West African Vodun

Vodun (meaning spirit in the Fon, Gun and Ewe languages, pronounced [vodṹ] with a nasal high-tone u; also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Vodou, Vudu, Voudou, Voodoo, etc.) is a religion practiced by the Aja, Ewe, and Fon peoples of Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Elements of the West African religion survived slavery[1] and evolved into the current forms of religions with similar names that are found in the New World among the African diaspora in the Americas, such as Haitian Vodou; Louisiana Voodoo; Cuban Vodú; Dominican Vudú, Venezuelan Yuyu, and Brazilian Vodum (Candomblé Jejé and Tambor de Mina).

Theology and practiceEdit

A vodoun market in Lomé, Togo, 2008.

Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. The vodun are the center of religious life. Perceived similarities with Roman Catholic doctrines such as the intercession of saints and angels allowed Vodun to appear compatible with Catholicism, and helped produce syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou. Adherents also emphasize ancestor worship and hold that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living, each family of spirits having its own female priesthood, sometimes hereditary when it is from mother to blood daughter. There is also an underlying philosophical framing underpinning Vodun which, according to Suzanne Preston Blier, who undertook a year of research in 1985-86 in Abomey and the nearby area, highlights the importance of remaining calm in contexts of difficulty and in life more generally. According to Suzanne Preston Blier, Vodun means, “the idea of staying close to a water source, to not rush through life, to take time to attain tranquility.” Her interpretation stems from two area diviners who maintain that its origins lie in the phrase “rest to draw the water,” from the Fon verbs vo “to rest,” and dun “to draw water,” the stoic suggestion of “the need for one to be calm and composed” in the face of adversity.[2]

Patterns of Vodun worship follow various dialects, spirits, practices, songs, and rituals. The divine Creator, called variously Mawu or Mahu, is a female being. She is an elder woman, and usually a mother who is gentle and forgiving. She is also seen as the god who owns all other gods and even if there is no temple made in her name, the people continue to pray to her, especially in times of distress. In one tradition, she bore seven children. Sakpata: Vodun of the Earth, Xêvioso (or Xêbioso): Vodun of Thunder, also associated with Divine Justice,[3] Agbe: Vodun of the Sea, Gû: Vodun of Iron and War, Agê: Vodun of Agriculture and Forests, Jo: Vodun of Air, and Lêgba: Vodun of the Unpredictable.[4]

The Creator embodies a dual cosmogonic principle of which Mawu the moon and Lisa the sun are respectively the female and male aspects, often portrayed as the twin children of the Creator.[5] Lisa is the sun god who brings the day and the heat, and also strength and energy. Mawu, the moon goddess, provides the cool of the night, peace, fertility, and rain. To give this in a summed aspect, a proverb says ‘When Lisa punishes Mawu forgives.[6]

Legba is often represented as a phallus or as a man with a prominent phallus. Known as the youngest son of Mawu, he is the chief of all Vodun divinities;[7] in his Diasporic portrayal, Legba is believed to be a very old man who walks on crutches.[8] Being old he is seen as wise, but when seen as a child he is one who is rebellious. It is only through contact with Legba that it becomes possible to contact the other gods, for he is the guardian at the door of the spirits.[9] Dan, who is Mawu's androgynous son, is represented as a rainbow serpent, and was to remain with her and act as a go-between with her other creations. As the mediator between the spirits and the living, Dan maintains balance, order, peace and communication.

Other popular loa, or spiritual entities, include Azaka who rules over agriculture, Erzuli has domain over love, and Ogoun who is in charge of war, defense and who stands on guard.[10]

All creation is considered divine and therefore contains the power of the divine. This is how medicines such as herbal remedies are understood, and explains the ubiquitous use of mundane objects in religious ritual. Vodun talismans, called "fetishes", are objects such as statues or dried animal or human parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Specifically, they are objects inhabited by spirits. The entities that inhabit a fetish are able to perform different tasks according to their stage of development. Fetish objects are often combined in the construction of "shrines", used to call forth specific vodun and their associated powers.[11]


Voodoo is performed by priests or healers. Male priests are called Houngan and female practitioners are called mambo. Voodoo is performed with some instruments such as herbs, crystals, and crystals candles.


The Queen Mother is the first daughter of a matriarchal lineage of a family collective. She holds the right to lead the ceremonies incumbent to the clan: marriages, baptisms and funerals. She is one of the most important members of community. She will lead the women of a village when her family collective is the ruling one. They take part in the organisation and the running of markets and are also responsible for their upkeep. This is vitally important because marketplaces are the focal points for gatherings and social centres in their communities. In the past when the men of the villages would go to war, the Queen Mothers would lead prayer ceremonies in which all the women attended every morning to ensure the safe return of their menfolk.

