Houngan Matt's Vodou Blog

A City Houngan's Life Among the Lwa

Little Secrets, or a Little Window to Mystery


Its not really a secret at all, actually, but one of those things that only happens when you open your eyes at the right angle… like those little mystery pictures that only show what they are when you’re not focused on them, every once in a while little pieces and little chunks of the Vodou cosmology fall into place and give you little revelations.

And sometimes, not so little revelations.

Like this one…. I had most of this, but a conversation among a few friends this evening slid the last, final piece into place… for a while now, Ive been a little skittish around the idea of Legba as a crossroads spirit. All over the place you see crossroads this, crossroads that, and Papa Legba atop it all, and it never felt right to me. Me being me, usually I either rolled my eyes at outsiders talking about traditions they werent initiated or even trained in, or people from freer-form ‘do it yourself’ spiritualities that dont really care about the idea of tradition so long as they feel they’re doing what they’re told to do… you know, the usual American ecclectic scene.

A while ago, in a post about Vodou Cosmology, I talked about how the keys to the beginnings of service aren’t actually beginning with Legba the way so many typically talk; true, we can start with him when we’re doing simple at-home stuff, but its still better and more in keeping with the tradition itself to start with Grand Chemin, the Great Road. (remember those posts? You’ve got some catching up to do if ya dont, but they’re here…. just gotta track backwards through the pages)

To give you a slight clue about why I was bothered, or at least the first half, takes the reminder that (well, in a full fete the first spirit we sing to is Hountor, the lwa of the drums) first we sing up Grand Chemin; seriously those two words are French for the Great Road. We sing with our light, we make a road for the spirits to cross over… once the fete gets rolling, we call the spirit that IS the great road the spirits travel down to meet us.

THEN, we call to Legba….. but there’s a catch here; there’s one road… we just sang it into being. Some try to say that the crossroads is ONLY the intersection between their world and ours…. but we’ll get to that in a second. For now, we’ve just sang to Legba… usually with the words “Legba nan Baye-a” Legba at the Gate, Legba at the Barrier. Legba of the Keys. “Papa Legba, ouvye barye pou mwen, ago e!” Papa Legba, open the door for me, hey there!



To slide the next point in, it takes being presented from a slightly different angle… lets take off the white headscarf and put on a red one.

Many houses, if they have only a single “work” room that houses both Rada and Petro, and many servitors who serve at home, will change a small aspect of setting up a main altar table; many of us, for our public face, will have a single main table with Rada on the Right and Petro on the Left (when you’re looking AT the table) which is OK, and traditionally correct as well as being a space saver I teach here on this blog…. but, big but, many will also use two tables; one on the right that houses the Rada spirits and their offerings, and another to the left that is placed at a right angle to the Rada table… that houses the Petro spirits. 90 degree angle. Let that slide in, and see if it brings you to the same place it brought me….. no? Well…..

Shortly into the Petro rites, after we “Chanje Miwa”, or Change the Mirror, meaning we have stopped to change from our White Rada clothes into our more colorful Petro clothes, we sing open the Petro portion and, a few spirits in, arrive at our current (for this discussion) destination.

The Crossroads.

Vodou calls him Kafou… its from the French word Carrefour, which translates directly to the word Crossroads in the exact same way that Grand Chemin translated into the Great Road or the Grand Avenue. He *is* the crossroads… not only did we come to his territory after progressing through the stateliness and orderliness of the Rada spirits (give or take some side trips through Nations that are independent but traditionally placed in the end of the Rada portion, like the Djouba and Nago nations, which can conceivably be moved to different parts of the celebration depending on desired outcome… Ive been present for a party where Djouba was saluted after Kongo and Ibo; those who can know why will know why) THEN we get to the part where the mirror changes, we adjust the angle, and the second road comes in to play… then and only then have we arrived at the Crossroads themselves.

Now, connect that to the picture we gained from the first section… After God, Legba is the doorway that lets spirits come and go, to whom we have to speak in the beginning of any section of liturgy that addresses a new Nation. Once we get through the progressions of the Royal Court and their attendees, THEN we can get to the crossroads itself and enter that territory.

