More times than not, when I’m speaking about Creole, Cajun, or Louisiana lifestyle/culture, I eventually hear an association with voodoo and strange happenings. And while, yes, it is true that there is a certain degree of bizarreness surrounding some aspects of bayou country, it’s probably much less than most people think. It also provides a limited and stereotypic view into the Creole culture. The goal/mission of Creole Bayou is to provide useful and accurate information about Creole history, culture, heritage, language, etc.
I must make a disclaimer before continuing. Honestly, I never thought I’d write this post. As an author, many of you know that I often use voodoo or the occult as reoccurring subplots or themes in my stories (e.g., “Oasis Haze” in Mysterious Hearts-Holiday Heartwarmers Anthology and “Under the Magnolia Tree” in Haunted Hearts-Holiday Heartwarmers Anthology). For this reason, I have done research in this area. That, however, does not make me an expert on the subject, and I do not claim to be. I also am not an advocate of any sort and will attempt to deliver the information objectively. While discussing the research I’d discovered with a woman (not a native of or residing in Louisiana), she immediately dismissed it and said she would continue to believe one hundred percent in what the media has presented about the subject to the masses regardless of any data presented that indicated the contrary. She insisted that the pop culture view of voodoo is the gospel truth. In no way do I seek to change anyone’s personal beliefs or opinions nor do I claim to make judgments religions of any kind. The purpose of this post is not a conversion but to present what history states about voodoo. (BTW, it would be silly of me to attempt to convert anyone to voodoo when it’s not a religion I practice or intend on practicing. However, if I continue to use it as a theme in my writing, I need to be accurate in my portrayal of it, if for no other reason than to be respectful.) Furthermore, voodoo is practiced in multiple areas of the world. This post will focus on voodoo in the U.S., specifically, how its practice in Louisiana.
The best place to start is to answer the question: what is voodoo? Voodoo is a syncretic (the combining of different forms of beliefs or practices) religion that teaches the existence of a supreme being referred to as Bondye, the worshipping of multiple spirits, a universal energy, and the ability to leave the body during spirit possessions. It is mainly an oral tradition and lacks a primary prayer, holy text, or rituals. The people who practice voodoo are called “vodouists” which roughly means “servants of spirits”.
Bondye steams from the French term bon dieu, which means “good god”. Bondye is an uninvolved and unknowable creator god who cannot be communicated with directly. Bondye is also the main/superior god. Bondye is over all people and spirits. The spirits are called Ioa, and each spirit is responsible for a specific part/domain of life. They act as the “middleman” between Bondye and people. Spirit possession (temporarily displacing the host soul or medium while Ioa takes control of the body) is desired as it allows one to connect with the spirit world and are used to communicate with god (Bondye). Say possession to me, and I automatically think of heads spinning in 360 degrees and the projectile vomiting of green soup and am running for the hills. You’d find me hidden somewhere and not venturing out. Contrarily, voodoo believes that possessions are (generally but not always) a good thing.
So, what is voodoo’s ties with Roman Catholicism? In 1685, the practice of all African religions by slaves were forbidden, and slave owners were mandated to endocrine their slaves in the Catholic religion with eight days of their arrival. The Catholic Church, in turn, viewed slavery as a vehicle for converting slaves to Christianity. However, many slaves continued to practice voodoo in secret, and the two religions (voodoo and Catholicism) became blended for them. Voodoo spirits became associated with Catholic saints and elements of Catholic rituals/practices (e.g., hymns) are used in voodoo ceremonies.
Contrary to popular belief, zombies, pin-stabbed voodoo dolls, and animal sacrifices have very minuscule associates with the voodoo religion. These stereotypes were formed out of fear by Christians who did not understand voodoo and later were popularized by people seeking to exploit the religion for monetary gains. Face it, zombies and ghosts have well-established buyer markets. There are books, trinkets, tours, movies, books, clothing, relics, and the list goes continues. It is very easy for people unfamiliar with voodoo to assume these are strong elements (or the only elements) involved if these things are the primary aspects being presented by the media and/or local specialty shops. Now, this isn’t to say that zombies, dolls, and animal sacrifices aren’t included in voodoo or not some practitioners do not make it the focal point. However, originally, that is not how it began.
For example, a zombie was thought to be someone who the soul had left the body and only the mindless shell of the person was left behind. This might have occurred to a punishment as one of the spirits (usually an evil one) for the person not living a dutiful life or the soul not returning to the body to allow for a relief from pain or healing from illness. One legion indicates that this occurred so that the zombies would work as slaves on sugar and tobacco plantations without complaint (because zombies were said to be mindless) and need for much rest (because they were merely human form without feelings). This definition of a zombie differs greatly from the popularized version of a subhuman eating other humans brains.
Another example would be animal sacrifice. For many, this may sound cruel and violent. I for one as an animal lover wouldn’t be able to participate or view anything like that. However, a look at history indicates that voodoo is not the only religion that practices/practiced animal sacrifice. This is/was not a practice unique/exclusive to voodoo. Historically, animal sacrifices can be found in Hinduism, Islam, and Paganism/Mithraism, Judaism, and even Christianity. It takes no further looking than the Bible to see mention of animals being sacrificed. In Hebrews 9:22 it states “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. Mentions of animal sacrifices can be found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Isaiah, and Genesis. Many of the aforementioned religions no longer practice this ritual. But for many, it is often overlooked that the sacrificing of animal is restricted to voodoo.
Not all Creoles believe or practice voodoo. I would go as far as to say that the majority do not, but I do not have any empirical evidence that I can site to support that claim. That is not to say that this evidence does not exist. I just don’t have it. It is documented that a large population of Creoles are Catholic, as is much of the population of Louisiana. Catholics do not practice voodoo. Voodoo and Catholicism are not the same. Voodoo did not stem from Catholicism, and Catholicism did not originate from voodoo. Louisiana is not the only state in the U.S. where voodoo is practiced.
Voodoo is far more complex than what has been presented in this blog. Anyone interested should research the subject further. What if any myths about Creoles and voodoo did this post support or destroy for you. I’d love to hear your views.
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About the Author
Genevive Chamblee resides in the bayou country where sweet tea and SEC football reign supreme. She is known for being witty (or so she thinks), getting lost anywhere beyond her front yard (the back is pushing it as she’s very geographically challenged), falling in love with shelter animals (and she adopts them), asking off-the-beaten-path questions that makes one go “hmm”, and preparing homecooked Creole meals that are as spicy as her writing. She writes contemporary romance, erotic romance, fantasy romance, the occult, Creole culture, humor/comedy, multicultural/interracial, and southern drama. Visit her at her website: www.genevivechambleeconnect.wordpress.com.
Novels and novellas include: Life’s Roux (Red Sage Publications) and Out of the Penalty Box (Hot Tree Publishing).
Anthology publications include: “Cargo” (Boys Behaving Badly Anthology #3), “Harmonious Variation” (Symphony Amore Erotic Stories of Love and Music), “Valentine Mistletoe” (Cupid’s Bow: Holiday Heartwarmers Anthology), “Oasis Haze” (Mysterious Hearts: Holiday Heartwarmers Anthology), and “Under the Magnolia Tree” (Haunted Hearts: Holiday Heartwarmers Anthology).
Where to Find Genevive