Spirits Within Voodoo: Ancestors, and the Loa

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Practitioners standing in Voodoo Alley
Artwork by Wesness

Voodoo in New Orleans is quite distinguishable from the practice in other parts of the world, it grew to be more inclusive of the spiritualism that sprang up within the nineteenth century. Within the voodoo religion, powerful spirits called loa—also called mystères, or the invisibles—unlike saints and angels that are housed within the Judeo-Christian religions, they are not prayed to, they are served. Contrary to popular belief, the loa are not deities. They are considered spiritual guides, who communicate with the one supreme creator, Bondye, in order to manifest the petitions for family, love, money, happiness, wealth, and of course revenge.  The loa preside over daily life, since Bondye doesn’t interfere with personal matters, and depending upon way in which they are called upon, the spirits can be sympathetic or impish.

The Role of Deceased Ancestors

Within the voodoo religion, it’s a common belief that those who have passed away remain on the earthly plane—this is because it is the responsibility of the living to care for their passed loved ones to help them shed the baggage of their life and get them closer to Bondye. In order to care for ancestors, vodouisants light a candle and leave offerings of food and drink—as thanks, ancestors bless their loved ones with health, wealth, and fortune.

The Loa: Contacting the Spirits

Voodoo Altar in New Orleans
Photography by Greg Willis

Conducting voodoo rituals don’t always require a practitioner to petition the loa, but it’s more frequent for them to be a part of the ritual than not. Contacting the spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes—a symbol of Papa Legba, who is the conduit to contacting the rest. In organized practice, there are houngans (priests) and mambos (priestesses), as well as bokors (sorcerers) and caplatas (witches) who lead the rituals, take requests, and receive offerings. These ritualists act as hosts to the possessing loa, which can be quite a violent sight, where the participant thrash and shake, then fall to the ground. Being a host to a loa requires those around to know how to sufficiently provide for the spirit, as they can become stubborn and demand more.

Vèvè: Symbolic Representations of the Loa

A vèvè is a religious symbol which serves to represent a loa during ritualistic practice, whereupon sacrifices and offerings are placed. Every loa has their own individual vèvè, which is typically drawn on the floor using a powder—the type of powder used depended on the type of ritual being performed.

Main Loa of the Voodoo Religion

The loa are a diverse group of spirits, too many to name without going too in depth, but these are a couple of the most well-known of the bunch.

Papa Legba: The Spirit of the Crossroads

Among one of the most important spirits within voodoo, in order for there to be any ritual regarding any other loa, Papa Legba must be contacted first. As the spirit of the crossroads, he is the origin of life, the old man who guards the crossroads, the contact between the realms of life and death—Legba must give his permission in order to communicate any other loa.

Veve, symbolic representations of Voodoo Spirits, the Loa

The poor soul who happens to offend Papa Legba will be virtually deprived of the protection of the spirit world. Guardian of voodoo temples, courtyards, plantations, and crossroads, he also protects the home—if a practitioner is planning on going traveling, they pray to Legba for protection and petition him to safely return them home. A small, crooked old man with a broken body covered in sores, he insists on walking barefoot so he has continuous contact with the earth below him—Legba is a polite and caring spirit, one that all practitioners consider to be lovable.

Papa Ghede and Baron Samedi

Papa Ghede, despite being the spirit of death, is not as forbidding as he may appear in popular imagery—he is dressed in black, with a top hat, with a cigar in his mouth, and controls the souls of those who have passed on. Although the other loa fear and avoid him, he is the one people petition when children are poor of health, as he very much loves children.

Veve, Symbolic representation of Voodoo Spirits, the Loa

There is conflicting information about the relationship between Papa Ghede and Baron Samedi—where some sources claim they are one in the same, where Papa Ghede is the lighter aspect concerning life and Baron Samedi is the dark aspect concerning death. Other sources speak of them being separate entities, where Papa Ghede does the bidding of Baron Samedi. When it comes to magic that deals with death, you can be sure whose power is actually behind it, especially since he has a special interest in those who meet their death as a result of magic.

Voodoo on the Bayou

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle
Spiritual Speaker in the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana
Photography by Nico Bhlr

Anyone can practice voodoo in New Orleans—embraced by people no matter their race, creed, or origin—there are no standard worship practices, in this flexible and inclusive spiritual and religious practice. A religion so immersed in mystery, voodoo is often mistaken for something much more sinister. First introduced to the United States through the repugnant practice of slavery, it originated from the Fon people of West Africa and was then intermixed with European cultural influences, as well as Native American herbalism and spiritual practices.

