OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

by Tim Powers

Moderator: Liz

User avatar
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby Liz » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:16 pm


The practice of Voodoo is probably as old as the African continent itself. Sometimes written Voudou, Vodou, Voudun, Vodun, the word itself means God Creator or Great Spirit. It has been greatly distorted and misused; human sacrifices, vampires, dripping blood and devil worship all make the stuff of spooky novels and Hollywood movies. Yet none of these originated with or ever belonged to Voodoo!

If one looks at the dictionary, Voodoo is likely to be defined as an ancient religion from Africa that involves the cult of Ancestors, of various animistic spirits, and the use of trances to communicate with such spirits. It is true that Voodoo did originate in Africa. Today it is practiced by millions throughout the world, in Africa, the Caribbean, Central, North and South America, in various forms, often with elements of Catholicism mixed in. However, its main purpose remains as always to heal: to heal the individual in relationships within himself or herself, with others and ultimately with God.

Around 1510 the slave trade began, slaves being taken from the West Coast of Africa (Gulf of Guinea) from what is now Senegal and Gambia to the Congo region. The slaves who were torn from their native lands brought with them their beliefs and regional practices. Many were first brought to the Caribbean islands to work the plantations and be forcibly Christianized. Their owners ("masters") did not recognize the mystical qualities of their native ceremonies. Rather they considered them to be savages, incapable of abstract concepts or spirituality. In the terrible conditions of their enslavement, the Africans' only hope lay in their very faith. Amidst broken tribes and families, they found unity and solace in God and ancient rituals. It certainly also gave them a deep sense of inner freedom.

Although African slaves came from many different regions, most influential were the tribes from Nigeria and Dahomey. In 1729 the Dahomey conquered their neighbors the Ewes and sold their prisoners to the slave ships often in exchange for European goods. Many from Dahomey were also kidnapped. Both tribes had incorporated snake worship into their rites and some priests of the religion unwillingly found themselves on route to Haiti and the new world. Within one generation of their arrival, these priests had already established temples (hounfors) and developed a following in spite of their captivity and severe opposition of the French and Spanish churches. The term Vo-Du came from the Fons of dahomey. The other great influence came from Yorubaland (Nigeria), the site of the sacred city of Ile-Ife. Among the Yorubas, the Loa (Lwa or Spirits) are known as Orisha. Other people that contributed to modern Voodoo in the new world are the Aradia, Nago, Ibo, Congo, Senegalese, Mandingo, Ethiopians, Sudanese and Malgaches.

The Voodoos believe in the existence of one supreme God, a very abstract, omnipotent yet unknowable force. Below this almighty God, Spirits or Loa rule over the world's affairs in matters of family, love, happiness, justice, health, wealth, work, the harvest or the hunt etc. Offerings are made to the appropriate Loa to ensure success in those areas. Each Loa has its preferred fruits or vegetables, color, number, day of the week, etc. The Loa also manifest through elements of nature such as the wind and rain, lightning and thunder, the river, the ocean, springs and lakes, the sky, the sun, certain animals, trees and stones. Furthermore every element of nature, animal, tree, plant, fruit or vegetable is sacred to a certain Loa or Orisha.

Upon their arrival in the West Indies and the New World, the slaves found themselves unable to continue the practice of their ancestral rites, sometimes under penalty of death. But they quickly understood the essential similarities between their beliefs and those of the Catholics; the Catholics praying to their Saints to intercede to a higher God in their favor. That is in fact the exact criteria used to "make a Saint", the ability to obtain miracles. A substitution took place: the Loa often taking the name and some of the attributes of the Saints. The elaborate ceremonies and costumes of the church also had great appeal for the Africans. I do not think that the Africans and their descendants would have seen it as a direct substitution rather than as an added path of expression of their deep-seated faith and beliefs.

Note: This quote mentions a number of terms that are covered in the following topics:

Pg. 171-172

“It’s our boy, sure enough,” he said in a scratchy old-man’s voice. “Gede, the loa who’s the…chief foreman, sort of, of the one who wants you.”

Thatch realized the old man was aware of him and was talking to him. He stayed where he was, but he called, “’Wants me’? I chose him.”

The old man chuckled. “Well, anyway, that one ain’t in the creek here, and we need Gede to call him. Of course even Gede’s only here tokenly. This is only a part of him, in this jar, his belly button, you might say—just enough to compel him.” Petro turned around and hobbled back to the yard where Thatch stood. “The dead become more powerful as time goes by, you see, boy. What was just an unquiet ghost to your grandfather could be a full-fledged loa to your grandchildren. And I’ve learned to bend’em train ‘em in certain directions like you would a vine. Farmer plant a seed in the ground and one day have a tree—I put a ghost in a bottle under running water and one day I have a loa.” He grinned, revealing a few teeth in white gums, and waved the bottle back toward the stream. “I’ve grown near a dozen to maturity. They ain’t quite the quality of the Rada loas, the ones that came with us across the ocean from Guinée, but I can grow ‘em to fit what I need.”

The chickens in the shade under the house were recovering from Thatch’s gesture, and began clucking and fluttering. Petro winked, and they shut up again. “Of course,” Petro went on, “the one that wants you—or that you want, if you prefer—old Baron Samedi, he’s a different sort of beast.” He shook his head and his eyes narrowed in what might have been awe. “Every now and then, no more than twice or three times in my whole life, I think I’ve accidentally made one that was too much like…some thing or other than already existed, was already out there, and the resemblance was too close for ‘em to keep on being separate. So suddenly I had a thing in a bottle that was too big to fit…even just tokenly. My damn house was nearly knocked over when Baron Samedi got too big—bottle went off like a bomb, tossed trees every which way, and the creek didn’t refull for an hour. There’s still a wide, deep pool there. Nothing’ll grow on the bank and every Spring I’ve got to net dead pollywogs out of it.”

Young Thatch stared indignantly at the bottle. “So what you got in your beer bottle there is just some servant of Baron Samedi’s?”

“More or less. But Ged’s a top-ranking loahe’s number-two man here just because the Baron is so much more. And like any other loa Gede must be invited, and then entreated, using the rites he demands, to do what we ask. Now, I’ve got the sheets from the bed a bad man died in, and a black robe for you, and today is Saturday, Gede’s sacred day. We’ll roast a chicken and a goat for him, and I’ve got a whole keg of clairin—rum—because Gede is lavish in his consumption of it. Today we’ll—“

“I didn’t come down from the mountains to deal with Baron Samedi’s bungo houseboy.”


Clairin is a strong spirit, similar to rum, made from cane sugar. Clairin is only produced in Haiti. Clairin is produced during the same process of distillation as rum, although it is not refined to separate the different alcohols produced by fermentation and exhaustion.

Haitian Vodou

Haitian Vodouisants are monotheists, believing in one supreme God, known as Bondye (from the French "Bon Dieu" or "Good God"). Vodouisants do not see Bondye as different from the Abrahamic conceptions of God, in the sense that Bondye is considered to be the creator of all. Bondye is distant from its creation, being a pandeist deity, and because of this, Vodouisants don't believe that they can contact it for help.

Haitian Evolution

The majority of the Africans who were brought as slaves to Haiti were from Western and Central Africa. The Vodun practitioners brought over and enslaved in the United States primarily descend from the Ewe, Anlo-Ewe, and other West African groups. The survival of the belief systems in the New World is remarkable, although the traditions have changed with time and have even taken on some Catholic forms of worship. Two important factors, however, characterize the uniqueness of Haitian Vodou as compared to African Vodun; the transplanted Africans of Haiti, similar to those of Cuba and Brazil, were obliged to disguise their loa (sometimes spelled lwa) or spirits as Roman Catholic saints, an element of a process called syncretism. The Taíno contribution was brought on by the cultural and racial mixing between surviving Amerindians and escaped African maroons in the mountains of Haiti.

