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Names, ranks, and grades in Vodou

Vodou

The Sacred Asson
asson.jpg

  The Initiation into Vodou is known as the Kanzo.  Kanzo specifically refers to one of the ceremonies that is conducted during the time of initiation.  The initiation is enlightening, empowering, and powerful process.   One becomes consecrated into the service of Ginen.
 
  There is no self initiation in Vodou.  You cannot try to repeat the ceremonies if you are not initiated. It is disrespectful to initiates and Ginen, to take a title that you do not rightfully have.  A Vodou initiation will confer upon you a spiritual lineage and a family.  During the kanzo, one learns the secrets of Vodou.  Your training does not stop there though.  If you have not received something, then how can you give it to someone else?  You can't.   You do not have the knowledge or the power to give it either.
 
  Unfortunately, there are scammers in the Vodou tradition.  They will confer upon someone an incorrect or incomplete initiation.  That is if they confer the initiation at all!  Some of these  people have never been initiated.  Some are initiates, which is all the more unfortunate.  Then if you receive the correct initiation, you will need to take note if they follow regleman.  Some give out initiations, then try to charge their own "children" for this training.   I have spoken at length about that already. 
 
  It is good if you have a tight relationship with your initiator.  At the end of this process, you will have a Mama and a Papa.  When a person comes to Kanzo, they will kanzo in either a Houngans or Mambos house, quite naturally.  For example, lets say you went to kanzo at Houngan X's house.  He is the one who you commisioned for the ceremony.  Now for your Mama kanzo, Houngan X will pick a Mambo Asogwe.  This person may be in the same house as the main initiator or from another house.
 
  Your main initiator in this case will be Houngan X and you will be a member of his house.   You will be welcome at your Mama Kanzo's house, but you will not be considered a member.  This is if the Mama Kanzo is the Mambo of a seperate unrelated peristyle.  Her responsibility to you will be ultimately at the discreetion of your Houngan, with of course her approval.  I know one Houngan who was and is the Papa Kanzo to an unrelated Mambo's initiates.  He has been known to sometimes steal her initiates in the end, who return to his house to have the Kanzo redone!
 
  A Vodou temple is known as a peristyle or hounfor.  The initiates of the Houngan or Mambo that owns that peristyle are sometimes called members.  Together, they form members of a Society. (Sosyete) They are also said to form a house.  House in this form can refer to the peristyle too. 
 
  All initiates initiated by the same Houngan or Mambo are known as brothers and sisters.  The Houngan or Mambo is known as their Papa or Mama, respectively.  Initiates also have godparents, which are confered during the initiation.  Godparents are not initiators. 
 
  The person who initiates someone is referred to as Mama Kanzo or Papa Kanzo.  The person who confers the asson to someone undergoing the initiation to become a Houngan or Mambo Asogwe  is known as a Papa or Mama Asson.   For that new Houngan or Mambo the Mama or Papa asson take precedence over the other initiator.
 
  An initiator refers to those he initiates as his children.  They are also called "ti fey", meaning little leaves, with the impression that the initiator is part of a tree.  This is for a specific reason.  In fact, the initiator has many responsibilities to his initiate the same as the person's biological mother and father.  Initiates also have responsibilites to their initiators as children would in real life.
 
  Anyway, there are three grades of initiation in Haitian Vodou.  The Lave Tet ceremony is not an initiation nor a Kanzo.  For some houses, though, this ceremony will make the person a member of the house.  The grades of initiation into Haitian Vodou, from the lowest grade to the highest, are Hounsi Kanzo, Houngan or Mambo Sou Pwen, and Houngan or Mambo Asogwe.  As you already read above, a Houngan is a title for a male and Mambo for a female.
 
  A hounsi kanzo is also known as kanzo senp. (simple kanzo)  Kanzo senp is also used to refer to a shorter version of the kanzo which will only produce other Hounsi kanzos.  Hounsi kanzos make up the majority of the peristyle's congregation.  Initiation requires alot of financial sacrifice.  This is the lowest grade, yet appropriate for many people. 
 
  Hounsi Kanzos form up the choir during ceremonies.  They may, at times (or in certain houses), also lead the singing.  They form the dance group of the peristyle, undergo possession, learn to correctly serve the Lwa, and basically form the backbone of the peristyle.  They cook for the Lwa, assist in possessions, take care of the cleanliness of the peristyle, amongst other things.  This doesn't mean that other initiates do not do many of these things.   In fact, the higher the grade, one takes the responsibilities of the lower grades and adds more responisbilities and obligations.
 
  The grade of Sou Pwen is the middle grade of initiation.  "Sou Pwen" actually means on the point.  This is because these initiates are put "on the point" of their Lwa Met Tet.  Sou Pwen initiates can use the asson, yet they do not own the asson.  The asson is the sacred rattle of the priesthood.  Since they do not own the asson, they cannot confer it upon others.  Oftentimes, it is  Sou Pwen initiates that lead the singing, serve in other titles of the peristyle, help direct the ceremony, and keep the many things including the ceremony, the hounsis, and visitors in order. 
 
  It is usually these initiates who carry other titles and specified roles within the peristyle.  Houngenikon is one of these, a houngenikon is the song leader.  A peristyle will also have a Konfyans, Ren Drapo, and Laplas.   The "Konfyans" is the house's confidant,  but more specifically they are the confidant of the Houngan or Mambo in charge.  (This Houngan or Mambo is also known as the Met Kay La.  "Met Kay La" being the "master of the house"  They own the peristyle, this Houngan or Mambos Met Tet is also known as Met Kay la.)  The "Ren Drapo" are the flag queens.  The parade the flags along with the Laplas (master of ceremonies) with his machete.      I know many Houngans and Mambos Sou Pwen whose main source of income is magickal work for people. 
 
  Lastly, you have the Houngan or Mambo Asogwe.  These initiates have "taken the asson" and are the highest priests of Vodou.  They have all the responsibilities as the lower ranks and more.   Asogwe initiates also are leaders of Vodou  houses.  They are the last resort if a Lwa being called will not come.  They have the knowledge to "pull" a Lwa, so to speak.  They confer initiations, do magickal work for the community, including divination, healing, wanga, spiritual baths, herbal medicines, and other things.  We serve a variety of functions.

You can click here to learn more about the Kanzo ceremony itself: