Maryaj Lwa (Spirit Marriage)
Note: links on this page connect to photographs taken either by myself or our guest Susan. Mesi anpil Susan for your help!
Maryaj Lwa is one of the rites of passage of Haitian Vodou. In this very special ceremony, a person marries one or more of the Lwa in the same manner that one would marry a human spouse, for purposes of securing various blessings and benefits. It is one of the more interesting ceremonies that Vodou entails from the viewpoint of observers, and with the blessing of the happy groom and all the participants, I'm delighted to be able to share the story of our first maryaj lwa held at our houmfor.
The maryaj lwa of my student Garth (also known as Djesi) and the Lwa Metres Mambo Ezili Freda Daomé was celebrated on Saturday, 9 September 2006. This was also the first time that a number of my Sosyete Fòs Fè Yo Wè students via Internet met in person, and was a wonderful way to inaugurate our first group work together.
Preparing for the Maryaj
The preparations started almost a year before the actual wedding, with purchases, plans and organization, just as any wedding requires. There was plenty of panic and excitement and work for the prospective groom, the participants and the officiants. Because several houngans and mambos would be required to help with the ceremony as well as to host the possession of Metres Freda so she could come get married, I invited two other houngans from my lineage to come and help.
I am deeply indebted to Houngan Hector of Sosyete Gade Nou Leve and Houngan Dylan of Sosyete Carrefour Sacré for coming early and helping with many of the last-minute preparations as well as their expert help and work at the ceremony itself. By Friday we'd gathered at the houmfor, started to cook the foods and iron the clothes and do the various things to prepare the participants and the room where we would hold the ceremony itself. Saturday morning was taken up with baths, dressing up and laying out the altar with all the things Metres Freda likes, including foods, drinks, gifts, candles, lamps and even a beautiful image of the saint associated with her, the Mater Dolorosa. The image Garth brought with him was decked out in delicate pink, and went quite well with the exquisite altar cloth hand-sewn by Djedet. Freda's table was absolutely huge and gorgeous by the time we were done. Before the altar on the floor, the houngans and I spent several hours singing ritual songs in preparation for the ceremony as Houngan Dylan drew the veve (a kind of ritual symbol created in a similar manner to sand paintings in other indigenous traditions) of Ezili Freda, a two-colored heart with delicate geometric designs. Interestingly enough, right before we were to start the ceremony we noticed the veve was starting to change shape on its own, which we all took as a good sign that Metres Freda was ready to show up and get married.
The Priye Ginen
At the beginning of any formal Vodou ceremony, prayers are said to Bondye (God), the saints and the Lwa, in the form of a moving, long set of ritual songs and prayers referred to as the Priye Ginen or African Prayer. I took my place at the head of the sosyete with the two visiting houngans, and we prayed and sang the Priye together with the rest of the participants in its call-and-response format. Eventually once we reached the last Lwa to be sung for, the chairs were removed and we leapt up to dance for the spirits as the Rada service began
The Rada Sevis
Since Ezili Freda is a Rada Lwa, we began with a "regular" Rada ceremony to call the Lwa in order up to when she should make her normal appearance, and ask all of them to bless the wedding. We were blessed not only with a good crowd of participants, but an audience of Garth's family and friends who looked on happily. Little Aubrey tried her hands at the drumming and also danced on Ruthann's knee! Susan, Bella and Ryan, our drummers, did a wonderful job of helping us keep the ceremony going and encourage the Lwa. At a few points, I joined them with a percussion counterpoint heard in the high notes of Vodou drumming, created by beating on a glass bottle in time with the rhythms.
To begin, we saluted Papa Legba and asked him to open the door so the rest of the Lwa could come in. Next, the Marassa were saluted with their special foods, and after this, Papa Loko and his wife Ayizan were invoked as the keepers of the Vodou initiatory tradition. During the songs for Loko and Ayizan, Vodouisants exchange ritual handshakes, gestures and sometimes kneel or bow to each other depending on the ritual hierarchy between them. For example, the children (junior initiates) of a house salute their mambo or houngan by kissing the ground before them. After Papa Loko and Ayizan, the serpent and the rainbow, Danbala and Ayida Wedo, are saluted. Since Danbala is one of Freda's husbands, I invited Garth to help me with Danbala's salute. We continued to sing for the rest of the Rada Lwa in order, calling them one at a time and dancing in their honor. Between Houngan Dylan and Houngan Hector we certainly didn't want for songs -- they put me to shame with their knowledge of so many different ones! When we reached Met Agwe Tawoyo, another of Freda's husbands, even halfway through the salutes I knew we were about to have a visitor. Sure enough, Met Agwe showed up in Houngan Dylan's head, sat down, doused himself in water and blessed the ceremony before leaving.
