Voodoo is one of the many religious manifestations that landed on the Caribbean. Today we know that it was practiced in an organized way since the 18th century. Its history is closely linked to Haitian ethnic formation process and harks back the coming of the very African slaves to Western La Hispaniola, at the time under French rule. An official report dated in 1789 points out that approximately six to eight thousand slaves used to arrive every year from Dahomey (today's Benin).
The word voodoo hails from this western African region and it means guarding spirit. The term has evolved to name a series of creeds, as well as magic and religious sciences linked to the Dahomeyan religion.
The recognition of the voodoo cult as a religion is owed to Haitian sage Jean Price-Mars, who jotted down some conforming elements:

It admits the belief in spiritual beings or deities that dwell in some parts of the universe and, in part, in close contact with men, whose doings they control.
It comprises a hierarchical priesthood with a band of worshippers and a group of oral traditions, altars, shrines and ceremonies that have outlived the passage of time.
It presents a theology or system of ideas whereby African descendants explain natural phenomena.

Nowadays, voodoo is essentially practiced in Haiti, Santo Domingo and Cuba. It should be noticed that given the religious context in these countries, some voodoo elements might vary in certain regions, yet the nuts and bolts of the cult remain the same.
Voodoo has evolved and blended with African and Christian rites. However, it's by no means an accumulation of practices of different origins. On the contrary, it's a well-organized religious system with rituals, symbols and meanings of their own for each and every composing element.
In this particular cult, the creator of the world is Bon Dieu, who's way above men and so He subdues them at will. Nevertheless, this almighty lord is not to be venerated, but rather the loas supernatural beings that just like men, are endowed with both positive and negative features. Thus, they can be unconfident, lewd, irrational, go on a drinking spree, fight, but also provide their believers with help and protection. Each loa has a dwelling place of his choice: a tree, a plant, a spring. And they also have a specific drumbeat of their own. In African philosophy, the loas are forces that possess men and re-energize them, thus linking humans with the supernatural realm. A considerable chunk of these supernatural beings are of African origin. They are labeled in line with the tribe or region they come from. There are Yoruba, Fon and Nago deities. Others add the region of origin to their names like Ogú Badagri Badagri is a city of Guinea- and Erzili-Freda-Dahomey Freda is a city in Whydah.
Sometimes an unknown loa possesses a worshipper or a priest, and so he joins the cult. In other instances, the death of a renowned priest transforms him into a deity. The voodoo Olympus sometimes has some newcomers.
Priests and priestesses are known as hugans or papa-loas and hunsis or mama-loas, respectively. The selection of these clergy people stem from an assortment of reasons, yet it's sometimes construed as a claim of the supernatural world. They act as divination experts, medicine men and ritual leaders. Voodooist ceremonies are held in the well-known humfo, whose surface varies depending on the possibilities of the society where a particular rite is observed.
One key part of these ceremonies is the vèvè or symbol in the shape of a geometrical figure that, alongside icons and saints, stands for the loas.
The voodooist ritual is extremely complex. There's not a unified practice style. On the contrary, each and every one of them has variants of their own that express the set of relationships established within a certain social and cultural framework and the hugan's preference. However, ceremonies usually begin with a warm and prolonged exchange of salutes and greetings marked by gestures, stances and references that priests do to honor the deities and show them respect.
One indispensable aspect within these rituals is the sacrifice or loa meals. Their main objective is to strengthen the deity and that takes one specific sacrifice roosters, pigs, lambs or bulls. They are supposed to drink some kind of liquid that, like the animals, must be sacred. The loas character, class and attributes determine the seasoning spices, as well as utensils and presentations.
On the other hand, voodooist dancing and singing is so significant that it won't be a mistake to say this is a dance-oriented religion. The ritual dancing let certain mysterious forces act in the realm of spirits and deities so as to draw them in. Dances come from different origins and are always accompanied by the beat of drums penciled in as sacred objects endowed with certain powers. Asoto is voodoo's most sacred drum. Singing consists of short lines that usually invoke loas. In every voodoo ceremony, the first move is the invocation of Legba and ends up with guédé, the god of death.
In the voodoo cult, possession and trance are key players whereby the loas get in touch with their worshippers and put movements and a pattern of behavior of theirs, and even put words in their mouths. The phenomenon of possession comes along with a process of physical and physical transformations depending on the loa the possesses the believer, and on the latter's receptivity level.
Divination is another essential element within this religion. Worshippers in the face of both beefing up and securing their human condition- take part in this larger-than-life ritual. There are several methods to achieve it. In Haiti, for instance, it could happen through the interrogation of loas or by using shells mounted during the course of a special ceremony in which a rooster is sacrificed. In Santo Domingo, divination occurs through the luases, who augur fate through the priests. There are other ways like reading cups, cigarette ash, candles and other objects used for this purpose. In Cuba, guessing usually takes place through spontaneous revelations and card-reading.
Initiation rites are equally paramount. They are performed when hugans advise some people to carry out the ceremony to get rid of sickness or to make a wish come true. Either way, people can be invoked through dreams and visions. During the preparation process that sometimes stretches out for some months- candidates are to be strictly disciplined as far as meals and sex are concerned. The person to be initiated needs physical and spiritual strength to resist the restraints, as well as good memory to learn the ritual and chants.
As to enclosure rites, they are usually performed in order to secure the survival of the soul in the kingdom of the dead. A wake takes place in the presence of the cadaver, and sometimes the dead is fed by placing foodstuffs in the grave.
Voodooists also celebrate many magic rituals according to the agrarian calendar. After the harvest is over, the first fruits are offered to the loas. In Haiti, the well-known party to honor the Virgin of Ville Bonheur takes place in July, in which thousands of pilgrims dress in the colors of the divine guardian.

During a voodoo celebration, the first loa invoked is Legba, master of the pathways, guardian of the crossroads and doors, protector of the home. According to the functions he conducts, he may be called Legba-nnayabe (barriers); Legba-calfou (corssroads). Before commencing any ceremony, the priest must beg for his protection, so he's the first to taste and receive all the offers made to the invoked loas. His wife's name is Ayisan, the goddess of markets.
This is one of the highest saints in the voodoo shrine. A Dahomeyan legend goes that Legba is the seventh and last son of Mawu. This caused that Legba got no piece of the world when it was doled out among his siblings. That's why he was ordered to come down and visit all of his brothers domains and let them know up there what was going on.
Another Dahomeyan legend paints Legba as the master of witchcraft and enchantments. The story goes that Legba made up a snake and ordered it to bite all buyers and salesmen down at the market. . One day the snake bit itself and Legba told it: Give me something and I'll heal you. With what the snake offered him, he bought palm oil and water that he drank. One day, someone pointing to the snake asked Legba: What's that thing that goes biting people? and Legba replied: It's magic. Bring me two chickens, eighty cowries and straw, and I'll make one for you. And that's how Legba started making ruses for men, a reason why Legba is venerated by the sorcerers and presides over their manipulations.
Legba's symbol vèvè- is the cross whose shape is the only common element with the Christian cross. The vertical line means the road connecting the heights with the chasms, the path of the loas. The horizontal line stands for the earthly and human world. Only in the cross of the human and divine axis, relations with deities are possible. This is celebrated with Yanvalou dancing and drumbeats until Legba comes down and possesses one of the dancers. Only then, the rest of the loas may start coming down.
Legba is represented in the shape of a doting and shaggy old man who shuffles his feet and props on a clutch.
His colors are black and yellow, and his day is observed on January 17, May 10, June 29, November 4 and December 17.

Ayisan is Legba's wife. This is an old woman who usually incarnates in the shape of a snake. As Legba's wife and the oldest of all the female deities, she's entitled to be served as a queen. Her emblem is the royal palm tree, a symbol of strength and freedom. She's said to have the power of chasing evil spirits away.

Damballah is the god of fertility. He lives in fountains and swamps. His sign is the snake, and those who are possessed by him hiss and slither like a crawler. His name is broken down in Dan or Dangbe (the cult of the celestial snake or rainbow), and Allada, name of the place where the founder of the Dahomey Kingdom was born. This explains why Haitians have long adored snakes. His symbols are the snake and the egg. He's painted as a good-natured being to whom nobody asks or begs for something before getting his blessing first. He loves freshness and does not tolerate voodooists invoking spirits that can do either good or bad on his behest.

Agwé is the master of the seas. His symbols are the fish, the boat, the oars and especially lambi (Haitian term for ear). He invokes storms and steers sailors in the high seas when they need winds. He protects seamen and adores cannon shots and ships salutation. His color of choice is blue. He's offered a white sheep, but those who make the offer must leave quickly, for he doesn't like being watched when he eats.

Zaka is the minister of agriculture among the loas and a genuine tiller. Greedy, unconfident, brawl picker, selfish and city hater. He who is possessed by this deity is always afraid of being robbed. Master of thunder and lightning, his symbols are wicket creels.

The Ogous, belong to a family members are all blacksmiths and warriors:
Ogou Ferraille, loa of the armies, patron saint of the blacksmiths and protector of brave men. His language is coarse and rough, just like a soldier. He drinks rum and smokes cigarettes.
Ogou Badagri, god of war. This is a terrible and violent deity that sends down powerful storms over human beings.
Ogou Balendijo is another warrior. He joins a war whenever a conflict breaks out.
Ogou Panama, a mighty loa who guards doors ad reminds believers of Legba.

Erzulie-Fréda-Dahomey(Ezili-Fréda) is the most popular loa in the voodooist shrine. She possesses almost all the shortcomings of a beautiful and corrupt woman: flirting, sensual, coquette, lover of decorations and lushness, a squanderer to the bone. Her attributes are decoration garments. Her shield consists of a heart usually run through by an arrow or a sword. Some of her lovers are Damballah, Agwé and Ogou Badagri.

Loko is the loa of the trees. He's depicted a funny old man dressed in a tacky uniform. He's one of Legba's bodyguards and exerts great influence on medicine men who work with herbs.
The loas belonging to the guédé group are deities of death, usually funny and obscene. Their leader is baron Samedi or Baron Cimimetière. He looks like a robust man despite his gray beard. This is a demanding, selfish and jealous loa. Practitioners invoke his name to get rid of their enemies. His black altar is decorated with a black wooden cross featuring silver-wrought ingrains representing the encounter between the visible and the invisible, the unity between life and death. Other loas pertaining to the guédé team have picks, shovels, skulls, crossed bones and withered leaves as their own symbols.

Voodoo is a religion that has taken up certain peculiarities depending on the region where it is practiced, features derived from its convergence with other African-origin religious manifestations. However, its cults, rites and philosophy, in general terms, have been passed on from one generation to the next with relative permanence. Therefore, the original notion is very much alive today three centuries after this cult washed ashore the Caribbean islands stashed in the collective memory of thousands of black slaves.