Archive for Haitian Vodou Handbook

Books for “Vodou 101”

Posted in African culture, Agwe, Haiti, lwas, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2012 by cheshirecatman

Last Wednesday I stopped at Edge of the Circle Books on my way to meet a friend, and found yet another new book on Vodou that I think I am going to like a lot (more on this later). How I wished I’d had this book when I started down this path. This got me to thinking, what books would I like to see included in a “Vodou 101” class? Below is my list, with brief comments on each.

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren. A much-touted (and deservedly so) account of Deren’s journey to Haiti and into Vodou. Includes a ton of information about the lwa and various ceremonies, including a beautiful service held for Met Agwe and a firsthand account of possession.

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown. This book also includes a lot of info about the lwa and the services, but I also liked that the author focused on Mama Lola as a Haitian living in the U.S. and how she holds her services here. This focus gives the book a more personal feel. The author and Mama Lola also travel to Haiti, and we are given a closer look at the Haitian people and the author’s experience as a foreigner being initiated into Vodou.

The Book of Vodou by Leah Gordon. I really wish I had this book when I started out. It packs a lot of information into a thin tome–everything from a brief history of Haiti to descriptions (with property tables) of the lwa to a glossary of terms. And tons of pictures! This would be a good first book to assign to a class to give a student a quick  overview of Vodou and engage their interest.

The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan. This is another book I wished I’d had from the get-go. Filan’s writing style and the way he arranged the book is very accessible to someone new to Vodou. What I really love about this book, however, is that it contains some very practical suggestions for the non-initiate solo practitioner. Not everyone is near a sosyete (a Vodou house) and his book helped me immensely when I was figuring out how to serve the lwa on my own.

Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou (Volume 1) by Mambo Vye Zo Komande la Menfo. Just published last year, this is a very good overview of Vodou with focus on respect for the lwa and for the culture of Haiti. I liked that the author emphasized the importance of discovering which lwa are with you rather than courting a lwa you happen to find interesting (she considers this rude to the lwa who are with you, and I agree).

Haitian Vodou: An Introduction to Haiti’s Indigenous Spiritual Tradition by Mambo Chita Tann. This is the book I ran across on Wednesday by happy “accident.” My plan that day had been to take a bus to the northern end of Capital Hill and go to a different book store altogether. This plan was changed when the bus I wanted to catch did not show up after 20 minutes (which was weird as this particular bus runs at least every 15 minutes at that hour, so I should have at least seen one go by) and I had to walk to another bus stop, which left me with not enough time to go to that particular store and meet my friend on time. So I ended up catching a different bus and got off partway up the hill and went to Edge of the Circle instead.

And I was glad I did. My initial reaction when I saw this book was that I really could not justify buying another “101” level book. However, I quickly changed my mind once I took a look inside. First of all, this book includes a lot of pronunciations of Haitian words, which is invaluable for those of us who don’t speak Kreyol. (Now, I would absolutely have LOVED to have this a few years ago!) I was already sold at that point, and then discovered that the author also included some Haitian recipes for dishes you can serve to the lwa. I’ve only just started reading this book, but so far I  like it a lot. The author emphasizes respect for the lwa and for the culture and people of Haiti.

Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Spiritual Heritage by Sharon Caulder. I would like to see this book included in a Vodou class, even though it’s not about Haitian Vodou. I enjoyed this book so much because it felt like I was reading an interesting novel. It’s the firsthand story of the author’s journey to Benin to learn about Voodoo from Supreme Chief Daagbo Hounon Houna. Learning about Vodou’s African roots was interesting and gives one a broader perspective of the lwa.

So these are my beginner’s recommendations as of this date. I am sure there are other good resources out there, but I am just including books I’ve read or am in the process of reading here.

Additional reading (updated as I read more books):
Sevis Lwa: Crossroad of Vodou (Volume 2) by Mambo Vye Zo Komande la Menfo. Published April, 2018. A companion piece to her earlier book, this volume contains detailed instructions and information for those continuing to serve the Lwa.


