(Jim wrote several versions of ritual notes at the request of drummers that wanted a semi-traditional ritual structure and at the request of tour guides that wanted to put on a voodoo show for their clients. This is not a description of a formal ritual nor is it ethnographically or liturgically correct for any tradition...except maybe New Orleans :-)- Luis)


(All of the rhythms presented here are Jim's adaptations and should not be taken as ethnographically correct. -Luis)


Preliminary Notes on Ritual


The ritual to be conducted is a petitioners' ritual in which one or more persons is seeking assistance from the deities.


To accomplish this, the aid and guidance of several deities are required. Since the deities have favorite drum rhythms and dances, the drumming and dancing is continuous and changing throughout the ritual and increases in intensity. Presiding over the ritual will be the Voodoo Queen.


The guardian of the barrier between heaven and earth, Papa Legba (Elegua. Luis) will be asked to smooth the road and protect the participants from malevolent spirits. Since he favors drums and drumming, his veve, or symbol, is drawn on the ground in front of the drummers so that he is in a favored position to be entertained. His favorite drink in drum circles is dark rum and the drummers share a drink in his honor and play his rhythm.


Gator Guede, the master of the swamp and the first deity one would encounter on a spiritual journey at this location (New Orleans. Luis) is honored and thanked for the use of his land for the ritual. A blessed potion of red wine and rum is offered to him and is served to all observers at the ritual. The drummers play his favorite rhythm, Banda.


The spiritual requests of the petitioners is sent to heaven aboard Papa Agwe's boat;for he is the guardian of ships. Erzulie, the Queen of Heaven and a powerful force for good, guides Agwe's boat. The symbols for Erzulie and Damballah, the King of Heaven, is drawn on the ground and a small wooden boat is placed in the center.


Each petitioner is brought forward and the priestess blesses them, instructing them to "wish" their spiritual request into the boat. She transfers this blessing to the boat to impress a part of that person's spirit as a passenger. While this continues, the drummers play and the dancers dance Zepaule.


When all the petitioners' spiritual representatives are in the boat, it is set in the fire so that it may ascend into heaven with the flames.


As the spirits direct, certain observers may be selected by the priestess to receive a special ritual blessing in front of the fire.


A python, Damballah's representative on earth, is annointed with sweet oil and a dancer dances with the snake while the drummers play Yanvalu.


A special ritual will be conducted to consecrate a sufficient number of gris-gris bags to be given to the observers, during which a trance rhythm, an Abacua, is played.




On the altar:


Top Level: a Damballah cross raised in the center. Unlit white, light blue and pink candles in holders on the left and right. Large 7 day candles on the left and right. Statues of St. Christopher on the left and Our Lady of Guadalupe on the right. Scattered among the candles and images are power stones, keys and cut flowers.


Second Level: Half white/half red Voodoo doll. Wrapped bottle of vodka. Empty cup. Wooden boat. Pearl necklace and lipstick. Herbs.


Bottom Level: Hoe. Machete. Peanuts. Cigars. Iron cross. Unlit incense. Cowbell. Small drum. Wrapped bottle of rum. Empty cup.


In front of the altar: Bread. Eggs. Vegetables. Fruit. Cake. Jug of red wine. Empty cup. Bowl of water with flowers in it. A fire should burn before the altar. The snake's house is to the left.




The drummers are the only ones present who are depended on to not flip out. Therefore, the chief drummer and his assigns are also responsible for the more material aspects of a ritual (under the instructions of the priestess) such as arranging benches, cleaning the area, and moving equipment.


The chief drummer also has the duty of performing preparation rituals to welcome the priestess to the ritual circle; sweeping the floor, blessing the four corners, etc. The priestess prefers to be welcomed onto hallowed ground.


The drummers' main duty is to provide for the priestess and the dancers.


Drummers' costume: street clothes. Hats should be worn to symbolize authority.


The setting: The drums should be on the right wing of a semi circular area. They should be arranged by size with the largest on the end.


The Ritual


1. Horn fanfare (two horns. a conch shell would be nice) with banging on drums to warn the evil spirits away. (30- 45sec)


2. Chief drummer sweeps to prepare the ground for the ritual, the dancers, priestess and spirits. This should take place in total silence to contrast with the riot of the fanfare and solemnize the seriousness of the proceedings. (1-2 mins.)


3. Drumming begins.


Abacua Rhythm, med speed


|1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6|1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6|

|O   t   O   t   O   t  |O   t   O   t   O   t  | highs

|O   t t   t O   t t   t|O   t t   t O   t t   t| meds

|B                      |S                      | lows


Priestess enters and lights candles.


Rhythm for Elegua/Eshu (the guardian of the crossroads, entrances. The trickster. Played first to allow the doors to the spirits to open.) (5-10 min)


Rhythm to Elegua


|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|

|O   S   O   S  |O   S   O   S  |  highs

|      O S   O S|      O S   O S|  meds

|O              |S              |  lows

        Elegua go

        Elegua go   nya nya

    Ah  la ya ma  go santi oh

        Elegua go   nya nya


(Jim's sources for these chants seems to be "Voodoo in New Orleans" by Robert Tallant, 1974, 7th printing. -Luis)


Priestess lights incense while singing.


