The concept of sticking pins in a doll used to inflict pain on others is not traditional in the practice of Haitian Vodun. Dolls/figurines have been used as symbolic icons on shrines or in rituals to represent the Loa/Lwa (Divine forces of nature). 

Voodoo dolls are now commonly found in New Orleans, Louisiana; this is due to the mix of spiritual practices including Vodun, Hoodoo and European magical practices.

Some Western African practices use figures with and nails and pins in them they are known as nkisi. However instead of being used to inflict pain they are essentially a container of spiritual forces that are used for healing purposes. 

The concept of revenge dolls can be traced back to medieval European folk magic with use of poppets, effigies of specific people, which were used to place curses. The poppets however were also used for positive purposes such as healing and bringing good luck.


Cyprien Tokoudagba - Agassou painting

Cyprien is painting Agassou ,the God of the Panther, in his family compound.
Cyprien Tokoudagba , born in 1939, lives and works in Abomey, Benin.
He his an initiate of vodun Tôhôssou, god of the water.He began his artwork by adorning the walls of vodun temples, and later restored the “bas-reliefs” of the royal palaces of Abomey.
He began using canvas on commissions in 1989.His works represent symbols and deities of Vodun as well as mottos and emblems of the Abomey Kings.
© Nicolas Dubreuil

Cultural Appropriation of Lucumí Religion by Non-Initiates

Cultural Appropriation of Lucumí Religion by Non-Initiates

By Ekundayo (iba'ye)

“A popular phenomenon we’ve witnessed with the incredible amount of information available on the internet about Lucumí religion, is the cultural appropriation of Lucumí and Yoruban ritual elements by online merchants, Neo-Pagans and Eclectic Magical Workers claiming to be practicing hoodoo, voodoo, rootwork or obeah all at once. This phenomenon seems to be very prominent amongst professional workers who are peddling their services online, or more commonly with individuals selling “magical products” like oils, baths, incense, soaps, mojos, pakets, or even statues and sculptures made to look like orishas. This is not only completely out of alignment with traditional Santería Lucumí practice but it is very dangerous for spiritual reasons outlined below. [….]”

This article by the late Ekundayo (iba'ye layen t'onu) is a must-read.

And, for the last time, there is no such thing as “solitary” Santeria, Vodou, Candomble, etc. Even Hoodoo was never done “solitary,” it took growing up in (mostly) the South among black and multiracial communities to learn. Solitary practice is an idea from 1980s Neo-Paganism that has absolutely nothing to do with African-Diasporic Religions or African Traditional Religions.

[MYTHOLOGY MEME4/4 Psychopomps - Baron Samedi

In Vodun, Baron Samedi is the head of the Guede, the loas of the dead. The Guede are known to be very unruly, usually speaking in crude language, and no longer heed to the rules and regulations of the living. In this way, they are a reminder that death is a universal constant, and everyone will eventually pass through into it, so we may as well live a little while we are here.

Baron Samedi is normally depicted as a skeleton dressed in a dark funeral suit, with a tophat, sunglasses, and usually smoking a cigar. He guards the cemeteries, and controls the crossroads between the earth and the dead. He is also at times a trickster, though generally known to be honest and realistic, for in death there is nothing to hide. [x]

Hoodoo- Also called Rootwork. An African-based system of healing and magick primarily using roots and herbs.

Rootworker- A person skilled in the use of herbs and roots to cure illness or cast spells.

Voodoo- A religion that originated in the ancient kingdom of Dahomey (present day Benin) in West Africa and transported to the Caribbean and the Americas by African slaves. The proper name for this religion is Vodun, Which means “Spirit” or “God” in the language of the Ewe/Fon tribe.” 

- McQuillar, T. L. (n.d.). Rootwork: Using the folk magic of Black America for Love, Money, and success.


The Role of Voodoo in Haiti’s Recovery

The Spirtuality of Ayiti

This is supposedly a picture of Felicia Felix-Mentor. She is arguably the most famous case of zombification in the Haitian (and East African) religion of Vodoun (Voodoo). She apparently stumbled into a local Haitian village on 24th of October 1936. Her eyes were beyond function, she was barefoot, dressed in rags, and reportedly could not stand the direct sunlight. She was later identified as the long deceased relative of a local family, the Mentors. They said Felicia died in 1907 at the age of 29. 

