Okay, I've got multiple questions here, each asked by different people. I'm going to group all these questions together in one place and write one overarching answer which will serve to answer all of them at once. Okay? Here, goes...
"Could you explain what you mean when you say your religious title is called A Bride of Damballa?"
It means, I am married to a lwa, specifically I am
married to Damballa Weddo. Catholics call it being a Nun. Norse faiths
call it Godspousery.
Marrying a Lwa takes an extreme level of
commitment, same as it does for Catholic Nuns to marrying Christ. And in
the same way a Catholic Nun gives up her secular life, secular clothes,
and secular lifestyle to live at and tend to the Shrine of Christ for
the rest of her life, so too, does the Voodoo Priestess give up her
secular life, secular clothes, and secular lifestyle to live at and tend
to the Shrine of her chosen Lwa for the rest of her life.
What does a Lwa Bride do that is different from a plain Voodoo Priestess?
a week on the holy day of the lwa, during festival weeks, and one month
of the year (a 40 period devoted to the lwa) requires abstaining from
salt, sugar, sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking and eatting only foods
accepted by lwa (for example Damballa would expect you to drink only
water and eat only white eggs, white rice, and white bread).
Lwa Bride Voodoo Priestess doesn’t just wear her clerics robes one day a
week during services, like a typical minister would, she wears them 24
hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of her life, same way Catholic
nuns wear their Habit and Wimple the rest of their lives. So, I don’t
wear “normal” clothes, no jeans and t’s, no suits, no shorts, so sports
uniforms, no short skirts, zip, nadda, nothing. Religious robes,
(usually long white caftans heaving embroidered with beads and
rhinestones on holy days and less elaborate robes the rest of the year)
all day, every day, for the rest of my life. We take our job as a cleric
very seriously. This is not something we do one day a week, and live a
completely different life 6 days a week. We are not a minister on Sunday
and a regular person the rest of the week. We are a minister 7 days a
week, 52 weeks a year. Because for us the ministry is a lifestyle
commitment and not a job or career move.
"I heard there was this thing called Mariaj Lwa where voodoo practitioners marry a lwa. What is this exactly? Is this like what nuns do when they marry Christ? Why would someone want to marry a lwa? What do you have to do? What do you think are the pros and cons of marriage with a lwa? Is this practiced in the path you follow? Are you married to a lwa? How does one get chosen for this? Would you marry the lwa if you was chosen to?"
This is a really interesting question. Thank you for asking it. It's not the type of question I get very often. Most folks look at Voodoo and think Bela Lugosi movies and Halloween Witches. I get a flurry of questions about "How do I use a Voodoo Doll to kill my enemy?" and "Why do Voodoo priests worship Satan?" and other such silly nonsense, but rarely do I actually get questions about Voodoo that actually have anything to do with actual real Voodoo rituals. You question tells me that you are actually interested in learning something and are not some bigoted religious creep trying to find reasons to condemn and also not some misinformed kid looking to show off to their friends with some great big magic trick. You actually went out and did some research on your own and found out the actual name of an actual Voodoo ritual, and worded your question in a manner of respect, not in just or sarcasm. You are new to Voodoo this I can tell from a few minor mistakes in your question, but that is fine, because I can tell you are asking an honest question and are not intending any disrespect. (It's rare to get a serious and civilized, non-judgmental uestion regarding Voodoo.)
Okay, so let's get down to business here.
First off, while "lwa" is a correct and accepted term, many usually prefer the older more traditional spelling of loa, instead. Different houses use different spellings, so it's more of a regional thing. And for those who are reading this, who may not know what a loa or a lwa is, a loa is a type of spirit being, similar to Angels and Faeries. Some loas are born as spirits, others are ghosts, spirits of the dead. While some loas are more famous than others, and about 20 or so (Legba, Simbi, Damballa, Erzulie, etc) are revered by most all Voodoo practitioners, there are literally many thousands of loa. Lwa by the way, is another word for "zombie" which is an even only spelling than "loa", and nzambi is an even older spelling than that. Note however that most practitioners today avoid using the original term "zombie" because of the media's having changed the meaning of the word zombie from "spirt being" to "living dead person". Lwa and loa are relativly new terms created to replace the original true and correct term which is "zombie" or "nzambi".
Secondly Voodoo is the name of a religion and by proper grammar rules, the name of all relgions are always capitalied. When referancing the religion, always use "Voodoo" with a capital "V" and only when speaking in terms of adjective, adverbs, etc (She's going to voodoo him) would you use the term "voodoo" without a captial "v".
Thirdly, make sure you know what you are talking about when you say the word "Voodoo". Do you really mean "Voodoo"? Or were you meaning to say "Vodou"? Or did you actuall mean "Hoodoo"? Few people know the difference and use them interchangably, even though they are each very distinct things. I'll go over all this in a second, but first, I'd like to post a couple more questions, because in answering your question, the answer will also apply to these as well.
"I would like to learn about taboos in religion. Could you explain to me the notion of taboo? And describe two specific religion-based examples, and speculate on how or why each arose?"
