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View Full Version : Hoodoo and Voodoo as religions or folk magic?



Missus Akasha
10-02-2013, 08:56 PM
I've had this idea churning in my head for a long while now. It planted a seed in my brain when my mom finally found her birth father and dragged me along with her to go to New Orleans to meet him and his family. I stayed in the French Quarter in a hotel only a few blocks over from the world famous Bourbon Street. Took about a million pictures in the span of three days. Of course, there were the tourist shops called "Voodoo This" or "Voodoo That" that I passed by and sparked my interest. But I never entered them.

I've always been intrigued by Voodoo (New Orleans and Haitian) and Hoodoo. In the myths about them and the actual facts. Now that I know I have a family history spanning back a long time in New Orleans, I really want to write involving it. However, my ideas are more based on bastardization of it in American culture even as I try to incorporate as much real history and facts into the story about them. Voodoo dolls, snake worship, evil spirits, bad luck, spirit summoning, etc.

This is would be a paranormal story. So I would be concentrating on the magical elements of Voodoo and Hoodoo. However, would that be a backhanded slap to those who consider Voodoo (New Orleans and Haitian) and Hoodoo a religion? I want to get my facts right and incorporate true elements of these religions with magical elements.

Orginially, I thought to myself that no it wouldn't be. I considered the stories of angel and demons of Christian mythology in popular books right now as an example of something similar of what I am trying to do. However, now I am not so sure ...

Kim Fierce
10-03-2013, 02:44 AM
The only real representation I can remember seeing of Voodoo is in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, set in New Orleans, which briefly discusses Voodoo by some of the characters (in this case, in the 1700 or 1800s, they were slaves to a man who had just become a vampire), and I think if you really want to talk about facts, I would think that people who consider it a religion would like to read the truth about it, the original beliefs, and maybe for those who are more sincere they would think of it as more of an adaptation instead of bastardization.

I knew a girl (white) who was interested in old religions, and she evolved from Christian to Wiccan to something else, and last I heard she was practicing Voodoo because she had been told it was the world's oldest religion. Now I had attended some of the rituals and things of the group she belonged to, and basically it was a free for all, there were people who just considered themselves pagans, Wiccans, druids, and who knows what else. It wasn't for me, but I think in this situation they just combined everything together except Christianity, had songs listing every known god and goddess, etc. I read a couple books about things of this nature but I never put my beliefs in it.

I think your idea sounds interesting.

FoamyRules
10-03-2013, 02:51 AM
Interesting idea Akasha :)

Hoodoo is actually a part of my family's history; although I don't know it very well. But I do happen to know that it is folk magic. Not sure if its considered to be a religion, but I'm sure some people do consider it to be as such.

Wilde_at_heart
10-03-2013, 03:14 AM
So long as you're respectful towards it I can't see it being a 'backhanded slap'. And even posting a thread such as this makes me think you'll treat it respectfully anyway.

Granted, I don't know the culture myself. If you want to play it safe, borrow elements and keep it vague until you are more intimate with the various beliefs and so on.

Polenth
10-03-2013, 05:34 AM
The thing with angels and demons is though they might be insulting to Christians, that's also a privileged religion. No one's going to decide they know everything there is about Christianity because someone wrote a sexy angel paranormal romance novel. You have more of an issue when you're dealing with a marginalised religion, which is often misrepresented in popular culture (to the point of people dismissing it as even being a religion).

I think a good start is tossing out everything from popular culture. Do a whole lot of reading on how it really works. Read fiction by people who've grown up with the religion. Then come up with your idea. Don't try to twist the facts to fit an idea you generated from popular culture misconceptions.

Also be aware which things are seen as public and which are private. The private ones need to be handled with extra care (if you include them at all... I generally gloss over anything of that nature when it's someone else's religion).

Alessandra Kelley
10-03-2013, 12:32 PM
Family history is an interesting reason to do this.

There are some very good books on Vodoun, Santerķa, and other manifestations of African religions in American slave cultures. If you are interested in writing about them I would very strongly recommend first looking up anthropological research and field studies.

Art books can also be very useful, and catalogues of museum exhibitions.

I would hesitate to draw a boundary between folk magic and religion. Vodoun and Santerķa have quite serious gods and mythologies as well as many esoteric and private rituals.

RichardGarfinkle
10-03-2013, 05:30 PM
I'm a bit concerned about the OP because of this sentence.


However, would that be a backhanded slap to those who consider Voodoo (New Orleans and Haitian) and Hoodoo a religion?

Voodoo is a religion (related to others such as Santeria). Imagine substituting the name of any mainstream religion into that sentence and see how it sounds.

Voodoo and its relations have been used as the bad guy religion in many stories, novels, movies, and TV shows. It's all too easy to combine ignorance with special effects (and a substantial dose of racism) to create scary villains with mysterious powers holding secret rites in hidden enclaves.

It seems to me that stories using it should strive for accuracy and the understanding that this is the real day to day religion of real people living real lives.

