Lwa, or sometimes spelled Loa, is the word used to encapsulate the spirits of Voodoo as practiced in Haiti and Louisiana. These spirits are the ones that are between the practitioners and God, and the ones who often interfere with the everyday goings-on of the humans. These are the ones who might be pleased with offerings and rituals to encourage them to help those who worship and appease them. When you understand the needs of the lwa, you can begin to understand how Voodoo can aid in personal healing.
The rituals of the Lwa
When the lwa are being called on for a ritual or a specific purpose, the priests or priestesses will bring in the lwa by calling out to them and calling them down into the human plane. This is done by asking the lwa to possess their bodies (also known as mounting the horse), often witnessed when the priests and priestesses writhe around on the ground. Other lwa will not be as dramatic, entering the bodies of the clergy quietly and gracefully.
As the lwa come into the priests and priestesses, it can be very clear who has entered into the space and spirits have distinct likes and dislikes, as well as personalities. When those personalities begin to emerge, the spirits will be given the things that please them. For example, Erzulie Freda might want to have some perfumes or luxurious foods, while Papa Legba might want a pipe. It is crucial that the spirits are fed when they arrive so they have a proper greeting and they feel welcome.
What the spirits can do
The spirits can come into the ritual to offer advice or to give specific help to those who called to them. Once they have completed their mission, they need to leave…but some of the spirits need to be beckoned to go (without upsetting them or causing them to feel unwelcomed). Many Voodoo practitioners will have a clear petition or purpose for the spirits’ visit, while others may simply want to sit at the feet of the spirits and see what they have to say.
What’s also interesting is that the spirits are already interested in what the humans are doing, so they are often interfering or adding energy to your everyday life. But when they are not feeling appreciated…things can get a little complicated.
The nanchons/nations of spirits
There are several groups (also called nanchons or nations) of loa who might be called into the space and part of the ritual workings (as well as everyday worship). They include the Nago loa who originate from Yorubaland; the Rada loa who come from Africa and are considered to be much older; the Petro loa who are from Haiti and the New World; the Kongo loa who are from Congo, as their name hints; and the Ghede loa who are the spirits of the dead.
Some of the spirits are comparable to the Greek and Roman gods, e.g. Ezili (Aphrodite), Agwe (Poseidon), and Ogou Balanjo (Apollo). Now, in Voodoo, they would not be referenced by the Greek and Roman names, but they have more general titles. These include being the spirit of love, the spirit of the sea, and the spirit of healing, respectively.
The more you learn about the spirits of Voodoo, the more you will understand how they can help you in your life. By praying to and by giving offerings to certain lwa, you will be able to get their attention and then they can return the favor by providing support and guidance. Akin to asking Christian saints for help, the lwa are interested in aiding the humans — all they need is to feel welcome and appreciated.
Ayibobo to all,
Mambo Marie-Brigitte La Croix and Mambo La Marassa Lola Donette