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Hamsa

What Is the Significance of Symbols in Vodun? Is It Okay To Wear Them? | Vodun F.A.Q.

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Hamsa There are many symbols associated with Vodun and diaspora systems. Their meaning and significance, as with many things, varies from place to place. Some of the most familiar and widely publicized on the internet are Haitian veve. These are symbols that are employed when Lwa (deities, forces of nature, and honored ancestors) are called.

There are many other ATR/ADR that use such symbols, often some similar or the same. However, it is important to remember that regardless of what may have been watered down or forgotten over time, the Motherland traditions from which ADR’s grew did not consider these things representative but embodiment of the spirits to whom they are connected.

Once a veve or God-seal is drawn or crafted and activated, it is a sort of 2 dimensional fetish of a spirit or a gateway for them. It is not to admire them, represent them, or conceptualize them. It is them. In order for one’s mind not to break from the prospect, one could call it a part of them.

Humans are given the ability to build these embodiments through what adherents of Ifa and Orisha call our Ori. This is something like the Ba in Kemetic spirituality. It is where one’s personality comes from and an aspect of ourselves one should both honor and develop. It is the part of us that is real but unseen as most of the spirit realm is real but unseen. A witch (not Aje initiate but wise-person) or sorcerer either was given the ability or learns to use this similarly to an appendage like a hand or leg. Any person who understands how though, can create a drawn embodiment of a deity.

So most symbols, veve, and God-seals have nothing to do with magic, and are about traditional or religious observance. They may look exotic and pretty, but then so does a stained glass church window.

Bearing all this in mind, unique symbols belong to the cultures in which they were created. Yes, quite a bit is shared between regions and styles, but generally in the African community, we are aware and give respect to the originators of a particular design. A lot of exchange has happened especially between adherents of Oshun, Ezili Freda, Ala, and diaspora Mami Wata. So it’s not surprising to see similar heart shapes, fish, flowers, curls, and other beautifully dangerous indicators in all of their symbols. However, each group has their own take, and outsiders can seldom tell the difference.

The reason it is important to know what it is one is looking at and whether or not it is traditional, an innovation, regionally specific, agenda based, or just plain fake is obvious to most of you who would be reading this article. It is not so obvious to someone who has no exposure to the African or diaspora community though, so for those few of you out there who wandered in via some internet rabbit hole, I will explain.

First, since African and diaspora spirituality has been written about in western languages, there have been many gross misinterpretations. Some were honest mistakes, but others were perpetrated by “white” supremacists and Christian and Muslim clergy to sabotage those exploring African spirituality or profit from their energy or money spent on books and publications. Aside of what most symbols one would see in the public are usually used for, symbols can be used to hypnotize, subliminally program, or funnel spiritual energy vampirically from those who look at it without adequate protections.

Though the tendency in the magical/witchcraft community is usually the French “kill the author”, Africans haven’t historically been able to afford such flippancy. We judge things by whether or not they are effective, therefore one should consider the implications behind the revelation that Kenaz Filan is a “white” supremacist. He doesn’t seem to consider himself such, but then out of the other side of his neck, speaks from the wholehearted belief in American anti scientific “race” theory. He shames his own ancestors by glomming them into the multikult called “white”.

So apparently either he didn’t write any of his books or everything in them is rubbish. If it had been effective or real, then certainly one of the Legbas would have led him to at least give honor to his own ancestors instead of dishonoring them with that insecure energy. When you compare his work with say, Milo Rigaud’s (may his name be spoken eternally), it’s easy to see the difference. Milo Rigaud is from Haiti and grew up in the Haitian traditions. He actively participated in making Black people’s lives better. He can also explain in excruciating detail how a veve is constructed so that instead of stealing someone else’s, you can build your own.

Ah yes, out here in the diaspora, just like in the Motherland, we take symbols seriously. Whenever you see one, it wasn’t just thrown up to be cute or even just to show love. Each time your eyes pass over one, it is there to manifest something. So now we get to the next question.

Is it okay to wear a Vodun symbol?

