What is Voodoo?

Related Belief Systems.

New Earth - An illustration of the part of a Yoruba creation story where a rooster kicks some soil into piles to create the continents.

Mami Wata – a pantheon of deities worshipped and/or honored in west and central Africa.  Vodun is one of the child systems of Mami Wata, and overlaps quite a bit though some adhere to Mami Wata traditions and paths independent of what is now known as Vodun.

It’s a neat coincidence that it sounds a lot like “Mommy Water”.  Its original meaning though, is more like Truth (all life comes from) Water.  The deities are mostly female, and priesthood is passed matrilineally.  There are still Mami Wata adherents and priestesses in Togo and other areas of west Africa.

Muti (Umuthi) – indigenous southern African healing and spirituality.  It got a bad rap recently because of some simple minded psychos who take things too far and commit murders and mutilations.  The people who do that are charlatans, not real healers, as a true believer believes that killing an innocent person will bring the wrath of them and their ancestors.  Those doing it today are just materialistic idiots who believe that body parts of children will bring them more wealth or protect them from the natural consequences of their actions.

In truth, much like Vodun, adherents of Umuthi believe that there is no protection from the natural consequences of one’s actions.  The Supreme God is not a Santa Claus, and neither are the other spirits.  If you do evil, you get evil.  If you do good, you might not always get what you want, but you’ll always at least have peace.

Kala Jaadu (also spelled Jadoo) – Middle Eastern magic and pre Islamic spirituality.  It is practiced and believed in with a high level of secrecy.

Conversion to Islam was not as complete in the Middle East as some may believe.  The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be unto him) himself was also an esoteric.  There are also a few different Islamic flavors within the standard Sunni, Sufist, and Shiite sects.  For spiritual guidance and help, some problems needed solving with things other than the usual Muslim practices.  Some old practices were repackaged within the Islamic theology.

One of the most popular ideas within Kala Jaadu is the belief in djinn.  Djinn are described as being made of fire or as higher dimensional beings, depending who you ask.  Some are powerful and can control forces of nature, where others are not really that interested in this, and just do occasional mischief.

Some practitioners are able  to communicate with, and claim to be able to control djinn.  Be wary of those who say they are actually able to control them.  Djinn have free wills the same as humans.  If they like someone, they might let them believe that, but they are there only because they choose to be.

Wathanism – Arabian Paganism that focuses on deities from the Arabian penninsula.

Candomblé – Candomble is a Brazilian Bahia faith that is a mixture of Yoruba, Roman Catholic, and Native South American faiths.  In Candomble, as in some streams of Haitian Vodou, many of the Orishas are conflated with Roman Catholic saints.  The associated saints are considered something like avatars of an Orisha.

Santeria – Santeria, also known as the Lucumi/Lukumi or Regla de Ocha is the belief system of Afro-Cubans.  It is a combination of Yoruba, Roman Catholic, and Native Caribbean “Indian” beliefs.

Palo Mayombe – The Palo systems (Las Reglas de Congo) are Cuban and area traditions developed by descendants of people from Central Africa (Congo, Angola, etc.).  Though there is some overlap with adherents, it is not the same or a companion of Lukimi/Santeria. Palo is the Spanish word for “stick”, and it is believed that this category of belief systems was called such because of the importance they place on various trees and herbs for medicinal and spiritual purposes.  Palo is not “the dark side of Santeria”.  It is its own set of belief systems and its intent depends on the practitioner.  It just may seem “dark” because of cultural misunderstandings and discomfort with Nature.

Haitian Vodou – Haitian Vodou is a combination of west African, Roman Catholic, and Arawak beliefs, though many are discarding the remaining Roman Christian elements.  It has a unduly bad reputation as “black magic” mostly due to racism and fear.  It was one of the driving forces in the Haitian Revolution, and so Haitian Vodou is representative in the European American mind of Black slaves successfully ousting their masters.  To this day, the idea that there is something in which they are not superior, makes racists shake in their jackboots.

