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The Truth about Veves

These winged hearts, by Wiseton Brutus, are adorned with veves.

These winged hearts, by Wiseton Brutus, are adorned with veves.

They say that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. With that in mind, I’m hoping you will find the following information, hip, cool, enlightening, or some combination thereof, but I will forewarn you that it may – despite my intentions – simply freak you out. Are you ready? These cute little winged hearts are detailed with voodoo veve symbols.
Voodoo beliefs encompass rada, or benevolent spirits, and petro spirits, which are anything but. To mix the metaphor, they are the yin and yang of voodoo culture. This is purely an issue of balance, though somewhat unfairly, Petro spirits get a disproportionate amount of the hype. The veve on the heart in front (photo left) symbolizes the spirit of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love, and a rada spirit, if ever there was one. How perfectly appropriate that her veve should adorn a metal heart with wings. Not so freaky, right?
Veves appear on many of our Haitian pieces, on the flags, on paintings, and on the metal too. What is a veve, actually, and what purpose does it serve? Worthy questions, both. The short answer, according to Milo Rigaud, who is an expert on such things is this: “Veves represent figures of the astral forces. In the course of Vodoo ceremonies, the reproduction of the astral forces represented by the veves obliges the spirits to descend to earth.” This begs the further

Brilliant sequins of red and blue form the veve of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love.

Brilliant sequins of red and blue form the veve of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love.

question: What is an astral force? I hope you love the following definition as much as I did when I consulted the Cambridge Dictionary. It said, “Astral forces are those forces pertaining to the stars and are beyond human comprehension.” Ah, mystery.
Every voodoo spirit, benevolent or otherwise, has its own unique veve symbol. In ceremonies, the veve of the spirit whose presence is desired is sprinkled on the floor with cornmeal or colored sand. Personally, I have observed veves arranged in stone on the floors of voodoo temples. In either case, they are a visual supplication, used to summon the presence of a particular spirit. In art, they are representational symbols of honor.
So what’s the verdict? Not freaky at all, but very hip, cool and enlightening? Oh, I hope so!


Contributed by Linda for Its Cactus

Voodoo Inspired – The Crossroads and The Cross

As mentioned in the previous blog, most Haitians, even though they are Catholic, hold their voodoo-based beliefs right alongside, practicing and observing

Freda Veve, by Meda Ulyssee

both religious traditions. The origins of this seemingly odd pairing can be traced back to colonial times when enslaved West Africans were shipped along with their religious beliefs to what was then Saint Domingue, today known as Haiti.  The French colonial slaveholders forbade the  observance of any religion but Catholicism and severly punished those who did otherwise. As a way of getting around the whip, the slaves developed a system of association of their own spiritual figures such as the Great God “Bondye” and the Loa, with those of the Catholic God and the Saints.  They also syncretized symbols, the most evident being that of the Veve, or Crossroads, and The Cross.

Both the Veve and Cross represent points of transition.  In the Catholic tradition, The Cross is the place where Jesus leaves the world of Man and enters into eternal life.  Conversely, the Veve is the point at which the Loa spirits enter the world of Man.  The drawing of a Veve in a Voodoo ceremony is an invitation for the spirits, one or more, to join the physical world and bestow health, strength, love, etc. to the supplicants in attendance. The Veves for each Loa vary, but all have a central cross figure included in their designs. If more

Another adaptation of the Erzulie Freda Veve, spotted in a Croix-des-Bouquets workshop

than one Loa is invited, the Veves connect at their trancepts.

In the beginning of any Voodoo ceremony, the Veve of Papa Legba is drawn. Papa Legba is regarded as the life giver, transferring the power of Bondye to the physical world and all who reside there. Papa Legba is

associated with St. Peter, holder of the keys to the gates of Heaven. In Voodoo, he is  the gatekeeper of the spirit world where the Loa reside, and he must be invoked to bring any of the other Loa to the physical world. After his Veve is drawn (with sand, cornmeal, ground up eggshell or ash) other Loa Veves are drawn to invite them to the ceremony. With their arrival, their powers can be used by the priests, each according to the individual attributes of the Loa.

With the Veves in place, the ritual begins. Chanting, singing, drumming

and dancing beckon the Loa down from the cosmos.

Additionally, food, drinks, and gifts particularly pleasing to the individual Loa are placed on the Veve as offerings  in exchange for service. At the end of the ceremony, when the Loa have

Music and dancing are important elements of any Voodoo ceremony

completed their earthly tasks,  they are released with seven repetitions of the following benediction:  “I thank you Loa for your services and let you go.  Be blessed.” At that point, offerings which have been placed on the Veves are removed and the lovely, elaborate Veves are destroyed.

Though the form of The Cross and The Crossroads are essesntially the same, their symbolism dovetails, and their uses differ entirely within Catholic and Voodoo traditions. Yet by gaining an understanding of Voodoo and the history of it’s development in the New World, it is not impossible to see how both have come to be important, respected, and concerently revered –  in Haiti and beyond.


Second in the series, “Voodoo Inspired”

Contributed By Linda of Beyond Borders/Its Cactus

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