to admit that this is a huge stepping stone, and one that may or may not break the bank, a particular woman comes to mind. She’s mentioned a time or two (*cough* Camylleon *cough*) that one of the hardest parts of being a hard polytheist and working in both a voodoo/Santeria framework has been the Christianity that is rife in the religion. She has had to contend with the two aspects of her practice and meld them into one. She has to not only work with the images and prayers, but she also has to contend with their belief in one God. (Yep, that’s right. Not just “a god” but as in the One.) Now, I’m pretty freaked out that someone has been willing and able to do that. I can safely admit that I am not that person. So, it is with my framework in mind that I write this post. For those who would like to hear her take on it, maybe she’ll finally write the post I’ve been bugging her about.

After begrudgingly picking up my first book on voodoo, I went into it with a more open mind than I would have a few years ago. I think that helped me in making careful decisions, not just in who I was willing to seek out and work with but also in regards to the Catholic question. I’m not saying that you can’t pick up a book or look up a blog, start reading it, and have to have an open mind. But I think it helps. What really aided me was the first book in question: The Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan. Now, I am not his biggest fan. Everyone who has heard me talk about voodoo knows that this is the case and hell, even he knows that this is the case. (Yes, he really does.) But his book really helped me to understand a religion that isn’t quite understandable from a framework that is pagan. Sure, we can go into it just as easily as the next person, but it helps when you have someone who is or was (not sure which) a pagan and is willing to at least give you some good basis. And some of the good basis was that Catholic aspects to voodoo are NOT necessary.

This was eye-opening, mind-boggling, and so deliciously scintillating to me. While I had been interested in the religion itself, I had also come in with a preconceived notion. And that was that I had to work with the framework that was already presented. But after reading the history of Haitian Vodou, I realized that the framework was based on survival. I live in a day and age where keeping my religion afloat is only as necessary as keeping my Amendment rights alive and well. I didn’t need the same sort of tapestry to hide my religion as the slaves from Africa did so many years ago. And with that, a sort of… relief washed over me. Not only did I not need to have an image of Legba on my altar space (though I desire one), but I didn’t have to settle on something that shows him as Saint Lazarus. I don’t have to recite the rosary or sing a hymn to get them to talk to me. And I don’t need to have their prayers memorized to offer them service, either.

WEIGHT LIFTED.

I know that when you look at something or someone on the outside, you tend to just assume that what you’re looking at is how it is. This isn’t always the case. We all talk about not judging a book by its cover, but let’s face it. We’re all human. And that’s what humans do. They take one look at a person or a thing and just assume a whole bunch of shit about it. This was the case for me – and I think the others who are looking in voodoo’s direction but can’t quite make up their minds about it – and it’s taken a lot to get me out of this frame of mind, especially where voodoo is concerned. But, I’ll tell you this. If you pick up your first book about it and it’s an easy-read like mine was, you’ll change your mind pretty quick.

And if not, well. I’m being told that I’m a guide here. So, look me up and I’ll do some guiding.

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11 thoughts on “The Voodoo Project: Catholic Symbiosis.

  1. This helps. Thanks for putting this up. I think part of the reason I’m so put off by the Catholic imagery is because I know absolutely nothing about Catholicism. I’ve been to Catholic mass a grand total of never. So…..I’m doing what any masochistic pagan seeker like me would do. I’m going to Catholic mass. No shit. My husband is SO going to commit me.

    I need to understand it. I need to see it, feel it, breath it. I need to understand exactly what I’m getting into before I walk into St. Mary’s Catholic Church in my area on Ash Wednesday and asking them for ashes for my forehead (I”m assuming that’s how you do it?). I’m also recalling Camylleon saying that Ash Wednesday is observed by Vodouisants.

    I have to go. I hope I don’t burst into flames at the door step.

    • I vaguely know and understand the whole point behind the Catholic mass (besides boring the hell out of people). My mom was raised Catholic, as was my best friend, and I went to a Catholic church as a little kid. So, while I don’t remember everything specifically, I do remember some of it.

      And I think it’s a good idea to go and see. Having an open mind and being able to see the perspective of others is not a common trait in humanity. And I totally say, “GO FOR IT.”

      I don’t think you’ll burst into flames.

  2. Alright…alright…I GET IT! Sheesh! ;-)

    I’ll seriously try to get my mind bent around finding the words to explain how I consolidated my beliefs. It’s surprisingly simple and yet…well, hard to write. Don’t know why exactly.

    And LJ…my hubby made it thru our wedding (in a CHURCH, lol) even tho he was never baptized & is a Tzuist/Thor devotee. If HE didn’t get struck by lightning, you won’t either.

    I think. :-D

    Aubs…excellent, clear, and simple post about the “trappings” of Christianity being used to cover the African spirits. It was the ultimate camouflage for the slaves…and the later practitioners as well. The slaves in fear for their lives, later practitioners in fear for their jobs, kids, and homes. But there’s no *mandate* that you *must* use the Catholic symbolism. None at all.

