Okay, are voodoo loas demons? Personally, I have no clue. But they fulfill the roles of spiritual messengers between Bondye (“Good god”) and mere mortals, which means they do the job of the angels in the Christian tradition, and demons were originally angels… So let’s call them spirit people and include them in the blog. (Plus, they tend to be snappy dressers, which most demons aren’t, and we could use some fashion sense around here.)
Pulling my Legba
Papa Legba is absolutely the most important guy in the voodoo universe. He isn’t the most powerful by any stretch, but he definitely comes first because, well, he comes first!
Papa Legba, a natty dresser in his straw hat, using a cane and smoking his pipe–often with a dog at his heels–is the first guy to show up in any successful voodoo ritual. He fills an important place by being the guardian of doors, entries, paths, and crossroads. And that includes the crossroads between the worlds. If you want to talk to anyone on the Other Side, including another loa, you’ve got to go through Papa Legba. Legba is the guy who opens that gate so anyone can come through.Legba is one of the Rada loa, which means he’s more on the serene, beneficial side of things. So long as you give him his pipe, he’s pretty much happy. A good thing since you can’t talk to the other spirits without his help.
Now voodoo is one of those religions that’s difficult to get your hands on. It’s kind of slippery, and meant to be that way. You see, voodoo developed in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean during the times of slavery as a way for the people to worship their own African gods while seeming to follow Catholicism. So loa are usually associated with Catholic saints–“Stick a picture of the Virgin Mary up on that altar. Any outsider who comes will think the altar is for her, but we’ll all know it’s really for Erzulie…”
This is the slippery part: Rosemary Ellen Guiley and others say Legba is associated with St. Peter. There’s a case for that, since he has to lead things. But Zora Neale Hurston says he’s associated with St. John the Baptist. And there’s a case for that, too, since John had to come before things.
Hurston also records this incantation for Legba:
Papa Legba, ouvirier barrier pour moi agoe
Papa Legba, ouvirier barrier pour moi
Attibon Legba, ouvirier barrier pour moi passer
Passer Vrai, loa moi passer m’a remerci loa moin
Here’s my crappy French translation:
Father Legba, open the barrier for me [word I don’t know]
Father Legba, open the barrier for me
Attibon Legba, open the barrier for me to pass through
Truly pass, loa let me pass, I give thanks to you
Or something similar to that.
Now, considering that when a loa ‘passes’ through, he (or she) takes over someone’s body, I’d think twice before trying this one at home, kids.
- Tell my Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica
Zora Neale Hurston
The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca (Paperback)
by Rosemary Ellen Guiley