A Glossary of Terms Found in the African Derived Traditions

When discussing Vodou, hoodoo, Santeria/Lukumi, or any of the African derived traditions, certain words and phrases are used which can be confusing to non-initiates and those new to those traditions.  Here is a quick guide to some of the most commonly found terms, to help facilitate understanding and discussion for those new to our traditions and community.

Glossary

ADR: An acronym for African Diaspora Religion

African Diaspora: The term used to describe the mass migration of African peoples to the Americas as a part of the slave trade.

African Diaspora Religion: A religion which evolved from traditional African practices in the Americas, as a direct result of the importation of African peoples into the Americas.

African Traditional Religion: A religion of African origin, as practiced in Africa by African people.

Assogwe: A High Priest of Haitian Vodou.  An Houngan or Mambo can hold the rank of Assogwe.

Asson: The sacred rattle which is the symbol of the authority of the priesthood of Haitian Vodou, and is used by the priesthood to call the spirits.

Asson lineage: A Haitian Vodou society or family which uses the Asson in their practice.  The most common form of Vodou encountered by those new to the Vodoutraditions.

ATR: An acronym for African Traditional Religion

Babalawo: Meaning ‘Father of Secrets’, a babalawo is a High Priest of the Yoruban African Traditional Religion or the Santeria/Lukumi tradition.

Bath: In context, a spiritual bath.  Not a soak in the tub to clean the body, but a mixture of herbs, colognes, waters, etc. which is poured onto the body for spiritual benefit.

Candomble: One of the African Diaspora Religions of Brazil, and the most dominant in that country.  Based in Orixa worship and the Yoruban religious practices of Africa, and similar to the Cuban Santeria/Lukumi tradition.

Condition: A term found in the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition to describe an oil or powder blend, eg. ‘condition oil’.  Denotes an oil or powder formulation which addresses a spiritual condition or set of circumstances.

Congo: An African nation whose people were taken to the Americas in the African Diaspora.  They were primarily taken to Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela, where their tribal religious practices and customs informed some of the African Diaspora Religions in those countries.  The primary source of the Palo traditions of Cuba.

Conjure:  Another term used to refer to the hoodoo folk magic of the American South.

Crown: The term used to refer to initiation in Santeria/Lukumi and Candomble(Crowning) and to refer to the spirit who rules the head of the initiate.

Dress: In the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition, refers to the practice of preparing an item for magical purposes by rubbing it with oil.  See also Fix.

Fet: A party/festival held for a spirit in Haitian Vodou.

Fix: In the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition, refers to the practice of preparing an item for magical purposes by adding herbs, curios, personal concerns, and other material.  See also Dress.

Folk Catholicism: A regional variant of the Roman Catholic religion where the traditional practices of the Church are combined with local spiritual traditions and practices to form a Catholic tradition which deviates from the spiritual practices set down by the Vatican.  Often involves the veneration of local folk heroes or indigenous gods as folk Saints.  Common in Latin America.

Folk Saint: An indigenous deity, folk hero, or historical figure elevated to the level of Sainthood in popular culture and spiritual practice, but not recognised by the Catholic Church.

Fon: An African nation whose people were taken to the Americas in the African Diaspora.  They were primarily taken to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where their tribal religious practices and customs informed the African Diaspora Religions of Hatian Vodou and Los 21 Divisiones.

Gris-gris: A bundle of herbs and/or curios tied in fabric to form a magical charm, common in the folk magic of Louisiana voodoo.

Haitian Vodou: The African Diaspora Religion of Haiti.  A mixture of many different African practices which came together to form a single religion during the period of slavery in Haiti.

Heat: Spiritual strength and power.  Also refers to the process of magically strengthening an item (Heating).

Hoodoo: The folk magic of the Black people of the Southern USA.  A combination of African, Native American, and European folk magical practices with a spiritual component rooted in the Christian (usually Baptist) church.

Houngan: An initiated priest of Haitian Vodou.

Hounsi: An initiate of Haitian Vodou who is not a member of the priesthood.

House: The primary organisational structure of most African Diaspora Religions.  A family/society group of practitioners who share the same initatory lineage and who worship together.

