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In the Voodoo mythology of Haiti, the hungry figure in black top hat, long black tail coat, and dark glasses posted at the eternal crossroads, where pass the souls of the dead on their way to guinee, the legendary place of origin and the abode of the gods. Ghede is wise beyond all others, since as god of death he holds the knowledge of all those who have lived. He is also ‘the lord of life’, a phallic deity: he sustains the living, increases their number, and resurrects the dead. In the chamber dedicated to his worship a sculptured phallus lies side by side with the grave-digger's tools.

As the guardian of the dead, the cross of Baron Samedi, as Ghede is sometimes called, is in every cemetery, while the graves that are under the protection of his female counterpart, Maman Brigitte, are marked by a pile of stones. As the lord of love, Ghede is noted for his unpredictable obscenity and his inordinate desire for strong rum. He is liable to arrive at a ceremony for another loa and outrageously disrupt the proceedings. His possession of devotees cannot be controlled by the hougans, ‘spirit masters’. Several years ago a group of Ghedes—all of them hougans possessed by the god and wearing his black attire—forced their way into the presidential palace, where they demanded money. These swash-bucklers were satisfied, and eventually left: how could the President refuse the cosmic symbol of dynamic life and inevitable death?

Subjects: Religion.

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