Las 21 Divisiones (sometimes also refferred to as Los Misterios or Dominican Vodou) is a tradition which comes from the Dominican Republic. It is a religious practice which blends influences from Catholicism, religious practices of the Kongo, Benin and Yoruba (Nigeria) , Haitian Vodou and Taino Indian religious practices.
Sometimes people confuse Sanse and La 21 Division (Dominican Vodou). They are not the same, though they are very similar and related, Sanse is a different tradition, which can also be found in the Dominican Republic, but is more prevalent in Puerto Rico. To learn more about Sanse click here: SANSE RELIGION Although the Sancista does work with many of the spirits that are served within Dominican Vodou, and many times in similar or the same ways, it is not the same tradition and it is a different form of working with the spirits.
Some will say that Dominican Vodou is Haitian Vodou, just practiced in the Dominican Republic. This is not true, Dominican Vodou (La 21 Divisiones) is a separate practice and lineage and although there are many of the same Lwa, the practice and manner in which they are served is different. Las 21 Divisiones does contain some influence from Haitian Vodou, but this is to be expected. As the island was not divided at one point and time and many in Las 21 Divisiones consider certain Lwa to have come to the DR from Haiti. Though, throughout this text there will be various references to Haitian vodou (HV). This is done to give you a better distinction and clearer understanding of Las 21 Divisiones. Neither of them is greater or better than the other, simply different paths.
While we’re on the topic— Dominican Vodou (or Vudu) and Las 21 Divisiones/Los Misterios —-what is in a name?
Due to the History of the Dominican Republic, and the stronghold of the Catholic faith, a large number of Dominicans who practice the 21 Divisions or partake within it’s ceremonies/rituals still identify as exclusively Catholic. Those involved at deeper levels (Papa Boko/ Papa Lwa Mama Mambo) will often be public about their Vodou/Vudu practice but state that it works together with Cahtolicism rather than against it.
The vast majority of Dominicans and Caballos de Misterio reject the label of Vodou or Vudu and do not refer to the practice as Dominican Vodou. They state that Vodou or Vudu as it is known is a Haitian Religion/Tradition and not the same as Las 21 Divisiones. Although this belief is very slowly being changed and dissipated with the interconnectedness of the world (thanks to the internet ; ), and ease of travel, etc ) nowadays, we practitioners know that it will take a long time before the change is universal.
However, in the Dominican Republic, the word Vodou or Vudu is often still associated with evil magic, negative sorcery, and such practices. Thus the tradition is almost always referred to as Las 21 Divisiones or Los Misterios. Though some Caballos de Misterio go to Haiti and receive initiations into Haitian Vodou, many of them will incorporate new practices into their practice of Las 21 Divisiones rather than practice Haitian vodou exclusively or in the manner in which it is practiced originally in Haiti.
The term Dominican Vodou or Dominican Vudu is more accepted and welcomed within the Diaspora.
Las 21 Divisiones is less strict than the Haitian Vodou tradition. There is less regleman (Fixed Doctrine or Rule within the Haitian Vodou Tradition). There is no fixed doctrine, defined temples or ceremonies. It doesn’t have as rigid a structure. This can be seen in the many different ways in which Caballos de Misterios conduct ceremonies and how the spirits mount a person.
In Las 21 Divisiones, a Servidor de Misterio usually practices within an altar room known as a badji/baji/bayi. While some Papa Bokos or Mama Mambos have whole temples (a bayi along with a separate dance area) to serve the Misterios, they are the exception and generally not the rule. When conducting public ceremonies, most Papa Bokos and Mama Mambos will conduct these within their yard, a large empty room, garage or other such area. Whole Temples (templos) are more commonly found along the border.
During a 21 Division ceremony, a Misterio can possess a Caballo although a different Misterio is being sung/played for via the music during that particular time. Also, the music will not necessarily be played/sung in any particular order. Meaning a song for Belie Belcan may be played, then one for Santa Marta, then one for Anaisa and then another for Belie Belcan. Depending on the Caballo and his/her Misterios, he may have a particular order that he/she must follow for the ceremony but this is a rarity rather than a commonality.
Also, one Caballo may sing/for serve a certain Misterio only in a certain ceremony, and sing for another always at all ceremonies. Whereas in another Sosyete (Congregation), another Misterio may not ever be sung for at all. Though generally speaking, all the major Misterios are usually honored at least once within most ceremonies.
Although the preffered music for a ceremony of 21 Divisiones is Palo music, it is not uncommon to hear other types being played within a ceremony. Thus new music is always being created to honor the Misterios. It is not uncommon to here bachata, merengue or another type of music being played in honor of the Misterios.
The manner in which one “dances Palo” (bailar palos) during a ceremony is of Kongo origin. The dances can be traced back to dances of the Kongo nation. Palo dances are vastly different and distinct from the typical dancing seen in Haitian vodou ceremonies.
