One thing that every tradition, every culture, and every spiritual or earth related tradition share in common is the use of the Sacred Rattle, it is present in some form in every culture and Continent. Whether the rattle is a coconut or gourd maraca, filled inside with sacred seeds, or a latticework of glass beads or cowrie shells woven into a net and covering the outside of a dried gourd, such as it is with the Shekere or the cabasa; or a stick with shells, bones or nuts tied to one end. The rattle in its many forms and shapes is one of three man made musical instruments found in some form in every culture and country. "The others being the drum and fluits, which is another article in itself.". In many societies around the world the sacred rattle always distinguishes those individuals of power, such as a Shaman, witch doctor or Medicine men, and it in itself is considered one of the most sacred of tools. There was a time that the Maraca and Sacred Rattles were viewed by Christians as the Devil's instrument, or the instrument of savages, because of their association with shamans and witch doctors, and for this reason its use was outlawed. In the Caribbean the instrument went into hiding, and was used by secret societies or within private ceremonies, as to be caught using the rattle was punishable by death by the Spanish Government officials and Cristian authorities. But the ancient gourd rattles, shekeres and maracas would not stay quiet for long, and after the Spanish American war these instrument came out of hiding and soon it became a popular musical instrument, adapted into the musical styles of Mambo, Guajiras, Le lo lai, Merenque and Salsa, and was used in a similar fashion as the Bohiques and Bohitu Shamans who used them in their Arieto ceremonies long passed.
The various African and Indigenous earth related magico spiritual and religious systems within the Americas has and to this day uses its sacred rattle. Haitian Vodou has its Asson, Cuban Santeria uses its Asheke, Dominican 21 Division uses the Tcha Tcha, and Puerto Rican Sanse uses the Amaraca, which is also called the Matraca or simply la Maraca. For this reason one will often hear that many Vodouist are part of the Asson lineage while traditions such as Sanse and 21 Division are of the Tcha Tcha lineage.
The Caribbean Taino Bohique and Bohitu "Chamanes / Shamans" as the Shamans in every other culture also treasured their rattle, known as Amaraca "a Taino word from where we get the modern word for Maraca". It was used as a tool to aid the Bohique in focusing his energies and as a tool for clearing out a space of unwanted energies. The Maraca is an instrument of great power, and similar to that of a European Wizard's wand, through the Maraca rattle, the Bohiques could communicate with the realm of spirits, and summon deities. They could repel or vanquish unwanted spirits, heal, bless, activate the healing properties of roots, herbs, talismans, amulets, beads and stones. Like a European Sorcerers Wand, the sacred rattle is an extension of the body and works as the pointing finger in which we get our desires, and will pointed and focused outwards from the body.
The sacred rattles are emblems of seeking that which is Holy, and it establishes a connecting link between the material world and the spiritual realm. Through the proper use of the rattle, the Shaman could manifest the presence of spirits and deities. The sacred rattle is viewed as the phallus or a phallic symbol, and is always associated with the male sexual organ, and through the use of the sacred rattle we project our energy and acts as a symbolic male orgasm. Symbolically the Maraca or Tcha Tcha represents the joining of the two most important magic principles: the sacred and protective circle at the round end and the magical wand at the handle.
The Maraca or Sacred Rattle works through sound vibrations, and is always used to concentrate sacred space, and create protective barriers. In Haitian Vodou the Asson as is the Sanse Amaraca is used to summon the Loa, the Sances or the Messengers while at the same time warding of negative earth bound spirits which often get confused or can not tolerate the sound frequency. It literally acts as a Rattlesnakes rattling its tail letting predators or unwanted energies and vibrations know that you acknowledge their presence, and to take your warning or you will attack.
It is also used in all Vodou, Sanse, Santeria and 21 Division rites of passages, and ritual ceremonies. Along side herbs, tobacco, blessed waters and salt the sacred rattles are used for cleansing an individuals aura. It helps the practitioners of Shamanism, Sanse and Vodou in opening up blocked energy fields and help in binding or fixing weak or torn layers of the auric layers, which helps in re-establishing energy flow known as Ashe and removing psychic dirt or unwanted energy.