"Would you please discuss the role of ancestors in traditional African religion? Is there anything analogous to this in Christianity? Do you think that modern secular society has anything positive to learn from ancestor veneration in African religion?"
Yes, I do think society has much to learn from ATRs.
The book did not elaborate on this topic very much. I found it quite limiting and if I was to rely solely on the textbook, I would have nothing much to say here. I will tell you what I personally know of ancestors in Voodoo. But first I will tell you about Voodoo, because it is difficult to understand the impact of the ancestor without knowing the history of Voodoo.
Vudu (also Vuvu) [which means "the circle of life" or "to draw water" or "to let life flow as water"] is an ancient African belief system dated to about 10,000BC. It is the world's oldest known "organized" religion. It is based on the theory that all life was created by The One God, and that he had many wives, each wife being the mother of a tribe (race, country, or culture) on the Earth. Out of respect for a heavenly parentage, detailed records of lineages are kept, so that no one who ever lived is ever forgotten. Bones of the dead a carefully preserved in shrines, where on the persons "day" (either birth day or death day) gifts are left to let the spirits of the dead know they have not been forgotten. Death is seen as a joyful reunion with the ancestors. No gods or idols are ever worshiped. Over the many centuries, each tribe developed it's own set of "rituals" for use to help remember the centuries long lists of the names of the dead. The religion of The One God scattered into many (hundreds) of variations.
Meanwhile, in Europe the Celts were busy invading and forcing Paganism, Druid, and Heathenism on the Picts. The Picts practiced Hoodoo, which is also known as Welsh Faerie Faith. Hoodoo (which means "haunted place" or "place where spirit dwell) was a heavily magic based religion, which called on the assistants of "The People of the Mists", "The Wee Folk", "The Good People", (Leprechauns, Gnomes, Pixies, Boogals, Selkies, Kelpies, etc, collectively known as The Fae). The Romans would soon follow and attack the Celts forcing Christianity on them, with the infamous evil bigot St Patrick in the head, decreeing death to all who did not convert to Catholicism. Picts, were now being called Scots, and to avoid death, because to call Hoodooing "Intercessory Prayer" claiming that they were calling on Angels not Faeries. Catholics thought this was a good thing, so soon created the concept of Saints, and started demanding Christians pray to Saints. By the 1300s many Scots were still refusing to convert to Christianity, and were forced to flee Scotland. They became known as "The Scottish Travellers" or "The Scottish Gypsies" (and are in no way related to the Rom or Romany Gypsies). They settled in Germany where they were referred to as "The Pied Pipers" for their plaid tartan clothing and their playing of "magical pipes". They used Hoodoo magic without persecution, until 1458 when Heinrich Kramer wrote "The Witch's Hammer" a book which detailed the hows and whys of witchcraft, how to spot a witch, and more importantly how to kill a witch. He gave copies of his book to every church leader he could and as a result 20,000 men, women, and children were slaughtered in the first German Haulaust.
Vodou (also Vodu, or Vodun) is an African based religion started in the 1600s in Haiti by the slaves who combined elements of many African tribal religions. They could not communicate because they each spoke different languages, but they all shared very similar religious rituals to remember their lineages and reverence their dead, and used this as a way to unify themselves. The many hundreds of variations of Vudu once again became united, now under the name of Vodou. However, plantation owners saw unity between slaves as a threat (which was the very reason they never owned slaves who could speak the same language with one another) and set out to punish and kill any slave found practicing Vodou.
Meanwhile, in New England the Scottish Traveller Gypsies had fled Germany and were now living in a little town called Salem, where the German Christians had followed them to, and was continuing to kill them. At the same time Plantation slaves were escaping North into the Ozark mountains, Scottish Gypsies were escaping South, also into the safety of the Ozark mountains. Here Haitian Vodou and Scottish Hoodoo meet up and joined forces, creating both The Underground Railroad and a totally new religion called Voodoo. The Scottish Hoodooers taught the Haitian Vodunists about the use of poppets (Hoodoo Dolls, later renamed Voodoo Dolls in the 1920s by Hollywood directors) to heal their sick and to put curses on the slave owners. They also taught the Vodunists how to hide their ancestral worship, by using Catholic Saint Icons. By the late 1700s Voodoo had taken hold in the southern United States.
Vudu (Vuvu) is an African ancestor ritual religion. It contains no worship practices, has no church buildings, no dogmas to follow, and contains no magic practice. There are no clergy and thus no initiations. It is NOT recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Vudu focuses on ancestors.
Vodou (Vodu or Vodun) is an African based Haitian religion, which incorporated ancestor rituals, with God worship, and Catholic Saint rituals. It contains minimal magic, if any at all. There are temples, clergy, church meetings, congregational worship services, and a lengthy and highly detailed list of dogmas and rules. To become a member requires 21 baptisms and to become clergy requires initiation. It IS an official recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Vodou focuses on ancestors, worship, church attendance, and service to the spirits (lwa) of The One God.