One of the other major differences between Haitian and Dominican Vodou is the drum beats, the drums and it’s troupe. In most Mani (21 Division Ceremonies), the drums being used are of Kongo form and origin. The beats being known as Atables. Along with the drum group, a guira (scraper) is used and there is usually a lead singer. The drums are known as Palos and the drummers as Paleros, and when a ceremony in which they are at is usually referred to as a Fiesta de Palo.
This is vastly different from Haitian Vodou, where the Spirit being sung for is generally the one that is allowed to come into possession (with a few exceptions), where the vast majority of ceremonies all follow a certain order of ritual songs and this order is generally the same from Vodou temple to Vodou temple. In Haitian Vodou, once a certain Spirit is sung for/ritually greeted within a ceremony, it will not usually be sung for again within that same ceremony. Haitian Vodou ceremonies are almost always conducted exclusively with ritual drums and ritual music, unlike in Las 21 Divisiones.
Within Las 21 Divisiones, Caballos de Misterio can call upon the Misterios or Lwases (into possession) can through various means including but not limited to: by use of prayers, secret invocations, while doing consultations with cards, palms or shells. The Misterios also provide information via other ways, such as dreams or via divination. Clairvoyance/Clauridence is a spiritually ability which is harnessed and used by most Caballos de Misterio as well.
In Dominican Vodou, God and the Virgin Mary are referred to often and many make petitions to them. Unlike Haitian Vodou, where as God is seen to be more distant, those in Dominican Vodou often state that God is very involved in their tradition and practice. Thus the tradition is very heavily tied into serving God and experiencing his divine energy. You will often see various practices within the 21 Divisiones that are Catholic in Origin. Such as the use of novenas, praying the rosary, the giving of masses to the dead, holy hours, etc.
Along with this, the main Spirits of las 21 Divisiones are known as los Lwases or Misterios. Meaning the Lwa or the Misteries, respectively. The Misterios are considered to be under the Direction of God and High Level Spirits. They carry out God’s work by coming to earth and helping us (humanity) to resolve all kinds of different problems and obstacles we may face.
Las 21 Divisiones and most of it’s practitioners usually follow a high moral/ethical code. However, this does not mean all. However, most Caballos de Misterio work “clean” only, meaning they do not work for vengeance or revenge, but will work for justice and other positive aims. In some lineage, new initiates are made to take a special oath to just work in a clean manner. It is often said that the Misterios will leave those who produce works of evil. Though there are some Misterios that are known to be more accepting or allow their horses to work in both ways.
In Dominican Vodou, initiation is a ceremony that aligns the individual to their spirits and gives them “fuerza” or power. It empowers them to work with their Lwa but an uninitiated individual can do so as well. These ceremonies serve to give the individual a firmer and more stable foundation to work with their spirits. There are three different types of main ceremonies that one may receive in this tradition.
This tradition is similar to Sanse, in that the Misterios are the main teachers on how to do many different things. But there are some traditions and rules in Dominican Vodou that are different from Sanse, and there are some very definite ways to do certain things. What a Lwa is to be served is taught to the new initiate, although this information is not hard to find. Certain other rules are also followed, although this tradition does not have as many rules as Haitian Vodou.
How one performs spiritual works (“wangas” which means spells) and cleansings is taught by the Misterios (Mysteries) themselves. How one does many other things, the Mysteries teach. There are three main divisions, and each of these divisions has seven parts, thus the 21 divisions as three times seven, which is twenty one.
Dominican Vodou is practiced through a Tcha Tcha lineage (“maraca” – which means rattle – lineage). In Haiti, Vodou has come about and become more popular through another lineage known as the Asson. However, before the Asson, the Tcha Tcha lineage was the prominent lineage in Haiti. Thus the Tcha Tcha lineage is one of the oldest lineages within the Vodou tradition.
Dominican Vodou practitioners are often called “Caballos” but they are also known as Papa Bokos and Papa Lwa (both for males) and Mama Mambos and Mama Lwa (both for females). One who has obtained this title has gone through the last and highest level of initiation that can take anywhere between 3 to 9 days and nights as well as have spent a time working for the community.
Most of those who practice Dominican Vodou are called to the Tradition from an early age In this manner, the Misterios start to unravel quickly. All individuals are called, however some are called at an earlier age than others and thus are able to develop within the tradition at a faster and more advanced rate. As we say “Many are Called but few are Chosen” In Domincan Vodou, we believe that everyone has the calling, just that some have it stronger than others.
I was called by the Misterios at an early age and have received the full baptism of a Papa Boko, at a young age, within this beautiful and powerful tradition. I am, therefore, dedicated to bringing the true knowledge of this tradition to you. To me, there is nothing more marvellous, amazing or beautiful than the Misterios.