New Orleans with its vampire and voodoo associations has fascinated me for a long time. After all, who could resist Louis and Lestat?
New Orleans, among many other destinations, is on my bucket list to visit at some point (Lottery win required first!)
A friend, however, was lucky enough to spend a few days there last month and I asked her if she would mind picking something up for me. She drew me a quizzical look when she heard my request but promised to see what she could do.
She returned to work after her trip and presented me with a small package, neatly wrapped in two pages from an old New Orleans phone directory.
I opened it carefully and instantly fell in love with the contents. Something that highly amused her!
So, what had I asked for?
A protective voodoo fetish/doll.
Here he is. Isn’t he cute?
There’s a common misconception that voodoo is all about black magic, sticking pins in effigies or dolls and wishing harm on your enemies.
Louisiana voodoo has a different heritage altogether.
It dates back to the early part of the 18th Century. Between 1719-1731, the majority of the slaves brought to the French Colonial city of New Orleans were Fon people from West Africa. (The area is modern day Benin). They brought with them their spiritual beliefs and traditional knowledge of medicinal herbs, potions, charms and amulets. This ancient knowledge was used primarily for healing and for protection, although it could be used for darker purposes. These protective, healing practices became the core elements of Louisiana voodoo. (Haitian voodoo adopted a darker more sinister route.)
In Southern Louisiana, the sense of family was strong and efforts were made to keep members of the same family together within the slave community. This familial bond helped to ensure that their cultural heritage, religion, beliefs and practices were preserved and passed on. Under the French Code, and with influence from the Catholic church, the sale of children under that age of fourteen away from their family was prohibited. This goodwill towards the slave community helped to form strong bonds of solidarity.
The practice of Louisiana voodoo was accepted and the wearing of charms and amulets for healing and protection was not an unusual sight among the citizens of New Orleans.
In 1792 there was a revolution in Haiti. It was reportedly started by slaves who had supposedly been possessed by a deity during a vodou ritual (different from voodoo.)
Life became difficult for the voodoo practitioners in Louisiana as a result. The French Colonists in Southern Louisiana became aggressive towards the previously accepted voodoo rituals and practices. The Louisiana slaves, however, to their credit, did not fight back and peacefully continued to use their voodoo beliefs for healing and protection and to maintain connections with their loved ones.
Gradually voodoo became re-accepted into day to day life.
With the introduction of the US Embassy Act of 1808, the importation of all African slaves to the USA was ended. Around this time, within the slave communities, voodoo kings and queens began to emerge as prominent figures.
The most famous of these was THE voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.
Born in 1801, Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of voodoo and a hairdresser to the wealthy families of the city. Her spiritual gatherings drew huge crowds. In fact, one gathering on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in 1874 attracted a crowd of 12000. Marie Laveau was non-discriminatory in her practices, treating rich and poor alike. Her reputation soon spread far and wide. A practicing Catholic, she actively encouraged her followers to attend mass. It was largely due to her extended sphere of influence that Louisiana voodoo and Catholicism became so closely intertwined.
Upon her death in June 1881, Marie Laveau was interred in a tomb in St Louis Cemetery No. 1. The mausoleum attracted many of her devoted followers who marked an X on the walls as part of a ritual to request the voodoo queen’s support from beyond the grave. This mausoleum was refurbished in 2014 following an act of vandalism and now can only be visited as part of an organised tour. It is no longer possible for voodoo followers to graffiti the tomb.
Marie Laveau’s name and her legacy have lived on and are kept alive through songs, TV, films and fiction.
In fact, the voodoo doll I was so kindly gifted came from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, a store in the city’s Bourbon Street.
Time will tell as to whether he offers me protection or not but for now I need to decide on where to display him. Traditionally these dolls were hung in doorways or hallways.
For some reason, The Big Green Gummi Bear is less than comfortable with him being around…… 😉
(images sourced via Google- credits to the owner)