Sacred Vodou Words ~ A Haitian Vodou Glossary by Erzuile’s Authentic Voodoo of New Orleans

Sacred Vodou Words, Vodou Ritual Words and Vodou Ceremony Words ~ All about Haitian Vodou and those magical Vodou words we use ~ what are they and what do they mean?  This Haitian Vodou glossary was provided as courtesy by Mambo Michele and her Vodou house to help educate others about the mysterious world of Vodou! We truly hope you love this education piece on the Haitian Vodou religion by Erzulie’s Authentic Voodoo of New Orleans!

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Abitasyon – habitat; common ancestral plot of land owned by an extended family and inherited in successive generations

Ago – ritual exclamation meaning “attention”

Akason siwo – soup made of manioc or corn starch to which cane syrup is added; favored dish of most all lwa; Kongo lwa prefer this made with corn flour vs. Starch and call it doukounou

Aksyon degras – thanksgiving; ritual prayers borrowed from Catholic litanies that open a Vodou service

Alamyet – Vodou service held without drums

Anacoana, most famous Tayino Indian cacique (queen); led her people in active revolt against the Spanish; executed by hanging in 1503.

Anba dlo, “beneath the water” – the place where the lwa and ancestors reside; see Ginea

Ansyen bon – elders holding vast konesans, usually in antique lineages; the old priests whose knowledge is a treasure younger priests can only strive to understand

Ason – “sacred tongue of Dan” (Danbala); rattle used to conduct services in Rada Vodou rites; symbol of authority of the Houngan and Manbo; gourd rattle surrounded by a loose web of beads and snake vertebrae, and having a small bell attached

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Ayibobo – ritual word of Ewe origin equivalent to “amen”

Ayiti Toma (Haiti) – Tayino Indian word meaning “mountainous”; one of several Tayino names for the island now called Haiti; also Kiskaya

Badji – sanctuary, altar room within the hounfò; also called sobadji

Badjikan – “keepers of the badji”; senior priests or officials of an hounfò charged with maintaining the altars housed therein.

Badjo – Vodou temple near Gonaives devoted solely to the Nago (Yoruba) lwa

Baka – small malevolent demon; also called mazanga

Banbosh – non-religious party or celebration

Banda – rite, rhythm and dance associated with the Gede lwa

Bizango – secret society and the rites of this society; see also Makaya

Bokò – expert in magic who works with both hands – for both creation and destruction

Bon anj – the divine spirit of man understood as having two primary components: ti bon anj and gwo bon anj

Bondje – Kreyòl word for God Almighty, from the French Bon Dieux; also called Gran Met-la (The Grand Master)

Boukman – historical houngan who convoked secret Vodou ceremonies and meetings leading to the Haitian Revolution

Bosal – wild or untamed; may reference a lwa or a neophyte who has not yet mastered his or her own spirits

Boula – smallest of three Rada drums; also called hountokila

Cho – “hot”; a quality of spirit

Chwal – “horse”; euphemism for a servitor who serves as the medium for a lwa in possession

Dahomey (Daome) – West African Empire (present day Benin) from which large numbers of slaves were shipped to Haiti; the religious traditions of the same people that formed the foundation of Vodou
theology

Demanbwe – sacral patch of land representing the virgin forest, primal Africa, and in which the roots of an ancestral lineage are buried

Deshoukaj – uprooting; name given attempts throughout history to destroy the Vodou religion; Vodou has survived 14 attempts at deshoukaj by various sources

Desounin – process of removing lwa from the head of an initiate following death

Dezòd – chaos, confusion, or drama

Dogwe – ritual obeisance paid to a senior priest and to the lwa

Dyaspoja (Diaspora) – the population of Vodouwizan outside of Haiti

Dissimulation – a conscious and deliberate use of certain Catholic or other appropriative elements to allow Vodouwizan to serve the lwa in secret

Djab – powerful but wild spirit; may have both good and bad potential

Djevo – chamber within the hounfò in which neophytes are initiated

Dosou/dosa – (male/female) first child following twins

Dous – “sweet”; a quality of spirit

Eskò – grouping of lwa who walk with, or follow another lwa

Fwan Ginea – a servitor who follows pure Ginea rites, who does not serve with both hands

Ginea – unspoiled Africa; the other world in Vodou wherein the lwa and the dead are said to reside and where is found the holy city of Ife, also called Lavilokan

Giyon – bad luck

Govi – clay jar or urn housing the spiritual essence of either a lwa or an ancestor

Hounfò – a Vodou temple and its precincts

Houngan – male Vodou priest; Ewe-Daomen word translating as “chief of the spirits”

Hounjenikon – chorus leader in a Vodou service

Houn-yo – postulants for Vodou initiation

Hounsi – wife of the spirit; title for an initiated servitor

Hounsi kanzo – initiate of the Vodou who has undergone the rite of kanzo

Hounto – lwa of drums; largest drum in the Rada orchestra, also called mama

Hountogi – Vodou drummers

Kachimbo – small clay pipe favored by certain lwa such as Azaka

Kalfou – crossroads; the lwa of the same

Kanzo initiation into the Vodou – follows three grades – asogwe, soupwen, and senp

Kapab – leaf used to increase luck and also to make a demand of a lwa; shaefferia frutescens

Kleren – raw corn whiskey, “white lightening”; drink favored by many lwa

Kò dwapo – hounsi who carry the society’s flags in parade during a Vodou service

Konesans – a quality of consciousness; the knowledge of an houngan or manbo; includes liturgical knowledge as well as intuitive knowledge

Konfyans kay – key-holder of an hounfò; principle advisor to the senior houngan or manbo of a house

Kowanabo – a lineage of Tayino Indian spirits found maintained in the North of Haiti

Kreyòl – the language of Haiti and also the primary language of the Vodou

Kriz lwa (lwa crisis) – those signs leading up to possession

Kwa-kwa – a maraca or tcha-tcha rattle; used in all rites other than Rada such as Petwo or Kongo

Lakou – courtyard; common unit of family in the Haitian countryside; follows West African models of family organization

Langet – slang for clitoris

Lanmò – the dead; may include ancestors as well as other categories of dead

Laplas daginea – sword bearer and often master of ceremony in a Vodou service

Lave tet – head washing

Lavilokan – one name for the holy city of the lwa in Ginea; actual city in the North of Haiti said to be the site of the first hounfò, and source of revolutionary resistance; also called Ife

Lukumi – traditional religion descending from the theologies of the Yoruba people as found in Cuba

Lwa – the spirits of Vodou; a word of unknown etymology, probably arising from Ewe, Fon, or even Yoruba languages all denoting similar ideas such as mystery or law; not in common use; rather, the word
mistè, more inclusive in meaning, is used when referring to any of the inhabitants of the spiritual world

Lwa Rasin “root lwa” – lwa from whom a community, family, or individual believe itself to descend; also called lwa ewitaj, heritage or inherited lwa

Maji – magic; sorcery

Makandal, François – revolutionary hero, bokò, and one-armed prophet who taught poisoning as a means of effective insurgence in the 1750’s

Makaya rite – rhythm, and nation of lwa associated with the energy of leaves and their transforming power, of magic; overlaps with both Petwo and Bizango rites; associated strongly with the lwa Kalfou,
Gran Bwa, Bawon, and also with the dead

Maldjok – the “evil eye”; also jeg

Madivin – lesbian

Manbo (Mambo) – female Vodou priest

Manje – (vb) to eat; (n) food or feast

Mamalwa – “mother of the lwa”; archaic term for a manbo

Mapou – one of the most sacred trees in Vodou; ceiba pendantra/bombax

Marasa – twins, specifically twin lwa; also called jimo

Masisi – male homosexual

Met kay – lwa who is the patron or master of a Vodou temple

Met tet – “master of the head”; the lwa who rules the initiates head

Milokan (minokan) – references all of the lwa of Ginea; a veve drawn to represent the same

Mistè, mystery – general name for the lwa and any other spiritual forces, such as pwen, a person may possess

Mombin – one of the most sacred trees in Vodou; spondias mombin

Nago – a rite, rhythm, dance, and a nation of lwa all of Yoruba origin; chief among these is the lwa called Ogou

Nansyon – spirit nations; groupings of lwa usually by original ethnic lines

Nomvayan, “valiant name”; ritual name for an initiate given at their baptism

Oble tanbou – drum rhythm calling the lwa with insistence

Ochan – rhythm of salutation for a lwa

Ogan – small iron bell with an external clapper used to keep time in a Vodou ceremony; part of the Vodou orchestra

Ogantwa – private devotional altar

Paket – spiritually active bundle created on the point of specific lwa, i.e. Paket Loko, paket Bosou, paket Simbi, etc.

