Voodoo Definitions: More Than Just A Word

Voodoo Sign02 photo by Dan Merino. Licensed under CC 2.0

These days there is Voodoo Economics, Voodoo Doughnuts, Voodoo Football, and last, or maybe first, we have the Voodoo Religion. The etymology of the word is almost as dangerously complex as the practices themselves.

Many people hate the word Voodoo, even though they may have beliefs that others would describe that way. No doubt Voodoo has gotten a bad rap in the media, in the papers, in the minds of most people. In Haiti the tradition is properly referred to as Vodou, or Vodoun. The practices are a complex system of worship that gracefully touches every aspect of life. Even though the New World manifestations are more prevalent, this ancient religion is over 10,000 years old by some accounts.

It seems Voodoo’s meaning has historically always been a bit of a puzzle. A Popular Science article from 1891 by Major A.B. Ellis speculates as to “what language the word Vodu belongs, and what it means.” Ellis claims it is simply the word for “God.” This is a belief that many still hold today. Voodoo is a God, or a series of Gods, energies, and divine forces that inhabit the universe. According to the Etymology dictionary, this definition is in keeping with the languages of the Dahomey and the Fon people as well.

Veve Drawing for Damballa and Aida Wedo, image by Lilith Dorsey, all rights reserved.

People have theorized about Voodoo’s word origins coming the French “vous deux,” which would translate roughly as “you two.” This brings into question issues of spiritual joining and union, and adds another layer of meaning to the term.  It is as if Voodoo is your best self fused with the Gods. The website Africanholocaust.net states that Voodoo has been defined as “the snake under whose auspices gather all who share the faith.” This artfully describes some of the creation mythology that is present in New Orleans Voodoo or Haitian Vodou. In the Haitian tradition the sacred serpents Damballa and Aida Wedo are said to have been the creators of life and the divine repositories of knowledge about the religion of Vodou. Milo Rigaud, in his book Veve, originally published in 1974, talks about these snakes being the embodiment of “love, androgyneity … harmony, dualism, conception, medicine…” and everything in between.

Voodoo definitions then it seems are unique to each individual considering them. For some it will always be a scary unknown that they want to demonize and hate on, for others it will be the secret paths to their ancestors, hopefully not lost to them over the barriers of time. For me it is the joining of what was and what will be, with the unique moment that is in existence right now. What is Voodoo for you?

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