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(Information provided by Janine Donnellan)
Vodou ( not Voodoo) is a spiritual African word, meaning "force" and "mystery". Anthropologists estimate the religion to be between 6-10,000 years old, but followers in Benin, the epicenter of Vodou, located in West Africa, believe that the religion pre-dates Christianity. According to an History Channel documentary, "Vodou Secret", 60 million people practice the religion world wide.
Vodou exists in different forms and variations. It is practiced throughout the Caribbean, Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico, and many other countries in Latin America. Whether it is referred to as Obeah, Santeria, Regla de Ocha, Umbada, Lukumi, Candomble, La Regla Lucum or Orisha, it is still Vodou.
Vodou spirits or gods (if you prefer) are represented by different symbols; Guédé, the lord of the dead, is represented by the cross, Damballah ( God Of Wisdom ) is represented by the iconography of St Patrick; the loa associated with water and love, Erzulie, is represented by the iconography of the Virgin Mary; loa Legba, who holds the keys to the gate between the worlds is represented by the iconography of St Peter.
In Haitian Vodou, the Guédé (also spelled Gede or Ghede, pronounced [gede] in Haitian) are the family of spirits that embody the powers of death and fertility. Guédé spirits include Guédé Masaka, Guédé Nibo, Guédé Plumaj, Guédé Ti Malis, and Guédé Zaranye. All are known for the drum rhythm and dance called the "banda". In possession, they will drink or rub themselves with a mixture of raw rum or clairin and twenty-one habanero or goat peppers.
Guédé Nibo is a psychopomp, an intermediary between the living and the dead. He gives voice to the dead spirits that have not been reclaimed from "below the waters".
Guédé Masaka assists Guédé Nibo. He is an androgynous male or transgendered gravedigger and spirit of the dead, recognized by his black shirt, white jacket, and white headscarf. Guédé Masaka carries a bag containing poisonous leaves and an umbilical cord. Guédé Masaka is sometimes depicted as the companion of Guédé Oussou. Both are bisexual. Guédé Oussou is sometimes also linked with the female Guédé L'Oraille. Guédé Oussou wears a black or mauve jacket marked on the back with a white cross and a black or mauve headscarf. His name means "tipsy" due to his love of white rum.
Papa Guédé is supposed to be the corpse of the first man who ever died. He is recognized as a short, dark man with a high hat on his head, a cigar in his mouth, and an apple in his left hand. Papa Guédé is a psychopomp who waits at the crossroads to take souls into the afterlife. He is considered the good counterpart to Baron Samedi. If a child is dying, Papa Guédé is prayed to. It is believed that he will not take a life before its time, and that he will protect the little ones. Papa Guédé has a very crass sense of humor, a divine ability to read others' minds, and the ability to know everything that happens in the worlds of the living and the dead.
Guédé Bábáco is supposedly Papa Guédé's less known brother and is also a psychopomp. His role is somewhat similar to that of Papa Guédé, but he doesn't have the special abilities of his brother.