Loa or lwa (pronounced loo-WAH) are the spirits of Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo.:229 They are intermediaries between Bondye (from French Bon Dieu, meaning "good God") – the Supreme Creator, but who is distant from the world – and humanity. Loa are not deities in and of themselves. Unlike saints or angels, however, they are not simply prayed to; they are served. They are each distinct beings with their own personal likes and dislikes, distinct sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols (veves), and special modes of service.:219
The origins of the word lwa are disputed, as Haitian Creole takes influences from many languages as well as local innovations. One common association is the French term les lois ("the laws" in English); this derivation emphasizes their role as part of natural order of the world. Another related term supported by scholars is olúwa from the Yoruba language, meaning "lord" or "god".
The people of Haiti and Louisiana (including the Fon and Ewe peoples) heavily syncretized loa from mixing figures in traditional African religions and Catholic saints. Vodoun / voodoo altars will frequently display images of Catholic saints. For example, Papa Legba is syncretized with Saint Peter or Lazarus of Bethany. Syncretism also works the other way and many Catholic saints have become loa in their own right, most notably Philomena, the archangel Michael, Jude the Apostle, and John the Baptist.
In a ritual the loa are called down by the houngan (priest), mambo (priestess), or the bokor and the caplata (sorcerers and witches) to take part in the service, receive offerings, and grant requests. The loa arrive in the peristyle (ritual space) by mounting (possessing) a horse (ritualist) in Creole referred as "Chwal" – who is said to be "ridden". This can be quite a violent occurrence as the participant can flail about or convulse before falling to the ground,:62 although some loa, such as Ayizan, will mount their "horses" very quietly.
Certain loa display very distinctive behavior by which they can be recognized, specific phrases, and specific actions. As soon as a loa is recognized, the symbols appropriate to them will be given to them. For example, Erzulie Freda will be given a glass of pink champagne, she is sprinkled with her perfumes, fine gifts of food will be presented to her or she even puts on her jewelry; Legba will be given his cane, straw hat, and pipe; Baron Samedi will often fall flat on the floor and the vodousants around him will dress him and prepare him as they do in a morgue with cotton in his nose.
Once the loa have arrived, fed, been served, and possibly given help or advice, they leave the peristyle. Certain loa can become obstinate, for example the guédé are notorious for wanting just one more smoke, or one more drink, but it is the job of the houngan or mambo to keep the spirits in line while ensuring they are adequately provided for.
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The rada lwa are generally older, as many of these spirits come from Africa and the kingdom of Dahomey. The rada loa are mainly water spirits and many of the rada loa are served with a water. The rada are "cool" in the sense they are less aggressive than the petro. They include Legba, Loco, Ayizan, Damballa Wedo and Ayida-Weddo, Maîtresse Mambo Erzulie Fréda Dahomey, La Sirène, and Agwé. Many of these spirits are served with white, sometimes in conjunction with another color. For example, Damballa may take white and green in some Vodou houses, or just white in others. Freda may take white and pink in one house, or pink and light blue in another. However, as a rule of thumb, white is a color appropriate to all the rada.
The petwo lwa (also called petro) are generally the more fiery, occasionally aggressive and warlike loa, and are associated with Haiti and the New World. They include Ezili Dantor, Marinette, and Met Kalfu (Maitre Carrefour, "Master Crossroads"). Their traditional colour is red. As with the rada, additional colors may be associated with individual petro. Dantor will be served with red, but in different houses may additionally take navy blue, green, or gold.
Originating from Yorubaland, this nation includes many of the Ogoun loa, most of whom use 'Ogou' as a sort of family name. Examples include Ogou Feray, a martial soldier loa; Ogou Bdagris, a wiser general; Ogou Panama, often viewed as a pilot (and an example of how loa can subdivide as the world changes); and Ogou Balendjo, who serves on the ship of the rada ocean loa Agwe.
The guédé are the spirits of the unclaimed or unremembered dead, thus categorized separately from one's remembered ancestors. They are traditionally led by the Barons (La Croix, Samedi, Cimitière, Kriminel), and Maman Brigitte. The Gede as a family are loud, rude (although rarely to the point of real insult), sexual, and usually a lot of fun. As those who have lived already, they have nothing to fear, and frequently will display how far past consequence and feeling they are when they come through in a service – eating glass, raw chillis, and anointing their sensitive areas with chilli rum, for example. Their traditional colors are black and purple. They are known for the banda, a dance they perform that mimics sexual intercourse.
- Adya Houn'tò
- Anaisa Pye
- Baron Samedi
- Baron Criminel
- Belie Belcan
- Boli Shah
- Bossou Ashadeh
- Boum'ba Maza
- Bugid Y Aiba
- Captain Debas
- Captain Zombi
- Dan Petro
- Dan Wédo
- Diable Tonnere
- Guede L'Orage
- Guede Nibo
- Grand Bois
- Jean Zombi
- Joseph Danger
- Kalfu (Maître Carrefour, Mait' Carrefour, Mèt Kalfou, Kafou)
- Klemezin Klemay
- La Sirène
- Mademoiselle Charlotte
- Maîtresse Délai
- Maîtresse Hounon'gon
- Maman Brigitte
- Manze Marie
- Nago Shango
- Papa Legba
- Ti Kita
- Ti Jean Quinto
- Ti Malice
- Ti Jean Petro
- Trois Carrefours (Kalfou Twa)
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