Nations and Chiefs of Sanse
Before we do the roll call we need to discuss the most important spirit in Sanse who is not in a Nation and is not a Chief. That is Gran Soley. He is also called el Gran Sol and is personified as Jesus Christ in the image Ecce Homo, Jesus wearing the crown of thorns about to be crucified, or also the sacred heart of Jesus. He is the Sun that sustains life on earth as well as the mysteries that represent him. He never takes possession of a human because his spirit is too pure. Sanse is a solar based mystery tradition and Gran Soley is our highest spirit being that he is the biggest and brightest star in our solar system and we can reach out to him because he is visibly present. Gran Soley is the Sun but also the energy, intelligence, and spirit of the Sun. All the mysteries about the Sun mankind has been worshipping since the dawn of our civilization is Gran Soley.
Our World Tree
In the Puerto Rican Vodou cosmology the ancient Ceiba Tree has been venerated since the times of the Tainos throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America. The Ceiba Tree holds the mysteries and secrets of the Earth. Her roots are the portal to the realm of the dead, ancestors, and Ghede Loa while her branches lead to the realms of the Rada Loa who are the forces of Nature. On Earth we dance and sing around the Ceiba Tree because it is a conductor for the Loas to come down and manifest. Just like the Norse world tree Yggdrasil she supports the entire universe and is the path which we travel between the worlds. She is a sacred temple and a living shrine. Her branches taken with permission are used for magic and her leaves for spiritual baths. Her roots and bark are used for making magical powders and casting spells.
Many Spirits Many Paths
I have categorized the primary Nations and listed examples of some of the most popular Loa in that Nation. There are many, many Loa. They say there are Loa being created everyday. The list can go on and on. And in reality you will not “meet” all the Loa it’s impossible. For all practical purposes you only need to know your Spiritual Court, your Main Loa, and the other Loas that have come through for you to put on your divisional altar.
The Rada Loa
The Rada nation is primarily made up of the pantheon of spirits that came from Dahomey with the Ewe and Fon speaking people. Spirits such as Legba, the Marassa, Damballah and Ayida Wedo, Tin Djo Alagwe and Lasiren, Ezili Freda, Bosou, Azaka, and many more belong to this Nation. They are considered older than the other Nations and are “cool” spirits. That means they do not get angry easily. The Rada Nation is synonymous with the White Division in Sanse and are the Loa one would first think of when thinking about the tradition. Damballah is the great white cosmic snake, the creator god, wrapped around the ceiba, our world tree, and his wife is Ayida Wedo the rainbow serpent. The Rada are pure, old, wise, benevolent, and are celebrated first at Vodou parties. That is because a portion of them do not like alcohol or the smell of smoke. So when their service is over the other Nations are called. They are served on Thursdays by vodouisants.
The Nago Loa
The Nago Nation is comprised of the Yoruba pantheon that came from the Oyo Empire and are called Ogous. In Santeria they would be the Orisha. One of the primary Orisha worshipped in Santeria is Ogun. This might be confusing to someone who is already familiar with Orisha traditions. Vodou has them too and they are called Ogous, Ogou being like a family name. In Sanse we have Ogou Batala, Ogou Balenyo, Ogou Senjak, Ogou Farey, Ogou Osanj, Ogou Badagri, Ogou Shango, and so forth. These spirits are warriors, they are hotter, and they work. They love working and never stop. They are soldiers, generals, capitans, and military Loa who like to fight. They are also powerful healers and herbalists. They get “it” done and should not be approached by a novice. It’s important to know if these spirits are walking with you before you try to serve them and that would be on Wednesdays.
The Petro Loa
The Petro Loa are considered younger spirits. They are the spirits of the Revolution and are very “hot”. The Petro Loa are revered for their magical powers both light and dark. Legba Petro, Bosou Petro, Ezili Dantor and Ti-Jean, Gran Bwa, and Kalfu are some of the Loas in this Nation. Ezili Dantor is their leader and was the Loa invoked that fateful night the slaves rebelled and started slaughtering the French off the island. She is a fierce Loa and is syncretized with the image of Our Lady of Czechostowa, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St Barbara Africana and a few others. Ti-Jean is her son and he is a powerful magician who has an affinity for fire. Gran Bwa is Vodou’s Greenman. He is Master of the forest and Lord of all plants. When he comes down he will go into the woods to find medicine and bring the herbs back to prepare them for devotees. Kalfu is a very important Loa in Vodou and is sometimes misunderstood as a darker aspect of Legba. But they are not the same spirit. Legba carries our requests to the crossroads but Kalfu is the crossroads. Kalfu opens the way for all Petro magic to happen. He is not syncretized with any images but some use the devil. He is responsible for allowing Loa to pass through to this world and also hold back others. He should not be approached unless he comes to you first. Petro Loa are honored on Tuesdays.
The Congo Loa
The Congo Loa are classified as Petro Loa. Papa Candelo who is one of the seven chiefs of Sanse is considered to be a Congo spirit. This is an important point. Sometimes a Loa is in the periphery of a person's spiritual frame because they are associated with other Loas or are their friends/spouses/concubines. They might not work with a person directly but are there to support their fellow spirits. When you call for a spirit it does not arrive alone. Spirits move in crews. The Simbi family are the freshwater snake spirits that are fiery and specialize in magic. Simbi can be considered Rada or Petro but most believe their origin is from the Kikongo. Some of them are Papa Simbi, Gran Simba, Simbi Andezo, Simbi Dlo, Simbi Anpaka, Simbi Ganga, Simbi La Flambeau, and Simbi Makaya. Congos are served with Petro spirits on Tuesdays.
The Female Loa
The female mysteries come from all of the Nations of Loa. Their leader is Metresili who is personified as Our Mother of Sorrows. Although this is listed as a separate division they are all part of other nations. Some are maternal and love spirits that govern over all things feminine while others are warriors, dangerous, and switch gender roles. They are mostly spirits of the ocean and fresh waters but some are “hot” and you don't want to peeve them off! They are powerful Manbos and sorceresses and can be jealous of their male devotees. Many are patronesses of gay men. The female Loa are individually served on the days of their respective nations.
The Taino Loa
This Nation comprises the native Arawak Taino Indians and all other spirits that govern water. Tin Djo Alagwe, envisioned as Archangel Raphael, is their leader. They are called on to cleanse people spiritually, bring luck, healing, and remove obstacles. As herbalists teach secrets of the plant mysteries. When a person has Tainos in their spiritual frame they fiercely protect them. Practitioners put Cemi stones or wood painted with Taino symbols as well as other Native American images on the divisional altar to represent them. They love water and like to be sprinkled with water to keep them “cool”. They can be served on Thursdays with the Rada Loa.
The Ghede Loa
The Ghede are the beloved dead. When they come they are raunchy. They like to smoke and drink, curse and make dirty jokes, simulate sexual acts and the like. They have been liberated from the chains of society and now in death can say and do what they want. They are also connected to fertility magic because without death new life can not be born. They bring good luck, break curses, and remove hexes. Vodouisants will go to the graveyard to work with them. Everyone has Ghede. In Puerto Rican Vodou Santa Marta Dominadora (St Martha the Dominator) is the wife of Baron del Cementerio (Baron of the Cemetery). The image used to represent her is the image of the snake charmer also associated with Mami Wata in Africa. She is wildly popular and is called when things need to be brought under control. They are served on Mondays.
Paths of the Loa
All of the Loas have paths that cross between Nations. Puerto Rican and Dominican Vodou is not as codified as the Haitian Asogwe lineage and might look sloppy to someone who has read a lot of books on the Asogwe reglemon. Family traditions of Vodou do not serve all the Loas. They can’t there are too many! In family Vodou, not temple Vodou, there might only be a few Loa served because those Loa walk with that family and that’s it. A vodouisant might only work with one or two Loa, the Loa that wants to work with him. Vodou is a religion of the poor and when I see Instagram videos of practitioners putting out full plates of food, beer, wine, hard liquor, everyday and buying all this stuff I wonder where do they get the money to do that? Poor people can’t do that. So Vodou in the United States, as appropriated by Americans, has become about how big your altar is, how many Saint statues you put on it, and how much stuff you give your spirits. Sanse ain't that.
I had to go off on my tirade. I need to drive home the point that the Loa will protect you, give you shelter, make sure you are fed the best they can. They want you to talk to them and give them an offering you can afford. Papa Legba will be happy with a piece of bread because he cares more about you being charitable to others than getting rich trying to sell your conjure oils. There is a kind of piety in Puerto Rican Sanse that is not there in other lineages and it’s because of Espiritismo’s influence. Spirits will be attracted to the type of people practitioning whatever they are like. Like attracts like. If you are constantly trying to better yourself and evolve as a human being you are going to pick up highly motivated spirits that want to help you reach your destination. In a way you become a human for them to take care of and protect. In return you create a bridge for them in this world.
The Seven Chiefs of Sanse
There are seven "puntos" (or points) who are the Loas received in Sanse and are known as the Seven Chiefs. They are Papa Legba, Belie Belcan, Ogou Balenya, Papa Candelo, Mistrisili, Tin Djo Alagwe, and Baron de Cementerio. Each of the Seven Chiefs also have different paths or manifestations. Usually when the point is received the neophyte will be taken to a place in nature to receive it. As an example if you were to receive Tin Djo Alagwe you would go to the ocean or body of water, since he is the Master of the Sea, to perform the ceremony. These Seven Chiefs, as leaders of their Nation, are the spirits that give you permission to work the tradition. It's like getting a passport in the spiritual realm that allows you to travel back and forth in the world of spirits. It is said in popular books on Vodou that Papa Legba is the spirit that has to be approached first in ritual. That is not always the case. After you receive the point you can go directly to that Loa or mystery to do your work. When you receive Baron de Cementerio, who is a root Loa and Master of the dead, you can go to the cemetery and do work by invoking him. But to get started there is one Loa that is your entry point to the tradition and it's Papa Legba. Let's learn about him.
Papa Legba, Baba Elegba, or just Legba who is syncretized with the image of Saint Anthony of Padua is the most beloved of all Loa. In Africa he is the trickster spirit, a god of fertility, and carries our prayers and messages to other Loa. In Africa a myth is that the Loas do not speak human languages so Legba translates for us since he speaks all languages. He is the youngest child, and beloved, of the goddess Mawu the personification of the moon and motherhood. In the New World he has many paths and is many. We refer to it as the Legba division and is composed of all the spirits that are responsible for communication and delivering of messages. Papa Legba is depicted as an old man carrying a cane and attended to by dogs. He is the keeper of the keys and the Lord of all paths.
I was disgusted by American Horror Story's depiction of Legba. In that show he is depicted as a cocaine snorting, red eyed, demonic spirit who comes blood hungry collecting the souls of the innocent and babies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Legba is a protector of children, is benevolent and charitable. If you ask Papa Legba to do a task for you and tell him you will pay him back by doing charity work or donating to a cause he will love that. I have sat many times before Legba in tears seeking his direction. I called on him in my darkest hour and also in the face of death and he has saved me many times. Legba is called with different titles in services depending on the Nation. He has a Rada aspect, Petro, and the like.
Legba is the first spirit you should approach about entering into this tradition. Buy a candle with the image of Saint Anthony of Padua on it and place three cups in front of it. one with water, next rum, and then black coffee. If you do not want to put out rum you can use red palm oil, he likes that too. Close your eyes and say a prayer to Papa Dios. Then call out for Papa Legba. Introduce yourself to him. Say, "Hello Papa Legba my name is so-and-so and I want to meet you." Tell him about yourself and why you called him. Ask him to accept your offerings. You can also put out some dry roasted peanuts or hard candy for him. Ask him to come to you in your dreams as a sign he wants to work with you. Then wait and see what happens.
Ogou Balenyo is syncretized with San Santiago, St James Apostle. His devotees are concentrated in the Puerto Rican town of Loiza Aldea and his feast day is celebrated on July 25th. Ogou Balenyo is a fierce warrior, and is very stern. He does not like chaos but is also a cool Ogou and will take water as an offering. The other Ogous in his family of spirits are hot and only like rum and hard liquor. Ogou Balenyo is the captain of Tin Djo Alagwe's ship. Although he is stern and a fierce warrior when he comes down he will greet all present with a warm handshake. When he arrives he asks for his sword so he may cut the chains that bind humanity.
Belie Belcan is one of the oldest and most revered mysteries. His feast day is celebrated on September 29th. If you go to a Botanica and see a statue of Saint Michael, or see him on someone's altar, this is an indication they have Belie Belcan. He is a warrior spirit who fights for the protection and justice of humanity and is always at war with demons. Belie Belcan's friend is Papa Candelo and they walk together. When one is asked to perform magic the other will come along and assist him. They sit beside each other on the Divisional altar along with Anaisa Pye who is Belie Belcan’s wife. These are very old Loa who's true identities have been lost in the sands of time. Their worship stretches back into antiquity.
In Dominican Vodou there is a Congo Loa known as General Candelo Cedife but in Puerto Rican Sanse is known simply as Papa Candelo. He is an elder spirit who enjoys the companionship of his followers. He likes to take a bottle of Florida Water and pour a circle on cement before setting it on fire. In the Dominican Republic he is associated with Saint Charles Borromeo while in Puerto Rico the image of a shirtless white haired African man sitting in the lotus position smoking a pipe. His feast day is celebrated on November 3rd. He is just, benevolent, and wise. The myth is that he incarnated on earth in the New World disguised as a slave to bring comfort to others offering healing, empowerment, and preserving the knowledge brought over from Africa. He is one of the most beloved of Loas.
Metresili is the leader of the female mysteries. She is syncretized La Madre Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows, and her feast day is celebrated on September 15th. She can be confused with Ezili Freda from Haitian Vodou, but they are not the same spirit. She will not take possession of a devoted if tobacco is being smoked. When she takes possession she comes crying because the cruelty of the world is too much for her bare. When Metresili comes down she usually does not stay long in possession, her maximum time being that of 15 minutes or less. She has been known to stay longer though if she feels there is spiritual work to be done. She is a powerful Manbo and can perform some serious magic. She also has a foundness for gay men and many of her followers are gay.
Tin Djo Alagwe
Tin Djo Alagwe is chief of the water division or Indian division and is associated with all things water and healing. This division is very important in Puerto Rican Vodou because of the close ancestral connection to the Arawak Taino Indians. Puerto Rico was one of the last of the islands to feel the full effects of the colonists. It also did not have a lot of commodities the Spanish deemed valuable and for a while became an island of marauders, buccaneers, and pirates. Think about Pirates of the Caribbean! It also acted as a place for Tainos to retreat to to hide away from the Spanish, for a time. Puerto Rican Sanse has a huge water aspect to it and is the “coolest” of the Vodous practiced in the islands. Tin Djo Alagwe could be considered a if not the primary Loa in Puerto Rican Vodou.
Papa Ghede Nibo
Papa Gede Nibo is the chief of the Ghede (the dead) in Puerto Rican Sanse and Saint Expedite the image used to invoke him. He is also a root Loa from Africa. He sends out the dead to do work and manifest spells fast which is why vodouisants like working with him. When he comes he is crude and honest. He drinks, smokes, curses, tells filthy jokes like many other Ghede. He is very sexual because he embodies the energy of life and death. Birth and rebirth. He brings good luck, money, and breaks curses for his devotees. Papa Ghede Nibo is the life of the party and is served on Mondays.
Setting up the Divisional Altar
If you have gotten a reading from a Sancista and know which spirits are walking with you you can construct an altar for them. On the altar you would have statues of Catholic Saints that are syncretized with your Loa and other images, icons, crosses, candles, toys, colognes, fresh flowers, and items associated with your Loa plus any other representations the spirits ask for. For now you have a basic understanding of Sanse according to my lineage. Next we are going to talk about two of my favorite subjects, and my specialty, herbs and essential oils for medicinal and magical use. By the time you finish this book you will have an arsenal of material to run with and play. You do not need an initiate to practice the following healing methods you can start today. When you have your altar set up you can set your concoctions on your Boveda or Divisional altar and ask your spirits to charge them. Because in Vodou it's not you who performs the magic. Your spirits do.