La Sirene

Posted in Agwe, Dreams, Haiti, La Sirene, lwas, Mermaids, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2012 by cheshirecatman

I’ve received a request to post some info about La Sirene. This lwa does walk with me, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been a little negligent of her and Met Agwe (her husband) lately. I need to make it up to them, and honoring the request to  post more info about her is a good start. I am also purchasing a beautiful spirit bottle for her from my friend Slinky in the near future; pics will be posted at that time.

I’ll start off with the quoted book info and then add some more personal stuff.

From Répertoire Pratique des Loa du Vodou Haïtien by Déïta:

She is Master Agouet Aroyo’s wife. Goddess of fresh and salt waters…She is the twin sister of “La Baleine” (The Whale).

SYMBOL: Gold comb and Horn of Plenty.


OFFERINGS: Rice pudding; vermicelli with milk, corn-heart gruel, sugar-coated almonds, candies, pink cake and the roasted flesh of a white pigeon.

DRINKS: Sweet almond syrup.

(Note: This book also includes an image of La Sirene’s veve, which I don’t see often).

From The Hatian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan:

La Sirene (literally “the Siren or “the mermaid”)…is as changeable as the sea, capable of great love and great cruelty..

In Haiti, many Vodouisants will avoid putting their heads beneath water while swimming in the ocean. They believe that if they do they may be captured by La Sirene, who will take them to Gineh. There they will stay for years, if they come back at all. When they return they will be powerful  magicians….

…La Sirene loves images of beautiful mermaids. If you want to create a shrine to La Sirene, be sure to include some mermaid imagery. Like Agwe, La Sirene also enjoys nautical materials and items. Seashells, driftwood, sea glass, sea floaters , and other things that have been taken from the sea or that are connected with marine or ocean imagery…You should also give her a comb and a mirror–the finest you can afford.

La Sirene likes sweet things, particularly cakes with white and light blue-green icing…You can also give her champagne, orgeat syrup, or other liqueurs.

From The Little Book of Vodou by Leah Gordon:

…a mermaid who possesses the wisdom of the water’s depths. She is said to make an eerie music on the floor of the ocean, and is held to be the patron of musicians.

Colors: Blue-green

Symbols: Mirror, comb, trumpet, shells

Offering: white doves, perfume, mirrors, sweet white wine

Catholic Counterpart:  Nuestra Senora de la Caridad and St. Martha

My own experiences with La Sirene go as far back as I can remember. For one, my favorite number was always her number, seven, and it used to follow me around. I’d look at a phone number and it would be full of 7’s, or I’d be standing in a public restroom and it would have 7 stalls. You get the idea. These days, the number 3 (Legba’s number) is the one that seems to follow me the most, but back then it was all 7’s.

When I was a child, I also had dreams where earth was a water planet, and we could breathe underwater and swim everywhere. As an adult, I’ve noticed her and Met Agwe’s presence is often indicated in dreams by the appearance of beautiful turquoise water. (See Dogs and dreams of water for more details.) She has also appeared to me a couple of times, wearing a blue and white dress. (See Unraveling the mysteries of personal lwa and the blue dress and What is it with the blue dress? for detailed accounts.) And of course, there was the mirror incident.

I also recommend the following link, which includes her veve:

Some info on the lwa Bossou

Posted in lwas, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2011 by cheshirecatman

One of my readers recently asked me to post something about the lwa Bossou. The reason you do not read much about him or some of the other lwa here is because I tend to write mostly from personal experience. My experience with Bossou is limited to the second-person variety, as he does not walk with me.

I have seen him possess the local Mambo, however, and when he does, her face becomes fierce and she will snarl and charge into people. On that note, rather than rewrite what others have written, below are some excerpts and a link to info about Bossou:

From Répertoire Pratique des Loa du Vodou Haïtien by Déïta:

Loa of the Rite Petro, he is called Maitre Brise. Healer and exorcist…Representation of the materialist forces, he helps the mambo or bocor to remove the spirits of the dead who have attached themselves to someone.