Hoodoo is a Scottish based magic practice which involved reverence to nature spirits, with spirits granting requests in exchange for gifts and often, though not always, incorporates Catholic Saint rituals. There are no clergy and thus no initiations. It is NOT recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Hoodoo focuses on magic, spell casting, divination, hexes, curses, and exorcisms.
Voodoo is an American New Age Magic Based Religion that takes Scottish Hoodoo Magic, Italian Catholic Saint Rituals, and some but not all practices of the Haitian Vodou religion and throws them all together into a totally random mixed bag. Normally Voodoo is NOT recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion. Voodoo is ONLY an officially recognized by federal government organized 501 non-profit tax exempt religion, IF the Houngan or Mambo of the individual house was INITIATED through the Haitian Vodou religion, in which case it is considered by the government to be a Vodou priest who ALSO practices Voodoo in addition to Vodou, thus explaining why many Voodoo priests and priestess seek out Vodou initiation even though Voodoo itself is not a religion and does not require initiation. Voodoo focuses on service to the spirits (lwa) of The One God as a way to do magic, spell casting, divination, hexes, curses, and exorcisms.
I wanted to clear this out of the way before I answer your question, because most folks have no idea the difference between Vodou, Hoodoo, and Voodoo, even “well informed” folks tend to not be as well informed as the think, and unless you live and practice it every day (as do I) it’s really hard to grasp the differences and really easy to confuse one with the other and a lot of misinformed folks go around saying they are all the same thing and just different spellings of all one thing, when in fact, they are not!
To make the whole thing just a bit more confusing, when the Native Americans were being driven out of their homes in the late 1700s/early 1800s, many African slaves and Scottish and Romany Gypsies banded with them, which in turn added many Native American Traditions into both Hoodoo and Voodoo (but not Vodou).
In the 1830s-ish several of these Native American, Gypsy, ex-Slaves went into Mexico, and lived in Catholic Missions. Some went as far south as Brazil. This is where you see the Day of the Dead and all the skull art, added to Voodoo, and this is also where the many branches (Santería, Sanse`, The 21 Divisions, etc) of Voodoo took root.
Modern Voodoo is accepting of all cultures and religions, because it looks back upon it’s history and sees that it was created by humans of many colors and beliefs, from all points of the globe, struggling against hardships, and coming together to provide support and friendship to one another. Every family, as a result of this, practices Voodoo differently, depending on where their ancestors walked. For some the path never strayed from Africa at all, for others it never got past Hatia.
In my family we are mixed blood. While I can pass as white, I am far from it. One of my grandmothers was a white Scottish who grandfather had been Cherokee. My other grandmother was a MicMac, whose grandmother had been a Kickapoo, and the Kickapoo granny’s grandmother had been an African Slave. I am neither red, black, or white, because I am all of the above. Likewise the tradition of magic and ancestor reverence was passed down through our family, via both my grandmothers’ lines, both of which having connections to Voodoo.
I mentioned before, that at it’s core, the word “Voodoo” means “circle of life” and “to flow like water”. What this means is, that we are all connected, like a river that travels far, ever changing, ever expanding, ever taking water out of the ocean, ever putting water back into the ocean, the water flowing through the world, eventually coming back to the river and flowing through it again. We flow, we change, we travel, but we always return to our source, back to the river from whence we came, and thus we come full circle, with life completing itself. This is what the word “Voodoo” means.
But to truly understand what this means in terms of ancestors, we must look at the Creation myth which goes with Voodoo. There are several versions of this story, but the basic story that is the same in all versions is as follows: It is the story of The Grand Lwa ruler over all the other lwa Papa Damballa Weddo:
Damballa's story is unique among creation stories. Many, even most, stories tell of the creation of one group of people. The god is black, his people are black, white people are evil, or the god is white, his people are white, black people are evil. Even the God of the Bible only created white folks, and his story says that he cursed Cain with dark skin to punish him for murdering Able, thus all black folks are evil by birthright (according to the Bible). You do not find this with Damballa's story. Damballa has no true solid form, and no skin color. He is a shapeshifter. He can appear as a man of any skin color, and has multiple wives, one each of every skin color. This ATR (African Traditional Religion) story states that, we all are children of the One God, Bondee. The One God was lonely and created the lwa (spirits, similar to angels). Bondee got bored after a while and went away to build other places (the other planets), he left the lwa in charge of the earth.
The first lwa created, was also the most powerful one, and the only lwa capable of creating things in the same way as Bondee. He (Damballah Weddo) was different than the other lwa. The others were humans who had special powers, but Damballa was a white serpent with rainbow scales. He was also a shapeshifter and could take on the form of anything, and often, appears in the form of a mute albino with yellow snake eyes, dressed all in white and carrying a giant white/albino python. When The One God, Bondee left, he placed Damballa in charge, giving him the new title of The One God, thus in Voodoo the term “The One God” could be referencing either Bondee, the original One God or Damballa, the current One God, and there are many who believe that Bondee and Damballa are in fact different aspects of the same being.
