How do the great religions explain spirits


Voodoo orders the chaos

In the beginning, the great God created the world out of chaos, it says in Voodoo. He created it as two halves of a bulbous vessel, a calabash. Half for the spirits, half for the people. Both halves permeate each other: there is neither above nor below. No barrier between life and death.

The great God exists far away. His children, the Loa, serve as contact persons for the people. Legba mediates, for example, between the loa and the people. Ogun is the iron god, Sakpata the god of smallpox, Erzulie is the fertility goddess and Mami Wata is the mistress of the water. Almost 400 other loa, together with the ancestral spirits, take care of the fate of the voodoo followers or "voodoosi".

The voodoosi are quite pragmatic. Help either comes immediately - or not at all. Contact with the children of the gods is always a give and take: Those who want to be heard by the spirits have to make sacrifices, including animals, schnapps, cigars or perfumes.

The loa also have to provide something in return: Those who do not help will be forgotten and eventually disappear.

From Africa to the new world

Around 60 million people around the world profess voodoo today. The natural religion has its origin in Africa, in Benin. The state has been the center of the slave trade since the 16th century.

Around three million people are said to have been shipped from here to the New World. Before being transported away, the slaves on Oidah Beach had to go around the magical tree of oblivion in order to lose their identity, their beliefs and their roots forever.

But the voodoo belief was stronger than the magic of the slave traders: the voodoosi remained loyal to their gods even when they were abroad. In order to hide their forbidden gods, the slaves used the religious symbols of their masters: statues of the Virgin embodied the fertility goddess Erzulie, St. George became the god of hunting, and in Voodoo the cross represents the interface between the world of spirits and human beings.

Today, voodoo is widespread in large parts of West Africa, including Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Cameroon. Voodoosi live in South America, the Caribbean and also in the southern United States. In Benin and Haiti, voodoo is now a state-protected religion.

Everywhere the magical belief has mingled with the other prevailing religions. Voodoo contains elements from Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. In Benin one speaks of fifty-fifty believers: Christian or Muslim during the day - Voodoosi in the evening.

Trance: ghosts ride human horses

To show themselves, the loa occupy people: under the influence of drums and dances, individual voodoosi fall into a trance during the ceremonies. Their selves switch off, they become human horses on which a loa rides.

The ethnologist Henning Christoph reports how a man stabbed a large knife straight through his head during a funeral. The man was in a trance: Ogun rode him. Ogun's human horses often self-harm to demonstrate the power of their god and to keep witches away.

The other voodoosi carried the man around the grave for an hour. He's dead, thought Christoph. Then they pulled the knife out of the man's head. They covered the wounds with a paste. The man woke up, drank a beer and gave Christoph an interview. He was healthy, couldn't remember what had happened recently.

To fall into a trance - a voodoosi has to learn that first. Priests teach the aspiring Voodoosi for months in a kind of monastery. During this time they learn to put themselves into a trance state. If a trance fails, it can damage the psyche. Traumatized people in particular are susceptible to trance states. The trance helps them deal with their trauma.

The Fa Oracle

The priests use the Fa oracle to clarify questions: two chains with a total of 16 nutshells or shells are thrown out. From the position of these 16 bowls, 256 characters can be combined, which provide information about the situation and prospects of the questioner.

It takes years to learn and understand all the signs. With the help of the Fa oracle, the causes of illness are determined, relationship problems are analyzed, questions of guilt are examined, and contracts or football results are predicted.

The oracle then says, for example, that a ceremony is necessary to relieve a person's pain. But such a ceremony is not cheap.

The pain sufferer pays with offerings, such as an animal. The blood of the sacrificed animals is splashed over the altar and the loa figures to give them water. The person seeking advice is also rubbed in to clean them.

Medicine and poisons

Voodoo - that is above all healing magic, says Henning Christoph. Herbalism is the basis of the healing arts. Selling the plants is a lucrative business: the collectors and dealers of medicinal herbs in Benin are called "Mama Benz".

Processing and using the herbs is reserved for priests, healers and sorcerers (Acetos). These are still often responsible for caring for the sick in the voodoo areas of Africa. The recipes are passed on from generation to generation.

The priests also use the herbs in the ceremonies. The plants are the substance with which the spirits and symbols are spiritually charged, including the loa figures of the gods, the amulets and the bocios - these are figures with a magical effect.

To make the medicine, the priests also use other ingredients, such as bones or blood. The most famous mixture is the "zombie poison" from Haiti, which is said to cause paralysis similar to the appearance of death: a powder made from atropine-containing plants such as thorn apple and deadly nightshade, grated human bones, boiled toads and parts of the puffer fish.

Those who awaken from paralysis are no longer themselves, but just a soulless creature - a zombie. The zombie poison was used to calm down serious criminals, anthropologists suggest.

"Illness begins in the head"

"Illness begins in the head," say the voodoo healers. In their ceremonies they work with elements that are also used in psychotherapy. Many of their successes can be scientifically explained with the help of the nocebo effect: Those who expect pain, illness or death could actually fall ill due to their negative thoughts.

Voodoo healers try to heal fears with the help of so-called vaccinations. They scratch the patient's body and rub their medicine into the wounds. The scars that form afterwards are supposed to protect against evil spirits. The positive effect of such a treatment can be explained by the placebo effect: If you believe in it, the magic should be able to help.

Henning Christoph tells of a young girl who was brought to the healer with a high fever and completely emaciated. He threw a Fa oracle and received the sign "death wish": The girl was unhappily in love and now wanted to die.

The voodoosi put the girl in a trance, wrapped her in herbs and sewed her into linen. They then buried the doomed woman. After two hours, the voodoosi took the girl out of the ground and woke her out of her trance. "I've seen death - I want to live," it is supposed to have said.

Black magic

Black magic contradicts voodoo, say high priests in Benin. And yet they exist. The Holi people in the east of the country are known and feared for their damaging spells.

No spell without the magician: And these are the acetos, the sorcerers. Your job is usually inherited within the family. Being Azeto - that's dangerous: a sorcerer can harm himself with a damaging spell if it is unjustified.

Few of the witchers grow old. In some areas, the Acetos replace the judiciary: They show where the borders are or impose penalties. They also reintegrate criminals, for example by freeing them from evil spirits.

An example from the everyday life of an acetos: A client requests a damage spell against his neighbor. He refuses to pay his debts. The Azeto uses the Fa oracle to check whether the lawsuit is justified.

If the accused is guilty, the Azeto casts a damaging spell. For example: if the debtor does not pay in ten days, he is said to have stomach cramps. The neighbor receives this message in the form of magical signs. These are talismans or chicken claws hanging on his door.

Once the defendant pays or comes to an agreement with the debtor, the spell is overridden. In many parts of the country, the Acetos replace both the police and the court.

One of the Acetos' weapons is the African pistol: a person is cursed and collapses dead - wherever he is in the world. Another variant: In the body of the cursed there are foreign objects such as nails, razor blades or shards.

Black magic is also officially frowned upon in voodoo in Haiti. Win a love partner, knock out a competitor or make a big deal - if you want to use black magic, it is better to go to a sorcerer far away so that no one will notice.

Voodoo in everyday life

Whether in the company or in politics, at work or at home: Oracle surveys and sacrificial ceremonies are part of everyday life in the voodoo areas. The dictator Fran├žois Duvalier in Haiti claimed to be a voodoo spirit. Politicians in Africa sometimes employ their own voodoo priests to protect themselves from opponents.

In football, in addition to the coach, a sorcerer is also a permanent member of many clubs. The national goalkeeper from Togo is said to have brought voodoo medicine to Germany for the 2006 World Cup in order to be invincible.

The cat curse of Buenos Aires is legendary: At the end of the 1960s, fans of local rival Independiente are said to have buried the carcasses of seven black cats in the stadium of the Racing Club de Avellaneda championship club. The club was unsuccessful for more than 30 years. Until the stadium was plowed up in 2000 and the seven cat skeletons were found. The following season the club won the championship in Argentina.