In Denise Alvarado’s The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, it’s explained that voodoo and hoodoo are not the same, despite the how often they are confused for one another. Incredibly complementary in nature, voodoo and hoodoo in New Orleans are melded together in a practice endearingly referred to as voodoo hoodoo, something that is distinct to the region—elsewhere, voodoo is strictly a religion and hoodoo is strictly a folk magic practice. New Orleans is a mixing pot—multiple cultures converging together, the influences of voodoo are so incredibly diverse that it’s no wonder why those who aren’t involved in the religion would be confused about the whole thing.

The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook

Well, here is where the confusion clears—like it was mentioned before, voodoo is a religion, while hoodoo is a practice. Voodoo practitioners believe in a single supreme creator, known as Bondye, which in French Creole stands for “good god.” There is no mention of only good or only evil beings in the religion—instead it is a practice that embraces the good and bad in all situations, where spirits known as the loa act as messengers for Bondye. Despite there being a single god, the loa, also known as lwa, are the ones that practitioners communicate with. Frequently likened to the saints in Catholicism, there is a loa to contact in regards to nearly every aspect of normal life.

Popular media insists that New Orleans voodoo is an ominous, evil tradition—this is based on the demonization of the unique practices within the religion. During the reign of the infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, the use of voodoo dolls came into common use, like gris gris (gree-gree), as a form of talismanic magic. There is an odd tradition of depicting voodoo dolls are objects of revenge—ways for malevolent practitioners to send destruction and pain into the lives of their targets. The majority of Voodoo practitioners have been actively working against this negative media presence, showing that most voodoo dolls are centered on healing, finding true love, and obtaining spiritual guidance. Just like Marie Laveau, it seeks to help those in need—to feed the hungry, help the poor, and curing ailments such as anxiety, addictions, depression, and loneliness are mainstays of this religion.

Skulls deteriorating in the jungle
Photography by Christian Grecu

All in all, it seems that those who are a part of the voodoo religion actually prefer to keep their beliefs and practices to themselves, you won’t find any legitimate practitioners displaying their rituals in public, as this would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. This is fair, considering the amount of public bile that spills over into their culture whenever it is brought to light anywhere else in the United States. Privacy is often more pleasant than negativity when it comes to personal beliefs.

History of the Ouija Board: From the Civil War to The Exorcist

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Horror Culture

Terrifying hands coming over a hill
Photo by Daniel Jensen

Most of popular horror culture will convince the easily misled that talking boards, specifically Ouija boards, are tools of evil. Movies like The Exorcist (1973) and Witchboard (1986) have painted a fairly devious portrait of talking boards, which previously held a sociable reputation. Prior to its debut in such classic horror movies, it was regarded as a game that could be played whilst on a date with a lady companion as an excuse to touch hands, in an era where it was otherwise forbidden for courting couples to touch. With much of the history of the Ouija board still unknown, due to a he-said-she-said origin of who the creator of the official board really was, what is known is quite a bit more vanilla that what might be expected.

Horrifying History of the Ouija Board

There are so many different theories of when they came to be such a popular object, one of the most well-regarded of which is that the Ouija board made a huge splash in the market directly following the Civil War. There was a large movement of spiritualism, with so many lives having been lost there were a lot of unmarked graves and soldiers who merely never returned home. Their loved ones wanted a way to get the answers they so desperately desired, even if it was just to know once and for all that their soldier was not coming home to them.

There really is no tangible proof of when the first talking board was created or for what purpose it was ultimately created, so it continues to be a tool that is shrouded in mystery. Still, with all of the information that is available today about the innocent origins of the Ouija board, there are more convinced of its sordid nature than those who believe it to be a neutral tool. Those involved in occult practices, who either consider themselves mediums or spiritual readers enjoy using talking boards to either communicate with spirits of passed loved ones or to channel their own, often regarded as supernatural, gifts. When things are misunderstood, there is typically a sense of mistrust that follows along, skepticism is a normal reaction to things that defy logic and avoidance is an understandable reaction to things that create a sense of dread.

So—with all of that in mind, what is it about Ouija boards that continues to scare the uninformed into rebuking those who use them? Likely it’s the images that are conjured from the horror movies we enjoy so much; the idea of demonic possession and evil spirits can scare even the most skeptical mind into uncertainty when all of the lights are out.

Horror movies that have inspired our fear of Ouija boards:

Arctic Sea Serpent: The Tizheruk

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Folklore on the Tizheruk

Meet the Tizheruk, fighting with a polar bear
Artwork by HodariNundu

There are so many cultures that have tales of Sea-Monsters, particularly of the serpent variety, that it would almost be a shock to learn that the Inuit culture didn’t possess one. It is only natural to fear what we do not know, and the list of phobias that have spawned from “not knowing” is fairly long. Fear of the dark is a prevalent phobia for many people, which is why it’s such a commonplace tool for creators of horror movies and scary stories. Another common phobia is fear of the unknown in the depths of the sea. The common theme here is that many fear not only what they do not know but also what they cannot see, dual traits that make the habitat of the Tizheruk (tiz-zer-ook), also known as the Pal-Rai-Yûk (pall-rye-yook), that much more frightening.

