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Lwa (Haitian Spirit) of the ocean, of ships and boats, patron of seafarers. Spouse of
the ocean spirit, Lasiren.
Locality on the coast of Dahomey, from which Moreau de Saint-Mery refers
to the Dahoman people generally as "aradas," and from which comes the
term "Rada" denoting a main group of Voudoun rites.
The sacred rattle of Haitian Vodou, its typical components being a calabash
and snake vertebrae. To be "given the asson" is to be raised to the
priestly authority in that tradition (see Houngan, Mambo.)
One of the revered Serpent-Deities of Rada Voudoun, who represent the
sky powers; the rainbow is her symbol, and as wife of Damballah she
shares his function as cosmic protector and giver of blessing. Her "surname"
Wedo may signify her association (along with Damballah) with the Serpent
cult of Whydah or it may be simply a part of the name of the Nago Rainbow-Deity,
The primal or archetypal Mambo, sometimes considered to be the wife
of Loco, with whom she shares the guardianship of religious traditions,
healing powers, and the reverence due to parents and to ancestors. She
is patroness of initiation, and the palm-tree is her symbol.
Related to Badagri, on the western Nigerian coast; a title and aspect
of the Nago Lwa Ogu or Ogoun.
A Sudanese people represented in Haiti; their cult animal in Africa
was the antelope.
Cimetiere, Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi
Intensely powerful (and therefore magical) Lwa of the Dead; considered
to be of the "family" of Ghede, but of New World rather than African
A pool or tank of water sometimes provided at a hounfor. It is of convenient
size and may be suitably ornamented for its purpose, that aquatic or
serpent Lwa when they have taken possession of devotees may enjoy immersion.
In some contexts this word signifies simply a set of drums; in ritual
(and especially at the point of division between the opening devotions
and ceremony proper) it signifies a specific system of sounding the
asson, clapping hands, and sounding the drums (if used) in an impressive
An historically and culturally important regions, river and city which
forms part of southern Nigeria. The craftsmanship of the Beni (or Bini)
people in brass, bronze and ivory is renowned.
A bokor or boko is a sorcerer who performs Spiritual Work for clients
in return for gifts or money. What separates them from other practitioners
is that, in general, they "work with both hands." In
other words, they will perform many rituals involving black magick &
will-control that most other initiated Vodou practitioners will not.
Mademoiselle Brigitte, Madame Brigitte, Grande Brigitte
A loa whose French-Celtic name evokes European associations of folklore
and myth, "Grande" in Creole signifying "Grandmother." Maman Brigitte,
as she is often called, is the female Guardian of Graves, a powerful
magical Loa of cemeteries, and is said by some to be the wife of one
of the Barons. Her sacred trees are the elm and the weeping willow.
See Baron Cimetiere
A necklace. Specifically, in Voudoun, a ritual necklace given to a person
in token of initiation.
de la Place
See La Place.
An important region of equatorial Africa. To Haitian Voudoun it has
given - along with many people - distinctive ritual, drums, dances.
The Congo Loa have been influenced by Petro.
Pertaining to the people, language and customs of Haiti; also used with
reference to other cultures both West Indian and Latin American. This
word comes through the French from a Spanish word meaning "born outside
A region of West Africa, lying west of Nigeria and north of the Gulf
of Guinea. It contains Ardra and Whydah, which were taken over by the
Dahomans early in the eighteenth century. The Dahomey rite is distinguished
by the mildness of its Loa.
The principal Sky-Serpent Loa of Voudoun, an archetypally wise, loving
but somewhat withdrawn father to his people. His characteristics are
his lack of articulate human speech, his affinity with water, and his
preference for white or colorless fod and drink. By nature a well as
historically, he belongs chiefly to the Dahomey rite (Rada), but it
also found in the Ibo and even (as Damballah-Ge_rouge and as Damballah-La-Flambeau)
in Petro. His name is directly derived from "Danh-Gbwe."
The Great Serpent, so called in the language of the people of Ardra,
Whydah and Dahomey. This name was given to the species of yellow and
brown mottled python there venerated as an intermediary or focus of
divine power (see Voodoo, Voudoun).
Literally, a "serpent house;" understood as a shelter for the sacred
pythons and a center for their cult in Dahomey.
The traditional founder of Petro Voudoun; his name is given as Jean-Philippe
Pedro, a Negro of Spanish (that is, Santo Domingo) origin. The rite
at first became known as "a dance, the Don Pedro." He and/or a physical
or spiritual son have become Loa under the names of Jean-Philippe Petro,
Ti Jean Petro.
