Get to Know a Lwa: Legba

Bonjou, zanmi! (Hello, friends!) Today we’re going to talk about a very important lwa. Well, all the lwa are important but Legba is the gatekeeper of the lwa and thus has a very special place in the Vodou pantheon.

Papa Legba has been characterized as the first lwa that is called at a Vodou party. That isn’t true in my house. There are a few lwa we salute before Legba, but what’s important to remember is that without Legba, none of the other lwa can come through. He stands at the gate and opens it and closes it as he will.

There are a few saint images we use for Legba. In my house, we use St. Anthony the Abbot for Legba in the Rada rite.

stanthonytheabbot

Notice that St. Anthony is holding a staff. Legba is pictured holding a staff in many of his saint images; Legba has what is called “pye casse”, or twisted feet; he walks with a limp and uses the staff or crutches to walk. Another common image for Legba is St. Lazarus:

stlazarus

In the hotter Petwo rite, we use the picture of St. Anthony of Padua:

stanthonyofpadua

Note that St. Lazarus is travelling on the road. Legba is a traveller; he’s always wandering. Some people equate him with Ellegua, the Yoruba spirit and orisha, who also travels on the roads and is the first spirit saluted at a religious ceremony. Yes, their names sound a bit the same, but it’s important to remember that the lwa aren’t orishas; Lukumi and Vodou are two separate religions.

(Want to learn a bit more about Lukumi, aka Santeria? Check out Santeria Church of the Orishas. This church was founded by the late Eddy “Dr. E” Gutierrez and is a fabulous resource)

Everyone has different lwa “walking” with them. One person may have Ogou, but you may not; different people have different lwa. You can determine which lwa are walking with you by getting a reading with a manbo or houngan. However, every person on Earth has Legba walking with them. Why? Because Legba is a lwa of communication, and we all communicate in some way.

You can ask Legba to introduce you to the other lwa. Get some toasted corn or spicy peanuts and white rum (one of those nip bottles work nicely) and bring that to a crossroads or intersection (be careful around cars, please). Pour out the rum and scatter the food and pray to Legba; ask him to bring the lwa into your life. Then you can go home. Pay attention to your dreams and intuition. Legba will lead you in the right way, and may even lead you to a Vodou house or priest/priestess to teach you.

Ayibobo Papa Legba!

 

Things to Do to Thank and Celebrate Your Spirits

When spirits do work for you, or when you feel the need/impulse to say thank you, there are some great things you can do:

  • Light a vigil candle for them (in their color, with their saint picture if they have one, etc)
  • Read the Bible or another holy book to them
  • Pay them with food or drink. General catch-all things you can offer are alcohol, coffee, plain water, sliced fruit (avoid lemons and limes; they’re too harsh), flowers (yeah, it’s not a food, but still a good idea). Different spirits may take different types of food; if you’re dealing with lwa from Haitian Vodou, ask a manbo or houngan what specific foods a spirit takes
  • Have a Mass said for them at a Catholic church. In Catholicism, dedicating a Mass to a person or saint is common. Call your local parish and ask. You will probably need to pay a small amount of money; usually it’s around $10 U.S. Try to attend the Mass if you can.
  • Write them a poem or song and present it to them.
  • Give them something for their altar. I have a few toy soldiers on my altar for Ogou, and some toys for Legba.
  • If they did something REALLY big for you, ask a manbo or houngan to give them what’s called an “action de grace”. This is a small feast or feeding for your spirits.

These are the most common things you can do to say thanks to your spirits. If you can think of any more, leave a comment!

Get to know a Lwa: Kouzen Zaka

Many Haitians are farmers; it’s a very agriculturally based economy. Back when the slaves freed themselves from their French owners, many went up into the mountains and began sustenance farming on small plots of land. This is where the Kouzen family of spirits came from.

