Haitian Vodou – Damballah - The Primordial Serpent
Damballah-Weddo the Sky Father is the most powerful loa in Haitian Vodou. He is the first loa and father to all others. He is the snake spirit of all mysteries who assisted Bondye in creating the world. Now he helps sustain the world as a source of energy and persistent life force.
His wife is Ayida-Weddo, the Rainbow Serpent of fertility, wind, fire, and water. Although Damballah loves Erzulie Freda more, he is intertwined with Ayida and to represent that they have a shared veve.
Representation of Damballah by the Haitian artist Hector Hyppolite
Creation of the world and role in the world
Damballah is depicted as a serpent. He is the primordial life force who created the universe using his seven thousand coils to form the cosmos. With his coils, he shaped mountains and valleys on the Earth as well as planets and stars in the heavens. After he formed the world he shed his serpent skin to create all waters on the Earth. Water and rain are associated with life in Vodou, and by creating the waters he gave means for the creation of life. All life comes from his life-force, as the water was created from his shed serpent skin.
His is wife Ayida-Wedo, the Rainbow Serpent. They are always depicted together, and she has assisted him in the process of creation. They were both necessary for creation because Vodou views creation as an act shared between a man and a woman. Damballah and Ayida-Wedo are the oldest and wisest among the loa. Like snakes, they embody the qualities of growth and positive change. Each snake sheds its skin and in a way takes on a new identity with that action.
Veve of Damballah and Ayida-Weddo, drawn and vectorized by Chrkl
Damballah is a member of Rada nanchon of loa, the guardians of order, morals and principles (you can read more about Rada family in my article about Papa Legba).
As the source, all motion in life and energy Damballah helps in sustaining the world. He lives in the sky and encircles the Earth with his coils consistently shedding his skin. Shedding of his skin creates sources of life; rain and floods which provide lands with life-water.
Ruler of all intellect, he is one who gives intelligence and wisdom to the people. Damballah’s dominion over intellect and wisdom comes from his connection to the past and the future. He acts as a uniting force between the past, the present and the future. Because of this role, he is often associated with the ancestors adding another respected role to this widely loved loa.
Offerings and rituals
Although Damballah lives in the sky, he can also be found in ponds, lakes, and streams. Many temples have a pond inside of them in order to accommodate Damballah. Damballah is always clean and he avoids dirty and sick people. It is important to assure all devotees attending the ritual are healthy and clean, for Damballah might refuse to come otherwise. Alcohol and smoking which are ever present and welcome during rituals for other loa are prohibited during his rituals, as he neither smokes nor drinks. If devotees intend to invoke other Loas during the ritual they are to postpone smoking and drinking until Damballah has left the ritual.
During his feast on March 17, devotees wear white and green, jump over streams and swim in ponds and lakes. He is offered loves chickens and eggs, corn syrup, white flowers, and silver. Although Damballah is an important aspect of the world, and welcome presence in everyone's life, he takes special care of cripples, albinos and young children.
A different veve for Damballah created by Carl Pierre, it can be ordered at the link.
When Damballah is invoked and possesses humans, he doesn’t speak or move in humanlike ways. Devotee ridden by Damballah flicks his tongue, slithers along the ground and climbs tall objects. Such snakelike movements symbolize his encircling power around the communities. When he possesses someone he is covered in a clean white sheet to ensure his privacy.
Damballah whistles and hisses like a snake instead of speaking, and not even Papa Legba is capable of translating his hisses to humans. It is believed this is the case because Damballah’s wisdom is so enormous that it is beyond human understanding. Nevertheless, the presence of giver of life during rituals alone is a welcome occurrence, as his presence brings peace and harmony!
- Encyclopedia of African Religion - Molefi Kete Asante, Ama Mazama
- Afro-Caribbean Religions: An Introduction to Their Historical, Cultural, and Sacred Traditions - Nathaniel Samuel Murrell
- My own knowledge
Previous articles in the Vodou series:
- Haitian Vodou - Papa Legba
- Baron Samedi & Maman Brigitte - The Lord and The Lady of Death and Sexuality
- Haitian Vodou - History, Beliefs, and Practices
If you are interested in pirates, check out my The Tales of Pirates series!
To advanced for humans to understand... it seems that this is a common thought in many religious. Interesting as all your posts
Thank you :) Although it is common, I like how Damballah is the only one to advanced to understand among the Vodou loa.
Learn something new everyday! Upvoted :)
also a very interesting and instructive blogs
Thank you ;)
I absolutely love your post. The snake spirit and especially for the part of growth and positive change for snakes. I should change my username to Damballah. Good read.
Haha, Damballah fits your current name perfectly :)
There are many other positive representations of snakes in mythology, especially in the eastern mythologies, I will cover some of those in the future!
Thanks for reading and commenting! 🐍
Perfect love it 😁
As I like to read between the lines I understood Damballah and Ayida are basically yin-yang. And they shed the skin as a metaphor on our changes in lives, as we need to shed our skin. :) Thank you for this beautiful article.
I didn't envision them as such because they are not the opposites. Many of Haitian loa have their opposites, but there is no opposite for Damballah as none come close to his power and wisdom :)
Slight differences, not the opposites in my opinion. We have more similarities than differences ;)
After all, it is still contrary yet complementary. :) Yes yes :)