It's likely we all have preconceived images in our mind that crop up whenever we hear the word Voodoo. Most of us think we have some (likely spooky) idea of what it's all about, but do we? Several factors have influenced westerners to associate Voodoo with evil and devil worship, including:
- The U.S. Marine Corps occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1935. This led to many fictional depictions of Haiti, during and after this time, in which Voodoo was associated with zombies, and Voodoo priests were characterized as quite sinister.
- This era also led to confusion among laypeople between Voodoo and hoodoo, the latter of which practices curses and spells.
- Sacrificing live animals is an important aspect of many Voodoo ceremonies. This, as well as several other Voodoo practices, is taboo in modern Christianity and other cultures.
- Snakes, which are frightening to many people and have long been symbolic of evil and deceit, are a prevalent image in Voodoo symbolism. The snake also is associated with one of Voodoo's most powerful spirits.
While it's true, then, that many people think of Voodoo as an evil form of spirituality, it's actually a religion of peace and respect. Voodoo leaders often become heads of their communities and provide guidance and folk medical care. Mistaken identity may be at the root of western misconceptions about the nature of Voodoo. It turns out that the magic, curses and witchcraft that are often, stereotypically, associated with Voodoo are, in fact, an aspect of the practice of "bo." Bo sorcerers are called botono, and it is actually they who are the ones believed to control nefarious spirits. Voodoo priests often also have knowledge of bo, however -- so that they can fight it if necessary or act as either Voodoo priest or botono, depending on the circumstances.
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