Kouzen just means “cousin” in Kreyol. It’s a familiar term of address for anyone regarded as a friend, not just a family member. You could translate it to “friend” or “man” or “dude.” There are many Kouzen spirits (Kouzen Zaka Mede, Azaka Tonne, Minis Zaka); the most well-known of these is Kouzen Zaka.

kouzen

The saint image commonly used for him is St. Isidore the Farmer, as illustrated above. This saint was so devoted to God that God sent His angel to plow Isidore’s fields so he could pray.

Kouzen is an agriculture spirit. He makes his living off the land. He is a “work lwa”. He loves to work on just about anything, and he likes to be busy. He is a bit shy and suspicious of outsiders, but once he gets to know you you are a member of his fami (family) and he will work so hard to provide for you.

His color is blue, especially blue denim (the outfit of a Haitian peasant). He will take white rum as an offering but his favorite liquor is made with white rum and wormwood.

He is excellent to talk to in regards to herbs and herbal medicine. Since he is a work lwa, he is excellent to talk to if you’re having trouble at your job. However, you have to pay him for his work (well, you have to pay all the spirits for their work in some way or another) and he can drive a hard bargain. Remember, you have the right to bargain with your spirits for a fair price.

His favorite food is a stew called tchaka. It’s made with pinto beans, corn, beef, and chayote squash. Recipes may vary but here is a good one. BIG IMPORTANT WARNING; when you cook for Kouzen it is VITALLY important that you do not taste his food. If you do, he will think you are stealing from him, and Kouzen hates thieves.

Kouzen has a special bag (note he has a bag over his shoulder in the above picture) where he keeps all his things. When I work with him and I put things in his bag, I tell him before hand, “Kouzen, I’m opening your bag to put this in.” I also tell him when I’m closing the bag. That way, he knows I’m not stealing from him.

Kouzen loves women, and he is a commonly married spirit. He is also good to go to in regards to marriage and relationships. Surprising, I know, but when he finds you a partner the relationship is solid and “grounded” and it will last.

Alasso Kouzen!

 

Example of Hoodoo Candle Work

Below is a picture of some candle work I’m doing for a friend who’s ill. I took a female figure candle, dressed it with Healing oil (you can get it from Khi Armand; thanks, Khi!), and rolled it in a mixture of healing herbs like Lavender and Althea. The spell was then activated with prayer. I will pray over it every day until it’s burned out. Then I will bury the remains at a crossroads so it can manifest out into the world.

 

figurecandlework0516

 

I do custom candle work like this for my clients. Contact me for more info!

Testimonial on a mojo bag/oil I made for a client

“When I opened it, I was very surprised to see a full half-ounce of dressing oil to feed the bag with. I didn’t expect that at all and had planned on asking her how she prefers her mojos fed, but it was a really nice inclusion and assures that I feed the mojo correctly every time.

The oil itself has a mild scent and the bottle includes bits of the herbs and curios appropriate to the cause.

The mojo is great and I love it. It came in a hand-sewn red flannel bag, as is traditional and it smells delicious. I can’t even explain how delicious it smells. If the scent could be bottled up (and it probably can….), I would wear it every day.

Opening mojo bags is not recommended, but a quick grope gives anyone who has done work before an idea of what might be inside. It is small enough that I tuck in my bra every day before heading off to make some damn money, and I have grown quite attached to it very quickly. I feel as if I am missing something if I don’t have it, and I’ve sort of bonded with it, if that makes sense.

If you are in need or desire a mojo for your cause, Manbo Mary does good work and I highly recommend her.” – Alex

Vodou Reading Times available this weekend

Bonjou friends! I have a few spots available for readings this weekend:

Saturday afternoon after 1pm US EST

Sunday afternoon after 12 noon US EST

Vodou readings are available for $60 US, payable to Paypal. Please send payment to manbomary at gmail dot com and then I’ll email you to set up a time for the phone call. Thanks and I’ll speak to you soon!

Your First Vodou Party: Do’s and Don’ts

Bonswa, everyone; it’s your friend Manbo Mary. Today we’re going to talk about Vodou parties, or “fets”, as they’re called in Kreyol.

