Haitian rituals/way of life and prominent religion revolve around Vodou Spirits or deity “Lwa”. Some of the Vodou spirits are; Agwe: Lwa of the sea, imagined as admiral or ship’s captain of the boat Imamou, who conducts the dead to their ancestral home, Azaka: Lwa of farming and agriculture, Bondye: God, Danbala: Serpent deity associated with water, the rainbow, cool, and wisdom, Erzulie Danto: Petwo mother-warrior spirit, usually imaged as dark-skinned and known for her fierce protectiveness, Erzulie Freda: Feminine Rada Spirit of love and luxury, Gede: Family of trickster spirits associated with the ancestral dead, with sexuality, and with children, Legba: Rada guardian of gates and doorways, Marasa: Sacred Twins, and Ogou: Family of warrior spirits known for strong sense of justice; also associated with fertility. Some other Vodou terminology is; Kafou: Literally an intersection or crossroads, Petwo: Pantheon of ‘hot’ spirits, derived from Kongo and slavery experience, Rada: Pantheon and rites of ‘cool’ spirits from Ginen (West Africa). From Brown: “Vodou spirits (Haitians never call them gods or goddesses) are quite different from deities, or even saints, in the way that we in North America usually use those terms. They are not moral exemplars, nor are their stories characterized by deeds of cosmic or even heroic proportion. Their scale (what makes them larger than life though not other than it) comes, on the one hand, from key existential paradoxes they contain and, on the other, from the caricature-like clarity with which they portray those pressure points in life.”
The Haitians don’t worship, they integrate these spirits into their everyday lives. The paradox is that these spirits can go either way in life, make it good for you or screw it up. The spirits define how the world is going to be for the Haitians. The Kafou in the Haitians life is very much an everyday part of where they are finding themselves. Dance and music play a big part as a (mock battle) one could say, as they fight good and evil in their lives. Possession is probably one of biggest beliefs that Haitians have. When we think of Vodou, we think of Voodoo (which is what we think of possession, a type of black magic), Vodou is as mentioned a religion. We have been brought up to think of possession as being something evil, too many misconceptions and horror movies! Music, drums and visual art are all strong instruments and elements to appease the spirits. It takes days of preparation, just as we have seen in other African cultures, be it masks, outfits or ritual trays. When the drums are playing the beat of the (mock battle), the priest and priestesses are dancing to the beat. They are chanting for the spirit to take them over and help them with what they are battling with. When possession takes place, it is not visible to the person themselves, but very visible on the outside viewers. As we watched the video of “Divine Horsemen: Living Gods of Haiti” by Maya Deren, it was clearly visible who was possessed and who wasn’t. You could see how they went from a slow “chant-like” movement to just letting loose and were swooped up by something else. “We” as Americans is where we just freak out or say, “their just putting on a display”. It’s actually like watching someone who is hypnotized, we ask ourselves the same question, are they actually hypnotized or not, but if you believe it, that is what it looks like watching them dance and move. Someone else is present.
Mama Lola and Maggie are particularly drawn to the Ezilis because she provides a lot of the sociological context to try to explain how the spirits of Vodou are affective and reflective of the Haitian people. Mama Lola and Maggie follow, more so, Ezilis Danto, to the fact that Haitian women and as immigrants to the US, the Ezilis are strong women that have to take care of their kids, the father figure is usually an absentee kind of figure. The spirits are reflective; they show how it is rather than how it should be. Again from Brown, “Vodou is a religion born of slavery, of wrenching change and deep pain. Its genius can be traced to long experiences in using the first (change) to deal with the second (pain). Vodou is a religion in motion, one without canon, creed, or pope. There is never one spirit that lays down the law, there are always other spirits to consult, other spirit energies to take into account.” This religion gives women the type of energy to deal with life creatively, realistically and to be strong against the pressures of the world.
Falk, Nancy Auer; Gross, Rita M. “McCarthy Brown-Mama Lola and the Ezili; Themes of Mothering and Loving in Haitian Vodou.” Unspoken worlds; women’s religious lives: 235-45.