Saturday, February 26, 2011

Samedi: Pot Tet et Govi

According to the religion of Voudon, we are all born animals. Fish in the sea, birds in the air, monkeys in the trees, moles in the ground and men on the land; all animals. The only difference is that people can become human by choosing to go through initiation into Voudon and thereby being born again as humans. Most people I mention this to find it off-putting, which is amusing to me. None of the Big Three Western religions think twice about using the same language with regard to their rites of initiation.

This rebirth is the reason for the two articles, or some would say “fetishes”, that I’m bringing up today. One, the pot tet, is for the living. The other, the govi, houses the dead.

Pot tet can be literally translated as head pot and it is a vessel used to hold the gros bon ange, that part of the initiate’s soul that carries a little piece of Bon Dieu and will live on after death. The pot tet is a crockery jar, usually white, that accompanies the initiate on their journey to join humanity. Once initiation has concluded, personal concerns from the initiate such as hair and nail clippings, some ash from the ceremonial offering, corn meal and sweets such as hard candy will be placed in the pot tet and it will be sealed. The jar is then ensconced in the initiate’s oumphor. Here it will be guarded by the presiding mambo (priestess) or houngan (priest).

The pot tet is a symbol not only of initiation itself but of the initiate’s trust in his or her spiritual leader. In theory, an unscrupulous priest could use the pots tet under his care to maliciously control some or all of the oumphor’s members. When a houngan or mambo falls under suspicion of such dealings, people will remove their pot tet from the oumphor and find another house of worship.

This kind of trust is particularly critical in the case of the second receptacle of the soul: the govi. As we’ve discussed before, when the gros bon ange is released in desounen it goes into the waters of Ginen. This part of the human soul only resides in this abyss for a year and a day – a marking of time that will be very familiar to many who practice alternative religions. On this anniversary, the priest and family of the deceased will call the gros bon ange in a ceremony known as “calling the dead from the low water”. The receptacle for this now immortal force is the govi.

The govi is usually made of clay in a form more or less like a human uterus. It is usually draped in a skirt of cloth in the favorite color of the lwa who was the deceased’s met tet. A woman who held Erzulie Freda on her head might have pink satin draping her govi; one who was favored by Simbi would have a govi swathed in green cotton. The govi, like the pot tet, is kept in the oumphor. Interestingly, mambos and houngans report that once the gros bon ange has entered the govi, the clay pot is heavier than it was before.

These traditions are an example of Voudon’s honor for those who have gone before, which is an ancient wisdom unfortunately neglected in our “enlightened” world. Bon Samedi ~

Header: Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans


Timmy! said...

So, can I choose to be born as one of my dogs, Pauline? I only wish it were so... ;-)

Pauline said...

That seems like one of those "time is relative" questions that my brain is not big enough to answer.