Mindfully yes, depending on what it is. Like elekes, they are portable embodiments of deities, forces of nature, or honored ancestors. They should be treated with care. Some symbols are specifically crafted for wear. They will have features that connect them to a wearer, specific or general, or at least a lack of things that could harm or disorient them. Though some spirits are good with public display, some prefer their symbols be either hidden or at least not obvious. You need to know the tradition to know what you’re looking at.

One of many good reasons for care is that some prefer to be worn or stored alone, while others prefer to be in the presence of certain others or absence of certain others. Some prefer specific circumstances. One would not, for instance, wear Yewa with a symbol or item embodying Shango or with clothing that could be considered a “heaux uniform”. One would not curse or engage in any sexual behavior while wearing Yewa, not because it is bad or wrong, but simply because it is not appropriate with her. Oshun on the other hand, might be offended if you did not look your best while wearing her unless the purpose was to motivate you to do so or cheer you up.

There are somewhat different rules when a symbol is not traditional/religious, but is a psychospiritual cue or sorcery symbol or seal. The instructions for these are purpose dependent or highly individual. The Turkish anti “evil eye” for example, is a  psychospiritual cue symbol, and should be in a visible place on the body or in a building. It is there to remind people to check their jealousy, possessiveness, or greed, and protect the person or place from harmful energy generated by these. A lie detector talisman on the other hand, may need to be kept secret or worn in a not very visible place despite containing aspects of charisma enhancing deities. One should follow the giver’s instructions.

Speaking of which, some symbols like tradition or house specific elekes or baskets/pots/cauldrons/soperas should not be on bought items. They are the privilege of those connected to the original designers’ lineage. For example, Ile Baalat Teva has a Eshu as the Gatekeeper symbol containing elements of the ancestry of our founding members and the fair exchange principle. I don’t mind if others use it so long as they give us some linkage and respect. However, if someone were to begin selling things using our unique symbol because they didn’t bother to check its origins, this would be unfortunate for them as we are an ile of witches, not traditionalists.

The spirit realm is not dependent on things like copyright law. Though Orunmila and Ochosi do tend to these things on some level, their priority is not based on human legality. Regardless of human standards, they are not going to reward someone for swiping someone else’s ideas, styles, or symbols, especially if the swiper then tries to place themselves above the origin.

Also bear in mind that “kill the author” doesn’t fly in the spirit realm either for obvious reasons. Though all symbols, rituals and practices originated in someone’s imagination, if that imagination live in the soul of someone sincere and observant,  it will manifest in blessings. If it came from corruption or in the case of the aspects that people like Kenaz Filan made up, actual contempt for the people it was sold to benefit, then that is the energy it will carry.

Additionally, if you wear the wrong symbol or one containing subliminal sabotage, this could lead to some serious harm. There is the “white” people trap issue, but it goes further than this.

On January 6, 2021, a bunch of people, some phony Heathens and Nordic Pagans, tried to overthrow the democratically elected government of the U.S. This angered a lot of witches who were disgusted that someone would swipe their cultural symbols to use for “white” supremacist and fascist causes. One way they were able to help the perpetrators of that criminality be caught, and some of them meet other unpleasant destinies was by holding them to the wyrd they explicitly swore to when tattooing gateways for spirits onto their bodies.

When you are wearing a symbol, especially if you tattoo it onto yourself, you are pledging your body as a carrier of that force. So consider this whenever you buy, make, and wear wearable or portable Vodun or diaspora symbols.

Supplemental video:

Blessings and Ashé!

Vodun F.A.Q. Can Someone Sell Me An Orisha, Djinn, Ndoki, Faery, etc?

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Smoke No.

Just no.

Nobody can sell you a spirit.  On the “food chain” of beings, humans are granted certain abilities by Nature, but the ability to buy or sell an alterdimensional being is not one of them.

Some conjurers may use the term “selling” as a sort of a short-hand for “smoothing the way for you to have access to,” but they are not actually selling you a spirit.  If they are not totally scamming you, and they actually do the work, they are just weaving a channel between you and that spirit for communication or flow of a certain energy.

An Orisha is a force of Nature.  Nobody can sell you a force of Nature.  They can initiate you into the cult of that force of Nature, or make a way to allow you limited access to a degree of energy from that force of Nature as is appropriate for a non initiate or layperson, but they can’t sell you the Orisha.