Roman Catholicism was mixed into the religion to hide their "pagan" religion from their masters, who had forbidden them to practice it. Thus, Haitian Vodou has roots in several West African religions, and incorporates some Roman Catholic and Arawak Amerindian influences. It is common for Haitians followers of the Vodou religion to integrate Roman Catholic practices by including Catholic prayers in Vodou worship. Throughout the history of the island from the day of independence of 1804 to the present, missionaries repeatedly came over to the island to convert the Haitians back to the Christian religion which previously had been forced on them. This has set many Haitians to project vodou as an evil religion, from the influence of the missionaries to abusive practitioners who use vodou to persecute.

Vodou, as it is known in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, is the result of the pressures of many different cultures and ethnicities of people being uprooted from Africa and imported to Hispaniola during the African slave trade. Under slavery, African culture and religion was suppressed, lineages were fragmented, and people pooled their religious knowledge and from this fragmentation became culturally unified. In addition to combining the spirits of many different African and Amerindian nations, Vodou has incorporated pieces of Roman Catholic liturgy to replace lost prayers or elements. Images of Catholic saints are used to represent various spirits or "mistè" ("mysteries", actually the preferred term in Haiti), and many saints themselves are honored in Vodou in their own right. This syncretism allows Vodou to encompass the African, the Indian, and the European ancestors in a whole and complete way. It is truly a Kreyòl religion.

The most historically important Vodou ceremony in Haitian history was the Bwa Kayiman or Bois Caïman ceremony of August 1791 that began the Haitian Revolution, in which the spirit Ezili Dantor possessed a priestess and received a black pig as an offering, and all those present pledged themselves to the fight for freedom. This ceremony ultimately resulted in the liberation of the Haitian people from French colonial rule in 1804, and the establishment of the first black people's republic in the history of the world and the second independent nation in the Americas.


Because Bondye is considered unreachable, Vodouisants focus their prayer and devotion to lesser entities, spirits known as loa, or mistè (as mentioned above). Some of the most notable loa include Papa Legba the guardian of the crossroads, Erzulie Freda the spirit of love, Simba the spirit of fresh water, Kouzin Zaka the spirit of agriculture, and The Marasa, who are divine twins considered to be the first children of Bondye.

These loa can be divided into 21 nations, which include the Petwo, Rada, Congo and Nago. The Petwo and the Rada contrast most with one another, because the Petwo are hot or aggressive and restless, whereas the Rada are cool or calm and peaceful.

The loa also fall into family groups, who share a surname, such as Ogou, Ezili, Azaka or Ghede. For instance, "Ezili" is a family, Ezili Danto and Ezili Freda are two individual spirits in that family. Each family are associated with a specific aspect, for instance the Ogou family are soldiers, the Ezili govern the feminine spheres of life, the Azaka govern agriculture, the Ghede govern the sphere of death and fertility.

Also of note, each of the loa is associated with a particular Roman Catholic saint.



Legba is one of the most important loa in Haitian Voodoo. He is the first called in a service, so that he can open the gates to the spirit world, enabling communication with other loa. No loa dares show itself without Legba's permission. He controls the crossing over from one world to the other. Legba is also known to hold the "key of the spiritual world," and for this reason is identified with the Christian St. Peter.

He is a small crooked lovable old man who uses a small pipe with little tobacco, and carries bits of food in his macoute sack.

Kalfu (Maître Carrefour)

Pg. 139:

“Oh, certainly that,” Davies agreed. “As I told you on the Jenny, the hope of getting her back is all that keeps the old boy moving.”

Shandy shook his head worriedly. “But if the Caribee loas are weak here, as you told me, how on earth do they expect to keep her safe out in that swamp? And who is this Maitre Carrefour?”