After the songs for Met Agwe's wife, La Sirene, we launched into the salutes, songs and dances for Metres Freda. Not too much later, she decided to grace us with her presence, in the head of Houngan Hector who had agreed before the ceremony to serve as her horse for this event. Garth got down on one knee and proposed with his wedding ring, and she happily accepted his proposal, but asked to prepare first before going before the altar for the wedding.
Houngan Dylan escorted Metres Freda off to a specially prepared room so she could bathe and dress for her wedding, and Garth went upstairs to get into his wedding suit, not before checking in one last time with his partner Ray. Our nervous groom waited patiently while we kept singing and waiting for Ezili to return, which was a while as she wanted to make sure everything was just right. At some point she called out from her boudoir, "You'll all wait for me and you'll be happy to wait," in Kreyol of course (which we translated for the non-speakers in the audience). Eventually, she returned to the room, all ready for her wedding in a beautiful new dress, makeup and jewelry. As is her usual custom, Metres Freda met with the various men in the room first, offering advice and blessing and saluting them in the same manner that the Vodouisants had done with each other during Papa Loko's songs -- she is a mambo, after all! She offered healing, advice, and even magic to several of the participants and even some of our nonparticipating guests. At one point she decided to douse Houngan Dylan in her perfume!
Just like in a human wedding, Metres Freda and Garth exchanged vows before witnesses (in this case Rev. Craig and Bronwyn), who each held little pink candles Freda instructed them to carry. Rings were exchanged and agreements were made: what Freda would do for Garth and what Garth would do for her in return. Freda proudly held out her hand for her ring and lovingly looked into Garth's eyes as she repeated her wedding vows after me, and just like in a human wedding, there were quite a few tears in the room. The marriage contract was signed and witnessed and kisses and hugs were exchanged. Clearly our bride was very pleased with her special day. After the wedding was completed we held a reception where we shared the wedding cake and food and champagne and other things with the bride and groom and each other; graciously Freda permitted Ray to come and sit with her and Garth and even shared her special wedding drinks with various attendees!
Wedding gifts were presented for the bride and groom to open, and were given to Garth to take home for Freda's altar in his house. The happy bride gushed about her presents and offered to help various people with their own problems, then realized it was time to go. Sobbing, she collapsed into Garth's arms...and then was there no more.
Houngan Hector went to change back into his usual clothing and the rest of us took a small break, then launched into a few more songs for the Lwa of the sosyete and any other Lwa (except for the Gedes, who would not be invited to a ceremony for Metres Freda) that we wished to honor. We were blessed with several more Lwa in appearance including Ogou Feray (Freda's third husband), another Ogou, Simbi Dlo and Simbi Andezo. Both Ogou Feray and Simbi Dlo stayed quite some time and offered wanga and advice to the various attendees. Finally, the ceremony ended and we started to clean up and get ready for our post-wedding dinner at a restaurant banquet hall. Garth's day actually wasn't over, as he still had to sleep in a special room with his bride and take a ritual bath the next morning, as well as return home with all of the wedding gifts and a portion of all the offerings for her altars at his home. In the future, Garth has to continue to set aside special nights for his wife as part of their agreement at the maryaj-lwa. In return, Metres Freda promised to do certain things for Garth.
At the end of the ceremony, six of my students took vows to become ti-fey, or "little leaves," of the sosyete and are now the hounsi bossale of Fòs Fè Yo Wè. Ayibobo! to Garth, Eujenia, Monika, Ruthann, Ryan and ti-Marie!
(Thanks a whole lot!)
Many thanks are due to everyone who attended, and especially Garth for letting us share this wedding with us (and letting me post these photos and the story on our website); Houngan Hector and Houngan Dylan for all their help and hard work; drummers Susan, Bella and Ryan as well as everyone else who helped with drumming; Djedet for the beautiful altar cloth; the House of Netjer (and Rev. Craig and Rev. Donna) for letting us rent their library space, kitchen and guest rooms; Eujenia for saving me with her last-minute ironing skills; Ruthann for cooking many of the Lwa's special foods; ti-Marie for helping with errands and cleanup; Susan for taking photographs I couldn't take while the wedding was underway; Jewel for the beautiful cake; Bellagio Ristorante for an excellent post-wedding dinner; Mambo Marie Carmel for her advice on the best maryaj lwa ever; and Metres Mambo Ezili Freda Daome for showing up, saying yes, and allowing us to be part of her special wedding day.
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