When I think of New Orleans, I think of the French Quarter, voodoo priestesses, and a big ol’ pot of Granny’s Cajun gumbo. I’m drooling just thinking about it… the gumbo, I mean.
Still, there’s just something about New Orleans that gets me in the oh-so-spooky mood. Whether it’s all those voodoo shops permeating the streets, the major carnival-esque celebrations, or the vintage architecture with tons of brooding history, I’m not sure – perhaps a little of all three. Obviously, New Orleans is high on my travel bucket list.
Voodoo is one of the most misunderstood belief systems out there. Some call it a religion, others believe it falls under more of a spiritual belief. It originated in Africa and made its way over to America and the Caribbean around the 1700s through enslaved persons of African descent. With these captives came their traditions, spiritual beliefs, healing practices, and more. This, of course, included Voodoo.
As New Orleans society began to allow people of colour to live as gens de couleur libres (free people of colour), these beautiful and liberated people went on to create the spiritual basis that New Orleans is known so well for. According to Vice, this period was one where “African culture—and spirituality—thrived in French Louisiana, and became an integral part of the multicultural framework upon which New Orleans was built.”
But how did the charming city of New Orleans ever get to be known as the City of Voodoo?
The Voodoo-Catholic Hybrid
First, let’s talk about what kind of voodoo is practiced in New Orleans. Over the years, it’s become somewhat of a hybrid between Voodoo and Catholicism, known as New Orleans Voodoo.
The voodoo practiced in New Orleans is quite different from the “dark voodoo” that you might be accustomed to hearing about, with evil hexes and dolls with pins and needles. What must be understood is that this view on Voodoo is largely fabricated by American Hollywood and “sensationalized horror,” and voodoo practitioners in New Orleans like to take on a lighter, more positive approach.
For instance, New Orleans Voodoo practitioners, like Catholics, pray to saints and worship a positive, light-loving Creator. However, unlike Catholics, they believe that God does not interfere in our lives, having given us complete free-will, and only spiritual beings do. That would be spirits, angels, saints, ancestors, and the like.
New Orleans Voodoo also puts a strong emphasis on communication between the spirit world and the earthly world. Many Voodoo practitioners will leave out offerings of food and liquor for deceased ancestors out of respect and to communicate messages back and forth. This is likely one of the many influences that Native-American culture had on the New Orleans Voodoo belief system.
This cross between the two seemingly contrasting religions was evident very early on in one fantastic woman, none other than Marie Laveau.
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen
You may have heard her name on that hit show, American Horror Story. You can also thank her for one of the reasons why Voodoo-Catholic culture is so prominent in New Orleans. As the first generation of her family to be born free, Marie Laveau is known as the city’s most famous voodoo queen. She was also a devout Catholic, attending mass at St. Louis Cathedral and living out her days on the French Quarter on St. Ann street. Laveau is believed to have studied Voodoo under the teachings of voodoo king, Dr. John, or what others called him, “Bayou John.” Once that happened, everything changed – for her, and for the future of New Orleans.
All her life, Marie was firmly and passionately Catholic. That didn’t stop once she became introduced to Voodoo. She simply incorporated it into her craft and used the traditions and ways of Voodoo to enhance her Catholic beliefs.
Laveau was a well-known figure in the city who allegedly helped out many people with spiritual, health, and emotional matters. She was also known to feed the homeless and poor. The most renowned thing about Laveau, however, was her alleged “magical abilities.” She is said to have offered services, for which many people would visit her for, and continue to visit her for even after her death. These services included healing the sick, casting spells, and supplying her visitors with spiritual goods and advice such as incense, candles, and herbs.
Marie Laveau’s cottage held altars with pictures of saints, candles, holy images, and offerings, further demonstrating her belief that Catholicism and Voodoo could co-exist peacefully. She also held weekly meetings, with both white and black participants, where her guests would chant and sing and leave offerings to the spirits.
What do you think of New Orleans and its history? Kindly share your opinion in the comments below.
To end off this post, I’ll leave you with an episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved, which investigates the “Bizarre Voodoo World of New Orleans.” If you found this interesting, you would likely want to know even more about the Voodoo side of New Orleans. Stay tuned for more paranormal posts coming up!