Voodoo in Haiti
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska

Haitian coat of arms
Motto: Strength Through Unity

THE PURPOSE OF THIS PAGE:

The purpose of this page is to give a very brief overlook of the religion called Voodoo as it exists in Haiti. This is a supplementary article to the series on the Polish in Haiti.

As I have shown in my other articles, Poles can be found in many places around the world. Poles in Haiti has been a well-hidden fact in most history books. However, the descendants of these abandoned soldiers still remember. Perhaps the reason they were ignored was because they were considered "cowards" by the French. The Polish did not choose to fight this war, and most records confirm that they were taken on board ships by gunpoint. In this circumstance you can forgive those that deserted. They were fighting a morally wrong war. The Haitians had already been given their independence and then Napoleon decided to take it back for his regimes' own personal profits:

White supremacy still reared its ugly head in times of early colonialism.

If you read the page called "The Lost Polish Brigades in Haiti" you will have read about Amon Fremon of Casales, Haiti. Amon was a Voodoo priest.

THE WORD VOODOO:

Some researchers thought that the word Voudou/Voodoo came from the French word Vaudois meaning "witchcraft," as they were called by the Waldensian heretics. Remember this would make sense because Haiti was a French possession, so they would have named this religion in French terms.

ORIGINS IN AFRICA:

However, other scholars think Voodoo is a West African corruption of the Yoruba word for "god." Voodoo as a religion was brought to Haiti by slaves from Dahomey (Mair, 234). The first humans to appear in the lands of Dahomey (Benin) were worshippers of the goddess Mawu-Lisa. Since that time, certain Christian rituals were incorporated into Voodoo, because of the missionaries who wished to eradicate these practices.

Polish soldiers most likely tried to practice their Catholicism in the early days. They even built a stone church in Casales. However, later on, as more generations of mixed blood entered their offsprings veins, many descendants adopted a blend of Catholic and Voodoo beliefs. The fact that their copy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa was still among their church relics tells us this. However, many of the other traditions from their Polish blood had been forgotten. Amon Fremon, who claimed descendant from Polish soldiers, was a Voodoo priest and he worked his rituals while taken to Poland and France by Jerzy Detopski. Therefore Voodoo is a modern part of their descendant's lives.

SLAVERY AND FEAR

In the early days of Haiti [we can not re-write history], the slave owners feared the sorcery of their slaves. They felt that the "black carbonaro" were dedicated to the destruction of whites. This fear still exists today. In fact most Haitians still see whites as their enemies. Remember Francois Duvalier ("Papa Doc") was reputed to have used Voodoo as a tool to control his people. He also stressed "negritude" which is explained as a pride in blackness and African heritage.

The fear whites held for their slaves, that practiced Voodoo, were brought on by the early writings:

....."In the 16th century Spencer St. John (a 19th century British consul) wrote a book (in 1884) saying that Voodoo rites assisted in the murder and eating of children, in honor of the serpent god. W. H. Seabrook was in Haiti in the twentieth century. He saw Voodoo rituals from 1915-1933, and wrote about his observations of what he called "sinister practices."

However, one of the strongest writings against Voodoo were written by Dennis Wheatley, an Englishman. Wheatley wrote many books about witchcraft, satanism, and other black arts, in his lifetime. His interest in occult sciences was his life. He researched this most of his life.

Wheatley writes:

  • "Voodoo "is one of the vilest, cruellest and most debased form of worship ever devised by man. Its origins lay in darkest Africa, and the Negro has carried its foul practices with him to every part of the world which he inhabits and now even, I am told on good authority, to several cities in England.
  • The Voodoo account of the Creation is that God took his woman into the bedroom and together they began it. According to these people, that is all that a woman is fit for, together with working and cooking for her man.""

VOODOO IN LONDON:

It seems that Wheatley was right about Voodoo in England. There was said to be a Voodoo temple near the Strand. In July 1964, a white cockerel with its throat cut was found in Watford Park. A Jamaican remarked to the Press. DO NOT go near that bird. It was used as a sacrifice in a Voodoo initiation ceremony.

There is much more explaining the sexual ceremonies of humans copulating during their ceremonies and the sacrificing of chickens and more sinister offerings. All these stories would be terrifying to the casual reader.

These Voodoo rituals were totally foreign to the European mind. They did not understand them. Remember in Europe witchcraft was thought to be the tool of the devil and his demons. Many innocent women and men were killed during the frenzy of the witchcraft trials all over the continent.

In 1494, Pope Innocent VIII isssued a Papal Bull:

"It has come to our ears that numbers of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with demons, Incubi and Succubi; and that they by their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish and cause to perish the births of women, the increase of animals, the corn in the ground, the grapes in the vineyard and the fruits of the trees, as well as men, women, flocks, herds and various kinds of animals, vines and apple trees, grass, corn, and other fruits of the earth; making and procurring men and women, flocks and herds and other animals should suffer, and be tormented both from within and from without, so that men beget not, nor women conceive; and they impede the conjugal action of men and women."

This Bull was directed towards witchcraft in general, not just Voodoo.

W.B. SEABROOK'S BOOK ON HAITI:

"Jesus, Mary, and Christian saints are mingled with the African pantheon. The main act of the religion is sacrifice of animals: fowls, doves, turkey, goats, and on some important occasions, bull. The pig is never used. The original sacrifice (in the past) was no doubt human" (Seabrook, 58).

