Voodoo World: Red Magic, Folklore, & Zombies
Red Magic, Folklore & Legends, & of course, Zombies
Its power will leave you breathless. Take a moment, breathe, inhale, hold it, now exhale.
Look around you.
Do you see the folklore, legends, and over there, a few undead.
Voodoo Versus Black Magic
Voodoo was a religion that was not evil, but just another cultural variant of looking at the afterlife. Black magic, however, was considered self-centered, and voodoo defined any selfish intent evil.
Black magic was associated with the color black, because it was thought of as dark, shady, and something done in the shadows. The color associated with evil in voodoo was red rather than black, possibly because of the red eyes that evil spirits portrayed during possession.
The people from Haiti and New Orleans shared many common ideas, such as the women having a dominant role, using visual and rhythmic forms of communication with spirits, and both were imbedded with folklore. Christianity and voodoo both viewed any evil intent that harmed others as wrong. Just as magic contained white and black magic, voodoo had elements of the left-hand (black) and right-hand (white) path, and it was not just viewed as good voodoo, or evil voodoo.
A large proportion of practitioners of Voodoo chose good, however, a few shamans were inclined towards evil. Most priests would never fulfill a selfish request, and would only practice for the good of humanity. However, if a person was persistent, someone may direct them to a witchdoctor who carried out an evil, intended for mere personal gain.
In New Orleans, a male shaman or priest was known as a Doctor, and the priestess, a Queen. The glamorized view of voodoo portrayed a shaman as someone who does with the spirits according to what they please. This was an incorrect depiction. The witchdoctor cannot guarantee that the spirit would comply with anyone’s wish, rather the witchdoctor allowed the spirit to use its body to communicate and sometimes to take part in rituals.
On the other hand, in Haiti, the male priest was known as a houngan, and the priestess was known as a mambo. Bokor was also a name for voodoo practitioners, but they weren’t always priests, and sometimes did hexes and curses for their own gain. Bokors were often the darkest, most feared shamans in all of voodoo.
A gris-gris was an object superimposed with a spell, and it was believed that gris-gris automatically contained a supernatural element. Voodoo was centered around the idea of the gris-gris. Good gris-gris were known as juju, and bad gris-gris, mojo. Gris-gris meant “gray-gray”, because the object in the ritual could be used for good or evil, depending on the circumstance, which made the power of gris-gris a grey area, as opposed to white or black.
Rabbit paws, chicken feet, and monkey feet, bones, and feathers were all objects one might find among the shaman’s gris-gris collection. Sometimes they were worn around the neck, and sometimes they were put under a mattress or kept in a pocket. Jujus were used for luck, peace, finances, love, and positive things.
Mojos were used for fear, illness, misfortune, and negative things. Other forms of gris-gris may be something like a broom straw, a horseshoe, or an alligator head hung over a door. It is argued that voodoo is rarely used for evil, but some of the most popular stories of interest seem to contradict this statement. For this reason, the uses of voodoo were defended and disputed. Love and sex; power and domination; fortune and luck; undoing other gris-gris and hexes: those were all valid reasons of use.
None of these things were evil of themselves, but the sorcerer chose to use his power of intent either way. Practitioners maintained that no true voodoo priest or priestess would ever use these powers for evil, but that idea discredited many of the most popular voodoo priests and priestesses in history! However, the sorcerer often justified the “wrong doing” by turning it into something with a positive outcome.
Bokors were often seen as the darkest characters in all of voodoo, because many would worship the devil, encourage criminal rings, practice in cemeteries, and supposedly turn people into snakes, bats, zombies, etc. These sorcerers would make powders out of cemetery dirt, human bones, and natural poison.
The bokor may find sneaky ways to infect someone with the powder, such as spreading it across a doorstep, or the person’s path. There were many stories about bokors sending evil spirits out to haunt people, and to drive them insane, kill, or turn them into zombies. They also may use dolls that were personalized with gris-gris and spells and had were stuck with several stickpins, commonly known as a “voodoo doll”. People wrongly believed that the pins in the voodoo dolls correlated with pain inflicted on the area of a victim. Often the doll being used wasn’t associated with pain, rather, personal items, such as a lock of hair, are pinned to personalize it.
The Legends of Voodoo
In the 1800s, Marie Laveau was known as the Queen of Voodoo in New Orleans. This by virtue made her an ancestor spirit who was worshiped by present day voodoo practitioners. She was born from a biracial family in 1794 from in the French Quarters of New Orleans. She was a devout Catholic, married a man from Haiti who died within the next year, and later married a white man reportedly having over a dozen children with him.