“Hm? Oh, that’s our old friend Mate Care-For. Thatch just pronounces it right. It means master of the crossroads. Master of different possibilities, in other words—of chance. But yes, he and Samedi and the rest of the spirit boys have grown weaker for us as we ye moved so far north of the places they’re anchored to. No doubt there are loas here, too but they’ll be Indian ones—less than no help to us.

Legba is twined with his Petro opposite, Kalfu, who also controls the crossroads—thus he is Maître Carrefour, Master of the Crossroads. Actually, were it not for him the world would be more rational, a better place. But, not unlike Pandora in Greek religion and myth, Kalfu controls the evil forces of the spirit world. He allows the crossing of bad luck, deliberate destruction, misfortune, injustice.

Kalfu controls the in-between points of the crossroads, the off-center points. Legba controls the positive spirits of the day; Kalfu controls the malevolent spirits of the night.

He claims that most of the important loa know him and he collaborates with them. Kalfu says that some people claim he is a demon but he denies this. A respected loa though he is not liked much, he is the grand master of charms and sorceries and is closely associated with black magic.

Ghede (Baron Semedi)

Ghede is an awesome figure in black, controlling the eternal crossroad which everyone must someday pass over--the crossing from life to death. His symbol is the cross upon a tomb. Ghede is to the underworld or afterlife what Legba is to life--he who controls access.

Ghede is also the spirit of eroticism, which is beyond good and evil since it is inevitable. Ghede is neither delighted by eroticism nor shamed by it. If anything he is amused by the universal presence of eroticism and humans' constant need to pretend that it is other than what it is.

Ghede is a clown, an interrupter, a coarse fellow. He is much loved because his appearance always brings laughter and joy, singing and dancing, though much of it is lude. He loves cigarettes and is often seen smoking two at a time. He is neither good nor evil, but is amused by humans and that's why he jokes around so much. He is usually the last to appear at a ceremony.

Ghede is also often called Baron Semedi. In this aspect he is death. He is the keeper of the cemetery and the primary contact with the dead. Anyone who would seek contact with the dead must first solicit Ghede/Baron Samedi in the same way that Legba is contacted to cross over to the spirit world. He is the loa of death and resurrection. But he is history too. As keeper of the cemetery he has intimate contact with the dead. He knows what their plans were, what's going on in families, what the connections of things are, and is quite generous with his information. Even when he is clowning or performing his erotic antics, if one can pull him aside and ask him a serious question he will give a serious and reliable answer.

Another of Ghede's great powers is as the protector of children. He does not like to see children die. They need a full life. Thus he is the loa to go to when seeking help for a sick child. He has the power over zombies and decides whether or not people can be changed into animals. Any such black magic Voodoo must seek the help of Baron Samedi/Ghede.

Lastly, since Ghede is the lord of death, he is also the final last resort for healing since he must decide whether to accept the sick person into the dead or allow him to recover.


Sovereign of the sea. Under his jurisdiction come not only all the flora and fauna of the sea, but all ships which sail on the sea. His symbols are tiny boats, brightly painted oars and shells. He likes military uniforms and gunfire.

The service for Agwe is quite different from others since it is on the sea itself. A barque (sailing ship with 3 or more masts) is prepared with all sorts of Agwe's favorite foods, including champagne. This barque is then floated over the top of where it is believed the sacred underwater world exists. If the barque sinks, then Agwe has accepted the sacrifice and will protect the water interests of those who have prepared the sacrifice. Were the barque to float back into shore, then the service has been refused and a different manner of placating Agwe would have to be devised.

Ague is one of the three husbands of Erzulie.

Simba (Simbi, Simbe, Simbi Andezo)

He is the guardian of the fountains and marshes and cannot live without the freshness of water. His Voodoo rituals are held near springs. He is a knowledgeable loa because he spends a lot of time learning about the nature of illnesses of supernatural origin and how to treat them. As part of Ogoun's army he is the chief of the coast guard and goes wherever he pleases. He is the Petro loa of the coast; one of the most respected members of the Petro family. But, because of his gentle nature, he also belongs to the Rada family. Sometimes when neglected by serviteurs and gnawed by hunger, he can be cruel.