  3. I think the biggest problem I see is that people use Voodoo when they mean Vodou or even Vuvu, or sometimes Hoodoo. Voodoo IS NOT Vodou, neither are Hoodoo, and none of them is Vuvu. What you are dealing with is FOUR very distinct AND SEPARATE religions, which thanks to Hollywood get lumped together under the umbrella term “voodoo” (not capitalized).

    Remember:

    Vudu (also Vuvu) [which means “the circle of life” or “to draw water” or “to let life flow as water”] is an ancient African belief system dated to about 10,000BC. It is the world’s oldest known “organized” religion. It is based on the theory that all life was created by The One God, and that he had many wives, each wife being the mother of a tribe (race, country, or culture) on the Earth. Out of respect for a heavenly parentage, detailed records of lineages are keept, so that no one who ever lived is ever forgotten. Bones of the dead a carefully preserved in shrines, where on the persons “day” (either birth day or death day) gifts are left to let the spirits of the dead know they have not been forgotten. Death is seen as a joyful reunion with the ancestors. No gods or idols are ever worshiped. Over the many centuries, each tribe developed it’s own set of “rituals” for use to help remember the centuries long lists of the names of the dead. The religion of The One God scattered into many (hundreds) of variations.

    Meanwhile, in Europe the Celts were busy invading and forceing Paganism, Druidy, and Heathenism on the Picts. The Picts practiced Hoodoo, which is also known as Welsh Faerie Faith. Hoodoo (which means “haunted place” or “place where spirit dwell) was a heavily magic based religion, which called on the assistants of “The People of the Mists”, “The Wee Folk”, “The Good People”, (Leprechauns, Gnomes, Pixies, Boogals, Srlkies, Kelpies, etc, collectivly known as The Fae). The Romans would soon follow and attack the Celts forcing Christianity on them, with the infamous evil bigot St Patrick in the head, decreeing death to all who did not convert to Catholicism. Picts, where now being called Scotts, and to avoid death, because to call Hoodooing “Intecesory Prayer” claiming that they were calling on Angels not Faeries. Catholics thought this was a good thing, so soon created the concept of Saints, and started demading Christians pray to Saints. By the 1300s many Scotts were still refusing to convert to Christianity, and were forced to flee Scotland. They became known as “The Scottish Travellers” or “The Scottish Gypsies” (and are in no way related to the Rom or Romany Gypsies). They settled in Germany where they were refered to as “The Pied Pipers” for their plaid tartan clothing and their playing of “magical pipes”. They used Hoodoo magic without persicuition, until 1458 when Henerich Kramer wrote “The Witch’s Hammer” a book which detailed the hows and whys of witchcraft, how to spot a witch, and more importantly how to kill a witch. He gave copies of his book to every church leader he could and as a result 20,000 men, women, and children were slaughtered in the first German Holocaust.

    Vodou (also Vodu, or Vodun) is an African based religion started in the 1600s in Haiti by the slaves who combined elements of many African tribal religions. They could not communicate because they each spoke different languages, but they all shared very similar religious rituals to remember their lineages and reverance their dead, and used this as a way to unify themselves. The many hundreds of variations of Vudu once again becam united, now under the name of Vodou. However, plantation owners saw unity between slaves as a threat (which was the very reason they never owned slaves who could speak the same language with one another) and set out to punish and kill any slave found practicing Vodou.

    Meanwhile, in New England the Scottish Traveller Gypsies had fled Germany and were now living in a little town called Salam, where the German Christians had followed them to, and was continung to kill them. At the same time Plantation slaves were escaping North into the Ozark mountains, Scottish Gypsies were escaping South, also into the safty of the Ozark mountains. Here Hatian Vodou and Scottish Hoodoo meet up and joined forced, creating both The Underground Railroad and a totally new religion called Voodoo. The Scottish Hoodooers taught the Haitian Vodunists about the use of poppets (Hoodoo Dolls, later renamed Voodoo Dolls in the 1920s by Hollywood directors) to heal their sick and to put curses on the slave owners. They also taught the Vodunists how to hide their ancestral worship, by using Catholic Saint Icons. By the late 1700s Voodoo had taken hold in the southern United States.

    In summary:

    Vudu (also Vodo or Vuvu) is an African ancestor ritual religion. It is estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 years old. It contains no worship practices, has no church buildings, no dogmas to follow, and contains no magic practice. There are no clergy and thus no “formal” initiations. It is NOT recognized by federal (USA) government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Vudu focuses on ancestors.

    Vodou (Vodu or Vodun) is an African based Haitian religion, which incorperated ansctor rituals, with God worship, and Catholic Saint rituals. It is about 700 years old. It contains minimal magic, if any at all. There are temples, clergy, church meetings, congrgational worship services, and a lengthy and highly details list of domas and rules. To become a member requires 21 baptisms and to become clergy requires initiation. It IS an official recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Vodou focuses on ancestors, worship, church attendance, and service to the spirits (lwa) of The One God.

