Haitian Vodou (also spelled Voodoo, or Vodun) is one of the most fascinating and misunderstood religious practices in the world. Usually associated with things like curses or zombies by most people in the United States, Vodou is actually a combination of Catholicism and indigenous West African religious beliefs. While the fastest way to learn about Vodou would be to join a Haitian-American religious community that practices it, many people who are interested do not have a nearby community to learn from. If this is your situation, however, do not despair; with work, you too can become a vodouisant.

Research the basic beliefs and history of Vodou in Haiti. The books in the materials list labeled "Intro" are good for this purpose. Keep a journal of your thoughts while you read: write down ideas you feel strongly about, make sketches or anything else. Consider whether you feel a connection to the beliefs and rituals you read about. Because practicing Vodou is an intense commitment, it is probably best if you only proceed to Step 2 if you feel strongly about it.

Build an altar. This is a very individualized project, and every practitioner's altar will look different. The books labeled "Altar," as well as the ones you've already read, are a good place to start thinking about how you want your altar to look. Things you might want to include are prayer candles, offering plates, images of saints or spirits you wish to make offerings to, incense holders or items of personal importance.

Start performing rituals. By this point, you may have already tried performing some of the Vodou rituals you've read about; if not, it's time to start. Pick a spirit (or loa) you feel close to, and begin making offerings to the spirit. Kenaz Filan's book is an excellent resource for learning the basics, and as you develop relationships with your patron spirits you will develop your own style. If you start feeling particularly drawn to a certain loa, read more about that spirit. Some suggestions are included in the materials list.

Find a teacher and religious community. Ultimately Vodou is a religion that is centered around community. While you can perform some rituals by yourself, almost all of the important ones require a group. Also, because of Vodou's history as a religion of the poor and oppressed, there is a great deal of information that is only transmitted orally.

Items you will need

  • The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan (Intro)

  • Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston (Intro)

  • Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren (Intro)

  • Vodou: Visions and Voices of Haiti by Phyllis Galembo (Intro)

  • The Master Book of Candle Burning by Henri Gamache (Altar)

  • Spirits in Sequins: Vodou Flags of Haiti by Nancy Josephson (Altar)

  • Africa's Ogun: Old World and New by Sandra T. Barnes

  • Our Lady of Class Struggle: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Haiti by Terry Rey

  • Sango in Africa and the African Diaspora by Joel E. Tishkin

Tip

  • When looking for a teacher, be on the lookout for scams. While almost all priests ask for donations, someone who seems overly eager for your money is probably not legitimate.