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.
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.