Blood and Bourbon
“You go ahead and keep wearing that gris-gris. Ti Jean Quinto can be like a loaded gun, liable to cause as much trouble as he prevents, but he came through for you last night.”
—Louis Fontaine to Tavena, teen prostitute and unwitting recipient of an loa’s protection
Loa are the spirits of Louisiana Voodoo. They are also referred to as Mystères and the Invisibles and are intermediaries between Bondye—the Supreme Creator, who is distant from the world—and humanity. Unlike saints or angels however, they are not simply prayed to, they are served. They are each distinct beings with their own personal likes and dislikes, distinct sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols, and special modes of service. Contrary to popular belief, the loa are not deities in and of themselves; they are intermediaries for, and dependent on, a distant Bondye.
The Ghede are the spirits of the dead. As a family they are loud, rude (although rarely to the point of real insult), sexual, and fun-loving. As those who have lived already, they have nothing to fear, and frequently will display how far past consequence and feeling they are when they come through in a service—eating glass, raw chillis, and anointing their sensitive areas with chilli rum, for example. Their traditional colours are black and purple.
- Baron Cimitière:
- Baron Kriminal (St. Martin de Porres): The enforcer of the Guede. He was the first person to kill another (probably Nibo). As the first murderer, he is master of those who murder or use violence to harm others. Families of murder victims and the abused pray to him to get revenge on those who wronged them. His “horses” have an insatiable appetite and will attack people until they are offered food. If it doesn’t please them or takes too long, they will bite and chew on anyone nearby (or even themselves) until they are sated. He is syncretised with St. Martin de Porres, perhaps because his feast day is November 3, the day after Fete Ghede. He is sacrificed black roosters that have been bound, doused with strong spirit, and then set alight.
- Baron La Croix:
- Baron Samedi:
- Brave Ghede:
- Ghede Bábáco: Papa Ghede’s less known brother. He is also a psychopomp. His role is somewhat similar to that of Papa Ghede, but he doesn’t have the special abilities of his brother.
- Ghede Brav: The Lord of the Penis, he is usually represented by a phallus or as a skeleton with an obvious aura of excitement in his genital area.
- Ghede Doubye: Doubye is said to endow people with the gift of clairvoyance. Those who read fortunes will call on him.
- Ghede Fouye: Fouye digs the graves of the newly dead upon the order of Baron Cimetière.
- Ghede Linto: Linto performs miracles, although many think he’s a small boy because of his politeness. About 5 feet tall, Linto is an old, dark-skinned man with a cane, glasses, and an old-fashioned black hat. He is exceedingly well-mannered and docile. He loves to teach his worshipers to sing, and enjoys leaving them gifts he makes out of rum, Florida Water, a cigarette and fire. He cuts a piece of thread for each of his servants, or children from his house, and drops the threads in his special mix to produce needles for everyone; other times, gifts like gold rings or gold chains are given. He loves to make knots out of their scarves just to surprise them with gifts. Linto does these miracles to ensure his children they are in good hands. His work is very proficient, direct, and accurate; he can smell trouble six months away and either assists his cheval to prepare for it or teaches them ways to prevent it.
Linto is alternately depicted as an unusual Ghede child who represents the lost children among the dead, those aborted, miscarried, still born, or neglected or abused until they died. In this aspect he is frequently represented as a skeletal child dressed in rags.
- Ghede Lorage: This Ghede is relatively new to the pantheon and specifically deals with those who die by gunshot. He may be an upshot of the violent times surrounding the dictatorships of the Duvalier family, but that is speculation.
- Ghede Loraye: Frequently described as a little woman who appears near shore before a storm, Loraye is the keeper of the Dead at sea and a particular concern of sailors. Her name may be derived from Lorelei, a legendary European mermaid and former storm goddess.
- Ghede Masaka: Another female Ghede, Masaka is usually given a wide berth by all but the darkest sorcerers. She is considered an angry spirit that represents women who died in childbirth. She carries a gris-gris bag with poisons and the umbilical cord of her lost offspring in it. Rarely, she is pictured holding the hand of Linto.
- Ghede Nibo (Abel, St. Majella): Nibo is a psychopomp, an intermediary between the living and the dead. He was the first person to die by violence, so he is the patron of those who died by unnatural causes (disaster, accident, misadventure, or violence). He is the guardian of the graves of those who died prematurely, particularly those whose final resting place is unknown. His chevals (“horses”, possessed devotees) can give voice to the dead spirits whose bodies have not been found or that have not been reclaimed from “below the waters”.
- Ghede Nivo: This Ghede tends to tombs.
- Ghede Souffrant: The Ghede who suffers, a patron of those who die after protracted illness, torture or other long suffering.
