Witnessing the voodoo power of Ouidah, Benin
The town of Ouidah hosts a voodoo festival each January and various ceremonies are held throughout the year, when costumed dancers and those “fortunate” enough to be temporarily possessed by spirits sway to the beat of drums, summoning the gods. If you’re really lucky, you might get invited in for an audience with the Supreme Chief himself, regally perched on an imitation La-Z-Boy and sipping Fanta.
Honouring the Orixás in Salvador, Brazil
Along the “Red Beach” of Salvador da Bahia, worshippers dressed in ethereal white robes gather around sand altars festooned with gardenias. Some may fall into trances, writhing on the beach, screaming so intensely you’d think they were being torn limb from limb. Perhaps in more familiar settings you’d be calling an ambulance, but this is Salvador, the epicentre of the syncretic, African-based religion known as candomblé, in which worshippers take part in toques, a ritual that involves becoming possessed by the spirit of their Orixá (protector god).
Experiencing Pemba’s djinn, Zanzibar
There’s no better place to seek help from the potent East African spirits than verdant Pemba island. The place quietly reeks of the supernatural and is home to the area’s djinn: form changing spirits. Popo Bawa – half bat and half man but without any Hollywood blockbusters to his name – is an infamous resident. He flies into homes late at night and does dastardly things to men as they slumber in their beds. A charm placed at the base of a fig tree or the sacrifice of a goat is usually enough to keep Popo Bawa away. Respect the culture and tradition and, if lucky, an invitation to a sacrificial ceremony might just come your way.
Exploring the witches market, Bolivia
Take a closer look among the stalls at the Mercado de Hechiceria in La Paz and among the everyday items you’ll see shrivelled llama foetuses, dried frogs and armadillos, remedies and potions, smouldering multicoloured candles and collections of amulets, charms and talismans. The stallholders, or “witches”, generally Aymara women, claim to cure almost any malady, and the methods they use have barely changed in hundreds of years. For those with more complicated problems, or just a healthy sense of curiosity, there are even yatiris (spiritual healers) to be consulted.