Erzulie Freda, Erzulie Freda Dahomin
The name Erzulie is sometimes spelled Ezili and with other variations;
generally this Loa is mentioned with the title "Maitresse." Her name
appears to relate to the Serpent-Goddess Ezi-Aku, mentioned early in
the present century as worshipped in northern Nigeria. Maitresse Erzulie,
however, has become an ideal figure of delicate and alluring womanhood.
She has an aquatic form, La Sirene, which may be related to her earlier
serpent manifestations. Apart from this, she has two different traditions:
that of La Grande Erzulie, which shows her as elderly and grief-stricken,
and that of "the Erzulies" who traditionally fought in astral manifestation
alongside the liberators of Haiti - a tradition less astonishingly related
to the Loa of Love and Beauty when the historical fact is recalled of
the "amazon regiments" in the royal army of Dahomey.
A title of Ogoun (Ogu).
See Ritual Flags.
See La Flambeau.
A people and a language of the Dahomey and Yoruba regions.
Literally "Red Eye." Title indicating a horrific aspect, added to the
names of certain Rada Loa when a particular Petro cult invokes a violent
form of their power. Thus are produced Agwe-Ge-Rouge, Damballah Ge-Rouge,
Erzulie Ge-Rouge, Ogoun Ge-Rouge
The most benevolent of the Loa of the Dead, powerful in healing and
as protector of children as well as being a great jester. Two of his
best-known titles are Brav' Ghede and Ghede Nimbo. The title Nimbo relates
him to the Ndemba Society, an African cult whose mysteries are concerned
with death and resurrection. The origin of the name Ghede is considered
uncertain. There are a considerable number of Ghedes, and their position
is generally held to be between Rada and Petro.
The French form of "Guinea," but understood in Voudoun as denoting Africa
generally, or rather, the astral counterpart of Africa as the homeland.
Thus a person's conscious mind, on being displaced by a Loa in the process
of possession, is said to be "en Guinee" - in Africa.
A Loa, possessing a person, is said sometimes to "dance in the head"
of that person, but the more traditional expression is that the Loa
"rides" the person's head. The person is thus regarded as the "horse"
(in French, "cheval" of the Loa.)
Strictly, the inner sanctuary or altar-room of a site where the religion
of Voudoun is practiced. In a general sense, it is understood to mean
the whole site: the inner sanctuary, the peristyle, the dwelling of
the houngan and probably some sacred trees, cairns or other landmarks.
One must judge by the context.
A fully initiated priest of Voudoun, one who has "received the asson."
The basis of this title is the African "Nganga," a chief priest; it
is prefixed with the Fon word "Houn," meaning spirit.
A ritual assistant to the Houngan or Mambo. A houngenikon is normally
a "hounsi canzo"; that is, a woman chosen from among those whose initiatory
status is just below that of the Houngan or Mambo. In a complex ceremony,
more than one houngenikon may be responsible for its smooth running.
An accepted devotee at a hounfor. Those not fully trained, and thus
charged with the more mundane duties, are termed "hounsis bossale" (bossale
= "wild," uncultivated). The fully trained endergo the severe "canzo"
initiation, and thus become "hounsis canzo." The training involves every
aspect of the service of the Loa.
A people from the Yoruba region, who have retained in Haitian Voudoun
their own rite, drum-beat, songs and Loa.
An historic city of Nigeria: the spiritual destination to which the
Voudoun drums are consigned for the renewal of their energies.
A Petro Loa of the "crossroads," the Gate between the Worlds. This name
is a corruption of Carrefout.
A serpent. Some writers restore this Creole word to the French "couleuvre"
from which it is derived; but the French word means "an adder," a poisonous
snake, whereas "kulev" in its Voudoun context signifies the harmless
Haitian serpent which represents Damballah and Ayida Wedo.
See Baron La Croix.
Literally "The Torch." This title is added to the names of certain Rada
Loa when a Petro cult invokes an especially fiery form of their power.
So we have Damballah-La-Flambeau, Ogoun-La_Flambeau, and the Dahoman
Loa Amine-Gatigal becomes Amine-Gatigal-La-Flambeau.
A conch-shell. Used as a musical horn, a large conch-shell gives a distinctive
sound in ceremonies dedicated to Agwe.
The strange words in which the Loa are sometimes addressed, and which
traditionally have been used also in oracular utterances from divine
sources. Some meanings appear to have been handed down as priestly knowledge,
but some appear to have been lost. A part of the vocabulary may be made
up of lost or garbled African words, part from other sources; but both
African and Amerindian traditions exist of a secret oracular speech,
different from that of the people.
In full, "Commandant-general de la Place."This title of the Master of
Ceremonies who is also the sabre-bearer in Voudoun ceremonies.
