Hollywood has explored and most likely influenced us with themes pertaining to the darker side of voodoo, prompting us to associate the practice with black magic, the conjuring of evil spirits, and animal sacrifice.
Anyone who watched American Horror Story: Coven may never forget the images of Marie Laveau and Papa Legba, and The Skeleton Key was an effectively chilling horror about the legacy of voodoo in the dark, dank places between the bayous...
The Voodoo tradition does emphasize magical power and it is the understanding or misunderstanding of this that causes fear, ultimately shaping they way we think of this mysterious practice.
The Practice of Voodoo
Popular belief holds that Voodoo ascribes magical properties to herbs, roots, animal parts, and personal possessions, with some spells even making use of bodily fluids and the blood of animals.
Spells are typically carried out with accompanying Biblical texts, but are generally not performed in the name of Jesus.
The recording of Papa Justify's chanting in The Skeleton Key is an impression of what ritual chanting would sound like, and it is definitely terrifying to listen to.
The intention behind the practice is to allow people to harness supernatural forces in order to improve their daily lives or even hex the lives of their enemies.
As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals then speaking and acting through them.
Queen of the Voodoos
Marie Laveau was the source of hundreds of tales of terror and wonder in New Orleans.
Born in Santo Domingo in 1794, her father was white and she was born a free woman. She supposedly started her practice of voodoo in 1830 and fast became the New Orleans voodoo queen.
Marie worked as a hairdresser, which took her into the homes of the affluent, where she reportedly developed a network of informants; this detail is recreated to great effect in American Horror Story: Coven.
“No event in any household in New Orleans was a secret from Marie Laveau”
She parlayed her knowledge into a position of considerable influence, telling fortunes, giving advice on life, love, and business, and aiding those that were in need of a cure, hex, or charm... for the right price, or sacrifice.
In American Horror Story: Coven a woman goes to Marie Laveau for a fertility spell and they depict a ritual around a fire that consists of blood, semen, animal sacrifice, and religious chanting, all of which are present in popular assumptions about voodoo practice.
Marie Laveau rests in a tomb in the Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans and it is believed by some that her spirit can be invoked to grant wishes and that she continues her work from beyond the grave.
Voodoo dolls are allegedly an object used by a person practicing voodoo, usually to cause harm to another human. Popular believe is that if you pierce the doll with a pin, you will cause pain the person in whose likeness the doll was made.
To make the voodoo doll complete, you will also require some of the victim's DNA, such as a strand of hair or a drop of blood, to ensure they will feel the effects from the doll.
Voodoo Gone Wrong
In 2010, it was thought by locals that voodoo was the cause of the deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti.
Even though more than half of Haiti's nearly 10 million people are believed to practice voodoo, panicked mobs killed at least 45 male and female voodoo priests in an attempt to stop the disease spreading.
The practice had allowed such a dark grip to take hold of the population that the the voodoo victims were hung or violently hacked to death by machetes.
Voodoo Priest's Sex Ritual Leads To Apartment Fire
In 2011 an elderly woman was found dead in Brooklyn, New York after a fire triggered by a voodoo ceremony caused a blaze in an apartment that burned 11 apartments and left dozens homeless.
Man Kills Himself And Kids
Believing he had been cursed by voodoo, Frantz Bordes from Staten Island drowned his two children in a bathtub before jumping in front of a train and killing himself in 2006.
Apparently, Bordes left suicide notes saying that voodoo was being 'worked on him' by a relative and that 'they' were trying to destroy him and 'most of all they used voodoo.'
There are many versions of the myths and practices of voodoo and although the religious aspects may indeed be free of black magic and sacrifice, the truth is that popular beliefs have caused fear and frenzy in many people and caused them to do unthinkable things.