The Voodoo religion has both male priests (Houngan) and female priestesses (Mambo). Studying the art of priesthood takes a long time and isn’t easy. The student studies and learns the priest ways from an early age, and can only be committed at the age of 31 or older. The initiation ritual is commenced with a scared rattle called asson, which is usually made out of calabash filled with small bones or stones. Houngans and Mambos use the asson for priest initiation rituals.
All priests are considered magicians. They are supposed to posses knowledge in black magic even if they don’t practice it in reality. A priest must know evil in order to know how to deal with it in times of need.
Voodoo Priest’s Main Functions
- Execution of ceremonies to summon spirits
- Dedicate and teach the adherents to priesthood ranks
- Prediction of the future
- Spell casting and magic protection
- Creating various sorts of magical potions
- Listen to confessions
Before priests are “given the asson”, they go through several levels of initiation which is achieved by the personal growth in the Voodoo community. All ranks are achievable by women and men.
An uninitiated person that attends ceremonies and turns to Houngan or Mambo for help is called a vodouisant. If the person is connected with any particular church and is preparing for dedication, he is called hounsi bossale (hounsi being the “spirit’s bride”, and bossale is “wild, untamed”). After going through two degrees of dedication – hounsi canzo and si pwen – the person has the right to wear the proud title of a priest. The last degree of dedication is asogwe. A priest who is named asogwe (either houngan or mambo) can “give the asson” to someone else, dedicating the person to the ranks of si pwen or asogwe.
Many of the Voodoo priests charge money for their services. Since there is no heirarchy in Voodoo that is similar to Christianity, houngan and mambo don’t get a stable salary. Most of them have to work in addition to performing rituals and ceremonies. People pay the priests as much as they can afford. In Haiti the cost for a ceremony is about $1, since the country is one of the poorest countries in the world.