New Orleans: The Big Easy Just Got Scarier

Voodoo: the Macabre Chapter Four


Chapter Four

Symbols of Voodoo

The Asson

The Asson, or calabash rattle, is the symbol of office for a Houn’gan or Mambo, and is used in just about every thing a Houn’gan or Mambo does.

The calebassier ordinaire, grows on a crescentia cujete tree, and is pierced with a hole to attach the handle to which is called the coua-coua, and is used by lesser officers. The coua-coua is also the Asson used in Pethro rites. The calebasse courant, a gourd that grows on the liana tree, has a natural handle. It is filled with stones of different colors and the vertebrae of snakes, wrapped about the calebassee are beads that give the Asson it’s unusual sound that symbolizes the powers of the ancestors from whom the Voodoo is handed down.



The Voodoo Temple

The Oum’phor, also called a Hounfort, is the temple of Voodoo. The peristyle is a roofed courtyard where the elaborate ceremonies are performed and where the sick are usually treated. At it’s very center is a post, or the Poteau-mitan. Off of the peristyle is a square house which serve as the Oum’phor proper, where the Houn’gans and Mambos retire to to consult with the gods. Off this house, in a large Oum’phor, can be several different chambers reserved for the worship of a single god with an altar dedicated to that god. The djevo is a special room set aside, where the Voodoo candidates are examined and initiated.

The Poteau-mitan represents the center of all things, heaven at the top, hell at the bottom. It is governed chiefly by Legba. From it’s supports the boat of Erzulie is hung, as well as a whip that symbolizes the mastery of self and of Voodoo that one attains through the various degrees of initiation. It it around this that all important voodoo ceremonies revolve.

The post itself is usually square, and set into a circular pedestal of brick and concrete, which has socles, triangular niches, formed into it. The pedestal is usually constructed into two or three steps, but can be just a single step, and serves as the main pe for the voodoo temple. The post is covered in spiraling designs which represent the two serpent gods, Danbhalah Wedo and Aida Wedo, while the pose itself represents Legba Ati-Bon, or wood of justice. A peristyle may not even have a visible poteau-mitan, or one of a wooden post, but it is always represented.

If the Oum’phor is large enough, then in the yard there will be trees that serve as sanctuaries for the gods, this is called the tree reposoirs, or arbres-reposoirs. Like the poteau-mitan, the bases are surrounded by pedestals. Sometimes, a snake who symbolizes Danbhalah and Aida Wedo live within the branches, and are trained to come down during ceremonies to be hand fed. The reposoirs are gaily decorated, painted with veves and adorned in the colors of the god it is dedicated to. Ritual dances are most often held in the reposoirs instead of the peristyle, especially if it is a larger group.

A perpetual fire burns in the yard of the oum’phor, this bonfire is called the forge of the Ogous, and has an iron bar planted in the center.



The Pe

The altar or altar stone is called a pe’ in a voodoun temple. It is square or rectangular, and set at the rough height of a man’s chest. The name is derived from a Dahomey word “kpe” which means stone. It is upon this that the assens, bells, stones, necklaces, flags, books and even drums are kept. The pots-de-tete are jars that contain a part of the spirit of those who worship at the oum’phor, they too are placed on the altars. Other jars, called govis, which the Voodoo gods descend into when called by a Houn’gan or Mambo. Although anything, govis, a tree reposoirs, even the body or heart of a man or woman, can be required by the gods to be consecrated and used as a reposoir.



The Assen

The Assen is an iron rod surmounted by a round plate fastened horizontally. Candles and govis are placed upon the assen, and when sacrificial offerings are placed upon it, they are said to have a greater chance to be accepted. When one takes the Asson, they also receive their own assen. There is great mystical and magical significance to the assen, and at times, can represent more synthesis power than the veves.




Perfumes hold a very high ritual significance, they are not simple things of vanity, they are olfactory symbols of the different gods. Each Mystere has it’s own scent they prefer, and is one of the finest gifts a person can offer to a Loa.



Ritual Flags

Like perfumes are to the sense of smell, the ritual flags are to the sense of sight. They show visible the symbols and colors of the different gods and are made in the oum’phor itself. They are made to be symbols of beauty, and can often be costly to create. They are used in salutations to the Loas, or in salute to others.

The flags are carried traditionally by two female houn’sihs called co-drapeaux, who surround the la place, or commandant place, a male houn’sih who guides their movements.



