Making a Traditional Vodou Altar
Altars and shrines are an integral part of the Vodou tradition. They can be private or public altars. Public altars will be used in ceremony and ritual. Private altars are sacred spaces through which an individual practicing Vodou can pray, or find a gateway to the invisible worlds that exist within.
The difference between a Vodou altar and a Vodou shrine can be defined as this: a shrine is a permanent tribute to a Loa, while an altar is temporary and created for a specific spell or magical result.
In Haiti, Vodou altars can take the form of the kay myste, which is from a French term meaning "house of mysteries." The kay myste are separate buildings, like small, special houses, which are created as a place to house the spirits sacred to the altar's builder. Like most typical Haitian art, the kay myste are created with an eye to aesthetics and are generally quite beautiful.
Vodou altars, both public and private, are decorated with many kinds of objects. Most often these are images of the loa and Orisha and offerings to them. The overall effect of the various elements on the altars create what has been called "dense opulence." Fabrics such as lace or velvet, flowers, food, bottles or pots decorated with sequins and paint, streamers, flags and ribbons are only some of the items which may be used to create an altar. This rich mixture of objects and Vodou symbolism, so representative of the Vodou religion itself, becomes a place where the deities interact with Vodouisants, a point of contact between the spirit and human worlds.
Altars and shrines are incredibly important in the practice of Vodou religion, when you consider that a great deal of time is spent praying, doing rituals, and giving offerings. There are usually daily prayers and offerings as well as weekly tributes, and also periodic obligations to the hounfour. The shrines must be cleaned and maintained regularly, and altars must be created at any given time according to the needs of the individual Vodou believer. The non-initiate may be interested to know that a Vodouisant can have a large number of shrines and altars in active use at any given time.
If you would like to create your own Vodou altar, set aside a room in your home, if there is adequate space. If not, then take part of a room and mark it off with a screen. Create a raised platform out of wood or bricks, or natural materials such as driftwood. Cover this with a white cloth, and sprinkle it with Florida water (which is widely available on the internet). Next you will want to place objects symbolizing the four elements on your altar: stones (perhaps from your garden or other meaningful location), fire in the form of a candle, water in a bowl or glass, and air, either as incense or as the space around the altar.
A simple beginning Vodou altar to create is an ancestor altar. You can place objects representing your ancestors on your altar, things such as photos, jewelry, special objects they owned, or items that represented their likes in life. This will enable you to draw on their energies.
It is important to treat all shrines, altars, and every object on them with the utmost of respect. Remember, the items on the altars belong to the loa and are never to be handled except for Vodou ceremonial purposes or cleaning. Vodouisants never place their own food or drink nearby, and expect visitors to follow the same guidelines.
Other sacred practices in the Vodou tradition include cleansing baths and candle spells. We'll take a look at those next.
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Article by Secrets2Voodoo.com