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Date: Sun, 16 Jul 1995 21:27:21 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
Subject: H34: A dictionary of Voodoo terms
Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.950716212657.24136U-100000@crl8.crl.com>

A Dictionary of Voodoo terms

By Bob Corbett, 16 July 1995

Sects of Voodoo

African influenced family spirit Voodoo. This is a Voodoo of the so-called sweet loa, a relatively peaceful happy group of spirits.

Petro (Also called Congo).

Black magic Voodoo, the so-called bitter loa, a group of angry, mean and nasty loa. They are thought by some to be of Caribbean origin, not African. Dangerous things happen in Petro including death curses, other lesser curses, and the making of zombies.

Special note: By virtually all scholarly estimates one can find, Rada accounts for about 95% of all Voodoo practiced (and about 1% of Hollywood's image!). Petro is real, but less widespread, constituting about 5% of Voodoo practiced (and nearly 100% of the American image).


A male Voodoo priest.
A female Voodoo priestess.
(Voodoo does not prefer one sex over the other.)
A houngan who practices black magic or Petro Voodoo. There are few, if any female bokor.

Other religious officials

la place
A master of ceremonies who works directly under the houngan or mambo.
The director of music and dancing.
A group of servers, usually women, dressed in white.
Serious practitioners of Voodoo; people who are said to 'serve the loa' or 'follow the loa.'

Spiritual beings

The one and only God. Basically the same God the father as in Christianity.
Granmet (Great Master)
another name for Bondye.
Spirits, both spirits of various functions of the universe (loa of agriculture; loa of death etc.) and spirits of dead family members. The loa are not really gods. There is only one God, Bondye.
A term to refer to the loa and sacred knowledge.
Les Invisibles
all spirits.
An evil spirit which can assume various forms from a human child, or animal to butterfly--any being it wishes.
A female werewolf--a human is condemned to this state by a bokor, and then sucks the blood of its victims.
Twins who died in their early childhood and are innocent and capricious. They are the image of contradictory forces in the universe.

Terms connected with ceremonies

The parish or region of a houngan or mambo's influence.
The building or outdoor area where Voodoo ceremonies are held.
poto mitan
The center pole in a peristyle. It represents the center of the universe and the access to the spirit world. All dancing revolves around the poto mitan.
The sacred magic rattle of the houngan or mambo. It is a gourd with natural handle. The outside is covered with bits of coral and snake bones.
Ceremonial drawings of the various loa. These are done in flour or cornmeal, usually next to the poto mitan.
Banners which represent various loa and are used to help summon particular loa.
mounting (possession)
Loa often come to a ceremony and possess serviteurs. A horse and rider image is used a the loa is said to MOUNT the serviteur. Voodoo theology says the loa takes over the serviteur's body during possession. It is not clear where the serviteur goes while his or her body is possessed by the loa.
lave tet (washing of the head)
An initiation ceremony held for serviteurs after they have been mounted for the first time.
The initiation ceremony of fire for those moving into a very serious level of Voodoo practice.
taking of the asson
The final initiation into the status of being a houngan or mambo.

miscellaneous terms

a human who first dies, usually thought to have been poisoned by a bokor, then comes back to life after three days and serves a master as a mindless, but very strong slave.
the crossroads
A central image in Voodoo. This is the place where two worlds meet--earth and the spirit world. Virtually all Voodoo acts, even healing, begin with the acknowledgement of the crossroads.
An object, or combination of objects which has received, as a result of magic, a property that is harmful to some person or group.
Part of the soul of an individual, it is the changeless, impersonal cosmic consciousness. Upon the death of the individual the ti-bon-ange rejoins the cosmic forces and can be reused.
The personal soul which animates the human body. The gro-bon-ange is an individual immortal soul and can pass through stages eventually becoming a loa.
Music and dance are central to Voodoo, and the music is primarily made by drums.
Rada music
primarily played by three drums, played incessantly for hours on end.
manman drum
The largest of the three, about 3 ft. tall. It is beaten by a standing drummer using a small wooden hammer in one hand and the other bare hand.
segond drum
A smaller drum, perhaps 2 foot tall, beaten by a seated drummer holding the drum between his knees. This drum is usually beaten with the hands.
A very small drum beaten by a seated drummer with two long thin sticks.
Petro music
Two drums; the manman and the petit or ti-baka.
The smaller drum is beaten with the bare hands.
The Assotor drum is a huge special ceremonial drum (used in both Rada and Petro) carved from a single tree trunk. It is 6 foot or taller and must be beaten by drummers who are on a platform. It is a sacred drum, sort of an idol or fetish.