What Is Voodoo Possession? Exploration of Rituals 

Voodoo doll with pins

Voodoo is not a superstition, but the foremost and fully sanctioned religion of Haiti. As with any religion, those who practice Voodoo are devout and sincere in their belief. The word Voodoo means spirit. Anthropology researchers believe the West African religion of Voodoo (Vodun) is over 6,000 years old with 60 million people practicing this ancient form of spirituality. However, modern Voodoo, especially Haitian Vodou, is a strange combination of this ancient religion blended with Catholicism.

The Ritual of Voodoo Possession

The possession of a person by voodoo spirits is done during voodoo rituals and is considered a sacred act for those who practice Voodoo. Many scholars, such as Ira Lowenthal ("Ritual Performance and Religious Experience: a Service for the Gods in Southern Haiti" Journal of Anthropological Research 34, no. 3: 392-414) explains that the idea of possession in Voodoo isn't so different from the ideology of the Holy Ghost or Spirit entering and taking possession of a Christian believer.

Voodoo Ceremonies

During a Voodoo ceremony, a spirit (Loa) will enter (ride) the individual. The person being possessed considers being chosen by the spirit, to ride her/him as a horse into the physical world, to be one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on him/her. Possession is seen as a way the person is integrated into the community or group. The ceremony itself works as follows:

  • True to many ancient religious practices, the ceremony is opened with an animal blood sacrifice. This symbolizes letting life loose into the spirit world.
  • This is followed by a Catholic prayer.
  • Participants then make supplications or requests to the spirits. This can be any kind of prayer-like request ranging from health to spiritual issues.
Tribal drumming
  • Next, drummers begin beating out an ancient rhythm while others chant. Those participating in the ritual begin to dance in a circle, losing themselves to the rhythm of the drums. As the drumbeat increases, so do the movements of the dancers.
  • Meanwhile, a Voodoo priest (houngan) or priestess (mambo) will create various religious and sacred symbols (veves) on the ground using rum and cornmeal. Each spirit (lwa) has a symbol and the priest or priestess selects whichever ones he or she wishes to invite into the circle. At some point during the ceremony, the priest or priestess will destroy these symbols.

Loa (Lwa) Go-Betweens for Humans and Bondye

In Louisiana Voodoo and Haitian Voodoo, the spirits that serve as go-betweens for humans and God (Bondye) are called mystères or the invisibles. These spirits are also commonly known as Loa or Lwa.

Spirits With Attitude

These spirits aren't to be confused with angelic beings or saints. Each spirit has his or her own personality, just as a human with very specific likes and dislikes. Each Loa has its own symbols that are used in Voodoo rituals as well as specific dances and music. Webster University lists all the Loa by name along with their quirks for rituals, special objects, such as a conch shell used during a Voodoo ritual to call the spirit Agwe: (Agive) or that Ogoun's favorite day is Wednesday. Some loa are inseparable like Sogbo (lightning) and Agau (violent tremors and thunder). It's knowing, honoring and adhering to these nuances that give the ceremony its best possible outcome.

How Spirits Interact With the Possessed

If the spirits accept the invitation into the circle, one or more of the dancers will often fall to the ground in what appears to be convulsions. Their dancing mates will assist them in regaining their footing and according to those who've witnessed this ritual, the person will begin to move and act differently as the spirit takes control of his or her body.

Tribal ceremony

Spirit Personalities

According to Lowenthal, much of the reaction of the possessed depends on which spirit enters the body. Some spirits are gentle and their presence is more subtle and easier in movements. Other spirits are energetic, stronger and even aggressive in nature; their presence is more visible in the actions of the possessed.

Speaking in Tongues

Most of the possessed experience glossolalia (speaking in tongues). This phenomenon is often witnessed in other religions, including Christianity. The purpose of the possession is for the spirit to communicate more easily with the person. The spirit may advise the possessed about his problems, give a prophecy or warning. Sometimes the communication is in the form of a dream. Often the priest or priestess receives messages from the spirit(s). According to Dr. Gerald Murray of the University of Florida (Voodoo in Haiti), the main purpose of the possession is to assist in diagnosing and healing illnesses.

Black Magic and Voodoo

The ancient form of Voodoo had none of the Hollywood trappings of Voodoo dolls, zombies and other black magic manifestations, however, these do exist in modern Voodoo. According to Dr. Murray, a Voodoo doll isn't necessary. Simple items from the intended victim, such as hair, fingernail clippings or a piece of clothing are sufficient for casting a spell.

Black Magic

Black magic rituals for possessing another person aren't considered impossible but aren't the mainstream of Voodoo. Black magic and white magic are two distinct areas and most who practice white magic avoid black magic completely. Most Vodou priests and priestesses don't delve into these areas, although some do.

Voodoo Curses

Still, there are cases of people professing to be cursed or possessed by Voodoo magic. Possession isn't confined to Voodoo. Most of the world's religions embrace this belief, especially the Catholic Church with demonic possession.

Signs of Black Magic Possession

Many believe that the spirits are so powerful they can possess a corpse and make it move to its demands. The tales of zombies follow Voodoo and one scientist claims that these can be traced to a potion made from a puffer fish.

Voodoo Zombies

Ethnobotanist and anthropologist Dr. Wade Davis proposes that the potion is the method used to create zombie-like effects. Davis contends that it's through this potion that the person succumbs to the will of the sorcerer. Davis's theory is considered controversial among some scientists.

There is a litany of symptoms of possession through black magic Voodoo. A few of those include:

  • Insomnia
  • Severe fatigue
  • Onset of fear
  • Lack of interest in life
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unfounded anger and irritation
  • Dry mouth at night
  • Obesity or weight loss
  • Tightness in body parts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unable to dream or recall dreams
  • Career setbacks
  • Financial losses

There are other stages in a possession process that take the person in a downward spiral of bad health, illness, disease and eventual death.

How to Counter a Black Magic Voodoo Spell

Most Voodoo practitioners advise seeking the help of a Voodoo priest or priestess to break the spell. Both are believed to have direct lines to the spirit world. The spirits are there to help and heal, so most people turn to the priestess or priest for assistance.

  • If you know that a specific personal object of yours has been taken to evoke a spell, you will be advised to withdraw your spiritual attachment or connection to it.
  • You may be given a protection talisman to keep on your person as well as a potion for casting a spell.
  • Voodoo priests and priestesses know the art of uncrossing a spell and much of that knowledge is either secret or resides in the spirit world.

Possession for Healing and Wisdom

To understand the purpose and function of Voodoo possession in its intended form you must understand the basis of the Voodoo religion. The premise of Voodoo is to blend the spiritual world with the physical world in an effort to further individual growth. The spirit world in Voodoo is invited to "ride" the individual like a horse, to eat the foods prepared and to impart wisdom, advice and healing energy to the ill and suffering.

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What Is Voodoo Possession? Exploration of Rituals