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Spirits of Death in Voodoo: The Gede


The Gede make up a separate house of Voodoo gods or "Iwa". These raunchy tricksters bring lightheartedness to the fearful aspect that they represent to those who follow Voodoo and are greatly revered. Considered wise and fond of possession, people who are possessed by Gede will often steal small trinkets or food, often times rewarding good sports with insights into the future. They also have a tendency to become very sexual during a trance, the possessed will at times wave a large stick around as a phallic symbol and dance provocatively The Gede are broken up into a family like structure with Baron Samedi and his wife and queen of black magic, Maman Brijit, at its head.
The Lord of Death

Baron Samedi is the most powerful and feared of the Iwa, as he controls the gateway between life and death. Oddly enough he also comes in a trinity with the Baron of cemeteries, Baron Cimetie and the Baron of the graveyard cross, Baron Crois. In fact these three Gede are so closely linked, the cross and coffin being the symbols of Baron Samedi, that they are often thought of as being different aspects of the same Iwa. One cannot help but draw a comparison between the three Barons and the Judo-Christen beliefs regarding a three-fold deity. No act involving the dead can be done without first invoking Samedi and he is linking closely with dark deeds, including the creation of the infamous Zombie.

The black queen is white

As if to further reinforce that Voodoo is a mixing of different religions from all over the world, Maman Brijit, who is the wife of Baron Samedi and a powerful wielder of black magic, is not only depicted as white but is directly descended from Scot-Irish servants Catholic belief in Saint Brigid. To further confound and amaze historians, Saint Brigid takes both her name and feast day (February 1) from an ancient pagan goddess. So from Celtic roots Maman Brijit rose up to become a keystone in the Voodoo religion. As the queen of black magic and money she is not just called upon by sorcerers (called Bokor) but also anyone wishing to gain from illegal activity. She also helps her husband in deciding who among the dead will be able become an Iwa and join the ever-growing ranks of Gede.

Sitting up with the dead

It has long been a practice of voodoo worshipers to honor and revere their dead to a great extreme. Family tombs are like small palaces, a few even with sitting rooms and filled with the latest trinkets family members thought their ancestors would enjoy. It is common practice in places like Haiti for surviving members in a family to sit and have a chat with their long departed, like western grave side confessions there is something therapeutic about opening up and feeling as if your views are being heard; even if your listener is long past hearing or speaking. Graves where Voodoo is common are kept white washed and immaculate, often adorned with black crosses and skulls to gain favor with Baron Samedi.

Once a year on November 1(All Saints day) through November 2 (All Souls day) a feast for the Gede is held and marks a national holiday in Haiti. Coincidently this day of taking care of and feeding the dead in Voodoo also match up with the Latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos, "The day of the dead". In fact these two holidays are almost identical with families on both ends leaving food and gifts to their departed. The only real difference comes in the food that is left and the gods that are made offerings to. To Voodoo the food that is given to the Gede must be strictly prepared by the males in the family and must consist of at least beef stew, pig's feet, corn and red beans. However many families go the extra mile and leave liquors, fruit and small cakes as well. The food is placed in a room and left their so the Gede may eat in peace, after some time has passed the head of the house will come in and divide the food up for the children in the family. The night ends with and a feast for the living and "banda", the spectacular dance of the Gede.