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Voodoo Veves: Sacred Cell Numbers for the Gods

By Lilith Dorsey

Invented by chickens? Exploding art to deter gang violence? Mysterious corn drawings appearing from the beyond? What in the universe am I talking about, why veve drawings of course, the sacred symbols of Vodou. No one is precisely sure how they initially came to be, but folklore abounds on the topic. Some believe that they were created originally from the patterns in the dirt that were formed by the chickens and other animals during ceremony. I have even spoken to some scholars who believe that they are cross-cultural symbols from the cosmos. Whatever their origins they are an integral part of the Vodou tradition.

A veve is traditionally drawn on the open earth with cornmeal, flour or coffee. The person drawing the veve is supposed to use both hands, to symbolize the pathways into the world of the visible and the invisible. It is most commonly situated around the centerpole or poteau mitan, which forms another conduit for the divine to travel upon. When the veve drawing is completed, the next step is to bless it with sacred waters and/or alcohol (most often rum.) During the ceremony practitioners dance barefoot on the drawings. This is said to facilitate the bringing of the divine energies into their bodies, most often through spirit possession. In this way veves set the stage for the communion and communication with the divine. In my documentary, Bodies of Water, a New Orleans Voodoo practitioner refers to them as “direct cell numbers to the Lwa (deities.)”

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