Honoring the Spirit of Death and Sex

Born out of the slave trade, the Afro-Creole religion of Vodou is an amalgamation of European, Native Caribbean, and African culture. Going as far back as the early days of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Haiti has been a stronghold for vodou. Although vodou was rejected by the slave masters of Haiti due to its unifying qualities, vodou practices held true and eventually led to the starting point of the Haitian revolution. As it is with commonly understood “voodoo,” vodou is a religious practice that is focused around spirits and ancestors. These spirits are known as lwa and each one of them has their own realms within day to day life. With a lwa for almost every part of life, and the different variations on those spirits, vodou becomes a very personal and customized practice for each individual. The lwa generally fall into the categories of either Petwo or Rada. The Rada spirits are those that the slaves brought with them from Africa and they are generally more magnanimous. The Petwo, on the other hand, are the spirits born out of the struggles in the New World and tend to be much fiercer than their Old World brethren. Connecting to the spirit world is as important within Vodou today as it was back in the seventeenth century.

One of the many ways that practitioners enlist the aid of the spirits is through the Boutey Vodou, or Bottle Vodou. Commonly seen as art objects, these bottles are created to be a symbol of a spirit and as a method of harnessing their power in order to accomplish certain things. A great deal of thought and energy goes into the creation of these bottles so that they may accomplish what it is that the artist or commissioner is seeking. Although they are extremely visual objects, they are not meant to be placed on a table for all to see. Instead, these bottles are intended to be hidden away from public eye so that only the individual who owns the bottle my see it and benefit from it.

For my personal boutey vodou, I chose to honor Gede. As the lwa of death, Gede is, in my opinion, the most powerful of the spirits. It is said that death is the great equalizer and that none can escape it, which then leads to this idea of Gede standing as the greatest of the lwa. Along with death, Gede is also the lwa of sex. He is generally depicted as a skeleton clothed in what some may consider “pimp attire.” The stylistic choices of this bottle are inspired by the many paintings of Gede within the book In Extremis: Death and life in 21st-Century Haitian Art. My bottle is a representation of Gede’s two sides of death and sex. In order to visualize his aspect of sex, I made use of luxurious materials. Using purple ribbon, I stitched black leather around the bottle and attached plastic diamonds to it. In order to represent his death aspect, I made major use of skull visuals as well as the cross that is used it symbolizing Gede. I also partially filled the bottle with black and grey stones to represent the stones that are at times used when covering graves.

2 thoughts on “Honoring the Spirit of Death and Sex

  1. Anna Charest

    This is a fascinating project. I, likewise studied the orishas, particularly Chango and Oya, but I don’t recall Gede. This was an interesting lesson on Gede, using diamonds and purple, the color of luxury, to describe sex rather than overtly sexual images. My section studied Cuban religion and culture, namely Santeria. Similar to voodoo, Spanish slave owners prevented the Afro-Cubans from practicing their Yoruban traditions. Santeria, meaning “worship of saints”, is a practice that was developed by disguising Yoruban gods as Catholic Saints, i.e. Chango was Santa Barbara. Similar to voodoo bottles, Santeria pays homage to the orishas with shrines with their patron colors.

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  2. Allison Dame

    I found one of your points very intriguing and relevant to my topic as well- ” although vodou was rejected by the slave masters of Haiti due to its unifying qualities…” My proposal is about the United States Correctional System and how they don’t know much about Santeria, therefore they, too, reject it. It’s interesting how people and groups reject something solely on the notion that they don’t know much about it. Santeria, like vodou, has unifying qualities as well. It brings people together in a commonality. I believe that that is one one reason Corrections condones the practice of Santeria, in addition to the unknown. Until now, I didn’t know much about the actual background of vodou. It was interesting to see some parallels, however, between that and Santeria, with different contexts of course.

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