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Saints and Spirits: Baron Samedi

Updated on September 14, 2016
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Edmund Standing holds a BA in Theology & Religious Studies and an MA in Critical & Cultural Theory.

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Baron Samedi is a central figure in the New World lwa (spirits) of Haitian Vodou and New Orleans Voodoo.[1] The Baron is the ruler of the graveyard and he is often depicted as a dandy-like skeletal figure dressed in the funeral attire of a top hat and tuxedo. He is syncretised with St. Martin de Porres, so the image of that saint is also used by devotees as a visual representation of the Baron.[2]

Baron Samedi is a much-loved hard-drinking party-goer who is known for singing and dancing lewdly, using bad language, and making lascivious jokes and comments. At the same time, he exposes hypocrisy and affairs, condemns the ungenerous, and is a protector of children.[3] The Baron is married to another of the lwa, Maman Brigitte (syncretised with Saint Brigid), who is also known for her ribald humour and love of rum and hot peppers.

The Baron loves rum, cigars, strong black coffee, hot peppers, peanuts, smoked mackerel, and sweet potatoes, all of which can be given as offerings, as can playing cards and dice.[4] Devotees of the Baron in Haiti will often leave items such as candles, rum, sweets, and coins at crossroads and in cemeteries in his honour.[5]

Many old cemeteries eventually fall into a state of disrepair, with overgrown graves, and even the names of the dead buried there are long forgotten. The Baron is still there, though, watching over them.[6] Baron Samedi reminds us that we will all be equal in the end, for we are bound for the same place, and one day he will dig all our graves. He also reminds us that our time amongst the living is only finite, so we should embrace joie de vivre in the here-and-now.

Baron Samedi can be sought out for a number of reasons. In return for a token of devotion and appreciation (such as one of the foods or drinks he enjoys), devotees can request his help with healing wounds and illness, protection, employment, romance, removing curses, and wreaking revenge. The Baron also gives devotees strength, arousal, and fearlessness.[7]

[1] See Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and The Vodou Store for information on these traditions.

[2] See these pages at the La Victoria Espiritual and Roots Without End Society websites.

[3] See the entry on Baron Samedi in Volume 1 of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora (ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2008), p.821, as well as online sources such as the Baron Samedi page at the Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo website.

[4] See the Baron Samedi entry in the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora, as well as articles on the following websites: Roots Without End Society and Voodoo Magic and Religion.

[5] Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora entry on Baron Samedi.

[6] See this article on the Sosyete Du Marche website.

[7] See the Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo Baron Samedi page.

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