Maman Brigitte (Mother Brigitte) is the female loa of life and death in Haitian Vodou. She is the partner of Baron Samedi (Mr. Saturday), the male loa of life and death.
The unending cycle of life and death, and death and life, is the essential mystery which is the original source of most human culture.
The European diaspora fears her, but Caribbeans know her as a loving protector, the great mother. If it is your time, Maman Brigitte will carefully guide you through death’s journey. If it’s not your time, she will lovingly nurse you back to health. There we have the mystery of life and death.
Maman Brigitte is one of the Ghede, the Haitian family of death and fertility loas. She takes care of death, cemeteries and graves. She drinks rum with hot peppers. She swears a lot and is symbolized by a black rooster.
Roosters represent the sun and the dawn. They symbolize the rebirth that we experience daily. Maman Brigitte is known for her piercing stare. Roosters keep an eye on things and chase away the darkness. Even in old Europe, the black rooster is a symbol of divinity. The rooster is also a symbol of France whose pirates founded the sugar colony Saint-Domingue (1625-1804) which became Haiti in 1804. So the black rooster represents Black France.
Human traditions are similar across time and around the world. In the Mexican Aztec tradition Maman Brigitte could be Mictlancihuatl, the Aztec goddess of the underworld. In the ancient Greek tradition, she might be Persephone who disappeared into the underworld each winter and reappeared in spring.
In Greek and Roman tradition, Maman Brigitte could be Charon, the ferryman who helps the deceased cross the river Styx that separates the worlds of the living and the dead. If you are human, we all do similar things. In Christianity, she could be Saint Mary Magdalene to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection.
Maman Brigitte and Saint Brigid of Kildare
Mama Brigitte is an unusual loa because she is an African diaspora goddess syncretized with the Irish Saint Brigid.
Saint Brigid of Kildare is one of the patron saints of Ireland with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Her feast is on February 1. The Portuguese celebrated Saint Brigid on February 2. That’s the tradition that reached Haiti.
Interestingly though Saint Brigid is a Catholic saint, she has pre-Christian roots as the Gaelic (Celtic) goddess of spring. Her festival on February 1, Imbolc, marked the beginning of spring. It’s sort of the reverse of Samhain, the Gaelic new year on November 1. Ancient Chinese traditions also mark spring around this time of year with Lunar New Year celebrations.
How did an Irish saint/goddess become part of into Haitian culture? We don’t know, but Irish came to the Americas to evangelize and fight for Catholicism, many came as indentured servants, and some came as sailors who profited greatly from human trafficking. The Middle Passage was often deadly and sailors curse a lot. Somehow all this got mixed together.
Syncretization is a Natural Blending
Syncretization is the blending of cultural traditions. If you leave people alone, they will syncretize traditions naturally in the same way that Creole languages are formed naturally by children of multicultural parents.
Problems arise when outsiders try to force a change in people’s belief systems. Colonizers insisted that everything about you was bad, and forced you to act like them. However, doing so didn’t prevent abuse because you could never become White European.
It’s often said that Africans hid their traditions inside European veneration of saints. There may be some truth to that, but perhaps the Africans recognized the similarities between African and European beliefs. Europeans were either too primitive to see this, or worse, understood but refused to acknowledge how similar we are. That would imply humanity which would prevent the “faithful” from engaging in human trafficking.
Vodou Isn’t Scary
There is nothing inherently bad about Vodou. If it scares you, that’s a reflection of whatever is in your own head. Vodou is a traditional human faith based on the forces of nature and the medicinal uses of plants.
Military colonizers and priests falsely demonized Vodou and everything else Indigenous and African. Their orders were to evangelize the entire world to trigger the apocalypse and end of days. They tried to do this through extreme violence which is really the opposite of faith practice. Anyone who wants to bring about the end of the world, needs to have their head examined.
If you weren’t Christian, colonizers and their priests could do whatever they wanted to you. In practice, they did whatever they wanted to you if you weren’t White European.
It’s often said that Vodou is polytheistic. That’s just a colonizer put down, sort of a “my religion is bigger than yours,” rant. Bondye is the Gran Met, the Vodou Supreme Being who lives high up in the heavens like most other concepts of the Supreme Being.
Dehumanization is a core part of the “Big Lie” told by human traffickers to justify the evil of their own thievery, kidnapping, rape and murder. Pathological narcissists will always tell you exactly what devils them by blaming their own evil on others. In psychology, it’s called “projection.”
Politicians are some of today’s worst practitioners. They blame you for things you never even thought of. What they blame others for actually says everything about their own thinking and behavior.
Some people get worked up by blood sacrifice. It is a universal human tradition based on the understanding that life creates death, and death creates life. The animals are not mistreated and are usually eaten afterwards. There is no cruelty. Sacrifice was part of all the major religions and is still practiced in various ways. Communion with its blood and body of Christ is a fully ritualized form of blood sacrifice.
Vodou is blamed for all sorts of things it has nothing to do with. Hollywood perpetuated the Big Lie by making scary movies. The misplaced fear of Vodou has become embedded in European and American culture.
Vodou is a Faith Based on the Forces of Nature
Vodou is a beautiful traditional faith based on knowledge of plants and the forces of nature. It originates in what is now Benin in West Africa. It’s an oral tradition so practices vary by region, community and even by family.
The African diaspora brought Vodou to Haiti where the Haitian diaspora took it with them around the Caribbean including to New Orleans where we know it as Voodoo.
In Africa, Vodou is an Indigenous tradition that stands on its own. In the Americas, you can’t have Vodou or Voodoo without Christianity. They are blended traditions.