Damballa had 3 primary wives (Erzuli, Ayida, Sirene) (each of different skin color - white, black, and red/brown) (though he also has hundreds of lesser wives, whom he has married over the centuries since, and he takes many mortal humans as wives, in addition to other lwa). The creation story focuses only on the 3 original wives. Each wife had many children. Each of these children needed a place to live, so the Earth was created out of a serpent egg, and each child was given a country to rule over. Each child created a unique language of their own. Many cultures came from this, as the children's children's children grew up and multiplied and spread across the Earth.
The One God, Papa Damballa, though a great magician, a powerful shapeshifter, and the creator of life and our planet, was not perfect, his ability to speak was badly impaired, his language slurred by a hissing stutter, he sadly found it difficult to communicate with his beloved children and grandchildren. When the One God did appear on the Earth, no one could look at him in his true form and live, his true form being so bright that to look upon him caused you to burst into flames, so he would appear in the form of a serpent. It made him very sad that he could not live on the planet with his beloved children. Because it was so difficult for him to be seen or heard by those living in physical bodies, he appointed the dead spirits of his wives and their dead children (called the loa or lwa) to act as mediators to speak to the living children on his behalf. Each wife looked over the children of her lineage, and over the centuries as each living person dies, they become loa and watch over their children's children.
Every few generations, the loa return to the physical body, being reborn into the same family from which they descended. The cycle of birth, death, guardianship, and rebirth continues in an ever flowing circle of life, thus the name Vodu or Voodoo came to be the name of the religion (the name dating to 13,000 years ago making it the first organized religion to ever be created) (vuvu means "to draw water" or "to give birth", thus vodu means "to give new life to the spirits"). Vodunists keep long and careful records of their ancestors, knowing by name sometimes dozens of generations back. The bones of the dead and kept carefully preserved in family shrines, with offerings left to the loa to let them know you have not forgotten them and are thankful that they are watching over your family. Death is not feared, but rather celebrated as it means going home live with your ancestors at a great big happy family reunion.
Because we are direct descendants of the god Damballa, with his blood flowing through our veins, it is important to keep accurate (as possible) records of the ancestors, that we may trace our lineage to Damballa, that we may never forget who we are or where we came from, that we never forget the hardships of our ancestors, that we honor them, and learn from their lives, that we may remember that all are one blood, regardless of skin color, that we all came from one god who deeply loved each of his wives, each of whom was of a different skin color.
The origins of this story come from Benin, Dahomey, in West Africa, where sits The Python Temple built in the 1530s. Voodonists often take pilgrimages to this temple as it is said to have been built on the site of the birthplace of Damballa. The shrine is guarded by priests and priestess of Damballa. Throughout the world are many shrines to Damballa, each one guarded and protected by either a priest or priestess. The local Damballa shrine is The Church of the Holy Rhinestone in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where I am the head priestess.
I am married to Damballa. To understand this, I shall elaborate, for few know of the ritual, and most who know of it, still know not the details of what such a calling involves, or the dramatic change in lifestyle such a calling demands.
Is this like what nuns do when they marry Christ?
I believe it is. I'm not sure though, because I am unfamilar with Catholicism. Mariaj Lwa means “married to a deity” or “married to a spirit protector”.I believe it is similar to when Catholic nuns marry Christ. Again, I'm not sure though, because I am unfamiliar with Catholicism. I have never studied Catholicisam and have never had any involvement in Catholicism or known anyone who did. So I really have no idea what nuns do when they marry Christ, or what marrying Christ even means to them, why they do it, or anything else. Sorry, but I really can't give you an answer for this one, because I have no idea. I would guess it is more or less the same thing though, because nuns give up their secular life to devote every day of the rest of their life to serving Christ, and that is basically the same thing a Vodounist does when they marry a lwa.
Why would someone want to marry a lwa?
How does one get chosen for this?
The lwa comes to you in a dream or a vision or a possession. The lwa may come only once and tell you outright that s/he has chosen you as his/her bride/groom or the lwa may come to you many times, acting kindly and affectionate towards you, conditioning you to his/her company and eventually (after just a few days or after as many as several years) ask if you would consider their offer of marriage.
Some lwa may ask or request nicely, while others may demand or threaten in a fearsome manner, depending on the nature of the lwa in question. It is not uncommon for 3 lwa to come to you at once and all 3 ask you to marry them. Male lwas usually ask to marry female Vodounists and female lwa usually ask to marry male Vodounists, but male lwas may also ask males to marriage and female lwas sometimes ask females to marriage, and sometimes a lwa couple (a male lwa and his female lwa companion) may ask for your marriage to them both.
Folks outside the Vodou faith, usually see marriage to a lwa as being a sexual union, often interpreting it as sex with a spirit, demons trying to spawn with humans, incubus lusting after women sort of thing. While marriage to a lwa, may on rare occasions have sexual overtones, usually this is not the case. Usually a lwa who wants to have sex with you will simply take possession within the body of your sex partner without asking for permission from you or your partner.
The Vodou religion is very relaxed and liberal about sex, and couples are often sexually active for many years before they get around to the commitment of marriage. Most folks look at this from a Christian standpoint, which states that the ONLY reason to get married is so that you can legally have sex. One must keep in mind here that the concept of sex as a reason to get married is less than 300 years old and was created by Christians. In the Vodou faith, sex is about creating children and creating children often, thus sex with multiple partners is not uncommon, nor is sex outside of marriage. Couples who are married, may not actually ever have sex with each other, but they may have sex with people they are not married to as a way to ensure more children are born.
In Vodoun marriage is not about the the right to have sex or create children, but rather the commitment to take care of and protect another person and serve them with the utmost devotion for the rest of your life. This explains why most lwas have multiple spouses.
For example Damballa has 3 wives, and one of those wives has 5 husbands and one of her husbands has another 2 wives besides her. Damballa takes care of and protects each of his wives. Likewise the wives take care of and protect him. The wife with 5 husbands, takes care of and protects each of her husbands, and each of them takes care of and protects her.
The goal here is family unity. Everybody has somebody who loves them enough to take care of them, look out for them, and protect them from harm. Because marriage is not about the act of sex, you see men marry men and women marry women, which leads to the misconception that there are an overly high rate of gays and lesbians in Vodou. While gays, lesbians, bi-sexualy, and transgenders folks are openly accepted in most Vodou communities, marriage between same sex couples does not always mean the couple is in fact gay. Christians (who for some reason think of everything in terms of sex) usually find it very difficult to understand the Vodou concept of marriage without sexual requirements.
The concept of marriage as a commitment to take care of someone forever, without any sexual obligations, is just too hard for the overly sexed Christian mind to grasp. In theory if everybody has somebody to protect them, than no one will ever be hurt. The whole thing is further complicated by the fact that in addition to husbands marrying wives and parents having children, many also have dozens of "adopted" godchildren who are not related by blood or marriage but are still considered family. The end result is Vodou families are HUGE. The whole thing is very complicated and generally too difficult for most folks raised of a Christian mindset to wrap their brains around.I tell you all this, to show you that marriage to a lwa, is not about having sexual relations with a spirit, but rather it is about devoting your life to serving that spirit in exchange for his/her protecting you. And this is why is does not matter if the lwa you marry is male or female.
What do you have to do?
It is different for different lwas, and different Houses/Temples teach varying traditions so there is no set in stone hard and fast rule regarding it. One would do what you are taught is correct in your own House. There are some basic general guidelines that are more or less consistent from one house to the next, which are as follows:
Get asked to marry the lwa. Accept proposal. Be courted by said lwa, while planning and preparing the wedding feast. Build altar/shrine to the lwa. Even if you already have one, you must build one, because this is a special altar, separate from your daily devotional or magic working altar. You must never have items intended for other lwa on this altar. Throw wedding feast, exchange vows/rings. (You will wear your wedding ring for the rest of your life. The robes and ring of the lwa will be kept on the altar, usually a draw to hold the robes, with the ring placed on the top of the altar.) Devote first 40 days of marriage to the lwa. Wear white for 40 days. Some brides choose to wear their wedding dress for this. Abstain from salt, sugar, sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking for 40 days. Eat only foods accepted by lwa (for example Damballa would expect you to drink only water and eat only white eggs, white rice, and white bread, for 40 days). If you are married to a human spouse, you must sleep in separate rooms for these 40 days as well. Tend the altar daily for 40 days.
After the first 40 days are over, you can go back to your normal routines, with the following changes: For the rest of your life you are expected to take off one day a week, to devote to the lwa, in the same way you devoted the 40 days to him/her. Each lwa has a particular day of the week, which is considered "their day", same way as the Christians declare Sunday to be God's day so they take the day off from work to attend church on Sunday and the Jews and Seventh Day Adventists declare Saturday to be God's day. Each lwa has a day of the week, for example Damballa's day of the week is Thursday.
So if you was to marry Damballa, as I did, you would be expected to wear white on Thursday (some brides choose to wear their wedding dress for this) and to abstain from salt, sugar, sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking on Thursday; Thursday would be the day on which you would set out fresh offerings on Damballa's altar; if you have a human spouse, on Thursday you would sleep in separate rooms. You would do this every week, for the rest of your life. If you forget a week, the lwa may become angry and choose to not protect you until you did something to show you still care. Some lwa are more temperamental than others. For example, Erzulie, known for her extreme jealousy, will often demand you redo the 40 day ritual you did in the beginning, followed by a feast in her honor on the 41st day, before she will forgive your forgetting her for a single day, while a more calm lwa like Damballa may only ask for you to wear white and eat nothing but water, eggs, and rice for 7 days. These are various taboos I live with in Voodoo.
In addition to the weekly devotionals, you will be expected by some lwa, to do more elaborate monthly rituals, and if the lwa has a specific day assigned to them (in the same way Jesus has Christmas December 25th assigned to him) you will be expected to give a large feast in the lwa's honor on their day (for Damballa that day is March 17).
Some Houses (congregations) have far more detailed steps you must follow, including singing certain songs on certain days, or dancing certain dances, or playing drums, or reciting the lineages of the lwa's family or presiding over congregational events your House holds in honor of the lwa. Some Houses ask you to devote 2 days a week to the lwa, one at home and one in the temple. Some Houses say you must not do work for clients (readings, rootwork, etc) on the day of your lwa, while other Houses will say you can ONLY do work for your clients on the day of your lwa, and others say you can do work for your clients with other lwas on the other 6 days but with your lwa spouse only on his/her day.
There may be other things which your House requires, say some might say you must keep a pet snake if you marry Damballa, other Houses may consider it bad to keep snakes as pets because they see it as attempting to imprison or mock Damballa. Some will tell you, not to wear white, but rather the colors of your lwa, for example Erzulie Freda would have you wear pale pink and light blue while Erzulie Dantor would require blood red and navy blue. Of course the color of Damballa is white, so you’d wear white either way, unless you are referencing Damballa in Petro instead of in Radda, then you would refer to him as Damballa da Flambe instead of Damballa Weddo, and would wear red and orange and yellow. (You would do this during times of war or great hardship, when you would want to call upon Damballa’s fierce wrath filled nature, but this is rarely done.) It is also appropriate to wear green to reverence Damballa, for green is the color of snakes. Every House will be different when it come to these sorts of details. When in doubt ask you your House leader (Houngan [high priest] or Mambo [high priestess]) what it is they recommend.
What are the pros and cons of marriage with a lwa?
The biggest pro is protection. The lwa promise to protect you, that is the whole reason you accept their proposal to marriage. The biggest con is sacrifice. You sacrifice a lot of time and a lot of what some would term "pleasures" to devote your life fully to maintaining a shrine to your lwa. The biggest con is how people respond to finding out I am Voodoo. A perfect example of this is seen right in a college textbook I had when taking World Religions, the bigotry and stereotype of classifying Voodoo as “evil” and a way to hurt people, I mentioned the specific reference HERE!
The next biggest con is the taboos, or rituals expected of the Voodoo priestess. Every lwa has different ritual connected to them. Everything has it’s own lwa over it: death, birth, love, travel, cats, dogs, mothers, etc - there are tens of thousands of lwa, one for everything, and a priestess is expected to know at least several dozen, if not several hundred of the lwa, and how to set up an altar for each one. She is expected to bun certain candles on certain days, use certain herbs for certain petitions to certain lwa at certain times, etc. She is expected to be available to bless babies/houses/new pets, give spirit baths, petition ancestors, perform marriages/funerals/exorcisms, visit homes to help families set up personal altars, give divination readings [via cards, spirit board, pendulums, throwing stones/bones/shells], call upon the help of ancestors for families seeking advice [channeling spirits in a sort of seance way], and she is expected to be able to do these things on a moments notice, to drop everything and go to the person asking for help, when they ask, because she is the go-between, the connection, the one who speaks to the lwa, and whom people go to, to find out what the lwa have to say. She puts the lives of her clients above her own life, and by being the servant of the lwa, is in constant service to mankind. This is the point from where the taboos come from, the why behind the how. She must remain a pure vessel for the lwa to come to her. The lwa have ideas about who they will come to. Lwas will not call a person to be their representative on earth, unless that person is already living a lifestyle very close to the one they demand the priestess live.
For example, I don't drink alcohol, I do drink almost exclusively water, tea, and milk, I'm a vegetarian, have been for 40 odd years, and the main staple of my diet is rice - and I've eaten like this for nigh on 40 years. Most of that time I was a Mormon/Christian, but since childhood I was plagued by dreams of a white robed mute albino with a giant pet anaconda/snake. In my youth I was terrified of him and thought him a ghost, but in my teen years a friend was killed and this guy visiting my dreams each night because a source of comfort as I realized he was some sort of guardian spirit. He didn't talk so it wasn't like I could just ask who he was or what he wanted (though that didn't stop me from asking anyways).
Well, as I got to researching into this whole thing more, I found out why he was attracted to me. He's one of those deities, who has a set guideline for the types of folks he'll come to, and his servants and wives. He's got several/spirit/lwa wives and hundreds of human wives - apparently he sort of "collects" women servant-spouses the same way Jesus collects bride-nuns, and the same way Jesus demands a strict lifestyle for his brides, Damballa demands a strict lifestyle for his huge bevy of servant women, and do you want to guess what one of the requirements he requires is?
He demands total purity and will only marry a woman who drinks almost exclusively water, supplemented by tea, pure juice, and milk, he recoils at women who eat meat and demands his wives be vegetarian (though he will allow white meat such as chicken or fish), and the main staple of her diet must be rice and white eggs. He forbids alcohol, smoking, and drugs, and puts limits on her sex life, he preferring virgins or married women who "waited for marriage" thus have only been with one man. (I had only ever been with one man, who I was with for 25 years. No other men before or since him.) Upon marriage Damballa demands she "purify" herself by wearing white for 40 days, and eating nothing but white rice, white eggs, milk, and water for 40 days. Than for the rest of her life she is expected to devote every Thursday to him, again wearing white and eating only eggs, rice, and milk. He's more prone to request marriage of a woman who lives this lifestyle before knowing of him, as these are the taboos he’ll require of her after marriage, and he will never ask a person to do something they are not psychologically prone to do.