He lives in springs and rivers. Children who go to fetch water at springs run the risk--particularly if they are fair-skinned--of being kidnapped to work for him under the water for a few years, gifting them with second sight for their trouble.


Rada is one of the nations of Loa but also a group of rites distinguished by the benevolence of the Rada loa and marked by a particular type of drumming and chanting.


Petro (or Petwo) is one of the nations of Loa but also a group of rites distinguished by the violent energy and practicality of the Petro loa; special drums and chants mark the Petro rites.


Guinée is the world of the dead, said to be under the water below the earth; also the homeland of Africans in Diaspora where the loa live.


Vodou's moral code focuses on the vices of dishonour and greed. There is also a notion of relative propriety — and what is appropriate to someone with Dambala Wedo as their head may be different from someone with Ogou Feray as their head. For example, one spirit is very cool and the other is very hot. Coolness overall is valued, and so is the ability and inclination to protect oneself and one's own if necessary. Love and support within the family of the Vodou society seem to be the most important considerations. Generosity in giving to the community and to the poor is also an important value. One's blessings come through the community and there is the idea that one should be willing to give back to it in turn. There are no "solitaries" in Vodou, only people separated geographically from their elders and house. A person without a relationship of some kind with elders will not be practicing Vodou as it is understood in Haiti and among Haitians.

Vodou is an ecstatic rather than a fertility based religion and because of this, the religion has technically no prohibitions against homosexuality.

Orthodoxy & Diversity

There is a diversity of practice in Vodou across the country of Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. While the overall tendency in Vodou is very conservative in accord with its African roots, there is no singular, definitive form, only what is right in a particular house or lineage. Small details of service and the spirits served will vary from house to house, and information in books or on the internet therefore may seem contradictory. There is no central authority or "pope" in Haitian Vodou since "every manbo and houngan is the head of their own house", as a popular saying in Haiti goes. Another consideration in terms of Haitian diversity is the many sects besides the Sèvi Gine in Haiti such as the Makaya, Rara, and other secret societies, each of which has its own distinct pantheon of spirits.


Pg. 75:

Why do you call him that?” Beth Hurwood asked irritably. “What, hunsi kanzo?” said Shandy. “It’s his title. I don’t know, it seems too familiar to call him Thatch, and too theatrical to call him Blackbeard.”

“His title? What does it mean?”

“It means he’s a….an initiate. That he’s been through the ordeal of fire.”

Most Vodouisants are not initiated, referred to as being "bossale"; it is not a requirement to be an initiate in order to serve one's spirits. There are clergy in Haitian Vodou whose responsibility it is to preserve the rituals and songs and maintain the relationship between the spirits and the community as a whole (though some of this is the responsibility of the whole community as well). They are entrusted with leading the service of all of the spirits of their lineage. Priests are referred to as "houngans" (or hungans) and priestesses as "mambos". Below the houngans and mambos are the hounsis (also referred to as Hunsi Kanzo), who are initiates who act as assistants during ceremonies and who are dedicated to their own personal mysteries—a deacon, as it were. Sometimes a houngan may also be a bokor.


Pg. 2:

The bocor shrugged. “Brought too much,” he explained. “Too much, too many come.”

A bokor is a sorcerer or houngan (priest) or mambo (priestess) for hire who is said to “serve the loa with both hands,” meaning that the bokor practices both dark magic and light magic. The black magic includes the creation of zombies and the creation of “ouangas”, talismans that house spirits.

The name bokor can also refer to the leader of the Makaya division of Vodou (which originated in the Congo region) and bokor also refers to the highest initiation rank in Dominican Vodou.