After the incense is lit, she pours some rum in a cup and says, "By the power of St. Anthony of Padua, Legba Atibon, guardian of the crossroads, Legba, guardian of the bush, Legba, guardian of the gouse, Ago, Ago, si, Ago la." Then, she sips some of the rum and pours a bit into the fire. Shehands the bottle to each drummer in turn. Each drummer stops to drink.


The priestess draws the drummers' veve.


Rythm for Gator Guede. Draw the Guede veve. The dance is erotic with lascivious pelvic thrusts. (5-10 min)


Banda, medium speed


|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|

|O   O O   O O  |O   O O   O O  | highs

 r   r l   r l

|O   O   P      |O O     P      | lows

 r   r   l       r l     l




Gator Bata


|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|

|O   S   O   S  |O   S   O   S  | highs

 r   l

|t   t O S   O S|t   t O S   O S| meds

 r   l r l   r l r   l r l   r l

|S   O   S   M  |S O   M S   O  | lows

 l   r   l   r   l r   r l   r


The priestess pours rum in an empty cup for Gator Guede saying, "Gator Guede, le bon ton roulette, ye ye ye." and sips some herself. She pours a bit into the fire.


She empties the rest of the bottle into a punchbowl of red wine which the dancers ladle into cups for the observers.


Rythm for Erzulie, Goddess of Love. Dance involves rapid contraction and release of shoulder blades. (5-10 min)


Zepaule, brisk speed


|1 2 3 1 2 3|1 2 3 1 2 3|

|  O O   O O|  O O   O O|  highs

   r l   r l

|P   O   O  |P   O   O  |  meds

 l   r   r

|X     M    |X          |  lows (stick in r hand)

 r     r     r


The priestess pours vodka into a cup saying, "By the power of mistress Erzulie, mamou lade, mamou vodoun, Erzulie Frieda Dahomey, Ago, Ago si, Ago la." then sips some and gives some to the fire.


As she sings, the initiates, petitioners and dancers are given the bottle in turn to drink from.


She draws Erzulie's, Agwe's and Damballah's veves, takes the wooden boat and places it in the center of the veve. She blessses the petitioners and the boat.


The boat is placed in the fire.


(There is no song in this note. This is taken from another of Jim's documents about rituals. -Luis)


Aaiee go-go (rising pitch on the last "go")


(Chorus repeats)


Mambo-o, Frieda Dahomee... Ago...


(Chorus follow priestess:)



Mamou lade vie en cane Creole, Mamou lade vie

f f   a a  c   c  g    a  g    d d   c a  g

                                                (Repeat  2x)

Mamou lade vie en cane Creole

f f   g g  a   g  e    g  gf






Zulie Frieda Oh...   Zulie Frieda Oh...          (Repeat 2x)

c c   c   f  fc      f f   f   a  af


Mambo Zulie Frieda Dahomee Cotay O ye O

f  f  a a   c   c  a#a g   d d   c d  c

                                  (Repeat whole phrase 2x)

Mambo Zulie Frieda Cotay O...

f  f  g g   a   g  e g   g f



Priestess releases a white dove.


Rhythm to Damballah, the Serpent/Rainbow. Danced with the body bent forward. The hands on knees and the legs in a squatting position. The back is made to ripple with undulations spreading down from the shoulders. (5-10 min)


Yanvalu, fast


|1 2 3 1 2 3|1 2 3 1 2 3|

|O O O O O O|O O O O O O| highs

|O O     O O|    O O    | med

|O O t M M t|O O t M M t| lows

 r r l r r l


(There is no song in this note. This is taken from another of Jim's documents about rituals. -Luis)


The priestess signals the snake dancer to remove the snake and then annoints it with sweet oil saying, "In the name of Damballah Wedo, Damballah the great, Damballah Lele, Ayida Wedo, Ago, Ago si, Ago la."


The dancer dances with the snake.


The priestess faces front and thrusts both arms up. The drumming and singing stops. The priestess sings the first invocation loudly.


turns slightly to right "Damballah Wedo,  (pause)

                          f  g  f   c c

turns slightly to left  Damballah Lele,   (pause

                         c  d  a   c a#

facing center            Ago si, Ago la...."

        (retard)         fg  a   ff  f   (hold the note)


Dambal  lah  o...   Dambal  lah  ye....

g  g    g    b      a  a    a    g


Le  grand  serpan...  Alon  roulay...

b   d      b  d       ab    a  g



Le  voudo  tambou  yanva  lou...

b   d  d   b  d    a  a   a

                                           (Repeat 2x)

Et beaucoup  gri-gri  ap  pel  vou....

b  d     d   b   d    g   g    g



Closing Rhythm. The dance is frenzied and erotic. (5-10 min)


Atsiagbeko, very fast


|1 2 3 1 2 3|1 2 3 1 2 3|

|X X X P P P|X X X P P P|  highs (2 sticks)

 r l r

|  O O   S S|  O O   S S|  meds

   r l   r l

|P   O   O  |P   O P   O|  lows  (stick in r hand)

 l   r   r   l   r l   r


Repeat Abacua (5-10 min)


The priestess blesses the basket of gris-gris. She circles the fire with the baske and blesses it again. The she gives the basket for the dancers to distribute the gris-gris.


Jim's Notes: A Course in Drumming