1. Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of Louisiana
Much has been written about the famous Vodou Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau. She was born a free woman September 10, 1794, when slavery was still rife in the American South. During the Vodou rituals and rites of Marie Laveau it was not uncommon for spectators and participants to number in the tens of thousands. At her height of eminence, Marie Laveau rivaled major churches for attendance. Black men and women, free and slave, as well as white men and women of all status consulted with Marie Laveau for healing, advise and Vodou services. The Haitin-born husband of Laveau, Jacques Paris, passed away suspiciously and many suspected Laveau of having placed a curse to kill him if he ever became unfaithful. Marie Laveau herself kept a lover and bore fifteen children, one of whom would become a powerful Louisiana Vodou Queen herself (Marie Laveau II). The exact date and circumstances of Laveau’s death are unknown, as is her final resting place, leaving the finishing details of her story a mystery. The exact place of her burial is unknown.
2. Dutty Boukman, Vodou Priest of the Haitian Revolution
There may be no man more important in the Haitian Revolution than Dutty Boukman. A native Jamaican, his name literally meant “Dirty Bookman,” a likely reference to a secret book of occult lore he always kept close. He was an educated man, although a slave, who was sold by his British master to a French plantation in Haiti. Dutty Boukman would teach other slaves to read as well as instruct in closely guarded Vodou lore. But his fame would come in August 14, 1791 at the Bwa Kayman ceremony. Boukman was the leading Vodou Priest and called for sacrifice and slave rebellion. It is said that the Petro Lwa family was born from these rituals and from the Haitian Revolution itself. Only eight days later, on August 22, the rebellion began in the Haitian mountains in the north. Boukman was quickly captured and beheaded, but the Revolution had started and would lead to Haiti becoming the first independent Republic of Haiti. Boukman lives on today, immortalized as a Lwa in his own right.
3. Pa Neezer, Eminent Obeah Man of Trinidad
Born Ebenezer Elliot, “Pa Neezer” was a contemporary Vodouisant and Obeahist in Trinidad. His fame was known throughout Trinidad and the Caribbean and he was immortalized in the Mighty Sparrow song “Obeah Wedding.” Although generally revered as an Obeah man, Pa Neezer was also a Vodou practitioner and powerful Houngan. Pa Neezer was revered and feared, but it is said that he was one of the few Obeah men who would never use his powers for evil. He could undo any form of Obeah or Vodou, but would never place it himself. Pa Neezer may not have used his powers for evil, but he did use them to amass wealth and shape the practice of Obeah, Vodou and Orisha worship in the Caribbean. Pa Neezer often had hundreds of clients who would line up and wait outside all day long to see him. Many swore by Pa Neezer and refused to go to the Trinidadian hospitals, believing the hospitals were inferior to his spiritual powers.
4. Max Beauvoir, Haitian Biochemist and Vodou Priest
Max Beauvoir is a living example of the harmony between the spiritual sciences and the natural sciences. A biochemist and a Houngan, or Vodou Priest, Beauvoir founded The Peristyle of Mariani, a Vodou Temple that also doubled as a medical clinic and research area. Beauvoir was instrumental for his research in synthesizing human metabolites as well as developing unity and communication between Haitian Vodouisants, Houngans and Mambos. Beauvoir advocated for the rights of the poor under the Duvalier regime (which was also heavily reliant upon Vodou), his status as an eminent Houngan protecting him from retribution. Beauvoir has founded both scholarly and religious groups, with focuses on African traditional religions as well as facilitating the ease of Vodou practice in the United States. Today Beauvoir is also involved in the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou, an organization designed to secure and protect the rights of Vodouisants in Haiti.
5. Dongo Remi, Vodou Authority in Congo and Belgium
Dongo Remi and his family comprise three generations of Vodou practitioners working to build bridges between spiritual practice in Africa and Europe. His fame rests partly in his role in his divination helping to determine the location of the Ishango bone, an artifact indicating an advanced culture and civilization in the Ishango region of Congo over 20,000 years ago. Dongo Remi has acted as an ambassador for Vodou and other forms of African spirituality to leaders of religion and world government, including Pope John Paul II and former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mobutu Sese Soko. Remi has also been a curious and controversial figure in football for his role in helping local and national Congolese football teams to victory. Dongo Remi has appeared on many Congolese and international media outlets to comment on the ethics and nature of Vodou in football. In late 2010 a series of personal letters between Dongo Remi and the late Michael Jackson surfaced on the internet for auction, causing a stir when it was reported they were burglarized from the private home of Dongo Remi in Kinshasa.
6. Behanzin, Eleventh King of Dahomey and Vodou Priest
Behanzin is most famously the eleventh and final King of Dahomey, although he was reputed to be a fierce and powerful Vodou Priest. Behanzin was famously noted for hanging a witch or sorcerer alive from a pole as a warning to all who would dare to cross spiritual forces with him. He was never found without his trademark pipe and according to legend emerged from the womb smoking. Behanzin controlled a private army of female soldiers, the Dahomey Amazon, who were said to have fought more fiercely than men and sharpen their teeth into points. Behanzin led the final struggle against French colonial forces, but would ultimately succumb. A famous part of the French campaign against the Kingdom of Dahomey was the deforestation of sacred trees, areas of arbors believed to house the spirits of ancestors and give strength to the Dahomey people. It was only after a significant number of the trees were cut that the French were able to break through the Dahomey forces and drive Behanzin into exile.
7. Wesner Morency, Founder of the Church of Haiti
Wesner Morency was a contemporary Vodou Houngan and founder of the Association of Lwa, or Vodou Church in Haiti. He worked with Max Beauvoir on many projects, most related to gaining an official acceptance of the Vodou religion by the Haitian government and securing the rights of Vodou practitioners. Morency was a seminarian and a was poised to become a Catholic priest before being called to found the Vodou Church in Haiti. His programs on both radio and television were and still are famous in Haiti. The religion of Vodou and Haiti lost a powerful Houngan and beloved friend when he passed away in 2007 due to coronary distress. His legacy persists in Haiti and his contributions to the Vodou religion will be noted for many generations to come.
8. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, former President of Haiti
No Vodou Priest could be as infamous as Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. His nickname stemmed from his work eradicating disease in Haiti, but he was also accused of genocide and instituting a military regime. Vodou was central to his Presidency and he also formed a Vodou-based secret police,the Tonton Macoutes, who used both physical violence and the powers of evil Vodou practitioners, or Bokurs, to control the populace. Duvalier himself was rumored to be a powerful and blessed Houngan. In many instances he was said to be an incarnation of Baron Samhedi. With thick-rimmed black spectacles, bow tie, top hat and skeletal facial features, Duvalier did indeed appear to be the Baron incarnate. Duvalier was notorious for practicing the darker elements of Vodou, even going as far to keep the severed head of former friend and rival Blucher Philogenes for use in Vodou rituals to ensure his lasting reign. And there is reason to believe they worked, as Duvalier controlled Haiti until he died in 1971.
9. Dah Aligbonon Akpochihala, Beninois Voodoo Priest
In all of Benin there is no contemporary Vodou Priest more famous than Dah Aligbonon Akpochihala. In a country where Vodou is arguably the largest and most consistently practiced religion, no message is heard moree than that of Aligbonon’s. He has programs on local Beninois television, shows on the radio and articles in newspapers. The government regularly meets with Aligbonon and he is said to be more powerful than any single King or governmental leader in Benin. At the same time, Aligbonon campaigns for human rights and food aid. Although in many instances Aligbonon is actually breaking religious and social taboos by discussing Vodou so openly, he is widely embraced by the Beninois populace. In Benin, Aligbonon is akin to a Vodou Billy Graham, with tens of thousands regularly viewing his programs and lining up outside of his small storefront. Only adding to the fame of Dah Aligbonon Akpochihala is the fact that he is true aristocracy, a direct descendant of Princess Aligbonon, the female founder of the entire Dahomey nation.
10. Emmanuel Arthur Edwards, Houngan of Port-au-Prince
Emmanuel Arthur Edwards cannot tell you his exact date of birth if you ask him. But this has not stopped him from becoming one of the most influential and well-known Houngan in Haiti. In every generation of Edwards’ family a Houngan has in some way interacted and influenced the political landscape. His great, great grandfather was one of the Houngan to assist Dutty Boukman in the Bws Kayman ritual preceding the Haitian Revolution and his grandfather consulted the Lwa for the generally conservative and upper-crust governments of Jean-Louis Pierrot and Faustin Souloque. Edwards himself was rumored to act as both Bokur and Houngan not for Duvalier senior, but for his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. There is a saying that Edwards is no stranger to any Lwa and that he has even already become one himself in the flesh.