There are more than 1,000 divinities, or Lwa, in Vodu, as practiced in Haiti. The Lwa are grouped in several pantheons or nanchon. Rada is one of those nanchon, along with 16 others. The most important nanchon include, in addition to the Rada pantheon, the Petwo, Nago, Kongo, Juba, and Ibo pantheons.
The Rada pantheon is arguably the most important, in terms of both size and the role played by Rada Lwa in Vodu, along with the Petwo pantheon. In fact, many of the other groups have been integrated into the Rada and the Petwo pantheons. For example, the Nago and the Juba Lwa are often thought of nowadays as Rada, whereas the Kongo and Ibo are commonly subsumed under the Petwo Lwa. This fusion underscores the difficulty one may face when adhering to too strict a classification. There are constant overlaps between the different pantheons of Lwa. The same Lwa may appear as Rada and then as Petwo. What seems to distinguish the Rada pantheon from the Petwo pantheon is, above all, the general character, attitude, or persona of the Lwa. Rada Lwa are often associated with a peaceful demeanor and benevolent attitude. However, this is not always the case. When displeased or offended, they may also turn out to be quite vindictive. In contrast, Petwo Lwa are commonly thought of as forceful, aggressive, and dangerous. Yet they may also be protective of the living and quite generous. Thus, one must resist the easy temptation of a simplistic classification.
The word rada comes from Allada, the name of the capital city of a powerful kingdom in Aj aland, later annexed by the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa (in the country known today as Benin). Although there may be hundreds of Rada Lwa, there exists nonetheless a hierarchy within the Rada pantheon, according to which some Lwa are more critical than others. Certainly, one must mention the powerful Legba, the master and keeper of crossroads, without whom no communication with the spirits is possible and can ever take place. Legba must be asked for permission and must grant permission for such communication to be initiated. As keeper of the gate of the spiritual world, Legba is also, by extension, the protector of people's homes. Agwe (also called Agwe Taroyo) is the Lwa of the sea and all that is associated with it: flora, fauna, ships, ship crews, fishermen, and so on. The symbolic color of Agwe, as an aquatic spirit, is white. Danballa Wedo, and his wife, Aida Wedo, are other quite important aquatic Rada spirits. Represented as two snakes, which always appear together in the spiritual drawings known as veve, they stand for the power and eternity of life and, by extension, are closely associated with fertility.
- Deren, M. (1972). The Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti. New York: Delta.
- Desmangles, L. (1994). Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Métraux, A. (1958). Le Vaudou Haitien [Haitian Voudou]. Paris: Gallimard.