Bokors are featured in many Haitian tales and are often associated with the creation of “zombies” by the use of a deadening brew or potion usually containing poison extracted from puffer fish. This potion makes the drinker appear to be dead and thus he is often buried; later, the bokor will return for the "corpse" and force it to do his bidding, such as manual labor. The "corpse" is often given deliriant drugs, mainly datura, which puts them in a detached, somewhat dreamlike state. Its state is likened to being mind controlled. The person is alive but in a state where they cannot control what they say or do; at this point, when the person has been "reanimated" from the grave, or at least is moving about working for the bokor, he can be termed "zombie." However, some legends dispense with this more rational explanation, and have the bokor raise zombies from dead bodies whose souls have departed.

Also, bokors are said to work with zombie astrals - souls or spirits which are captured in a fetish and made to enhance the Bokor's power. Bokors normally work with loas Baron Samedi, Kalfou, Legba and Simbi (snake loa) plus in some cases they are said to work with Grand Bois, the loa of the forest.

Bokors are usually chosen from birth, those whom are believed to bear a great ashe (power). A Bokor can be, by Judeo-Christian terms, good or evil, though some sources consider him an evil version of a houngan.

There is a case of a Haitian man who was allegedly kept in a zombie-like state by a bokor. Clairvius Narcisse was said to have been turned into a living zombie with the use of a combination of drugs. His case was the subject of a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Liturgy and Practice

After a day or two of preparation setting up altars, ritually preparing and cooking fowl and other foods, etc., a Haitian Vodou service begins with a series of Catholic prayers and songs in French, then a litany in Kreyòl and African "langaj" that goes through all the European and African saints and lwa honored by the house, and then a series of verses for all the main spirits of the house. This is called the "Priyè Gine" or the African Prayer. After more introductory songs, beginning with saluting Hounto, the spirit of the drums, the songs for all the individual spirits are sung, starting with the Legba family through all the Rada spirits, then there is a break and the Petwo part of the service begins, which ends with the songs for the Gede family.

As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. When a ceremony is made, only the family of those possessed is benefited. At this time it is believed that devious mambo or houngan can take away the luck of the worshippers through particular actions. For instance, if a priest asks for a drink of champagne, a wise participant will refuse. Sometimes these ceremonies may include dispute among the singers as to how a hymn is to be sung. In Haiti, these vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. In a serious rite, each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and will give readings, advice and cures to those who approach them for help. Many hours later, as morning dawns, the last song is sung, the guests leave, and all the exhausted hounsis and houngans and manbos can go to sleep.

On the individual's household level, a Vodouisant or "sèvitè"/"serviteur" may have one or more tables set out for their ancestors and the spirit or spirits that they serve with pictures or statues of the spirits, perfumes, foods, and other things favored by their spirits. The most basic set up is just a white candle and a clear glass of water and perhaps flowers. On a particular spirit's day, one lights a candle and says an Our Father and Hail Mary, salutes Papa Legba and asks him to open the gate, and then one salutes and speaks to the particular spirit as an elder family member. Ancestors are approached directly, without the mediating of Papa Legba, since they are said to be "in the blood".

Jamaican Voodoo - Obeah

Obeahism, the Jamaican form of Voodoo exists but is seldom heard of. Obeah (sometimes spelled Obi, Obea or Obia) is a term used in the West Indies to refer to folk magic, sorcery, and religious practices derived from West African, and specifically Igbo origin.

The theory of origin that is most accepted and is supported by the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute database traces obeah to the dibia or obia (Igbo: doctoring) traditions of the Igbo people. Specialists in Obia (also spelled Obea) were known as Ndi Obia (Igbo: Obia people) and practiced the same activities as the obeah men and women of the Caribbean like predicting the future and manufacturing charms. Among the Igbo there were oracles known as ọbiạ which were said to be able to talk. Parts of the Caribbean where Obeah was most active imported a large amount of its slaves from the Igbo dominated Bight of Biafra.

