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Origins of the term “Vodou”

Spelled “Vodou,” “Vaudou,” “Vodoun,” “Voudou,” and “Voodoo” in English, most likely mispronounced and misspelled by colonists, the term comes from the word “Vodoun,” which means “that which cannot be elucidated, power, that which is efficient” in the Fon language. It carries with it notions of invisibility.

“Vodou religious belief posits the existence of an extramundane world. This ineffable sphere of being gave rise to the primeval couple, Mawu/Lisa. Significantly, it is the female principle who is the progenitor; therefore Mawu is the main protagonist, rather than her male counterpart (Lisa). However, this concept of a supreme being differs from Western notions of a creator deity responsible for shaping the world and mankind. In Vodou legend, Mawu and Lisa merely beget the first vodoun deities governing the elements and the human spirit. That is the extent of their role, and Vodou theology does not deal with the complex matter of creation. The process of creation appears to be compartmentalized. Besides the dual Mawu/Lisa, we also find Fa (speech and meaning) and Gbadu (absolute knowledge). In some legends these entities derive from Mawu/Lisa; in others, they are said to predate them, or even to beget them. This contradiction is due to the fact that the concept of Fa originates in another tradition, and was incorporated into the Vodou belief system in the guise of a deity.” (excerpt from the forthcoming book La Fabrique des Dieux by René de Beaumont)