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