- Guédé Ti Malis: A trickster-loa, nemesis of Uncle Bouki or Tonton Bouqui. Ti-Malice is said to be exceptionally lazy unlike Uncle Bouki.
- Maman Brigitte (St. Brigit): Brigitte is the wife of Baron Samedi. She is syncretized with St. Brigit, perhaps because St. Brigit is the protector of crosses and gravestones.
- Marassa (The Divine Twins): The Ghede have their own versions of the Twins, which appear as gravediggers. Twins are seen as having divine insight and vision. They also are part in the material world and the spiritual world (in their case, the living and the dead). They usually wear contrasting colors.
- Ghede Masaka: Masaka assists Ghede Nibo. He is an androgynous or transgender male gravedigger and spirit of the dead, recognized by his black shirt, white jacket, and white headscarf.
- Ghede Oussou: Oussou wears a black or mauve jacket marked on the back with a white cross and a black or mauve headscarf. His name means “tipsy” due to his love of white rum. Ghede Oussou is sometimes also linked with the female Ghede L’Oraille.
- Papa Ghede: One of the most prominent of all the Ghede, Papa Gehde is the corpse of the first man who ever died. He is recognized as a short, dark man with a high hat on his head, who likes to smoke cheap cigars and eat apples. Papa Ghede is a psychopomp who waits at the crossroads to take souls into the afterlife. He is considered the good counterpart to Baron Samedi. If a child is dying, Papa Ghede is prayed to. It is believed that he will not take a life before its time, and that he will protect the little ones. Papa Ghede has a very crass sense of humor, a divine ability to read others’ minds, and the ability to know everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead.
The Petro loa are generally the more fiery, occasionally aggressive and warlike loa. The story is that they originated in Haiti, under the harsh conditions of slavery. Petro loas are often considered to be “angry” or demon loa, used in “black magick”. They are the “newer” loa that can relate to the harsh, unimaginable conditions that slaves had to endure. Their traditional color is red.
- Bosou Koblamin: Koblamin is a violent loa capable of defeating his enemies. He is very popular during times of war. He protects his followers when they travel at night. Bosou’s appearance is that of a man with three horns; each horn has a meaning—strength, wildness, and violence. Sometimes Bosou comes to the help of his followers but he is not a very reliable loa. When a service is held, Bosou appears by breaking chains that he is restrained. Immediately upon appearing he is given a pig, his favorite food. The ceremony in honor of Bosou always pleases a congregation because it allows them to eat. Usually a good number of people attend such a service.
- Congo Savanne: Savanne is malevolent, fierce, and strong. He eats people. He grinds them up as mortals would grind up corn, and is not considered an loa to be trifled with. His color is white.
- Jan Petro: Jan Petro is called upon to take responsibility for the temple where spells are on display; although she is a neutral entity, when not called upon it is the duty of the devotees to make them behave peacefully or violently, depending on their motivation for dealing with the spirits. Jan Petro as a protector of temples is very powerful; when people come to the temple they soon find out. Jan Petro likes fresh air and water, for she is also a sea spirit. She likes perfume and lotion—any temple dedicated to her usually smells like lotion, for it is thrown on those things she possesses.
- Jean Petro: Jean Petro is a deformation of Don Pedro, the name of the Spanish slave. He is a leader among the petro loa. Some say that Jean Petro was brought about by Don Pedro who was a Negro slave of Spanish origin. He acquired much influence by being denounced as the instigator of some alarming plots to overthrow the government. Because of this he symbolizes resistance, force, uprisings, and a sort of black power ideology.
- Kalfou: Kalfou is a strong and powerful loa who is fundamental to all Vodou liturgy and magic. He is twinned with Papa Legba, his Rada opposite. Kalfou too controls the crossroads. Believers hold that were it not for him, the world would be more rational and better place. But, not unlike Pandora in Greek religion and myth, Kalfou controls the evil forces of the spirit world. He allows the crossing of bad luck, deliberate destruction, misfortune, injustice.
- Marinette (Marinette Bras Cheche, Marinette Bwa Chech, Anima Sola): Marinette is the mambo who sacrificed the black pig at the culmination of the start of the first Haitian Revolution. While she is feared and tends to ride those she possesses violently, she can also be seen as one who frees her people from bondage. She is represented by a screech owl and is often seen as the protector of werewolves. Her colors are black and deep blood red. Her offerings are black pigs and black roosters plucked alive.
- Simbi (Simbi Andezo): Simbi is guardian of the fountains and marshes and cannot do without the freshness of water. Vodoun rituals are often held near springs and several songs make mention of these sorts of places. Simbi is a very knowledgeable loa because he spends a great deal of time learning about the nature of illnesses of supernatural origin and how to treat them. He is either with a devotee or against them: he either protecting those who have good relations with him or turns his back on those who do not. As part of Ogou’s army he is the chief of the coast guard and goes wherever he pleases.