Derived from a great solar and phallic deity (Legba or Alegba) of Dahomey,
the Loa Legba is one of the principal and most revered in Haitian Voudoun.
Although now transformed to the aspect of an old man, he is still the
powerful Guardian of the Centerpost, and the "Opener of the Gates" to
whom first salutation is due in any ceremony of communication with the
Loa. The main gateway to a hounfor is frequently denoted by two trees
sacred to Legba.
A Voudoun diety: that is, the power of a divine archetype working through
a congenial personality built up for it by human worship and invocation
in Voudoun. The most frequent means of manifestation of the Loa is by
temporary possession of a devotee. (The word "Loa" has but one form
for singular and plural.)
See Supreme Being.
A Voudoun priestess who has received the same training as a Houngan,
and likewise has "received the asson."
"A feeding of the Loa." Strictly, every Voudoun ceremony at which offerings
are made - birds, a goat and chickens, even a bull, and always accompanying
offerings such as drinks, syrups, cakes - is a feeding of the Loa, an
augmentation of their powers at earth level. The term "mange Loa," however,
is most notably applied to a great annual or biennial feasting of all
the Loa, which may well take a week to complete and which involves numerous
offerings and services. If this feasting is held at the harvest time,
it will be inaugurated with the "ceremonie-yam."
"A dry feeding." An offering of various foods without animal sacrifice
to the Loa, on a minor ceremonial occasion such as the inaugural baptism
of certain pieces of equipment.
The principal female Loa of the Petro rite, sometimes said to be the
wife of Ti-Jean Petro. Powerful and violent, she seems to have taken
over the character of some of the Mexican Goddesses. Two of her variant
forms, Marinette Bras-Cheche, Marinette Pied_Cheche, (Dry-Arm, Dry-Foot)
suggest skeletal manifestations. There is also a Marinette Congo.
See Supreme Being.
"To mount the head." A usual expression in Voudoun for the act of possession
by a Loa. See Horse.
1. A Loa, not a spirit of the dead. 2. As in other religions: a religious
ceremony, the celebration of a deity.
A people of the Yoruba region: in Voudoun, the major Loa Ogoun or Ogu
ande his subsidiary form Saint Jacques are theirs also other Loa special
to the Nago rites and a proud, high-stepping dance.
This name is a corruption of Saint Jacques, which name in turn has been
appropriated to the Loa Ogoun.
An African cult society of the Congo. See Ghede.
African word signifying a priest, religious leader. In Africa, this
word is applicable to either man or woman. Another form is "Ngangan."
See the equivalent Voudoun terms, Houngan, Mambo.
A surname of Ghede. See Ghede, also Ndemba.
An important musical instrument of Voudoun, related to the flattened
bells found in Africa.
The Loa of the ogan.
One of the great Loa of Rada Voudoun. Primarily a warrior-Loa, he carries
all the "Mars" associations of the male sex, the color red, blood, fire,
lightening, the sword, the metal worker, and thus also the magical connotations
associated in many cultures with the smith. As Ogoun Badagris he is
a phallic and magical Loa associated with a particular coastal region
of Nigeria; as Ogu Fer he is associated with iron, metals, and the sword;
this last association brings in also his identification with Saint Jacques
because ecclesiastical pictures represent this saint as carrying the
sword of his martyrdom; stability, order, authority are characteristic
of him, although minor derivatives of the Saint Jacques figure (for
example, Nanchou) while retaining the energy of Ogu, have not his dignity.
As Ogoun Shango, again, Ogu is identified with Shango the Lightening-God
of the Egba people of Dahomey.
See Supreme Being.
See Supreme Being.
One of the typical procedures during a ceremony, to prepare an article
for ritual use, or a victim for sacrifice. The article, whatever it
may be, or the bird or animal, is lifted and swung to each of the cardinal
points in turn, the manner of so doing depending upon its size. (Needless
to say, a bull is not orientated.)
savane, pretre savane
When any portion of Catholic liturgy is required in the course of a
Voudoun ceremony - for instance, a healing, or the marriage of a Loa
with a human - this is read or recited by a man who has acquired a special
knowledge of it without becoming an ordained priest. The adjective "savane"
means "rural" or "of the open country" (compare "savannah").
A large "porch" or more or less open-sided building adjacent to the
altar-chamber of a hounfor. It is here that most of the public ceremonies
of Voudoun are held, around the poteau-Legba or pteau-mitan. The peristyle
will have at least one, maybe two or three, entrances from the exterior,
besides the doorway to the altar-chamber.
