Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While those of Irish descent (and I’m included in that category) celebrate today by drinking green beer and wearing shamrocks (I am currently wearing shamrock earrings that have flashing lights), Vodouisants are also celebrating one of the most beloved lwa in Vodou: Papa Damballah.
Snakes and their worship were very important to the people of west Africa, such as the Fon and Dahomey. Temples to snake gods still exist there and large pythons gracefully glide through them and worshippers come to ask for protection and prosperity.
Keep in mind that every lwa belongs to a family or “nachon” (nation). My manmi says that every lwa has seven spirits standing behind it. There is more than one Damballah and they all have different names: Damballah Wedo, Damballah le Flambeau, and so forth. The Damballah that is most well-known and served in the Rada rite is Damballah Wedo.
Damballah is ancient; some say he was the very first lwa that God created. The saint with which he is associated is St. Patrick of Ireland.
The picture is of an old white man in green garments with snakes at his feet. St. Patrick was pictured as a wise old man, so he became associated with the wise old lwa Damballah.
In some houses a picture of Moses is used.
Moses is another old white man with great wisdom. It’s easy to see how he could become equated with Papa Damballah.
Damballah’s feast day is on or around March 17. My house, Sosyete Nago, had his party this past weekend. It was a beautiful event: my brother Houngan Matt was in charge of decorating the altar in green and white, Damballah’s colors. Often at our fetes, we set a second table for a lwa that is closely associated with the main lwa being honored. For example, in the last few years we’ve set a table for Damballah’s wives, Ezili Freda and La Sirene (his main wife, the one he’s most associated with, is Ayida Wedo, who represents the rainbow). However, this year Damballah made it clear to Manmi and other house members that he wanted this party to be for him alone. The whole altar was just for him.
We did decorate the Poteau mitan (the pole which signifies the way in which the lwa arrive at ceremonies) in yellow and green. These are the colors of Papa Loko, the lwa of priesthood. His feast day is March 19, so it’s common for Papa Damballah’s fet to include Loko as well.
Damballah’s colors are green and white, like I said before. His preferred drink is orgeat syrup, a thick white almond flavored syrup that’s used in coffee shops to flavor your latte. Damballah does not like alcohol. His preferred food is two white eggs set on a saucer with some white flour. White birds such as chickens can be sacrificed to him, but they aren’t killed in front of him because he doesn’t like the smell of blood. In fact, if you are a menstruating woman or have an open wound you shouldn’t approach Damballah or touch his things.
When he comes in possession, Damballah Wedo slithers on the floor like a snake. We cover him in a clean white sheet for his privacy. People will use their little fingers to grasp his little fingers in salute. We also give him his eggs and syrup, which he will eat and drink without using his hands. For our fete, we got him a rocking chair to sit in. Manmi does that sometimes when she has fetes in Haiti; it’s more comfortable for Damballah and he’ll stay longer than if he was on the floor.
Damballah doesn’t speak when he comes in possession. He will speak out loud in dreams (he has for me several times).
He is one of the most commonly married spirits in Haitian Vodou; women come to him for protection, wealth, and cleansing.
Papa Damballah has done so much for me. He is my husband and protector and he works to keep my head calm and cool (not an easy task! *grin*)
Ayibobo, Papa Damballah!