Voodoo or Vodoun (of Pirates & Zombies*) is the religion and magical belief system of much of the non-european inhabitants of the Caribbean and surrounding lands. It is a hybrid of Christianity, Old African Faiths and some Native American beliefs, particularly those stemming from the Carib tribes.
Much of the symbolism is Christian and while this is largely a matter of protective coloration to avoid persecution by the dominant Europeans, some aspects of Christian faith have been incorporated.
The primary followers of Vodoun are African slaves, escaped slaves, half castes African/Indian, African/European, superstitious Europeans and (to some degree) the pirates and Buccaneers who live elbow to elbow with these populations.
Most Europeans, at least publicly, dismiss Vodoun as either groundless superstition or as debased witchcraft and sorcery. To profess any belief in such practices is against logic, education and Christian beliefs. In a world where wars are still fought over Catholic or Protestant beliefs and people are still burned or hung for Witchcraft, the heresy that Vodoun represents can be a serious matter. As recently as 1693 Witches were executed in Massachusetts Colony!
Most Europeans, educated or otherwise, have only the vaguest ideas of how Vodoun works. Their knowledge is limited to whispered stories of Zombies and curses. Even amongst those people that profess belief there is little known about how Vodoun actually works. These secrets, or Mysteries, are kept by the Practitioners, the Mambo, Houngan and Bokors. What is known is that the Power of Vodoun Magic lies with the interaction of the Practitioner (and followers) with the Spirits called Loa.
Though most Christians regard the Loa as evil and demonic in nature, the fact is that most Loa are not particularly evil (though some are!) and most are extremely kind and beneficial. All of the Loa can be petitioned to aid the Practitioner and the Followers (Servitours) in many different ways. The most common form of interaction with the Loa is at Ceremony where the Loa possess or ‘Mounts’ a servitour so as to facilitate interaction with the Practitioner and Servitours. Such ceremonies are rousing, exciting and carnival like in practice, filled with food, drink, tobacco, sweets, music, dancing and sexual activity designed to appeal to the earthy side of the Loa’s nature.
The Mambo, a Priestess of Vodoun or the Houngan, a Priest of Vodoun, conduct these ceremonies, both large scale public ones and smaller private ones, to petition the Loa to grant their knowledge, power and aid to whatever the task at hand is. Mambo and Houngan use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of their community and the servitours that make up their ‘Hounfo’ (the Parish or area of the Mambo or Houngan’s influence.) It is very rare for Mambo or Houngan to petition the Loa for evil purpose, though they will do so in defense of the community. The Mambos and Houngans do not use their powers for selfish ends but only for the good of their people.
The Bokor is different. He, and they are almost always male, uses his powers for selfish purpose and frequently calls upon the darker Loa and the creatures of darkness, for aid in achieving their nefarious and selfish goals. Though they may well have followers the Bokor is only peripherally concerned with their well being to the extent that they can benefit him.
To most non believers the best known manifestations of Vodoun are Zombies, Gris-Gris Bags and the infamous Dolls. Much that people purportedly know about these items is mere superstition and wildly inaccurate. Still, they should not be taken lightly or wholly discounted.
Common Vodoun Terms
This is not a complete list by any means, it is meant to provide the Outsider with an understanding of SOME of the most frequently used terms and expressions of Voodoo. The explanation given for each term is the ‘commonly understood meaning.’ A Practitioner may have a different interpretation of some of the terms!
Mambo – A Vodoun priestess
Houngan – A Vodoun priest
Bokor (Boccur) – A Vodun Sorceror
Gris-Gris Bag – A charm made by a practitioner for the benefit of the person owning the bag. Its contents are secret, symbolic and grant specific benefits to the bag’s owner. They often give the wearer luck or protection from specific types of harm or enhance their personal attributes in some fashion.
Wanga – Bad luck or bad magic, usually directed at someone
Banda – The music associated with Voodoo rituals
Loa – A being of great power and belonging to one of several Spirit families. They are not God the Creator, but are lessor beings who take a more interactive role with humanity and the events of the world.
Rada Loa – The oldest and most beneficial of the Loa families.
Petra Loa – Younger, angrier and darker Spirit family
Ghede Loa – The youngest and weakest of the Loa families, can be persuaded in either direction.
Duppies – Evil ghosts, generally summoned and controlled by a Bokor.
LouGarou – A werewolf, usually female but not always.
Paquet Congo – Similar to a Gris Gris Bag but is generally associated with improving health, resisting diseases or poisons and enhancing healing and recovery.
Ouanga – A type of talismans made from a variety of different materials. These grant the wearer Powers and Abilities that are otherwise unavailable to mortals.
Veve – A drawn symbol repesenting a particular Loa.
Djab – A devil or demon. Weaker then Loa but very, very dangerous.
Baku – A powerful evil spirit, often used as servants by djab
Bondye – A name or term referring to God the creator
GranMet – Another term or name for God.
Guinee – The Underworld. The place that souls go for eternal rest.