You could say, and its a so-so point, that Legba, since he sits at the barrier between our world and theirs, *does* watch over a specific set of crossroads… and you wouldnt be *wrong*, per se, but you’d be missing the point of the real crossroads, those that are so powerful that they are their own Spirit (and he’s no lightweight… while I cant give you the langaj that talks about it, suffice it to say that Kafou is one of the BIG Petro spirits, one of the Three Kings, a part of the trio that the sorcerors work with… Keeper of a great deal of things.) There are big reasons, big secrets, and big mysteries to learn about the differences between cool and hot, calm and raging, Air and Fire, Rada and Petro… and there are even bigger truths to the Crossroads where the two meet.

But if its the Crossroads keeper that you’re really after…. are you ready for Kafou?


12 Comments to

“Little Secrets, or a Little Window to Mystery”

  1. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 12:06 am Mary Says:

    And yet, the times I’ve met him, he seems interested in helping and healing…

  2. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 12:37 am Karl Says:

    You have the most enlightening posts. Thankyou for giving us the opportunity to read them.

    There seems to be a connection between brooms and crossroad spirits. I’ve seen altars with brooms for Kafou. Could you please explain to me the significance of the broom with Kafou?

  3. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 3:45 am Mambo T Says:

    It’s all about the right angles…. :) Love it. Mesi, houngan.

  4. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 6:40 am Houngan Matt Says:

    Karl: Ive actually never seen an altar for Kafou feature a broom, so I cant give you an answer to your question.

    I *have* seen Klemezin served with a broom… as, when she comes in possession, she likes to sweep things clean. Many altars for her, or for Freda’s escort (or LaSirene’s escort) will feature a broom. Never seen one for Kafou, though.

  5. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 8:55 am Stacey Says:

    Thanks for posting this, that was educational (and useful in connection with some ideas I’m mulling over).

    I’m definitely guilty of American eclecticism, but I’ve never thought of Legba as a “crossroads spirit.” He always seemed like someone you could meet at the crossroads, but only in the sense that he can go just about anywhere.

    Actual crossroads spirits always seem to me to have to do with the dead, or to be restless dead. I’m sure that owes more to my local experiences than cosmic patterns, but I’m curious now: does that resonate with Kafou’s nature?

  6. Avatar October 28th, 2011 at 3:48 pm Houngan Matt Says:

    Well, Death is a very different type of crossroads than you find where Rada and Petro intersect… and the restless, unclaimed Dead, to Vodou, become the Ghede.

    In a fete, when we address the Ghede, we address the Barons *first*, as they control their rambunctious kin (in theory… Ghede are known to actually show up in possession whenever they damn well please, sometimes much to the chagrin of the people saluting a more calm and delicate spirit.)

    In terms of Vodou’s idea of things reflecting in mirrors, I suppose you could look at the Dead as a reflection of those above ground and those below… but we dont place them at the same type of crossroads. If anything they are bound by the doorway of the cemetery gate. ;)

  7. Avatar October 30th, 2011 at 4:00 am Silvia Says:

    Hello Houngan Matt,

    I’m so sorry if this is not the right place to be asking this. It’s about Papa Legba as well, but I realize the subject is not the same. I apologize. I have looked around on your website, trying to find a place where to post questions, but I guess since I’m very new to your wonderful page I have not been able to find my way around.
    This is my question – please, let me know if you want me to post it somewhere else :(

    I’ve seen online that Papa Legba is very sexual, and if devoted to him, if you serve him at some point he is going to want to have a sexual relation. Do you think that is true? I’ve also read that Papa Legba is impotent, and does not have or asks for sex.

    In a more general way, do any of the Lwas ask/expect sex from the person (man or woman) who serve them?

    I know that in some traditions they talk about sex with spirits. I read they say this practice is where the expression “Jelousy is a green-eyed monster” comes from. I also read that supposedly, when a spirit has a strong sexual connection with a mortal, it can get pretty intense…??? (jelousy wise as well…). Was it in the Enochian system…? I don’t remember for sure (I read it a long time ago, sorry).

    I am aware that in Vodou there are things that cannot be disclosed and only the Initiates, Houngans, Mambos know about them. If this is one of the topics I shouldn’t have brought up… Oh Gosh I’m sorry!

    Thank you so very much for such a good website. I like it a lot.


  8. Avatar October 30th, 2011 at 6:46 pm Houngan Matt Says:

    Hi Silvia!

    Im a bit afraid to ask this, but where on Earth did you read such things about Legba?

    IN AFRICA, Legba is sometimes shown with a persistent and often HUGE erection, but in Haiti he is rather different; I have never once heard of anyone being in a sexual relationship with Legba, let alone one he insists on for those who work with him (seeing as we *all* work with him a great deal, it would be common knowledge across the board if that were something that ever happened let alone were expected)

    Likewise I wouldnt consider him impotent or even think of him in those terms… that’s not really a part of him (pun intended) that comes up in relationships between spiritworker/vodouisant and this particular Lwa.