Obeah was not only used as a source of power through its association with the supernatural but with political power as well, specifically slave rebellions and the other forms of resistance in Jamaica. The Obeah man played a role as an inspirational leader who could entice his entourage, which might number in the thousands, to partake in resistance and rebellions. Because of their relation with "evil," Obeah men were blamed for every mishap that fell upon a plantation or individual. So how did they manage to recruit so many followers? The lure of becoming the follower of an Obeah man was that once initiated into his or her group you would become invulnerable to the white man and his weapons. Although you might appear slain, the Obeah man could, at his pleasure, restore the fallen body to life.

Obeah men played a central role in the conception and development of any serious attempt at rebellion. The Obeah man provided an "ideological rallying point" in sanctioning an open rebellion. He afforded a meeting place for leaders and followers so they could plan their revolts under the guise of religious gatherings, and he maintained the link between traditional African culture which opposed colonial rule and the Creole (Caribbean born) slaves. By far the most important contribution that the Obeah man made to the resistance of the slave system was his direct participation in the preparation of the insurrectionists for war. The Obeah man would first administer an oath to African rebels that would bind them to never reveal to anyone the identity of the insurgents or the plans of the rebellion; to do so would bring upon the individual an agonizing death.

The Obeah man also created a powder that supposedly possessed magical properties that would bestow upon the user of it protection from the white man’s weapons. Edward Long gives a detailed account of the capture of an Obeah man who was known to have administered many of these rituals in Jamaica:

"In St. Mary’s parish a check was fortunately given at one estate, by surprising a famous Obeah-man and priest, much respected among his countrymen. He was an old Coromantin, who, with others of his profession, had been a chief in counseling and instigating the credulous herd, to whom their priests administered a powder, which, being rubbed on their bodies, was to make them invulnerable. They persuaded them into a belief, that their generalissimo [general] in the woods, could not possibly be hurt by the white men, for that he caught all the bullets fired at him in his hand, and hurled them back with destruction to his foes."

The practice of Obeahism is a still considered a crime punishable by imprisonment in Jamaica.


Pg. 141:

“Oh, right, sorry—I’m getting carried away by my memories. Well sir, three blocks inland, on Broad Street, on that same terrible June second, an old magician from England—sort of like Hurwood, I guess—was trying out a heavy piece of resurrection magic. I don’t think he was very skilled at it, but he had with him that day a sixteen-year-old boy who’d grown up among the free blacks in the Jamaica mountains, a boy who, though white, had been deeply educated in vodun and had, just the year before, been consecrated to the most fearsome of the loas, the Lord of Cemeteries, Baron Samedi, whose secret drogue is low-smoldering fire. It was reincarnation magic they were playing with, trying to learn how to put old souls into new bodies, and that requires fresh human blood, and they’d grabbed some poor devil to provide it.

Drogue was really hard to find. I only found it in one place (on the website of author of Sandstorm, Christopher Rowe), and it was in a comment. But it appears to be the Voodoo equivalent to a St. Christopher medal—a medal or charm for a loa as opposed to a Catholic saint.


Today Vodou is practiced not only by Haitians, but by Americans and people of many nationalities that have been exposed to the Haitian culture. However, because of the demand some impose on vodou, high priests and priestesses began the abuse of exploiting their clients and asking high monetary funds for work that brings no result. It can be said that the culture of vodou is becoming a dying religion due to the greed of many who practice. It is known that the majority of Haitians involved in the practice have been initiated to become a Houngan or Mambo. In Haiti, a houngan or mambo is considered a person of possible high power and status who can make a significant amount of money. It's a growing occupation in Haiti that attracts many impoverished citizen to practice this field, not only to have power but to have money as well. Many vodou practitioners with a hunger to live a life of money and power go into this field to exploit foreigners and Haitians who are uneducated about vodou into their web of scams to collect many monetary funds with exchange of poor quality work.

Myths and Misconceptions

Vodou has come to be associated in the popular mind with the lore about Satanism, zombies and "voodoo dolls." While there is evidence of zombie creation, it is a minor phenomenon within rural Haitian culture and not a part of the Vodou religion as such. Such things fall under the auspices of the bokor or sorcerer rather than the priest of the Loa.