SYMBOL: The skull of the bull with its horns.

COLORS – CLOTHING: Red and yellow.

OFFERINGS: The flesh of the sacrificed bull and boiled roots vegetable.

DRINKS: Rum and “clarin” (Sugar cane Fire Water.)


From The Hatian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan:

Although his origins are clearly Dahomean, he is served in both the Petwo and Rada rites…Those who classify Bossou as Petwo may do so because of the violence of his possessions. Those who are ridden by Bossou will frequently be tossed about like they are getting gored by a mad ox. Others will ram their heads into the Poteau-mitan or any other hard object…

Bossou’s bottle is red and has two large cloth horns sewn onto the fabric…He is served with kleren or rum…

Bossou is also a great protector of those who honor him…You can set up a small table for him. [And here the book suggests one of the saint images associated with him, a Buddha or a bull or minotaur picture or figurine.] Place a red scarf on the table; run a red candle when you wish to speak with Bossou. (In Haiti, he is typically honored on Tuesday.) You can occasionally feed him beef or chicken; Bossou likes his food spicy, with a red sauce.

From The Little Book of Vodou by Leah Gordon:

Bosou is a mighty bull spirit, represented with two horns. He is an unpredictable spirit, and, like his secular bestial counterpart, has a fiery and torrid temper. Bosou is associated with the fecundity of the soil…[he] is the earth, the fruit, and the seed, and is also associated with male virility.

Colors: Red, black, white

Symbols: Bull’s head, horns

Offering: Fried beef

Catholic Counterpart:  St. Vincent de Paul

For more in-depth info on Bossou, all three of the above-mentioned books have decent sections on him.

I also recommend the following link:

House blessing, Vodou style

Posted in Damballah, Divination, Ghosts, La Sirene, Legba, lwas, Marassa, Ogoun, Possession, Religion, Ritual, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2011 by cheshirecatman

Candles for Papa Legba

On Saturday Mambo C came over to bless our condo. We meant to have her do it months ago but, due to various delays on our part, it had to wait.

The beginning of the day was rather hectic. I had a few last-minute items to buy on Saturday morning–one red 7-day candle and three white ones (I needed a total of six, but I had two already), along with some herbs. I knew the market down the street carried 7-day candles, but their stock had been running a little low lately. When I got there they had exactly one red candle and three white ones left. Call it luck, but I thanked the lwa.

The corner store, however, did not have the fresh basil or mint that I needed. So after dropping the candles at home, I caught the bus to an Albertsons about 16 blocks away. There I found the basil and mint, and was in and out in 20 minutes, in time to catch the next bus home.

Shortly after arriving home, I read an email from Mambo C listing some more items: fruit and loose change, including four dimes. I realized I had just spent all my dimes on the bus. Fortunately, the store down the block is literally about five minutes away on foot, so I decided I would return there after I finished some last-minute housecleaning.

Mambo C arrived around 5 pm. Anne mistakenly thought they had not met before but then realized the mambo had been at my last art show.

Before we did anything else, we gave Mambo C a tour of our place so that she could get a sense of the energy. She quickly zeroed in on the front bedroom, sensing some negativity. Earlier in the week Anne had felt a light pressure on her leg while she was in there.

I showed Mambo C my shrine cabinet, thinking that she would have some suggestions for improvement. Instead, she complimented it, and said she liked Papa Legba’s handmade cane a lot, which made me feel good.

Then the mambo did some tarot readings for us. First she did a general reading for Anne. (I noticed that when she spreads out her cards, she places them all face up, rather than dealing them face down and then turning them over one by one. I like the idea of seeing all the cards at once;  I think I am going to try this with my own readings).

I didn’t keep a record of exactly which cards turned up in the readings; I felt that writing everything down or taking photos would have been disruptive. But I did take some notes, and what follows are some highlights.

