Damballah Wedo: Vodou Snake God who Holds the Universe

The Haitian Voudou religion contains a rich pantheon of gods and spirits, one of which is the serpent Damballah Wedo. But what exactly is Damballah’s role and power?

Damballah Wedo is an important Loa spirit from Haiti Voudou religion, usually depicted as a giant cosmic serpent.  His divine role is to support the world in his snake coils and maintain the cycle of life through rain and fertility. Husband of Ayida Wedo and son of creator gods.

Damballah Wedo, the Vodou Snake God
Damballah Wedo, the Vodou Snake God

The name Danbala originates from Dahomey, a kingdom in West Africa that is now positioned in today’s Benin; it is constructed out of the terms Dan and Allada.

“Dan” is the cult of the snake in Heaven, whereas “Allada” is the name of the coastal kingdom in South Dahomey, which is the native land of the Aja people who founded the kingdom of Dahomey and eventually dominated the Fon people, another West African group in Dahomey.

In Africa, where Danbala Wedo is known as Dan or Danbada-Wedo, he is thought to be the grandson of Nana-Buluku, the Fon people’s Supreme deity, and the son of Nana-Buluku’s twin siblings, Mawu-Lisa, deities who created the universe.

Danbala assisted in the creation of the universe and supports it with his snake coils. Thus, Danbala, the snake, is most closely associated with cosmic motion—that is, life itself.

He is the patriarchal god of fertility and rainbows. As a lwa of the Arada or Rada rite, one of three major rites of Vodou in Haiti, that represents the lost mystic world, Danbala embodies gentleness and peace; he is portrayed as a warm, benevolent presence who sustains the world.

He plays a significant function through certain healing processes, and his principal characteristic rests in the fact that his actions are directed toward excellence.

Danbala is associated with wisdom and rain. Since Danbala is seen to be able to solve the problem of drought, he is accorded the status of a spirit of wisdom. This means, of course, that the people see Danbala as one who guards morals, principles, customs, and all African traditions.

He is connected to the color white in representation of his pureness and is married to Ayida Wedo (or Aida Wedo), the goddess of the rainbow. His lover is Erzulie Freda Dahomey, also known as Ezili, goddess of beauty and grace.

As an Arada lwa, Danbala Wedo will be one of the first lwa served during the ceremony, and his vèvè marks that he will be part of the coming ceremony.

Danbala’s vèvè is a religious coat of arms or symbols that personally identify him. It is made up of a series of intercrossed lines, triangles, snakes, and flags and is usually drawn on the ground by a Houngan, a Vodou priest, or a Mambo, a Vodou priestess, with corn maize.

An offering of pure white eggs, Danbala’s sacrificial sign, is then placed on his vèvè as part of inviting Danbala into the Houmfort, the designated temple for Vodou practice.

Danbala and his wife, Ayida Wedo, are also often provided with a basin of pure water, and the person mounted by Danbala may decide to “swim” in it.

Danbala can ride his horse only when he is called or invoked by a particular drumbeat. The hounsi will respond only to the beat that corresponds to Danbala. He or she simply needs to focus on Danbala’s rhythm to surrender himself or herself to it, and this is executed through the movements associated with the Yanvalou dance, a dance that imitates snakelike motions.

Once Danbala arrives in the peristyle of the houmfort, a barn-like addition to the houmfort used to distinguish it from other farm structures, he takes possession of a devotee or an hounsi (initiate) who becomes the “horse” of Danbala. The lwa now embodies or rides the male or female devotee or hounsi.

Danbala is verbally uncommunicative. He never speaks, but hisses. He never stands up or walks about because he shows himself in his snake form during his possessions.

Therefore, the “horse,” under the possession of Danbala, begins to act like a snake, hissing, creeping about in curves along the ground, crawling up pillars, and hanging about in snake-like form.

The hissing is related to the ancestral, sacred language of Vodou, which further shows Danbala to be an intermediary between the Creator and humans and a facilitator of Africa’s spiritual communication. Also, when Danbala comes in possession of a devotee or hounsi, during a Vodou ritual, the person will be covered with a white sheet.

In some peristyles, four hounsis will hold the four corners of the white sheet, and they will occasionally create ripples in the sheet by shaking it.


Scheub, Harold – A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller

Molefi Kete Asante, Ana Mazama – Encyclopedia of African Religion

Atlas Mythica
Scroll to Top