Wade Davis, 1986,
The Serpent and the Rainbow, p. 244
New Orleans Voodoo is a hybrid voodoo, reflective
of the eclectic culture that is uniquely New Orleans. The history of
voodoo in New Orleans dates back two Centuries, to a time when West African
slaves arrived in New Orleans, bringing with them the ancient religion that
originated some 7,000 years ago.
word voodoo means “spirit" or "mystery." Voodoo believers accept the existence of one
god, below which are the powerful spirits often referred to as Loa. These
powerful spirits are responsible for the daily matters in life in the areas of
family, love, money, happiness, wealth, and revenge.
If New Orleans had an icon for it's brand of Voodoo, it would bear the image of
Marie Laveau. Marie Laveau is
somewhat of a poster child for the mixed races that emerge from New Orleans as
she is said to have been a free person of color and part Choctaw. Mam'zelle
Laveau was born to a
wealthy French planter Charles Laveau, and a mother who may have been a mulatto slave, a Caribbean Voodoo practitioner, or a
Birth of Voodoo
National Geographic Video
A Brief History of Voodoo
Vodun is sometimes called Voodoo,
Vodoun, or Vodou. Religions related to Vodun are: Candomble, Lucumi, Macumba,
and Yoruba). New
Orleans Voodoo is a conglomeration of cultural and spiritual belief systems
strongly influenced by the ancient Voodoo religion of Africa, the Vodou religion
of Haiti, the healing arts of Native American people, the folk magic of Europe,
and Catholicism. Voodoo is culture, heritage, philosophy, art, dance, language,
medicine, music, justice, power, storytelling & ritual. Voodoo is a way of
looking at and dealing with life. It heals and destroys, is both good and bad,
and is simple in concept and complex in practice. Voodoo reflects the duality of
the nature of the rattlesnake; its poison is toxic but its poison is needed to
heal the same toxin. Voodoo is open to all yet holds many secrets & mysteries to
those who are uninitiated.
Voodoo has its roots in the trauma of many people. It originated from the
African ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean in bondage. Christopher
Columbus set the stage in 1492 for the development of Voodoo when countless
Tainos were murdered in an attempt to enslave them during the colonization of
Hispaniola. With a lack of indigenous people to function as slaves, and the cost
of European servants prohibitive, the slave trade between West and Central
Africa began (Long, 2000).
1697 the French acquired one third of Hispaniola and worked the slaves literally
to death. The average survival rate of slaves at that time was only about 10
years. This made the slave population ripe for continual replenishment, and the
slave population grew from several thousand to half a million. The slave
population was extremely diverse with many different tribes representing many
religions, languages, and belief systems. It is during this time of the French
occupation that the basic structure of Voodoo as we know it today developed.
colonizers believed that by separating families and individual nations, the
slave population would not unite as one people. On the contrary, the Africans
found commonalities in their belief systems and religions and began invoking
their own spirits and practicing each other’s religious rites. In addition, the
surviving Taino Indians exerted some influence over the practice of Voodoo,
especially in the area of the healing arts. As well, the indentured servants of
Europe brought their folk magic, which was incorporated into the Voodoo
religion. The Roman Catholic Church, ever finding ways to convert people to the
church, and the entity to which the French answered, insisted on treating the
slaves better and had them baptized and instructed in the practice of
Catholicism (Hanger, 1997). The slave population soon began to mask their
rituals and beliefs in Catholicism. It is the conglomeration and syncretism of
these diverse cultural belief systems that comprised the first Creole religion
and makes Voodoo what it is today.
make a very long story short, the slaves eventually rebelled and drove out the
French and the Catholic Church. Years of oppression and persecution followed,
with the Voodoo considered Satanism by the Catholic church and evangelical
Protestants. This caused Voodoo to go underground and flourish. The Catholic
church eventually made peace with the Voodoo and it is now accepted as an
Voodoo Spells: Want revenge? Or help with love? Try these powerful Voodoo Spells. Absolutely guaranteed!
National Geographic Video
Haiti is a Catholic country. But daily life still moves to the rhythms of spirit
Voodooist Incantation to Legba,
Gatekeeper to the Spirit World
Papa Legba ouvri baye-a pou mwen
Pou mwen pase
Le ma tounen, ma salyie lwa yo.
(Papa Legba, open the
gate for me,
So I can go through,
When I return, I will honor the loa.)
The history of voodoo in New Orleans dates
back two Centuries, to a time when West African slaves arrived in New Orleans,
bringing with them the ancient religion Voodoo that originated some 7,000 years
ago. In the 1830s, Marie Laveau became the first commercial Voodoo
Queen, declaring herself Pope of Voodoo. Laveau was a devout Catholic who is
said to have attended mass every day, and was allowed to hold voodoo rituals
behind St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans' French
Quarter. Ceremonies were also held along Bayou St. John near the present-day
and along Lake Pontchartrain. These ceremonies outside of Congo Square,
performed by free black Creoles faithful to the history of voodoo, are believed
to have been more ritualistic and exotic than those performed in Congo Square,
which were more a celebration of African heritage than true voodoo ceremonies.
Following the Civil War, voodoo practitioners were largely forced
underground. However, even today the myth, imagery and practices of this ancient
religion survive and flourish in New Orleans.
Many musicians, particularly Dr. John (who took his stage name from
John "Dr. John" Montenet, an African Voodoo priest who practiced in Congo Square
in the 1800s), include references to gris-gris (one of the "magic"
voodoo), voodoo priestesses and practices. Many folkloric remedies common in the
Mississippi Delta are based on traditional voodoo, and were popularized and
immortalized in blues songs -- take John the Conqueror Root for success in any
endeavor, sprinkle Goofer dust in the path of enemies, or carry a black cat bone
for good fortune.
Gris-gris bags, small pouches filled with a combination of herbs
mixed in a proportion that is thought to bring about a desired result for the
carrier, are not at all an uncommon sight on the belts of New Orleanians.
While many people dismiss voodoo as a cult or superstition, an
equal number of residents truly believe in its powers and warn non-believers not
to take voodoo lightly, or suffer the consequences. Ceremonies are still held in
and various shops sell powders, oils, candles and voodoo dolls. But despite the
apparent commercialization of these ancient practices, time and modernization
have done nothing to diminish their power.
VooDoo Priestess Sallie Ann
Glassman leads a voodoo ceremony in New Orleans to ward off dangerous hurricanes
the July before Hurricane Katrina struck. This is a clip from Jeremy Campbell's
"Hexing A Hurricane."
The Use of Voodoo Dolls in New
The use of Voodoo dolls, gris-gris, and mojo in hexes and
curses in New Orleans reportedly peaked during the reign of the infamous
Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. The origin of the practice of sticking
pins into dolls as a curse can be found in European
poppets and West and Central African nkisi or bocios.
It has been suggested that making
Voodoo dolls and sticking them with pins was one way
in which slaves exercised some form of control over their masters. The
malevolent use of Voodoo dolls is considered a form of Bokor (Black) Voodoo that
damaging stereotypes associated with Voodoo. Today, many
practitioners of the Voodoo religion make a concerted effort to disassociate
from the malevolent use of Voodoo dolls, and instead create and use them for
positive purposes. Approximately 90% of the use of Voodoo dolls is centered on
healing, finding true love, spiritual guidance, and as focusing tools in
meditation. In New Orleans, Voodoo dolls are largely sold as souvenirs, curios,
and novelty items.