    Hoodoo is a Scottish based magic practice which involved reverance to nature spirits, with spirits granting requests in exchange for gifts and often, though not always, incorporates Catholic Saint rituals. (It is about 8,000 years old.) There are no clery and thus no initiations. It is NOT recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Hoodoo focuses on magic, spell casting, divination, hexes, curses, and exorcisms.

    Voodoo is an American New Age Magic Based Religion that takes Scottish Hoodoo Magic, Italian Catholic Saint Rituals, and some but not all practices of the Haitian Vodou religion and throws them all together into a totally random mixed bag. (It is a little over 200 years old). Normally Voodoo is NOT recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Voodoo is ONLY an officially recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion, IF the Houngan or Mambo of the individual house was INITIATED through the Haitian Vodou religion, in which case it is considered by the government to be a Vodou priest who ALSO practices Voodoo in addition to Vodou, thus explaining why many Voodoo priests and priestess seek out Vodou initiation even though Voodoo itself is not a religion and does not require initiation. Voodoo focuses on service to the spirits (lwa) of The One God as a way to do magic, spell casting, divination, hexes, curses, and exorcisms.

    Voodoo IS a Christian religion.

    Vodou IS NOT a Christian based religion, but sometimes has Christian imagery.

    Vodo IS NOT Christian based and contains NO Christian imagery.

    Hoodoo IS NOT a religion and ONLY in America does it use Christian imagery.

    It is wrong a disrespectful to interchange the names Vodo, Vodou, Voodoo, and Hoodoo and make false and misinformed attempts at claiming each word is simply another way of saying the same thing. Yes they are all similar. Yes they share the same roots. But no, they are NOT the same and the words/titles of each are not interchangeable with any of the others.

    I want to clear this out of the way, because most folks have no idea there a difference between Vodo, Vodou, Hoodoo, and Voodoo and a lot of misinformed (often well intentioned) folks go around saying they are all the same thing and just different spellings of all one thing, when in fact, they are not! This always irritates me. What irritates me most of all, though is when folks write books saying these words are interchangeable, and people pick up the book and read it assuming that the author had any idea what they were talking about, when in fact the author was simply spreading ill-researched misinformation. :( Sad fact is, I can’t say I know of any book out there about either Voodoo, Vodou, or Hoodoo that doesn’t promote this misinformation, which is terrible because most folks start out seeking info on Voodoo through those books and so start off on the wrong foot right from the very beginning, which than leads to people practicing Voodoo/Vodou/Hoodoo wrong (without realizing it) and teaching others thus spreading the misinformation even farther! The worse one of all is Lucky Mojo’s school of Hoodoo that goes around promoting Hoodoo as an African invention, when Hoodoo is Scottish and has it’s roots in Siberian Shamanism. This is a great disrespect to both the Scotts and the Africans, and makes a mockery of both cultures!

    It gets watered down farther by Wiccans who come in crying about “The Burning Years”…The Burning Years? Do they even know what that means? They say it was persecution of witches…no! It was not! It was racial cleanings of the Scottish and Irish Traveller Gypsies, who were FALSELY LABELED as witches. The German and Dutch Puratines were not randomly killing off “witches”, they were very systematically making up excuses as to why they should kill off every Scottish, Irish, and Romany they could find. Every time someone starts bemoaning “The Burning Years” I tell them, do your research CHECK THE ACTUAL HISTORY, read the documents – EVERYONE who was killed during “The Burning Years” was either Scottish, Iris, or Romany. But there are so many Wiccans out there who would rather believe Silver Ravenwolf’s made up fantasy of lies than find out the truth…and that’s my point with Voodoo vs Vodou vs Hoodoo! People read a book on it and assume the author knew the facts, because after all, they wrote it in a book! Well, if Silver Ravenwolf can take The First German Holocaust a massive racial cleansing of “Gypsies” (keeping in mind that in the 1600s the words Gypsy and Witch were interchangeable) and rewrite it as “The Burning Years of killed Wiccans” and than have millions of folks BELIEVE her when there is mountains of documented facts to prove her a liar, than how easy is it for books to spread missconseptions about Voodoo when so little documentation of it exists?

    And that’s why I wanted to post, the differances between Vodo, Vodou, Hoodoo, and Voodoo, because I can see you are trying to get the info right, but still, to say that Voodoo is not a Christian religion and that Voodoo and Vodou are the same religion, is just an urban myth. Voodoo IS a Christian religion. Vodou IS NOT a Christian religion. Voodoo and Vodou ARE NOT the same religions. Vodou requires initiation, Voodoo does not. They overlap, yes, but they are not the same.

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