The high priestess is the woman chosen by the oracle to care for the convent. Priestesses, like priests, receive a calling from an oracle, which may come at any moment during their lives. They will then join their clan's convent to pursue spiritual instruction. It is also an oracle that will designate the future high priest and high priestess among the new recruits, establishing an order of succession within the convent. Only blood relatives were allowed in the family convent; strangers are forbidden. In modern days, however, some family members to enter what is described as the first circle of worship. Strangers are allowed to worship only the spirits of the standard pantheon.

West African Vodún cult and Christian LiturgyEdit

At the 10th Jubilee Conference of Junior Theologians and Doctorals Students that took place on 28 February – 1 March 2020 in Eger Hungary[12] Adechina Samson Takpe gave a lecture on the topic "West African Vodún Cult and Christian Liturgy. Comparison in a Christian perspective".[13] According to him:

Vodún cult is monotheistic-polylatric: that means there are many different mediation cults around a single recognized God. The guiding principle of the Vodún cult is: What you want to do to the inaccessible God, do it to the Vodún (or Spirits), they are his representatives and will give report to him on your behalf. Vodún cult is set on the background of a dialectical panentheism, that means everything is included in God and has their being in Him, however there is a strict distinction between God and the creatures. This cult aims at capturing all visible and invisible forces, in order to bring everything into harmony and strengthen the vital force.

Most of the components of the Christian liturgy can find their corresponding elements in the Vodún cult: Fa-oracle and interpretation vs Christian liturgy of the Word, presentation of the offerings vs Christian offertory, rite of kola nuts vs Christian communion, blessing of the Bokonon (Vodún priest) vs Priestly blessings, chants and dances to the praise of God or of the deities vs Christian praises. The sacraments and sacramentals also find their similarities in the Vodún cult: First step of the initiation ritual vs Baptism, complementary initiation stages vs Confirmation, reconciliation celebrations and cleansing rites vs Penance, traditional care vs. Christian anointing of the sick, ritual marriage vs Church wedding, Vodún priesthood vs Christian priesthood, amulets vs Sacramentals, etc.

Nevertheless, due to fundamental differences, the aim here is not to compare or equate the two rites or cults – each is unique in its own way and has its profound meaning in its context especially for its particular adherents. It is therefore a question of examining if these similarities can inspire or provide the basis for a fruitful inculturation, which on the basis of innovative hermeneutics, makes their differences obvious and at the same time lays bare the fertile bridge between them.[14]


About 17% of the population of Benin, some 1.6 million people, follow Vodun. (This does not count other traditional religions in Benin.) In addition, many of the 41.5% of the population that refer to themselves as "Christian" practice a syncretized religion, not dissimilar from Haitian Vodou or Brazilian Candomblé; indeed, many of them are descended from freed Brazilian slaves who settled on the coast near Ouidah.[15]

In Togo, about half the population practices indigenous religions, of which Vodun is by far the largest, with some 2.5 million followers; there may be another million Vodunists among the Ewe of Ghana, as a 13% of the total Ghana population of 20 million are Ewe and 38% of Ghanaians practice traditional religion. According to census data, about 14 million people practice traditional religion in Nigeria, most of whom are Yoruba practicing Ifá, but no specific breakdown is available.[15]

European colonialism, followed by some of the totalitarian regimes in West Africa, have tried to suppress Vodun as well as other traditional religions.[16] However, because the Vodun deities are born to each clan, tribe, and nation, and their clergy are central to maintaining the moral, social and political order and ancestral foundation of its village, these efforts have not been successful. Recently there have been moves to restore the place of Vodun in national society, such as an annual International Vodun Conference that has been held in the city of Ouidah, Benin since 1991.[17]



