Temple and tools of Vodou

Frater Vameri



The poteau-mitan surrounded by veves. RIGAUD, 1969.


The temple of Vodou is the place where ceremonies take place and where much of the contact between the visible world and the invisible world occurs. It is evident, therefore, that this temple needs to obey certain parameters, so that it is able to function properly. Thus, some elements are essential and can be found in practically all the temples of Vodou (it is important to note that Vodou is very diverse and that I am speaking in general in order to present those elemets).


Basically, the temple, known as Hounphour , consists of a space protected by a roof and a space without a roof, a courtyard. The space under the roof is called Peristyle and is the place where most of the ceremonies happen. The floor is usually made of beaten earth, but with the contemporary difficulties of space, in urban centers it is already possible to find Peristils with cement floors or tiles. At the center of the Peristyle is one of the most important elements of Vodou : the poteau-mitan .


The poteau-mitan is a center post supported on a base called Pe. This post is the link between the visible and invisible world. It represents a tree that has its crown in the heavens and its roots in hell. It is usually adorned with images of Dambalah and Ayida and other symbols. It is understood that it is through this post that the Lwas “descend” and “ascend” from the temple. It is possible that it has inspiration from the Palm tree, since for the Yoruba this tree would be the axis-mundi. The cane that Papa Legba carries would be the poteau-mitan itself, indicating the intrinsic connection between the messenger and the “bridge” between the worlds.


In addition, in the Peristyle there are also several decorations and altars. Usually the altars are divided into Rada and Petwo and still Ghede, but it is possible that variations occur with more divisions by nations. Larger peristils will also have one or more adjoining rooms, one of which will be the djevo, the chamber in which candidates stay during initiations.


The open courtyard usually features many trees, which are understood to be sacred places of the Lwas. In addition, it may contain the simulation of a grave, in honor of the Ghede and other elements or sacred or referring to the Lwas. It is a place where some larger ceremonies can be conducted, if necessary. Or it can be reserved for gatherings that integrate the various ceremonies.


In a Vodou temple we will also often find different drums. These are sacred instruments, different beats are usedto call lwa of distinct nachons. As already discussed, temples in large centers sometimes need to carry out some modifications and one of them is the absence of drums or the substitution for recordings. This, in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention or disturbing the neighbors. However, this suppression is controversial, since drums are really valuable tools in religion.


The Vodou priests (Houngan and Mambo) carry a rattle called Asson in their hands. This is the priest's emblem tool and he uses it to conduct the ceremonies, to call and disperse the spirits. The rattle is a clear reference to the rattle of snakes. Thus, it is evident that snakes are symbols of extreme relevance to the organization of Vodou. This speaks about the role of Dambalah and Ayida wedo, as discussed in other articles .


Finally, although this essay is not exhaustive, we should comment about the veves. These are symbols painted or drawn with cornmeal that represent and at the same time personify the Lwas. The most evident parallel for Brazilians are the “pontos riscados” of Umbanda and Quimbanda. These symbols adorn the temples and are drawn in flour whenever the Lwas are called upon. They are intricate and unique beautiful symbols that in themselves already reveal aspects of the corresponding Lwa. Some authors understand that they are derived from the practices of the Tainos , from São Domingos Island. However, this supposed origin is subject of disagreement. The fact is that several African nations used to aplly visual representations in their cultural expressions. Like the Yoruba, for example, who made several body markings, some clearly related to the Orishas. Thus, it is possible that the veves also have a hybrid origin.



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