Not unlike the Loch Ness Monster, the Tizheruk is described as being a sea-serpent. Its visage is quite interesting; with a head that is purportedly seven feet long, it is said to be estimated at only fifteen feet in total length. In some cases, the Tizheruk is said to have a fishtail, while still in others it is said to be more of a flipper, but those aren’t the only inconsistencies that make up the lore of the Tizheruk. As can be observed in the pictures that accompany this article, there are a wide variety of different accounts of what the Tizheruk actually looks like.

Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology

According to Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology by George M. Eberhart the Tizheruk has thick fur, a snake or crocodile-like head, short horns, and a long tongue. Eberhart’s version of the Tizheruk has three pairs of legs and three dorsal fins, and his version also has the description of a flipper for a tail. He references that the Tizheruk could be an evolutionary off-shoot of a long-necked seal that ventured from the shores of the arctic ocean to the fresh-water rivers that fork inland from Key Island in Alaska.

Without a doubt, the most terrifying form that the Tizheruk is said to have is that of a giant eel-like creature with transparent skin and flesh, which not only allows the observer to see still-digesting victims but also allows the creature to be less visible when stalking its prey. This version of the Tizheruk can also venture into water as shallow as one foot deep, meaning it can compress its body small enough to fit in such a space. This makes it easier for it to ambush predators and snatch prey. It also results in any still-living victims in its belly being brutally crushed.

Tizheruk drawing
Tizheruk by Felipe Krull

There is surprisingly not a great deal of lore about the Tizheruk available to give the full extent of this creature’s history, but there have been quite a few sightings, including the possibility of it being caught on camera. NBC News even did an article about Alaska’s Loch Ness Monster being captured on tape. While I couldn’t locate the footage that supposedly resurfaced in 2009, I did find a more recent clip from when I first arrived in Alaska in 2016 filmed by the Alaskan Bureau of Land Management.

Having watched the clip, it’s unclear what it really is, but as the video shows the Department of Fish and Game did their best to debunk this sighting. What are your thoughts on this water-bound cryptid?

Interested in other Alaskan cryptids? Take a look at these fascinating creatures of the arctic!

Alaska’s Bigfoot: The Tornit

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Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

History and Mythology of the Tornit

Tornit, Alaska's Bigfoot, caught and caged
Photography by Elmira Gokoryan

Back in the old times, when Baffin Island was still known as Nunatsiarmiut (new-naht-saw-me-oot) and before European influence, the Inuit people lived near the coast of Kangiqtualuk. They were master kayak-builders and survived by means of subsistence—they were excellent hunters, regularly bringing in seals and whales to feed the people in their villages. They were not the only people living on the island though, they lived under the shadow of fear with a tribe of much bigger and aggressive people. Their way of living was different than their Inuit counterparts, as they could not build kayaks, tan hides, or preserve food in the traditional ways of the north.

These people are known as the Tornit (tore-knit) and possessed not only a larger stature but extraordinary strength; they would build houses out of stones and boulders that were much too large for any Inuit person to lift. These creatures, although human-like, are not human at all, with long arms and legs, they present more like a large ape or Neanderthal. Although they are bipedal in nature they would still be mistaken for a bear at a distance, due to their hairy appearance. Despite their largely physical advantages over a regular man, the Tornit have exceedingly poor eyesight which hinders their ability to hunt. They often smell like ghastly rotting flesh at worst and at best as if they have been freshly sprayed by a skunk—this concept also connects them largely to the creature of the southern United States known as the Skunk Ape.

So What’s the Story?

Crouching ape; Alaska's bigfoot, the Tornit
Photography by Kelly Sikkema

There is an abundance of lore available on these creatures through the published anthropological surveys of the Northern territories from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Franz Boas wrote down the oral traditions of the Inuit people from Baffin Island to Hudson Bay and captured many stories of the unscrupulous nature of the Tornit. There were some inconsistencies, with some villages recalling oral traditions that painted the Tornit to be a friendlier beast and even other recollections that the Tornit were actually hunted as a food source.

Their tense relationship with most of the Inuit tribes may have had less to do with the race of people as a whole and more so with the idea that neither the Inuit nor the Tornit seemed to be too fond of each other in general. The overwhelming consensus with all of the information available in books and online suggest they are a morally repugnant, dim-witted, unpleasant, and vicious creature. All of the lore taken into consideration, the reputation that the Tornit have, smacks more of a feudal war than that of a monster that hunts its prey from the shadows, but the isolated incidents of Tornit invading Inuit villages while the men were away simply to kill all of the women and children, in my opinion, makes them creatures to be feared.

Read the first installation of our original story, which features a rendition of the Tornit folktale, or check out other fascinating Alaskan cryptids!

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