Loa means “mystery” in the Yoruba language and stands for the different category of spirits in the Vodun religion. Vodun, also know as Vodoun, Voodoo and Sevi Lwa, is an African religion going back to the dawn of mankind. As slavers brought Africans to the New World, Vodun began to spread among the black communities of North America, South America and the Caribbean. As for who and what the Loa are, a simplistic way to describe them to a Judeo-Christian would be to compare them to saints. In the Vodun religion there is one chief God named Olorun. This god is then supreme over these minor spirits called Loa.
Loa and Christianity
Vodun has many similarities to the Roman Catholic religion, but a few include:
· The belief in a supreme being and an afterlife.
· Ceremonies where ‘body and blood’ are consumed.
· The belief in evil spirits or demons.
Followers of Vodun believe everyone has a met tet (meaning ‘master of the head’) within the Loa. By comparison, this is quite similar to a Christian’s patron saint. The Loa also resemble Christian saints because each Loa were once people who led extraordinary lives. Much like saints, the Deities are also given a responsibility or special attribute that the living strives to emulate.
One striking difference, however, is that Vodun followers believe that everyone has a soul that is composed of two parts known as a gros bon ange (‘big guardian angel’) and a ti bon ange (‘little guardian angel’). The ti bon ange leaves the body during sleep or when a person is possessed by a Loa during a ritual. Vodun followers believe this part of the soul can be damaged or captured by evil magic during the time it is free from the body.
The Roman Catholic religion, however, believes in one soul. But this religion is similar in the fact they do believe evil possession is possible, and in some cases, exorcism is required to rid the person of the demon that has entered them.
Who Are Loa?
It’s impossible to list all of the Loa since there are literally hundreds. But there are two classes, or more accurately, two categories of Deities. Loa who originated from the West African Yoruba people of Dahomey are called Rada. Deities who were added later are usually the deceased leaders from the New World and are known as Petro. So basically the Deities have two categories – those who came from the Old World (Rada) and those who came from the New World (Petro).
One of the chief differences between the Loa and saints is the fact that there are evil Loa. For example, Baka is an evil spirit who takes the form of an animal while Kalfu controls the evil forces of the spirit world and is closely associated with black magic. Yet as stated already, there are Loa who resemble Christian saints such as Legba, who can open the gates to the spirit world. This is much like the Christian St. Peter who is believed to watch over the gate of Heaven.
Although the Deities resembles Christian saints they also remind one of the Greek (and Roman) Gods too. For example, a few Loa spirits include:
· Ezili (or Erzulie) – the female spirit of love (Aphrodite).
· Ogou Balanjo – the spirit of healing (Apollo).
· Ogun (or Ogu Bodagris) – the spirit of war (Ares).
· Agwe – the spirit of the sea (Poseidon).
To summerize, the Loa is just one facet of the Vodun religion deep with tradition. The Loa also share many common traits with past and present religions in the world.