Also known as: Danballah; Papa Damballah
Once upon a time, there was only Damballah. He lay beneath Earth, a great snake, cushioning and protecting it from falling into the watery abyss below. Although he lay still for a long time, eventually he had to move. His movements raised mountains and created valleys. Stars were shaken up into the sky. Sacred waters were released, forming oceans, rivers, springs, and streams. The first rain began to fall, and Aïdo-Hwedo, in the guise of the first rainbow, appeared. Damballah and Aïdo-Hwedo fell in love. They remain in love today. The intensive all-pervasive power of that love infiltrated the entire universe. That power is manifest in human beings in the form of white liquids: milk and semen.
Damballah, the primordial snake lwa of life, wealth, and wisdom, is venerated in Dahomey as well as in Haitian Vodou. He may also survive in the New Orleans folk saint Blanc Dani.
Damballah is among the most beloved and important lwa. He bestows wealth, prosperity, good health, and fertility to devotees and can expose the location of missing treasure. He regulates moisture and rain. Damballah and his true love, the rainbow serpent, maintain the balance of forces, which sustains all life on Earth (the equivalent of what East Asian cosmology would describe as yin-yang forces). He is incredibly old and powerful and is usually not bothered for trivial matters. He can be extremely generous, however, and so may be approached when one is genuinely desperate or really in trouble. Despite his venerable age, he remains interested in people. He will engage in sacred marriages with women but also occasionally with men.
Damballah appears in dreams. He does not communicate well. You must pay attention. He is so old and primal that he is pre-articulate; he emerges from a time before speech. Damballah may hiss or make whistling noises but does not speak a human language.
Damballah is syncretized to Saint Patrick and Moses, the law-giver. Damballah is Moses’ staff that transformed into a snake. He enjoys the company of Ezili Freda Dahomey.
He is a stickler for cleanliness. He doesn’t like strong, pervasive odors of any kind, but especially tobacco. If you smoke, then do so far from his altar space or anywhere associated with him. He may object to cleaning products with strong odors, too, as well as air fresheners with strong aromas. Rooms should smell clean and fresh. Open the window to aerate them. He does not object to light floral odors, like rose or orange blossom water, and traditionally expresses a fondness for Pompeii Lotion, a cologne product found in botanicas and spiritual supply stores.
Manifestation: Damballah is a huge snake, so big his body forms seven thousand coils.
Plants: Bougainvillea; trees in general, but especially Bombax ceiba (silk cotton tree) and the Royal palm
Altar: Keep shallow vessels of clean, fresh water for him to curl up inside.
For a very traditional offering, make a bed or hill of white flour on a perfectly clean, pure white plate. Nestle one whole, raw white egg into the center of the flour and serve.
Offerings: White candles and white foods, like rice; milk; whole, raw eggs (leave them plain or rub gently with rose or other mild-scented, fine-quality floral water); orgeat syrup; for more lavish offerings: luxurious white fabrics, crystal or porcelain eggs, and/or snakes
From the 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.