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Voodoo Words to Know

boko (baw-kaw)

A Vodou priest who practices black magic; different from an oungan or mambo.

Bondye (bohn-dyay)

The supreme being; derived from the French bon Dieu, meaning "good God."

gris-gris (free-gree)

In New Orleans voodoo, the most powerful charm, which combines black and white magic.

hoodoo (who-doo)

An African-American tradition of folk magic, herbal medicine and conjuring; not related to Vodou.

juju (joo-joo)

In New Orleans voodoo, a charm used mostly in good, or healing, magic.

kalfou (kahl-foo)

The crossroads where good and evil intersect; the sacred place where offerings are made.

lougarou (loo-gah-roo)

A black magician who can shape-shift into an animal; a vampire who sucks blood from children.

lwa (l-wah) 

Or "loa," the supernatural, immortal spirits who oversee different areas of the natural world and human experience. Similar to saints, humans can petition them for help.

mambo (mahm-bo)

A fully initiated priestess of Vodou.

mojo (mo-jo) 

In New Orleans voodoo, a charm that brings to its holder a specific benefit, such as money, love or protection.

ouanga (oo-on-gah)

A malevolent charm used by a boko in black magic. Also spelled wanga.

oungan (oon-gon)

A fully initiated priest of Vodou.

Papa Legba (pah-pah leg-ba)

The most powerful lwa, he guards the gateway between the material and spiritual worlds. Those wishing to communicate with other lwa first must honor him through ritual and offerings.

zombi (zom-bee) 

A body without a soul that a boko has raised from the dead to use as slave labor.

(Above definitions provided by

Marie Laveau

Said by some to be the granddaughter of a powerful priestess in Sainte-Domingue, Laveau reportedly had a familial background in African spirituality. She was drawn to religion after the death of her mother. Laveau underwent the tutelage of Dr. John Bayou, a well-known Senegalese conjurer (root worker). She did not take long to dominate the culture and society of Vodou in New Orleans. As a queen for several decades, Laveau was mother to many. People sought her advice for marital affairs, domestic disputes, judicial issues, childbearing, finances, health, and good luck. Laveau would in turn counsel her practitioners by supplying them with advice or with protective spiritual objects such as candles, powder, and an assortment of other items mixed together to create a gris-gris.

As queen, Laveau predominately orchestrated rituals at three main sites: her home on St. Ann Street, Congo Square, and Lake Pontchartrain. At her home on St. Ann Street, Laveau would converse with clients who would meet with her regarding any issues they were having. In her backyard, she would also have ceremonies that conjured the spirit of the Great Zombi, the deity Damballah Wedo who would manifest through a snake. The second major ritualistic space, Congo Square, was a public square that was set aside by city officials as a gathering space for both enslaved and free African people. Laveau would gather her followers here on Sundays to dance and worship. No major ceremonies would take place here, but it was a place of spiritual gathering and rejuvenation for Africans who experienced major oppression and hardships both on the plantation and as free citizens. The last place of significance that was presided over by Laveau was Bayou St. John’s, which was located on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was here that major ceremonies took place among the initiated in the religion. Laveau would often be accompanied by her “king” or a second-ranking male officiate. Singing, dancing, drumming, and spirit possession would occur in these gatherings.

(Definition provided by

Voodoo Gods


Bondie is the creator god found in the Voodoo religion, and the lwa answer to him. The lwa serve as intermediaries between man and Bondye, whose existence is far beyond human comprehension. Bondye is essentially unknowable to mankind, and doesn't meddle around in the affairs of mortals, so spiritual work is done with the lwa instead.

Papa Legba

Papa Legba is the lwa associated with the crossroads, and he serves as an intermediary between man and the spirit world. Legba has evolved in numerous ways from his origins in Africa. In some places, he is seen as a fertility god, portrayed with a large erect phallus. In other customs, he is the trickster, or he may appear as a protector of children.

Papa Legba appears in many forms in New Orleans Voodoo and Haitian Vodou. Associated with the colors red and black, he is usually portrayed as an older man in a straw hat or old tattered clothing. Papa Legba walks with a cane, and is accompanied by a dog.

Maman Brigitte

In Haitian Voodoo, Maman Brigitte is a lwa associated with death and the underworld. She is the consort of Baron Samedi, and is often represented by a black rooster.

There is a theory that Maman Brigitte could be descended from Brigid, the Celtic goddess of the hearth fires and domestic life; those who support this say she must have made her way to Haiti with Scottish and Irish indentured servants when they left their homelands. Supporting this concept, Maman Brigitte is often portrayed as a light-skinned woman with red hair.

Baron Samedi

The husband of Maman Brigitte, Baron Samedi is the god of death, and is both respected and feared as the keeper of cemeteries. He often appears skeletal, wearing a top hat and formal tails, as well as dark glasses. In addition to being associated with death, he is also a god of resurrection—only Baron Samedi can welcome a soul to the realm of the dead.

He is known for outrageous and lewd behavior, swearing, and fornicating with women other than his wife. Baron Samedi is also the lwa to call upon for work with ancestors long dead, and can cure any mortal wound—as long as the recipient is willing to pay his price. Baron Samedi is connected to powerful acts of magic, and is the leader of the Guede, the family of lwa who work with the dead.


Erzulie, the goddess of beauty and love, is the epitome of femininity and womanhood. According to Haitian professor Leslie Desmangles, at Hartford's Trinity College, Erzulie:

... represents the cosmic womb in which divinity and humanity are conceived. She is the symbol of fecundity, the mother of the world who participates with the masculine forces in the creation and maintenance of the universe.

She appears in several different aspects, including Erzulie Dantòr and Mambo Erzulie Fréda Dahomey. Much like the Christian Lady of Sorrows, Erzulie often grieves for that which she cannot obtain, and sometimes leaves a ceremony weeping. She is sometimes depicted as a Black Madonna, and other times as an upper class light-skinned mixed-race woman bedecked in fine clothing and expensive jewelry. She and her family of lwa can be called upon for matters related to motherhood, and strong feminine sexuality.


Ogun is one of the orisha who come to Voodoo from the Yoruba belief system, and is a god associated with warriors, blacksmiths, and the wheels of justice. It's said that if you make a sacrifice of meat to Ogun, you'll be blessed with a successful hunt.

Practitioners of Haitian Vodou call upon Ogun for matters related to war and conflict, and make offerings of male animals — roosters and dogs seem to be his favorite. He is symbolized by an iron knife or machete, and has a fondness for pretty women and good rum.


In Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo, Damballah is one of the most important lwa. He is the creator who helped the god Bondye make the cosmos, and is represented by a giant serpent. His coils shaped the heavens and earth, and he is the keeper of knowledge, wisdom, and healing magic. Interestingly, he is associated with Saint Patrick, who is said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. Erzulie is his consort.

Damballah moves between land and sea, and is a never ending force that represents the veneration of life. His female counterpart, Ayida-Weddo, forms the rainbow.


One of the Orishas, Oshun is a goddess connected to rivers, streams, and water. She is associated with beauty and sexuality, as well as love and pleasure. Often found in the Yoruba and Ifa belief systems, she is worshiped by her followers who leave offerings at river banks. Oshun is tied to wealth, and those who petition her for assistance can find themselves blessed with bounty and abundance.

Oshun's colors include orange and golden yellow, as well as green and coral. Offerings to her can include fresh cinnamon, honey, and pumpkins. Many of her followers keep their altar to Oshun in the bedroom.

(Above definitions provided by: