Fet Gede: Fun and surprises on All Saint’s Day

Much like Day of the Dead, the Haitian Vodou holiday Fet Gede is celebrated every year on All Soul’s Day. It’s a day to honor the Ancestors and the group of spirits known as the Gede.

At the head of the Gede family is The Baron in his many aspects (Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Baron Cimitiere, and Baron Kriminel to name a few) and Maman Brigitte, the mother of the Gede. Together they reclaim the souls of the dead and transform some into Gede lwa, thus the Gede are innumerable. Papa Gede Nibo is the oldest and foremost Gede – said to be the oldest ancestor of the human race.

The Gede are much loved and they are the life of the party when they appear. They’re known for their bawdy and irreverent sense of humor, for dancing the banda – a dance which parodies intercourse, but also they are known for their great ability to heal the sick, give advice and prophesy the future. They have a special fondness for and are protective of children. In all, they embody the mysteries of death, fertility and birth. (source: www.dadamancer.com)

Note: What follows is my personal account of the events of that day. I did not take written notes at the Fet (a bit difficult when one is dancing). So, any inaccuracies described about the ceremony are likely errors of my memory and not of the actual ceremony.

The Fet Gede celebration that I attended last weekend was held on Sunday, Nov. 1 (All Saint’s Day) rather than Nov. 2 (All Soul’s Day). I am not sure if it was held on Nov. 1 due to people’s work schedules or another reason, but it did not seem to make a difference. The spirits were in attendance.

The day started out with an unexpected surprise. I was chatting online with a good friend of mine (whom I’ll call “L”) when she said she had a surprise ready for me and wanted to bring it over that day. She was pretty adamant that she bring it that day, which piqued my interest. So, about an hour or so later, she presented me with this lovely spirit box:

legba_box

Note that the veve for Papa Legba is handpainted by L on the top in red, one of his colors. There were three pennies for him inside. Veves are complex and I was touched both by the thoughtfulness of the gift and the time put into it. L is a talented individual in her own right, and works regularly as a henna artist. I presented the box to Legba the following day, and it is now displayed prominently in his shrine area.

Of the four friends I invited to accompany me to the Fet Gede, only two (Greg and Robert, not their real names) were able to make it. Both are new friends that I haven’t known long, but both  have very good energies about them. I met them through our mutual friend Gayle, the owner of the wonderful Gargoyles Statuary. Greg called me earlier in the day, suggesting we meet aournd 6pm somewhere before the ceremony. This turned out to be an excellent idea, as we were able to meet at a sushi bar (the same place where I met Mambo C) for drinks and a light meal. The cocktail I ordered relaxed me a little, which was good because I had been antsy with excitement all morning. After our meal, Greg and I walked over to the dance studio where the ceremony would take place, and met Robert there.

The three of us are very different in appearance; we could be the three leads for a television series that cast its characters with political correctness in mind, LOL. Greg is white with short reddish brown hair and dresses tastefully Goth. He has been a solitary practitioner of Vodou and Hoodoo for a number of years (not sure exactly how long). Robert is black with dreadlocks and dressed casually for the occasion. He is Pagan and somewhat new to Vodou. I am Asian/Inuit with medium length wavy hair and dressed semi-casually, formerly Wiccan and have only been studying Vodou seriously for about a year.

I have to admit that I did my precursory “color head count” of the crowd. I’d love to be color-blind, but like many people who have lived in areas where there are not many others who look like them, the head count becomes an ingrained habit. Plus I have been curious about what a Vodou crowd in the Pacific Northwest would look like. So, for the record, here it is: Total of about 30-40 people. Of those people, 3 of African descent (Robert, one of the guest dancers, and a middle-aged woman), an Asian woman (whom I discovered later is a member of the same dance troupe that performed at the Fet, a group that I would like to see again, Danse Perdue) and myself. Some of the people I’ve mentioned this to are surprised that there were not more people of African descent present, but somehow I wasn’t surprised, it being the Pacific Northwest.

The festivities took a while to get underway, but this gave me time to catch up with Greg and Robert, check out the altar, and say hello to Mambo C. The ceremony opened with a greeting from Mambo C, and then recitations of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary litany. (It may surprise some readers, but Haitian Vodou is heavily syncretized with Catholicism). Following the prayers were songs and dances for the numerous lwas, beginning with the Rada lwa. This includes, among others, Papa Legba and Damballah. Here I was grateful for all the reading I’ve done. Even though the songs were in Haitian Creole, my ears were able to pick out certain terms and names throughout the ceremony.

It took a while for Greg, Robert and I to get into the dancing, although the drumming (provided by the amazing Bill Matthews and Friends) was highly infectious and could not be resisted for long. Greg and I were both moving to the rhythms, although not quite dancing during the early numbers. Robert was appreciative of the music but not moving too much early on. At some point during that first hour of music, one of the dancers, a lithe,  lovely raven-haired vision in white lace, extended a graceful hand to me and drew me into the dance. From then on, for a total of around 3 hours, it was nearly non-stop dancing for me. Greg had started really dancing around this time too and never stopped.

After I’d been dancing for a while (maybe 20 minuntes? I lost my sense of time during the dance), I noticed Robert was gone. Initially I thought he’d gone to the restroom, but soon I saw that he was walking arm in arm with the houngan in a circular path around the dance floor. Afterwards the houngan returned Robert to where he’d originally been standing, and put his forehead against Robert’s. I could see the houngan’s lips moving, but could not hear what he was saying. (The houngan made this circular walk with several participants throughout the night, including the Asian woman, the African woman, and the dancer who reached out to me. When I later asked Robert what the houngan said to him, Robert said, “Nothing.” Robert thought that perhaps he had received a blessing. My guess is that the houngan was possessed at the time, possibly by Damballah, who does not speak. I had heard his name mentioned during one of the songs. Sometime later, the houngan did indeed display the signs of a Damballah possession. He fell to the floor and was immediately covered with a white sheet by several people while the Mambo brought the houngan back to himself.) After the blessing, Robert danced freely for the rest of the evening.

There were two other possessions during the evening (possibly more, but I was only sure of these two). During one of the dances, I saw the African woman seated in a chair near the altar, seemingly frozen in an odd pose with one of her arms arched above her head, the other out to the side, and her torso leaning over to her left. Shortly after that she was dancing in a dazed way, and had to be supported by one of the Mambo’s friends.

The other possession occurred while we were honoring the Petwo lwa, specifically during the song for Bossou, the bull lwa. I knew from speaking with the Mambo that this was her met tet (master of her head), so I kept an eye on her while dancing. And sure enough, he came calling. The Mambo’s face assumed a fierce expression as she snarled. Either she pulled off her headcovering or it fell to the floor, but she made no effort to retrieve it. She began charging into people and continued doing so until the houngan got hold of her and asked the lwa to depart.

The last part of the ceremony was to honor the Ghede lwas and the ancestors. This section was opened by one of the dancers who was married to Baron Samedi. She presented him with a bottle of liquor, which she opened, took into her mouth, and then sprayed over the alter three times. What followed then was another hour or so of crazy lascivious dancing (fully clothed). Near the end of the Ghede section, all of us took turns approaching the altar and leaving offerings for our ancestors. We were encouraged to make requests from them at that time. I left a purple candle for my beloved Puck, requesting his further assistance in my Vodou studies. I know he would assist me regardless of the offering or the request, but it is always nice to ask and show appreciation. And I do so appreciate him–he played and continues to play a large role in my Vodou exploration.

The following Friday, at work, I was grabbing a tea bag out of a box when a little figure tumbled into view. This is one of those tea boxes that sometimes includes little porcelain figures. This particular tea box was given to me by a coworker maybe a year ago and I never noticed that a figure was enclosed. I picked it up. It was a little brown cat. Upon closer examination of the tea box, I saw that there were a total of ten possible figures that could be enclosed. Of those ten, two were cats–the other being a figure of two kittens. So that is a 20 percent chance of getting a cat, and a 10 percent change of getting the solitary cat. I don’t know what the odds are of my co-worker not finding the figure herself or me not finding it earlier.  Make of it what you will, but I took that as a very good sign. Also, the mirror I ordered from Gargoyles came in on Tuesday, and I plan to present it to La Sirene this weekend, along with a pipe that I have for Legba. I will give the little cat to Puck. I also will be setting up a Ghede shrine soon, simply because I am fond of them.

In closing, I was experiencing weird pain at the Fet Gede, although not severe enough to stop my feet from dancing. I will explain this further in my next post.

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2 Responses to “Fet Gede: Fun and surprises on All Saint’s Day”

  1. I have found your blog very helpful. I was very interested in the Iwa years ago, and then ran away…I have since been called by La Sirene, I believe. The statue you have of her is beautiful! I wish I could find one.

    • cheshirecatman Says:

      Thank you, I am glad you find it helpful. And yes, if the lwa are interested in you, they can be persistent.

      I am sure you will find a mermaid statue that resonates for you. I’ve seen a lot of nice ones in recent years that are not too pricey.

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