Vodoun Symbols for Their Gods

Vodoun religious practices commonly include appealing to the loa (lwa), or spirits, and inviting them to temporarily take possession of (or "ride") human bodies so that they may communicate directly with believers. The ceremonies commonly include drumming, chanting, dancing and the drawing of symbols known as veves (vevers).

Just as specific colors, objects, chants and drum beats appeal to specific loa, so to do the veves. The veve used in a ceremony is dependent upon the lwa whose presence is desired. Veves are drawn on the ground with cornmeal, sand, or other powdery substances, and they are obliterated during the ritual.

Veve designs vary according to local customs, as do the names of the loa. Multiple veves generally have shared elements, however. For example, Damballah-Wedo is a serpent deity, so his veves commonly incorporate two snakes.

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Agwe veve
Catherine Beyer

He is a water spirit and is of particular interest to seafaring people such as fishermen. As such, his veve represents a boat. Agwe is particularly important in Haiti, an island nation where many residents have depended upon the sea for survival for centuries.

When he arrives in possession of a performer, he is met with wet sponges and towels to keep him cool and moist while on land during the ceremony. Care has to be taken to keep the possessed from jumping into the water, which is where Agwe prefers to be.

Ceremonies for Agwe are commonly performed near the water. Offerings are floated on the water's surface. If the offerings return to shore, they have been refused by Agwe.

Agwe is commonly depicted as a mullato man dressed in a naval uniform, and when in possession of another behaves as such, saluting and giving orders.

Agwe's female counterpart is La Sirene, the siren of the seas.

Other names: Agive, Agoueh, Met Agwe Tawoyo Loa Family: Rada; His Petro aspect is Agwe La Flambeau, whose realm is boiling and steaming water, most commonly in connection with underwater volcanic eruptions.

Gender: Male

Associated Catholic Saint: St. Ulrich (who is often depicted holding a fish)

Offerings: White sheep, champagne, toy ships, gunfire, rum

Color(s): White and Blue

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Damballah veve
Catherine Beyer

Damballah-Wedo is depicted as a serpent or snake, and his veves reflect this aspect of him. When he possesses a human, he does not speak but instead only hisses and whistles. His movements are also snake-like and can include slithering along the ground, flicking his tongue, and climbing tall objects.

Damballah-Wedo is associated with creation and is viewed as a loving father to the world. His presence brings peace and harmony. As a source of life, he is also strongly associated with water and the rain.

Damballah-Wedo is strongly associated with the ancestors, and he and his companion Ayida-Wedo are the oldest and wisest of the ​loa.

Ayida-Wedo is likewise associated with snakes and is Damballah's partner in creation. Because the creative process is seen as shared between male and female, Damballah-Wedo's veves generally depict two snakes rather than just one.

Other names: Damballa, Damballah Weddo, Da, Papa Damballa, Obatala​

Loa Family: Rada

Gender: Male

Associated Catholic Saint: St. Patrick (who drove the snakes out of Ireland); Sometimes also associated with Moses, whose staff transformed into a snake to prove the power of God over that wielded by Egyptian priests

Holiday: March 17 (St. Patrick's Day)

Offerings: An egg on a mound of flour; corn syrup; chickens; other white objects such as white flowers.

Color(s): White

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Ogoun veve
Catherine Beyer

Ogoun was originally associated with fire, blacksmithing, and metalworking. His focus has transformed over the years to include power, warriors, and politics. He particularly likes the machete, which is a common offering in preparation of possession, and machetes are sometimes featured in his veves.

Ogoun is protective and triumphant. Many credit him with planting the seeds of revolution into the minds of Haitian slaves in 1804.

Each of the many aspects of Ogoun has their own personalities and talents. One is associated with healing and is seen as a combat medic, another is a thinker, strategist, and diplomat, and many are machete-swinging warriors.

Other names: There are a wide variety of Ogoun aspects, including Ogoun Feray, Ogoun Badagris, Ogoun Balingo, Ogoun Batala, Ogoun Fer, and Ogoun Sen Jacque (or St. Jacques) Loa Family: Rada; Ogoun De Manye and Ogoun Yemsen are Petro

Gender: Male

Associated Catholic Saint: St. James the Greater or St. George

Holiday: July 25th or April 23​

Offerings: Machetes, rum, cigars, red beans and rice, yam, red roosters and (non-castrated) red bulls

Color(s): Red and Blue

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Gran Bwa

Gran Bwa veve
Catherine Beyer

Gran Bwa means "big tree," and he is the master of the forests of Vilokan, the island that is home to the lwa. He is strongly associated with plants, trees, and practices associated with those materials such as herbalism. Gran Bwa is also the master of the wilderness in general and thus can be wild and unpredictable. Temples often leave a section to grow wild in his honor. But he is also big-hearted, loving, and fairly approachable.

The mapou (or silk-cotton) tree is specifically sacred to Gran Bwa. It is native to Haiti and was made nearly extinct in the 20th centuries by opponents of Vodou. It is a mapou tree that is seen as connecting the material and spirit worlds (Vilokan), which is represented in the courtyard of Vodou temples by a central pole. Gran Bwa is often also seen as a guardian and protector of the ancestors who have always traveled from this world to the next.

Hidden Knowledge

Healing, secrets, and magic are also associated with Gran Bwa as he hides certain things from the prying eyes of the uninitiated. He is called upon during initiation ceremonies. It is also within his branches that the serpent Damballah-Wedo can be found.

Lwa Family: Petro

Gender: Male

Associated Catholic Saint: St. Sebastian, who was tied to a tree before being shot with arrows.

Holiday: March 17 (St. Patrick's Day)

Offerings: Cigars, leaves, plants, sticks, kleren (a type of rum)

Colors: Brown, green

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Papa Legba

Papa Legba Vodou veve

Catherine Beyer

Legba is the gatekeeper to the spirit world, known as Vilokan. Rituals begin with a prayer to Legba to open those gates so that participants can gain access to the other lwas. The veves of these other lwas are often drawn intersecting the branches of Legba's veve to represent this.

Legba is also strongly associated with the sun and is seen as a life-giver, transferring the power of Bondye to the material world and all that lives within it. This further strengthens his role as the bridge between realms.

His association with creation, generation, and life makes him a common lwa to approach with matters of sex, and his position as a conduit of Bondye's will makes him a lwa of order and destiny.

Finally, Legba is a lwa of the crossroads, and offerings are often made there for him. His symbol is the cross, which also symbolizes the intersection of material and spiritual worlds.

Other names: Legba is often affectionately referred to as Papa Legba.

Lwa Family: Rada

Gender: Male

Associated Catholic Saint: St. Peter, who holds the keys to the gate of heaven

Holiday: November 1, All Saints Day

Offerings: Roosters

Appearance: An old man who walks with a cane. He carries a sack on a strap across one shoulder from which he dispenses destiny.

Alternate Personality: Legba's Petro form is Met Kafou Legba. He represents destruction rather than creation and is a trickster who introduces chaos and disruption. He is associated with the moon and night.

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Beyer, Catherine. "Vodoun Symbols for Their Gods." Learn Religions, Sep. 20, 2021, learnreligions.com/vodou-veves-4123236. Beyer, Catherine. (2021, September 20). Vodoun Symbols for Their Gods. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/vodou-veves-4123236 Beyer, Catherine. "Vodoun Symbols for Their Gods." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/vodou-veves-4123236 (accessed March 23, 2023).