Thursday, January 17, 2013
Jeudi: Great Spirits
Agwe is envisioned as a broad shouldered naval commander. He is usually given the racial designation of mulatto and his eyes are invariably spoken of as green. His area of rule is the oceans and seas of the world and he is charged with looking after people at sea, ships and all those who make a living from the ocean. Agwe is syncratized with the Catholic St. Ulrich, who is often depicted holding a fish, and his altars are decorated not only with statues or pictures of the saint but also with boats, paddles or rudders and images of fish. Agwe, though slow to anger, can be responsible for terrible storms that sweep in from the ocean if he is not acknowledged with offerings now and again.
La Siren is always depicted as a mermaid. She is envisioned as very light skinned with blond hair and a beautiful, sparkling fish's tail. Her realm is the ocean depths where she has a magnificent home. Her favorite pastime is playing music or beautifying herself with the fruits of the sea. She is thought to be rich, her home and person decorated with silver, jewels and especially pearls. In her generous aspect, she is the teacher of priestesses. Some mambos claim to have met La Siren in dreams. While they sleep, they descend to the mermaid's magnificent palace below wave and she generously teaches them all the wisdom of ritual, healing and magick.
In her alternative aspect, as the giant black whale La Balen, La Siren is not so benign. Like her consort Agwe she can stir up storms. She can also punish individuals who have displeased her by luring them into the ocean with her haunting song. The unfortunate miscreant only comes out of his or her trance once they are too far out to sea to be saved. There, they drown in the salty water. This aspect of La Siren is also the one she uses to show her displeasure toward Agwe who is continuously unfaithful to her with her sister, the irresistible lwa of love and pleasure, Erzulie Freda.
La Siren is represented by Stella Maris, Our Lady of the Ocean, and in some cases St. Martha. Her altars are strewn with the offerings she loves: pearls, perfume, mirrors, combs, sea shells, champagne and sweet cookies with blue or white frosting.
The largest ritual performed in coastal communities in Haiti to honor the lwa of the sea is often referred to as the Barque of Agwe. A raft is especially made for the occasion and covered in blue and white cloth. Then it is laden with the foods and beverages that the lwa favor and towed out to sea with all ceremony, drums beating and songs to the lwa being sung. The barque, full of very precious items in a country as under served as Haiti, is then left to float as far out to sea as it may in hopes that the Admiral and his beautiful mermaid will bring good fishing, fair weather and - in this day and age - big cruise ships full of wealthy tourists.
These two are my personal lwa, and I invariably dress in blue or blue-green on their special day: Thursday. It surprises no one who knows me that the lwa of the ocean have claimed me. Destiny, after all, will out...
Header: The Mermaid by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia