Voodoo altar with fetishes in Abomey, Benin

Faith and Voodoo

In the coastal country of Benin, the population is divided into roughly three major religious groups: Christian, Muslim and Vodun (better known in the West as Voodoo). While better than 40% are Christians and nearly 30% are Muslims, everyone uses a bit of Voodoo. 

Voodoo in the Fon, Gun and Ewe languages means “spirit” and is a religion practiced throughout Benin. It includes a pantheon, with the Creator known as Mawu at the top, represented as an old, compassionate woman. Her seven children make up the rest of the gods (called Voduns), these are Sakpata (Earth), Xêvioso (thunder and divine justice), Agbe (sea), Gû (iron and war), Agê (agriculture and forests), Jo (air), and Lêgba (unpredictable). Lêgba is the youngest son and is chief of the gods, the gatekeeper to accessing the other spirits, and is depicted with great fertility.

As a religion, Voodoo also holds that there are spirits everywhere, those of the past walk among us, and there are spirits within everything, giving rise to fetishes from animal parts to powerful stones. With Voodoo, you dispel evil spirits and are likely to use it in times of stress or to assist in the recovery of the ill. 

The Christians in Benin practice Voodoo in addition to their Christian faith and some Voodoo religious gatherings involve Christian rites. In other African nations, people of different faiths similarly keep traditional religious beliefs that are ingrained in the culture. For example, in keeping with the belief that spirits reside within all things, it is well-accepted that a woman can improve her fertility by sleeping on cheetah skin.

In the Americas, there are places where Voodoo is practiced today. Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the U.S., Venezuela and Brazil all have their brand of Voodoo, which finds its roots in Western Africa. Their depiction of Lêgba is as an old man on crutches, even though he is the youngest among the children of Mawu.

Local tradition blending with different faiths is not found only with Voodoo. Major religions are virtually everywhere and globalization is on the rise, but it is clear that local traditions aren’t going anywhere.