Even though zombification is still shrouded in mystery and is subjected to massive fascination even to this day, the phenomenons’ anomalous and paranormal proportions are often toned down in the Western society in favour of more scientific explanations. These scientific explanations are, to me personally, almost as interesting as the legend though.

Famed ethnobotanist Wade Davis argued in his two 1980’s book on the subject, after having performed extensive field research, that the Vodoun zombie probably has pharmacological explanations; the individual subjected to zombification is given a cocktail of two special powders. First, the individual is given something in order to appear dead, i. e. body functions appear as if they have been shut down but technically, the person is still alive. Such a poison could for example be found in the flesh of the putterfish (tetraodontidae), and is called tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin is a very powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin which could cause deathlike states in human beings, he argued. 

Then another powder would be given the ‘zombie’, perhaps a very potent deliriant hallucinogenic compound, such as datura. This would make the person delirious, insane, intensely hallucinating, disorientated, and mentally numb. Thus would, according to the hypothesis, the zombie be created through the two-step process of first “killing” the person and then “reviving” him or her into this frenzied, delirious, emotionally cataclysmic and hallucinating state. 

This, however, is only a mere hypothesis and has been subject to a lot of criticism from the academic community. There is to date no scientifically definite explanation to the mystery of the vodoun zombie. 

The Essence of Voodoo
Within the voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why “vous deux”, you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of One. So, in essence, what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. View you. We are mirrors of each others souls. God is manifest through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be honored in ceremonies. There is a sacred cycle between the living and the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end.
Thoughts of an African witch on  ethnocentrism

It is an increasing source of frustration, this belittlement of African witchcraft when describing the different kinds of pagan practices throughout the world.

Frankly the only mention that ever alludes to it is the practice of Voodoo and Hoodoo, both immensely important and powerful forms of practice which I include in my own… but they are never retraced back to their sources, only to their most recent forms found in the Western parts of the world.

It started by a conversation with a French friend the other day, during which I was trying to explain the difference between Vodun and Hoodoo. I was appalled at her ethnocentrism. Western witchcraft was “legitimate” whereas “African “traditions were only backward and superstitious mumbo jumbo”.

I did not change her words unfortunately.

This sort of rebuttal is something I experience very often, and I’m not alone in this. Hence this slightly long and concerned rant.

I wonder if the source of said frustration stems from the ties it has to colonisation in not so faraway times, or the neo-colonisation that still steeps in anything tied to my continent. Our traditions (whether animist, polytheist, etc.) have been beaten, shot, rended from us in order to embrace whichever new monotheistic God came to tread on our soil. In order to survive, and to keep our traditions alive, we needed to conceal them. Cloak them under psalms and surats and give them a new name.  Merge them with what we have never known to keep them safe. 

I wish I had the time to start an in depth study about African religions, by an African for once. Something that has yet to be understood by folks from another part of the world, is that no matter how much you can read  about or experience a culture, there will always be a lens through which you will be experiencing it. A simple ritual will never have the full meaning and significance that it holds to someone who has been living this experience since birth. 

The point of this entire thought is simple: for the love of everything that still remains sacred on this planet, please don’t invalidate someone’s traditions when they don’t align with your own, especially when it’s so very obscure to you. And on the flip side, if you are going to build an interest in said traditions, respect their origins and understand the limits you will find in them for yourself.

When you write or talk about paganism or witchcraft throughout the world, please don’t ignore more than half of the population of the world. And by that, I mean African, Asian, Latin American and South American, Pacific, Mediterranean and other forms of paganism. I don’t mean you should document each and every one of them, hell I don’t know them all. I am eclectic in my practice, so it would be hypocritical of me to confine everyone in their own culture and shun the amazing possibility of sharing and adapting to each other’s paths.

But keep an open mind and invite discussion and education about what you don’t know. We are all just trying to make our own way after all.

P.S. If anyone is interested in a further discussion on the subject, I am more than happy to converse.