Voodoo may bring to mind pinned dolls, horrible voodoo curses, and headless chickens, but it is actually a very rich religion and way of life that includes many types of loa voodoo spirits. Loa are the voodoo spirits called upon by practitioners in order to make a request, whether it's to improve one's romantic life or heal a loved one's sickness. Since each loa is responsible for a different aspect of life, there are hundreds of these spirits and each has their own veve symbol used to invoke them.
Loa legends like Papa Legba and Baron Samedi, or creations based on them, are often used as characters in movies, comics, and television. Unfortunately, these recreations are usually caricatures and often give voodoo the reputation of being creepy and evil. Misunderstood facts about loa sometimes make the things loa can do seem dark and scary, but there are many loa spirits who are benevolent. There are those who represent love, romance, and fertility in addition to death and war. You may already be familiar with the top hat wearing, skull-faced Baron Samedi, but these other loa spirits are just as important.
Even outside Voodoo practitioners, Papa Legba is one of the most well known loa, and for good reason. He is considered the gate-keeper to the loa world, standing on the crossroads between the human and spirit world. Anyone calling on a spirit must go through him first, so he's usually one of the first loa saluted during a Voodoo ceremony. Despite his power and importance, Legba is usually seen as an old man, often with injuries or deformities.
He wears a straw hat, smokes a pipe, uses a cane or crutch to walk, and always has his djakout sack on him to carry his offerings. He's a relatively peaceful guy but can also be a bit of a trickster. Papa Legba is in charge of all points of intersection, including highways, gates, and doors, making his Catholic counterpart St. Peter, the guy in charge of heaven's gate.
Erzulie Dantor is depicted as the Black Madonna, draped in luxurious robes with a crown on her head. She also has a scar on one cheek and is mute since her tongue was cut out to ensure she would keep secrets. Dantor is a mother figure and a protector of children, in addition to being a symbol of romance and love. Many women who have suffered abuse will invoke her for her strong powers of protection, which she shows through her aggressive and wild side as well as a love for knives. Erzulie Dantor is sister to Erzulie Freda and the rivalry between them is the reason for Dantor's cheek scar.
She is also usually pictured with her child and interpreter Anais, showing her care for children. Her fierce love for all women and children makes her a respected loa, but she can also be quite fearful.
Baron Samedi is probably the most visually recognizable of all the loa, known for wearing a suit with tails and a top hat, and featuring a skull for a face. You may have seen characters based on him in movies or television, for instance Doctor Facilier in The Princess and the Frog or in American Horror Story: Coven, where he appeared as a mash-up with Papa Legba. Baron Samedi is the keeper of the spirit world and ruler of the dead, so anyone wishing to connect to someone who's passed on must go through him.
He also rules over sex, debauchery, and obscenity, and is known for smoking, drinking, and having a very dirty sense of humor. He loves chasing women despite the fact he's married to Maman Brigitte, another powerful loa also associated with death. Although Baron Samedi helps souls crossover to the spirit world, he is also able to cure disease if he can be convinced to do so.
Erzulie Freda has three husbands and wears three gold rings as a symbol of her union with all three. Thankfully, she is also the loa associated with love, so her marital situation isn't an issue. Her veve includes a heart which shows her devotion to love, but Freda also rules over cleanliness, good luck during gambling, luxury, and refinement. She is presented as a beautiful white woman with long hair and her materialistic tendencies make her big on gifts but also jealous of other women. It's said many relationship problems between couples are her fault.
Although she usually appears quite sweet, she can be very particular and must be asked for help in a way she approves of.