Louisiana Voodoo

Louisiana Voodoo

Overview
Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, describes a set of underground religious practices which originated from the traditions of the African diaspora
African diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...

. It is a cultural form of the Afro-American religion
Afro-American religion
Afro-American religions are a number of related religions that developed in the Americas among African slaves and their descendants in various countries of Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of the southern United States...

s which developed within the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, and Creole
Louisiana Creole French
Louisiana Creole is a French Creole language spoken by the Louisiana Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language consists of elements of French, Spanish, African, and Native American roots.-Geography:...

 speaking African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 population of the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 state of Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

. It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in West African Dahomey
Dahomey
Dahomey was a country in west Africa in what is now the Republic of Benin. The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful west African state that was founded in the seventeenth century and survived until 1894. From 1894 until 1960 Dahomey was a part of French West Africa. The independent Republic of Dahomey...

an Vodun. They became syncretize
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

d with the Catholicism and Francophone
Francophone
The adjective francophone means French-speaking, typically as primary language, whether referring to individuals, groups, or places. Often, the word is used as a noun to describe a natively French-speaking person....

 culture of south Louisiana as a result of the slave trade.
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Encyclopedia
Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, describes a set of underground religious practices which originated from the traditions of the African diaspora
African diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...

. It is a cultural form of the Afro-American religion
Afro-American religion
Afro-American religions are a number of related religions that developed in the Americas among African slaves and their descendants in various countries of Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of the southern United States...

s which developed within the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, and Creole
Louisiana Creole French
Louisiana Creole is a French Creole language spoken by the Louisiana Creole people of the state of Louisiana. The language consists of elements of French, Spanish, African, and Native American roots.-Geography:...

 speaking African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 population of the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 state of Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

. It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in West African Dahomey
Dahomey
Dahomey was a country in west Africa in what is now the Republic of Benin. The Kingdom of Dahomey was a powerful west African state that was founded in the seventeenth century and survived until 1894. From 1894 until 1960 Dahomey was a part of French West Africa. The independent Republic of Dahomey...

an Vodun. They became syncretize
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

d with the Catholicism and Francophone
Francophone
The adjective francophone means French-speaking, typically as primary language, whether referring to individuals, groups, or places. Often, the word is used as a noun to describe a natively French-speaking person....

 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
Gris-gris (talisman)
Gris-gris, also spelled grigri, is a voodoo amulet originating in Africa which is believed to protect the wearer from evil or brings luck, and in some West African countries is used as a method of birth control...

, 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
Wolof language
Wolof is a language spoken in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania, and is the native language of the Wolof people. Like the neighbouring languages Serer and Fula, it belongs to the Atlantic branch of the Niger–Congo language family...

 term) and voodoo dolls were introduced into the American lexicon.

African influences



Voodoo was brought to the French colony Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 from Africa and from the Haitian exiles after the Haitian revolution. From 1719 to 1731, the majority of African Captives came directly from what is now Benin
Benin
Benin , officially the Republic of Benin, is a country in West Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin is where a majority of the population is located...

, West Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices, language, 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.

The slave community quickly acquired a strong presence in Louisiana. The colony was not a stable society when slaves arrived, which allowed African culture to maintain a prominent position in the slave community. (160) According to a census of 1731-1732, the ratio of African slaves to European settlers was over two to one. The ownership of slaves was concentrated into the hands of only a few of the white settlers, facilitating the preservation of African culture. Unlike other areas of active slave trade, there was little separation in Louisiana between families, culture, and languages. The Embargo Act of 1808 ended all slave imports to Louisiana. Authorities promoted the growth of the slave population by prohibiting by law the separation of families. Parents were sold together with their children under fourteen years of age. The high mortality of the slave trade brought its survivors together with a sense of solidarity.(160) The absence of fragmentation in the slave 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 slave community.”) 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. 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 Allah
Allah
Allah is a word for God used in the context of Islam. In Arabic, the word means simply "God". It is used primarily by Muslims and Bahá'ís, and often, albeit not exclusively, used by Arabic-speaking Eastern Catholic Christians, Maltese Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Mizrahi Jews and...

, the Christian God, and Jesus Christ. This openness of African belief allowed for the adoption of Catholic practices into Louisiana Voodoo.

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 slaves was high, further “Africanizing Louisiana Creole culture.”

Catholic influence


The slave trade also brought the belief in spirits which is central to Louisiana Voodoo. The spirits presided over every day matters of life, such as family, love, and justice. Originally, these spirits were called by their African names, but once French Creole replaced native African languages, their original names were no longer used. The spirits then adopted the names of Catholic Saints. Each spirit was paired with a Saint in charge of similar spheres of life. The adoption of Catholic practices to the voodoo faith soon became an integral part of what is known today as New Orleans voodoo. Catholic traditions, such as prayers including the Hail Mary
Hail Mary
The Angelic Salutation, Hail Mary, or Ave Maria is a traditional biblical Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Hail Mary is used within the Catholic Church, and it forms the basis of the Rosary...

 and the Lord’s Prayer, baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

, and the sign of the cross were incorporated into voodoo practices.

Voodoo queens



During the 19th century, Voodoo queens became central figures to Voodoo in the United States. Voodoo queens presided over 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.

Most noted for her achievements as voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830s was Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo renown in New Orleans. She was born free in New Orleans....

. Once the news of her powers spread, she successfully overthrew the other voodoo queens of New Orleans. She acted as an oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

, conducted private rituals behind her cottage on St. Ann Street of the New Orleans French Quarter, performed exorcisms, and offered sacrifices to spirits. Also a devout Catholic, Marie encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass. The influence of her Catholic beliefs further facilitated the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system. Today, she is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate, and her spirit is considered one of the central figures of Louisiana Voodoo.