A fet is simply a party for one or more spirits, or lwa. Each Vodou sosyete has several fets per year, but each house may have different spirits that they honor. In my house, Sosyete Nago, we have about 3 fets per year: one in March for Papa Damballah, one in May for Kouzen, and one in November for Gede. This is for us in Boston. Our brothers and sisters in Haiti will have a couple more fets than we do. Sometimes we’ll add a fet to our schedule up here; it really depends on time.

Let’s say you’ve been learning about Vodou. You’ve gotten to know a Haitian person and/or someone affiliated with a house. You may politely enquire as to when a fet will next happen. So you get invited. Woohoo!

Now what?

Here are some guidelines for being a good guest at a fet and to help you get invited back J

 

DO’S

  1. Wheaton’s Law is the first thing to remember: Don’t be a dick. If you were going to a non-Vodou party at someone’s house, you wouldn’t act like a dick, now would you?

 

  1. Find out the time to arrive. Haitians tend to be flexible with time. If they tell you to show up at 9pm, the party won’t probably start till around 11pm. Still, try to be there as close to the time they give you.

 

  1. Dress appropriately, for the love of God. You are not going to the club to sip some bub. This is a religious ceremony. You don’t have to wear a suit or anything like that, but looking nice and dressing a bit conservatively shows that you have respect. If you can wear all white, that’s great. If you don’t have white clothes, don’t stress. Just wear something other than black or purple (unless you’re going to Fet Gede, where those colors are appropriate). Ladies, it’s not required that you cover your hair but it is an additional mark of respect. Bring a headscarf and we’ll show you how to tie it if you don’t already know.

 

  1. Get someone to introduce you to the head manbo or houngan. Thank them for allowing you to attend their party. Again, it’s about respect.

 

  1. Bring a little something. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You could give $20 to help pay the drummers. You could bring a bottle of rum for the table. You could bring a bit of fruit (any kind is acceptable EXCEPT lemons or limes). Again, it’s not required that you bring something, but it’s a nice gesture and if it’s your first time in this community, it will establish your reputation.

 

  1. Turn off your cell phones/pagers/little electronic doo-dads during the opening prayer! The opening prayer, or “priye Ginen”, takes about an hour to complete and someone’s cell phone going off playing “Anaconda” as the ringtone will not help the mood.

 

  1. If you are menstruating, or have an open wound, try to stay away from the altar during the first half of the party. It’s not that blood is “impure” but some of the Rada spirits (who are saluted in the first part of the party) don’t like the smell of blood. Also, in the same vein, avoid sexual activity 24 hours prior to coming to a fet.

 

  1. Just enjoy the experience. It will be very different from any party you’ve ever been to, but we’re there to worship and enjoy the spirits. It’s supposed to be fun!

 

 

And now for the DON’TS:

 

  1. Don’t bring along extra people without asking the priest or priestess. Always ask first.
  2. Don’t take pictures or video without asking first. Some people in the community are not “out” about Vodou to their family, friends, or employers. It wouldn’t be good to have someone get in trouble because your pics wound up on Facebook.
  3. Don’t come stoned or drunk. Seriously, I’ve seen this happen. You won’t be able to control your actions and you’ll behave badly which will make you a dick, and you remember Wheaton’s Law, right?
  4. Don’t use drugs or smoke cigs during the party. If you have to smoke, do so outside. Some of our spirits don’t like smoke.
  5. Do NOT get in the way of any possessions that may occur. The first time you see a possession, it may scare you. That’s OK. You can just watch. But don’t try to stop one or touch the horse (the person being possessed).
  6. If a spirit comes to you and wants to speak, do NOT be disrespectful. Flag someone in the house down to translate for you; the spirits speak Kreyol when they come. The spirit may give you advice or warnings. After the party, you can discuss this with any of the priests/priestesses of the house.
  7. Don’t touch any of the food on the table until you’ve been given permission to do so. We set out food for the spirits for them to feed off the spiritual energy. After the party is over, usually we can eat the food and it’s OK. But during the party, it’s a huge no-no to touch it.

Follow these guidelines and I guarantee you’ll have a safe and memorable time!

