The Covenant of Legba
The Covenant of Legba is the largest gathering of practitioners of Voodoo, the unique blend of African mysticism and European magical systems that is widespread throughout the Americas. To the believer, the spirit and physical world are deeply intertwined, and those who can see this fact can work wonders, propitiating good spirits and confronting evil ones. The practitioners of Voodoo work with the spirits of the dead, and with the ancestral gods of their people. Their arts are a unique blend of Magic and Necromancy, and are highly effective. Its main concern is the interaction between this world and the spirit realms. The patron deity of the Covenant is Legba, the god of crossroads and the passage between worlds. The group’s goal is to act as mediators and defenders between gods and men, between the living and the dead.
The followers of Legba are among the few Gifted who make a living (albeit rarely a very good one) performing their Craft. In rural areas of Third World countries, they are respected and admired as doctors, councilors, and defenders. The same is true in some ethnic neighborhoods in the cities of developed nations, where people still remember the old ways.
Its members make an oath when they are initiated to protect all believers and to confront those who use their Arts to exploit and hurt others. Their chief enemy is the Brotherhood, a secret society of dark magicians. Known as bokkor, who use their powers to kill and maim for their own gain.
The history of the Covenant, as told to beginning members, dates back to prehistoric times. The first Houngans were two brothers, each favored by God because of their wisdom and courage.
Long ago, while traveling back home after one adventure or another, the two brothers came across a crossroads. The great Loa known as Legba was waiting for them. He told the brothers they could choose three paths. They could go forward, equals forever in the eyes of gods and men. Or they could walk separate paths, and in time one would be proven to be better than the other. The older brother wished to go forward, but the younger one, who secretly harbored jealousy in his heart for his elder, chose to go a different path. The road to the left led to power and strength — it was the Red Path, marked in blood. The right road was the Sun Path, which led to power through the veneration of the gods. The Red Path was shortest, and the younger brother, who was impatient, chose it. His choice soon led to the creation of the Brotherhood of Blood. The older brother had no choice; he could not go forward alone, so he took the Sun Path. His descendants became followers of Legba and the Snake Gods. Since then, the Covenant of Legba and the Brotherhood of Blood have been deadly enemies.
The modern record of the Legbans begins in the 16th century. At that time, power struggles in Africa often ended with the losing side being sold into slavery. Many Legbans suffered this fate, and found themselves in the Americas, purchased by European slavers. On other occasions, it was the Blood Brethren who ended up in chains, shipped to strange lands. Most of the enslaved Legbans were the less accomplished or powerful magicians and witch-doctors of the original Covenant. The leaders of the Covenants were too dangerous to be enslaved; instead, they were killed outright. Even worse, the Brethren made sure the souls of most Legban leaders were destroyed, preventing their ghosts from acting as teachers and guides for any survivors. Eventually, the Legbans succumbed. The Covenant all but vanished in Africa. It survived in America, but in a highly modified form.
The young practitioners among the slave population had to recreate the lost lore of their people and hide it from their European oppressors, who had little patience with magical pursuits from anyone, let alone slaves. The Legbans started adopting some of the trappings and lore of their new home. Their worship of spirits was disguised as the permissible veneration of Christian saints, and some magicians absorbed some European and Native American magical rites and traditions into their own practices. Over time, the Covenant evolved into something new, a synthesis of different religions and occult teachings from a dozen nations and three continents.
The Legbans fought fiercely against slavery. Sometimes, Gifted slaves managed to flee and liberate small numbers of prisoners. They founded independent communities deep in the jungles of South America, or the most inhospitable islands of the Caribbean. These Maroon or Cimarron communities often survived unmolested for centuries, and they would become the stepping stones of the regrowth of the Covenant.
Unfortunately, the Blood Brethren also had representatives among the slaves. They used their powers to abuse and intimidate, often forcing others to do extra work so the witch-doctor could enjoy some leisure time, or bullying slaves into giving up whatever meager possessions they had. The struggle between the Legbans and the Blood Brethren raged on, and it does to this day.
To the Legbans, the material and spiritual worlds are but two sides of the same coin. Most Legbans have the power to see the spirits of the dead, and to communicate with many “gods.” To the Legbans, death is a different state of existence, and they accept the idea of reincarnation as strongly as they do the notion of an afterlife away from this world. Both beliefs are true in their eyes, applying to different people and circumstances.
Two types of spirits dominate the Legban belief system: the spirits of the dead, and the Voodoo gods. The spirits of the dead are to be respected and honored; ancestral ghosts often remain on this world to provide help and advice for their relatives. The existence of ghosts on this world is not considered wrong or evil. Instead, Legbans believe these spirits have a place in the affairs of mortals, and that most of them eventually tire of dwelling on Earth and leave on their own, without need of exorcisms or banishing rituals.