Sword of La Place

The sword of La Place, or the ku-bha-sah which means the greatest of the invisibles has slain or abolished all that which is material, all that which is the depths or the abyss. The swords and other sacrificial knives are the emblem of the Ogous. These items are also called Ogoubhasah, and hold great meaning to the initiated. No oumphor is without it’s machetes.




In Voodoo, ritual foods are offered in order to nourish, enliven, fortify and to make contact with the invisible powers, the better the ritual food is adapted to the loas requirements, the greater the magical power immediately available. It is up to the Voodoun to learn what foods the gods likes best, to appease them, and can be a learning experience on it’s own.



The Joukoujou

The joukoujou is a notched pole that represents the tree of good and evil. The arbre-sec, which means dry tree or sun, is one end of the joukoujou, while the other end is the arbre-mouille, wet tree or moon, and represents both Pethro and Rada magics, the polar rites of Voodoo.



Magic Baths

Ritual bathing is an important, and potent, magic to the Voodoo. Many Houn’gan and Mambos have special chambers dedicated to this ritual, with custom made bathtubs that one can totally be submerged in. Baths are used for cleansings, purifications, exorcisms, healing, and simply pleasing the Loas. It can be a renewing experience, a way to ground oneself before doing other magic. The Christmas day bath is one of the more famous ritual where the Voodoun wade out into the ocean with limes in hand, dive in, to come out renewed and cleansed.



Magic Lamps

An oil lamp, or small bowl filled with a mixture of castor oil and olive oil, provide a magic aura where ever the light shines. These are simple charms, or simply dedicated to a Mystere. Perfumes or other things can be added to the oils, but it is best to wait to see what the Mystere prefers least you anger him or her. A Work Lamp is light to bring the maker employment, usually Legba is invoked.

A Black Lamp has many extra ingredients added to it, these are used to cause discord, and are hung outside in another person’s yard, perhaps to cause an enemy to move, disrupt a family, and the like. It can also be used to combat evil, if dedicated to the gods of the Rada Rite instead of the Pethro Rite.

A Bottle Lamp or Black Bottle is composed of much the same way as a Black Lamp. But the wick is light, then snuffed out when the cork is placed in it, and the bottle hung in the oum’phor yard. Every day, at the same hour, the Houn’gan or Mambo rushes at it with a whip, and gives it a sound thrashing, to hasten the Mystere it is dedicated to to hurry up. This, of course, might get you some hex for your troubles though.

The Charm Lamp is created with the purpose in mind of attraction and sweetness, to help bring someone to you. It is placed on the area you most do your magical workings. A Disaster Lamp is created and placed in a hole in the ground, since it is dedicated to the Guede Mysteres, for the effects of producing a dire catastrophe against your enemy.

Each lamp has it’s own ingredients, and all but the simplest of the lamps are kept as knowledge reserved for higher level initiates.



Blood Sacrifices

Often when one thinks of Voodoo, the images of sacrificing chickens or goats, or other animals come to mind. What the non-initiated do not realize, is that these animals are then cooked and eaten, the Voodoun does not waste life. Every Loa has a particular animal that they prefer to be sacrificed to them, which is to say, killed, cleaned, cooked and served to them. The Houn’gan or Mambo, and other members of the congregation also share in the feast, to derive power in the act of being able to eat with their gods. Often times, a Houn’gan will drink the fresh blood of an animal for more potent magic, or use this to trace a veve. One’s own blood also has potent magic, for the mojo we receive flows in our veins.

Doing a blood sacrifice is an in-depth ritual consisting of many phases, just killing a cock has several variations in how to do it, depending on the purpose. It involves chants, prayers, drawing of veves and other steps known only to the Houn’gan or Mambo.



Human Sacrifices

There are places in Africa where human sacrifice is still done, these tribes are known as members of the Red Sect. They follow the Congo and Ibo Rites, and are seen as a type of survivalist sect that believe themselves to be animals. They get possessed, and can perform extraordinary feats, calling themselves wolfmen, serpentmen, leopardmen, owlmen, crocodilemen, lionmen and others. They have even been known to be able to shape shift into these creatures.

Another sect who has dedicated themselves to the Pethro Rites, once dressed in white, but now dress in red, blood red. Tradition holds that they wear a silver ring with the emblem of a tower upon it. Their symbol, is the destroying sword of St. Michael. They serve only destruction, using swords or bows, and use humans in their sacrifices, much in the same way as a Houn’gan of the Rada Rite will use a chicken. If that went over your head, yes, this means they are cannibals.