(Published in GralsWelt 42/2007)
Voodoo and Co.
Various religions claim to be growing rapidly, while others - including Christianity in Europe - have to put up with withdrawals and loss of prestige. Perhaps the fastest growing religion, which in some countries is even in the process of pushing back Christianity, is hardly known to us: the mixing of African religions with Catholicism and Indian mythology; sometimes with Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and other ideas: These "Afro-American cults" are named, depending on the region of their origin, Voodoo, Santeria, Candomblé, Umbanda, etc., to name just a few of the most important. They spread particularly in Central and South America, but also in North America and Africa.
A symbiosis of Christianity and tribal religion
The slaves who were deported from (mainly West) Africa to America from the 16th century onwards brought their own religious ideas with them, of which little is known. They probably believed in a "supreme being" above all other gods and spirits:
“This highest deity ... .. was considered the creator of the universe and all living things. According to a widespread belief, after the work of creation, she withdrew from the world, which is why there seems to have been no cult of her own. Rather, the cultic veneration is directed towards a multitude of mostly anthropomorphic (human-like) presented deities who were subordinate to the sublime 'highest' divine being. " (7, p. 15).
When they arrived at the slave markets, the deported black Africans were usually baptized and then distributed to their workplaces in plantations, factories, mines or households regardless of their origin, mother tongue or family ties.
Their instruction in Christianity was mostly limited to those biblical statements that justify slavery and call for obedience. When slaves got together to dance in their scant free time, they were seen as a sign of good humor without knowing the cultic meaning of the dance in African traditions.
A syncretistic religion
Almost all world religions are syncretistic, ie they have developed from other religions or have absorbed elements of other religious ideas. It is undisputed that Christianity emerged from Judaism and that Islam originally saw itself as a further connection between Judaism and Christianity.
In the Afro-American cults, which only emerged in the last few centuries, especially in the New World, but also in a comparable form in Africa, the connection between African natural religion and Christian thought becomes clear.
In the Catholic countries of Latin America, old African rituals were mixed with Christian teachings to create new religions, the following of which is expanding: Originally it was only African slaves and their descendants, i.e. especially the poorest of the poor, but in the course of the 20th century they increased Measures also supporters among the white middle class, even among intellectuals, politicians and economic leaders (7, p. 8).
Since the middle of the 20th century, the Afro-American religions came to the USA, mainly through migrants from Cuba. Most recently, the gods and spirits of Africa were discovered as tourist attractions.
Afro-American New Religions
There are numerous religious or cultic groups that emerged - more or less independently of one another - in different regions. Mostly there is only loose contact between the individual “temples” or congregations, so that there cannot be any doctrines that are accepted by all or any binding theology.
The most important groups are Voodoo (Haiti), Santeria (Cuba), Candomblé and Umbanda (Brazil).
The focus of this form of religiosity is belief in transcendence, sacrifices and rituals. These are grassroots movements that arise from popular religiosity and usually do not form any opposition to the rulers. Nor are they satanic cults, even if one or the other group may have drifted into Satanism, and missionaries often demonized religious rituals that they did not understand without hesitation.
The Afro-American religions teach belief in "spirits" or higher beings of various kinds that come from the pre-colonial African religion. Their images have mixed with those of Christian saints and their names are different in the different regions. In addition to these "spirits", the ancestors or ancestral spirits are also important. Some religious scholars therefore speak of "ancestral cults".
These “gods”, “spirits” or “ancestors” are omnipresent and intervene in people's lives; they can help or punish. It is therefore wise to secure their favors by paying them the expected respect, making offerings, and observing religious and moral commandments. In order to placate angry deities who may have sent a disease as punishment, one must contact them. This is done in a ceremony with the help of a priest.
In the typical rituals, connections are sought to the “spirits” who (temporarily) take possession of the body of a person who has fallen into a trance. Such trance phenomena are shown with preference in film and television: dancers who - intoxicated by drum rhythms, have lost control of body and consciousness and are at the mercy of a “spirit”.
There is also a path of initiation, on which people who come into closer contact with a “spirit” are gradually introduced into the spirit world. This initiation is seldom voluntary. It is arduous and costly, and the initiate must assume obligations to his "temple".
For enlightened Westerners it is difficult to understand the numerous uses of sympathetic magic, which serve a wide variety of purposes: from cursing an enemy, warding off a harmful spell, through love spell to the healing of illnesses.
The use of "white" or "black" magic to achieve extraordinary things in a supernatural way is a hot topic of discussion in books on voodoo. European voodoo followers mostly reject the use of black magic. It should not be overlooked that anyone who practices a magical ritual may surrender to foreign influences that they cannot reliably control.
The zombies have also become popular with us through scary stories. There are supposedly two types:
On the one hand disembodied souls who serve a (malicious) magician and have to support him in his black magic practices.
The second type of zombies usually appears in relevant horror films: corpses awakened to soulless life by magical arts, which have to serve the magician as mindless slaves. In Haiti, for example, there are stories of the dead who have been enslaved by a magician, and there is widespread fear that you or a loved one will fall into the clutches of a black magician and become a zombie.
The French spiritualist Hyppolite Léon Denizard Rivail (1804-1869) had received messages from an otherworldly since 1855, who identified himself as a druid by the name of Allan Kardec.
The spiritualistic messages of this alleged druid were published under the title “Le livre des esprits” (The Book of Spirits) with Kardec as the author. This script, which received little attention in Europe, gained a dominant influence on spiritism in Latin America, and became a fundamental religious book of "Cardezism". Umbanda developed from a connection between this spiritualism (Cardezism) and Candomblé.
