The lwa are the spirits of Vodou. The word lwa is both singular and plural. It’s an African word. Lwa is the modern Haitian Kreyol spelling. The French spelling is loa.
However, many names are used to indicate these very same spirits. You will also find them called:
* Les Mystères (the mysteries)
* Les Invisibles (the invisible ones)
* Les Anges (the angels)
* Zanj (Kreyol version of the French Anges)
* Les Racines (literally roots; technically all ancestral spirits are lwa, too)
* Les Saintes (the saints: because virtually every Vodou lwa is syncretized to a Roman Catholic saint)
Lwa may be angels or saints but they are not gods. Vodou is a monotheistic faith: there is only one God, Bondye (from the French Bon Dieu, the Good God). Bondye created the world and is the source of ultimate appeal but is remote, distant and busy. Along with the rest of the universe, Bondye created the concept of delegating and that’s where the lwa come in. The lwa serve Bondye but are each in charge of some aspect of existence. As with angels, anything you can think of has a presiding lwa.
The Vodou pantheon is large: there are over one-thousand lwa and more constantly appear. Some lwa were created as spirits but others were once human. Any powerful, charismatic person may become a lwa after death. Some lwa, known as root lwa, are particularly ancient. Archaeological evidence indicates that Vodou-like religious practices have existed in West Africa for at least four thousand years.
Lwa are generally divided into two pantheons, known as nations (nanchon in Kreyol): the Rada and the Petro. They dominate Vodou but there are other subdivisions too including the Bizango, Ibo, Congo and Nago Nations. The Barons and Gédés may also be considered their own subdivision. Although they belong to different nations, they are all lwa.
There is an infinite variety of lwa:
* Some may be indigenous Haitian spirits as some suspect Papal Zaka to be
* A few come from Europe, like Madame Brigitte or Madame Charlotte
Most lwa live in their special realm beneath the sea but others reside in caves, springs, stones, trees and waterfalls. They are ever present. The lwa communicate, heal and prophesy via ritual possession. Although lwa are specifically the spirits of Vodou, many are gregarious and eager to work with people and thus also engage in relationships with independent practitioners.
See also: Agwé; Ayida-Wedo; Ayizan; Azaka; Barons; Bizango Spirits; Brigitte, Madame; Charlotte, Madame; Damballah; Ezili; Gedés; Gran Bois; Kel Asuf; Lisa, Papa; Loko; Marassa; Marinette; Ogun; Petro; Rada; Simbi and the Glossary entries for Identification and Syncretism