La Sirene

Saints: Diosa del Mar or Virgen del Caridad Cobre

Colours: Blue and white

La Sirene, literally ‘the mermaid’ is the wife of Agwe, the lwa of the sea, and rules over all that lives beneath the waves, yet is also a lwa of all waters. Mermaids and mermaid-like spirits are found in cultures around the world, from Africa to Europe, to Asia and the Americas. Her character contains many of the things we associate with mermaids / sirens from familiar tales–brushing her long hair, singing a seductive song, and showing forth the beauty of the sea. Indeed, a standard offering for her is a mirror and comb. There is a deeper layer of meaning here, as the mirror, or miwa, has a context and use in Vodou, as an object and a symbol, beyond the mundane and obvious one. One finds complexity in her offerings as well–in some houses she is given fish and other foods from the sea, yet in others this is categorically wrong and akin to feeding her her own children.

Images associated with her include La Diosa del Mar (pictured) and the Virgen del Caridad Cobre, both of which feature the sea.

Like the sea itself, La Sirene can be capricious, and I’m fond of saying that the sea that feeds you today can swamp your boat the next. Anyone who has lived near the sea, or made their living from it, is well aware of its mutability and the potential dangers it can bring. She is associated with tides, psychism, and, in more modern, Jungian interpretations of things, the unconscious; this Jungian view is certainly not a traditional Haitian thing! Increasingly, she is being spoken of by many as having a lunar association due to the moon’s influence on the tides, but this is also not a Haitian thing; there is a lwa associated with the moon, and it is not La Sirene.

In many houses her possessions are silent–as a spirit who lives beneath the waves it makes sense that she wouldn’t speak, but she is often kept wet when she comes.

There are many stories in Haiti of La Sirene taking someone away, under the waves, for a period of seven days, weeks, months, or years, after which they return, having been taught magical secrets and frequently with lighter skin and straighter hair–there is a lot to unpack there with regards to ethnicity and social location.

While technically a kongo lwa, La Sirene is served and saluted among the Rada.