The Voodoo gods are usually referred to using the terms loa and orisha (but a precise differentiation is not always made). The loas are believed to be a different order of being from the spirits of the dead. They are gods and goddesses, each embodying some aspects of reality. They are powerful and yet limited beings who often crave the sensation of walking the Earth while wearing the body of a mortal. Like many gods, loas can be mischievous and capricious, and must be appeased or persuaded before they agree to do anything beneficial. Loas are quite capable of killing or injuring innocents in a fit of anger, although some of the more beneficial gods (including Legba, the patron deity of the Covenant) rarely do so. Unlike the Rosicrucians, who favor rigid control and compacts, and the Wicce, who prefer to deal with spirits as friends, the Legbans favor bribery and trickery. They will, if necessary, bind a spirit and force it to do their bidding, but they prefer to pay for any favors they receive.
Legbans see themselves as members of their community, bound to use their gifts for the welfare of that community. Their role is in theory no different from that of bakers, carpenters or other skilled workers; they simply offer a wider range of services, from mundane advice and mediation services to protecting the victims of curses and supernatural predators. Covenant members are more likely than most other Gifted to actually make a living practicing their craft. The restrictions imposed by the Covenant are simple: never take a life without good reason (such as self defense, or to punish a capital crime); never accept more in payment than your client can afford; do not allow any Gifted or supernatural being to abuse the members of your community; and render hospitality and assistance to any Legban who requests it.
Legbans can most often be found in low-income neighborhoods of large cities, or in rural communities, especially in the Third World or the poorer regions of developed countries. Their membership is largely Hispanic or African-American.
Within the group are four major cultural subgroups: the Spanish Caribbean, the French New World, the British West Indies, and the Portguese colonies. Each group has its own language, terms, and rituals. For a long time, it would have been fair to say that there were four different Legban Covenants, one for each region. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Covenant had managed to become more coherent, with a central leadership and some basic rules that applied to all members.
There are few formal ranks within the Covenant. A Houngan, Mambo (the name for female practitioners) or Santero is a full-fledged practitioner, someone who has spent several years or even decades honing his skill. They take on students at their own discretion. Houngans and their students gather at a Temple, a place where they live and work. Traditionally, one Houngan or a Houngan and a Mambo live and rule over each Temple, and their students remain until they are promoted and can found their own Temple. In more recent times, this has changed. Now, many practitioners live in the same Temple, or at least make use of its facilities. The older and more experienced Houngans eventually rise to the level of Doctor (also known as King or Queen), a title that can only be granted by a Gathering. Doctors are called to mediate disputes within a Temple or between Temples, and can investigate charges of improper conduct or forbidden practices. Their requests are rarely ignored.
The overall leadership is held by the Royal Gathering, a group that comprises all the Doctors or Monarchs of the Covenant. It makes decisions that affect all Covenant members, from expelling an entire Temple to promulgating a new law or amendment to a law. The Gathering rarely meets. Five or six years is a typical span between meetings. There are more frequent Lesser Gatherings, usually restricted to the leaders of a given region or country, that occur whenever a Houngan or Doctor calls for it. These Lesser Gatherings deal with local problems, the selection of new Doctors, and so on.
Since many Legbans practice their arts relatively openly, other Covenants are aware of their existence. More accurately, they are aware of Voodoo practitioners of all kinds, including Legbans, the Blood Brethrens and the dozens of other small Covenants or Solitaires who make up the majority of Voodooists.
The Twilight Order and the House of Thanathos share many common interests with the Legbans. The three groups deal with ghosts and phantasms, and explore the Death Realms. The three groups also compete for members, those with the gift of Necromancy or Mediumship may be approached by all three Covenants. The Twilight Order is viewed with some degree of wariness, especially the more scientific-oriented “ghost hunters,” who are regarded as ignorant troublemakers. A few Order members have actually studied Voodoo necromancy, however, and have been friendly and respectful enough to become friends. The House of Thanathos has a large number of Undead in their ranks. These beings are anathema to most Legbans, who consider the living dead to be at best objects of pity or at worst monsters to be destroyed. The two Covenants have a tense relationship as a result.
The Legbans have limited dealings with most other Covenants. In large cities, they often encounter such groups as the Storm Dragons and the Pariahs, and will on occasion work with these Covenants. Ferals are considered to be unnatural monsters or victims of a deadly curse, which makes relations with the Nomads a chancy thing at best.
Skills and Abilities
Legbans usually know Occult Knowledge of Voodoo or the Myths and Legends of Voodoo. Inner city practitioners are likely to be Streetwise.
They combine Magic and Necromancy. Most members are proficient in both areas, although they tend to concentrate most of their attention on one or the other of them. Additionally Legbans often adopt a Spirit Patron. The Second Sight is not unknown, although not very common. Other powers are very uncommon to their membership.
Legbans are among the few Gifted practitioners who often make a living plying their wares. Their customers tend to be in poor or remote areas of the world, or among racial minorities in the developed world. “Superstitious” peoples who pay the Gifted for their labors. Modern Legbans often join other professions: physicians, lawyers, social workers, and community activists are fairly common.