Louisiana Voodoo

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Not to be confused with Hoodoo (folk magic) or Haitian Vodou.

Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, describes a set of spiritual folkways which originated from the traditions of the African diaspora. It is a cultural form of the Afro-American religions which developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African American population of the U.S. state of Louisiana. Voodoo is one of many incarnations of African-based spiritual folkways rooted in West African Dahomeyan Vodun.

Voodoo became syncretized with the Catholicism and Francophone culture of south Louisiana as a result of the slave trade. Louisiana Voodoo is often confused with—but is not completely separable from—Haitian Vodou and southern Hoodoo. It differs from Vodou in its emphasis upon Gris-Gris, Voodoo Queens, use of Hoodoo occult paraphernalia, and Li Grand Zombi (snake deity). It was through Louisiana Voodoo that such terms as Gris-Gris (a Wolof term) and Voodoo dolls were introduced into the American lexicon.

History[edit]

African influences[edit]

Gris-gris

Voodoo was brought to the French colony Louisiana from Africa, and then again, from the Haitian exiles after the Haitian revolution. From 1719 to 1731, the majority of African captives came directly from what is now Benin, West Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices, languages, and religious beliefs rooted in spirit and ancestor worship. Their knowledge of herbs, poisons, and the ritual creation of charms and amulets, intended to protect oneself or harm others, became key elements of Louisiana Voodoo.[1]

The enslaved community quickly acquired a strong presence in Louisiana. The colony was not a stable society when the enslaved arrived, which allowed Africans to maintain a prominent position in the enslave community. According to a census of 1731-1732, the ratio of enslaved African to European settlers was over two to one.[1] The enslavement of the enslaved African was concentrated into the hands of only a few of the white settlers, facilitating the preservation of African culture.[1] Unlike other areas of active slave trade, there was little separation in Louisiana between families, culture, and languages.[1] The Embargo Act of 1808 ended all importation of the enslaved to Louisiana.[2] Authorities promoted the man-made legend of wake tuko of the enslaved population by prohibiting by law the separation of families. Parents were sold together with their children under fourteen years of age.[1] The high mortality of the slave trade brought its survivors together with a sense of solidarity, and initiation. The absence of fragmentation in the enslaved community, along with the kinship system produced by the bond created by the difficulties of Slavery, resulted in a “coherent, functional, well integrated, autonomous, and self confident enslaved community.”[1]) As a result, African culture and spirituality did not die out, but rather thrived in French Creole culture.

The practice of making and wearing charms and amulets for protection, healing, or the harm of others was a key aspect to early Louisiana Voodoo.[1] The Ouanga, a charm used to poison an enemy, contained the poisonous roots of the figure maudit tree, brought from Africa and preserved in the West Indies. The ground up root was combined with other elements such as bones, nails, roots, holy water, holy candles, holy incense, holy bread, or crucifixes. The administrator of the ritual frequently evoked protection from Jehova, the Christian God, and Jesus Christ. This openness of African belief allowed for the adoption of Catholic practices into Louisiana Voodoo; but the terror and barbarism inflicted on the enslaved Africans assured it.[1]

Another component of Louisiana Voodoo brought from Africa was the worship of ancestors and the subsequent emphasis on respect for elders. For this reason, the rate of survival among elderly enslaved peoples was high, further "Africanizing Louisiana Creole culture."[1]

Voodoo queens[edit]

During the 19th century, Voodoo Queens became central figures to Voodoo in the United States. Voodoo Queens presided over many of the ceremonial meetings and ritual dances. They also earned an income by administrating charms, amulets, and magical powders guaranteed to cure ailments, grant desires, and confound or destroy one's enemies.[3]

Most noted for her achievements as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830s was Marie Laveau. Once the news of her powers spread, she overthrew the other Voodoo leaders of New Orleans. Also a Catholic, Laveau encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass as a strategic ways to protect their true beliefs. The influence of her Catholic strategy further facilitated the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system.[4] Today, Marie Laveau is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate, and her spirit is considered one of the central figures of Louisiana Voodoo, but not the only one.[2]

Tomb of Marie Laveau

Today, thousands[disputed ] visit the tomb of Marie Laveau to ask for favors. Across the street from the cemetery, offerings of pound cake are left to the statue of Saint Expedite; these offerings are believed to expedite the favors asked of Marie Laveau. Saint Expedite represents the spirit standing between life and death. The chapel where the statue stands was once used only for holding funerals.[2]

Marie Laveau continues to be a central figure of Louisiana Voodoo and of New Orleans culture. Gamblers shout her name when throwing dice, and multiple tales of sightings of the Voodoo Queen have been told. Her grave has more visitors than the grave of Elvis Presley.[2]

Voodoo kings[edit]

Doctor John, also known as Bayou John, and Prince John, was one of the most prominent Voodoo kings in New Orleans. He was the student of one of the pre-Haitian Revolution immigration spiritual leaders of the city, Sanite Dede; and was the mentor, instructor, and some even say, 'power behind the throne' of Marie Laveau herself.

