Guest Author - Elizabeth Bissette
The Loa, also called the Mysteries and the Invisibles, are a central part of Voodoo. They act as intermediaries between human beings and the creator, (Bondye or Bon-Dieu - Good-God), not unlike Saints and Angels do in Catholicism. Voodoo practitioners do not, however, as Catholics do, simply pray to these intermediaries and the Loa are represented by a great deal more than icons. Each has a very unique and developed personality. What they like and don't like is known and honored and each has distinct rhythms, songs, dances, symbols and rituals of service associated with it.
They are not Gods, however, they are beings who exist in the crossroads between Bondye and human beings, who interact and intercede between the two. To avoid persecution for their beliefs, African slaves in Hati and the Southern U.S. took advantadge of the similarity between Saints and Loa and used the former to represent the latter. Today, many Saints have become Loa in their own right.
In Voodoo ceremonies the Loa are called by the Priestess (Mambo) or Priest (Houngan) or sometimes Bokor (Sorcerers). They are invited to participate actively in the service, not simply worshipped. Offerings are made to them and requests made of them. They possess practitioners, but not in the way we think of spirit possession in the West. The possession, called mounting, can be violent or calm, depending on the personality of the Loa. They speak and act through the practitioner, is a simple way of putting it, though there isn't really a simple way to describe it. One allegory often used is that of riding a horse, with the practitioner being the one ridden.
Some Loa are easily recognized, some are more elusive. Phrases, actions and behavior indicate which Loa is present. When the Loa is identified, the symbols associated with them are offerred. For example, Legba will be given his cane, straw hat and pipe; the formidable Baron Samedi his top hat, sunglasses and cigar.
The Loa is fed, served and sometimes given or gives help and/or advice. They do not, as is commonly thought of possession in the West, have some need or even desire to stay in the host. Sometimes, however, they can be a little stubborn, for example wanting to linger and drink or smoke more. The Houngan or Mambo keeps those tendancies under control.
Loa have families, as human beings do. These are called nanchons, (nations). These include Rada (also Radha), Petro (also Pethro, Petwo), Nago, Kongo and Ghede (Also Guede, or Gede).
The Rada Loa are older, benevolant spirits. They include Legba, Loko, Ayizan, Dhamballah Wedo and Ayida-Weddo, Erzulie Freda, La Sirène, and Agwe. The color white is associated with them.
The Petro Loa are volitile, sometimes aggressive and combative. They include Ezili Dantor, Marinette, Ogoun, and Kalfu (Carrefour). The color red is associated with them.
The Kongo Loa originated in the Congo. These include the Simbi loa and Marinette, who is greatly feared for her ferocity.
The Nago Loa Originated in Nigeria and these include many of the Ogun spirits.
The Ghede Loa are spirits of the dead. They are led by the Barons La Croix, Samedi, Cimitière, Kriminel and Maman Brigitte. They are boisterous, a little rude, very sexual and tend to be having a sort of perpetual wild party. They have no fear and like to demonstrate their freedom from consequence. In services they do radical things to show this, like eating glass. The colors black and purple are associated with them.