Vodou/Voodoo: The Loa (Lwa), Spirits of Voodoo and How They Can Help You
The Vodou Misconception
As Americans, many of us look at the word Voodoo and shutter. We gather up images in our minds of evil black magicians who use voodoo dolls and cast spells with animal bones; however, this horror-movie image is in fact not correct. Voodoo is actually a mix of a couple different belief systems, including Catholicism and African beliefs. It is the main religion of more than a couple of Caribbean Islands, with the largest island in practice being Haiti. The term "Vodou" can be translated to mean "God" or "spirit", a word that originates from Benin in Africa.
One of the cornerstones of the Voodoo religion is the Loa. A Loa is a spirit of Vodou that aids the practitioner in certain aspects of life, such as success, sexuality, spirituality, and even in death. I look at the Loa as types of angels or guardians, as they seem to instill certain wisdoms and truths in their human followers/callers. The Loa are usually divided into groups or "nations" known as Nanchons in the Vodou religion. Some are more powerful than others, as you will soon learn. Take a journey with me into the mysterious world of the Vodou Loa and we will discover together that Vodou is not as scary as Hollywood would have us believe.
The Nanchons of Loa
The Nanchons, or families of Loa, are said to have originated from different tribes of slaves that came from Africa.
Rada: The Rada nanchon is the "most revered", according to an article on Wikipedia titled "Haitian Vodou Drumming". The Loas within this nanchon (or nation) are very strong spirits and are usually benevolent towards their human followers. Some of the Loa included in this nanchon include Papa Legba, Marassa, Ezili Freda, and Lasiren. The Rada nanchon are usually the first to be called upon during a Vodoun ritual and are said to be the oldest Loa and based on particular gods from Africa.
Petwo: (also seen as Petro). This nanchon is said to have roots in Haiti and not necessarily in Africa. Some say the nanchon is derived from the mythological character Dom Pedro, who was a rebellion of sorts. The Loa of the Petro nanchon are said to be more mischievous or devious counterparts of the Loa of the Rada nanchon. Many Christian missionaries to Haiti claim that the worshipers or magicians of the Petro nanchon are very powerful and dangerous indeed. They are widely feared as holding powers to kill their enemies with nothing but a look or the directional pointing of a doll. This power is supposedly given to them by the Loa of the Petro nanchon. They are also compared to the Cuban Palo spirits. An example of a Loa in this nanchon is Met Kafu, who is "a trickster and a destroyer of life" (Introduction to Vodou).
Gede: Papa Ghede and Baron Samedi are part of the Gede nanchon.
Kongo: Hence the name, the Kongo Loa originate from the Congo in Africa. Marinette is an example of a Kongo Loa and she is said to be fierce and powerful.
Ibo: This type of Loa are said to be rooted in the Igbo people of Africa and revered in the country of Haiti. They are generally thought to be kinder Loa but still stern, at the same time.
In addition to these nanchons, there are a few more.
Read about Papa Ghede in Michelle Belanger's Book
Papa Ghede of the Gede Nanchon
Papa Ghede is the Loa or spirit of death, to put it into simple terms. He is actually said to be feared by the other Loa but is not exactly evil. Guarding spirits as they cross over into the spiritual world is Papa Ghede's responsibility and he does it with a laugh and a smoke. Usually Papa Ghede is pictured with a cigarette or cigar in his hand, sunglasses on his face, and a big smile on his lips. His personality is known to be jovial and sometimes even whacky. In addition to being the spirit of death, he is also said to be the spirit of sexuality and the guardian of cemeteries.
In Michelle Belanger's Haunted Experiences: Encounters with the Otherworldly, she tells us a wonderfully intriguing story about her first trip to New Orleans. The moment she steps off of her bus into the French Quarter, Michelle feels as though she is being followed. At some point, she notices as tall black man with a top hat and dark sunglasses following her from afar. She recalls that he smells pungently of cigars and rum. The figure does not scare her but she is captivated by its surrealistic nature and wonders why he is following her. It turns out that the figure is Papa Ghede and that he sensed that she has the ability to see and communicate with spirits. Michelle leaves Papa Ghede an offering of cigars and rum before she leaves New Orleans and never again encounters Papa Ghede on her trips to the Big Easy.
While it is true that most of us would be frightened by a spirit of death, perhaps we should not be. These spirits, namely Papa Ghede, are around to help guide us into the afterlife. They help us find out way, sort of like a guardian angel in the Christian faith. Many cultures and religions share a belief in these types of spirits or guardians, so the belief in Papa Ghede is nothing new to the world and therefore should not be frowned upon.
As a side note, Papa Ghede is closely related to Baron Samedi, who is also a Loa of death and sexuality.
Met Kafu of the Petwo Nanchon
As a "trickster and a destroyer of life", Met Kafu is probably not the first Loa you should go seeking assistance from (or ever for that matter). In the Christian religion, he would be related to a demon or to the devil.
Papa Legba of the Rada Nanchon
Papa Legba is a Loa in the Rada nanchon. This means that you can bet Papa Legba is a little less mischievous than Met Kafu or even Papa Ghede. In fact, benevolent might be the correct term to use when referring to good ol' Papa Legba. He is representative of the Sun and is also the son of two major Loa, Dangabala Wedo and Ayida Wedo. Therefore, Legba is also representative of Jesus in the Vodou religion.
Legba is the mediator between the other Loa and the Great Master Spirit (God). He is also the mediator between the Loa and the humans. Every ritual invites Legba into the circle/environment first, before any other Loa can be called upon for assistance. An introductory song usually sounds something like this:
Legba, open the gates for me
So that I may go through
Upon my return I shall greet the Lwa
Voodoo Legba open the gate for me
So that I may come in.
Papa Legba is the guardian of the crossroads between the spirit world and the human world. He bridges the gap between God and human souls, sort of equivalent to Jesus as God's son. Therefore, Papa Legba is a good spirit to call upon during rituals.
Vodou Planning & Reverence
If you plan to invite some of the Loa into your rituals or spiritual path, my advice is to do your research first. Know exactly which nanchon and Loa you will be working with and what their traits are, whether benevolent or mischievous. My advice is not to invite the mischievous Loa into your life, as you are probably an amateur Vodoun and would not know how to handle these types of Loa. Leave that up to the master Vodoun magicians, please.
The Vodoun Loa can be viewed as any other spirit in any other religion or culture, which you must treat with respect and a certain sense or reverence. You wouldn't talk to Michael the archangel in a condescending way would you? So don't expect to be able to "play" around with the Vodoun Loa, as they could be just as powerful as an archangel. In fact, many Vodouns claim that the Loa are actually fallen angels of sorts that God allows to still perform work for him among the humans.
Other than research, planning is important with inviting the Loa into your ritual path. If you know someone who practices Vodou, it might be wise to ask them for their suggestions and advice. Some might even warn against using the Loa in any rituals, some might suggest otherwise. It is all up to you and how you feel about Vodou. If you are scared of it, you should probably stay away from it. If you are curious, learn. Take a trip to New Orleans and learn from a vodoun himself (or herself). Pick up some books on the basics and educate yourself. Knowledge is power. And Vodou is all about what you know.
Familiarize yourself with the Vodoun culture, as well. If you don't understand the people in which the Vodou religion is practiced, then the spirits of Vodou will not respect or understand you! It would sort of be like asking a Native American spirit to aid you in your workings when you know nothing about that particular Native American tribe...it's just rude. Respect and reverence is an absolute necessity when learning the Vodoun Loa and when using them in your rituals.
Written and copyrighted © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), June 19th, 2011. All Rights Reserved.
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