I found this out and was like WOW! I already have that diet and lifestyle, no wonder he was "haunting" my dreams for the last 30+ years! He was attracted to me BECAUSE of the lifestyle I lived, because it mirrored very closely to the lifestyle he demands of his servant-wives, thus making me a candidate for being yet another servant-wife to add to his collection.
The more I research this guy, the more I am starting to understand why he picked me, and the more I find myself moving towards accepting his proposal. But anyways, I say all this because, I find that many have a hard time understanding my extreme strict lifestyle and the devotion I have for the lwa Damballa. I believe we virberate towards the deity who's demands most closely mirror our ability to meet those demands.
Taboos involve offerings as well. You say sacrifices in class, but I call them offerings not sacrifices. Does it matter what we offer the gods? On some levels, yes, I think it does. Isn't the point of leaving offerings, to give the spirit something which they enjoy? It's a known fact that leaving alcohol and cigars on an altar to Damballa is a sure fire way to keep him away, and may result in his never coming back, EVER, thus why Vodunists always have a separate altar just for Damballa, while other lwa can have all their offerings together on one altar. Likewise when Freda asks for a pink altar cloth and you put out a red one instead, she's well known to throw a tantrum and ignore you for weeks. Same holds true if a Norse god specifically requests fresh smoked wild game and you come back and give him store bought honeyed ham - he's going to think you are too lazy to obey orders so why should he bother with you?
So, you see there are some gods/spirits that demand certain things at certain times and will get upset if you don't get everything just right, but I'm only aware a very few that'll go off in a huff over it. Most are willing to accept the fact that you made an effort and accept a substitute realizing that you really did not have any choice. I think in most cases it's not about the offering itself, so much as it is about the amount of sacrifice and effort you put into the offering.
Now I can see where substitutions are okay and have their time and place. For example FarDarrig (Welsh) only asks for 2 things: red objects and dairy. Well this leaves the gates wide open and you can leave him anything from simple .99c red ribbons and a bowl of cream to an elaborately embroidered red silk jacket and flan, or a slice of cheesecake topped with red cherries, or as I have discovered he loved Swiss Miss tapioca pudding cups with red sugar sprinkles. He doesn't specifically say what he wants, he just says "red" and "dairy" and let's you figure out from there what to leave for him.
I remember reading a blog post by a Loki godspouse who was made fun of my other Loki godspouses because she made strawberry shortcakes to leave on his altar. I don't know Loki well, but it was my understanding that he expects sweets and baked goods, well what does that include? Pretty much everything from Halloween candy to sponge cake to ice cream sundaes and cakes, pies, cookies, breads, heck even tuna casseroles and mac&cheese fall under "baked goods". The complaint that started their discussion was that someone gave Loki a strawberry shortcake for an offering. How is giving him a strawberry shortcake NOT on his list of accepted offerings, when all he asks for is "sweets" and "baked goods" and a strawberry shortcake is itself a sweet baked good?
And then once you find out what they ENJOY, isn't is best to leave THAT even if it's not on the "canonized" list of traditional offerings? So what if Loki asks her for strawberry shortcake but tells another not to give him strawberry shortcake? You know what that tells me? It says that Loki is trying to politely tell you "Honey, I like strawberry shortcake, but you suck at making it, so don't bother giving me any, I'll go get it from this girl here because she knows how to make it the way I like it." All that means he expects a different offering from each of his subjects.
I mean, think about it: wouldn't YOU get sick of going from one house to the next and being served the EXACT SAME THING EVERY TIME? Let's imagine you are new to the neighborhood and your first day after moving in 20 neighbors stop by to give you welcome basket and 19 of them made you a tuna casserole and 1 of them made you a strawberry shortcake. You'd be grateful for all the hard work they put into making the tuna casseroles, and you'd accept each with a smile so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, put will you honestly eat all 19 of them? No. You'll pick the one that looks and smells the best, and you'll eat that one with the strawberry shortcake for dessert, then secretly donate the other 18 casseroles to the local homeless shelter, because there is no way you can or even would want to eat 18 tuna casseroles before the end of the week. I can just see Loki rolling his eyes and saying "Here we go again, yet ANOTHER... oh wait, look at that strawberry shortcake, that's new! I got to remember this girl, she knows I need some variety in my diet."
Now I can see if you are doing a very specific ritual, for a very specific request, then yeah you are going to want to leave very specific items, so he knows what you are asking for, but if you are just leaving a thank you offering or an offering to let him know he's in your thoughts, then why not give him something extra special, something you think/know he likes? You'd do the same for a friend, how much more should you be doing it for a god?
But yeah, it’s the same way for any bride of any deity. You have to know him to serve him.
