The Loa are divinities of ancient West Africa, transplanted through slavery to the Caribbean and North and South America. They make up the most mixed of the pantheons in terms of age. Gods only a few hundred years old dwell by Gods who walked the earth millennia ago. Other Gods might mock the Loa as mere spirits elevated above their rank and station, but their actual power and authority certainly matches that of their detractors. Much of the mockery against them, therefore, is social rather than metaphysical. Of all the pantheons, the Loa remember their origins as Scions. They tend to treat their progeny with respect and honor. Indeed, the divinities of Voodoo seem to believe that their pantheon has not yet finished growing, and each God has an array of spirits, minor divinities and borrowed Catholic saints to call upon as messengers, allies and companions for their Scion.
Baron Samedi would have you believe he spent a Saturday night in a drunk tank in the Underworld, drinking Jesus under the table with shots of rum. Then, he’ll grin at you like a crack addict in the middle of a mescaline overdose, and you wonder who’s really taking the drugs. Outfitted with sunglasses, a stylish black shirt or a white shirt and an undertaker’s swallowtail coat, silver jewelry and a top hat, the Baron loves to entertain children and frighten the living daylights out of adults. In legend, he walks right up to dictators and tells them to put their affairs in order. He mugs for the cameras in New Orleans. He strolls between nightclubs everywhere, putting AIDS on the tip of every seventh needle.
Of all the Gods, only Baron Samedi never disguises himself. He is always Saturday’s lord, always dressed for a party, always ready to live unlife to the fullest. His entourage, the ghede-the dead, who are ghosts and zombies and revered ancestors-trail along in his wake like the groupies of a rock star or the entourage of a Hollywood celebrity. This is, of course, what the Baron is, the notorious star of the most dangerous and psychotic boy-band that ever prowled the concert hall that is the World.
A similar infamy attaches itself to Baron Samedi’s Scions. Ghosts approach them with messages for the living; goth teenagers drink in their every word before they hang themselves; photographers snap their portraits for inclusion in books of freaks. Like the children of the famous everywhere, Samedi’s offspring go through difficult teenage years, experimenting with either rigid self-discipline or utter abdication of responsibility. The Baron is a family man, though. He takes all the necessary steps to see that his Scions follow him in the family business.
Damballa is the father of the other Loa, and the most powerful and important God of the pantheon. Appearing as a huge green-and-black snake, and associated with parental duty as well as primal sexuality and creativity, Damballa marries many women and sleeps with all of them every Thursday. He leaves behind money for them, and gifts for the children he has with them. He is associated with the Catholic/Jewish Moses, and dresses in white and silver.
Of all the Loa, Damballa most rarely assumes a mortal, human form. He prefers the snake aspect and loves to eat raw eggs. When he mounts a horse-that is, a mortal vessel-he makes that horse writhe on the ground with his hands above his head and speak in a sibilant, hissing susurrus. Any woman who handles a snake while naked risks his sensual and sexual embrace.
Damballa’s Scions are likewise sensual and primal people. They attend festivals in the desert and go dancing in hot jungle nights. Whatever else they do (and they have great leeway in that from their father), they are regarded as particularly lively and energetic. Not for them the drudgery of a desk job, but contact with primal nature and celebration in the rain-whether they want it or not.
Erzulie AKA: Beautiful, dressed in pinks and reds, loving sweet foods and perfumes, Erzulie is a Goddess of love in all its forms.
Assuming three faces depending on need, as Freda she is the coquettish young girl, as Dant, she is the matronly protector of children (and homosexuals), while as Je Wouj (literally “red eye”) she is the angry old lady no one loves anymore. Associated with the Virgin Mary and the Black Madonna from Catholic tradition, Erzulie is a girly girl, flirtatious and sexy while being very gracious and kind at the same time.
In modern life, Erzulie has been a prostitute, a mother, a community activist, a cook and a dressmaker. She always wears the three wedding rings symbolizing her marriages to Damballa, Ogoun and Agwe (a busy loa of the sea), no matter which face she currently wears.
Erzulie’s Scions often choose their own paths. They are often very sexually active, which sometimes leads to tangled family trees in the Voodoo pantheon of heroes. Erzulie doesn’t mind. She has her children to loveprovided they obey her when she needs them.
