Originally published on January 4, 2015
Ayibobo la Sosyete,
One of the most common ways in which a Houngan or Mambo [a Preist or Priestess] of Vodou will perform treatments, healings, clear away ill luck, bring good luck, or perform many other works of magic will be through the performance of spiritual baths. These baths are so second nature to us, that sometimes we forget that they are new to other people. What we take for everyday knowledge is in fact not something that is that well known down here at the bottom of the world. So, although we already have a page on the website which talks a little about spiritual baths, I thought it might be better to get into some of the practicalities of the bath, the hows and whys, so that those who are hearing about this form of magic for the first time can get some idea of what to expect.
I guess the place to begin is to explain what a bath is. A bath is a mixture of herbs, waters, perfumes, colognes, flowers, fruits, and other items that are brought together to be administered to achieve a goal. The goal of the bath may be cleansing, or the goal might be to bring luck, it might be to instill confidence, strength, or to wash away emotional issues, such as comittment phobias, it can be to bring love, or to help with a current love life situation, or it can be for healing. There are other purposes as well, but this is a simple introduction. Each bath is made from appropriate ingredients, sometimes recipes have been passed down through the Vodou family for generations. We are lucky at Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale to have inherited many recipies from our spiritual mothers that have been used for Vodou for well over 200 years, and these recipes are still powerful and work well to achieve the end.
Contrary to the name though, a bath might not always be liquid. There are two main kinds of baths. The first is “dry baths” or those that do not involve water or liquid, but instead are made by using dry ingredients. These may include putting certain ingredients, such as coins, various cuts of meat and other ingrediants into a brown paper bag and rubbing this over the body, there are baths where individual fruits are rubbed up the body starting at the feet and ending at the head, baths that involve various kinds of nuts and items such as toasted corn, and many others. There are of course the baths made of waters and colognes, which are the “wet” baths. Wet baths are the ones which will contain colognes, perfumes, alcohols, the juices of various fruits, often times various herbs, and oils. These are administered over the body, however most do not require the recipient to be naked. They are generally welcome to wear some light coloured clothing while the bath is administered. They then remove those clothes, allow themselves to air dry and then dress in fresh new clothes of an appropriate colour. There are exceptions to this rule, but they would be discussed in advance.
So, what can you expect when you come for a bath? No matter what the bath is for, generally we will begin with some kind of ceremony. A veve [ritual drawing to invoke the lwa] will be drawn on the floor, and opening prayers will be sung. The Houngan or Mambo that is running the ceremony will welcome certain lwa, and then the bath itself will be created. in some circumstances, such as if the Houngan or Mambo is coming to you, this will have been done in advance and the Priest will just bring the required bath that they have already made with them. During the ceremony itself the bath will be created, with the various ingredients being added and mixed together. This can sometimes take some time, as certain numbers of songs for various spirits must be sung to ensure that the bath has what we call “heat” or “fos” which is another word for spiritual power. The herbs are crushed by hand, and waters and perfumes are added, altough some may have been partially prepared if the ingredients need to sit. Typically we will ensure that the bath is warm as there is no need to take a cold bath.
Once the bath is prepared, the recipients of the bath will generally be seated outdoors weather permitting, in a private area. The Houngan or Mambo administering the bath will then come with the bath mixture and say various prayers. They will then administer the bath. There are times when it is best that the lwa [spirits that we serve in Haitian Vodou] administer the bath themselves. When this is required the lwa will possess the Houngan or Mambo and will then perform the bath.
So how is a bath administered?
Very few Vodou baths actually involve soaking in a tub. You may be standing or sitting in a chair, and using a large white enamel cup, we will pour the bath over you, either begining at your head or shoulders, and going down to your feet, or beginning at your feet and moving up to your head. The bath will be administered with a great deal of prayer and singing typically, and in some cases you may be given bunches of herbs to scrup with, or in the case of a dry bath, you may need to rub these into your body. You will most likely to asked to focus on something particular while the bath is being administered as well.
When the bath is done, you will generally be shown to a private area where you can undress. We then encourage you to air dry if this has been a “wet bath” before putting on the fresh new clothes. There may be other instructions, but the Houngan or Mambo will give these out according to the bath.
Generally we will end the ceremony when you return with more singing. Then the remains of the bath are collected up into a bag.
What happens with the remains?
This is very important. In some cases, such as cleansing baths, you will be instructed to take the remains to a certain location and dispose of them in a certain way, other baths may require disposal in any number of ways, at a river, a crossroads, the beach, a forested area, or even burying in your back or front yard. Sometimes the Houngan will dispose of the bath for you, but sometimes you must do it yourself to take full advantage of the bath.
What if I can’t come to a ceremony?
Some Houngan and Mambo will prepare baths for you that you can take yourself at home. These are bottled and sent to you wth instructions on exactly how to take the bath, how to dispose of the remains, and any other instructions that might be relevant. These baths are very good, although not as good as receiving the baths in person from a Houngan or Mambo. If you are in a situation where you would like to take a bath, but can’t be present, then please let us know and we can discuss the options with you.
Some baths, such as cleansing baths, should be taken regularly. For example, some people take a cleansing bath every month, or even more often, a Houngan or Mambo may teach you a recipe for this if you are a member of their house, or you can purchase regular cleansing baths from them. Just remember that some baths require follow up baths, so a cleansing bath should always be followed up with the luck bath, to fill the areas you have cleaned out with luck.
Baths are a great way to maintain our spiritual and physical health, but, like our general physical health, they are not one off events. A single cleansing bath is not going to keep you clean forever, because we are living being, interacting with the world. A single luck bath won’t bring luck forever, because we collect ill luck from our environment. In Vodou we combat this with our annual Christmas Baths. Vodouwizan typically gather together on Christmas Day to undergo a series of cleansing baths that wash away all hinderance from the year gone. Every ill thought, every negative emotion directed at us consciously or unconsciously, every negative experience, every bad thought, we wash them away, preparing for the new year. On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th we typically get together for our annual good luck baths which sets us up for a year of success. Of course, according to our encounters in life we would top these up … if I’ve worked with a particularly negative client, or if my husband has had an argument with his boss, then a quick cleansing bath might be in order, followed by a simple 3 or 7 ingredient luck bath … these top ups, like going to the doctor when you feel a cough coming, keep us spiritually happy and well and keep things running smoothly in our lives.