Djinn, gnomes, ndoki, faeries, elementals, and other alter-dimensional creatures can be enlisted or employed, but still not actually sold.  They will allow themselves to be utilized to a degree, so long as a human goes through the proper steps, but one must be very careful.

There is a sort of image that some conjurers choose to present to the public as one who is able to command demons and control djinn and such, and this is legitimate since it works.  However, one should realize that this image is allowed by the spirits only because it is useful to convince some people who wouldn’t otherwise, to accept help.  Many entities are fed by happiness and success, and for them it doesn’t matter so much if the humans think it is because of the powers of the conjurer or the powers of their own or of Nature.  They are just happy to help, and if it means playing the “genie”, then so be it.  It takes nothing from them.

However, it is extremely important to remember that these are extremely powerful whole beings.  They are not actually our slaves or servants.  Like a polite, very helpful, or heroic human may choose to work as a nurse, a soldier, or go into some other field of service, this does not mean they are weak or obligated.  They choose to be there for us or not be there for us.  They choose whether or not to help us or to leave us, or to destroy us.

Eshu MacutoIf you disrespect the spirits who help you, they will abandon or destroy you.  Most of the time, you are given an nkisi or another item such as a stone or ring that is a sort of anchor and bridge between that being and yourself.  These must be treated as sacred items.  Some have more endurance than others, and can be worn or carried in a pocket, but they should still be treated with respect.

If your helper requires offerings, those should be kept up to date to the best of your abilities.  You need to follow the instructions you were given very carefully, and make provisions for the case that something may happen to you, and they need to be released.

And this is just if you got an actual properly enlisted djinn, ndoki, faery, or other being.  Quite often, especially if the conjuring and maintenance was “easy”, what you may get is a mischievous or predatory, often called a dark entity that feeds on misery and unhappiness.

This is not to say that all of the positive ones are difficult to conjure.  It’s just that a big part of the “summoning” ritual is to filter out harmful entities or imposters.  Most ceremonial magicians take weeks or months to call certain entities, and still don’t always succeed.  As Brother Rahman explains in the link above, we can do a long stint of protective prayers, fasting, filtering, calling, negotiating, “commanding”, offerings, and more, and in the end…nothing.  Sometimes no spirit wants to come to assist for a particular goal.  We just have to accept that.

But this should tell you, they choose, not us.

Fetishes, Enchanted Rings, and Observance Kits

Related to the article on symbols, and the other on elekes, it is important to discuss three dimensional objects as well. Though someone can’t sell you a whole actual spirit, some translation issues may lead to some posers thinking this because some legitimate priests and mages do sell or receive donations for building fetishes and other enchanted items. Because in African spirituality, the item would not merely represent the spirit but embody it once it is activated or through nature (such as stones from holy rivers) the dynamism of the Ori or Ba of the person who built it, or ceremony.

So one cannot sell you Eshu, but they can sell you an Eshu (fetish). The question is then should they?

That depends on a few things.

  • Are you from the same or a very similar tradition as the person selling or receiving donations to build you the fetish?
  • Related to the above, are you already observant to the deity embodied in the fetish? If it’s not of a deity but of a helper, are you already observant to other related spirits, or well trained enough to deal with them?
  • Are you ready for the responsibility involved with keeping or wearing the objects?

Because of the relative universality of many spiritual concepts, any sincere spiritually observant person is usually able to handle a fetish if they are well instructed and ritually pure according to its culture and pantheon. Problems start when someone will sell things to any and everybody who asks with no regard for where the item is going, or when people receive items from distributors or builders who are corrupted or have an agenda other than providing you means of observance or help.

It is not wrong to sell someone a fetish or to buy a fetish if you are not skilled enough artistically to build one yourself. There are whole egbe of craftpersons in Africa who make fetishes of metal, wood, and holy art. No one in their right mind however, is going to sell a fetish to someone who is unlikely to care for them properly. When buying them, one should be aware of how such things are made.