Kumina – This is an African derived faith similar to Vodun that is practiced in Jamaica.  They have events called Pokumina or Pukumina that are dances where the spirits of nature and ancestors come down and possess the dancers.  Pukumina comes from the Twi word “po” which means “small”, and the word Kumina for the faith itself.  Because of misunderstanding the linguistic roots and the nature of the dance though, it is often referred to as “Pocomania”: small madness.

Hoodoo – A North American approach to magic and mysticism that combine elements of African, Native American, and European folk medicine and traditions.  It is “baptist” in the sense that mostly non Catholics practice it, so they don’t usually use the Saints as covers for the Orishas.  Some do use Angels though.  The Angels apparently don’t mind this because it works.

Bible verses and Christian practices are a common part of root work in Hoodoo, along with a variety of American traditional practices that developed through time or borrowed from old world cultures.

Obeah – Obeah’s roots are mostly Igbo.  Its origins are in the Igbo belief system called Odinani.  It was mixed quite a bit with the Yoruba and some Caribbean belief systems in the Americas, but the style of practice was already quite mixed before.  Now, it is basically African-Carribean folk medicine, mysticism, and sorcery, but Obeah practitioners respectfully learn from and incorporate any and all systems that work.  They tend to be African centered, but eclectic and esoteric.

There was a wide chain of information stretching as far as ancient Canaan through north and central Africa, to west Africa.  Historically, Odinani and later Obeah practitioners drew from a variety of sources.

Unlike other systems that often have a more strict hierarchy, and differentiate between the initiated and non initiated, Obeah people are quite often very solitary, and make their status or fame from their record of service.  Initiation happened as a matter of destiny by encountering a teacher who passed it, or as a rite of passage from family. It is less a belief system in and of itself than it is an approach to Vodun and/or Odinani with awareness of being outside traditional systems.  Some are even more keen to a Nubian/Khemet style of practice and ceremony.

Be mindful that “Obeah” is a description of a style of practice. In truth, each school or line has its own terms. The Motherland equivalent is Afroscientific Spirituality.

Quimbanda – A modern urban Afro-Brazilian spiritual and magical system with a pantheon of Exus and Pomba Giras or incorporated deities.  Like most other systems, there is no one Quimbanda, but what’s consistent is the focus on Exu and Pomba Gira.  Many occult practices have been absorbed and given a Quimbanda flavor, so don’t be surprised to see any deity from anywhere given an Exu or Pomba Gira prefix. Though some of the names are familiar, the way their pantheon is arranged is a bit different for a reason. It is closer to original African hierarchies and categories, and though it seems scary to many, I feel one day Quimbanda will stand out as one of the styles that set the standard.

Kindoki and Brujeria – In the Congo, where some of the practices originated, “kindoki” means “witchcraft”, which may or may not be conscious or purposeful.  In Spain and Portugal, Brujeria also means “witchcraft”, but it is purposeful.  In the diaspora, Kindoki and Brujeria are a mix of African, Indigenous American, Spanish, and other Latin mysticism and magic.  It is mostly practiced in Central America and the southwestern United States.  Much like Obeah, it is very eclectic, varies from place to place, and mostly focusing on the sorcery.  A practitioner may be of any religion normally, though most are Catholic.

On the surface, it may seem similar to Santeria, but there is the incorporation of pre colonial practices and beliefs from Central America from the Aztec and Maya.  It is also usually practiced by solitaries or small groups or families.

Orishaism – This is an umbrella term for worshiping the Orishas, but usually used to describe the beliefs of Africans and others in the diaspora who do not have known family ties in west Africa, but worship the Orishas, and are not affiliated with larger communities.  It may end up being the title for a western African diaspora movement of system of its own as more African Americans become disenchanted with other groups.






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K. Sis. Nicole T.N. Lasher

Webmatron of Orisha.me.


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