The only official female Ghede lwa in Voudon, Maman Brigitte is a bit of a mystery. She is a hard drinking, sarcastically funny, frequently cursing lady, usually depicted as an elderly or skeletal woman wearing one of her favorite colors, black or purple. She is the wife of Baron Samedi and she is both the queen of the cemetery and a just judge. People who have been wronged in court will ask Maman Brigitte for justice. Some voudonists also claim Brigitte is the protectress of sex workers while others believe that the lwa of love and pleasure’s grandmother, Gran Erzulie, has that role.
Voudonists say that the lwa need “feeding”, so offerings are made to keep them from going hungry and thus incurring their wrath. This is a good moment to point out that it has become fashionable in some Wiccan circles to draw the Haitian lwa into eclectic practice, equating Erzulie Freda with Aphrodite, for instance or Ogou Ferraille with Lugh. If you set up an altar and include a lwa in its design, get to know them and treat them as they expect. Baba Yaga may not demand rum and cigarettes, but Maman Brigitte probably will and you’d best be ready to deliver. Or be ready for the consequences.
In fact, various devotees of Maman Brigitte find her needs vary as well. Sallie Ann Glassman has noted that her Brigitte likes offerings of gauze bandages, others favor banana peppers or new black or purple clothing. I find Brigitte is happiest with dark chocolate, but that’s just me.
The real controversy over Brigitte is how she entered the Voudon pantheon. Obviously, her name is not African but is a French version of the Celtic Brigit. There is some speculation that she may be just that; a permutation of the Celtic fire and artisan goddess brought to Hispaniola by indentured servants from Ireland and Scotland. Purists dismiss this as impossibility, sighting the lack of a Brigitte or Brigit in other Afro-Caribbean religions like Santaria and Candomble. Since religions, like foods, tend to “bloom where they are planted”, that seems like over simplification (and denial) to me. Many lwa came from places other than Africa – the blond and very pale skinned mermaid La Siren, for instance – why not Maman Brigitte?
It is an ongoing point of argument and one that will never be settled. Suffice it to say that Maman Brigitte is a woman worth knowing. Who among us could not use a wise cracking and always just judge on our side? Bon Samedi ~
Header: Maman Brigitte Holding the Shroud of Jesus by Andre Pierre via Medalia Art