Voodoo rituals in Benin

12th December 2017 

Often wrapped in a kind mystery and mistakenly associated with black magic, the Voodoo rituals are meant to put the faithful in contact with the spirits, in order to ask for a favor in exchange for offers. Visiting a remote village in Benin, we will try to understand more about this ancient religion.

Village in Benin
Benin Traditional kicken in Benin
Benin is one of the most important places in the world for the Voodoo cult. We will try to understand more about Voodoo rituals walking through the streets of a remote village in Benin and attending a real Voodoo ceremony. Officially, the Voodoo religion was born in Benin, however, with the slave trade, the cult of Voodoo has also arrived in some countries of the American continent, as well as to other West Africa countries like Togo and Ghana.
Voodoo altar Voodoo fetish
Voodoo shrine Residues of animal sacrifice
Photos of small Voodoo temples, Voodoo altars and fetishes. These structures can be found at every corner of the village and are powered through specific Voodoo rites. The power is then increased by adding components (fetishes) of all kinds, especially pieces of animals (including blood and feathers) that are often sacrificed on-site. The Voodoo rituals have the primary purpose of asking favors to the involved divinity, offering in return gifts of all kinds. Then, if the requests were satisfied, the faithful returns to the sanctuary to thank the divinity through further offerings, which may include animal sacrifices.
Voodoo sanctuary
In the central square of the village there is a small Voodoo sanctuary dedicated to the main divinity at the head of all the others. The wooden rod on the statue is a phallic symbol, indicating that the divinity, being the most important, is always "on alert" and ready to act promptly when necessary.
Divinity with phallic symbol
Voodoo divinity Sacrificed chicken
Voodoo ceremonies

But now let's see in more details how a Voodoo ritual takes place, in this specific case, how people ask the divinity to assist the spirit of a deceased person (as happens with other religions, also for Voodoo there are specific rites for each event, and now we are attending a funeral).

The large costume covered with colored straw represents the divinity to who the favor is asked. An offer to the divinity is prepared and this includes the sacrifice of a chicken.

A small altar is then set up (actually, a stone on the ground) where flour, fresh chicken's blood and even some Sprite (yes, the Sprite drink we all know) are poured, all ingredients that make up the offer.

Voodoo ceremony
Offerings to a divinity
Then some palm liqueur (a kind of vodka) is drunk, before pouring a little of it on the offer. The next and final ingredient the glass is broken into small pieces. So, finally, the Voodoo offer consists of flour, fresh chicken's blood, Sprite, palm liqueur and small pieces of glass, all well mixed together.
Voodoo rituals Voodoo ritual
When the offering is ready, the divinity comes alive and, gracefully twirling, goes over the offer, hiding it completely under the costume.
As soon as the divinity moves again, there is no trace of the offer. This means that the divinity has accepted the offer and therefore the spirit of the deceased person has been escorted to a safe place where he will remain in peace and from where he can no longer turn back to hurt the livings. The request was therefore accepted.
Costume animated by a divinity Voodoo doll
The divinity is not animated by a person wearing a costume, but exclusively by the spirit he represents. To demonstrate this, the costume is subsequently turned upside down, showing to the spectators that under it there is simply a little Voodoo doll (sometimes there can be a branch, sometimes a snake, but, believe or not, never a person).
Voodoo music
The Voodoo ritual continues with a big party at the roll of the drums, in which the whole village participates.
Benin Voodoo Voodoo of Benin
Voodoo feast Voodoo festival
Mask in Benin Costume in Benin
The deities dance around, accompanied only by initiated people (the only ones who are allowed to touch a divinity).
Festival in Benin
The deities dancing around in the main village's square.

Deities rotate quickly, action highlighted by a very long camera's shutter speed.

A video showing the movements of the divinity, animated only by a spirit.
Woman dancing with traditional clothes in Africa
Baby on the back in traditional clothes

Meanwhile the villagers dance in their colorful costumes.
A curious ritual is then performed to demonstrate the courage and power of the initiated people. First of all a large glass bottle is broken, carefully crushing the fragments inside a mortar.
Swallow a broken glass Swallowing broken glass
Then, as if nothing had happened, the glass is taken, put in the mouth and swallowed.
To help in swallowing broken glass, drinking some beer is very useful.
The voodoo ritual ends by overturning all the masks, proving that they do not contain a human, but are animated only by a divinity.

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