The world has some very dark and grim places. From abandoned towns of Chernobyl, witch burnings in Salem, and tales of horrific torture in the Tower of London, there is one particular place that summons a very particular energy of darkness, spirituality, and a connection with the other side.
I am talking about New Orleans, the deep south location in Louisiana, America.
New Orleans made history through Hollywood with it’s depiction of voodoo and hoodoo running rampant in the streets, causing chaos of black magic cults, evil voodoo dolls and selling your soul at the crossroads. You can see this history dripping in darkness in movies such as Kate Hudson’s Skeleton Key, and even the Disney animation of The Princess and the Frog.
The voodoo of New Orleans is not the same as Haitian or African voodoo, though it does draw it’s roots from the ancient African religion. Voodoo is described as a “religious cult practised in the Caribbean and the southern US, combining elements of Roman Catholic ritual with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession.” It is not as aspect of devil worshipping, as Voodoo religions see no spirit of incarnate evil, and it does have magic energies and shamanistic techniques included, so can sometimes be described as “black magic”.
However, this is a difference between hoodoo and voodoo, Hoodoo being a non-religious belief in objects in the Voodoo religion as a form of folk magic. Voodoo (or Vodou) being the traditional African religious practice and worship. In New Orleans, a type of Louisiana Voodoo called Vodoun is also distinctly different as a fusion of the religions and magical practices
Voodoo was brought to Latin Catholic area through the slave trade, which saw thousands of people from African heritage sold to Caucasions for work. Conditions were abysmal, racism abounds, but New Orleans was port in which the slave traders came to directly to avoid pirates.
As more obviously seen in the TV show American Gods, these slaves survived the perilous journey and horrific conditions by bringing their beliefs and their Gods with them. The French ruling allowed the slaves to worship their Gods, which was not conducted in Haiti until after the revolution in 1791. After the revolution in Haiti, the refugees fled to New Orleans and set up shop in this more accepting (though still thoroughly troubled) area, bringing with them their beliefs and skills in voodoo. New American rule worried over the practices and the meetings of the religion, and continued to attempt to govern the religion with rulings throughout the 18th century, causing voodoo to sink deeper into the depths of the New Orleans swamps and closets.
One particular woman was defiant of hiding her practices though, and that was “The Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau. Working as a hairdresser by day, it was said that prominent politicians, lawyers, businessman, wealthy planters all came to her to consult before making an important financial or business-related decision, but she never discriminated, also seeing the poor and the enslaved. The enslaved in particular credited their successful escapes to her powerful charms.
Laveau dominated the other Voodoo leaders of New Orleans, but was also a Catholic, who attended Catholic Mass and was close friends with the priest. Her influence is what contributed to the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system of New Orleans.
By the time of Marie Laveau’s reign in the 1870’s, Voodoo was associated with New Orleans the world over and had continued to this day, blending old traditions into the magic of everyday life that is still practiced today.
Photo by GetYourGuide