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Voodoo is also known as Voudon. Voodoo is not only practiced in the Caribbean, as a religion with roots in a racial context mostly having to do with those of African heritage, although many others have picked up on the practices besides.
Voudon is not all about sticking needles in a poppet. Practitioners petition the loa or spirit beings and work on communication with Bondye, an aspect of the divine. Your career determines which spirit you work with. If you have a bad case of unrequited love, for example, you petition Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love.
Voudon has its origins in West Africa, specifically from modern-day Benin, coming into being from the ancient traditions of ancestor worship and animism. 1685 laws prevented slaves from practicing their indigenous beliefs.
Animism influences Voudon because it is the notion that everything, even rocks, is animated and alive. Bondye is the title given to the “Good God.” Bondye creates the universe, people, animals, and everything else that exists on Earth. The Loa also spelled Iwa are deities who are rather like saints if you are Catholic since they function as intercessors between human and Deity.
The slaves were forcibly converted to become Roman Catholic. But they still retained many religious beliefs, which is why Voudon dabbles in Loas that have Christian counterparts such as Papa Legba in Haitian voodoo is like St. Peter, who serves as an intermediary between humans and Deity. Papa Legba can be evoked with rituals that are asking for prosperity. He is similar to Ganesha in the Hindu pantheon because he removes obstacles. Papa Legba, for example, likes being offered rum or black coffee. Now I can’t offer rum unless in a room full of people like at Pantheacon but I can offer coconut. No cigars are allowed in my house. Pipe tobacco is not something I use, but I can offer him peanuts.
We did a ritual in my coven where we offered Papa Legba rum and pennies. We scattered pennies at a crossroads and poured rum out. My friends put rum in their mouths but because of my alcoholism, I passed on this ritual. He also likes peanuts, small toys, candy, sweet potatoes, peppers, sweets and bread products. Papa Legba according to this website (http://voodoo.spellbindingsisters.com/voodoo-papa-legba.asp), expects less but we, petitioners feel he deserves more? Papa Legba did open the door for prosperity when I did that ritual. The cold I caught was not necessarily a bad side effect of being around a friend who had a cold. We did get a lot of breakthrough work done.
Haitian Voudon and New Orleans Voudon are different and practiced differently. Slave revolts in Haiti kicked out the French colonials. Some survivors escaped to New Orleans. Voudon was also practiced in the United States from 1791 on, with incidences of the need to suppress it. Voudon is classed as a religion both in Benin and Haiti by the 21st century, however. A hougan, (priest), a mambo (priestess) and a bokor (sorcerer), participate in the event, whose role it is to receive offerings and grant requests by the gods. When opening any gate, it is important to also close the gate at the end. A handmade cross can be used to symbolize the crossroads at your alter, along with the Haitian flag, which can be used as an offering.
People pray to the spirit world for a variety of reasons such as money, health, and love. The altar must have colors sacred to the spirit (http://jamesduvalier.com/serve-lwa-simple-ritual) along with items sacred to the specific Iwa. Voudon is not always about animal sacrifice. A high priestess or priest who has been initiated can kill animals but not an average practitioner as this is not necessary. The gods can be asked for a marriage proposal, or a raise or a new job. This is only a fraction of what real Voudon is about.