Also known as: Bawon (Kreyol)

Origin: Haiti

Classification: Lwa

Modern Haitian Vodou has two types of spirits of the dead: Gédés and Barons. Boundaries between them are sometimes nebulous, but in general the Barons are the spirits in charge, elite spirits of death. The Barons exert dominion over the dead.

There are many Barons. Baron Samedi is their leader. Others who have achieved individual acclaim include Baron LaCroix, Baron Cimitière, and Maitre Carrefour (a.k.a. Baron Car refour).

The Barons are instantly recognizable. They wear a combination of undertaker’s and high-ranking Freemasons’ garb. They tend to travel in packs. They’re not solemn and funereal but boisterous, raucous, and lewd: disruptive spirits who interrupt other lwa’s rituals and possessions. They are obscene, offensive, and vulgar but also elegant, not to mention powerful. Many are occult masters. They know the secrets of the grave and the secrets of the living.

The Barons protect and heal children. They embody primal life, but they’re simultaneously dead. Rules, law, order, authority: none of it applies to them. They are subversive spirits who flout convention. The Barons will help you subvert convention, too. They are the embodiment of gallows humor; they teach devotees to laugh in the face of death, despair, and grief, to find the bitter but funny aspects of tragedy.

They embody both truisms: death is guaranteed and life springs eternal. They may be petitioned for anything involving death, dying, and the cemetery but also for fertility, safe childbirth, and sex. They are sometimes deliberatelyoffensive but always ruthlessly honest. If you can get past the jokes and innuendo to ask them a question, they will give you the brutal truth.

The Barons en masse are syncretized to Saint Gerard, who is pictured with a skull.

The largest cross in a traditional Haitian graveyard is called the Barons’ cross and is usually located at the cemetery crossroads. It is traditional to first salute, feed, and propitiate the Barons at this cross before performing any rituals in the graveyard. The Barons own the cemetery; ask their permission before conducting ceremonies and especially before removing dirt, stones, or anything conceivably belonging to them.

Manifestations: Black suits, black hats; they wear dark glasses: as they live in the grave, when they come to the land of the living, the light hurts their eyes even at night.

Colors: Black, violet (Masonic colors)

Day: 2 November, the Day of the Dead: visit them at the cemetery.

Offerings: Rum, rum cake, rum candy, more rum, cigars, coins; Day of the Dead toys; sugar skulls

This is a sampling of some of the more renowned Barons, but there are many others: