The term Vodun (the Beninese spelling; also Vodou or other phonetically equivalent spellings in Haiti; Voodoo in the southern US) is applied to the branches of a West African ancestor-based religious tradition with primary roots among the Fon-Ewe peoples of West Africa, in the country now known as Benin, formerly the Kingdom of Dahomey, where Vodun is today the national religion of more than 7 million people. In addition to the Fon or Dahomeyan tradition which has remained in Africa, there are related traditions that put down roots in the New World during the days of the transatlantic African slave trade.

Besides Benin, African Vodun and its descendent practices may be found in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, Ghana, Haiti and Togo. The word vodun is the Fon-Ewe word for spirit.

The more or less "pure" Fon tradition in Cuba is known as La Regla Arara.

In Brazil, the Fon tradition among former slaves has given rise to the tradition known as Jeje Vodun.


Santeria (literally, Way of the saints - preferred terms among practitioners include Lukumi and Regla de Ocha) is a set of related religious systems that fuse Catholic beliefs with traditional Yoruba religion, practiced by black slaves and their descendants in Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama and Hispanic population centers in the United States such as Florida, New York, and California. "Santeria" means "way of the saints", originally a derisive term applied by the Spanish to mock followers' seeming overdevotion to the saints and neglect of God. The slaves' Christian masters did not allow them to practice their various west African animistic religions. The slaves found a way around this by concluding that the Christian saints were simply different manifestations of their various gods. The masters thought that their slaves had become good Christians and were praising the saints, when in actuality they were continuing their traditional practices.

Santeria ritual is highly secretive and primarily transmitted orally. Known practices include animal sacrifice, ecstatic dance, and sung invocations to the spirits. Chickens are the most popular form of sacrifice; their blood is offered to the orisha, or lesser guardian deities, who correspond to Christian saints. Drum music and dancing are used to induce a trance state in participants, who may become possessed by an orisha and speak with the orisha's voice. One's ancestors are held in high esteem in Santeria. God is referred to as Olorun, or the "owner of heaven" and Olodumare.

Many animal rights activists take issue with the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice, claiming that it is cruel. Followers of Santeria point out that the killings are conducted in the same manner as many food animals are slaughtered and are not needlessly sadistic. Additionally, the animal is cooked and eaten afterwards. In 1993, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah that animal cruelty laws targeted specifically at Santeria were unconstitutional, and the practice has seen no significant legal challenges since then. 2004

Yoruba mythology

The mythology of the Yorùbá is of one of the world's oldest religions that are still widely practiced. It is a major religion in Africa, chiefly in Nigeria, and it has given origin to several New World religions such as Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil.

Yorùbá mythology is only one part of itan — the complex of myths, songs, histories and other cultural concepts which make up the Yorùbá religion and society.


Yorùbá deities are called Orishas. The primordial, first-existing, Orishas are called Obatala and Odùduwà, brother and sister respectively, and their father Olorun. Obatala created humanity and Olorun gave life to the hollow shells Obatala had made. Obatala and Odùduwà later had a son, Aganyu, and a daughter, Yemaja, who was a mother goddess. Her son, Ogun, raped her twice; the second time, her body exploded and fifteen Orishas came out. They included Oshun, Olukun, Shakpana, Shango.

Shango is perhaps the most important Orisha; god of thunder and an ancestor of the Yorùbá. He was the fourth king of the Yorùbá, and deified after his death.

Eshu is another very important Orisha. He is a trickster and very well-respected both by the Yorùbá themselves and the other Orishas.

The Orisha

Other concepts

Yorùbá mythology includes several other entities besides the Orisha, such as Egbere.

Ifá (cowrie shell divination) is an important element of Yorùbá religious practices.

Yorùbá mythology in the New World

Many ethnic Yorùbá were taken as slaves to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil and the rest of the New World (chiefly in the 19th century, after the Oyo empire collapsed and the region plunged into civil war), and carried their religious beliefs with them. These concepts were combined with preexisting African-based cults, Christianity, Native American mythology, and Kardecist Spiritism into various New World religions:

The popularly known Vodun religion of Haiti was founded by slaves from a different ethnic group (the Ewe of present-day Benin), but shares many elements with the Yorùbá-derived religions above.


See main voodoo article

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