Laveau was born a femme de colour libre, which meant “free woman of color”. A free black woman was unique from many black women who, during this time, were part of a placage (mistress) system that had pervaded the New Orleans culture. The placage system was a system that allowed black women to be “placed with” a wealthy ethnic European man as a common law wife. These relationships were also called “left-hand marriages”, or mariages de la main gaucheor.
The multi-racial marriage mainly catered to light skinned, multi-racial black women, but other women of African or Indian decent could be a part of this system as well. The women in these marriages were called a placee, and were not legally considered wives. Yet, legal contracts were involved, and the incentive for women was that marriage gave them and their children property rights, and sometimes freedom, that is, if they had been enslaved.
The facts of Marie’s life were surprisingly unknown as little documentation exists, but there was certainly a lot of folklore that had come to surround her. It was known that the elites of New Orleans sought Marie Laveau hairdresser skills, and some historians have said that she used this popularity to become a confidant to her clients. The client requested voodoo services as well, and it has been suggested that Marie used the secrets she heard to blackmail people, which helped her rise in even more power.
Marie Laveau, some other known facts, was that she owned slaves which was part of the social strata in New Orleans. She also practiced New Orleans voodoo and while there were several queen of voodoos in the 1830s when she took over they faded to the background, or some say they were forced brutally out of power. Marie organized the voodoo rituals in the designated area of New Orleans, grew in power, and within time, local politicians were giving her money to win elections while others came to her, seeking a love potion.
Marie became known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” and she was hated, loved, and feared.
Baron Samedi was depicted as a tall, handsome black man, wearing a top hat (white or black), a black tuxedo and dark glasses. He carried a cane and smoked cigars and was sometimes shown with cotton plugs in each nostril, reflecting the practice of Haitian burials.
Other representations showed Baron with a more skeletal appearance. He was regularly seen swigging alcohol (usually rum) and was known for dancing, disruption, obscenity and debauchery, none of which get in the way of his actual duties of healing those near or approaching death, as it was only Baron who accepted an individual into the realm of the dead.
Baron Samedi was found at the crossroads between the worlds of the living and the dead. When someone dies, he dug their grave and greeted their soul after they have been buried, leading them to the underworld.
Obviously, Baron Samedi was not a real person and he never existed, he was a spirit; but in Haitian culture, the people believed he inhabited people at moments. When people were possessed by his spirit, he was recognized to represent obscenity, disturbing the peace, degeneracy, wild dancing, and dirty jokes.
They said Baron spent most of his time in the invisible realm of spirits, and was notorious for his outrageous behavior, swearing continuously and made filthy jokes to the other spirits. He was married to another powerful spirit known as Maman Brigitte. He and Maman were rulers of the graves in the cemetery. Baron could heal any wound, give life if he chose, and was unbeatable when it came to fixing voodoo curses.
Despite the cursing, smoking and drinking, and ostentatious behaviors, Baron was considered wise and fair.
Wesner Morency was a contemporary Vodou Houngan, and founder of the Association of Lwa, or Vodou Church in Haiti. He worked with Max Beauvoir on many projects, most related to gaining an official acceptance of the Vodou religion by the Haitian government and securing the rights of Vodou practitioners.
Morency was a seminarian and was poised to become a Catholic priest before being called to found the Vodou Church in Haiti. His programs on both radio and television were, and still are, famous in Haiti. The religion of Vodou and Haiti lost a powerful Houngan and beloved friend when he passed away in 2007 due to coronary disease. His legacy still persists today in Haiti, and his contributions to the Vodou religion have been noted over many generations
Zombies & Squire John, a.k.a. “Bras Coupe”
Squire John, known to legend as “Bras Coupe” after his arm was broken during his escape from his master, subsisted for years in the swamps and bayous surrounding New Orleans; he employed his considerable knowledge of the local flora and his native powers to transform followers into “zombis,” amassing a small army of the living dead.
According to the composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who told the story of Bras Coupe in his Notes of a Pianist, the hoodoo man was finally caught and hung, but his body began to decompose immediately. Instead of hanging from the gallows in the Place d’Armes for the customary week, the body of Bras Coupe had to be removed after only one day. The stench and reek of the body was so offensive, that many firmly believed Bras Coupe had died long before his capture and that, indeed, it was a zombie that had been hung in the square.
