Maman Brigitte, Loa of the Dead in Voodoo Religion

Maman Brigitte

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For practitioners of Haitian Vodoun and the New Orleans Voodoo religion, Maman Brigitte is one of the most important loa. Associated with death and cemeteries, she is also a spirit of fertility and motherhood.

Key Takeaways: Maman Brigitte

  • Associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid, Maman Brigitte is the only loa who is portrayed as being white. She is often depicted in bright, overtly sexual costumes; she is feminine, sensual, and dangerous at the same time.
  • Much like her Celtic counterpart, Maman Brigitte is a powerful healer. If she can't heal or cure them, she helps her followers travel towards the afterlife. 
  • Maman Brigitte is a protectress and will watch over women who ask for her assistance, particularly in cases of domestic violence, unfaithful lovers, or childbirth.
  • The consort of Baron Samedi, Brigitte is associated with death and cemeteries.

History and Origins

Unlike the other Voodoo loa—spirits who work as intermediaries between mortals and the divine—Maman Brigitte doesn't have her origins in Africa. Instead, she is believed to have come from Ireland, in the form of the Celtic goddess Brigid, and the associated Saint Brigid of Kildare. She is sometimes referred to by other names, including Gran Brigitte and Manman Brijit.

During the centuries of British colonization, many English, Scottish, and Irish people found themselves entering into contracts of indentured servitude. When they were transported to the Caribbean and North America, these servants—many of them women—brought their traditions with them. Because of this, the goddess Brigid soon found herself in company with the loa, who had been carried to new lands by enslaved people forcibly brought from Africa. In some syncretic belief systems, Maman Brigitte is depicted as Mary Magdalene, reflecting the Catholic influence over the Voodoo religion.

Because of her origins in the United Kingdom, Maman Brigitte is often portrayed as fair-skinned with red hair. She is the powerful loa of death and cemeteries, and her devotees offer her pepper-infused rum. In exchange, she stands guard over graves and tombstones. Often, the grave of the first woman to be buried in a cemetery is marked with a special cross, and is said to belong specifically to Maman Brigitte.

Maman Brigitte
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According to author Courtney Weber,

Some argue that Maman Brigitte's connections to Brigid are overblown or even contrived, citing that Brigid's fire and wells stand in too stark a contrast to Maman Brigitte's patronage of death and the cemetery. Others argue that the name, appearance, [and] championship for justice... are parallels too strong to ignore.

She is the consort or wife of Baron Samedi, another powerful loa of death, and can be called on for a number of different matters. Brigitte is associated with healing—particularly of sexually transmitted diseases—and fertility, as well as divine judgement. She's known to be a mighty force when the wicked need to be punished. If someone suffers from long term illness, Maman Brigitte can step in and heal them, or she can ease their suffering by claiming them with death.

Worship and Offerings

Those who are devotees of Maman Brigitte know that her favorite colors are black and purple, and she eagerly accepts offerings of candles, black roosters, and pepper-infused rum. Those who are possessed by her power are sometimes known to rub the hot, spicy rum on their genitalia. Her veve, or sacred symbol, sometimes includes a heart, and other times appears as a cross with a black rooster upon it.

icon with veve vodoo symbol Maman Brigitte
Veve Voodoo symbol for Maman Brigitte. iSidhe / Getty Images

In some traditions of the Voodoo religion, Maman Brigitte is venerated on November 2nd, which is All Soul's Day. Other Vodouisants honor her on February 2, the feast day of Saint Brigid, by placing a scarf or other piece of clothing out overnight and asking Maman Brigitte to bless it with her healing powers.

In general, she is honored primarily by women because Maman Brigitte is a protectress, and will watch over women who ask for her assistance, particularly in cases of domestic violence, unfaithful lovers, or childbirth. She's a tough cookie, and has no qualms about unleashing a profanity-laced tirade against those who displease her. Maman Brigitte is often depicted in bright, overtly sexual costumes; she is feminine and sensual and dangerous, all at the same time.

Much like her Celtic counterpart, Brigid, Maman Brigitte is a powerful healer. She helps her followers travel towards the afterlife if she can't heal or cure them, guiding them as she protects their graves. She is often invoked as someone reaches the final hours of life, and stands by watchfully as they take their last breath.

Sources

  • Dorsey, Lilith. Voodoo and Afro Caribbean Paganism. Citadel, 2005.
  • Glassman, Sallie Ann. Vodou Visions: an Encounter with Divine Mystery. Garrett County Press, 2014.
  • Kathryn, Emma. “Life, Light, Death, & Darkness: How Brighid Became Maman Brigitte.” The House Of Twigs, 16 Jan. 2019, https://thehouseoftwigs.com/2019/01/16/life-light-death-darkness-how-brighid-became-maman-brigitte/.
  • Weber, Courtney. Brigid - History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Red Wheel/Weiser, 2015.