A letter of appreciation for Manbo Maude and Houngan Matt

 

First off, @rockofeyeblog I’m totally stealing your idea and writing my own thoughts about the people in the house who’ve influenced me 🙂

My involvement with Vodou all started with a book.

I was living in Jacksonville, FL about 7 years ago. I was a semi-practicing pagan/witch/whatever, but it was hard for me because I always felt something was missing. I’d been a practicing Catholic all my life and I always found myself returning to the old prayers and thinking about the saints. Really, the only reason I went towards witchcraft was my belief in tarot cards and magic, and I didn’t see a way I could continue to practice Catholicism and do magical work.

I was in the local library and found this book by a gentleman named Kenaz Filan called (appropriately) _Haitian Vodou_. Now, I’m someone who likes to read about new and interesting spiritual practices, so I checked out the book. I read it, thought, “Well that was interesting,” and moved on.

But sometime later I happened to find the book again. I was at a point in my life where I had a good job as a nurse but I was deeply in debt and I couldn’t get a handle on it. In the book I read about the spirit named Agwe, the king of the ocean, and his wife La Sirene. The book said that these spirits were very wealthy. In my pagan way of thinking, I thought “I can call on these spirits just like any other god and work with them.”

Ha ha ha.

I set up an altar to both spirits with the things that the book said the spirits liked: champagne, cake, fruit, candles. I bought La Sirene some jewelry. I bought Agwe some cologne. I prayed to them and said “Hey, could you bring me some money?” I did not know if they would respond or just ignore me.

They responded, but not like I thought. They started talking, and they haven’t stopped since.

When I say “they”, I mean the spirits just started coming out of the woodwork. I had dreams about Gede showing me his offering bottles. I had dreams of Ti Jean Dantor. Ezili Dantor. They just kept coming. By this time I’d made contact with Kenaz and he was helping me understand some of the dreams.

Jacksonville is not known for its Haitian population so I didn’t have any in real life contacts there. Then my life changed.

Due to some trouble at work where someone hexed/jinxed me, I left that job and decided to move back to Massachusetts, my home state. My parents were already living back there. When I moved back I did a Web search for Vodou in Boston. I found a mailing list for Boston Vodouisants and then I met a man named Adam, a houngan in a local sosyete. I knew by then that I needed a reading to determine where and how to go in this tradition. Adam said, “I can give you a reading but you should really go to my mother because she’s the best.” He gave me the number for Manbo Maude.

The day I met her was the day of my grandmother’s wake. I went to see her on a very cold December morning; I was all dressed up to go to the funeral home right after our appointment. Maude was warm and welcoming. She read my cards and looked at me and said, “You have a lot of spirits!”

Thus began a beautiful relationship, myself and Maude. She invited me to my first fete. She spent many hours on the phone with me, reassuring me that my experiences and dreams weren’t crazy. She was endlessly patient.

When I did my spiritual marriage to the spirits, she walked me right through it and helped make it a beautiful ceremony.

When I hit my lowest point and wound up in a mental hospital, wondering if the lwa had abandoned me due to my own stupid actions, she spoke to me even though she was hurt by my actions. She forgave me and prayed for my recovery.

When I was studying to do kanzo, she was a patient and thorough teacher. When I made it to Haiti she welcomed me and made my visit (at least the part before kanzo) comfortable and hospitable.

I can’t talk about what happened during kanzo, but my respect and love for Maude tripled during that process. She is a juggernaut and so worthy of respect. She walks in power and yet she has not a shred of arrogance in her.

She inspires me to become a leader. That is the mark of a true leader, IMHO; someone who creates more leaders.

On a different note, I also have to talk about my brother Houngan Matt. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this man. He is patient, creative, and hilariously funny. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from him, whether it’s how to decorate a beautiful altar or the finer appreciation of shoes (omigod SHOEZ). He reassures me when I’m feeling insecure, encourages me when I’m hesitant, and reminds me to pull my head out of my ass.

Much love to both Manmi Maude and Houngan Matt. I hope to be 25% as awesome as you both are one day.