Voodoo (Vodun) originated in the 18th and 19th centuries in the West African kingdom of Dahomey. Spanish slave traders brought inhabitants of Dahomey to North America, and the majority of these people ended up in Haiti.
While Haiti is predominantly Roman Catholic, a hybrid form of Catholic Voodoo continues today. And Haiti’s first Catholic cardinal calls it a “big social problem.”¹
Voodooists believe in a variety of spiritual beings as well as two human souls. One soul, the gros bon ange is free to wander at night. Like the ancient Chinese, Voodooists believe that the dreamer will die if this soul does not return to the body before waking.
The other soul, the petite bon ange, may remain near its former body after death for a relatively short while, or possibly transform into an inanimate object or animal, such as a snake.
Voodoo also involves singing, rhythmic dancing and divination. Voodoo mythology emphasizes the theme of sex and death, which David Leeming says parallels the West Indian trickster Gede.² The celebrated mythographer Joseph Campbell says this theme is almost universal. He calls it the Love-Death.
Today, the popular idea of Voodoo inspires artists, writers, gamers, fans of zombie lore—the list goes on. And as the 21st century becomes more violent, chaotic and (visibly) perverse, the old themes of sex and violence are still box office favorities.
Campbell, Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade believe that if we don’t collectively represent this dark shadow material, it could drive us mad. So maybe sex and violence in the entertainment industry isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
² Like most tricksters, Gede shakes up the psyche, allowing individuals to penetrate hidden layers of the unconscious and beyond. See David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 398.