I say these sorts of things and folks tell me that I take the gods way too seriously. But, if they are gods, then isn’t it our place to take them seriously? I am always stunned, esp, when fellow ministers say these things, because then I have to ask them: what kind of a minister are you if you don’t take the gods seriously? Are you sure you really are a real cleric or are you just masquerading as one because you wanted to stick a nice title in front of your name? So, you can see from my mindset, taboos are a pretty big thing for me.
The taboo that has the biggest impact on my social life is how people respond to the way I dress. This would be the taboo that most people see first about me, unless they saw my car before they saw me, then it would be my car. I’m the one with the rhinestones Volvo, and you are about to find out why my car has 2.5 million beads and rhinestones glued to it, because that is one of the taboos of modern Voodoo.
I suppose I should tell you exactly what it is I am, then you’ll understand better. I fall under the category of both Christian and Pagan. I'm Voodoo (not Vodou, which is VERY different), magic wise I am a Hoodoo Rootworker, my rank is Medsen Fey, which is a type of Witch Doctor, or what Wiccans and other White Witches would refer to as "A Two Headed Conjurer Doctor" or “Practitioner of the Black Arts”. Whenever I hear that though, I find myself asking: Black magic? White magic? Magic doesn't have a color! Good magic? Bad magic? I'm sorry, magic has only one alignment and that is 'chaotic neutral', it's neither good nor bad. Sure you can use it for good or bad, but that's the thoughts of the magic user, not magic itself that changes. I say this because, you ask about taboos and folks ask me, “What do you do on a regular basis as a Pagan Minister?” and the answer is quite simply this: Magic.
But then most of the Pagan paths, think “white magic” when they hear the word magic, and this has led to some misunderstandings and confusion, so I wanted to make sure you understood up front, when I say magic, the last thing on my mind is if the magic is white, black, or otherwise.But everyone seems to hear Voodoo and think evil black magic and my past involvement on group discussions has also taught me that if you say you are Voodoo, you’ll have Christians screaming hellfire and damnation and Pagans joining them as well. As a general rule, because I am Voodoo, most Christians consider me to Pagan to be Christian while most Pagans consider me too Christian to be Pagan, and both consider me too evil to be in a religious discussion to begin with. It’s frustrating really, and the reason you don’t see me commenting more often than I do, because, yes words do hurt, and not many religions Christian or Pagan are accepting of the Voodoo faith. I’m likely the oldest student in your class (I look nearly 20 years younger than I actually am, do not judge my age by my appearance.)
Also because I am Voodoo, while I am classified as a Pagan, I am also classified as a Christian, which I know confuses folks from both Pagan and Christian paths who often ask, “Well, how can you be both? The two are not compatible, it’s one or the other.” So, I guess, before I can clearly and properly answer your question, I should explain that just a bit too, in order to avoid any confusion. See, we believe magic is like prayer, it is a message to God. In fact most Voodoo Rituals come straight out of the Bible: the candles, the incense, the words said, the herbs mixed, etc, come from Moses and Daniel and Jacob who like it or not were among the most powerful wizards to walk the face of the earth. These men wore white robes and turbans and jeweled trappings which is why we in Voodoo do the same. They cast these spells as a way to petition the spirits, who came to talk to them, then went to God with the spell/request.
If God approved of the request, the desired result happened, if God did not approve, then nothing happened. This is why we in Voodoo do not put limits on magic, by calling it black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. We believe that all magic is neutral and the intent of the caster can be good or bad regardless of the spell, and that only spells cast which God approves of will come about, the others will fizzle and come to nothing. And that’s why, even though those on the outside look at Voodoo and call it “Black Magic”, we who actually practice Voodoo, do not see it as Black Magic at all, because we know that God sees into our hearts and knows the true intent, and will act accordingly.
We also believe that God himself, may or may not grant our request, and even if he does, he himself is very unlikely to be the one to carry it out, rather he will tell one of his servants (spirits, angels, lwa, lesser gods, lesser goddesses, etc) to carry out the request. (And to clear up that point, Voodoo believes that there is one Creator God, and many other gods and goddesses under him, thus you’ll hear Voodonist mention God [single and capitalized] and gods/goddesses [plural and not capitalized] as well as saints and lwa and angels and gede. We also believe that every deity of every religion in the world is real and valid and available for us to call on for help. As a result Voodoo has the single largest pantheon of any religion. I know it can be confusing to those not on this path to understand it, it’s a lot of digest, that’s why I’m trying to explain these things. Sorry for this post getting so long as a result. But I felt if I did not explain them, some readers might not quite understand the rituals I do in my own ministry.)
What that basically means is that deity wise, a Voodonist can have any number of gods or goddesses or patron saints or spirit guides from any religion. In my own case it would be Christ Jesus, the lwa of my head Damaballa Weddo and Erzulie Fredda, and my patron saints Liberace and Francis. Also a few others, including Mercury/Hermes, Mary Mother of Jesus, and Loki, as well as several of the traditional Vodou Lwa. I am more or less accepting of all deities, but there are those (such as the ones I mentioned) which I feel closer to, esp Damballa who I feel a deep soul binding connection with.