Wilde_at_heart
10-03-2013, 07:11 PM
Family history is an interesting reason to do this.
....
I would hesitate to draw a boundary between folk magic and religion. Vodoun and Santerķa have quite serious gods and mythologies as well as many esoteric and private rituals.

Same. 'Religion' implies a degree of centralized authority and even in Hindu or Judaism there are central texts such as either the Vedas, Upanishads, etc. with the former or the Torah, the Talmud, etc. with the latter. There are other reasons apart from 'marginalising' that they aren't viewed technically as religions, though in some instances it isn't a matter of 'either or' but both.
Such 'folk magic' practices have counterparts with the older European 'pagan' or various 'shaman' traditions, steeped in animism, healing, divination and sympathetic magic. From my own research a lot of them are passed down within the community or within families or as initiates. If there are any texts, they are ordinarily kept fairly secret or aren't widely shared.
Even in Hindu there's a large degree of that too (family tradition), centered around either particular gods or specific yogic practices.

I agree to toss out most of the pop-culture drivel though I suspect the OP intended to do that anyway. Where people get offended is when it's some cheesy 'oh look at this weird spooky voodoo stuff done by evil witch doctor' without presenting an understanding of the underlying 'mechanics' or belief system behind animism, etc. IMO, at the very least a person should treat concepts such as the astral plane or spirit world and their intermediaries seriously.

I came across this forum here which might be interesting to read through - http://orishanet.org/forums/viewforum.php?f=1

It's also worth reading about Yoruba as well, though some argue that voudon traditions are rooted in a different group from the same general region. http://anthonyuu.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/yoruba-religion-and-the-rapture-of-being-alive/

The Serpent and the Rainbow, the movies Angel Heart and The Skeleton Key have all dealt with either Haitian or New Orleans Voudoo - maybe ask one of your new-found relatives their opinions of them as a gauge.

Rachel Udin
10-03-2013, 07:28 PM
Personally, as someone who studied Voudou (or Voodoo) academically, I think it's a lot cooler than the made up version for Hollywood--which DOES NOT include zombies.

From what I understand, it's a synchronized a bit with Christianity. (Though I doubt outsiders will recognize it) and the version at least I saw referred to Saints, etc.

The real religion, as in the non-TV religion has a bunch of really nice features I think would make for a good magic system without stepping on the toes of the religion by treating it as real--there is already one built in.

The dolls are actually West African in general and European.

The zombies are bokor, not voudou.

Snake worship is general--but not specifically Voudou. (There was a village that considers ball pythons to be good snakes.)

Spirit summonings isn't quite accurate of what Voudou actually does.

To outsiders it looks "crazy" but if you study the religion in depth, I think it's one of the richest traditions I've seen.

(Has some similarities to Muism (Korean religion)... so I may be biased.)

The tales of Voudou and how "evil" it was was made by an ignorant missionary priest on the basis of racism, and pretty much racism alone. I think it would make for a much richer magic system to actually use the base religion and study it. (I swear, it is really awesome, and I don't mean that in a philia way).

You might also want to look at the bokor as well.

If you want it for supernatural, I'd also consider making it supernatural good., rather than supernatural evil, and using the real stuff.

To make clear what I like about the religion--gods can be called through dance and be called to the people dancing through music until they move like that god. So you get oneness with that god. (How is that not awesome?) Literally, your characters can be that god for a while. Legit. A lot of work to do so...

You also have icons you draw on the ground to call forth gods within the religion.

The afterlife rules are pretty rich overall.

Personally, if I were to choose a religion I'm dying to see a book for set in the real world or a fantasy setting, I'd choose Voudou in its real form. I'd love to learn more about the real religion and it's regional variations.

Plus, there is a TON of good anthropology done on this religion, so you won't be short of reference material. I say go for the real stuff.

Especially since the whole Hollywood thing was made on the basis of saying things like "Africa is a country" and religious intolerance and racism. I'd say, show them what for and show how utterly awesome the real religion is.

Kim Fierce
10-04-2013, 01:13 AM
The tales of Voudou and how "evil" it was was made by an ignorant missionary priest on the basis of racism, and pretty much racism alone. I think it would make for a much richer magic system to actually use the base religion and study it. (I swear, it is really awesome, and I don't mean that in a philia way)


Sounds like what I come across studying Lenni Lenape culture. All native American traditions, beliefs, religions, etc. got classified as this savage heathen stuff but really learning about it is very interesting. Not to say that Lenni Lenape has similarities to Voodoo (but I don't know anything about Voodoo), it's just yet another example of something written off or considered uncivilized.

kevinwaynewilliams
10-07-2013, 02:14 AM
You might consider reading California Voodoo Game (http://www.amazon.com/California-Voodoo-Game-Dreampark-ebook/dp/B004TTWUTW), even if only for an example of what not to do. Its predecessor, Dream Park (http://www.amazon.com/Dream-Park-ebook/dp/B003JTHZ70/), dealt with a fantasy world based on cargo cults and was much more successful at it.

I keep thinking that I should be able to base a book on the Prince Philip Movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip_Movement): the idea that Queen Elizabeth is married to a divine emissary from the gods seems to be a great leaping-off point for something.