A large sequined Vodoo flag by the artist George Valris, depicting the symbol of the loa Loko Atison. Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti, but voodoo may be considered the country’s national religion. The majority of Haitians believe in and practice at least some aspects of voodoo. Most voodooists believe that their religion can coexist with Catholicism.
Misconceptions about voodoo have given Haiti a reputation for sorcery and zombies. Popular images of voodoo have ignored the religion’s basis as a domestic cult of family spirits. Adherents of voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics. In fact, the word for voodoo does not even exist in rural Haiti. The Creole word vodoun refers to a kind of dance and in some areas to a category of spirits. Roman Catholics who are active voodooists say that they “serve the spirits,” but they do not consider that practice as something outside of Roman Catholicism. Haitians also distinguish between the service of family spirits and the practice of magic and sorcery.
The belief system of voodoo revolves around family spirits (often called loua or mistË) who are inherited through maternal and paternal lines. Loua protect their “children” from misfortune. In return, families must “feed” the loua through periodic rituals in which food, drink, and other gifts are offered to the spirits. There are two kinds of services for the loua. The first is held once a year; the second is conducted much less frequently, usually only once a generation. Many poor families, however, wait until they feel a need to restore their relationship with their spirits before they conduct a service. Services are usually held at a sanctuary on family land.