What Is Voodoo?
If you ask most people what the word Voodoo conjures to mind, chances are you're going to get a whirlwind description of practitioners sacrificing goats and chickens, having bloody orgies, summoning the dead and being possessed by spirits. For the most part, all of these are contrivances of Hollywood rather than the truths of Haiti. If you want to find out what Voodoo is actually all about, you just need to come at the question with a fresh perspective and an open mind to the facts.
Voodoo, which might originally have been called Vodun which roughly means spirit, is a religion whose roots reach back to Africa. When African slaves were sold to white masters that sent the slaves to the Caribbean they already had their own form of shamanism as a religion. In an attempt to stamp out the pagan religion, Catholics educated the slaves in the way of their brand of Christianity. Rather than simply toss their own faith aside for another though, the slaves, particularly in Haiti which is considered the birthplace of Voodoo, blended them together. So depending on your viewpoint Voodoo as a faith is either several hundred years old, or several thousand years old based on how far you're tracing the roots.
What Voodoo believes is actually relatively simple to understand once you look at the faith. Voodoo believes in a single divine creator or force that made the world. Voodoo believes that all things are interconnected, which means that all actions you take towards others you are in fact taking towards yourself. Voodoo believes that there is a connected web that acts like fate, and that all things which happen will happen for a reason. Voodoo believes in spirits called the Loa, which are similar to saints and angels in the Christian power structure. These are broad brush strokes that paint a general image of Voodoo, but there's certainly nothing inherently sinister in it any more than there is in any other religion.
The detail that catches most people's eye about Voodoo though is the magic. Called Hoodoo, the magic spells and rituals that one can find in Voodoo are wide and varied. The symbolism, drawing as it does from Catholicism and African roots, includes a number of esoteric references. Colors, shapes, motions, words and symbols are all commonly used in Voodoo rituals, with personal possessions being heavily focused on for spells that are meant to affect someone personally. It is possible to practice Hoodoo without being a believer in the fiath of Voodoo, but this is not as common as someone who practices both.
Voodoo as a religion has been officially sanctioned in Haiti since 2003, and it's currently in widespread use in Brazil and parts of America such as Louisiana. Like many pagan faiths, Voodoo has been the subject of rumor and speculation for a long time. All of this has caused a mist of assumptions and urban legends to cloud what Voodoo really is, and it's left behind images of walking dead, sold souls and demonic possessions which are the ghosts that haunt mass culture and cover up the truths that are buried right beneath your feet.