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Choice of the Spirits

Frater Vameri

Picture by Enrique Meseguer and by Pixabay

A lot about the ceremonies that turn a person into a Mambo or Houngan is veiled in secrecy. It is appropriate that it remains like that. However the literature tells us about a certain moment on those ceremonies that is called bat guerre. In this point the spirits that took an interest in becoming “masters of the head” of the new priest battle to see who wins that right. It is an idea that may seem odd but it reveals a unique perspective.

Usually in Brazil we share the notion that people are born with a certain spirit that is like their “godfather”. In Afro-Brazilian religions and more specifically in Candomblé, for example, there is this figure of the Orisha of the head. It is commonly believed that this Orisha is the “owner” of the head of the person and that this is determined since birth. Confirming this notion there is also the idea that the “sons” of a certain Orisha present since childhood characteristics that are typical of their patron spirit. It is also understood that other Orishas accompany one person. In other words, the Orisha that owns the head is not the only one that influences someone. Though, there is only one that is the master of the head and takes a prominent position.

This is not all there is to it, of course. There are cases where an Orisha of the “enredo” (from the accompanying group) may be put ceremonially as the master of the head of a person. This may happen for many different reasons that are not within our scope in this discussion

In Hatian Vodou there is also a collective of spirits that walks with a person. However, the one that will become the master of head is not set in stone since the beginning. The master of the head is defined only at the time of the ceremonies to make a Mambo or Houngan. This is slightly different from what happens in Candomblé. Though, of course, both Candomblé and Haitian Vodou share a similar notion of patron spirit.

Also, in Vodou it is clear that a person is influenced by different spirits. Thus, though one of them may become the focus of the cult or of the adoration, there are others that participate in the life and in the constitution of a person. This reveals an obvious complexity in the relationship between a serviteur and the invisible world.

Either way it is interesting to note that we are not discussing something that an adept of those religions can choose. This is important because the lack of choosing can bring huge challenges. The spirits choose the person and not the other way around.

Thus, no one can declare themselves a son of Ogum. This can only be done by a specific reading. Also, no one can claim that Bawon Samedi is their Lwa “Master of Head”. This can only be affirmed by a particular way and in a certain ceremony.

When the revelation or confirmation of the patron spirit comes it sometimes is surprising. It can be the case that this spirit was not expected or that it is lesser known or even one that “did not seem to be interesting”. It is quite common for people to fantasize that their patron spirit will be the most cool and powerful. However, we get what we get and we must deal with it.

First thing to do is to understood that there is no such thing as “more powerful” or “more cool”. We all have our own constitution and ancestry and the spirits that are with us and that (as precisely put by Mambo Vye Zo Komande Lamenfo) took an interest on us among all other persons in the whole world should be respected and seem as relevant. To understand the dynamics between us and those spirits is an exercise on the knowledge of our very nature. After all we should remember that: we have something of them in us (Here I must also reference and point the reader to the excellent article by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold called “Exu and his work on the soul”:

The worst thing we can do is to reject our spirits. To ignore them in favor of others that are not with us can be either a waste of time or just plain dangerous. It is a most fundamental exercise to learn to value and to try to understand how the invisible touches us. Results can be pretty awesome. A new relationship can be forged and some pretty hidden or unknown things about ourselves can come to light.

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