The first reading for Anne was general. The King of Swords indicated a man who has a lot of influence in Anne’s life, both in the past and the present.  Mambo C thought he was connected to our moving or an inheritance. We believe this to be Anne’s  late father, without whose money we would not have been able to buy our condo. The cards also indicated concern about losing  money, and a need to take control of her finances, and possibly seeking professional advice for that. The cards portrayed Anne’s nature accurately: she is generally an optimistic, happy person.

Next, Mambo C did a brief 3-card reading for both of us, and asked us questions about the previous owners of our home. We don’t know a whole lot about them, except that they inherited the place from a deceased relative. We also know that they had trouble making the payments and the  property underwent foreclosure, as we purchased it from the bank. Mambo C felt that some negative energy from the foreclosure was still lingering about the place.

Lastly, Mambo C did a met tet reading for Anne, which was interesting. As it turns out, both Anne and I have La Sirene (Anne’s met tet) and Ogoun walking with us. I can easily see the influence of La Sirene in Anne. Like me, she is an emotional and imaginative artist. The Marassa were also present, and when Mambo C asked Anne if there were twins in her family, I was surprised that Anne said yes. It’s  likely Anne has mentioned this to me before, but I’d forgotten apparently. Although the twins are not in her immediate family, Anne has more than 4-5 pairs if you go back a generation or two on her mother’s side. Mambo C also noted the Sun and the Star cards, smiled and said that those could mean that Anne should kanzo. (I can’t see Anne doing that, as she is agnostic and Vodou is not her faith. But hey, you never know. I never thought it would be my faith either.)

My memory gets a little confused here. I  know we walked through the condo twice (once to remove negative energy and once to instill blessings), but the details are a bit fuzzy, so this account is not entirely accurate, I’m sure. (If the mambo happens to read this and refresh my memory, then I’ll revise this later.) During the first walk through, Mambo C led the way while Anne and I followed behind her carrying a pail of water mixed with herbs and other ingredients. Beginning in the front bedroom where she had sensed the negative energy, the mambo dipped a rag into the water and with sweeping motions directed the energy out of the room and into the hallway, giving special attention to all portals (doors, windows and mirrors). When she’d done all of the upstairs rooms, we went downstairs and she did the living room and kitchen. Then she cleaned the front doorway with the mixture, took the pail from me and told us we could wait inside. She was gone for a while, and I found out later that she walked the length of the block to discard the water and the rag at the crossroads.

When she returned,  we lit three of the 7-day candles (two read, one white) for Papa Legba and placed them near the front door. Mambo C prepared another herbal mixture, adding Florida water, rum and cinnamon. Per her instructions, I gathered up the change I’d saved from my morning errands and added them to the pail. She placed the pail along with a white 7-day candle (lit) on our hearth. We then proceeded to make an offering of fruit to the Marrassa. Picking up her asson, the mambo handed me a small white bowl containing an egg set atop white flour. She led me in the salutes to the four directions. Facing east, you step to the right with the right foot, then bring your left foot to join it. Then you do the same to the left, then to the right again. Then you do a full turn to the left, then to the right, then to the left again. The process is repeated facing west, then north, then south. After the salutes, I placed the egg to the right of the candle.

We then went through the salutes again for the Marassa, only this time I was carrying fruit (one banana and one orange in each hand), which I placed to the left of the candle. Mambo C told me to be sure to put them down at exactly the same time, which I did.

Now it was time for the ancestors. I held one of the white 7-day candles as we went through the salutes again, then Mambo C called my ancestors. As I placed it on the mantle I silently told them what I hoped and wished for. Then it was Anne’s turn to do the salutes and tell them her desires. As she stepped back from the mantle, Mambo C placed a hand on her shoulder and said that Anne’s father was standing there with us. She described him quite accurately too; tall, thin, salt and pepper hair, facial hair, wire framed glasses. It is worth noting that we neither gave her a description of how he looked nor showed her any photos of him. I was impressed.