- Ti-Jean-Petro (Petro-e-rouge, Prince Zandor, Ti-Jean-pied-fin, Ti-Jean-Zandor) This loa is recognized under many names and depicted as a dwarf with one foot. Though Ti-Jean-Petro has a French name, his roots can be traced back to Africa. He is easily comparable to a spirit that roamed through the bush. This spirit, too, was depicted as having only one leg. Ti-Jean-Petro often protects and assists practitioners of black magic. He has a violent and passionate nature that becomes apparent when he mounts people.
The Rada loa are generally the older, more beneficent loa. They are said to come from Africa, from the former Dahomean empire. Still, to refer to them as “good” and the Petro loa as “evil” is misleading; the Rada loa can be used to make malevolent magic, while the Petro can heal and do beneficial workings. They are more accurately referred to as “cool” and “hot,” respectively. The Radas’ traditional colour is white.
- Agwé: Agwé rules over the sea, fish, and aquatic plants, as well as the patron loa of fishermen and sailors. He is considered to be married to Erzulie Freda and La Sirene. He goes by several titles, including koki la me (“Shell of the Sea”), koki dore (“Golden Shell”), “The Angel in the Mirror,” “The Eel,” and “The Tadpole in the Pond.”
- Anaisa Pye (St. Anne): Anaisa Pye is a very popular loa, as the patron saint of love, money, and general happiness within the 21 Divisions. She is often considered extremely flirtatious, generous, and playful by her devotees. She is also very jealous of the worship of other female loas, as she considers herself able to provide for anything a person could request. She is said to work very well with Belie Belcan, another popular loa who is associated with Saint Michael the Archangel. Her favorite colors are yellow and pink. Some people consider Cachita to be one of her “puntos” (or incarnations).
- Ayida-Weddo: Ayida-Weddo is a loa of fertility, rainbows, wind, water, fire, and snakes, known as the “Rainbow Serpent.” She is married to Damballah-Wedo and shares him with his concubine, Erzulie Freda.
- Ayizan (St. Claire): Ayizan is the loa of the marketplace and commerce. Just as her husband Loco is the archetypal Houngan (priest), Ayizan is regarded as the first, or archetypal mambo (priestess), and as such is also associated with priestly knowledge and mysteries, particularly those of initiation, and the natural world. As the spiritual parents of the priesthood she and her husband are two of the loa involved in the kanzo rites in which the mambo or houngan-to-be is given the asson (sacred rattle and tool of the priesthood), and are both powerful guardians of “reglemen,” or the correct and appropriate form of Vodoun service. Her symbol is the palm frond, she drinks no alcohol, and is the wife of Loko Atisou. Her colors are most commonly gold, yellow and white.
- Damballa: (Jesus Christ, Moses, St. Patrick): Damballa is one of the most important of all the Loa. Damballa is the Sky Father and the primordial creator of all life. He rules the mind, intellect, and cosmic equilibrium. Damballa, as the serpent spirit and “The Great Master”, created the cosmos by using his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth. By shedding the serpent skin, Damballa created all the waters on the earth. His wife is Ayida-Weddo, and Erzulie Freda is his concubine.
- Erzulie: (The Virgin Mary): Erzulie is the loa of love, beauty, jewelry, dancing, luxury, and flowers. She wears three wedding rings, one for each husband—Damballa, Agwe and Ogoun. Her symbol is a heart, her colours are pink, blue, white and gold, and her favorite sacrifices include jewelery, perfume, sweet cakes and liqueurs. Coquettish and very fond of beauty and finery, Erzulie Freda is femininity and compassion embodied, yet she also has a darker side; she is seen as jealous and spoiled and within some Vodoun circles is considered to be lazy.
- Loco: Loco is patron of healers and plants, especially trees. He is the husband of the loa Ayizan, and just as she is the archetypal mambo (priestess), so her husband Loco is considered the first houngan (priest). As the spiritual parents of the priesthood he and his wife are two of the ;oa involved in the kanzo initiation rites in which the mambo or houngan to be is given the asson (sacred rattle and tool of the priesthood), and are both powerful guardians of “reglemen,” or the correct and appropriate form of Vodoun service.
- Papa Legba: Papa Legba is the loa who serves as the intermediary between the loa and humanity. He stands at a spiritual crossroads and gives (or denies) permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee, and is believed to speak all human languages. In Haiti, he is the great elocutioner. Legba facilitates communication, speech, and understanding. He is the first and last loa invoked during any rite.
- Ti Jean Quinto: This loa lives under bridges and assumes the shape of a police officer. He can be a patron to law enforcement, but can also be cruel and capricious.