The animistic religion of voodoo centres around the supplication of spirits called loa. Popular culture has painted the practice with outlandish trappings, as the word "voodoo" conjures images of witch doctors and dolls with pins stuck in them. In actuality, voodoo is a benevolent religion. The use of chickens--specifically for sacrifice--is prominent in the popular conception of voodoo. And while Hollywood has exaggerated or made up aspects of the religion, there are some kernels of truth in its depiction.
During voodoo ceremonies, worshippers gather, pound on drums, chant and offer up sacrifices to the loa. In certain instances, this can entail the sacrifice of a farm animal, such as a chicken. The chicken's throat is cut, and the blood is used as an offering to the loa. In other instances, the loa may accept chicken's eggs or roasted chicken meat instead of blood. The loa then appears, and takes possession of one of the worshippers. The priest or priestess then asks the loa questions or entreats it for favours, while the possessed worshipper responds in the tone and personality of the spirit. When the ceremony ends, the loa departs the possessed worshipper and restores him to his former facilities.
Each loa possesses its own personality and powers that affect different aspects of life. Some loa like chickens and prefer them as sacrifice, while others despise them in favour of other sacrifices. Accordingly, the use of a chicken in voodoo depends largely upon which loa the worshippers are supplicating.
Sacrificing a chicken may appear savage, but strict hygienic conditions surround the act. The temple in which the sacrifice occurs needs to be clean and disease-free, as does the knife used in the act. These specifics have religious connotations, as well as practical ones. According to voodoo beliefs, the loa hate waste, and do not want to see the chicken sacrificed in vain. Sanitary conditions mean that the bird can be cooked safely and eaten by the worshippers upon completion of the ceremony.
In addition to the sacrificial purposes, a chicken's foot holds great power in the voodoo religion. Accordingly, voodoo practitioners often use chicken's feet as charms and talismans. The exact power of the charm varies--voodoo is an oral religion, and its tenets depend on the user--but it often is used as a protective charm to ward off evil spirits.