Vengeful gods, terrifying sorcerers, and death-dealing demons populate the legends and beliefs of the Caribbean, deriving from a potent blend of voodoo, Catholicism, and folklore.
In the home of voodoo, the god of death, Gede, is said to stand at the crossroads to the afterworld. Represented as an undertaker, his clothes are black and he wears dark glasses, while his followers are disguised as corpses. Some voodoo sorcerers own a magic stick called a coco macaque that walks by itself and is sent out to perform vengeful deeds.
Practitioners of obeah, a form of voodoo found on St. Lucia, can bestow authority and riches as well as pain and death. But their power can backfire. One legend tells of a sorcerer who, in the guise of a spirit, used magic dust to drug a man and make love to his wife. One night the dust failed to work, and the husband plunged a knife into the spirit, killing the sorcerer.
In obeah and voodoo beliefs, a person has two souls—a good soul and an earthly one. In death, the good soul goes to heaven, while the earthly one stays in the coffin for three days. If the earthly soul escapes, it becomes a harmful entity known as a duppy. In Barbados, duppies are repelled by walking backward, or by hanging herbs or funeral clothes in a window.
4. Havana, Cuba
When a man is seriously ill in Cuba, the god Icú appears to demand his body and soul. To fool the god, the obeah witch makes a life-size puppet of the dying man, which the man’s wife dresses in her husband’s clothes and then takes to the cemetery at midnight. Seeing the woman crying over the grave, Icú is convinced that the man is dead and already in the underworld.
A devil woman known as La Diablesse lives alone in this village, plotting revenge on cheating husbands. She hides behind trees on lonely roads, waiting to catch them. Although she is beautiful, there is something that betrays her—her cloven hooves. If these are spotted, she must fly toward the safety of Titou Gorge before she turns into a hideous old hag.
This list originally appeared in the National Geographic book Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places, by Sarah Bartlett.