Haitian Vodou is a very complex religion, incorporating many religious beliefs within it, including Catholicism and some African peoples’ beliefs. Like much of what we have previously studied, symbolism and rituals play a huge role in the connections of cultures, and in this case religion as well.
There are many ideas relating Vodou religion to Catholicism. A major relationship is seen between the Lwa and Catholic saints by means of iconography, such as lithographs on the shrine wall. Some of the symbols incorporated into Haitian religion from Catholicism include the keys, snake, and staff as well. An example of where this can be seen is in the scene in which a possessed Azaka is being represented by Malant Pierre in a shrine holding a picture of a Catholic saint as well as a bag that can be used to hold ritual items. Another relationship between Haitian Vodou religion and Catholicism is between the transformation of the Eucharist during Mass into the actual body of Christ and the Vodou spirits possessing a person transforming them into that spirit. More Catholic influences are seen in their depictions that clearly resemble the Madonna and child. However, a major difference is that while Catholics focus of worship, the Vodou religion puts emphasis on integrating spirits into everyday life. This can be seen in the African communities as well.
Spirits play a huge role in the societies of both the African peoples and the Haitian Vodou religion. In both cultures dance and ritual movements are incorporated by both men and women for various reasons. Chants and songs are found in both cultures as a way of praising spirits and asking for protection. Offerings and sacrifices can be seen as well. Another connection between Vodou and African beliefs is how a person can be taken over by a spirit. While the Haitian people don’t use the term “God”, they have spirits that closely relate to the Gods of fertility and agriculture seen in African spirituality. They both also have a “trickster”. The Haitians refer to the family of trickster spirits as Gede. Legba can be compared with the African spirit Eshu as well because they both are who a person needs to go through to communicate with a higher power. A couple characteristics of the Haitian culture that stick out to me as connecting with the African cultures is the symbols of Olokun that represent the crossroads, which have no connection with but seem to resemble the symbols found on batiks. Another similarity is in the use of scarification, even though it is seen on figures in African society rather than on humans.
Even though there are many obvious differences between these religions, it’s interesting to see how a religion such as the Haitian Vodou religion can form from the obvious integration and influences of other religions, especially Catholicism and some African peoples’ beliefs.