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Voodoo, the Misunderstood Religion

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Morgan Yi

on 22 April 2014

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Transcript of Voodoo, the Misunderstood Religion

Voodoo, the Misunderstood Religion
Voodoo then now
Voodoo beliefs spread on slave ships from Africa to America
Underwent major changes to adapt to the transition
So, what is Voodoo?
A religion rooted in West Africa
Approximately 4 million believers
Elusive origins
The nation of Benin, a.k.a Dahomey
Dahomey = "spirit"
Cradle of Voodoo
Voodoo in the Media
Inside The Coven: Voodoo in New Orleans
The Misconceptions of Voodoo
A Cult
Black Magic
Witchcraft and Wizardry
Voodoo Dolls
Ancient traditions of ancestor worship
Evolved from
Practiced around the world:
African nations
The Caribbeans
North American (New Orleans)
South America

The Spirits
- ultimate creator
- spirits that serve Bondye
Papa Legba
- Intermediary
Anaisa Pye
- Love
- Health
- the Sky
- the Sea

Big angel & Little angel
African traditions
Native American traditions
Catholic traditions
The fusion of beliefs depicts the flexibility and elastic characteristic of the religion
"...it's very much a lived oral tradition, based
on the dynamic charisma of individuals,
all against a backdrop of established practices of belief."
Wade Davis, National Geographic Explorer
What comes to mind when you think of Voodoo?
Led by
- altar room
Sing/dance to call spirits
Drum circles
Spiritual possession
Candles, dolls, perfume, Catholic saints
Important Values & Beliefs
Familial unity
Respect for ancestors

Death (visible world & invisible world)
"As the Haitians say, the Catholic goes to church to speak about God, the vodounist dances in the hounfour to become God"

Wade Davis
Houngans & Manbos
Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: U of California, 1991. Print.

Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Print.

Freedman, Samuel G. "Voodoo, a Comfort in Haiti, Remains Misunderstood." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Haas, Saumya A. "What Is Voodoo? Understanding a Misunderstood Religion." The Huffington Post. N.p., 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Handwerk, Brian. "Voodoo a Legitimate Religion, Anthropologist Says." National Geographic. N.p., 21 Oct. 2002. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Harvey, Graham. Food, Sex & Strangers: Understanding Religion as Everyday Life. Acumen Pub., 2013. Print.

McCutcheon, Russell T. Studying Religion: An Introduction. London: Equinox Pub., 2007. Print.

Radford, By Benjamin. "Voodoo: Facts About Misunderstood Religion." LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Voodoo as a Religion
Case Study on Voodoo in Haiti
One of the official religions of Haiti
Slave revolt that brought independence
relied on
voodoo practice & belief
New World
version of ancestral African faiths
In American political rhetoric
Lacks a
visible infrastructure
McCutcheon's Theories
Emic (Insider) vs. Etic (Outsider)
Insider reproduces thoughts rather than produce
“The outsider’s attempt to reproduce as faithfully as possible…[or] to describe what might be considered to be the informant’s own descriptions of his or her production of sounds, behavior, beliefs, meanings, institutions, etc.” (McCutcheon 51)
McCutcheon's Theories Cont.
Family Resemblance Approach to definition (Polythetic definition)
“[Creates] a middle path between essentialist and functionalist approaches.” (McCutcheon 60)
Dimmer Switch Example
“The prototype we use when we set about defining a religion in this manner is often confused with being the ideal case or the norm is certainly a trouble of which scholars out to be aware if they wish to avoid making but one social movement the norm”
(McCutcheon 61)

Articles, broadcasts, blogs illustrate voodoo as source of Haiti’s poverty & political instability
Not because of divine punishment
Voodoo is primitive & fatalistic by nature.

McCutcheon's Theories Applied
“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.”
Rod Dreher of “Beliefnet”
“Voodoo is one of those flashpoints for Americans because it’s exotic, unknown and has strange connotations. It may be a matter of underlying racism because voodoo is Afro-Caribbean in its origins, or because voodoo seems so different from Christianity that it’s the perfect Other.”
Prof. Leslie G. Desmangles of Trinity College in Hartford

The “Walking” exercise & observation
“Fusers” concept now in today’s world
Harvey's Theories
"The very idea that religions are discrete phenomena- that there is something called Christianity that is not an African or Amazonian religion, that there is a Japanese Buddhism that is not of interest to Shinto ritualists, and so on- is most unlikely if the lives of real people in the real world are the focus of study”
(Harvey 38).

Harvey's Theories Applied
Catholicism = in symbiosis with voodoo
But Catholicism in Haiti is not more/less like Catholicism in a Polish parish in Chicago.
Saints are combined w/ African deities & dead ancestors
Serve as gateways b/w God & humanity.

“To this day, by various scholarly estimates, 50 percent to 95 percent of Haitians practice at least elements of voodoo, often in conjunction with Catholicism”

Prof. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith (University of Wisconsin) = Expert & Priest
Equates the religious texture of Haiti to that of Japan.
“The same Japanese person will observe the Shinto faith for certain rituals and Buddhism for others, and will see no contradiction or mutual exclusivity”
Bellegarde-Smith (Freedman).
Full transcript