The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, but more appropriately Hoodoo (folk magic), is a mystery. This practice is not unique to vodou or hoodoo, however, and has as much basis in magical devices such as the poppet (doll or puppet) and the nkisi or bocio (spiritual medicine) of West and Central Africa. These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti would be referred to as pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such vodou dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port au Prince. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.

There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by vodou worshippers in popular media and imagination, i.e. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa.

Although Vodou is often associated with Satanism, Satan is rarely incorporated in Vodou tradition. When Mississippi Delta folksongs mix references to Vodou and to Satan, it may represent social pain such as from racism, although some crossover due to syncretism is bound to occur.

Further adding to the dark reputation of Vodou was the 1973 film adaptation of the thriller Live and Let Die, part of Ian Fleming's widely successful James Bond series, which had been continually in print in both the English original and translations to numerous languages. Fleming's depiction of the schemings of a fiendish Soviet agent (Mr. Big, Baron Samedi) using Vodou to intimidate and control a vast network of submissive black followers got an incomparably greater audience than any careful scholarly work on the subject of Vodou.


Mambo Rinmin
The American Voodoo Society
University of Miami Library
Webster University, St. Louis, MO

You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Posts: 3907
Joined: Sat Jul 15, 2006 9:28 pm
Location: Florida

Status: Offline

Re: OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby gemini » Mon Mar 07, 2011 8:26 pm

I found it interesting that Tim had the pirates create their own slang names for the Voodoo characters just like they did for each other. They shortened everything down to something easier. John Chandagnac to Jack Shandy, "Mate-Care-for" short for Maître Carrefour. It was amusing that these Loas or spirits all not only liked sugar but liked rum.
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.

User avatar
Posts: 27947
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 8:15 pm
Location: near Omaha

Status: Offline

Re: OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Mar 07, 2011 8:37 pm

Very impressive tidbit! :cool: I know we have encountered Voodoo before, but there appears to be some differences in the Caribbean forms, particularly in the history and practices. As frequently happens, I wish I had read tidbits before I read the book!

User avatar
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 3141
Joined: Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: under a pile of books

Status: Offline

Re: OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby fireflydances » Mon Mar 07, 2011 9:21 pm

Very much enjoying this one. I came up for air. Specifically I have been trying to track down more info on 'drogue' as it is used in OST, specifically pg. 141, as Liz referenced: a boy who, though white, had been deeply educated in vodun and had, just the year before, been consecrated to the most fearsome of the loas, the Lord of Cemeteries, Baron Samedi, whose secret drogue is low-smoldering fire Yes, this is not an easy one to find. I came across one source (Eureka) that considers the word as a synonym for the words 'arret, garde' (stop, guard) -- basically a form of protection then. All three are French words and the source in question was discussing Vodum and what might be found in a Vodum temple. It's interesting cause I kept looking at the word and thinking that's "drug" in French. So I went back and found the earliest references (middle French) would be a 'cure, pharmaceutical product' Could 'drogue' have been the popular term for spiritual protection then in the Caribbean at the time of OST?

I go back to reading.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

User avatar
Posts: 810
Joined: Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:07 am

Status: Offline

Re: OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby Buster » Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:34 pm

I took the word drogue to mean roughly "medicine", (kind of related to "medicine bundle"), which fits with your French definition, firefly.

The way saints were co-opted made me aware of just how little religious persecution works. Having the trappings of your owners' faith may protect you from their wrath, but it certainly doesn't have to change your belief in your own god(s).

User avatar
Posts: 770
Joined: Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:09 pm
Location: Kentucky

Status: Offline

Re: OST Tidbit #13 - VOODOO

Unread postby ladylinn » Wed Mar 09, 2011 1:50 pm

So interesting - always thought of Voodoo as always being evil and a doll to stick pins in! This tidbit helps explain how the use of Voodoo in the book played a big role in both good and evil ways. Now to go back and reread some passages. As always - ONBC is a learning experience for me. Thanks!

Return to “On Stranger Tides”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest