Cover image for American voudou : journey into a hidden world
American voudou : journey into a hidden world
Davis, Rod, 1946-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Denton, Tex. : University of North Texas Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xvii, 392 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1070 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BL2490 .D37 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BL2490 .D37 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



Voudou (an older spelling of voodoo)--a pantheistic belief system developed in West Africa and transported to the Americas during the diaspora of the slave trade--is the generic term for a number of similar African religions which mutated in the Americas, including santeria, candomble, macumbe, obeah, Shango Baptist, etc.

Since its violent introduction in the Caribbean islands, it has been the least understood and most feared religion of the New World--suppressed, outlawed or ridiculed from Haiti to Hattiesburg. Yet with the exception of Zora Neale Hurston's accounts more than a half-century ago and a smattering of lurid, often racist paperbacks, studies of this potent West African theology have focused almost exclusively on Haiti, Cuba and the Caribbean basin. American Voudou turns our gaze back to American shores, principally towards the South, the most important and enduring stronghold of the voudou faith in America and site of its historic yet rarely recounted war with Christianity.

This chronicle of Davis's determined search for the true legacy of voudou in America reveals a spirit-world from New Orleans to Miami which will shatter long-held stereotypes about the religion and its role in our culture. The real-life dramas of the practitioners, true believers and skeptics of the voudou world also offer a radically different entree into a half-hidden, half-mythical South, and by extension into an alternate soul of America. Readers interested in the dynamic relationships between religion and society, and in the choices made by people caught in the flux of conflict, will be heartened by this unique story of survival and even renaissance of what may have been the most persecuted religion in American history.

Traveling on a criss-cross route from New Orleans across the slave-belt states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, dipping down to Miami where the voudou of Cuba and the Caribbean is endemic, and up to New York where priests and practioners increase each year, Rod Davis determined to find out what happened to voudou in the United States.

A fascinating and insightful account of a little known and often misunderstood aspect of African-American culture, American Voudou details the author's own personal experiences within this system of belief and ritual, along with descriptions and experiences of other people, ranging from those who reject it entirely to ardent practitioners and leaders. Davis also places voudou in a broad context of American cultural history, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, and from Elvis to New Age.

Current interest in voudou is related, in part, to the arrival of large numbers of people into the United States from the Caribbean, especially Cuba. Blacks in that country were able to maintain the African religion in a syncretic form, known as santeria. The tensions that have arisen between Cubans and African Americans over both the leadership and the belief system of the religion is discussed.

Davis raises questions and offers insight into the nature of religion, American culture, and race relations. The book contains an extensive bibliography for further reading and a glossary of voudou terms for readers unfamiliar with the subject.

Author Notes

Rod Davis is an award-winning journalist and magazine editor who has taught writing at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is also the author of Corina's Way , winner of the PEN/Southwest 2005 Best Fiction Award. A fifth-generation Texan, he has lived most of his life in Texas and the South, and is director of communications for The Texas A&M University System.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Davis, senior editor of Cooking Light magazine, documents a five-year journey into the world of voudou in the American South, specifically New Orleans, Miami, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Voudou is a largely misunderstood religion adapted from West African worship during the diaspora of slavery; this book is a chronicle of personal experience, observation, and reflection. Davis provides a view of a world hidden and protected from outsiders. The result is not a comprehensive study but a narrower appreciation of the way voudou is practiced in parts of the Southern United States, including an important discussion of sacrifice. Engagingly written, the book includes a very helpful glossary and bibliography as well as two appendixes on voudou in the media and the history of the religion. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.‘Gail Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology Lib., Cortland (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Journalist Davis's account of the varieties of American Voudou is a brilliant tour de force, a "must read" for students of African American religion. Written in an engaging first-person style, Davis succeeds in combining the craft of a journalistic travel diary with new and deep insights about the scholarship of Voudou (an older spelling of Voodoo). This book is one of few that document the resurgence of African-based religions in the US. Beginning with the Santeria Voudou practices of the Rev. Lorita Mitchell's St. Lazarus Spiritual Church in New Orleans, he follows the trail of Hoodoo, the folklore herbal and healing practices of African Americans stripped of the elaborate African Voudou cosmology and rituals, in rural Louisiana and Mississippi. The most fascinating chapters concern his stay at Oyotunji village in South Carolina, a place that has successfully recreated and maintained African customs and Yoruba ritual practices without the Catholic syncretization common with Santeria. Davis provides a good overview of the struggle and debate between African American advocates of African Voudou and the syncretized Christian form supported by Cubans. Photographs; appendixes ("Voudou in the Media" and "The Revolution Denied"); extensive bibliography. Highly recommended for all levels of readers, from the general public to specialists in the field. L. H. Mamiya Vassar College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part 1 The Streetp. 1
1 Midnight Ritualp. 3
2 Looking for Loritap. 17
3 The Gods and Their Waysp. 28
4 Countertop Voudoup. 39
5 Preacher to Priestessp. 53
6 Jesus out of Africap. 63
Part 2 The Roadp. 73
7 On the Hoodoo Trailp. 75
8 Spirit Warsp. 89
9 Two-Headed Men and Ghostsp. 100
10 Elvis and Dr. Kingp. 116
11 Kindred Spirits, Lingering Foesp. 137
12 Crossing the Linep. 156
Part 3 The Wayp. 175
13 Africa in Americap. 177
14 The Day of the Living Deadp. 191
15 The King and His Courtp. 207
16 Advice and Consentp. 216
17 Sacrificep. 227
18 Exiles and Apostlesp. 242
19 Santeriap. 255
20 Urban Herbs and Little Haitip. 276
21 Orisha Anewp. 299
22 Amenp. 313
Appendix I Voudou in the Mediap. 319
Appendix II The Revolution Deniedp. 347
Glossary of Voudou Termsp. 363
Bibliographyp. 371
Indexp. 381