Because there had been so many failed attempts to capture Bras Coupe – Gottschalk himself described the bullets of soldiers “flattening against the chest” of the great zombi leader and that he was impermeable to fire – the rumor spread quickly among the black community that the authorities had finally decided to beat the vodusi at his own game.
According to some accounts, the soldiers had employed the services of another little known, but widely feared hoodoo worker – specifically Alphonse Abelard Avetante, a French half-gypsy, half-Jewish magician, whom the local slaves and free people of color had dubbed “Doctor Cracker” because he was a white man.
The concept of zombies was rooted in Haitian voodoo. The bokor had the power to turn people into zombies. The zombies themselves were not feared, but rather the terror was being turned into a zombie and living the remainder of one’s life as a bokor’s slave, void of freewill or memory.
The “actual” meaning of the word zombie was disputed, but since the word meant spirit, a body with no soul hardly seemed plausible. Commonly, the zombie was considered to the enslavement of the spirit. For this reason, a body might be empty if the bokor had extracted the zombie astral (soul), and it’s often believed to be kept in a vessel, such as a jar in his possession.
The term “zombie” confused people because it specifically referred to the spirit. When using the word “zombie”: one may be referring to an individual body in addition to the spirit, the spirit of an individual alone, or may be referring to the body of a spirit who has been enslaved.
Haitians believe that a person’s soul was made up of two different parts. One of them was the ti-bon-ange, or the “little good angel”, and the other was the gros-bon-ange, which meant “big good angel.” The ti-bon-ange interacted with the conscience, which was similar to the idea of the good angel on one’s shoulder, or even a guardian angel. The ti-bon-ange was also commonly known as the “zombie astral”. The gros-bon-ange was the essential part of the soul that contained the character and freewill. If the gros-bon-ange lost contact with the ti-bon-ange, freewill was paralyzed, and one could not make conscious or just decisions.
It was believed when a person was possessed, he no longer had his own soul, but was possessed by a spirit. The eyes turned red if it the spirit was evil, and the spirit resided in the host would make itself known; but not all spirits were evil, so the eyes weren’t always red. If the dual soul disconnected during possession, a person would lose contact with the ti-bon-ange. The aid of bokor was necessary to reconnect the soul (gros-bon-ange) to the body once the spirit left. Only then may the two reconnect.
The bokor was often believed the only person in existence that could create zombies, and this idea was constantly disputed. According to legend, the sorcerer rode a horse backwards to the subject to be cursed as a zombie. The sorcerer came to the sleeping victim and sucked the victim’s soul out of a crack in the door and placed it into a jar which he quickly corked. He kept this jar in his possession.
Soon the person became sick and died. Since the bokor had possession of the soul, the body must answer his call when his grave was dug up again. After retrieval, the body was chained as a slave, dragged out of the grave, and beat around the head both to stun and revive him. The victim was taken to the voodoo temple for a dose of a secret drug. Many think it was a poison like belladonna or datura, but some say they were given drops off a corpse’s nose. To permanently secure the person’s soul, the bokor banished the victim’s soul into an insect. The victim was now a zombie, devoid of his own will, and forced to carry out whatever the sorcerer wills.
Someone who feared the bokor would raise his loved one had options. Prevention of zombification was possible by severing the head of a corpse, or stabbing the body in the heart, but that’s not all. Many elaborate precautions have been devised in the past to ensure a loved ones’ freshly buried body was safe from the bokor. Bodies were often buried under heavy stones, kept close to the family’s house, or placed in a traffic-heavy area, so the grave wouldn’t be robbed. Since the bokor can only use a freshly buried body, sometimes the body will be watched, until it’s certain that it cannot be used.
Impeding the bokor from rising one from the grave sometimes became quite grisly. Some people sewed shut the mouths and eyes of the body, buried the corpse face down in the dirt, and placed a dagger-like weapon with the body to protect it from the bokor’s call. Sometimes, a relative would shoot the their love one in the head, or inject the body with a poison to ensure endless death.
Once the person became a zombie though, he would never again regain consciousness, unless he tasted salt, coincidentally, a symbol for white magic. In this case, upon consciousness, a zombie may become aware that he was dead and return to the grave.
In witchcraft and black magic, it’s often said that the occultist had sold his soul to the devil, but in contrast, especially in Haitian voodoo, the bokor would sell the souls of friends and family until there were none left to sell and then they would become zombies. After he had no more souls to sacrifice, he would have to sell his own, and become a zombie himself.
Exit the Store
As you leave the store of Voodoo and sorcery, just one request, give wide berth to someone riding backwards on a horse, it just might a sorcerer searching to curse his next victim.
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