    Regarding what you know about other traditions, those are *other* traditions and have no place in Vodou. I dont mean that to sound harsh, but this is its own complete system and its own complete religion; we dont need to use other religions or systems to explain it.

    Regarding Jealousy, well… there are a HUGE number of Vodouisant men who have ceremonially been married to Ezili Freda and Ezili Danto (myself included, my ceremony also included certain other spirits as well). I cant imagine jealousy ever coming into those relationships outside of narrow circumstances (and those circumstances would be, plainly, playing favourites amongst the lwa, such as serving Freda but neglecting her sisters entirely, or it would entail sleeping with a mortal partner/having sex on the day we have promised to a particular spirit spouse. There are treaties involved in those days, and the crime is less paying attention to someone else than it is breaking a sworn promise).

    It is true that many times the Spirits send messages in dreams that revolve around sometimes graphic sexual imagery. I wont say that doesnt happen, because I would be lying…. but Ive never heard that about Legba, ESPECIALLY not in ANY instance of him requiring that of the people who serve him. We all serve Legba because without him there’s just no communication to the other spirits…. so you can see what a tangle that would create if he had such demands.

    I do have to ask you though, quite seriously, what you’ve been reading? If it has *anything* to do with a group calling itself Gnostic Vodoun, BURN IT. Before it burns *you*.

  9. Avatar October 30th, 2011 at 7:02 pm Karl Says:

    Howdy! The Petro altar with the brooms for Kafou are pictured here. Have a geez if you’d like -


    It’s actually a set of stunningly beautiful photos of different fete held by Mambo Marie Carmel.

    I just thought there was an interesting connection between the crossroads and the broom (some Pomba Gira use brooms and from what I hear from the Pagan community they’re used to honor Hecate).

  10. Avatar October 30th, 2011 at 7:09 pm Houngan Matt Says:

    Ahh…. now I know what she’s got those for. ;)

    I cant tell you how to do it, but there are ways of taking control over a local crossroads (or a group of ‘em from around your property at a certain distance) by sweeping up what’s in the physical crossroads and using the sweepings in special pakets…. It would be easy to explain their presence that way or to go a little further down that path of logic to give him those to help sweep things out of a path. Ive never seen the brooms added to an altar like that myself, but that makes complete sense from those angles. ;)

  11. Avatar October 30th, 2011 at 7:13 pm Houngan Matt Says:

    (our house’s Kafou also doesnt wield a broom like that when he comes in possession, but that’s not uncommon… many, many different houses have different behaviours shown by their lwa; we’ll know who it is even if ours generally operate in a different fashion. Long enough study and time spent experiencing the Lwa and you’ll start to build that inner knowing of who they are and how they relate… just another aspect to that whole thing we refer to as “konnaisance”/koneyans/connaisance)

  12. Avatar November 8th, 2011 at 12:44 am Mambo T Says:

    Legba Avadra gets a broom. He’s not the Legba being discussed here, though :)

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Vodou Boston is a teaching blog as well as a look inside the life of a mostly average city guy who just happens to be a Houngan Asogwe of Haitian Vodou.

My name’s Houngan Matt… my initiatory name and title is Bozanfe Bo Oungan Daguimin Minfort, pitit Antiola Bo Manbo, pitit Selide Bo Manbo, pitit LaMerci Bo Manbo… and so on into time. Im a Houngan Asogwe serving at home in Kansas City and in my spiritual mother’s temple in Boston (and Jacmel, Haiti)… our House is called Sosyete Nago, in honor of the Nago Nation of lwa. Im a typical Bostonian-turned-Midwesterner with a few extra dimensions to his world (tell me, how many Bostonians do you know who serve African and Haitian ancestral spirits through the lens of Haitian Vodou? Actually… more than you may know.)

This is a no holds barred blog; Im not one to limit myself in fear of what you’re going to think. Be prepared for a blog where noone’s gonna pull any punches, and you and I will get along just fine.

I can always be reached at Houngan @ VodouBoston . com for any questions, setting appointments for readings or work, or even just social mail; I am here to serve YOU, and YOU are what is important to me. No person and no question is too small.

Look for me on Facebook, too! Bozanfe Bon Oungan is my username

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