First off let me explain that there is 2 different kinds of Voodoo. There is:
1.Rada- a family spirit Voodoo and is the Voodoo of mostly peaceful and happy Loa.
2. Petro- (also called Congo) is dark magic Voodoo and is the Voodoo of mean Loa. Dangerous things happen practicing Petro.
NOTE: most scholars say that Rada accounts for about 95% of Voodoo. While the tales of dark Voodoo are very real it is very rare, it does exist.
The Voodoo doll is a form of gris-gris, and an example of sympathetic magic. Contrary to popular belief, Voodoo dolls are usually used to bless instead of curse. The purpose of sticking pins in the doll is not to cause pain in the person the doll is associated with, but rather to pin a picture of a person or a name to the doll, which traditionally represents a spirit. The gris-gris is then performed from one of four categories: love; power and domination; luck and finance; and uncrossing. So don't go asking a practitionar to make one for you for stupid reasons!
~God & Spirits~
Like Islam, Judaism and Christianity there is only 1 God. His name is Bondye.
There are other spiritual beings including the Loa, The Twins, and The Dead.
The Loa- are various spirits of family members; spirits of the major forces of the universe--good, evil, reproduction, health, all aspects of daily life. Loa interact with people and can "mount" people now and againduring ceremonies and give messages. They can even cause good and bad things to happen to people.
The Twins: Are a mysterious set of forces of contradictories: good and evil, happy and sad etc. If honored in ceremonies they can help you have the better side of life.
The Dead- Mostly the souls of your own family that have died and have not yet been "reclaimed" by the family. Ignored family dead are dangerous and honored family dead are helpful.
The Priesthood has both men called houngan and women called mambo. They do healings, perform ceremonies to call or pacify the spirits, hold initiations for new priests (tesses) (kanzo service and taking the ason), tell the future, read dreams,creating potions (from love potions to death potions), casting spells and protections.
60% of Voodoo consists of healing. Healers use herbs, faith healing (Loa and other spirits help), and even with modern medicine.
For any of these things they may recieve a fee. But, they may not too. It is different for each priest. (fees are like fees paid to rabbis, mullahs, priests, and ministers.)Services are usually held outside around the poto mitan (center pole) and is normally directed by a houngan or mambo. Drums are used to provide music and dancing it is essential to the whole service. Everyone participates.Loa can mount people and take over a person's body for a time.(It's not clear where the person goes the body is the body of the person, but it is really the Loa.) Nearly every Voodoo service has animal sacrifice. By killing the animal one releases life. The Loa are exhausted by the taxing task of running the universe. Thus they can receive this life sacrificed to them and are re-juvenated. They are usually quite happy about this.
~Key terms in Voodoo~
ti-bon-ange (little good angel)- This is similar to the conscience in the Western understanding of people.
gros-bon-ange (big good angel)- This is similar to the soul in Western theories of person, except the soul is much more separate from the person than is a western soul. For example, when the person goes before God for judgment it is the gros-bon-ange which presents "the person" to God and makes the person's case.
hounfo- the parish or region of a houngan or mambo's influence.
govi- a small earthen bottle into which the gros-bon-ange of dead ancestors can "rescued." After a person dies the gros-bon-ange goes to the underwater place. A year and a day after he or she goes their the relatives can recall the gros-bon-ange. Unfortunately this is a very expensive service, requiring a significant animal sacrifice, often an ox. Thus it is often considerable time before the service can be done. If too much time passes the ancestor may get a bit restless and cause trouble and/or illness etc.
serviteurs- serious practitioners of Voodoo.
ason- the magic rattle of the houngan or mambo.
lave tet- (washing of the head) an initiation ceremony held for serviteurs after they have been mounted for the first time.
kanzo- the initiation ceremonies for those moving into a very serious level of Voodoo practice.
taking of the ason- the final initiation into being a houngan or mambo. NOTE: Both kanzo and the taking of the ason are very secret services. However, in Alfred Metraux's book (VOODOO IN HAITI), through observation and talking with people who were not too careful about the secrecy of kanzo, he has pieced together a detailed account of the ceremony.
verve- ceremonial drawings done in flour, of the various Loa.
peristyle- the Voodoo temple. A tiny tiny place.
poto mitan- the center pole in a Voodoo peristyle. It represents the center of the universe and all dancing revolves around the poto mitan.
Les Invisibles- all spirits.
Les Mysteries- the Loa themselves and sacred knowledge. Also called "konesans."
The crossroads- A central image in Voodoo. This is the place where the two worlds (earth and spirit world) meet. Virtually all Voodoo acts, even healing, begin with the acknowledgment of the crossroads.
~Some of the central Loa in the Voodoo pantheon~
Papa Legba- An old man who is the gatekeeper between the two worlds, world of earth and the world of the Invisibles. He is the origin of life. The sun is one of his symbols, but he is also the source of regeneration and uses the symbol of the phallus.
Kalfu- (crossroads) is the Petro counterpart to Legba. He is the spirit of the night, the origins of darkness. The moon is his symbol. He can be placated, but is a dangerous Loa.
Papa Ghede- Loa of death and resurrection. A total clown. Very erotic and comic. He is the lord of eroticism.
Dumballah- The father figure. He is the good snake. The source of peace and tranquillity. The egg is offered to him when he comes to mount a person. He is much loved and sought after. His wife Aida-wedo attends him.
Agwe- The sovereign of the seas. Especially honored, as one might well expect, by people who live near the sea.
Ogoun- The warrior. Today, too, the force of politics. Violent.
Erzulie- The earth mother. Spirit of the goddess of love. The muse of beauty. (Strongly identified with the Virgin Mary.) Her appearance (when she mounts someone) is one of cleansing, dressing, delicate foods daintily eaten. She can read the future in dreams. A much loved Loa.
~The FATALISM of Voodoo~
Voodoo is much criticized by foreigners in Haiti. Sometimes it is simply because they profess a competing religion and don't want the people to stay with Voodoo. At other times they say that it is devil worship. This claim is sheer nonsense when speaking of Rada Voodoo, the numerically primary form. It is less clear how to describe Petro. There are NO "devils" in Voodoo, but Petro cultivates the evil or at least angry spirits. However, many of the non-religious aspects of Voodoo which people often criticize really seem to me to be more the result of Voodoo's overwhelming fatalism. The view is that to an astonishing degree the Loa determine out lives. The Haitian serviteur has little use for anything like the Western idea of free will and personal responsibility. Rather, whatever has happened it is the Loa who have caused it. If one would like to change anything in one's life, from a current illness to the fundaments of the social system, one must ask the Loa. One does not ACT on one's own. This would be counter-productive since it is the Loa who decide these things anyway. Further, the Loa are not very changeable. Things are the way they are because the Loa have decided it.
~A History of Voodoo's relationship to Christianity~
The Catholic experience.
Under the French slaves were forbidden from practicing Voodoo. Nonetheless Voodoo survived. The colonists did allow occasional dances on the weekends. These dances were actually Voodoo services! After the liberation of 1804 all white people were kicked out of Haiti and many were killed. This included Roman Catholic priests. Thus in 1804 the Vatican broke with Haiti and did not establish relations with her again until 1860. During this 56 year period houngans and mambos built up the public religion of Haiti, Voodoo, in a weird amalgamation of African spirit religion and Catholicism. Virtually all Loa became associated with Catholic saints (Dumballah the snake Loa is St. Patrick; Erzulie, the earth mother is the Virgin Mary; Papa Legba is St. Peter). The most important consequence of this is that Haitians see nothing odd at all with practicing Voodoo and Catholicism side by side and are often very devout about each of them.