But one of its most fundamental uses within Sanse, 21 Division and Vodou is to help in altering the state of mind or consciousness, which allows for the possible mounting of Loa, Orisha or spirits of ones spiritual frame. The Maraca or sacred rattle helps the brain to concentrate, focus and tune in to the frequency range of the Spiritual realm.
Traditionally a Shamans rattle was inherited, and more were accumulated with the passing of generations. In Sanse as is with 21 Division Vudu, the sacred rattle is received during a baptismal ceremony and never directly purchased by the aprendis or ahijado/a. The rattle is blessed and concentrated by the Papa Bocor, Mama Mambo or Sancista in front of the badji altar and is given to the ahijados, often in his/her last ceremony, usually la Coronacion, as a symbol that the ahijado is know a Bohique, a Shaman, a Sancista, a Papa Bocor or Mama Mambo.
One thing that some societies of Sanse shares similar with Haitian Vodou are three major tools, with the exception that Hatian Vodou often use three tools in one, while Sanse keeps them separate but often use them simultaneously. In Haitian Vodou they have a beautiful and unique sacred rattle which is unique to Haitian Vodou alone called the Asson. The Asson takes three diftent instruments and combines them into one. The maraca, the shekere and the altar bell. In Sanse we do not combine the three into one, but use them separately and as I have stated often use them simultaneously. In Sanse we use the Maraca as the first tool of choice, and this sacred rattle represents Agua Dulce or the Indian Division. The second item we use is the brass bell which represents Division Blanca, and is also used to call on Catholic Santos, the Division Blanca known as Rada, and the Emisarios and Comiciones that work under them. A small shekere or cabasa instrument is used to represent and call la Division Prieta also known as Division Negra or Division Morena "Black Division", and is used to call not only the Prieto or moreno spirits, but also spirits of the Comisiones such as los Congos, las Madamas, los Esclavos or los Cimarones.
In my summers in Puerto Rico as a kid and under the care of my Abuela and uncles, I was fortunate enough to visit the Centro Espirituales, where my grandmother was a participating member and well respected Espiritista medium. On the white clothed table where the Presidente de Mesa and all the mediums would sit around, stood a desk bell, the kind that is rung by hitting the little nob to make it ring. This item was a very popular ritual tool in Puerto Rican Espiritismo. Although I personally favor the bell with the handle I have one on my ancestral shrine and tap it every morning when I awake and every night before I go to sleep. When I have Misas and Sesiones those who bring offerings such as candles, flowers and other items, tap on it before placing it on the altar.
The use of the sanctus bell is highly used in spiritual masses, and fiesta espirituales as a form of letting all those know who have come to attend the event that a supernatural event is taking place before the altar. It is also rung heavily when a medium is about to mount a Loa or Spirit as a protective measure so that no earth bound or malignant force enters.
While the Rattle symbolizes the masculine phallic symbol, the bell represents the joining of both, the joining of the phallic with the yonic or vulvic "womb or vagina" to create life. The tongue or clapper of the bell is often made of two parts and symbolize the male semen and the female clitorus. "The ball part of the rattle can also be viewed as a womb, the sacred circle and earth."
Present day Church bells derive from ancient Pagan traditions and not the other way around as most would have you believe. It is believed that the first metal bells appeared in the Bronze age around 3000 B.C. in either Eastern or Western Asia.
Like the rattles bells are a powerful space and area cleanser. Obviously they do not pick up material dirt and debris but they are excellent tools in summoning benevolent spirits, expelling malignant entities, for healing and meditation. The bells are always rung to let those know a ceremony is to begin and when a ceremony is to end.
The traditional metal for bells should be iron, brass, or silver, and they are always kept on the house altars and shrines.
Bells can be hung near doors on windowsills, outdoors and indoors. As the wind blows on bells and chimes it acts as a repellent for unwanted vibrations.
It is believed that if an indoor bell rings by itself, this could be a sign of danger, often of an occult kind, and proper divination should be done and cleansing of the home. Also if a bell falls unexpectedly, this is a warning sign of envy, gossip or a psychic attack.
Every tradition uses its bells in some form, may it be a cow bell, altar bell, a bowl bell with mallet, or chime bells and should be added into your daily use.