One of the most popular and infamous Ifá traditions in the New World is Voodoo. In the minds of many, the word Voodoo conjures up images of human sacrifice and pin laden human effigies used to torture unsuspecting victims, making it one of the most misunderstood and highly villainized religious traditions on the planet. This essay will focus on Haitian Voodoo which is rooted in a combination of Yoruba Ifá, French Catholicism, charismatic Christianity and the indigenous belief system of the island collectively known as Hispaniola. Again, the common element that strings together the Ifá tradition in the New World is the effortlessness with which syncretism shapes the belief systems. Yoruba Ifá made syncretism not only possible but easy for those under the yoke of European oppression to retain their cultural expressions and traditions. Maya Deren, author of Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, elaborates on this point; she states, “Voudoun was a collective creation, it did not exact the abandonment of one tribal deity in favor of another. On the contrary, it seemed rather to delight in as generous an inclusion as possible.”
The word Vodu has origins in the Ewe and Fon languages and has a very generic meaning: spirit or deity. There is also a French version of the word, Vodou, which loosely translated means “servants of the spirits”. These translations provide clues as to how practitioners of Haitian Voodoo interact with the religion. That is to say, within Haitian Voodoo there is a pronounced give-and-take that must take place between humans and deities for the spiritual system to be effective. Meaning, Voodoo practitioners must serve the Gods they implore for favors and blessings; if they pray for something or appeal to the Gods to intervene on their behalf, they must be prepared to provide equitable service to the spirits in order to balance the scales. It is understood that many of the Gods will not even begin to move on a person’s behalf until tribute is paid.
Within Haitian Voodoo there is focused attention given to two particular families or methods of religious practice: Rada and Petra. Rada Voodoo represents the protective posture of the Loa who are more easygoing and cool in their temperament. The Petra Loa, on the other hand are “more hard, more tough, more stern; less tolerant and forgiving, more practical and demanding.” Together these two groups form the yin and yang of Haitian Voodoo. However, not only are there two philosophical families within Haitian Voodoo, each of the Lao also have their own distinct personality and style. One way to recognize the distinctions between the Lao and their personalities is through music and dance. To explain, there are opposing drumming styles which signify the Rada and Petra elements of Voodoo. Rada drumming, for instance, is on-beat using an even time measure; whereas, Petra drumming is off-beat (idiosyncratic) using an odd time signature. So, when drumming begins within a Voodoo ceremony devotees can easily recognize the Lao family from the time measure of the beat. Moreover, through drumming devotees can also identify which specific Gods are being called by the tempo of the rhythm. This point illuminates a very unique aspect of Haitian Voodoo, in that it is the rhythm of the drums that call forth the Gods.
Further, whereas other religions verbally call on a specific saint or use certain totems/idols to address particular deities, Voodoo practitioners use the time measure and tempo of the drum to call forth the Lao. As well, during Voodoo ceremonies when the drumming develops into a syncopated rhythm it is an indication that multiple Lao are being called forth. The Lao’s presence is evident when the faithful begin to dance. Further, during the ceremony, when movements speed up and get more feverish, it is an indication that devotees have been mounted by the Lao becoming horses to be ridden by the Gods. Rhythmically and spiritually these human steeds must be up to the task of carrying their respective Lao, as the Haitian proverb suggests: “Great Gods cannot ride little horses”.
Structurally, certain traditions of the Ifá diaspora, like Candomblé, use the same name for the primary deity, Oludumaré, as Yoruba Ifá. However, within the paradigm of Haitian Voodoo the expression Bondye, derived from the French Bon Dieu, signifies the name of the all-encompassing God. Consequently, this deity has all the same the attributes as Oludumare, that is, a high-god who is unapproachable by humans and requires intermediaries, the Loa, to communicate and interact with humanity. The Lao are a very active component of Haitian Voodoo and it is for Yoruba Ifá; they are summoned through music and dance but also through the drawing of vevers: sacred symbols of the Lao drawn by devotees as a method of communicating the sacredness of a particular space. To elaborate, vevers are usually drawn on the ground and in close proximity to an area or space that is deemed holy by the Loa. In construction of vevers flour or ashes are used in making the sacred designs contrast with the dark soil upon which the language is drawn; Deren elaborates on the process: “The drawing of vevers requires real technical skill. A small amount of flour is picked up between the thumb and forefinger and let sift on the ground while the hand moves in the line of the form which the vever is to take.” Each of the Loa has their own particular vever which require certain features. For example, a cross, a symbol of the boundary between this spiritual plane and the next, is necessary for Ghede’s vever because he is the lord of life and death.
Evidence suggests that the origin of vevers is not in the Yoruba Ifá culture, but in the cryptograms of Kongolese (Congo) cultures of central Africa. These cryptograms are used to symbolize the dynamics of the cosmos as well as provide a narrative of a human being’s position in and trek through life. Within the structure of Haitian Voodoo they serve the same function with added attention to the Lao who themselves are the governors of human life within the cosmos. Robert Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit, elaborates on the construction and purpose of vevers: “Symmetrically disposed and symmetrically rendered, they praise, summon and incarnate all at once the Vodun deities of Haiti.” Overall, the practice of Haitian Voodoo provides very strong examples of the maintenance of African culture outside of the salt water borders of the continent. As well it provides clear examples of Pan-African cultural development through incorporation of particular expressions that are not strictly Yoruba. Consequently, it has a firm place within the pantheon of world religions.
 Madison Smartt Bell. Toussaint Louverture: A Biography. (New York: Pantheon, 2007), 6.
 Carolyn E. Fick. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Dominque Revolution from Below. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2004), 43. All religious practice, except for Catholicism, was outlawed in the colony. By extension, those enslaved were baptized in the Catholic church. However, the religious, as well as the educational instruction of the slaves was never seriously or widely undertaken, either by the masters or by the church. Thus, superficially, many of the ritualistic aspects of Catholicism appeared in voodoo, but consciously adapted and reinterpreted by enslaved Africans to accord with their own religious beliefs.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company, 1970), 59.
 Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=voodoo. (accessed December 2016).
 Donald J. Cosentino. Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History), 25-55.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company,1970), 60.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid. This proverb appeared in the opening pages of the book before the contents.
 Maya Deren. Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti. (New York: McPherson & Company, 1970), 204-205.
 Ibid., 204.
 Ibid., 36-38. There are several examples of other vevers throughout this text.
 Robert Farris Thompson. Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 188. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. African Cosmology of the Bântu-Kôngo, Tying the Spiritual Knot: Principles of Life and Living. (Athelia Henrietta Press, 2001), 127-150.
 Robert Farris Thompson. Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. (New York: Vintage Books, 1984), 188. It is likely that vevers were introduced to the Ifá tradition before Europeans encroached upon Africans lands due to the proximity that the Kongo and Yoruba share, however, blending of the cultures was definitely intensified as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade because African peoples were many times lumped together.