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The word voodoo, which has many different names and spellings (like vodun, vodou, voudou, vudu, vodoun, vowdown, vooodooo, vundun) is the name of a West African animist, spiritual folkway is the magic that can be used both by white people, and African American people. Some contemporary advocates wish to enhance the credibility of Voodoo by calling it a religion. However, the essence of Voodoo is precisely that it is a spiritual folkway, passed from generation to generation via oral tradition and the modeling of rituals and routine spiritual practices. Voodoo evolved across the centuries; has variations from tribe to tribe; and as "folkway" is the essential nature of Voodoo, it could not be destroyed by White people who enslaved West Africans in the New World. Religion, the faith mode of White people in the New World, on the other hand is based on formal organization, myths and dogma encoded in texts, buildings constructed for worship, and an hierarchy of ordained leaders.
Voodoo is animist. That is, all aspects of the natural world are seen as having spiritual identity that is immune to physical death. Voodoo animism includes belief in each person's spirit surviving the death of the body, so ancestors are called upon for inspiration, protection or other influences over the material world. In the New World, most Voodoo believers became Christian in order to enhance their welfare under the control of Christian owners; and now most of those Christian-Voodoo faithful happen to identify as Catholic. But the roots of Voodoo are from the Fon, Ewe, and Yoruba people of Africa. The word vodún is the Fon-Ewe word for spirit.
In voodoo many gods and spirits are prayed to or called on. Both spirits of nature and of dead people are important. The spirits of family member who have died are especially important. Voodoo often has rituals with music and dancing. Drums are used to make most of this music. In voodoo people often believe that a spirit is in their body and controlling the body. Having a spirit come into is wanted, and important. This spirit can speak for the gods or dead people you love, and can also help to heal or do magic.
African vodu: the beginning of voodoo
Voodoo came to places like Haiti and the United States as vodu. Some people think voodoo and vodu are the same religion. Some people think they are not the same religion because voodoo has changed some after it was taken from Africa. For example, African vodu often has animal sacrifice (the animal is killed for the spirits), but this is not common in Haiti. Another example is that an African sea god became a Haitian sea goddess. Voodoo in Haiti and America has also added some Catholic ideas that were not known in African vodu.
Voodou in Haiti
Voodoo is an important religion in Haiti. When Haiti beat the French in a war and became its own country, the people of Haiti believed that voodoo had helped them win. Also, in Haiti there are both good priests and "dark" sorcerers (called bokor). The bokor acts like a kind of religious policeman, and may curse bad people. It is the bokor who are said to make zombies; becoming a zombie is the worst curse because it means a person loses their soul.
Voodoo in the United States
Voodoo originally entered the United States via immigrants from Africa and Haiti such as Marie LaVeau, "the voodoo queen of New Orleans". Marie was a pacifist and known for healing people. Though unprecedented, the local Catholic priest let Marie practice Voodoo in the Catholic Church, and as a result, she became famous, leading (along with others) many in Louisiana to believe in Voodoo.
In most parts of the U.S., voodoo is primarily practiced by African descendants, who follow the teachings as part of a family heritage. Louisiana, however, which is the U.S. state with the most voodoo believers, the belief system has attracted a number of caucasian followers as well.
Voodoo in popular culture
People fear the unknown, and as most people do not know much about Voodoo, it is used to frighten and its practices (Hoodoo) are portrayed as evil. Voodoo is shown in many horror/suspense movies and has come into American pop culture through music, movies, art, and many other mediums.
Like many other religions and practices, people learn about voodoo and hoodoo through movies and TV shows, where it has gained the popularity it has today as a form of entertainment. Hoodoo was showcased in the 2005 horror-suspense movie, The Skeleton Key, starring Kate Hudson (correctly emphasizing that it was hoodoo that was being used), and in the upcoming 2009 Disney movie The Princess and the Frog.
Zombies are a large part of popular horror culture, and they originated in voodoo folklore from the original word, “nbzambi”, which refers to the primary sprit and/or to one’s soul. There are four types of zombies in voodoo: the Great Spirit, the Spiritual Soul, the Herbal Zombie and the Bargained Zombie. Each type is created differently. Zombies of voodoo folklore do not come to be from a zombie bite, it is a large misconception.
Just as there is Christian music, there was music that came from voodoo rituals, which influenced jazz, and many of the original jazz players are rumored to have had a connection to voodoo in some way, including Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Storyville, a district in New Orleans, was a place where, at night, Jazz was played and hoodoo was sold. There, jazz thrived and pulsed with the voices and instruments of Jelly Roll, Sweet Emma Barrett, and many others. There are many songs and albums that reference voodoo and/or hoodoo, either in the title ("Hoodoo" by Muse ) or in the actual song, such as in David Bowie's song "Magic Dance", with the lyric, "You remind me of the babe./ What babe?/ The babe with the power. /What power?/ The power of the hoodoo. /Hoodoo? /You do. /Do what? /Remind me of the babe!". Another example is Rob Zombie who started the band White Zombie.
There are many books on the subject of voodoo and hoodoo, such as How-To's and folk tales. One of the most famous books incorporating these themes is The Serpent and the Rainbow, by Wade Davis, which is also a movie, though the author was very displeased with the result. A list of books can be found here.
Fun with voodoo
Many people enjoy partaking in voodoo and hoodoo practices, such as buying love potions, and casting or having spells casted for them that promise luck, money, health or success. While some only do it for the fun of it, many take it seriously, as it is a religion. Hoodoo can be used for harm, but that is adverse to how it is supposed to be used.