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Benin - History | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Archived from the original on 2022-07-26. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  2. ^ Suzanne Preston Blier, African Vodun: Art, Psychology and Power. University of Chicago Press. 1996 p. 39.
  3. ^ Ojo, J.O. (1999). Understanding West African Traditional Religion. S.O. Popoola Printers. p. 63. ISBN 978-978-33674-2-5. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  4. ^ Anthony B. Pinn (2017-10-15). Varieties of African American Religious Experience: Toward a Comparative Black Theology. Fortress Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-1506403366. Archived from the original on 2022-05-16. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  5. ^ Anthony B. Pinn (2017-10-15). Varieties of African American Religious Experience: Toward a Comparative Black Theology. Fortress Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-1506403366. Archived from the original on 2022-05-16. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  6. ^ Parrinder, Edward (2014). West African Religion; a Study of the Beliefs and Practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples. Wipf & Stock.
  7. ^ Herskovits, Melville J, and Frances S. Herskovits. Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. , 1958. Print. pg. 139-140
  8. ^ Ferère, Gérard (1978). HAITIAN VOODOO: ITS TRUE FACE. Caribbean Quarterly.
  9. ^ Owusu, Heike (2003). Voodoo Rituals: a User's Guide. Sterling.
  10. ^ Kuss, Malena (2007). Music in Latin America and the Caribbean. Austin, TX: Universe of Music.
  11. ^ Landry, Timothy (2016). "Incarnating Spirits, Composing Shrines, and Cooking Divine Power in Vodún". Material Religion. 12: 50–73. doi:10.1080/17432200.2015.1120086. S2CID 148063421.
  12. ^ "Père Adéchina Samson Takpé, Prêtre catholique". Archived from the original on 2021-08-26. Retrieved 2021-08-26.
  13. ^ ""West African Vodún Cult and Christian Liturgy. Comparison in a Christian perspective"". Archived from the original on 2021-08-26. Retrieved 2021-08-26.
  14. ^ Samson Takpe Archived 2021-08-26 at the Wayback Machine, “Vodún cult and Christian Liturgy. Comparison in a Christian perspective” Archived 2021-08-26 at the Wayback Machine, in: Kiss Gábor (ed), Abstracts of the 10th Jubilee Conference of Junior Theologians and Doctoral Students, Eger, 28 February – 1 March 2020 Archived 26 August 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Budapest, 2020, ISBN 978-615-5586-55-2, p. 137-139, here: 138-139.
  15. ^ a b "CIA Fact Book: Benin". Cia.gov. Archived from the original on 2021-06-18. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  16. ^ Oswald, Hans-Peter (2009). Vodoo. Books on Demans.
  17. ^ Forte, Jung Ran (2010). Percy C. Hintzen; Jean Muteba Rahier; Felipe Smith (eds.). Vodun Ancestry, Diaspora Homecoming, and the Ambiguities of Transnational Belongings in the Republic of Benin. Global Circuits of Blackness: Interrogating the African Diaspora. University of Illinois Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-252-07753-1. Archived from the original on 2020-12-24. Retrieved 2017-09-15.

Further readingEdit

  • Ajayi, J.F. and Espie, I. "Thousand Years of West African History" (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1967).
  • Akyea, O.E. "Ewe." New York: (The Rosen Group, 1988).
  • Ayivi Gam l . Togo Destination. High Commissioner for Tourism. Republic of Togo, 1982.
  • Bastide. R. African Civilizations in the New World. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1971.
  • Decalo, Samuel. "Historical Dictionary of Dahomey" (Metuchen, N.J: The Scarecrow Press, 1976).
  • Deren, Maya. "Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti." (London: Thames and Hudson, 1953).
  • "Demoniacal Possession in Angola, Africa". Journal of American Folk-lore. Vol VI., 1893. No. XXIII.
  • Ellis, A.B. "Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa" (Chicago: Benin Press, 1965).
  • Fontenot, Wonda. L. "Secret Doctors: Enthnomedicine of African Americans" (Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1994).
  • Hazoum ‚ P. "Doguicimi. The First Dahomean Novel" (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990).
  • Herskovits, M.J. and Hersovits, F.S. Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University,
  • Hindrew, Vivian M.Ed., Mami Wata: African's Ancient God/dess Unveiled. Reclaiming the Ancient Vodoun heritage of the Diaspora. Martinez, GA: MWHS.
  • Hindrew, Vivian M.Ed., Vodoun: Why African-Americans Fear Their Cosmogentic Paths to God. Martinez, GA. MWHS:
  • Herskovits, M.J. and Hersovits, F.S. "An Outline of Dahomean Religious Belief" (Wisconsin: The American Anthropological Association, 1933).
  • Hurston, Zora Neale. "Tell My Horse: Voodoo And Life In Haiti And Jamaica." Harper Perennial reprint edition, 1990.
  • Hyatt M. H. "Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork" (Illinois: Alama Egan Hyatt Foundation, 1973), Vols. I-V.
  • Journal of African History. 36. (1995) pp. 391–417.Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States;
  • Language Guide (Ewe version). Accra: Bureau of Ghana Languages,
  • Maupoil, Bernard. "La Geomancie L'ancienne des Esclaves" (Paris: L'université de Paris, 1943).
  • Metraux, Alfred. "Voodoo In Haiti." (Pantheon reprint edition, 1989)
  • Newbell, Pucket. N. "Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro". S.C.: Chapel Hill, 1922.
  • Newell, William, W. "Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayti and Louisiana," Journal of American Folk-lore, 41–47, 1888. p. 41-47.
  • Barreiro, Daniel, Garcia, Diego. "Nuit: una vision de la continuidad ancestral (spanish edition)". Montevideo, Uruguay, 2014
  • Pliya, J. "Histoire Dahomey Afrique Occidental" (Moulineaux: France, 1970).
  • Slave Society on the Southern Plantation. The Journal of Negro History. Vol. VII-January, 1922-No.1.

External linksEdit