Today, thousands visit the tomb of Marie Laveau to ask 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.

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
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

. Although she is not yet officially considered a saint, there is a strong movement to have her canonized.

Commercialization


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
White Zombie (film)
White Zombie is a 1932 American independent Pre-Code horror film directed and produced by brothers Victor Halperin and Edward Halperin, respectively. The screenplay by Garnett Weston tells the story of a young woman's transformation into a zombie at the hands of an evil voodoo master. Béla Lugosi...

. The misconception developed that the principal elements of Voodoo are hexing and sticking pins into dolls. Visiting white tourists asked favors of voodoo practitioners, who made it a point never to refuse one who asked for help. Exhausted by fame, voodoo became an underground religion. At this time, those in search of a fortune took up the “business of superstitions,” charging money, as true voodoo followers never did, for fake potions, powders, and gris-gris.

Beliefs and practices



Louisiana Voodoo is a conglomeration of beliefs that has evolved over time and continues to adapt to its surroundings. As it has been a religion conserved by oral tradition, has no sacred book or canon and is followed by many, the beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo vary somewhat from person to person. Louisiana Voodoo combines elements of European and African beliefs, and Roman Catholicism. It is a dynamic religion that has both adapted to and shaped New Orleans culture.

The word voodoo comes from the word vudu, the Dahomean “spirit”, an invisible mysterious force that can intervene in human affairs.” The worship of spirits remains a vital part of the practices of voodoo in Louisiana. Followers of Louisiana voodoo believe in one God and multiple lesser but powerful spirits which preside over daily matters of life, such as the family, the sky, and judgment.

The core beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo include the recognition of one God who does not interfere in people's daily lives and spirits that preside over daily life. Spiritual forces, which can be kind or mischievous, shape daily life through and intercede in the lives of their followers. Connection with these spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes, which represent Legba, Voodoo's "main spirit conduit to all others." Unlike the Judeo-Christian image, the Voodoo serpent represents "healing knowledge and the connection between Heaven and Earth." Deceased ancestors can also intercede in the lives of Voodoo followers.

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. True rituals are 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.

Louisiana Voodoo and Christianity


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 radically different, however both saints and spirits act as mediators with the Virgin Mary and Legba presiding over specific activities. Early followers of Voodoo in the United States adopted the image of the Catholic Saints to their spirits.

Other Catholic practices adopted into Louisiana Voodoo include reciting the Hail Mary
Hail Mary
The Angelic Salutation, Hail Mary, or Ave Maria is a traditional biblical Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Hail Mary is used within the Catholic Church, and it forms the basis of the Rosary...

 and the Lord’s Prayer.

Voodoo superstitions and spells



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.
  • A lock of a girls hair brings good luck.
  • If you lay a broom across the doorway at night, a witch can't come in and hurt you.
  • Having a woman visit you the first thing on Monday mornings is bad luck for the rest of the week.
  • Don't borrow or lend salt because that is bad luck.
  • If you sweep trash out of the house after dark you will sweep away your luck.
  • Don't shake a tablecloth outside after dark or someone in your family will die.
  • To stop a Voodoo spell being placed upon you, acquire some bristles from a pig cooked at a Voodoo ritual, tie the bristles into a bundle and carry them on you at all times.
  • If a woman sprinkles some salt from her house to yours, it will give you bad luck until you clean the salt away and put pepper over your door sill.yeahhhh
  • If a woman wants her husband to stay away from other woman, she can do so by putting a little of her blood in his coffee, and he will never quit her.
  • If a woman's husband dies and you don't want her to marry again, cut all of her husband's shoes all in little pieces, just as soon as he is dead, and she will never marry again.
  • You can give someone a headache by taking and turning their picture upside down.
  • You can harm a person in whatever way you want to by getting a lock of his hair and burning some and throwing the rest away.
  • You can make a farmer's well go dry by putting some soda in the well for one week, each day; then drawing a bucket of water out and throwing it in the river to make the well go dry.


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
Datura stramonium
Datura stramonium, known by the common names Jimson weed, devil's trumpet, devil's weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, datura, pricklyburr, devil's cucumber, Hell's Bells, moonflower and, in South Africa, malpitte and mad seeds, is a common weed in the...

 (Warning: due to the toxicity of Jimson Weed, it is not advised for unskilled practitioners to create) with sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

 and honey. The mixture was placed in a glass, which was rubbed against a black cat, and then the mixture was slowly sipped.

The Voodoo doll is a form of gris-gris, and an example of sympathetic magic
Sympathetic magic
Sympathetic magic, also known as imitative magic, is a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence.-Similarity and contagion:The theory of sympathetic magic was first developed by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough...

. 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.

Voodoo and Spiritualism


The hallmark of the New Orleans Spiritual Churches is the honoring of the Native American spirit named Black Hawk
Black Hawk (chief)
Black Hawk was a leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe in what is now the United States. Although he had inherited an important historic medicine bundle, he was not one of the Sauk's hereditary civil chiefs...

, who lived in Illinois and Wisconsin, not in Africa, or Haiti. 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.

Voodoo today



Today, Voodoo is a major tourist attraction to the city of New Orleans. Shops selling charms, gris-gris, candles, and powders cater to both tourists and practitioners. 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. The museum also provides spiritual services including matrimony blessings, marriage ceremonies, consultations, and other rituals.

External links