Ifa: Sometimes refers to the Orisha who was present at creation in the Yoruba, Santeria/Lukumi, and similar religious traditions, and other times refers to the form of divination used to consult this Orisha.

Initiatory Tradition: A tradition where the knowledge and power needed to practice that tradition can only be gained by the process of initiation, and is not shared with those who are not initiated into that tradition.  All of the African Traditional Religions and African Diaspora Religions are initiatory.

Iyanifa: The female equivalent of a babalawo, although most commonly found in the African Traditional Religious practices of the Yoruba people.  They are uncommon and controversial in Santeria/Lukumi, but are becoming a part of the traditions of that religion.

Kanzo: The major initiation ceremony of Haitian Vodou, which creates the priesthood of the Asson lineages.

Kimbanda: One of the African Diaspora Religions of Brazil.

Lave Tet: Literally ‘washing the head’, can be a cleansing/bathing ceremony or an initiation into a Haitian Vodou house.

Los 21 Divisiones: The African Diaspora Religion of the Dominican Republic.  Similar to Haitian Vodou, but with a different mixture of tribal traditions and more Spanish cultural influences.

Lwa: The Spirits of Haitian Vodou

Lukumi: A Yoruban word meaning ‘friend’, Lukumi is used to refer to the African Diaspora Religion of Cuba, and is a term used instead of the more common name Santeria.  Some practitioners find the term ‘Santeria‘ to be offensive due to its colonial overtones, and prefer the African derived term.

Mambo: An initiated priestess of Haitian Vodou.

Met Tet: Literally ‘Master of the Head’, the spirit who rules the head of a practitioner of Haitian Vodou.

Mojo: A small bag containing herbs and/or curios, created as a magical charm to be carried upon the person.  One of the most common pieces of folk magic in the hoodootradition.  Often called a mojo hand or mojo bag.

Non-Asson lineage: A Haitian Vodou society or family which does not use the Asson in their practice.  Often rural and family-based, not often encountered by newcomers to the Vodou traditions.

Orisha: The spelling used in Cuba by practitioners of Santeria/Lukumi to refer to the spirits of that tradition.

Orixa: The spelling used in Brazil by practitioners of Candomble to refer to the spirits of that tradition.

Palera: An initiated female practitioner of one of the Palo traditions.

Palero: An initiated male practitioner of one of the Palo traditions.

Palo: A group of spiritual traditions found in Cuba, which derive from Congolesespiritual practices.  Sometimes erroneously called ‘the negative form of Santeria‘, when in reality it is an entirely separate tradition.

Personal Concern: In the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork tradition, an object which comes from a person and is used to link them magically to an item or piece of spellwork.  May be an indirect concern such as a photo, business card, or signature; or of the body itself such as hair, nail clippings, blood, or sexual fluids.  Concerns which come from the body are considered more potent.

Root Doctor:  A person who practices the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork form of folk magic.  Used to refer to a professional practitioner, as opposed to someone who does magical work for themselves.

Rootwork:  Another term used to refer to the hoodoo folk magic of the American South. Also refers to the practice of working with plants within that tradition.

Rootworker: A person who practices the hoodoo/conjure/rootwork form of folk magic.

Santera: A priestess of the Santeria/Lukumi tradition.

Santeria: The African Diaspora Religion of Cuba, based in Orisha worship and the Yoruban religious practices of Africa.  Similar to the Brazilian Candomble tradition.

Santero: A priest of the Santeria/Lukumi tradition.

Umbanda: One of the African Diaspora Religions of Brazil.

Vodou: The spelling used in Haiti for the Haitian Vodou tradition.

Vodoun: The spelling used in Benin to denote the African form of Vodoun still practiced there.

Voodoo: The spelling used to denote the New Orleans/Louisiana folk magical practice.  Not one of the spellings used by practitioners of the religion, although the most common spelling used by the media.

Yoruba: The indigenous people of Nigeria, their customs, and religious practice.  Many Yoruban people were a part of the African Diaspora, and their customs and religious traditions survive in many of the African Diaspora Religions.