Kalfu is Legba’s dark twin. While some Voodoo practitioners see them as the same deity, the Loa themselves know the truth: Kalfu is the master of the malevolent spirits of night, just as Legba rules the beneficent spirits of the day. They stand on opposite corners of all crossroads and on opposite sides of all doorways. Where you find one, the other is never far away. Even their clothes are the same, which means that the only way to tell them apart is to observe them closely, for Kalfu is more muted in color, as if he were lit by moonlight instead of sunlight.
In modern times, Kalfu is the fundamentalist preacher who visits prostitutes by night, and the drug dealer who sells enlightenment but offers addiction. His mere arrival summons up darker spirits, and it is best to keep silent in his presence. Discontent and animosity follow him everywhere, yet he is also a force for creative ambition. That this ambition sometimes leads to murderous rage is not always Kalfu’s fault.
Kalfu’s Scions are similarly troublesome. They are troublemakers and irritants to many of their neighbors; the police always seem to know who and where they are. Most have rap sheets, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually done anything. Such negative attention often drives Kalfu’s offspring into lives of crime, but the Gods recognize that the dichotomy between good and evil, as mortals see them, is one of the creative forces that keep the World whole and out of the clutches of the Titans.
Legba AKA: Eshu, St. Lazarus, St. Peter, St. Anthony
Legba, keeper of the spirit gate, watches over crossroads and doorways. An old black man with a pipe filled with tobacco wedged between his teeth and leaning on a cane, he is associated with the Catholic saints Peter, Lazarus and Anthony, as well as the color red. Wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and attended by his dog, he can speak and understand any mortal language. He can cause his horse to walk and dance, and he can send any mortal down the right path-or the wrong one. No one enters the mythic realms without his permission.
In modern times, Legba plays at all sorts of roles. He’s been a drug dealer on the corner selling enlightenment, and a pastor who preaches against the demons of addiction. He’s worked as a UN translator and a Caribbean dictator; a taxi driver and an informal butler. People recall his love of jokes and his infectious laughter, but they always suspect he was laughing at them.
Legba’s Scions are similarly inclined. Masters of transportation and opening pathways, they act as wilderness scouts and tourist guides. Each is an opener of doors, a great people-person, capable of making introductions and connecting people with diverse interests to common goals. As tricksters and practical jokers, these Scions play great con games, parting fools from their money on a regular basis.
Lord of power, authority and triumph, Ogoun is a spirit of iron-iron spines in battle, iron in weapons and fearlessness in personal action. Dark eyed and dark skinned, he likes the contrast of a sharp white military uniform and red sash with his curly headed visage. He often makes use of the Catholic identity of St. James the Greater and always carries an iron knife, sword or machete. He’s a smoker and a rum drinker, but he’s always the pirate hunter and never the pirate.
In modern times, Ogoun takes on paramilitary and military roles more often than not. He’s always an officer, never an enlisted man, although his records always show he advanced through the ranks. Ogoun always gets his position through merit, never through connections. He’s a craftsman in metal, particularly iron-motor vehicles and weapons alike obey his commands. He’s also been a high-steel worker and a shipbuilder. People remember him as plain dealing and direct in his speech.
Ogoun’s Scions are similarly inclined. They are forceful personalities, artists and responsible patriots. Loyal to their father, they have worked as fireworks and demolitions experts, aggressive businessmen, dictators’ henchmen and jungle-hidden freedom fighters. No one calls them cowards and lives.
Shango, lord of thunder and priest-king of the Loa, is the God of initiation and justice and royalty. He resists oppression on behalf of his people, and he fights the good fight everywhere. Dressed in red and white, he hunts liars and thieves with a stone axe made by his friend and colleague Ogoun. Legends say he had three wives and produced sons by each of them. Some, his legitimate children, became kings and community leaders. Others became great priests, pastors and spiritual advisors. His remaining children lived as bandits who preserved the moral order by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. So it is with Shango’s Scions.
In modern times, the thunder God marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and with Gandhi; he was also a member of the Black Panthers and a bodyguard to Malcolm X. He’s been a vigilante, a prizefighter, a lionized athlete and a black judge in a white town. Unlike many Gods, Shango sees no problem with inserting himself into the great events of the mortal World. The lives and rights of mortals are his principal concern-how could he not help them?
Increasingly, though, the demands of Fate require that he leave these tasks to his Scions. He never raises up just one Scion, though, he makes sure there are always three in the World: a leader, an advisor and a bandit. In this way, the World is balanced, and Shango continues to look out for the interests of his community.