By B.C. Holmes, 2001
Other Names: Papa Gede, Baron Samedi
Spheres of Influence: Death, the Lord of all Gede
Colours: Black, purple and white
Symbols: Skull, black cross, shovel, mirrored sunglasses, hot peppers fused with kleren
Offerings: Black rooster, black goat
Catholic counterparts: St. Gerard
“If Legba was the sun, at first young, then growing old, Ghede is the master of that abyss into which the sun descends. If Legba was time, Ghede is that eternal figure in black, posted at the timeless cross-roads at which all men and even the sun one day arrive. The cross upon a tomb is his symbol. But the sun is each year reborn. If Carrefour is the night death which attends each day, then Ghede is the night sun, the life which is eternally present, even in darkness. The cosmic abyss is both tomb and womb. In a sense, Ghede is the Legba who has crossed the cosmic threshold to the underworld, for Ghede is now everything that Legba once was in the promise and the prime of his life. […] Ghede is, today, the phallic deity also. If Legba was once Lord of Life, Ghede is now Lord of Resurrection; and the difference between them is Death, which is Ghede.” [Deren 1953]
“The Gede family of spirits are the guardians of the dead and masters of libido. They embrace the dual domains of human frailty and mortality, the creation and the conclusion of life.
“This is not morbid, as it may be perceived in the West, but is in fact a celebration of the ancestral spirits and the continuation of tradition. Gede has strong powers of healing that are especially potent for children.” [Gordon 2000]
“Their boss is the Baron (Bawon Samdi, or ‘Baron Saturday’), married to Grand Brigitte, mother of the Gedes. Family members dress themselves in black and purple costumes reminiscent of Masonic garb, and surround themselves with graveyard imagery. They also favor sunglasses because the world above ground is too bright. Gede is a shameless trickster, a wise counselor, and a benevolent healer known to have special love for children.” [Cosentino]
The Gede Lwa are some of the most interesting, funny, and outrageous spirits in the Vodou tradition. Their leader, known to them as their father, is Baron Semetye. Baron is the head of the cemetery and he rules over it with his wife, Maman Brijit.
Every Cemetery has its own Baron and Brijit and these are identified by certain tombs. The first male buried in a cemetery is a Baron and the first female a Brijit. In Haiti, crosses will be erected for each one at that tomb. People needing to commission them thus go to the cross.
There are several different Baron Lwa, some more common than others: Baron Lakwa [la crois] (the cross), Baron Semetye (cemetery), and Baron Samedi. Barons are judges. When you leave your problems at the foot of Baron, you can be assured that he will seek out the innocent.
Baron and Brijit serve as the father and mother of the family of Lwa known as the Gede. This unit is considered a family unit rather than the other groups of Lwa, who are known as nations. There are many hundreds and hundreds of Gede lwa, if not thousands, and they are always the life of the party.
The Gede Lwa dance the banda. The banda is a very crude dance that mimes sexual intercourse. The Gede are vulgar and are known to cuss and play fight. There are many personal Gedes out there, as well as root (racine) Gedes. By far the most known and honored of these root Gedes is Brav Gede Nibo.
Gede’s feast day is November 2nd, see link on left, also known as All Souls in the Catholic church. During this feast, Gede prance the streets in Haiti, ceremonial processions are held, and hundreds of people become possessed by the Gedes. See a slideshow of the latest one below. This party is a ball!
The Barons, Brijits and Gedes are served with the colors black, white and purple. Certain ones prefer certain combinations of the colors. They drink piman. Piman is raw rum in which 21 hot peppers have been soaked. This stuff is so hot that someone faking a possession would burn their mouth out.
Gedes often will show that the possession is true by washing their face in this mixture. Some Gedes will wash their genitals, as well as pour some in their eyes. Gedes will drink this fiery mixture like water too!
Gedes are known for their foul language and vulgarity. They are known to cuss, use slang, and continually talk about sex. They may embarrass people letting their secrets be known. Gedes grind on people, refer to [sexual organs] on a regular basis.
Gede doesn’t have to follow civilized rules because he is dead and above all recourse. Thus he does things that would probably be unthinkable to others. Gede is known to be a thief at times, and usually steals little things here and there. He wears sunglasses that are missing one lens. Some say this is so that he can see above and below ground. Others explain this as alluding to the [sexual organs], as it has only one hole, and yet others say that this is because Papa Gede sees the worlds of the living and the dead.
These Lwa are known as powerful magicians. Baron and Brijit are often invoked to save people from death. (Usually caused by wangas from the victim’s enemies) They are also excellent prophesiers and extremely psychic. A Gede is a wonderful ally! Gede is a healer and is the protector of children.
People having trouble conceiving will often seek out the assistance of a Baron or Gede Lwa. Gedes assist in fertility as they are so keenly connected with sex. Gede is also called to heal ill children, help feed children (when money is needed) and almost anything in connection with children.
Many Houngans and Mambos have a Gede that they serve, to consult on behalf of their clients. Gede lends that extra bit of information needed in order to resolve issues. He gives us that extra ounce of clarity and truth. Gede will also embarrass people he considers snobby, should he come across them.
Gede is mischievous and has a great sense of humor. He is a riot and many laughs as well as smiles will be had as a result of watching the Gedes. Gede yo (Gedes) as well as the Baron and Brijit hold the wisdom of the ancestors, of all the dead, of death itself, and more.
St. Gerard Majella is the Catholic Image that serves for Gede. In the image, Gerard is featured holding the cross with a skull on a table on the left side. St. Gerard is also known for taking care of women during pregnancy as is typically associated with Gede Lwa. Gede also comes and treats the womb of a pregnant woman or one who would like to get pregnant.
Since there are so many different things that can be said about all the different Gedes, I will never be able to put it all on paper nor will I probably ever know it all, as no one ever will. New Gedes appear all the time, as Baron and Brijit give them birth into existence; therefore, I hope this can suffice as a short introduction to this particular family of Lwa.