Simbi is the collective name for a very diverse group of ancient ancestral spirits, who come from the Kikongo area of West Central Africa. Kongo spirituality is particularly sophisticated and creative. The Kongo world view divides into two pieces - heaven being the place of the gods and the earth the domain of the mortals. Between these two worlds lies a vast sea, an ocean of fluid that spirits traverse in their move between the two domains. Here is where the Simbis live. In Kongo spirituality there is recognized a spiritual hierarchy. Immediately above living humans are the ancestors, or Nkuyu. These are the ancestors who are named. Above them, and more removed from humans, are the Simbi. In the Kongo belief system, all Simbi (also called Basimbi for plural and Kisimbi) are associated with water. They are the source of special blessings but are known to be somewhat unpredictable. They are also said to be "twice born" which means that they have not lived recently on earth.(www.inquincesweb.com, accessed 4/5/04) Hence, they are a higher class of ancestors, having been elevated by death to a higher status than humans, yet still available to us for consultation and service.
Wyatt MacGaffey, a leading scholar on Kongo culture, talks of how simbi spirits liked to perch in trees like birds and descend to the ground to create magic. It's not a big leap to envision the snakes of Haiti, perched up in trees and descending to the ground when disturbed Or Damballah, the great serpent, descending the poteau mitan in the peristyle.
Michael Ortiz Hill, an Bantu tribal healer and writer postulates that "one of¬ the more obscure words in American English is simbi, used only in the Georgia Sea Islands and the nearby coastal areas. Simbi has the same meaning in English as it has in Haitian Creole, in Cuban Spanish, in Brazilian Portuguese and in Kikongo. Simbi means "water spirit." (www.gatherin.com, accessed 4/5/04) And indeed, there is considerable scholarship about the "cymbees" of the southern wetlands, water spirits both fierce and magical, who inhabit streams, swamps and ponds.(www.mamiwata.com/waterspirits)
The Vodou culture site lists no less than 27 names for Simbi, covering the nations of Rada, Petro and Kongo. The original simbis were cool, creative spirits in the Kongo cosmology. These include Simbi Dlo (Simbi in Water) and Simbi Andezo (Simbi in Two Waters). The magical ability of their pwen, called nkisi in Kongolese, translated into powerful magics, that were then used in Petro rites, giving rise to Simbi Anpaka , Simbi Ganga and Simbi Makaya to name but a few. Every Simbi also has specific associations - Simbi Andezo has a connection to both fresh and salt water. Simbi Anpaka is associated with leaves and poisons. In our house, Simbi Makaya is known as a sorcerer, and is the patron of the Sanpwel Society. Although I have not come across any writing pointing to a female Simbi, I have a very close relationship with Gran Sim-ba, who says she is the mother of all the simbis. As Simbi Makaya gave me her song and langaj invocation, I can hardly argue the point!
Elizabeth MacAlister wrote in 2000 about her encounter with the warrior spirit, Simibi Ganga, in the mountains, high above Petionville, Haiti in 1993. Here is the song she reported the hounsi singing for him:
Simbi O Simbi Ganga E, m'a rele Simbi Ganga E
Yo mete pote kouto, yo mete pote poinya m'pap pe yo
Simibi Ganga e m'pap pe yo, Simbi Ganga!
Simbi O Simbi Ganga E, I'm calling Simbi Ganga hey!
They can bring knives, they can bring swords, but I am not afraid of them,
Simbi Ganga I'm not afraid of them, Simbi Ganga!
In times of deep trouble, Simbi is the mercurial magician one can call upon to help facilitate closure to the problem at hand. Milo Rigaud writes brilliantly about this particular facet of Simbi's powers in Secrets of Voodoo:
"It is the voodoo Mercury who conducts the soul from the visible to the invisibles, starting from the crossroads, and who then leads the invisibles to the crossroads, to receive the sacrifice. The voodoo Mercury has the name of Simbi, a loa of many forms. He is the conductor of souls, who leads the souls of the dead in all directions bordered by the four magical orients of the cross. He is the Messiah of Legba, the messenger of the sun. Simbi corresponds to the hermetic Mercury of the cabalistic alchemy of the ritual sacrifice. Simbi is the creative principle of the seminal vesicle because, in Voodoo tradition, Legba as the center post is himself the principle of the magic wand. (page 93).
Simbis is known to be shy, standing outside the peristyle until coaxed in by the congregation. Some like Makaya are quite bellicose, talkative and gregarious. Songs for Simbi speak of him being "hard to know". Here's an example:
Simbi Andezo! Sa ki fa yo pa vle we mwen, yo poko konnen, mwen (repeat)
Yo bay mwen pwen a, Se pou m mache la nwuit O! (repeat)
Simbi Andezo!¬ Sa ke fe yo pa vle we mwen, yo poko konnen mwen.
Simbi Andezo! The reason why they don't want to see me, is because they don't yet know me (repeat)
They gave me the point [a spell] Its so that I can walk at night O! (repeat)
Simbi Andezo! The reason why they don't want to see me, Its because they don't yet know me.
Simbi is also a lwa of communication. Things regarding communication which move at the speed of light are in Simbi's domain (such as nerve impulses, Internet, electricity.) He is associated with crossroads and his veve encompasses the equal-armed cross (see above). There are many Simbi, so the colors favored for each will vary. In my own peristyle, I was taught by my Papa Kanzo to associate Andezo with Turquoise and Red; Makaya with Red and Black, Dlo with Blue and Green. Our house associates Simbi with the image of the Three Kings. I realize I am being very radical here, and not using the traditional chromolithograph of the Kings. But as an artist, I am exercising my right to bring forth images that work for me. Other houses use St. Andrew, though that image most often refers to Baron Kalfour. Each house in Haiti has it's favorites, but these seem to be the most common.
Unlike the great serpent Dambalah Wedo, Simbi is considered to be a long, slim snake. Sallie Ann Glassman has interpreted Simbi posed as the Rider-Waite Magician card of the Tarot, with his arms raised in the traditional Western Magic salutation. Whatever his image, Simbi is above all the preeminent magician, statesman and wise soul who brings power, wealth and insight to his servitors. Offer him water (if it's Andezo, offer water from two sources, such as ocean and fresh water), rain water, especially rain water from a lightening storm, green ribbons and candles, snake skins and kleren.