Pale Ginea, “African speak”; the secret language of the lwa; also simply called langaj

Papalwa, “father of the lwa” – archaic term for an houngan

Peristil – the covered dance area of an hounfò; also called a tonel

Petit fey – “little leaves”; members of a Vodou temple

Petwo – a nation of lwa and their attendant rites, primarily of Kreyòl and Native Indian origin

Pot tet – head pot; ceramic jar housing the soul of an initiate following initiation

Poto mitan – sacred center post and functional center of an hounfò by which the lwa are said to arrive from Ginea

Prèt, priest; prèt savan – “bush” priest, master of Catholic liturgy; prêt Vodou, snobbish term for an houngan

Priyè Ginea, “African prayer”; complex litany that opens a Vodou service

Prizdezye – a degree of clairvoyance

Pwen – “point”; distilled concentrations of spiritual force or magic created for diverse purposes

Pwen achte – “bought points”; usually used for malevolent purposes

Pyè tone – stones that house a lwa or pwen; thought to have been hurled to the ground by the lwa Sobo and owned by the lwa Fawo Pyè Dantò

Rada – nation and rite of lwa associated with West African traditions; described as “cool”

Rara – masquerade band of musicians associated with Vodou temples and also secret societies that play from January through Easter

Regleman – rule, order, law; lineage tradition that defines ritual action, and principles of ordering

Repozwa – repository; any vessel, be it a tree, stone, clay jar, etc. In which a lwa may assume residence either temporarily or permanently

Retire mò n’anba dlo – “withdrawing/removing the dead from out of the waters [of Ginea]”; ceremony wherein the soul of the dead is returned to the community of the living; also reclamation

Sanpwel – members of the Bizango secret society

Segon – middle sized drum in the Vodou orchestra; also called moyen and hountoki

Sevitye – servitor; a devotee, initiated or not, of the Vodou

Simitye – cemetery

Sosyete – refers to the secret societies such as Bizango

Sosyete Ginea or Sosyete Vodou – the society of servitors in Vodou; the religious community

Soukri – Vodou temple near Gonaives devoted solely to the Kongo lwa

Souvenans – Vodou temple near Gonaives devoted solely to the Ewe-Daomen/Rada lwa

Syncretism – the unconscious association and adoption over time of the dominant, often oppressing, culture’s norms or religious beliefs

Tanbou fey – type of cord tuned drums used in Petwo rites

Tanbou kon – type of peg tuned drums used in the Rada rites

Tayino – tribe and nation of Native Americans who populated the island of Haiti at the time of the Spanish invasion; an advanced Native American culture

Tchaka – seven ingredient stew; a sacred meal

Trempe – raw corn whiskey or rum steeped with aromatic and/or medicinal herbs

Twa pawol – healing leaf; allophyllus basilicum

Veve – graphic prayer rendered in flour or other substances on an earthen floor and representing a given lwa, a group of lwa, or other intersection of power; also

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called seremoni; the act of drawing a
veve is called file farin (flour stringing)

Vire, turn; ritual movements for orientation and salutation

Vodou – the predominant religion and cultural tradition of Haiti derived primarily from amalgamated African and Native American traditions

Vodouwizan – devotee of the Vodou regardless of grade

Voodoo – Americanized spelling of “Vodou”; a Hollywood sensationalism associated with ignorant popular fantasy and with lurid and racist lies

VSN – a civilian secret police force under Françios Duvalier known to the world as the Tontons Macoutes (Bogeymen)

Vyen – vyen, semi-mythical descendants of the original Tayino population of Haiti; also called tchen-tchen

Vwasinaj – neighbor

Wanga, charm, often for selfish or even malevolent ends

Yanvalou – rhythm and dance associated with many Rada lwa, especially Danbala Wedo

Zanj – angels; in the North, a synonym for lwa

Zanset-yo – ancestors

Zepol – rhythm and dance associated with rapid shoulder movements

Zile Menfò – the lwa Agwe’s city beneath the sea in Ginea

Zo – bone

Zo devan – healing herb used in Vodou to bring up luck, and for fertility; eugenia crenulata

Zonbi – may be a soul separated from the body or a body separated from a soul; both are made to work

Zozo – slang for penis