Vodou is both an African derivative faith and a new world construct. As such, it borrows from all the various cultures that cannibalized the island of Haiti in the late 16th century. Although many people would decry this, the evidence is self revealing.
The native populations that were on the island at the time of Columbus's landing, were deeply spiritual, and recognized the presence of Divinity in the flora and fauna of their native home. Large trees and deep caves were seen as repositories of spirit, and continued to be revered by the Africans when they were brought to the island. They are still used as holy places of worship even to this day.
The Spanish brought disease, but also the pirates of the Windward passage who were Sephardic Jews. Expelled from Spain during the Inquisition, they came to the New World as colonists, settling in Brazil, Jamaica and northen Haiti. They erected temples, mitzvas and yeshivas, effectively bringing the Kabbala to the island.
The Creoles sent their children back to France for education. Those children studied at the Sorbonne, and on the streets of Paris, where the Bibliotech Bleu was churning out a million pamphlets of year on all kinds of esoteric topics -- everything from The Grimoire of Honorious to the Black Chicken and the Red Dragon. Even today, you can buy bad photocopies of these and much more on the streets of Jacmel and Les Cayes. I purchased this one from a street vendor in Jacmel in '09.
The grimoires continue to be much sought after for private work, unlike the more popular and well known rites that plague the Internet today (rites such as Lave Tets and Kanzo, to name a few.)
The esoteric implementation of European practices, Catholic rites and African Ancestral practices underline much of the Vodou that is practiced on the island today. In the Diaspora, other elements have begun to creep into the religion, but were not originally a part of it's history. Rootwork, Southern Hoodoo and such are not a part of traditional Haitian Vodou but are today a part of it's growing scene in the Diaspora.
The elements of Western Magical tradition have flavored the movements, gestures and timing of a Vodou ceremony. Quarters are acknowledged, consecration of space is performed with the four elements and invocation spoken to call forth the Angels. Sigils are drawn and evocations both in French, Kreyol and Langaj are offered, so the Spirits may descend to take their place among the congregation. Where did this stylized format come from? We can only surmise, as Vodou is an oral faith, one that claims no catechism or pope, but is unique to each house or sosyete that practices. Vodou also morphs as it moves about the country, with more formal reglemen observed in cities, and less structured ceremonies occurring in the countryside.
Where ever it has come from, it has taken ahold of the people with its praxis. And as Vodou moves out of the country of Haiti and into the world, one thing we can definitely be assured of -- it will continue to add and refine itself. As Vodou encounters new practitioners, new places and new things, Vodou will morph into what is needed, as it has always.
For those who say Vodou has no esoteric elements, one need only look at the rites of any sosyete. Watch the movements, the gestures, the timing. Smell the incenses and perfumes used. Observe the sigils as they are drawn and enlivened. And witness magic occurring, at it's most intimate, most elevated and most holy moment. And recognize that Vodou is one of the most important faiths on the planet. Because it is the religion of mankind, laid before the altar of God and lifting us all to heaven.
Ago. Agosi. Agola.