When I was a little girl, I got in trouble with my school library for checking out D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths so often that no one else got a chance to read it. Oops. So, I promised them I would check out another book and give my Greek myth obsession a rest. So I checked out D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths instead. That’s when I discovered I just loved all myths from everywhere, especially when I saw obvious signs that the mixing of cultures influenced the stories. For instance, the Greek siren influenced the Russian sirin, though they are different creatures entirely.
Maman Brigitte, an important loa in Haitian Vodou, is the most recent example of that to come through my life.
I’m currently drafting a book that incorporates a great deal of mythologies to add depth to my world and plot. Generally, I’m a plotter. I construct very detailed outlines before I write. I have my cast, settings, obstacles, and triumphs in my head before I type one word. Every once in a while, however, a character barges into the narrative and insists on taking up the spotlight. When that happened most recently, I met Maman Brigitte (sometimes called Manman Brigitte).
To be clear, I didn’t create Maman Brigitte. I also didn’t magically know who she was. I had planned on a certain character meeting Death, and that just didn’t feel…personal enough. I wanted Death to be a woman and to have significance to my book’s setting, which is a supernatural version of Jacksonville, FL. So, I stopped writing and started researching myths from the various cultures that help to shape this city.
Haitian culture has become increasingly prominent in Jacksonville, reaching the tens of thousands in recent years. I’ve made a few friends who are Haitian transplants myself, and noted much of what I’d been taught about their history and culture was given to me through a colonialist lens. Vodou (commonly known as voodoo), for instance, is hardly the dark, evil witchery that Hollywood portrays. It’s a beautiful blend of the West African Vodun religion and Catholicism.
This is a monotheistic religion worshipping the God of the Christian Bible (or Bondyé). Other figures in the faith act more as messengers and intercessors than deities. These divine personas, which help connect the worshipper to the many facets of God and creation, are called loas and they’re similar to angels.
The female loa of Life and Death is Maman Brigitte, and she’s the only one typically represented as Caucasian. So, when I found this out, I had to know more. In the process, I learned so much about a religion that is so beautiful and so diverse that I find myself having to know more and more. Fortunately, with as much research as I’ve done, I’ve still just scratched the surface.
Maman Brigitte is at least the third evolution of a fiery-haired figure in multiple cultures. She is believed to have started out as Brigid, the Irish Goddess of Fire and Poetry. When Catholicism shoved aside polytheism in Ireland, Brigid transformed into St. Brigid of Kildare (often known as St. Bridget), the patron of dozens of life paths ranging from babies to fugitives and midwives to chicken farmers. When the Irish indentured servants worked side by side with West African slaves, the Catholic St. Bridget became Maman Brigitte.
So, what makes Maman Brigitte so interesting? Plenty. She’s one of the most beloved members of the Ghede, the Haitian family of death and fertility loas. Like the other Ghede, she’s rowdy and fun-loving, though perhaps not as much as her husband, Baron Samedi (Mr. Saturday, himself). She drinks rum infused with peppers, so hot that the only other loa who can tolerate it is her Baron Samedi. She likes swearing and black roosters. She loves sex. Honestly, she sounds like the absolute best person to invite to a party.
That being said, Maman Brigitte does more than have fun. She takes her position seriously. She helps the dying find peace, while also assisting with childbirth and fertility problems. Often, when someone needs help from Baron Samedi, they’ll turn to Maman Brigitte instead, because she’s known to listen better to pleas.
I highly encourage anyone who finds any of that interesting to research Vodou further. I promise it’s not scary at all. I think a great place to start is the video posted below.
That being said…
I need to make a point that any research you do should be from a place of cultural appreciation, not religious appropriation. You may find yourself tempted to try out Vodou for yourself. Please don’t. This is a religion built as a survival mechanism by West African slaves going through more tragedy than most of us can ever imagine. Vodou belongs to their descendents. Let them have it. Feel free to connect to your own heritage.
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