Growing up in the Southeast of the US, I found myself surrounded by so many different aspects of these cultures that grow out of these beliefs, most of which have pretty strong roots in African culture.
One of the things I’ve found most interesting about these cultural roots as I’ve learned more about the cultures that I grew up around is that so much of these items that derive from such strong spiritual concepts, have merely become a piece of the tradition, the original reasons long since forgotten by most.
On of my favorites is the fact that most porches is the Southeastern US have blue ceilings. The reason for this today now comes down to tradition. You know, my parents painted their porch blue, their parents did the same, and so on. However, the reason this all started was due to a fear of the Haint, or restless spirits of the dead. The blue was believed to keep them away from entering the home. If I remember correctly, it had something to do with the fact that the spirits would be confused that the ceiling was the same color as the sky and get stuck or some other such thing.
Another one of my favorites, merely because I think the look is much more fun, is the above pictured bottle tree. Similar to the porch ceilings, these trees were created as a way of dealing with evil spirits. However, much more interestingly is how they were dealt with. The bottles would be placed on the tree, as pictured, with the thought that the evil spirits would get caught inside of them. Once the spirits were captured, the bottles would be corked and thrown into the sea, effectively removing evil spirits from the area and making the spiritual region much safer.
Of course. . . I’m not sure what the folks who found the bottles washing up on shore thought as they opened them and released the spirits into their own area. . . but I guess that’s not of any concern.
But the idea is fantastic. Items like this truly derived as an amalgam of African and European religious cultures and made something not only very interesting, but also something that would color the world in which these folks lived. Bottle trees are still thriving around the continent today, although I’m certain they are intended to serve a much more aesthetic purpose than their ancestors. This piece of culture that served a purpose which the originators believed to be of utmost importance, has morphed into something very different, an art piece that people wish to have displayed on their lawn. Not nearly as beautiful of a concept, but a lovely homage all the same.
When you start to look into the items more directly related to Hoodoo and Voodoo you see even more interesting items begin to crop up. These are very African-rooted belief systems (although truly only found within the States), but due to heavy Catholic influences deriving from contact with the Europeans, these belief systems have become their own amalgam, capturing the more nature-derive spiritual power-systems that they originated from and adding in the Christian influences of God and the devil.
In fact, if one were to try to separate the Christian influences from Hoodoo or Voodoo, I don’t believe you’ve have much that would be recognizable to us today left, outside of things such as voodoo dolls. . . or of what I truly wish to talk about here.
Zombies. . . the earliest depictions of zombies actually come from Voodoo, although these zombies were much more similar to the resurrected dead that we connect with necromancers today, but the word zombie itself is a voodoo word.
You can’t take a look at modern popular culture today without quickly coming across some sort of mention of zombies. Heck, often when seeing someone who is incredibly tired or not focusing on a task at hand, we refer to them as a zombie. What I find most interesting about this inclusion into our modern vernacular is the fact that both Hoodoo and Voodoo have traditionally been shunned concepts, things that were not even to be talked about among “sophisticated” folks. Yet, the culture of Voodoo has become so ingrained in our world that I can’t imagine anyone in Western culture not immediately being able to picture a zombie just upon hearing the word.
I often find concern regarding the fact that the cultures of the world are disappearing, due to things like the internet shrinking the distance between cultures. . . however, I think instead we are finding ourselves in a situation more where our cultures are melding. New items from across the globe are starting to become common in our very homes. Anime, a type of animation/art coming form Japan, is something that became very common in the States starting in the 80’s, so it’s nothing too surprising. Heck, the internet was not quite commonplace at that point either. However. . . just down the road from me (okay, just looking today I see that it has been moved slightly for the past couple years, but still in town, only a couple miles away), here in “how do you pronounce that town’s name” Wisconsin we have a yearly Anime Convention, considered one of the largest in the region. One of my nieces is currently becoming quite adept at drawing in the style. It is officially a part of our culture now.
And it’s amazing. No longer do we have to travel the globe to learn about new cultures (although I highly recommend it). We can find it right here in our own back yards.
And it’s pretty darn cool.
Have a good one!