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Monday, July 25, 2016


Vévé for La Sirene and Agwe
I ENDED MY LAST POST ON VOODOO with a mention of Damballa, the great serpent vodouisants consider to be the creator of the universe. I also said that the lwa/orisha (also orixa) are Voodoo gods, but I should clarify that. Today, most vodouisants have faith in only one god and creator - Bondye (from the French Bon Dieu or Good God). Bondye is Damballa (or Damballah Wedo); all the other lwa/orisha are considered his servants in the same way angels and saints are servants of God in the Catholic church. I don't make this 'only one god' distinction in The Tattooed Queen, because in doing so, I would have had to slip into exposition. It's always a judgement call about how much to explain. There's a point where too much exposition will take the reader out of the story. My wild girl, Ekua, simply refers to the lwa as 'gods'. If any vodouisants come across this once the book is released, I beg their indulgence.

Voodoo is a syncretized religion. Due in a large part to the Atlantic slave trade, those slaves from west and central Africa came into forced contact. An amalgamated faith was the result, where gods from different nations (nachons) were honoured. Forced yet again to embrace their owners' religion (Roman Catholicism), it was safer to find similarities between their own African gods and the Catholic saints. Therefore, when a vodouisant honours Damballa (the universal serpent), he might also show his devotion by honouring St. Patrick who emptied Ireland of snakes (a metaphor for stamping out the so-called evil of pagan religion).

In general, the lwa/orisha fall into a number of groups. The Rada lwa are the Fon/Ewe spirits of the Dahomey and are considered 'cool' or sweet tempered. The Nago lwa stem from the Yoruba of Nagoland. The Petwo lwa (more hot tempered) come from war-torn Kongo, although some claim they rose from those slaves who died under harsh conditions in Haiti. The Ghede lwa are servants of Bawon and Brigitte, the king and queen of the graveyard. The Ghede are also ancestral spirits and 'the dead'. In The Tattooed Queen, Papa Kodjo refers to Alonso, Miriam's ghostly love, as Ghede. There are also djabs, or personal working spirits that assist their hosts. Djab stems from the French term diable or devil. Some djabs are benevolent while others are not. It depends on whether or not the houngoun or bokor (priest or sorcerer) works with the right or left hand, the right meaning good works and the left referring to evil ones (like zombification). Even a houngoun worth his ashe (the power to make things happen) will know how to work with the left hand, even if he never does.

There are many lwa/orisha. What follows are the few I mention in The Tattooed Queen. I delineate their names as follows - first, the Haitian name (because in Queen, Papa Kodjo, my vodou priest originates from Esbañiola/Hispaniola - modern-day Haiti and the D.R.), second, by the Obeah/Jamaican name or the name of a similar orisha, followed by one of their affiliated Catholic saints:

1). Damballa/Obatala/St. Patrick: the universal serpent, the Sky God, the Creator of All. In The Tattooed Queen, Miriam is put to the test with Damballa in his guise as a Jamaican yellow boa constrictor. (I'm hoping the cover art will feature this scene.) Yellow boas are endemic to Jamaica and found (in the wild) nowhere else in the world.

2). Ayida Wedo/Oya/St. Patrick: lwa of the rainbow and fertility, Ayido Wedo is peaceful and serene and rules the skies with her husband Damballa. She is also associated with St. Patrick.

3).  La Sirene/Yemaya/St. Martha, Our Lady, Star of the Sea: depicted as a siren or a mermaid who can bring both good luck and bad. La Sirene is comparable to Miriam's own goddess, Lys. When I started writing The Tattooed Witch years ago, I based the Diaphani religion on the pagan idea of both male and female aspects of diety. I decided to represent the female aspect with symbols of water and air (the male aspect being earth and fire, symbolic of male dominated religions and the Inquisition, in particular). Discovering La Sirene as a strong vodou counterpart for Lys was a nice moment of synchronicity. The vévé, above left, depicts La Sirene as a mermaid, along with the vévé for her husband, Agwe, king of the ocean.

4). Ogou/Ogun/St James: lwa of war, blood, iron, and machines, Ogou is hot tempered and ready to fight. He is also a great protector and loyal. In Queen, Ekua, my wild girl character, honours Ogun, claiming he 'rules her head'. She hates all whites and would use her machete to kill every last one them. (She doesn't.)

5). Gran Bwa/St. Sebastian/St. Isadore: ruler of the forests, plants and animals, Taciturn yet benevolent, Gran Bwa is the lwa of herbal medicine and charms. Represented by St. Sebastian, the Christian martyr who was pierced through with arrows while tied to a tree, Gran Bwa also suffers the loss of his forests throughout the world. In Queen, Papa Kodjo tells Miriam he will appeal to Gran Bwa for a herbal cure.

I've only depicted a few of the lwa/orisha here. If you're interested in further reading, I recommend The Haitian Vodou Handbook, Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan, Mysteries and Secrets of Voodoo, Santeria, and Obeah, by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, and Haitian Voudou, by Mambo Chita Tann.

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