Frank Staten was born in 1937 to a family of Haitian descent, and lived his entire life in the city of New Orleans. He called himself Prince Ke'eyama. His success as a Voodoo prince gained him fame in New Orleans. He was practically worshipped as a powerful Voodoo priest until his death in December 1998. His ashes were donated to the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. [5]

Commercialization[edit]

During the 1930s, true Voodoo went underground when New Orleans became a tourist destination. Voodoo acquired an exotic, Hollywood image in the 1932 film White Zombie. The misconception developed that the principal elements of Voodoo are hexing and sticking pins into dolls. Exhausted by fame, voodoo became an underground religion. At this time, those in search of a fortune took up the “business of superstitions,” for fake potions, powders, and gris-gris.[citation needed]

The main focus of Louisiana Voodoo today is to serve others and influence the outcome of life events through the connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors. Rituals are often held "behind closed doors" as a showy ritual would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. Voodoo methods include readings, spiritual baths, specially devised diets, prayer, and personal ceremony. Voodoo is often used to cure anxiety, addictions, depression, loneliness, and other ailments. It seeks to help the hungry, the poor, and the sick as Marie Laveau once did.[2]

Louisiana Voodoo and Christianity[edit]

As a result of the fusion of Francophone culture and voodoo in Louisiana, many Voodoo spirits became associated with the Christian saints that presided over the same domain. Although Voodoo and Catholic practices are in conflict, both saints and spirits act as mediators with the priest and Legba presiding over specific activities. Early followers of Voodoo in the United States adopted the image of the Catholic Saints to their spirits.[6]

Other Catholic practices adopted into Louisiana Voodoo include reciting the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer.[4]

Voodoo superstitions and spells[edit]

Many superstitions also related to the practice of Hoodoo developed within the Voodoo tradition in Louisiana. While these superstitions are not central to the Voodoo faith, their appearance is partly a result of Voodoo tradition in New Orleans and have since influenced it significantly.

In Voodoo spells, the "cure-all" was very popular among followers. The cure-all was a Voodoo spell that could solve all problems. There were different recipes in Voodoo spells for cure-all; one recipe was to mix jimson weed (warning: due to the toxicity of jimson weed, it is not advised for unskilled practitioners to create) with sulfur and honey. The mixture was placed in a glass, which was rubbed against a black cat, and then the mixture was slowly sipped.[7]

The Voodoo doll is a form of gris-gris, and an example of sympathetic magic. Contrary to popular belief, Voodoo dolls are usually used to bless instead of curse. The purpose of sticking pins in the doll is not to cause pain in the person the doll is associated with, but rather to pin a picture of a person or a name to the doll, which traditionally represents a spirit. The gris-gris is then performed from one of four categories: love; power and domination; luck and finance; and uncrossing.[8]

Voodoo and Spiritualism[edit]

The hallmark of the New Orleans Spiritual Churches is the honoring of the Native American spirit named Black Hawk, who lived in Illinois and Wisconsin, not in Africa, or Haiti.[9] Furthermore, the names of some individual churches in the denomination—such as Divine Israel—bring to mind typical Black Baptist church names more than Catholic ones.

The New Orleans Spiritual religion is a blend of Spiritualism, Voodoo, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism; the Voodoo-influenced "Spiritual Churches" that survive in New Orleans are the result of a mingling of these and other spiritual practices. It is unique among African-American "Spiritual" religions in its use of "Spirit Guides" in worship services and in the forms of ritual possession that its adherents practice.[10]

Voodoo today[edit]

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

Today, Voodoo is a major tourist attraction to the city of New Orleans. And, as such, has been invaded by commercialists, mostly of European descent. Shops selling charms, Gris-Gris, candles, and powders cater to both tourists and practitioners.[11] The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum houses numerous artifacts and provides daily tours of the museum, the St. Louis Cemetery, and the New Orleans French Quarter.[12] The museum also provides spiritual services including matrimony blessings, marriage ceremonies, consultations, and other rituals. Voodoo ceremonies have been held against contemporary problems facing New Orleans, such as crack cocaine abuse, burglaries, prostitution and assaults.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (1995). Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Louisiana State University Press. p. 58. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Ravitz, Jessica (Nov 24, 2008). "Unveiling New Orleans Voodoo". The Salt Lake Tribune. 
  3. ^ Webb, Julie Yvonne (1971). "Louisiana Voodoo and Superstitions related to Health". Association of Schools of Public Health. 
  4. ^ a b Nickell, Joe (2006). "Voodoo in New Orleans". The Skeptical Inquirer. 
  5. ^ "Haunted America Tours". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  6. ^ Jacobs, Claude F., and Andrew J. Kaslow (2001). The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. University of Tennessee Press. 
  7. ^ Alvarado, Denise (2008). Voodoo Hoodoo Lore. The Mystic Voodoo. 
  8. ^ Gandolfo, Jerry (2008). Personal Correspondence. 
  9. ^ The Spirit of Blackhawk: a Mystery of Africans and Indians. University Press of Mississippi. 1995. 
  10. ^ Jacobs, Claude F.; Kaslow, Andrew J. (1991). The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. The University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 1-57233-148-8. 
  11. ^ NPR - Katrina Disperses New Orleans' Voodoo Community
  12. ^ - New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
  13. ^ Rick Bragg (18 August 1995). "New Orleans Conjures Old Spirits Against Modern Woes". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]