Makes you think, does it not? There are hundreds or thousands of fetishes and sacred items in European museums whose infused be-ings have not been respected, fed, or tended to properly in decades to hundreds of years. So brutal wars are breaking out in which spiritually, nothing is solved. They keep falling for the same cultural weakness inherent in “white” supremacy, even in places where people would not have been considered “white” really. Neo nazi groups keep popping up again and again, and it is the lowest hanging fruit for any psy ops sabotage of any of their armies or police.

Whether psychologically or spiritually, it is pretty safe to say that the idea of property rights over other people’s cultural artifacts and sacred items, along with the idea that somehow being European would excuse their neglect, at least feeds that weakness. The spirits don’t care. They know everyone is descended from Africa, so there is no excuse.

Now, you don’t want to have this problem on an individual level either. If someone has sold you a ring who needs feeding monthly, you’d better feed that monthly. If someone sold you an acorn with a forest spirit to keep you safe while pleasure hiking, and they require a roasted chicken every two weeks, you’d better give that. Take these things seriously.

If you’re going to buy a fetish or enchanted items or an observance kit from someone, know who they are before you do. Nobody is perfect, and we don’t tend to judge people by friendliness or something, but whoever you buy things from at least needs to know what they are doing. Also, if you see too much in an observance kit that is mass produced and not handmade, that is a bad sign. Even if it is handmade, but it doesn’t look like it could endure actual ceremonial use, that is another bad sign.

Be aware that like a symbol, a fetish can carry energy that is harmful to you. Sometimes people will buy something for protection from someone corrupt, and it will turn out that it was harboring hostile beings. Scary as it may be, it’s the lucky ones whose natural protections and power gained through observance makes it an actual fight so these hostile energies are detected. The unlucky ones will keep some enemy in their home and on their altar, and feed it for years before figuring out that it was the cause of a lot of their misfortunes.

So be careful, and empower yourself with knowledge so that you know what you’re looking at.

Blessings and Ashé!

 

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What is a House?

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In the context of Vodun diaspora systems, a house is basically a community or subgroup of the community.  It may be a local community or an international collection of people united with a particular leader or style.  Some have strict hierarchies and delegations of duties, while others are more like a coven without a serious hierarchy.  Others still are the altar mates of a priest/ess who seldom or never meet each other, but by supporting a particular priest/ess or temple, support each other.

The main difference between a Vodun house and some other communities is that because of the nature of the faiths, there is a high degree of both honesty and forgiveness.  When someone makes a mistake, there is serious effort to solve the problem despite whoever’s pride, whether that person is a leader in the community or not.  The newest member or even non committed participant with no particular duty is of the same importance to the Orishas as the highest ranking one.  If they have been wronged, then it is important to make things right, and once they are right, they are right.  Period.

So members of a house may know one anothers’ greatest strengths and weaknesses, and yet still love and support them.  One of the reasons for this is that we understand that a person is not only accountable to other humans, but to the Spirits.  We have faith in the Spirits because they are not distant from us, and we have evidence of their power in our lives every day.  So when someone is doing something wrong, once they are aware that they have offended an Orisha or other Spirit, that is enough for them to want to correct their mistakes on their own.  The humans, if they are involved at all in that, are merely messengers.

The humans do not need or feel the need to punish people in their house for wrongdoing below the level of actual crimes, and sometimes not even then.  The Spirits take care of that, and they do really take care of that.

So house members have a high degree of loyalty to one another without the threat of explusion in most cases.  There are more ego driven houses, and some of them are very large, but generally, this is how a house works.  We work with Nature instead of against her, and this includes human nature.

What is Voodoo?

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Yemaya Altar Ornament

an altar ornament for the Orisha Yemaya

Voodoo is a term used to describe a variety of  polytheistic, panentheistic, and hierarchical monotheistic belief systems rooted in West Africa.  Its more accurate name is Vodun, which means the spirits or essences (of nature).

At its core, it is somewhat agnostic, in that the vast majority of adherents believe that it is impossible to accurately define or imagine the Supreme God.  So rather than treat the Supreme God as a Santa Claus type figure who it’s okay to make our petty requests to, practitioners petition theVodun, Lwa, or Orishas instead.  This serves the dual purpose of avoiding blasphemy and working with nature, rather than against it or in spite of it, to fulfill one’s desires or get things done properly.