An important New World development in Voudoun, a group of rites distinguished
by the violent energy and earth-level practicality of their Loa, their
purposes, and their ceremonies. It is stated definitely to have been
founded in the year 1768 by one "Don Pedro" and its development undoubtedly
contributed to the subsequent liberation of Haiti from the French.
See Don Pedro.
The characteristic form of manifestation of the Loa in Voudoun. It corresponds
to a particularly deep and complete form of what in Spiritualism is
called "mediumship;" it does not involve interference with the autonomic
nervous systems of the possessed, or otherwise adverse results of what
is known as "demonic possession." Psychologists who reject the reality
of possession by a spiritual entity have not yet come up with an adequate
alternative interpretation of the symptoms.
The center-post of the peristyle, the point about which most public
ceremonies of Voudoun revolve. In being sacred to Legba, the post has
an older tradition than the peristyle itself: it corresponds to the
post or mound traditionally set up outside houses in Dahomey as a sacred
symbol of Legba. The center-post of the peristyle is customarily painted
with bright colors, and is surrounded by a step which can serve as an
See Congo, Dahomey, Ibo, Nago, Ge-Rouge, La Flambeau, Zandor. A complete
account would contain a number of others.
The banners, often beautifully embroidered and adorned with sequins,
showing designs representing the various Voudoun "societes." Usually
a societe has two such flags, which are carried in the ceremonies by
specially designated hounsis. When not in use, the ritual flags are
kept in the altar chamber, resting against the altar.
An alternative name and form by which the Loa Ogoun can be identified.
See Baron Samedi.
See Pere savane.
See Supreme Being.
a deux mains
"To serve with both hands;" said of a Houngan or a Mambo, or a hounfor,
who (or which) serves both Rada and Petro Loa. It can be gathered that
this was at one time more unusual than at present.
The magical and powerful Water-Snake Loa, who is served with both Rada
and Petro rites.
The association of devotees who support a hounfor. It is a membership
in such a Societe which makes a person a recognized follower of Voudon
and servitor of the Loa; therefore this membership is a first necessary
step towards initiation. On the other hand, many members of a Societe
will be content simply to give their presence at ceremonies, their devotion,
and their monetary contributions when called upon, as in all religious
Despite the emphasis on the intermediate Beings, not only in Voudoun,
but in religious systems which have contributed to it, there has always
been a recognition of the existence of a Supreme Being. The purpose
of the intermediates is seen to be a tempering of high spiritual power
to human needs, and its channeling down into vehicles of human making,
for effective and controlled action at or near earth level. In Dahoman
religion, the traditional names of the Supreme Being are Seh, and Mahou
or Mau; in Yoruba tradition, Olorun and Onyama
See Don Pedro.
A symbolic design, formed on the ground (in the peristyle) by sprinkling
wheatmeal, cornmeal, or some other appropriate powder from the hand,
at or before the beginning of a ceremony. Such a design represents a
Loa to be invoked, and serves both as a focal point for invocation and
a kind of altar for offerings. Several vevers of different Loa may be
drawn for one ceremony. The designs incorporate well-recognized traditional
elements, but reflect also the individual intentions and creative skill
of the Houngan or Mambo.
A religious system based mainly on beliefs and practices brought from
Africa into the Western world, although now incorporating other components
and having further developed through time and circumstance. The name
"Voodoo" comes from the Fon word for the system, practiced in Dahomey
for example, of worshipping, and seeking assistance and oracles from
divine power, as this was channeled through the visible presence of
a specific kind of living creature. The astral presence of the Loa,
and their manifestation through possessed devotees, however, now apparently
A surname signifying "of Whyday" and so added in one or two cases to
the names of Dahomey Loa; see Ayida Wedo, Damballah, Ogan-Sih-Wedo.
Before 1727 an independent kingdom; after that date a province of the
Kingdom of Dahomey. In both conditions it was a great center of the
serpent cult; and, being situated on the coast, became (like Badagry)
a considerable center also for the European export of slaves to the
New World. These facts have undoubtedly given Whydah a great importance
in the development of Haitian Voudoun.
A favorite Voudoun dance; the name means "supplication." The dance is
characterized by the hands being placed on knees or thighs, and has
several main variations: Yanvalou debut (upright), Yanvalou dos bas
(crouching), Yanvalou z'epaules (a "shoulder dance"), etc.
A region of Nigeria having a great cultural history, and comprising
a number of peoples who have contributed much to Voudoun: the Bini,
Fon, Ibo and Nago people, among others.
A Petro rite resulting apparently from a fusion of the Congo rite with
the Mexican maize-cult: characterized by the Loa Congo-Zandor.
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