At one point during this part of the evening, Mambo C did a brief ceremonial magick protective ritual. Using a stick of incense, she drew a circle and a cross in the air in each of the four directions. Another interesting thing that happened during the rituals was when Mambo C knelt down with her eyes closed and looked as though she were trying to collect herself. Initially I had worried that she wasn’t feeling well, but I found out later that she was nearly possessed by the Marassa in our living room! That would have been interesting, but it’s probably good that it didn’t happen. I do not have any training in how to deal with possessed people, and the Marassa can be mischievous and demanding.

After the offerings, Mambo C handed me the pail containing the herbal mixture and we did another walk through of the house. She anointed the rooms and also pulled the coins out of the water and tossed them throughout the house. (I need to buy a small ceramic cup with a lid soon, place a mirror on the bottom of the cup, and place the change in it. Then I will keep the cup on my altar.) The rites ended with the remainder of the herb mixture being sprinkled on Anne’s and my heads as we stood over the bathtub. Or I should say, sprinkled on my head. Mambo C felt that Anne’s head was too hot, so Anne ended up getting the lion’s share of the mixture dumped on her head. Mambo C asked if Anne had a temper. She doesn’t have much of one, but she does suffer from anxiety.

(Anne said later that she didn’t realize what she was getting into. I thought she handled herself with an admirable amount of poise throughout the evening, but wondered if she was unhappy about the head bath. She told me she found it funny and was actually laughing during it.)

We had to let the herbs dry on our heads. After toweling off a bit, the three of us went out for Chinese food. It was a nice way to end the day, and Mambo C is a lot of fun.

Before she left, Mambo C told me that I might have to do cleansing rituals once in a while if the energy started to feel heavy again.

Our entrance is a bit odd; when you open the front door the first thing you see is the door to a bathroom. Mambo C suggested that we beautify our entryway by keeping the bathroom door closed and perhaps hanging a picture or tapestry on it.  I also need to set up a small altar for Legba by the front door, and I’m thinking a shopping expedition to Gargoyles Statuary might be in order.

Vodou art and books

Posted in Agwe, Art, Haiti, lwas, Possession, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by cheshirecatman

On Wednesday, prior to meeting a friend downtown for Cajun food, I stopped by Edge of the Circle Books in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood. After witnessing all the possessions at Saturday’s Rada fet, I was hungry to read up on the subject. I wanted to see if the store had a copy of “Drawing Down the Spirits” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera, and sure enough they did (I LOVE this store–it’s the only one in Seattle I know of that keeps and regularly stocks a Vodou section). I probably won’t get to read it for a couple of weeks due to some pending art-related deadlines and a few remaining chapters I still need to read in “Mama Lola.”

This is the second book I’ve bought of Filan’s, the first being his “Haitian Vodou Handbook,” one of the very few Vodou-related books that has any hands-on information in it. I had the chance to talk to a visiting houngan at last Saturday’s fet, and he and the visitng mambo are actually initiates of the same house that Filan is from (Societe la Belle Venus). Mambo C and Houngan D, on the other hand, are initiates of Mambo Racine’s Roots Without End Society. At the moment, the two houses are not getting along, so I thought it was very cool that Mambo C, Houngan D, and the guest mambo and houngan were willing to work together and distance themselves from house politics. My respect for all of them grows.

Lastly, a friend of mine turned me onto the work of Hersza Barjon, an artist from Haiti who paints beautiful portraits of the lwa. I really love her portrayal of Agwe, and of course my curiousity was piqued when I noticed that she mentioned his Inuit counterpart, Kul. I am not familiar with Kul and have only found a few brief descriptions of him online. This warrants more research. In the meantime, enjoy! Divine Haiti: Portraits of the Lwa by Hersza Barjon.

Anticipation and a possible answer

Posted in Divination, lwas, Possession, Psychic, Religion, Spirits, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by cheshirecatman

This morning Mambo C and I finally set a date to meet on Wednesday afternoon. I am very excited and a little nervous. Excited because I have so many questions. Nervous because this is very important to me. Not too nervous, though. I have a very positive impression of the Mambo from her emails.

