Vodun or Vudun (spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages) is an indigenous organised religion of coastal West Africa from Nigeria to Ghana.
The name was derived from the god Vodun (mystery) of the West African Yoruba people.
During the expansion of the kingdom of Dahomey from the mid-16th century to the end of the 19th century, Vodun was the official religion and the second pillar of royal power in addition to the rulers’ worldly power, and dignitaries and priests were placed under the direct authority of the king. With the colonisation of Dahomeys by Europeans, many Vodun priests were killed, and their shrines destroyed. This forced some of the Dahomeans to form Vodou Orders and to create underground or secret societies, in order to continue the veneration of their ancestors.
Vodun is still practised by the Ewe, Kabye, Mina and Fon peoples of southeastern Ghana, southern and central Togo, southern and central Benin and (under a different name) the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria.
Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation.
Yoruba traditional belief included a senior God called Mawu-Segbo-Lissa, Olorun, or Odumare who is remote and unknowable. He authorized a lesser God Obatala to create the earth and all life forms. A battle between the two Gods led to Obatala’s temporary banishment. Mawu is good, but he does not concern himself directly with man; he is omnipotent but has delegated his power to the Vodun(s).
The Vodun(s) are considered as the sons of Mawu. the seven most important are:
- Sakpata: This is the eldest son of Mawu to whom the earth was entrusted: "Ayi Vodun", the Vodun of the earth. His power is feared and terrifying. His attributes are the arm of smallpox, scissors, a chain and black, white and red spots. Sakpata has many sons, including the Vodun of leprosy (Ada Tangni), and of incurable sores (sinji aglosumato).
- Xêvioso (or Xêbioso): This is the Vodun of the sky (Jivodun) who manifests himself in thunder and lightning. He is Mawu’s second son and is considered a Vodun of justice who punishes thieves, liars, criminals and evil-doers. His attibutes are the thunderbolt, the double axe, the ram, the colour red and fire. Xêvioso has several sons including Sogbo, Aklobè, Avlékété.
- Agbe: This is the Vodun of the sea (Tovodun). He is also known as Hu. He is represented by a serpent, a symbol of everything that gives life. One of his powerful children is Dan Toxosu who manifests himself in the birth of monster babies.
- Gu: This is the Vodun of iron and war. He gives man his different technologies. He is the Vodun who does not accept complicity with evil. Therefore he is capable of killing all accomplices in acts of infamy if he is appealed to. This is expressed by the Fon saying "da gu do".
- Agê: This fifth son of Mawu is the Vodun of agriculture and the forests. He reigns over animals and birds.
- Jo: This Vodun is characterized by invisibility. He is the Vodun of the air.
- Lêgba: This is Mawu’s youngest son. He received no endowments at all because all had already been shared out among his elders. He is jealous, and it is he who loosens the rigid structure of the pantheon. He is the Vodun of the unpredictable, of what cannot be assigned to any other and he is characterised by daily tragedies; all that is beyond good and evil.
Alongside Mawu’s sons, one finds other Vodun(s) that are protectors of equally important clans. These are the Toxwyo: eponymous deified ancestors. They maintain a link between the invisible world and human beings in their daily lives. Among modern Voduns are Goro who protects against witchcraft, and Koku, the Vodun of the occult powers of violence.
The vodun are the centre of religious life, similarly in many ways to doctrines such as the intercession of saints and angels that made Vodun appear compatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, and produced syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou. Adherents also emphasise ancestor worship and hold that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living, each family of spirits having its own female priesthood, sometimes hereditary when is from mother to blood daughter.
Mama, or Queen Mothers, are usually elder women who are elected by the kingmakers upon the death of the previous Queen Mother and are given the name of one of their highly respected female ancestors. The woman who is chosen is usually the oldest women in her clan, but this tradition may be overruled due to factors such as health, education, and national influence.
Sorcerers and sorceresses called Botono (or Aze/Azetos) are believed to cast spells on enemies on behalf of supplicants, calling upon spirits to bring misfortune or harm to a person or group. Animal sacrifice is a common way to show respect and thankfulness to the gods.