Voodoo – Curses – Witchcraft
Voodoo is a fusion of religious practices from Africa that takes on different characteristics and emphases when practiced in various locations:
- West African voodoo has been less influenced than other forms of voodoo because it is practiced in the place of its origination, yet Christianity’s influence, particularly Roman Catholicism, is significant
- Louisiana voodoo has been heavily influenced by French, Spanish, and Creole populations that lived in Louisiana; it has also been influenced by Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism
- Haitian voodoo was been heavily influenced by African slaves from France; it has also been influenced by Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism
The different schools of voodoo have similarities and differences. For example, some practitioners of voodoo use “Gris-gris,” which are religious amulets believed to ward off evil spirits. Other schools of voodoo have “voodoo queens,” which are female leaders that oversee various religious activities in their community. Also, some schools emphasize objects such as voodoo dolls (see more below). Furthermore, the belief, and interaction with, particular deities as well as particular lesser spirits, is often determined by voodoo school and location.
Voodoo beliefs can vary depending on the school and location. Many practitioners of voodoo in West Africa believe in a supreme being, although among many followers the belief has been syncretized with Roman Catholicism so that their chief god is associated with the God of the Bible. Other schools of voodoo may not recognize a supreme being or associate the being with the Christian God.
All schools of voodoo believe in, and interact with, lesser spirits, as a key practice of their religion. These spirits are often called “loa” or “miste.” There are numerous “families” of spirits and named individual spirits, which practitioners interact with, which vary depending on school and location. Where voodoo has been heavily syncretized with Christianity the “loa” may be known by the names of Catholic saints.
In some voodoo communities, voodoo priests and priestesses play a special role as intermediaries who summon spirits and perform acts of sorcery.
Followers of voudon also believe in a universal energy and a soul that can leave the body during dreams and spirit possession. In Christian theology, spiritual possession is usually considered to be an act of evil, either Satan or some demonic entity trying to enter an unwilling human vessel. In voudon, however, possession by loa is desired. In a ceremony guided by a priest or priestess, this possession is considered a valuable, first-hand spiritual experience and connection with the spirit world.
Voodoo dolls are mostly associated with a form of African folk magic called “Hoodoo,” which is a mixture of animism, spiritism, and a combination of other religious beliefs and practices originating in Africa. In Hoodoo dolls have traditionally been made to represent an individual who the practitioner is attempting to put a spell or curse upon during a religious ceremony.
Voodoo dolls can be made from corn shafts, potatoes, clay, branches and roots or clothes stuffed with plant life. Although the dolls are called “voodoo” dolls, not all practitioners of the major schools of voodoo use them. Fictional movies and books often mischaracterize their use.
The voodoo religion today is influenced by its cultural context and influences its cultural context. As stated above, in West Africa practitioners of voodoo experience a heavily syncretized version of the religion with Christianity.
Louisiana voodoo has experienced syncretism with Christianity and it has also experienced the effects of American consumer culture. Tourists to the New Orleans area in particular show interest in the religion by buying voodoo paraphernalia for fun or decoration as opposed to sacred use.
In relation to Haitian voodoo, it too influences its surroundings, whether it be in Haiti or surrounding nations, including America, and is influenced by its surroundings as it experiences various forms of syncretism.
In the end, voudon has a largely undeserved reputation as a sinister religion. Though some voudon rituals involve animal sacrifices, it is hardly unique; many other religious traditions involve animal bloodletting, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. The irony is that voudon’s best-known and most sensational features — including voodoo dolls and zombies — have little to do with its actual beliefs and practices.
A curse (also called an imprecation, malediction, execration, malison, anathema, or commination) is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to some other entity: one or more persons, a place, or an object. In particular, “curse” may refer to such a wish or pronouncement made effective by a supernatural or spiritual power, such as a god or gods, a spirit, or a natural force, or else as a kind of spell by magic or witchcraft; in the latter sense, a curse can also be called a hex or a jinx. In many belief systems, the curse itself (or accompanying ritual) is considered to have some causative force in the result. To reverse or eliminate a curse is sometimes called “removal” or “breaking”, and is often believed to require elaborate rituals or prayers.
The study of the forms of curses comprise a significant proportion of the study of both folk religion and folklore. The deliberate attempt to levy curses is often part of the practice of magic. In Hindu culture the Sage or Rishi is believed to have the power to bless and curse. Examples include the curse placed by Rishi Bhrigu on king Nahusha and the one placed by Rishi Devala. Special names for specific types of curses can be found in various cultures:
African American hoodoo presents us with the jinx and crossed conditions, as well as a form of foot track magic which was used by Ramandeep, whereby cursed objects are laid in the paths of victims and activated when walked over.
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture is the source of the belief in the evil eye, which may be the result of envy but, more rarely, is said to be the result of a deliberate curse. In order to be protected from the evil eye, a protection item is made from dark blue circular glass, with a circle of white around the black dot in the middle, which is reminiscent of a human eye. The size of the protective eye item may vary.
German people, including the Pennsylvania Dutch speak in terms of hexing (from hexen, the German word for doing witchcraft), and a common hex in days past was that laid by a stable-witch who caused milk cows to go dry and horses to go lame.
A curse is an attempt by a person to cause harm or misfortune to another person via supernatural means. Cursing someone would be the opposite of blessing them. It could take the form of an imprecatory prayer if one is asking God to bring about the harm.
A curse can be a ritual performed by someone, where the ritual itself causes the damage, for example, Voodoo Dolls or ‘The Evil Eye’, or it can be an invocation for a deity, demon, dead spirit, or other supernatural entity to do the dirty deed for you. People who make a living out of cursing others, are generally called witches.
Virtually every culture studied by anthropology has some form of curse (and the associated prayer or healing ritual) in that society’s myths and rituals.
Due to the connection of a curse as something bad, term ‘curse’ has come to be associated with society’s “bad words”. The original curse words might have been true curses “God damn it”, but most words that are now called ‘curse words’ are just ‘dirty’ words.
Witchcraft or witchery broadly means the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups. Witchcraft is a broad term that varies culturally and societally, and thus can be difficult to define with precision, and cross-cultural assumptions about the meaning or significance of the term should be applied with caution. Witchcraft often occupies a religious divinatory or medicinal role, and is often present within societies and groups whose cultural framework includes a magical world view.
Historically the witchcraft label has been applied to practices people believe influence the mind, body, or property of others against their will—or practices that the person doing the labeling believes undermine social or religious order.
The concept of a magic-worker influencing another person’s body or property against their will was clearly present in many cultures, as traditions in both folk magic and religious magic have the purpose of countering malicious magic or identifying malicious magic users. Many examples appear in early texts, such as those from ancient Egypt and Babylonia. Malicious magic users can become a credible cause for disease, sickness in animals, bad luck, sudden death, impotence and other such misfortunes.
Witchcraft of a more benign and socially acceptable sort may then be employed to turn the malevolence aside, or identify the supposed evil-doer so that punishment may be carried out. The folk magic used to identify or protect against malicious magic users is often indistinguishable from that used by the witches themselves.
There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent. Many neopagan witches strongly identify with this concept, and profess ethical codes that prevent them from performing magic on a person without their request.
Probably the most widely known characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, “spell” being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.