What do you think of when you think of Voodoo? Pins being stuck into dolls? Zombies? Catfish gumbo? Well, Voodoo (or to be more accurate, Vodou) is essentially a syncretic religion combining West African mythology with aspects of Catholicism, and mixing in some Taíno legends as well. The name is said to arise from the Fon term for a spirit, with Fon being a language historically spoken in what is now Benin. It's most prominent in Haiti, but practiced in the United States as well. As with some other pantheons, there is a supreme god in Vodou, but he doesn't intervene in human affairs. If you want direct interaction, you'd have to go to the loa, or lesser gods or spirits. There are many of these, but some of the more famous and recognizable minor deities include:
Baron Samedi - The god of the dead is generally depicted as a corpse in a top hat. Now that's what I call a stiff with style! His name comes from the French for Saturday, regarded as the day of death, but some have proposed that there might also be a link to the term "cemetery." He's known for indulging his id, being quite fond of debauchery, dirty jokes, drinking, and smoking. This attitude and behavior also applies to people possessed by the Baron. In his role of presiding over the dead, he also has the power to cure any mortal wound or curse, if he feels like it. And for you Discworld fans out there, he makes an appearance in Witches Abroad, as the zombified former ruler of Genua.
Erzulie - Whether there's one Erzulie with multiple aspects or several different Erzulies probably depends on whom you ask, but it's basically a catch-all name for the most significant female loa. Erzulie Freda, said to have come from Dahomey (now Benin), is very stereotypically feminine, interested in jewelry, flowers, and flirting with men. I've seen some references to Erzulie Freda as a virgin goddess, but also to her having three different husbands. Another aspect, Erzulie Dantor, is a warrior woman, the especial protector of women and children. Although associated with childbirth, she's also the patron deity of lesbians. And she is apparently mute, having had her tongue cut out by her own side during the Haitian Revolution. She is commonly depicted as looking like the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, a famous Polish icon of Mary.
Papa Legba - Since he's the subject of songs by both Elton John and Talking Heads, you KNOW he must be important. And he is, seeing as how he's the intermediary between mortals and the spirit world, always invoked at the beginning and end of any Vodou ceremony. He's often portrayed as an old man with a crutch, and the dog is his sacred animal. In addition to his role in ceremonies, he also seems to have a function similar to that of the Hindu Ganesh, in that he's seen as a remover of obstacles.
While Vodou often seems to be regarded as a particularly creepy religion in mainstream America, I don't know that it's a whole lot different from other belief systems that incorporate magic (which, really, is EVERY religion). The idea of crazy behavior as a sign of possession by a god or spirit is hardly unique to Vodou, and even some typically straight-laced Christian denominations still believe in speaking in tongues. Yeah, apparently Pentecostals refuse to drink alcohol or celebrate Halloween, but they're perfectly fine with going into fits of madness at church. Go figure. As a non-believer, I guess I feel that, if you're going to be religious, you might as well have some fun with it. Mind you, a truly religious person would believe what they think is true, not what they think is cool. But I get the impression that people like Pat Robertson (who, as we've discussed, thinks the Haitians were in league with the Devil) choose the religion that best suits their political agenda, and then spend their time trying to convince themselves and others that it's true.