Get a reading to discover some of your Lwa
The very first and respectful thing to do, if you are interested in the religion of Vodou is to get a reading from an initiated priest to look into your spirits, the Lwa of the religion.
It should be a reading from a priest in the branch that you are interested in, or possibly want to be initiated in yourself eventually. This is because different houses and branches have different spirits, and these will step forwards when you are read. They may also share some in common. Depending on your bloodline some of these spirits may have been there since birth. In family Vodou they pass down the same handful of Lwa. You must look at obtaining this guidance as joining another family or through a different group. Some say at least our head spirit was there since birth. I do not personally know if this is true. If we do not have these spirits through bloodline, they can call us, but again we are joining another family, being adopted in. This is why if you go to different priests in different families or branches your reading will not be exactly the same. There is no prohibition to any race or sexual orientation from entering Vodou.
Tarot readings are popular, but many devices may be used, and such as personal revelation or sign given to the priest by the Lwa for you.
If you get a reading from a Haitian Mambo, and then from a Sancista or Papa Boko, the way in which the spirits come across or step forwards for you can differ due to lineage. If you stop your guidance or relationship under the priest, then your spiritual connections may weaken, unless you become a full priest yourself. Because the connection may be broken by family. This is not DIY do it yourself, mix and match practices.
It is widely held that your met tet, main Lwa or Orisha cannot be known with certainty until you initiate. In 21 divisions, one Papa Boko states there is a reading qi/ki Lwa or star reading. But we do not determine head spirit in Sanse or Haitian Vodou, asson lineage before the ritual date. We may suspect who this is, but it can also change.
The Vodou are not a personality type. Just because you have La Sirene in one tradition does not mean you have Yemaya in another. They are not just archetypes or forces, they are beings. They are not like pat descritpions of greek gods like the god of war or goddess of love. Often times they are a whole group type of family of spirits. One spirit can have different paths or ways they are served that you may have one and not another type of Legba. But in our tradition they would be under the chief Papa Legba.
The Lwa belong to the religion and cannot be separated from their people and religion by magical approach alone. The African spirits do not belong in newage, Wicca or ceremonial magic. The same argument can be made with other indigenous traditions, and fake native American "shamans". Vodou is a living surviving tradition which does not need one person to make changes. And should be respected as such for the sacrifices made. It does not need reconstruction. Its spirits have not gone cold, or as inactive. They are very able to enact change on earth, and as elevated as some are, are not lofty and removed.
Vodou is a religion and not a system of folk magic and curses. Many people do not know what it even is but I am sure only think that they do. Vodou does not have a pantheon you can pick and choose from at will. You either have a Lwa or you don't, especially in the beginning. When you work with other spirits you do not have, it can create problems by making your other connections weaker and problems in your life. You may have problems with bad spirits due to imposters and evil dead masquerading as these spirits. Other spirits who are good can also use the image of Lwa such as guides and ancestors.
Once you have discovered some of your Lwa, you can get direction with what they may require, and have ongoing strengthening of relationship. Initiating is not the beginning or ending of practice, but guidance is absolutely key. You cannot learn from books or the internet. There is alot of bad information out there written by outsiders. the spirits themself have indicated how they want the tradition, and it is not a solitary personal path via psychism, it is a community religion. Any information from alternative sources should be checked with a reputable priest. A relationship with a priest will help prevent alot of problems and also be a resource to help with ones, instead of problems or desperation being your first introduction. You have already shown respect, and respect to the religion and spirits. Vodou is an oral tradition, that practitioners have dedicated their life to.
It needs to be understood that this is a lifestyle, that you need to understand certain cosmological concepts, and become acculturated to the people and culture you wish to approach.It cannot be what you want it to be. This is where entitlement and appropriation come in, a form of bigotry and racism. So be polite and attempt to learn the way things are. Ask about information from several priests to get a better understanding.
