Voodoo is the common name for a religion more accurately known as Vodun, which has approximately 30 million followers in the West African nations of Benin, Togo and Ghana. Vodun spread to the Caribbean with the slave trade. Several versions of it are still practiced in Haiti and Cuba, but the religion is found in its original form in its West African homeland.
The Vodun Religion
The Vodun religion is based on the worship of a single god, but there are any number of lesser spirits or divinities that are seen as liaisons between the human and divine worlds. These spirits are thought to manifest in the lightning and the wind, as well as in baobab trees and pythons. Vodun is a religion of spirit possession -- the belief that the divine spirits can literally possess worshippers during a Vodun festival, allowing them to incarnate the divinity.
Vodun in Ghana
The spirits worshipped in the Vodun religion vary from region to region. As practiced in Ghana, a hunter deity, named Kunde, is associated with dogs and dog sacrifices. Another deity found in Ghanaian voodoo is Ablewa. According to the Vodun belief system, either of these deities may appear at a festival by suddenly possessing one of the worshippers. Spirit possession is marked by unusual behaviors such as wild dancing and speaking in tongues. The priests believe they can converse with these deities through a form of divination that makes use of seashells.
Voodoo Festivals in Ghana
In Ghanaian voodoo practice, the festivals at which spirit possession is supposed to occur are marked by ritual drumming with call-and-response chanting by the devotees. The voodoo worshippers chew on kola nuts, which are known to have amphetamine-like properties. They may also drink a type of local palm liquor called akpeteshi. Some of the dances include animal-imitation behaviors such as walking like a chicken. The combination of several hours of drumming, chanting, drinking and chewing on kola nuts can produce an ecstatic altered mental state in the participants. The festival culminates with the sacrifice of an animal such as a goat or a dog.
Voodoo festivals in Ghana may include initiations in which new members are ceremonially welcomed into the Vodun religion. The initiate's head is shaved and his skin is cut with a razor as part of the ceremony. The Ewe tribe practices much more complex and demanding voodoo initiations, in which the initiate can be required to live in isolation in a special hut for up to nine months, where he is given specialized instruction in the rituals, lore, songs, dances and secret language of the particular voodoo sect.
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images