A few words about voodoo spells
Voodoo – for some feathers, blood, snakes and pin-pricked dolls, for others a beautiful religion that refers to nature and draws on the power of the ancestors. Undoubtedly controversial in the modern world, mainly due to film fantasy.
The religion and magic system, which originated in Haiti, where it flourished in the 17th century, has its basis in the beliefs of the Black Continent combined with European magic. In a bizarre way, African magic, mainly Congolese, was mixed with Catholicism, pain and longing for home and freedom were added, and so the classic Haitian voodoo was created, which is still present today on this magical, suffering island. Haiti is a bizarre place where the majority of the population is Catholic, 9/10 of the people adhere to voodoo at the same time, and in moments of trial and danger 10/10 ask the Loa for help.
Loa are the spirits of voodoo deities who take care of people. They make offerings to them, perform thanksgiving or requesting rituals for specific intentions. Most often, these are group rituals in which, to the trance-like sounds of drums, priests summon the Loa to physical manifestation. The spirits summoned in the ritual enter the body of one of the participants in the ritual, the leading priest or priestess or a mere mortal, through whom they communicate their will and expectations. These rituals to this day can still be powerful and bloody – animals are sacrificed in them, a crowd put into a trance performs a convulsive dance, a person controlled by the Loa eats glass or initiates a sexual orgy. Haiti’s poverty, combined with strong ritualism, provides the perfect breeding ground for spinning fantastic and bloody stories. This traditional Haitian voodoo appeals to me far less than hoodoo, its version made famous in New Orleans.
Brought to Louisiana soil along with slaves, it found fertile ground and developed in the French Quarter in the form closest to me. Similar, by the way, to other known magic systems. Based on the power of Nature, the power of the Ancestors and the Spirits and deities, mainly Loa. It’s quite amazing that we all believe in the same things and invoke the same allies, just dressed differently in matter and named differently. Voodoo is much more spectacular than other systems in manifestation and ritualism. Blood, bones skulls, entrails, etc. make people fearful. All the stories about zombies or possession make voodoo priests surrounded by a nimbus of mystery, even horror.
The truth is as trivial as ever and, as with the burning of witches at the stake, is based on human fear of the unknown.
The most important element of voodoo is acting on the power of the ancestors. The voodoo altar is based on simplicity and an appeal to the powers with which the doer works. The base is a wooden, or preferably stone or marble slab. This is important not only for fire safety reasons, but also for the ritual of invoking Loa – symbols of deities are sprinkled on the altar with powder. In the past, they were sprinkled with corn flour. Over time, the ritual evolved and began to use magical concoctions for it, the so-called magic powder, prepared from specially selected ingredients, depending on the intention and the expected effect of the action (one of the most famous is zombie powder, containing a neurotoxin that causes paralysis and gives the effect of clinical death).
On the base of the altar we place white candles, photos of our ancestors, a skull – nowadays usually in the form of decoration and not real remains (in Haiti, the corpses of loved ones are still exhumed to obtain their bones for rituals), a vessel with water offered to the Spirits, a bible (voodoo followers use its psalms) or Book of Shadows, a deer horn (sometimes a goat, bull or buffalo) for summoning the Spirits, and a ritual knife, called a macheta. An important place on the voodoo altar is occupied by incense sticks, which, depending on the intention to do, should be on the right (if we have good intentions) or on the left.
The intention to act in voodoo is crucial. It is not true that it is black and evil magic. As in any action, it is not the magic that is bad, but the intention and its effect can be bad. Voodoo, however, makes a great distinction between actions and intentions – those who only do good are called right-handed, priests who do not shy away from black magic are called ambidextrous, because black spells are cast with the left hand.
The elements that arouse the most emotion in people, such as blood bones or entrails used in rituals, are nothing more than a materialization of the energies on which voodoo is based. It is a system that presents the elements quite literally on the altar or in rituals to summon the Spirits. Blood, like bones, is firstly a reference to the Ancestors, and secondly it is the element of life, which when offered to the Spirits forms a bridge between our world and the Spirit World. Animal sacrifices combine the element of life-giving power of blood and at the same time constitute a gift to the deities and Spirits. The same is true of rum, which represents a gift, but at the same time symbolizes the active power of fire. Water on the altar is devoid of causal power. Water purifies, represents power, but it lacks the act of doing that is attributed to fire. Rum combines water and fire. That is why it is used in voodoo rituals often instead of water.
The issue of dolls is similar. They represent the materialization of the people we are concerned with. Of course, we know from movies or stories stories of people being killed or harmed through voodoo dolls. Interestingly, the dolls come from the European roots of voodoo, a reference to Slavic zadanic or British cunning dolls. Originally, they were intended to materialize the person against whom the ritual was performed. Classically – it all comes down to the intention of the doer. A doll can be used for healing, spiritual or material support, as well as to cause evil or even bring death.
Symbols used in voodoo, energies, elements and directions similarly to other magic systems have similar meanings and uses here. Take, for example, the sign of the cross, present in a great many voodoo rituals and on voodoo altars, referring to the pre-Christian meaning – the balance between the elements and directions, the place where man meets the Spirits, the energies of the elements and the Spirit above them at the point of intersection. The voodoo cross, like Celtic, Germanic or crosses known from other parts of the world (as opposed to Christian), has equal arms. This is because it is a symbol of the balance of the worlds.
The spirits and deities that are present in voodoo beliefs are a mix of African deities and Catholic saints. Some of them, such as Papa Legba, inspire deep fear in people and appeal to the darkest corners of our self. It draws out our shadows and feeds on them. As in other beliefs, we have to deal with good Spirits and demons. Our greatest fear is bringing them to light. People are most frightened by their own shadows and their influence on action and motivation. Voodoo is a system that brings these shadows to light in very overt, often spectacular ritualistic ways. After all, there is no talk of votive rituals for prosperity, thanksgiving for health, or daily contact with Ancestral Spirits. It sensationalizes activities related to harm, to shadow, to evil. Voodoo does not forget about karma, on the contrary, any evil done to another person, is met with a very painful punishment. Voodoo teaches that the punishment the Soul will receive for evil done to others will be the greatest suffering it can experience. Evil manifests itself in endless suffering, repeated over and over again for eternity. The greatest punishment a person can receive for wrongs done to others is the inability to reincarnate after death and relive the same nightmare over and over again. So we are dealing with a modified, much more realistic form of the Catholic hell. Modified because made by us to ourselves and appealing to our most acute pain.
The afterlife and the Ancestral World play a very big role for voodoo practitioners. The power we derive from the support of the lineage is used to do fully. In every action we take, we can rely on the allied energies and powers represented by members of the lineage. Some people call this necromancy, which indeed voodoo rubs up against in some cases. For me, however, it is about working with the continuity of the lineage and the energies of the Ancestors, enabling us to act effectively and strengthen our identity. It is not about mindlessly summoning Spirits and pulling down errant Souls, but about drawing on our roots.
I would like, by presenting voodoo ritualism in the following articles, to disenchant it in people’s eyes. It is not black magic, it is not a system based on doing evil and ritually murdering animals or creating zombies, as it is portrayed in Hollywood movies. It is a magic that, like any other, can be used for good or evil purposes, depending on the intentions of the doer. Magic that, above all, gives a person the extraordinary support of the Ancestors and, through the accumulation of their energies and abilities, enables a broader spectrum of action and powers that we do not possess of ourselves. Magic set in a specific aesthetic that does not appeal to everyone, but, against all appearances, once this envelope is removed, very close and “ordinary” to us.