Zombi – A person who dies, usually thought to be killed by a bokor, who comes back after three days to serve its Master as a powerful but mindless slave.
Servitour – One of the faithful followers of Vodoun, but not a Practitioner.
Hounfo – The ‘Parish’ or portion of a community cared for and protected by a Mambo or Houngan.
Simbi Loa (Sim’ bi) – Simbi Loa are a large and diverse family of serpent Loa originally from the West Central Africa / Kongo region. In the Caribbean area they are most commonly worshipped by the Cimmaroons, especially those on the mainland. Unlike other Loa the Simbi Loa do not ‘Mount’ people in services to communicate with the practitioner. Instead they manifest themselves as, or through, snakes.
Goofer Dust – Dust or dirt from a grave. An ingredient in some items and charms as well as reputedly having pwers of its own.
Gurunfindas – A type of Ouanga that wards Wanga and Voudon attacks by redirecting them at someone else. It is made with a small, dried and hollowed out gourd and a variety of ingredients including parts from a cadaver. It can be used many times. A Practitioner is able to direct where the deflected attack goes. A non-practitioner cannot control the redirection.
Resquardos – A type of Paquet-Congo that protects from poisons, venoms, diseaes, Wanga and curses. It has a tiny carved sword sewn into the pouch. The sword will break when the resquardo shields its owner from the threat. It is a ONE USE item.
Gambler Gris-Gris – A favorite of gamblers, it is suppose to improve the wearer’s luck at dice OR cards. (The charm is specific to the method of gambling.) In both cases the bag is made of red flannel. A Dice Gris-Gris contains, amongst other things, a lodestone, while the Card Gris-Gris has a shark’s tooth in its contents.
Wanga Bag – Similar in construction and design as a Gris-Gris Bag but these are intended to deliver Wanga (Bad Magic) or a Curse to an intended target. They are made for a specific individual and must be placed amongst his or her possessions or in their home to be effective. Goofer Dust is an ingredient and the bag is sewn from a shroud taken from a corpse at least nine days dead.
Loa Bottle – Also called a ‘Spirit Bottle.’ These are used to trap or imprison a Ghede Loa.
Poppet – The infamous Voodoo Doll. Poppets are not necessarily devices for evil, though they can certainly be used in that fashion
Gro-bon-Ange – The part of the soul which animates the human body. The gro-bon-ange is an individual and immortal part of the soul which can pass through stages and MAY eventually become a loa. It is THIS part of a human soul that has value to certain dark creatures
Ti-bon-Ange – The part of the human soul that is the changeless, impersonal cosmic consciousness. Upon the death of the individual the ti-bon-ange rejoins the cosmic forces and can be reused.
Peristyle – The building or outdoor area where ceremonies are held.
Poto Mitan – The center pole in a peristyle. It represents the center of the universe and the access to the spirit world. All the dancing revolves around the poto mitan.
Asson – The sacred magic rattle of the houngan or mambo. It is a gourd with natural handle and the outside is covered with bits of coral and snake bones
Mounting (possession) – Loa come to a ceremony and possess a serviteur. A horse and rider image is used as the loa is said to MOUNT the serviteur. The loa takes over the serviteur’s body during possession. It is not clear where the serviteur goes while his or her body is possessed by the loa.
lave tet (washing of the head) – An initiation ceremony held for serviteurs after they have been mounted for the first time.
Kanzo – The initiation ceremony of fire for those moving into a very serious level of Voodoo practice.
Taking of the Asson – The final initiation into the status of being a houngan or mambo.
la place – A master of ceremonies who works directly under the houngan or mambo.
Houngonikon – The director of music and dancing.
Hounsi – A group of servers, usually women, dressed in white.
The Music and the Drums….
Rada Music – Played with drums, incessently, for hours and hours and hours
Bula drum – A very small drum beaten by a seated drummer with two long thin sticks used for Rada music
Segond drum – A smaller drum, perhaps 2 foot tall, beaten by a seated drummer holding the drum between his knees. This drum is usually beaten with the hands and is also used in Rada ceremonies
Manman drum – The largest of the three Rada drums, about 3 ft. tall. It is beaten by a standing drummer using a small wooden hammer in one hand and the other bare hand. The Manman drum is also used in Petro ceremonies
Petit or Ti-Baka drum – Small drum used in Petro music, beaten with hands.
Assotor drum – This is a huge ceremonial drum carved from a single tree trunk. It is 6 foot or taller and must be beaten by drummers who are on a platform. This is a sacred drum, almost an idol itself, and is used in both Rada and Petro ceremonies.
A scrap of paper or parchment with magic words, phrases or prayers written on it. Used in many items and sometimes carried as ‘protection’ by believers.
More terms will be introduced as the game progresses.
* Please note, this is MY interpretation of Voodoo for the purposes of this game. Though I have endeavoured to use real terms and vocabulary, it is not intended to be an accurate reflection of the actual practice.