HAITIAN VODOU LESSON
A very important thing to understand is that there are many different lineages within the Vodou Religion. This is one of the reasons one will see differences in how it is practiced as well as how certain terminology may be used. There are also various other Haitian Traditional Religions or Traditions, some of which may or may not be Vodou, but often have related/similair practices or foundations.
The most popular and commonly found/heard lineage is that of the Asson. The Asson, which you learned in the last lesson, is a calabash gourd decorated with glass beads and snake vertabrae. It is also a symbol of the Vodou priesthood within this lineage. Thus it is used by the Priests of this lineage, Houngans and Mambos, to direct the ceremony and control spiritual energy during parts of the Vodou service. This lineage, and the asson, comes from the royal lineage and line of Vodou priests of Dahomey.
Thus this lineage and it’s ceremonies focus most of their attention on serving the Spirits of Dahomey (Rada Lwa) as well as the Nago Nasyon. Thus the Lwa Racine, Root Lwa, or Lwa from Western Africa are the foundation of this lineage. You will find that more intricate attention to detail is found within this lineage when it comes to these two Nasyon, more than any other.
Within this lineage of Vodou, there are three ranks. Those being Hounsi Kanzo, Houngan or Mambo Sou Pwen and Houngan or Mambo Asogwe. The rank of Hounsi is that of a baptized and consecrated initiated servant of the Lwa. That of Sou Pwen is the level of Junior Vodou Priest of Priestess. Asogwe refers to those Houngans and Mambos (aka Houngan Asogwe or Mambo Asogwe) which have attained the highest rank or level of the priesthood within this lineage. Thus they, Houngans and Mambos Asogwe, are Senior High Vodou Priests.
Although this lineage is the most popular and well known of Vodou today, at one point in time this was not so. At one point in time, this lineage was only passed by the blood or by inheritance as was the way in Africa. The ceremony, that is now known as Kanzo, was non existent per se, rather the Elder priest would pass the Asson (within the contexts of a certain ceremony) upon his next kin in line destined to receive it.
At another point, this changed. Some say around 1860, when those within the Royal Lineage starting initiating others, not within the bloodlines. Slowly it grew due to a variety of economic and physical changes within the country of Haiti. These changes increased the growth of the lineage. Eventually, becoming the most popular, well knowned, and recorded of the Vodou lineages. So much so, that some practitioners/Vodouisants believe or announce this to be the Orthodox Haitian Vodou Religion. However, this entirely false and untrue, as we can see there are different lineages/practices within the country. Even today, the large majority of Houngans and Mambos work using a Tcha Tcha in serving the Spirits, especially and most notably in the north of Haiti. In fact, even those within the Asson Lineage, use the tcha tcha when serving certain Nasyon/Nations.
The Tcha Tcha Lineage of Vodou:
The Tcha Tcha lineage, which can still be found very active in the North of Haiti, is the other major lineage within Haitian Vodou today. The Tcha Tcha lineage is the primary lineage that is practiced within the Dominican Repulic, known as Las 21 Divisiones or Dominican Vodou. This lineage has both initiatory and non initiatory branches. Non initiatory branches are conferred by inheritance, bloodlines, birth and other such ways. Initiatory branches exist as well.
The Initiation within this lineage is most commonly referred to as the Sevis Tet. Another name for this is kanzwe. The way that the Tcha Tcha lineage is practiced does vary more from House to House than the practices of Asson Lineages. Certain things, ceremonies, and Lwa/Spirits do remain in common in most lineages. Thus in this lineage, over time or through the calling, after one’s initiation (if one is initiated) one may be lifted up and recognized as a Houngan or Mambo.
Ceremonies are less ritualized and standard than in the Asson Lineage. By this, I mean that Vodou Ceremonies conducted within the Asson Lineage do not vary greatly from Vodou House to Vodou House. Or Vodou Sosyete to Vodou Sosyete. In the Tcha Tcha lineage, however, ceremonies do tend to have more variation between house to house/sosyete to sosyete. Those who become Vodou Priests or Priestesses within these lineages are known as Houngans and Mambos Djakout or Kwa Kwa. They may also use the term Sevite.
Another lineage of Vodou, which is closely related to the lineage above, is known as Vodou Deka. This lineage is found in the temples at Souvenance and Soukri and those initiated within this lineage undergo initiation at those specific temples.