At its simplest, Haitian Vodou consists of two pantheons: Rada and Petro. The Petro spirits or lwa are hot, volatile, powerful, angry, and fast. Fast means they tend to deliver petitioner’s requests quickly. Ask them for something, and they will likely do it fast or not at all. (There are exceptions.) They expect that speed from others, too: the Petro lwa are fierce, uncompromising spirits. If you make a promise to any of them, keep it. Quickly.

The Petro are tense, alert spirits who crackle with energy. They are not calm or cool-headed. They are spirits who experience the world as a battleground and are ready to fight and win. Many devotees love them because the Petro are vigilant protectors who anticipate the worst so are always on guard. Some, although not all, will fulfill less ethical requests.

Perhaps appropriately for spirits who are willing to travel into shadowy territory, the origins of the Petro pantheon are obscure in comparison to the more documented Rada. The name may refer to the legendary Don Petro. (See also: Petro, Don.) Alternatively, the Petro pantheon is heavily influenced by Congolese traditions. Africa’s Congo region was wracked by civil wars, tribal warfare and conflict stimulated by the early introduction of Christianity even before the slave trade.

Many, although not all, of the Petro spirits are fiery paths of Rada lwa who come from Africa. Others were born in the Western Hemisphere. However the entire pantheon is considered an indigenous Haitian pantheon. The Petro lwa emerged during slavery and their ritual vocabulary evokes remembrance of this time. Tools like whips and gunpowder once associated with oppression are now wielded by the lwa instead.

Also known as:





Fork and spoon—this has subliminal resonance: Haitian slaves (and later peasants) and Rada spirits eat with their hands. Petro spirits eat with utensils like French colonials and slave masters.


Fire (Petro lwa are considered fiery even if they are water spirits like Simbi La Flambeau or Agwé La Flambeau)


Red and black for the pantheon (individual spirits may also have other colors)

See also:


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.

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