In “eclectic practice”, which is a term one hears about particularly in Wicca, the lwa Erzulie Freda Dahomey is starting to be acquainted with goddesses of love and beauty from other disciplines. I’ve spoken with people – women in particular – who have put representations of Erzulie on their altars next to Aphrodite and Inanna. There is a tacit danger in this erroneous belief that one goddess is as good as another lwa. In all fairness, as I have discussed before, the lwa are not gods. And, just as a point of reference, they’re relatively new to the scene. A Greek or Sumerian goddess can afford to be magnanimous; they’ve seen it all before. The lwa, on the other hand, are still stretching their muscles.
As an example of the very different nature of Erzulie from any ancient love goddess, I offer an excerpt from the writings of Maya Deren who is one of my personal role models. Deren, as anthropologist and ethnographer, went to Haiti in 1947 to study Voudon. She became a voudonist and developed a met tet relationship with Erzulie herself by whom she was possessed on more than one occasion. Deren’s writings on Voudon are classics of the genre and should be studied by anyone with a serious interest in Voudon.
Here then is Ms. Deren explaining, to the best of the written word’s ability, what Erzulie Freda Dahomey is like as she appears at the oumphor in spirit possession:
Erzulie moves in an atmosphere of infinite luxury, a perfume of refinement, which, from the first moment of her arrival, pervades the very air of the peristyle, and becomes a general expansiveness in which all anxieties, all urgencies vanish. The tempo of movements becomes more leisurely, tensions dissolve and the voices soften, losing whatever aggressive or strident tones they may have had. One has the impression that a fresh, cooling breeze has sprung up somewhere and that the heat has become less intense, less oppressive.
… attired, powdered and perfumed, she goes out into the peristyle escorted by several of the more handsome men, her favorites. There she may make the rounds, greeting the men guests effusively, but extending only the little fingers of each had to those women who are not special devotees. Her voice is a delicate soprano; her every gesture, movement of eyes and smile, is a masterpiece of beguiling coquetry; with her, human relationship becomes itself significant rather than merely a means to an end.
It is Deren who refers to Erzulie as “The Lady of Luxury” and rightly so. Voundonists imagine her as a light skinned quadroon of immense beauty and refinement who speaks only French, drinks champagne and prefers to spend her days painting her nails rather than doing any actual work. Her horses follow suit, drinking only champagne, speaking French even if they don’t know the language and dressing up in clothes, makeup and perfume set aside at the oumphor particularly for Erzulie.
At some point during her appearance, though, Erzulie will break down in a fit of weeping. In the end, no matter how beautiful her clothes are, how attentive her lovers may be or how delicious the morsels offered her are, Erzulie is disappointed by life. Her heart hurts, she weeps, and then she is gone. In this she is perhaps more like a woman than a goddess. Inanna may dance and Aphrodite may smile but Erzulie, the Lady of Luxury, knows what it is to be human.
Header: Dwapo lwa of Erzulie Freda by Yves Tellemark