The Middle Ages was where this fear began. The devil idea was at its peak in the Middle Ages or Kali Yuga (dark era). The duelity of good and evil was said to have originated in Persia. Even King James I (of England) wrote a book on demonology and made his own version of the Bible. King James I feared witchcraft. He wrote Daemonologia in 1597. There have been many writings about Voodoo. Most of these books were written with the intent of helping other whites to understand. However, these books were based on personal truths, and not necessarily the truth as seen through Haitian eyes. Books on Voodoo vary in their views. However most agree to the following:

  • Voodoo gods were called "loa" - a Congo word.
  • The spouse of the god was called "hounsi."
  • A Voodoo temple was called a "hounfor."
  • A Voodoo covered altar was called a "peristyles"
  • Voodoo priests were called "houngan."
  • Voodoo priestesses were called "Mambo."
    Mambo dresses all in white.
  • iniates or hounsi-kanzo dress in red, and eat only white foods.
  • bocors are witch doctors.

    There are two categories of gods:
  • (1) Rada - gentle gods:

    Damballah - Wedo/Quedo is a venerable father, a snake god. He is represented by St. Patrick because of his relationship to snakes. Damballah's day is Wednesday. He likes white cocks and hens to be sacrificed to him. In Dahomey mythology, the snake was so old it existed before the earth was made. The divine male serpent was called Aido-Huedo.
    Ayida Wedo - is the wife of Damballah and she is represented by the serpent.
    Papa Legba is the guardian of the crossroads, which are the spirit of communication between all spheres. Crossroads are considered a place of great magical power. Papa Legba is represented by Jesus Christ.
    Agwe is the shell or the sovereign of the sea.
    Erzulie/Ezilie (also called Freda) of Dahomey belief. Erzulie is the Great Mother, goddess of beauty who likes the fine things if life. Erzulie is associated with the Virgin Mary. She has both a positive and negative side. In her positive form it is written that her cult recites the three Credos and three Ave Marias.

    On July 16, 1842, and later in 1881, the Virgin Mary appeared on the top of a palm tree, not far from the base of a cliff where the La Tombe River becomes a waterfall named Saut d'Eau, a sacred voodoo pilgrimage site. A chapel and shrine was erected there. The natives set offerings for Erzulie Freda there (Davis, 170).

  • (2) Petro - the bitter gods.:

    Baron Samedi (Lord of Saturday)
    Baron Cimerere (Lord of the Cemetary)
    Baron Crois (Lord of the Cross) - the negative side of Legba?
    Ogoun is the storm god and is associated with St. George, the dragon slayer. He is the spirit of fire.
    Guede is the loa (god) of death and sexuality.
    Brigitte is the wife of Guede.
    Erzulie is also known as the black Venus, a sexually insatiable goddess, that is obsessed with jealousy. Apparently this is one of her guises of duality???
  • A Voodoo altar may contain candles (white candles for positive, black candles for negative spells), bottles of rum, pots-de-tete, herbs, statues of Catholic saints, an iron cross, gourds, rattles and strings of colorful beads.
  • Gris-gris are charms and spells.
  • Zombies - drugged individuals who are used as pawns. They are drugged to feign death and reappear from the grave. Zombification is considered punishable by law. It involves the use of poison. A poison which has an antidote. This drug/poison is used as a controlling device. The resusciated corpse then becames the animator's slave. Zombie is a Congo term for an object of spiritual power.

    Zombies were used on plantations. They show no sign of intelligence or feeling. They were undoubtedly in a comatose state. They were dead people in legend. Haitians believed in this possibility and they watched the graves of their newly buried dead for several days, until decay has advanced, for they hold that they could be dug up and made into zombies.

The use of Christian icons was a way to practice Voodoo without raising suspicion from their owners. If whites saw an altar with Christian figures their minds seemed to be at rest. They thought their slaves had converted. However, this was merely a tactic used by the Voodoo practioners. No one is really positive what their ceremonies are really like. Many ceremonies are performed as a tourist attraction even today.

One thing we do know is that Voodoo practioners were tortured and branded by their owners. Victory in war, they were convinced, was one of the aims of their rituals, and slave masters always had this as their concern. They feared that their slaves would rise up and kill them.

For the past two hundred years this hatred has done nothing but fester.

The Haitians have a saying: The Catholic goes to church to speak about God, the vodounist dances in the hounfour to become God (Davis, 170).

EXTERNAL LINKS:
Voodoo Library ... Voodoo Flags (art)
African Traditional Religions ... Haiti: Voodoo
Voodoo in the Republic of Haiti ... Our Lady of Class Struggle: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Haiti
The Cult of the Black Madonna

SOURCES:

Allan, Tony. Voices of the Ancestors: African Myth USA: Time-Life Books, 1999 (Myth and Mankind Series).

Buckland, Raymond. The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism

Crow, W.B. A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and Occultism. Hollywood, CA.: Wiltshire Book Company, 1970.

Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

Diederich, Bernard and Al Burt. Papa Doc: The Truth About Haiti Today. New York: Avon Books, 1970.

Doktor Snake. Voodoo Spellbook. New York: St Martin's Press, 2000.

Mair, Lucy. Witchcraft New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1969.

Mapes, Eric. The Domain of Devils. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc., 1966.

Seabrook, W.B. The Magic Island London, 1929, 276.

Wedeck, Harry E. A Treasury of Witchcraft: A Source of the Magical Arts. New York: The Citadel Press, 1969.

Wheatley, Dennis. The Devil and All His Works. New York: American Heritage Press, 1971.

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