Because of political, cultural, and social changes and upheavals, Vodun is not practiced in the same way it was in pre colonial times, even in Africa.  Some changes were for the better, and some for the worse, and some are a matter of opinion.  Overall though, the vast majority of practitioners today are balanced people being true to their time tested ancestral faiths.

What It Is and What It Ain’t

One thing that needs to be made very clear about Vodun is that it is practiced in different ways in different regions in Africa and abroad.  How it is practiced in southern Benin is different from how it is practiced just an hour drive away, and also different from how it is practiced in various places in Nigeria, Ghana, etc.

There are a few things about it that are consistent though.  There is the belief that there is or may be a Supreme Being that no human mind can ever fathom.  Whether or not one believes that it exists as a being with a kind of Superpersonality is left to the individual.  It is not considered a relevant question.  If it does exist as we humans think of existence, it exists in all dimensions and is above space and time.  What is relevant are the forces of Nature that we can observe some aspects of, though total understanding of them is also out of the human reach.  Some call this Ultimate Be-ing Mawu-Lisa, Olodumare, Segbe, Nyame, or God.  It depends on the region, language, and to some degree their level of exposure to other belief systems including Islam and Christianity.  Some did not consider the concept of the Almighty relevant for so long, because It is Unfathomable, that the idea simply did not enter their minds, so names of what some would call technically “lesser gods” were used to describe it once they were re exposed to the concept through Judaic faiths.

Then there is the belief in an Emissary of at least the concept of the Almighty.  This is the father-mother aspect of whatever the Force of Creation/Existence is.  The fact that we exist on whatever level that may be is enough to justify the need for some psychological and spiritual representative of the Force of Creation.  This idea has been beneficial to mankind in many ways, one of which is to keep us mindful of the whole of Creation and our duty to it as good residents of the planet Earth.  Some call this Emissary Obatala.

Then there is the belief in a Gate Keeper who, depending on the region/tradition, is at the same time a sort of trickster.  The reason it is both is because it governs perception.  It creates both useful illusions of division and the dangerous illusions that naturally select the foolish or maladaptive out of the realm of the living.  Some call the Gate Keeper Eshu, Elegua, or Legba.

Then, and this is very important, there is the belief that Ancestors must be honored.  Before there was conscious knowledge of DNA and genetics, West Africans understood the importance that the physical and psychological and spiritual traits of the Ancestors, to those living in the present.  In practice, this means that except in some extremely rare cases (that I personally have never heard of) the line of priesthood is ancestral.  Those who are not in an ancestral line are able to serve as priests to a degree, but they will never be in the official line of priests in the vast majority of places in Africa.  They can only receive some degree of endorsement to lead and teach others in their area.  Some practices and knowledge are exclusive to ancestral priests.  Some call the Ancestors Egungun, and some Kulito, and some other terms, depending on their language.

The belief that Nature itself is sacred.  It is not that the mountain has a Spirit.  The mountain is a Spirit-and-a-physical-body.  Scientifically, this could be described as the idea of multidimensional existence.  So when a ritual object has been made and imbued with the ashe or energy of a particular Force of Nature, it does not merely represent it.  It at least in part, embodies that Force of Nature.  Some call these Forces of Nature Orishas, some Orixas, some Alusi, etc.  It depends on language and traditions.  The importance of multidimensional existence or the sacredness of Nature is central to being ridden by the Orishas.  Since we are Soul-bodies, the Forces of Nature can be personified in us at their will even if as humans we are unable to fully grasp the idea of the will of a Force of Nature.  For this reason, we also generally believe that the person does not choose which Force of Nature is at their head or makes contact with them.  The Force of Nature chooses the human to head, ride, or to make contact with at a given moment.

Another difference between west African originated belief systems and some others is a distinct lack of quid pro quo. There is some exchange principle involved with observance to deities, but this is not all there is to it. There is no presumption of human ability to demand anything or necessarily expect anything based on offerings, but the offering is an important part of aligning with the deities. The exchange principle in observance and offerings is because of the exchange principles in Nature.

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