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Dancing at a Voodoo ceremony in Togo

Voodoo, also spelled Vodun, Vudun, Vodon, Vodoun, and Voudou, is an indigenous organized religion of coastal West Africa from Nigeria to Ghana. Vodun is practiced by the Ewe, Kabye, Mina, and Fon peoples of southeastern Ghana, southern and central Togo, and southern and central Benin.

In the African Diaspora in the New World, this African Traditional Religion has been syncretized with Catholic Christianity, giving rise to variant forms of religion, such as Haitian Vodou, Puerto Rican Vudu, Dominican Republic Vudu, and Brazilian Candomblé Jejé, also known as Vodum.

African tradition Voodoo and its diasporic variants generally agree upon the existence of a benevolent but remote creator deity known as Bondye. While Bondye created all, he cannot be bothered with daily human concerns and so it is to his children that the Voodooisants turn to with their prayers and devotions. The children of Bondye are the lwa, the spirits who are responsible for different aspects of daily life.

The word lwa, also spelled loa, is both singular and plural, and although it is common among American English speakers to refer to "loas" in the plural, this usage is not a traditional among Voodooisants.

A home altar to Baron Samedi
A Haitian Vodou ceremony held in a river
A Voodoo altar in Haiti featuring images of Catholic Church saints and The Virgin Mary as a Black Madonna
A Voodoo altar with statuary
A Voodoo ceremony honouring the spirits of the dead in Togo
A petro or petwo Voodoo altar in Haiti
A Voodoo home altar with offerings

The lwa are divided into "nations," including Rada, Petro, Congo, and others. They are further divided into "families," such as Ghede or Ogou, which may be included in the name of a lwa. Cultivation of relationships with the lwa is done through prayer, devotion, offerings, possession, and ceremonies. By working closely with the lwa, the Voodooisant is able to navigate through life and its various hurdles and obstacles.

Each of the lwa fall into various "nations." such as the Petro, Rada, Congo, Ghede, and Nago. The Petro nation contains the most aggressive and fiery of the lwa where as the Ghede are the lively lwa of the cemetery.

Voodoo is a syncretic religion that has adopted strong Catholic elements in its symbols and prayers. Often Voodoo ceremonies will include images of Catholic saints and Catholic prayers like the "Lord's Prayer" and "Hail Mary." It is not uncommon for some Voodooisants to declare themselves as Catholic. Each of the lwa correspond to a Catholic saint, and spaces dedicated to the lwa will contain a blend of Catholic statuary and Voodoo symbols.

Petitioning the Lwa

Traditional lwa devotion involve ceremonies with dancing, drumming, candles, prayers, and animal sacrifice. The songs sung during the ceremony call the lwa who take possession of initiates, or "mount" them. The lwa come down to heal, consult, and dance among the devotees.

Each lwa has his or her favorite offerings, including prepared foods, drinks, fruits, and animal sacrifices. In addition to the presentation of offerings, lwa are petitioned through songs, drumming, candles, and special magical designs known as "veves". Veves are spirit signatures that often share certain common elements among lwa of the same family and are drawn in cornmeal, or specially prepared powders. These veves are used to invoke and call down the power of the lwa and at times vary from lineage to lineage.

In personal devotion to the lwa, adherents set up various tables to their ancestors and the spirits they are devoted to. While Voodoo is traditionally an initiatory religion, there are some non-initiates who have adopted the lwa into their spirituality and have become devotees of certain lwa who are said to "walk" with the individual. Of the many lwa that may walk with an individual, the master of the head, or "Met Tet" is considered to be the one that has most frequently.

The lwa have also been adopted by people working outside of the African Diasporic Traditions. While not part of a formal Voodoo house, temple, or peristyle, these individuals may approach the lwa in a syncretic fashion, or honor them through personal devotion with proper offerings and by giving them special altars. Some practitioners of hoodoo, specifically those associated with syncretic religious practices which adherents believe originated in New Orleans, have adopted the custom of petitioning the lwa of Haiti while engaged in spell-casting with candles and making magical preparations.

Traditional involvement in Voodoo starts under the guidance of a houngan or mambo, the priests and priestesses of the religion and joining a community of believers. Through the spiritual guidance of the houngan or mambo, a devotee partakes in ceremonies, rites, and develops a relationship with the lwa that walks with him. Like many of the other African Diasporic religions, Voodoo is initiatory and the path of the devotee involves initiating into the religion.

The following lwa are some of the more popular spirits venerated in traditional Voodoo:

Popular Lwa

Baron La Kwa

Baron La Kwa also spelled Baron La Croix is one of the Barons over the Ghede nation and is a lwa of death and the cross at the cemetery. He is a sophisticated lwa with top hat and cane. (Read More)

Baron Samedi

Baron Samedi is one of the Barons who rules over the Ghede or spirits of death, and is the lwa of the cemetery, death. He is the lwa at the crossroads of life and death who stands with a shovel ready to bury the dead. (Read More)


Damballa, also spelled Damballah, is the snake lwa of the sky. In some Voodoo houses, he is the primordial creator deity and the father of all the lwa. (Read More)

Erzuli Dantor

Erzuli Dantor, also spelled Ezulie Dantor and Ezili Dantor, is the lwa of who is a fierce protector of women; and the patroness of the arts. (Read More)

Erzuli Freda

Erzuli Freda, also spelled Ezulie Freda and Ezili Freda, is the lwa of love, compassion, passion, and femininity. She is a beautiful spiritual being who embodies feminine grace.(Read More)

La Sirene

La Sirene is The Siren, a mermaid lwa of wealth, who rules the treasures of the sea. Her palace is at the bottom of the ocean she is the embodiment of beauty and seduction. (Read More)

Maman Brigitte

Maman Brigitte, also known as Gran Brigitte, is the wife of Baron Samedi and a lwa of death and the cemetery. (Read More)

Met Carrefour

Met Carrefour, also known as Maitre Carrefour, Met Kalfu and Kalfou, is a lwa of crossroads who opens or closes the door to spiritual visitations by the other lwa. He is often depicted as a young man or a devilish figure. (Read More)

Papa Legba

Papa Legba is the intermediary lwa of the gates who connects humanity to the lwa. He is the first lwa petitioned who is the gatekeeper for all the rest of the lwa and his domain is communication and magic. He is often depicted as an old man and syncretized with Saint Lazarus. (Read More)


Simbi, also spelled Sim'bi, is a family of snake or serpent lwa with roots in West Central Africa and the Congo. Nearly all the forms of Simbi, such as Simbi d'l'eau (Simbi of the Water), Simbi Andezo (Simbi of Two Waters), and Gran Simba (Great Simbi), are associated with water, particularly the ancestral waters that surround the world of the living. Simbi descends to the earth to perform magic. (Read More)

Membership in the Voodoo Religion

Many Voodoo Religion lineages hold public worship services at which the clergy interact both with deities and with the laity. Membership in Voodoo houses of worship requires initiatic rites of passage, including oath-taking, the reception of consecrated objects, or a declaration of faith in a specific creed.

See Also

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Pages in category "Lwa"

The following 11 pages are in this category, out of 11 total.







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