A common thread shared by the many different religions in the West African Diaspora is the idea that each person has a special connection to a particular spirit within that tradition, and that when the individual becomes an initiate they will be ritually marked as a child of that entity, receive that entity’s mysteries, or any other possible language that could be used to describe the sealing of the relationship, and Vodou is, of course, one that many think of first.
That said, the most famous instances come from the Yoruba-language-speaking peoples that Vodou knows as the Nago Nation in religions such as Lukumi and Candomble, where the process is known as Making the Saint, or Crowning. In those traditions, the individual’s main protective spirit is public knowledge as, passing that ceremony, the now-ordained individual is known to have received and become a priest/ess of that particular spirit’s mysteries.
Where the different religions of the African Diaspora begin to differ, however, is in the cosmological cores the traditions are wound around; to the adherents of Yoruba-language-speaking-people’s descendent traditions, the cosmology comes from an ethnic group historically found centered around what is now the nation of Nigeria. While Haiti inherited quite a bit from that ethnic group (including some of our most famous spirits!), the cosmology *we* inherited comes mostly from a territory a bit to the north of Nigeria in what is now Benin… centered in the Fon and Gbwe ethno-linguistic groups. (We’ll take a deep dive into cosmology soon, I promise).
While Vodou certainly shares the idea of a central guiding and protective spirit for each individual, there are some major differences in how we handle the idea when compared to the Diasporic religions around us.
Everyone seems to come to Vodou expecting that they can either instantly know the identity of their ruling spirit, choose it willy-nilly from some list, or worse they come believing that there are easy readings they can get via email or phonecall that can determine this information. Many people have been lead to believe that they MUST know their tutelary spirit in order to begin practicing, or that even people who are not in the Tradition can read this spirit’s identity through Runes or Tarot. Some have even been told that if they don’t like what they hear they can just change the identity of the spirit in question. Oy vey. Truth be told, the identity of a person’s Met Tet is only ever important to them after a lave tet or their own kanzo, but I know Im going to have to explain why.
Each person, in Vodou, is seen as being guided, protected, and shaped by a specific spirit, akin to Catholicism’s concept of the Guardian Angel (and sometimes even referred to by that title). The Met Tet, kreyol for the Master of the Head, is the spirit who rules the individual; generally their strongest spirit when they begin working, but not always and this spirit is not always known by name to the individual, either.
For a non-initiate, this state of not knowing the identity of this spirit is a safety measure, one that should not lightly be put aside.
The Met Tet’s identity can only ever be conclusively determined through a very special form of divination that is only ever performed during a Lave Tet or a Kanzo; this is not information you will be able to recieve in a casual reading, nor are things like “met tet readings” actually a reality. This information is a tightly guarded secret… even after a lave tet or a kanzo the identity of a person’s met tet is, in most lineages, a tightly controlled secret that, once learned, is absolutely never revealed unless under circumstances of utter and absolute trust (there are other initiates of my own house, siblings of mine from the same initiator, whose spirits I do not know myself. That information is a secret known to them, and a part of their power that will only be diluted if shared.)
All this secrecy serves a very strong point; if I were an unethical man, for example, and I knew the identity of your met tet and knew that you didn’t have the host of protections that kanzo gives (or, if you had them, if I was willing to do what it took to push past them), I could create a large service for that spirit and show them that I was capable of giving them more than you do (especially easy if you as an individual had yet to begin offering service to your spirits)… in that moment of distraction where I would have called on your guardian, you would have been left without the protections that might have saved you from whatever else I may be throwing your way. There are many other reasons at play, but that is one of the chief reasons non-initiates are generally not allowed to know the identity of their guardian angel (which will be revealed to them upon a Lave Tetor a Kanzo.)
Now, there *are* positive and non-fearful qualities to the Met Tet, and a way to turn the relationship into something purely constructive and powerful, even for the non-initiate.
Each person is gifted at birth with a guardian spirit from among the list of thousands of Lwa. This connection is life long, and shows itself in the development of the individual’s character and temperament. It is rarely obvious; unlike spirits that may be drawn to the person throughout their life, drawn or guided by the life choices the individual makes along their lifetime, the Met Tet is always present and is generally reflected in the individual’s core person, the secret side shown to few in their life. For an initiate, one of their goals is to live in accord with the ethic set by their ruling spirit. There is truly a spirit for everyone, as the spirits themselves contain all aspects of humanity and human behaviour; instead of a single moral code that rules all human interaction, the initiate who lives by the example of their ruling Lwa as much as possible is able to see their challenges and gain greater access to their life’s purpose. Every person, every personality, has a corresponding spirit who will love and nurture the individual in ways greater than any other.
This relationship between the initiate and their guardian spirit is fully sealed and made with the making of a pot tet, a crucial and pivotal component of a real lave tet or kanzo, and a direct physical link between one’s Ti Bon Ange and their Met Tet. Should you undergo a lave tetor choose to kanzo, this object will become the single most important physical thing you own. It is a direct physical link to the parts of your spirit that make up you as an individual, and is something that should be protected as much as you would protect your own body. Many Houses choose to keep the pot tet of a new initiate, hiding them in the secure back rooms of the temple, others choose to allow new initiates to take them home and mount them in their altars, often depending on the initiatory grade of the recipient. Both are respectable options (keeping your pot tet in the temple is not a sign of manipulative control as much as it is a sign of keeping what is most precious in as safe and holy a location as is possible) but how a house treats the pots of its initiates is something to look out for… if they are not well treated or in a place where you may casually see them as you explore area houses or fetes for different spirits, it is one of the worst possible signs of a house you do not want to belong to (you wouldn’t believe the horror stories I’ve heard about some houses and the treatment of their initiate’s pot tet, up to and including tossing them into a five gallon bucket kept in the bathroom).
That said, when you put in time getting to know the clergy and family of a specific House to the point where you would entrust them with your pot tet, without worrying about how it would be treated or if anything would be done to it in the event of your leaving the family, then you know that you have found the perfect place for you to initiate. The pot tet, while itself a mystery only initiates really get to fully comprehend, is publicly known to be something an initiate takes extreme pains to keep safe or in the most trusting of possible places.
In the meantime, for a non-initiate who has not had a pot tet made in a lave tet or kanzo, there are still ways to serve your Met Tet to strengthen them and get them working for you, even if you do not have their name; we’ll talk a little bit about these here, but we’ll go into them at great length when we get to the practicum/putting it all to use entries.
The easiest way to serve your guardian angel is to offer service literally to your “guardian angel”; using that as their title. Many stores carry specific candles with a guardian angel image, and those are absolutely perfect for this style of work. You can place them on your working altar and offer your service, prayers, light, and heat to that spirit, knowing that they will receive your service without even knowing their precise identity.
Another route to the same end is to serve the four Archangels, those commonly associated with the principal directions. The Angel who corresponds to your guardian spirit or through whom that spirit can be reached will lovingly pass on your service to the correct destination, again without needing to know which of the four Angels is the responsible party or veil behind which your Met Tet waits. It’s the service and the intent behind it that’s important, much more so at this point in your journey than knowing the identity of the spirit in question. If you initiate, then it will become important knowledge, but until that point there is simply no point in pursuing that knowledge. You are not limited by not knowing.