A Brief History of Voodoo
Vodun is sometimes called Voodoo, Vodoun, or Vodou. Religions related to Vodun are: Candomble, Lucumi, Macumba, and Yoruba). New Orleans Voodoo is a conglomeration of cultural and spiritual belief systems strongly influenced by the ancient Voodoo religion of Africa, the Vodou religion of Haiti, the healing arts of Native American people, the folk magic of Europe, and Catholicism. Voodoo is culture, heritage, philosophy, art, dance, language, medicine, music, justice, power, storytelling & ritual. Voodoo is a way of looking at and dealing with life. It heals and destroys, is both good and bad, and is simple in concept and complex in practice. Voodoo reflects the duality of the nature of the rattlesnake; its poison is toxic but its poison is needed to heal the same toxin. Voodoo is open to all yet holds many secrets & mysteries to those who are uninitiated.
Voodoo has its roots in the trauma of many people. It originated from the African ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean in bondage. Christopher Columbus set the stage in 1492 for the development of Voodoo when countless Tainos were murdered in an attempt to enslave them during the colonization of Hispaniola. With a lack of indigenous people to function as slaves, and the cost of European servants prohibitive, the slave trade between West and Central Africa began (Long, 2000).
In 1697 the French acquired one third of Hispaniola and worked the slaves literally to death. The average survival rate of slaves at that time was only about 10 years. This made the slave population ripe for continual replenishment, and the slave population grew from several thousand to half a million. The slave population was extremely diverse with many different tribes representing many religions, languages, and belief systems. It is during this time of the French occupation that the basic structure of Voodoo as we know it today developed.
The colonizers believed that by separating families and individual nations, the slave population would not unite as one people. On the contrary, the Africans found commonalities in their belief systems and religions and began invoking their own spirits and practicing each other’s religious rites. In addition, the surviving Taino Indians exerted some influence over the practice of Voodoo, especially in the area of the healing arts. As well, the indentured servants of Europe brought their folk magic, which was incorporated into the Voodoo religion. The Roman Catholic Church, ever finding ways to convert people to the church, and the entity to which the French answered, insisted on treating the slaves better and had them baptized and instructed in the practice of Catholicism (Hanger, 1997). The slave population soon began to mask their rituals and beliefs in Catholicism. It is the conglomeration and syncretism of these diverse cultural belief systems that comprised the first Creole religion and makes Voodoo what it is today.
Hoodoo consists of a large body of African folkloric practices and beliefs with a considerable admixture of American Indian botanical knowledge and European folklore. Although most of its adherents are black, contrary to popular opinion, it has always been practiced by both whites and blacks in America. Other regionally popular names for hoodoo in the black community include "conjuration," "conjure," "witchcraft," "rootwork," and "tricking." The first three are simply English words; the fourth is a recognition of the pre-eminence that dried roots play in the making of charms and the casting of spells, and the fifth is a special meaning for a common English word.
Hoodoo is used as a noun to name both the system of magic ("He used hoodoo on her") and its practitioners ("Doctor Buzzard was a great hoodoo in his day"). In the 1930s, some practitioners used the noun "hoodooism" (analogous with "occultism") to describe their work, but that term has dropped out of common parlance. Hoodoo is also an adjective ("he layed a hoodoo trick for her") and a verb ("she hoodooed that man until he couldn't love no one but her"). The verb "to hoodoo" appears in collections of early pre-blues folk-songs. For instance, in Dorothy Scarborough's book "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs," (Harvard University Press, 1925), a field-collected version of the old dance-song "Cotton-Eyed Joe" tells of a man who "hoodooed" a woman.
A professional consultant who practices hoodoo on behalf of clients may be referred to as a "hoodoo doctor" or "hoodoo man" if male and a "hoodoo woman" if female. A typical early reference occurs in Samuel C. Taylor's diary for 1891, in which he describes and illustrates meeting with a "Hoodoo Doctor" while on a train. Taylor, a white man, recounts that the word "hoodoo" was taught to him by the black Pullman porter on the train. The "doctor" he describes was both an herbalist and folk-magicians.