Voodoo verses Obeah…

Voodoo is the product of the slave trade (principally in the Spanish and French colonies in the Caribbean), and derives from vodu, meaning spirit or deity in the Fon language of Dahomey, now part of Nigeria. Creole slave masters in the New World translated the word into vaudau, and eventually became known as voudou, voudoun, vodoun, voodoo, and hoodoo. Whites forbade their slaves to practice their Voodoo religion on pain of torture and death. Any slave found possessing a fetish (sacred objects such as dolls, carved images, animal teeth, claws or bones) was to be imprisoned, hanged, or flayed alive. Seems like the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, don’t you think?

To save black souls, the masters baptized the slaves as Catholics. Tribal deities took on the forms of Catholic saints, and fetishes were replaced by Catholic statues, candles, and holy relics. Voodoo therefore consists of both traditional West African beliefs blended with local variations, and also of various magical techniques employed to achieve certain ends, including the descent of the gods into individual worshippers to give oracles and to provide protection. These magical techniques are known as Obeah.

There are many theories about the origins of Obeah, even the word itself. There are many words in
many West African languages that have ‘obi’ or ‘obea’ in theme that are connected to mysticism. Since many Igbo people were taken to the West Indies as slaves though, the term most likely originated from the Igbo word ‘obia’ which means working as a healer or doctor. Some call it sorcery or witchcraft, however unlike some western forms of witchcraft, it also does not come from an attitude of the Spirits serving the person, but the person serving the Spirits. Obeah practitioners would consider it unthinkable to summon a demon and give it orders as if it was obligated to obey. Like any Voodoo practitioner, if they’re calling on a Spirit, they follow the proper procedure, approach with humility, and do not show up empty handed.

In the third instalment of The Last Timekeepers time travel adventure series, The Last Timekeepersand the Noble Slave, my character Henri is a mulatto slave driver who’s originally from Louisiana, and practices Voodoo. Louisiana Voodoo (a.k.a. New Orleans Voodoo) developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole population of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is often confused with—but not completely separable from—Haitian Voodoo and southern Hoodoo (folk magic). Henri’s practices differ from Voodoo in the emphasis upon his use of Gris-Gris (charm bags filled with magical powders, herbs, bones, feathers, and so on) and Voodoo dolls to control and manipulate the plantation slaves.

In contrast, another character—a slave from Jamaica named Eilish, practices Obeah. She embodies what it is to be ‘Obeah’ and believes no human is stronger than Nature itself, and that every action has consequences. Her biggest belief? Don’t do bad things to people. That’s it. To the Obeah, when you do bad things to people, you put a wound on your soul. Even in the scientific sense, harming others damages you psychologically. So the more wrong you do to others, the more vulnerable you become to the dark forces of Nature.

Speaking of dark forces, those who worship Voodoo may not all practice black magic, but darker aspects of Voodoo do exist. A practitioner known as a bokor is more involved in sorcery than healing, and their greatest fear is not a death curse but zombification. Now that’s what I’d call some badass karma! In the end, if you do your best to make up for your wrongs, you will be blessed in other ways. You will at least have peace and be stronger for what you have learned.