Desmangles tells of “attending Mass at one prominent provincial parish” where “the curate poured libations of water at the four cardinal points before the celebration of the Eucharist, as if to acknowledge the presence of God, the saints, and all the lwas [Vodou gods] in the cosmos.” There are so many lwas in Vodou that they have been categorized into families depending upon their characteristics and functions. The lwas are believed to inhabit a mythological island under the sea known as the city of Vilokan. At the beginning of the ceremony the oungan invokes Legba, the keeper of the gates to Vilokan (while the devotees sing a chant of praise to him), in order to make contact with the gods.
A major purpose of the voodoo ceremony is to be possessed by one of the lwas. This demonic possession is the “quintessential spiritual achievement in a believer’s religious life … a direct engagement with the spirit world.” Apart from the frightening act of “possession,” the function of the lwas in voodoo is little different from that of the so-called saints in Catholicism. A letter from a former Catholic (with a few names changed) could be about voodoo gods:
"I’m 37 years old and before this year I never had a relationship with God. I come from a large Catholic family. I went to Catholic schools until I reached college. I can tell you the patron saint for a golfer or the patron saint for mothers or even one for hopeless cases. If the saint for hopeless cases grants your request, you must have his prayer printed in your local newspaper. I can teach you how to say a Rosary. I can show you my beautiful statue of the 'Blessed Mother.' … I have a scapular medal which if I die while wearing it, I will go straight to heaven. There is my miraculous medal, which if worn gives special graces from the Virgin Mary. … I can find a little pamphlet with special prayers to whatever saint you want to intercede for you. … And … you can borrow my catalog to send away for a medal of that saint to wear around your neck. … You don’t have to ever waste time looking for something you have lost. I will give you a little prayer for St. Anthony. ["St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. There’s something lost that’s got to be found."] He’s the patron saint of lost articles. In no time at all, whatever you have lost will turn up. … And I have some Mass cards handy. For just $25–50 a priest will say a special Mass for the soul of the dead person to move them in purgatory closer to heaven. Who knows, the one you buy might just be the one that pushes them through the gates! Oh! The last thing I need to tell you … get your baby baptized immediately after it is born. … I lost my first child at five months and he was not baptized. I remember the pain I felt in the hospital when the priest told me that he could not baptize a dead baby, that my child would not go to heaven … [but to] Limbo … not a bad place, but you can never see God there. I cried for a long time … thinking I would never see my child … so, don’t wait for the baptism! These are all things I may have told you before I was born from above … saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.”