Of all the world’s religions, Voodoo is quite possible the most feared and misunderstood. The zombies and chicken sacrifices that most people believe to be a part of the Voodoo religion are either fictional manifestations of film and television or they’ve been grossly been blown out of proportion. The Haitian Voodoo religion has a long and storied past that began in 15th century West Africa and has branched out and mutated into a variety of beliefs. To find out exactly what do Haitian Vodouists believe, and if your immortal soul is in danger, keep reading.
It’s easy to lump Voodoo religion beliefs into a pile with everything you’ve seen in films, and Voodoo’s somewhat amorphous practices allow for people to pick and choose what they want to learn about the religion. But despite their penchant for using what they like of the past and ditching what doesn’t work, there are some Haitian Voodoo beliefs that continue to thrive. Put down your Voodoo doll and explore the true beliefs of Voodoo.
The seeds of Voodoo's practices go back to ancient African tribal rituals, but it wasn't until around 1685 when slave masters began to instill a Catholic belief system in the Africans they stole from their homes that a syncretism began to unfold that would blossom into what is now known as Voodoo. Even though slaves began to practice Catholicism, the practices took on double meanings and many of the saints were soon viewed as deities that could be contacted via ritual.
Thanks to Hollywood, the most popular myth associated with Voodoo is a priestess or priest's ability to call forth a zombie to do their bidding. Depending on which arm of Voodoo you follow, the concept of the zombie changes wildly. In West Africa, the "zombi" is a creature without a soul, self-awareness, or intelligence. In Haiti, a zombie is a person who has been "bewitched" through a neurotoxic powder and used to work on plantations or do odd jobs.
That might sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but in the early 2000s, a rash of crimes committed with the drug scopolamine, a powder that renders its users zombie-like and completely open to suggestion, broke out across Colombia and reinforced the idea of the Haitian zombie.
In a heartbreaking article about the Haitian earthquake in 2011, Edwidge Danticat explained the most important Haitian Voodoo death belief. According to Danticat, it's believed that when a person’s spirit leaves the body after death it becomes trapped in whatever nature is surrounding the place of death (rivers, mountains, trees, etc.). After a full year and a day, the family has a ceremonial celebration to commemorate the deceased being released into the world to live again.
For all intents and purposes, Bondye is basically Voodoo's equivalent to God. Bondye lives somewhere outside of human understanding and is a formless omniscient being that manifests itself through a variety of deities who act on Bondye's behalf. Bondye is sometimes seen as an amount of good, rather than a thing that walks around and teaches lessons. For instance, if everyone in your family got sick after eating dinner last night, you would say that there was a lack of Bondye in your life. However, if you had a great meal with everyone, there was much Bondye.