Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dark Goddesses in Vodou

Dark Goddesses in Vodou

COPYRIGHT 1996 - Mambo Racine Sans Bout
No reproduction without consent of author

In modern neo-pagan traditions, female archetypes of power and aggression are sometimes called "dark goddesses", and many people interested in pagan traditions have written to me to ask me if such archetypes exist in Vodou.

There are many female lwa in Vodou who sometimes behave aggressively, or who are regarded as particularly dangerous to those who offend them. I will discuss two of them here - Erzulie Dantor and Maman Brigitte.


There is an important group of female lwa in Vodou, whose first name is Erzulie. Erzulie Freda is a wealthy white woman, a promiscuous love goddess who moves in an atmosphere of perfume and luxury. Erzulie Dantor is a black woman who is represented pictorially with lithographs of the Roman Catholic "Saint Barbara Africana". Her tribal scars are evident on her cheek. She is heterosexual in the sense that she has a child, but she is also the patron lwa of lesbian women. In addition she is considered to be the wife of two lwa, Ti-Jean Petro and the very important magical lwa Simbi Makaya. When she appears at a ceremony through the mechanism of possession, she speaks a stammering monosyllable, "ke-ke-ke-ke-ke!" She likes knives, is much feared, and is considered the protector of both newly consecrated Houngans and Mambos, and of women who are experiencing domestic violence. Here are some songs for Erzulie Dantor.

Haitian Creole -
Erzulie fanm Ti-Jan metres kay la (repeat)
Pa rele, se ou pote houngan nivo,
Pa rele,se ou pote wanga pi fo,
Erzulie fanm Ti-Jan metres kay la, paket mwen tout mare.

English -
Erzulie Ti-Jean's woman, mistress of the house (repeat),
Don't yell, it's you who carries the new houngan,
Don't yell, it's you who carries the stronger spells,
Erzulie Ti-Jean's woman, mistress of the house,
my paket (a magical object) is all tied up.

And again:

Haitian Creole -
Set kout kouto, set kout pwenyad,
Prete m dedin a, pou m vomi san mwen,
San mwen ape koule.

English -
Seven stabs of the knife, seven stabs of the dagger,
Lend me the basin, so I can vomit my blood,
My blood is pouring down.
(Meaning, although Erzulie Dantor has received seven stabs of the knife and
is vomiting blood, she is strong, she can not be so easily destroyed.)

For a discussion of the imortance of Erzulie Dantor in Haitian women's lives, see the book "Mama Lola", an excellent work.


Maman Brigitte, surprisingly enough for a lwa of a primarily African tradition, is British in origin, descended from Brigid/St. Brigit, the Celtic "triple goddess" of poetry, smithcraft, and healing. She must have come to Haiti in the hearts of deported Scottish and Irish indentured servants. There is even a song we sing in ceremonies which goes "Maman Brigitte, li soti nan anglete", Maman Brigitte, she comes from England...'.

Nowadays, Maman Brigitte is considered to be the wife of Baron Samedi, Master of the Cemetery and chief of all the departed ancestors, known as lwa Gede. The grave of the first woman buried in any cemetery in Haiti is consecrated to Maman Brigitte, and it is there that her ceremonial cross is erected. She is invoked to "raise the dead", meaning to cure and save those who are on the point of death from illness caused by magick. Here is a song about Maman Brigitte sung in Vodou ceremonies:

Haitian Creole -
Mesye la kwa avanse pou l we yo!
Maman Brigitte malad, li kouche sou do,
Pawol anpil pa leve le mo (les morts, Fr.)
Mare tet ou, mare vant ou, mare ren ou,
Yo prale we ki jan yap met a jenou.

Gentlemen of the cross (deceased ancestors) advance for her to see them!
Maman Brigitte is sick, she lies down on her back,
A lot of talk won't raise the dead,
Tie up your head, tie up your belly, tie up your kidneys,
They will see how they will get down on their knees.
(Meaning, tie up your belly, 'gird up your loins' to prepare for the strain
of work, we will make the people who did this evil spell get down on their
knees to beg pardon and receive their punishment.)

Maman Brigitte, like the rest of the Baron/Ghede constellation, is a tough-talking lwa who uses a lot of obscenities. She drinks rum laced with hot pepper, so hot that a person not possessed by a lwa could never drink it. She also is known to pass hot Haitian peppers on the skin of her genitals, and this is the test to which women are subjected when they are suspected of "faking" possession. She dances the sexually suggestive and remarkably artistic banda, and the virtuosity of her dancing is legendary.

Every year on Fet Ghede (November 2, All Souls' Day), a national holiday is observed in Haiti. Thousands of people, dressed in white or in the violet-and-black of the Ghede lwa, stream into the streets. The first destination is the cemetery, where the crosses of Maman Brigitte and Baron Samedi (or Cemetiere, or La Croix, which are other aspects) are surrounded by supplicating men and women. They burn candles and beeswax tapers; make offerings of black coffee, roast peanuts, bread, and rum; and pray for protection, fertility, and other favors.

There are other lwa who might qualify as "dark goddesses", including Marinette, the Mambo who conducted the pig sacrifice at the ceremony at Bwa Caiman in 1884 which kicked off the Haitian slave revolution and led to the first independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Marinette must have been arthritic, because when she possesses a person, her hards are crabbed and stiff. In some peristyles (temples) during the highest initiation ceremony, the asogwe, the male lwa of ceremonial order Papa Loko runs the ceremony, but Marinette gives the asson (emblem of priesthood) to women, as she is the premiere Mambo. There is also a female lwa of the secret societies of the Shanpwel, named Reine (Queen) Alaou Pemba, but I will not discuss her because our secret societies are... well, secret. However, you may wish to check out The SANPWEL Page for more information on how these societies function.

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