The end has come and the spirits we met over the last two Saturdays have left the loved one for the stars or the sea, the earth or the sky. Or have they? In Voudon practice, one can never be too careful when dealing with the dead. Time to call on the local priest or priestess and make sure things are done properly.
The ritual of Desounen, which comes from the French verb disunir meaning to separate, is performed as close to a person’s death as possible. Minutes ticking away only add to the anxiety of the living and the confusion on the gros bon ange. This spirit doesn’t necessarily know how to – or even that it should – separate from its corps cadavre. It is believed that the gros bon ange will hover about its body and possibly even move around its house like a ghost. It is dangerous to the living in the same way that contagious disease is. The spirit now carries death with it and it needs to be ushered off to Ginen with all haste.
Desounen is a complex ritual that includes saluting the deceased and honoring his or her spirits, including the met tet which is akin to the person’s “guardian lwa”. Both the gros bon ange and the met tet must be appeased and sent on their way or there will be repercussions for the living. Careless family members – wives/husbands and children in particular – will be visited with ill luck and sickness until the ritual is properly taken care of. Very few voudonists would even consider skipping this step so you can imagine the anxiety that a major disaster or epidemic could potentially engender. What if the local priest/priestess is otherwise engaged or injured or dead themselves? This pressure on the deceased’s family makes a very bad situation even worse.
If done in a timely and correct manner, however, Desounen will put the minds of the living at rest and signal readiness for the funeral and the wake thereafter. As with all cultures, but particularly those that live close to the Earth, death is cause for concern and mourning, ritual and gathering. And a chance for renewal as well.
Header: St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans