The Gedés are a category of Haitian Vodou spirit. They may be a subdivision of lwa or they may be their very own category, a parallel class of spirits. They are wild, rambunctious spirits, not easily categorized or pigeonholed. They are mediating spirits:
• The Gedés mediate between the Rada and Petro pantheons.
• They negotiate between the realms of death and life.
The Gedés are spirits and guardians of the dead. Some Gedés may be dead souls, but not all. The dead reside in the cemetery, but so do liminal spirits who straddle the frontier between life and death. Many Gedés belong to this category. They are sacred clowns from beyond the grave, spiritual caretakers of the cemetery.
In Haitian Vodou, Barons and Gedés share the cemetery, but they are two different pantheons. Although they share much in common, interact, and often appear together, they are not exactly the same. Distinctions between them are fine:
• The Barons are Spirits of Death.
• The Gedés are Spirits of the Dead.
The Gedés may be the spirits of the Gedevi (literally “children of Gedé”), the original inhabitants of the Abomey Plateau (Dahomey). After the Fon conquest, the Gedevi were forced to become a caste of grave diggers but were eventually sold into slavery en masse as their presence made the Fon nervous, not only for political reasons but because of their alleged great magic powers. Their associations with the cemetery, originally intended to weaken and humiliate them, instead had the result of making them feared as their magical powers were suspected of being increased. Gedevi ancestors were incorporated into the Fon pantheon as “Lords of the Earth.”
The Gedés are spirits of death and life. Masters of the libido, they preside over the start and conclusion of life. The Gedés are beyond social taboos. They have the freedom of those who have lost everything: they say and do anything they please. They are irreverent spirits who mock sanctimony and enjoy exposing the hypocritical and prim. They enjoy sex, ribaldry, and obscenities.
During ritual possession, Gedés like to reveal secrets (the more embarrassing the better!). Gedés are rude, vulgar, painfully truthful, and honest. If you can get them to answer a question for you, they will tell you the truth. Tricksters and social satirists, the Gedés are fierce protectors of children. They can be powerful healers, especially on behalf of children. Their specialty is terminal illness. Appeal to them if a child is at death’s door. The Gedés are Death’s doorkeepers.
Gedés may also be invoked for fertility. Although they tend to be involved with big issues of life and death, they will help with money or material needs if a child’s welfare is at stake.
There are countless Gedés, with more joining their number all the time. They tend to travel in packs. Some are famous; most are anonymous. Rank-and-file Gedés are often the forgotten dead, those without proper funerals or lacking descendents to honour them.
The Gedés are syncretized to Saint Gerard Majella (because his attribute is a skull) and because of his associations with pregnancy.
Also known as:
Skull, cross, shovel, grave digger’s tools, phallus, baton
November 2nd, All Souls Day
Gedés live at the crossroads, as well as in the cemetery.
Monday, Friday or Saturday
The Gédés are voracious; they like substantial servings and have a tendency to serve themselves. Favoured offerings include salted herring; bottle of raw rum (kleren) infused with hot peppers; lots and lots of peppers and extra hot sauce to warm them up; black rooster feathers; skeleton toys (the more obscene, the better!).
- Gedé, Papa;
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.