Also, I may be a little closer to verifying the identity of the old woman spirit who my friend Angel sensed near me. On Sunday I tried one of the simpler readings with the Buckland tarot deck: the 12-card astrological circle spread. My question was about the identity of the old woman.

I’m not going to describe the entire reading here, as that would be tedious for me to write and for others to read. But here are what I consider the significant highlights:

Th first card represents the querent (in this case, me). It was the 4 of Chivs, which indicates a “colorless” person with deep desires that, along with his feelings, he keeps well hidden.

The third card represents education, communication, and short journeys. It was the Knight of Koros (Cups), which can indicate a message, invitation or proposition. I was recently invited to a Fet Gede, which could mean significant progress in my Vodou studies.

The ninth card represents religion, philosophy, spirituality, long journeys. It was the Hierophant, reversed, which can indicate unconventionality, unorthodoxy, and openness to new ideas. I have never really been a conventional anything, so it will be interesting to see how this Vodou journey turns out. Some practitioners I’ve encountered tend to be rather rigid in their beliefs, and I am very non-rigid. In the Buckland deck, the hierophant is portrayed as a blacksmith shoeing a horse. This is interesting because, in Vodou, a possessed person is referred to as a horse. When a lwa possesses a person, they are “riding the horse.”

The twelfth card represents secrets, secret friends, secret enemies, and is also the last card in the spread, which I take to represent the answer to the question. It was number 11 of the Major Arcana, Justice. In the Buckland deck, justice is represented by the Romani kris, the Gypsy Court of Justice. I didn’t really see how this related to the identity of the old lady, but I’m learning to step back and wait when things do not immediately make sense.

This morning I was reading a Vodou discussion board, where one of the members referred to Baron Samedi as a judge. In Kenaz Filan’s The Haitian Vodou Handbook, the Baron’s wife Maman Brigitte is described as “the consummate judge, and those who have been wronged will often go to her cairn of stones seeking justice.” In the Buckland tarot, the High Priestess (which so closely resembles the spirit that Angel saw) is described as “the arbitrator of disputes,” in other words, a judge. The name Brigitte is similar to the impression that Angel had of the old woman’s name (see post “Lwa connections“):

Angel:  It’s almost like Rita.. but not.. just has that sound in it . . .  I think there is a sound before that. Something ITA . . . the name definitly had that ITA sound. Or RITA. Not sure and something in front of it.

I’m not feeling one hundred percent certain that it was her, but it’s possible. This may turn out to follow the general pattern of my connecting with the lwas: They make contact, either I or someone close to me correctly guesses their identity, I second-guess the information, and then it turns out to be correct. Time will tell, but I do have a sort of pre-existing fondness for the Baron and his wife. At this point in time, I’m not sure how many model skulls and skeletons I own.

Getting started, and fun on eBay

Posted in Legba, Vodou with tags , , , on August 9, 2009 by cheshirecatman

I’ve been really enjoying reading Kenaz Filan’s “The Haitian Vodou Handbook.” Of the books I’ve read so far, I’ve found this one to be the most helpful regarding the practical aspects of serving the lwa. I feel ready to approach Legba soon, and want to set up a small altar area for him.

I was searching everywhere online for some type of representation of him that resonates for me (and hopefully for him as well). After searching through my entire personal library of bookmarked occult and Vodou shops, I ended up on eBay and was considering a bright red and black doll made of clay, fabric and wood. I liked its brightness and the folk-art look of it, but wasn’t sure if I would like it once I saw it in person (the photo is a little fuzzy). So I took a break from eBay for a while. Then I came back and ran another search, and found an image of him on a card that I really liked.

It turns out the card is from the game VTES (Vampires the Eternal Struggle). I found this highly ironic for a number of reasons. I have never played any customizable card games or role-playing games (live or otherwise). However, the artwork on the card is nice. I also found a nice metal frame at Goodwill to put it in when it arrives.