Personally I think that Papa Legba can be approached respectfully by all. However do not confuse that with practicing the religion. It is very common to have a visit from Papa Legba or the Baron in the beginning in dreams and such as they are introductory spirits to communication with other Lwa and the dead.
Simple offerings can be given to Baron Samedi at the graveyard gates to introduce yourself, state your full name and that you want to start a relationship. Next visit state your full name and ask for protection if you enter the gates. The ghede can be tricky to work with as they are the radical dead albeit accessible, they are not your ancestors. Cleansings can also be done on this point. His number is 9.
Papa Legba is a very patient and forgiving spirit. However if disrespected will close communication and opportunities in your life and will not be able to catch a break. Unfortunately due to AHSS and Hollywood the image of the Baron pops up leading to misunderstandings. A simple offering can be given to the crossroads or behind your front door. DO NOT put Ellegua stuff to him, they are 2 completely different spirits. Ask him to open the way to good and close the way to bad, the same as you did to the Baron after your first introduction. His number is 3 and 21. You can simply even draw a cross with cornmeal or cascarilla (less traditional) for him, and place his offerings apon it once he has been called and saluted.
We use different mixtures of natural substances and powders to actuallly draw veve than just cornmeal in the religion.
You must start with you ancestors before you try to work with the higher spirits in the African Religions. You may set up an ancestral altar, but even this may have issues, bringing forth issues with the dead and ancestral issues, which are of benefit to get guidance on. The altar is a microcosm of your life, and a portal. Your ancestors can be displeased, and as a presence interfere and cause blocks in your life. Alot of people when they have problems in their life do not identify it with their spiritual practises. Whatever you do or do not do on your altars will have consequences or play out in your life.
As a non initiate you should not offer any readings, services or teachings regarding Vodou, Lwa or the Orisha. This is disrespectful, counterfeit and is the job of the priests to provide. It is scamming and going to create problems in your, your family, and clients lives. These spirits are not found in hoodoo. Some do know better and do not care, others get taken advantage of in their ignorance. You should not make objects such as dolls etc. If you do make it clear it is an art piece only without spiritual value. They can be used or prepared by a priest if you want that to happen but consult first as the spirit may not like the figure. The priest is the bridge to the community in a community religion, not solitary. In all indigenous ways, there was a system of apprenticeship. The first step is humility and respect.
You should learn from history and ethnoography instead of buying spell books. You should learn about worldview and concepts behind why things are done. Do not copy other peoples altars and work. It can be an incorrect interpretation that you are assuming, or something personal to someone else that does not apply to you. You should start learning about spiritual hygiene, and keeping up on your spiritual baths and house cleaning spiritually. To know it is one thing, to practice and live this way is another. Vodou is a way of life. Spirit affects and is revealed in all aspects of life.
Try to go to community events near you as much as possible.
It is true that many on the islands are not initiated. But they come from family lineages and many associate with temples for larger issues or are called to priesthood.
A person of a different country and culture lacks that connection otherwise.
Be helpful, respectful and contribute, this way you can observe, and put in service. The spirits will familiarize with you. If this is not possible then continue to work with your priest in terms of items that can be made for you and advise. By purchasing these small to large things, you can have experiences to see if its the house or religion for you.
It is a reciprocal relationship, and you will learn more than buying mostly useless books.
However there is one practical beginning book I can recommend in Haitian Vodou by Mambo Paula Wedo called: Ayibobo
You can learn how to do a basic salute and libations to the Rada Lwa.
Another I can recommend is Mama Lola, many priest recommend this experiential book.
No book will tell you how to practically practice, or has silly ideas or hoodoo and folk magic if it does. It will not supplement your connection to the spirits. You should read suggested books, and always check with your mentor or priests about the information. Most facebook groups are terrible, try to join one and take the advices only from priests not personal opinions.
