Beautiful, charming, radiant, loving, luxurious, splendorous, effulgent, charismatic, glorious. All of these fifty cent adjectives apply to Metres Freda, one of the most beloved of the lwa in Haitian Vodou. Yet, as fittingly magnificent as these words are, they simply aren’t good enough for this Queen without being shaped into the superlative–most beautiful, most charming, and so on. Oh, I’m sorry…that should be Metres Mambo Ezili Freda Dahomey. She is a queen among lwa and humans and you’d better remember it, cheri.
Everything in Vodou contains levels of meaning and interpretation, and Freda is no different. In peering through these layers we learn a great deal about her and the natural forces she represents.
On the Surface
On the surface, in a rather exoteric understanding, Freda is portrayed as a beautiful woman, generally white (remembering that this is a complex term in Haitian history, not necessarily equivalent to ‘European’) or biracial (one song runs Ezili fre li fre li bel fanm Ezili fre li fre li fanm blan…), and typifies the experience of such a woman in colonial Haiti. Such a woman would be potentially very middle class (part of the gens de couleur) at the least, perhaps too dark to be a proper wife to a staunch European colonialist, and too light to be trusted by enslaved peoples. Left to her own devices, using her beauty, charm, and charisma to make her way through life, but always aware on some level that her luck will run out with her looks, there’s an element of tragedy inherent in this story, and a painful view into social climbing as a survival skill. Sort of a Margaery Tyrell (I’m pop culture topical but a few years behind, being in Nova Scotia and all). Some, seeing no more than this superficial level to Freda, liken her to a THOT, and her weeping at the end of a possession is attributed to her never having enough, always needing more, never quite ready for the day she is no longer an object of desire and has lost one of her most powerful tools. Indeed, she is said to have three husbands in many houses–Dambala, Agwe, and Ogou, although some versions of her have a single husband and have apparently settled down. When she comes in possession, this coquettish nature can be quite evident–she is flirtatious with the men, but distant with the women, who are her rivals; she expects absolute cleanliness; and to be treated like a queen. No smoke or crass alcohol for her, and certainly nothing else with a scent that offends her delicate nostrils! She is the queen of the economics of human pair bonding and the lover of luxury and the life of the idle rich, including at times the worry-free wastefulness this can include.
However, our beloved Metres is so much more than this. The exoteric understanding of Freda is a bite-sized one, shaped by memories of a specific time and place, brought forward into the present, to contextualize part of the historical experience of Haitian women, and women in general, and the dream of a better life. That dream is the bridge to a deeper understanding of Freda. The lwa as they appear in possession though are mere thimblefuls of the real thing–a small piece of the whole that helps us understand and relate.
On a deeper level, Freda is love and all that entails. She is love and compassion on a cosmic scale, and the empathic sorrow inherent in such–the love and tears of Mary faced with the Crucifixion; the sorrow of a mystically minded mother who realizes that the very act of giving birth dooms her child to one day die, for nothing in this world lasts forever; the dream of paradise lost.
For, you see, Freda longs for perfection. It’s often noted that whatever we give her should be perfect–no wilted petals on a rose, no soft, bruised spots on a piece of fruit–and this is an indication of her deep need for archetypal, undamaged, exquisite purity. This transcendent Freda, it can be said, knows things as they are in the mind of God; she knows how things should be, and therefore sees the tragedy in how they actually are. And this is the truth of Freda’s tears–it’s not crass materialism or greed that makes her weep, but the blemished and stained reality of the world. Her tears are for us not for herself; hers is the weeping of the mother whose child is hurting as he grows, knowing she cannot prevent the pain of life, but wanting to remove it and spare him. Yet in her wisdom she also knows that pain is a necessary part of life–it’s how we grow–and this too, perhaps, is an imperfection over which she weeps. She weeps for the hard life we must live, and the pains we must experience. And in tears are found a road to her compassion and love. The greatest offering I ever gave her were two tears, collected from my cheeks and dripped onto her offering plate, with sincere prayer and sorrow, telling her there was nothing greater I could give. And Freda moved mountains for me, not because I am perfect, but because this simple act invoked her compassion in ways I never imagined, or asked for. I simply wanted comfort, and she gave me so much more.
The boundless love and compassion that Freda represents is not manifested simply in human love, or divine compassion. What is love, in the end, but attraction that binds us together? Whether romantic attraction between lovers, the bonds of affection between mother and child, the draw of fans to the mystique of celebrity, it’s all attraction at its heart. And on the purely physical level–the level of atoms and rocks and goldfish and petunias and meteors–attraction is called gravity. In a giggle-inducing sense, Freda’s feminine curves are also the curvature of spacetime. The very universe in which we live is drawn and bound together by the same force that draws our hearts together–and from transcendent, cosmic levels down to the most base material, this is Freda’s presence, and influence.
Is that heavily mystical, perhaps? Yes. But ’tis my blog, and I’m a mystic at heart. Cry over it.
Each of us has a spirit that rules our head, a sort of sun around which the rest of our spirits (collectively called an esko or ‘escort’) revolves. Each of them contributes to our makeup, but the main one (called the lwa mèt tèt, or ‘master of the head’) is the central force in our makeup–the CEO of You, Inc. When our mèt tèt is elevated and functioning properly we manifest that energy correctly–those with Freda in their heads are kind, compassionate, charismatic, loving, magnetic, refined, confident, and often beautiful. They can turn heads just by entering a room, whether by looks, presence, or both. They are, subject to the rest of their esko, wonderful expressions of that Freda energy, although also subject to her sorrow when things don’t go their way, or they aren’t the star in the room.
When that Freda energy isn’t elevated, and you’re dealing with an unbalanced Freda vibe, look out. That same loving person can veer into spitefulness, vindictiveness, cruelty, jealousy, and get positively domineering. They’ll drive people away, wreak havoc in their own lives, and decide that they’re the victim, not the victimizer. Freda is pure and therefore so is her energy–it takes very little to dirty clean water, and effort to repair it. Think of an elegant and refined queen, sure of herself and confident, and then contrast her with a spoiled princess. You get the idea–Beyonce becomes Cardi B; Jackie Kennedy Onassis becomes Regina George; I said it, I don’t regret it, and fetch isn’t going to happen.
In The End…
I had initially planned to wrap this up with tips on serving her, but decided against it–this information and advice is better provided by the houngan or mambo guiding an individual in their service. I figured I’d tell an amusing story instead about how Freda will get what she wants.
A while back, I had done some travay with Metres Freda, and had promised (among other things) to make a new altar cloth for her space. The work done and results manifested, I set out to find a suitable piece of fabric, in exactly the correct shade of pink; Freda does not settle. Remember, nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t expect the effort in getting as close as possible! I visited several stores, one after the other, always finding beautiful material, but in a shade too pale, or too bright. And I was getting frustrated. Sitting in the parking lot to yet another fabric store, exasperated, I spoke to her.”Ok, Metres, you know I love you, BUT…this is getting ridiculous. Break me off a piece, here. This is the last store I’m gonna try, so if you want this cloth today, the right colour had better be there or I’m going home.”
Don’t be lippy with Freda.
I entered the store and quickly found the one bolt of material that was the exact shade she wanted–the perfect pink. Happy, I didn’t care about anything else, and had the staff cut a piece for me, swiped my card without looking, and headed for home. After pulling the material out of the bag I spotted the receipt and could not get over the price–it was much, much more than I had expected. It wasn’t quite American-getting-a-bandaid-and-aspirin-in-the-ER expensive, but shocking none the less. I looked closer at the fabric.
So the great Metres has her things on a designer altar cloth and I’m her sucker. Freda taught me a big lesson about my mouth, her love of the expensive, and more than a little humility all at once.
She’s pulled other stunts like this on me before–her lipsticks and other offerings are never cheap, but when I’m mouthy about it, it’s going to cost me money and pride. I’m not sure which hurts more, but in the end, a happy Freda is an absolute blessing, and the effort you spend in her service is always repaid in spades.
Ayibobo, Metres Freda, nou renmen ou anpil, larenn nan kè nou!