Voodoo (or Vodou) is a set of supernatural beliefs and practices found in portions of Africa and the New World, including parts of South America and the West Indies, notably Haiti. A mixture of Roman Catholicism and African polytheistic magic, it includes belief in loa, spirits that interact with humans, some of which are identified with Catholic saints. At ceremonies, the priest or priestess invokes the loa who may seemingly possess members of the vodou congregation.
The altar of a vodou temple is typically a stepped structure loaded with such varied objects as a cross, candles, a skull, sacred stones, a magic rattle, a picture of the Virgin, dolls, a little coffin, offerings of food and bottles of rum, and other items that give it baroquely ornate character. Smaller home altars are similarly bedecked.
Decorated bottles are common to vodou, being a combination of magic and folk art. "Libation bottles"— often rum bottles covered in sequins or beads— are placed on most altars as offerings. "Magic bottles" that serve as protective amulets may be covered with a patchwork of cloth and festooned with objects lashed to it, such as small mirrors (to attract desired people and things and deflect others), scissors (to cut or stab a harm-doer) and other items chosen by the bòkò (or sorcerer).
Small coffins, emblematic of death, are placed on Haitian Gédé altars— Gédés being spirits of the ancestral dead. Sometimes the coffins, invariably bearing crosses, are lodged in bottles like the example shown here. (It was purchased from the gift shop of the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City during a Haitian Vodou exhibition.) The feast day of the Gédé, the Day of the Dead, is November 1, the same as the Catholic All Saints' Day.