Magic in Upper Bavaria?
Religious scholars see magic as the oldest and most original expression of religiosity: fertility, hunting success, happy partnership, health (avoidance of illness) in humans and animals, averting storms and catastrophes, are important concerns in all cultures, at all times. Since the Paleolithic Age, people have tried to fulfill these deeply rooted desires - as has been clearly demonstrated - with magical practices that have been preserved in many religious customs, as well as in popular beliefs and superstitions, to this day.
Here is an example of a “voodoo-like” incantation from the 19th century, in which the “magician” is a Catholic clergyman:
“… Everyone knows that there were and are clergymen who avert thunderstorms with prayers and magic spells. In the Bavaria one can read that such clergymen depend more on a certain innate magical power than on an acquired knowledge related to it.
My experiences among the people speak against this opinion. The blessing of the weather requires a very specific 'study', but unfortunately only a few are now responsible for this. One of the former pastors of Schliersee is said to have understood this useful art very well. Often he succeeded in being able to 'ummisegnen' the thunderstorm from the Brecherspitze and the grass pastures and Schliersee gardens into the forests of the Baumgarten and Kreuzberg. The 'ummisegnen' is not to be seen here as an outflow of that piety to which we owe the beautiful saying: 'O holy Florian, spare my house, set others on fire!' of the Alps. However, in neighboring communities, one of which is knowledgeable about the other, the other has an ignorant weather blessing, it can happen that the devastation intended for one hallway from above is averted by pious sayings on the fields of the other - after the weather has changed has to unload its icy load somewhere.
'Ummisegnen' really only consists in the art of driving away the witches who make the weather. Because a thunderstorm is nothing more than the infernal concert of these damned women. And that's precisely why it's hard work - the invisible choir wants to whirl the priest away with it, pull him into the wild gejaid.
That is why he must always have one or more pious people around him to hold him tight while he reads his formulas from a book. In spite of this, it happens that the violence of the demons throws him up high from the ground. "
(Heinrich Noe: "Bayerisches Seenbuch", 1865, reprint Hugendubel, Munich, undated, p. 152)
Heinrich Noe (1835-1896) was court and state librarian in Munich and is said to have spoken seventeen languages. Then he wrote landscape books as a freelance writer, which are among the classics of alpine travel literature.
In Europe - mostly just by name - Voodoo is best known, with its nightly ceremonies that begin with prayers and clapping of hands. Then rattles and drums set in in trance rhythms and drown out the chants ...
Animal sacrifices (chickens, goats, bulls, pigs) usually take place before the public festival begins. During the ritual slaughter, blood from the sacrificed animal is drunk, which is said to be a special carrier of spiritual energy. The often repeated claim is that people were also sacrificed in the past; especially since human sacrifice or ritual cannibalism were common in the culture of the pre-Columbian American peoples.
These dark rituals also attract modern people who are fascinated by the magical practices, and "Spiritual power in rituals" feel (6, p. 54). Voodoo believers can be found in major American or European cities, as well as shops that sell voodoo dolls and other voodoo accessories.
Woodoo rhythms reportedly also inspired popular music such as blues, jazz, rock and roll. In the lyrics of some singers, images and metaphors should appear, as they also occur in woodoo rituals, and individual texts appear downright satanistic (1, p. 423).
Back to the roots
In the Afro-American religions that are spreading and are about to be recognized as a religion in some states (as already happened in Benin (West Africa)), one can see a connection between the spiritual consciousness of two cultures.
The ancestors who had been torn from their African homeland passed on their rituals and religious experiences from generation to generation until these merged with Christian ideas to form new multicultural religions. The ways of thinking, customs, rites, and traditions of the former oppressors are not taken over in an undifferentiated manner, but are sought after one's own identity, the form of belief that is suitable for one's own group.
Until well into the 20th century, the Afro-American cults could only be practiced in secret, as they were banned almost everywhere - both in America and in Africa. The development of these diverse religions is still in flux. Umbanda, for example, strives for a uniform priestly training and theology, which in the long term would then lead to bureaucratic forms that are detrimental to spirituality.
Like all religions, these cults, alien to us, also promote cohesion between ethnic and social groups, create identity and overcome racial barriers between their adherents; they are therefore also of political relevance.
Perhaps it is interesting to mention in this context that some religious scholars are of the opinion that globalization can only be successful in our multicultural world if a religion that is acceptable for all ethnicities and creeds forms the peace-building bracket between the various peoples .
However, that would have to be a comprehensive high religion, not a synthesis of a world religion with archaic mystical-magical practices that are hardly acceptable to the majority of modern people.
(1) Baigent, Michael / Leigh Richard, classified material magic, DroemerKnaur, Munich 1997.
(2) Brackmann Richard W., The Umbanda cult in Brazil, special print from Staden-Jahrbuch, Volume 7/8, 1959/60.
(3) Burkhart Gregor, Die Kinder Omulús, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 1994.
(4) Drehsen Volker, Dictionary of Christianity, Orbis, Munich 1995.
(5) Henning Christoph / Oberländer Hans, Voodoo, Taschen, Cologne 1995.
(6) Neimark Philip J., Die Kraft der Orischa, OW Barth, Munich 1996.
(7) Reuter Astrid, Voodoo, CH Beck, Munich, 2003.