You hear chanting permeating the darkness. As drums beat and worshippers dance around a ritual fire, their voices crescendo as the spirits of their “gods” enter their bodies. Their eyes roll back in their heads and they jerk, shake, roll on the ground, and act out the specific attributes of their possessing spirits. You are witnessing the worship of a follower of a number of cults scattered through Latin America, the Caribbean and the deep southern part of the U.S.
There are hosts of similar groups, with comparable worship and beliefs. These include Voodoo in Haiti, Santeria in Cuba, Candomble and Macumba in Brazil, Shango in Trinidad, and Obeah in the West Indies and Louisiana. I call these Afro-Catholic cults because they are a mixture of African spiritism and magic with a veneer of Catholicism. Some call them Afro-Caribbean cults. They are often spoken of as a form of Satanism. This is not technically true. They do not overtly worship the Devil or demons. But they are Satanic, that is, they are full of demonism and the occult.
Their roots lie in the pagan, animistic religions of West Africa. These religions were brought to the New World by those sold into slavery. In their efforts to continue their traditional worship, they masked their faith with a Catholic façade. For example, they would give a particular god the name of a Catholic saint. Thus, they could use the image of a European saint, but actually be worshipping an African spirit. Some of the cultists claim to follow both Christianity and their traditional religion, holding to a syncretic worship and belief system.
The basic belief of most of these religions is that the gods dwell in a spiritual world located within the depths of the earth. They erect buildings to worship the gods, usually with a central pole, which represents the connecting link between the divine world and this one. Priests and priestesses invoke the gods and their power to work magic. They also call up the spirits who will possess worshippers in their services. Sorcery and magic are an integral part of the belief system of these cults. Interestingly enough, so is animal sacrifice. Divination and healing rituals are a common feature. Devotees of these religions believe that their ancestors are present with them. To fail to appease these dead spirits may result in sickness or even death.
Summary of Beliefs
God: There may be one central supreme god, but worship is usually directed to a number of
gods and goddess. Each deity has specific attributes and influences.
Jesus: Jesus is virtually irrelevant. If mentioned at all, it is a corrupted and pagan view. He may
be viewed as one of the gods, or perhaps an inspired prophet.
Salvation: Salvation is found in appeasement of the gods, various rituals.
Sin: Holiness and purity are expressed in ritualistic terms, and placating the spirits.
Afterlife: After death, a person’s spirit may enter the afterworld, or some believe in
Scripture: There are no Scriptures. Teaching is transmitted orally.