Saturday, August 6, 2011

Samedi: The Family Erzulie

In Haitian Voudon, a group of female lwa stands out as a particularly dysfunctional sisterhood.  These are the Erzulies or Ezilis as they are known in Creole. 

There is Erzulie Freda Dahomey, the gorgeous and luxurious.  She is the queen of all things beautiful, sensuous and graceful.  Erzulie Freda is envisioned as a light skinned woman with light eyes; she speaks only French and is the dream of every mortal man.  She is herself a sensual animal who takes lovers from among the lwa and her human worshipers.  Maryaj lwa with Erzulie, though not necessarily common, is one of the most likely such entanglements with the lwa for a man to find himself in.  Erzulie Freda is said to be the “consort” of three male lwa: Danbala, Ogou and Agwe.  All of these gentlemen are married to others.

Erzulie Freda’s sister, or perhaps her other half, is La Siren.  She is the blond haired, white skinned mermaid who is lwa of the deep blue sea.    Mermaids are extremely common in Afro-Caribbean and African American stories.  The tales generally tell of a beautiful, fish-tailed woman who lures an adult or sometimes a child down to her watery domain where they live for what seems like a year, but is in fact decades or even centuries.  La Siren follows this pattern as well.  Though generally benevolent, she can turn violent just as the sea does in a storm.  In this guise she is known as La Balien – the whale – and she can be deadly.  She is married to the sea lwa and admiral, Agwe.

The third sister is Erzulie Danto, the mother lwa of the Petwo nachon whose tongue was cut out by Haitian revolutionaries so that she would not tell their secrets.  She is a fierce mother and warrior, dark skinned and ample in form who has a scar on her cheek.  This wound was inflicted when she fought with Erzulie Freda, and the two have detested each other ever since.  Their enmity is only increased by the fact that Erzulie Danto is married to the warrior lwa Ogou.  Erzulie Danto can wreak havoc against human women in fits of rage and jealousy, but she is also known to take women in maryaj lwa and is thought to be the patron of lesbians.

The three sisters’ grandmother also goes by their name.  She is known as Grande Erzulie (or Grann Ezili) and in some sociétés she is the patron of prostitutes (in others, this task falls to Maman Brigitte).   She is also the lwa of regret, weeping over lost love, beauty and opportunity.  Grande Erzulie is envisioned as impossibly ancient and crippled by rheumatoid arthritis.  For this reason, she is the patron of people of any age who suffer from this crippling autoimmune disease.  My daughter, who has the juvenile form of arthritis, is beginning to cultivate a relationship with Grande Erzulie.

All four of the Erzulies can be of great benefit to their devoted worshipers.  But as always, know your lwa and respect them fully.  The opposite of benefit is not always simple hindrance.  Bonne chance ~

Header: Mater Dolorosa de Monte Cavario, the Catholic aspect of Erzulie Freda


Timmy! said...

Very interesting, Pauline. Some of them remind me of characters in your books...

Pauline said...

Ya think?