There is certain way to use veve and they denote lineage, like a calling card or pass. As such you should not use a random one off a book or the internet, unless given by a priest to you. A priest can pass on certain advices, requests and working you can do that are prescribed by the spirits. Readings, also called "lessons" can confirm or deny your own dreams and spiritualism
The Lwa come in "possession" and the spirit administers to the community, its not just spells at home, this is the religion.
The Lwa expect certain things, songs, gestures etc. And the priests are trained to manage the situation. The priests know exorcism. This is real Vodou....not pins in a doll by a self ordained person and such "sorcery", candles or honey jars.
This truth may make some unhappy due to inconvenience, but there are no shortcuts or backdoors.
Work is done with and under the spirits. People will lie to you or do not know what they are doing are likely to rip you off or lead you astray and waste time, the blind leading the blind. Once you get the same answer from several priests stop asking, do not continue to ask around until you get the answer you want or like.
ZonbiA good priest will have good character. Noone is perfect but they should have a sense of nobility in being trustworthy and be able to control themself and not have knee jerk emotional outbursts,
You should not set up a table without guidance for the reason stated above. To work with the Lwa that you actually have, under an initiated priest. Be open to the spirits you are guided with and not just because you want this or that Lwa. Just because Erzulie is known for love, does not mean that many other Lwa can also perform this work, or want to perform this work for you. Once you have an idea of some, with guidance you can set up a prayer table. This is not the same as the priests altar who have received the spirits in ritual, or have been passed down in an unbroken family lineage.
Certain spirits go specific places, some do not like each other, certain things must always be present.
Buying a statue is empty plaster, there is no spirit there. A priest does not need a veve or statue to have contact.
People need to start thinking spiritually and not materially.
When you become an initiate it is like an attunement internally, a foundation: pwen or a spirit point. Which joins the body and head to the spirit.
If you buy a statue or a doll it must be blessed or baptised by yourself at least. And it can be a gift or an object of meditation but do not mistake it for the Orisha nor Lwa, nor spirit guide. Do not buy all the Orisha or Lwa oils baths and candles from the botanica, they make a nice gift to the spirit but they are not traditional. Using these things all together is not Vodou. The religion or spiritual tradition of Vodou has its own traditional recipes for making baths and lamps that are passed down and not full of synthetic ingredients. If they are used they are usually added to other things, such as a fixed candle or lamps with other fresh herbs or natural oils. We do use many spiritual waters and perfumes.
Of course dolls and statues or pictures can be prepared as pwen. No pwen: no license or attunement with the spirit.
Spirits cannot be bought. Bought Pwen "Achete" are usually but not always contracts facilitated by the priest. They are the dead, earthbound and intranquil, djabs/demons/devils or Petro spirits usually for hire. They are not usually hereditary.
They must be paid, fed and worked with a certain way or your life can become a disaster.
The rada Lwa need to be fed, and given exchange, but again you either have them, they are interested or not.
Others say no altars in a house that is not really yours or is not a family house. Some altars are set up not to be moved and they are there for life. This is because in a traditional African shrine, the land and land spirits are familial, ancestral. Where you are born and buried are linked to family lineage in the root branches connected to your family lines of spirits.
With a prayer table you've created a sacred space designed to focus your faith and attention on your practice. It is intimate, singular and particular to you and it represents your understanding of your relationship between yourself, and your Lwa trhough the lineage you have approached. It is invested with a tremendous amount of your personal spiritual power, energy or ashe. Offerings and prayers can be given, but they are only vested in you, and not do work besides protection and perhaps occasional small petitions. Big work requires more engagement. and not a simple offering. Do not promise them anything you are not able to fulfill. They can be bargained with possibly.
An altar, on the other hand, has been specially prepared and inhabited by the Loases it was made for. It is also indicative of your relationships with your spirits but is reciprocal. The Vodous are actually in the altar and do more than just receive offerings, honor or veneration. It is working with them instead of only serve. Many confuse the word honor or serve with working or petition. The priest only has or can install this altar to a spirit in person.