Animal sacrifices are performed at Vodun rituals. The animals are purified, and a goat, sheep, chicken, or dog is sacrificed for the Loa. The blood of the sacrificed animal is collected in a vessel, and the priest drinks some of the blood, which satisfies the hunger of the Loa. The slaughtered animal is then cooked and eaten by participants in the ritual.
Vodun priests can be male (houngan) or female (mambo) and hold the same status of importance within the religion. The Vodun place of worship is a temple called a hounfour, which is adorned with a poteau-mitan, which is the main aspect of the temple. The poteau-mitan is the place where God, spirits, and ancestors can communicate with people. The altar in the temple is elaborately decorated with candles, pictures of Christian saints, and items that are of importance to the Loa.
Cemeteries are an important part of Vodun rituals. The first male buried in a cemetery is called a baron, and will protect the other family members that come to be buried in the same cemetery. A cross at the entrance of the cemetery called the kwa baron is a site where food, candles, and other gifts are offered at the base. This offering is an important ritual for veneration of the Loa, since the cemetery defines the spatial contact between the living and the dead. The key time for contact with ancestors for the Vodun is the Christian Eve of All Saints or Halloween. The ritual calendar of the Vodun corresponds to Roman Catholic feast days. The calendar indicates which Loa will be venerated, or to which Christian site a pilgrimage will be made by adherents.
What stands out as unique to the Vodun people is the belief that a dead person can be revived after burial. The raised persons are called zombies, and they have no will of their own and are subject to control by others. In reality, a zombie is a person who is not dead, but who is under the influence of powerful drugs administered by an evil sorcerer. Few Voduns have ever seen a true zombie, but they maintain strong beliefs in the raising of the dead.
The misconceptions of Vodun can be directly linked to a book written in 1884 by S. St. John titled Haiti or the Black Republic. S. St. John described the Vodun tradition as very dark and evil, including such horrific acts as human sacrifice and cannibalism. Having no concrete knowledge about Africa or the peoples of Africa, many people in the West received this book as reliable instead of as an inaccurate and sensationalized fictional account. Hollywood quickly devoured the mystery and dark aspects that St. John wrote about, which provided countless horror movie plots.
Finally, in the 1950s, anthropologists and other scholars shed light on the true nature and mystery behind Vodun. However, the dark legends of Vodun continue to spark intrigue and fascination among many in the Western world.
Vodun has thrived in various denominations in Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Canada, and the United States (mainly in New Orleans). The Vodun tradition exemplifies an old religion that has survived through combining new practices with old beliefs.