Haitian Vodou, also written as Voodoo, Vodun, or Vodoun, is a syncretic religion practiced chiefly in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Practitioners are called "vodouists" or "servants of the spirits".
Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable creator god, Bondye. As Bondye does not intercede in human affairs, vodouists direct their worship toward spirits subservient to Bondye, called loa. Every loa is responsible for a particular aspect of life, with the dynamic and changing personalities of each loa reflecting the many possibilities inherent to the aspects of life over which they preside. In order to navigate daily life, vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the loa through the presentation of offerings, the creation of personal altars and devotional objects, and participation in elaborate ceremonies of music, dance, and spirit possession.
Vodou originated in the French slave colony of Saint-Domingue in the 18th century, when African religious practice was actively suppressed, and enslaved Africans were forced to convert to Christianity. Religious practices of contemporary Vodou are descended from, and closely related to, West African Vodun as practiced by the Fon and Ewe. Vodou also incorporates elements and symbolism from other African peoples including the Yorùbá and Bakongo; as well as Taíno religious beliefs, and European spirituality including Roman Catholic Christianity, European mysticism, Freemasonry, and other influences.
Vodou has often been associated in popular culture with Satanism, zombies and "voodoo dolls". Zombie creation has been referenced within rural Haitian culture, but is not a part of Vodou. Such manifestations fall under the auspices of the bokor or sorcerer, rather than the priest of the Loa. The practice of sticking pins in voodoo dolls has history in folk magic. "Voodoo dolls" are often associated with New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo as well the magical devices of the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa.
The general fear of Vodou in the US can be traced back to the End of the Haitian Revolution (1791). There is a legend that Haitians were able to beat the French during the Haitian Revolution because their Vodou deities made them invincible. The US, seeing the tremendous potential Vodou had for rallying its followers and inciting them to action, feared the events at Bois-Caiman could spill over onto American soil. Fearing an uprising in opposition to the US occupation of Haiti, political and religious elites, along with Hollywood and the film industry, sought to trivialize the practice of Vodou. After the Haitian Revolution many Haitians fled as refugees to New Orleans. Free and enslaved Haitians who moved to New Orleans brought their religious beliefs with them and reinvigorated the Voodoo practices that were already present in the city. Eventually, Voodoo in New Orleans became hidden and the magical components were left present in the public sphere. This created what is called hoodoo in the southern part of the United States. Because hoodoo is folk magic, Voodoo and Afro-diasporic religions in the U.S. became synonymous with fraud. This is one origin of the stereotype that Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, and hoodoo are all tricks used to make money off of the gullible.
The elites preferred to view it as folklore in an attempt to render it relatively harmless as a curiosity that might continue to inspire music and dance. Hollywood often depicts Vodou as evil and having ties to Satanic practices in movies such as "The Skeleton Key", "The Devil’s Advocate", "The Blair Witch Project", "The Serpent and the Rainbow", "Child's Play", "Live and Let Die", and in children’s movies like "The Princess and the Frog".
In 2010, following the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti, negative attention to Vodou also followed. One of the more notable examples would be of televangelist Pat Robertson’s televised discourse on the subject. Robertson stated that the country had cursed itself after the events at Bois-Caiman because he claimed they had engaged in Satanic practices in the ceremony preceding the Haitian Revolution. He claimed that the Haitians asked the devil to get rid of the French for them, in exchange for their services. The devil agreed and helped them kick the French out of the country and the Haitians revolted and freed themselves, but ever since they have been cursed. What the hell, man, literally!