What do you think of when you hear the word voodoo? Black magic? Zombies? Curses? You wouldn’t be alone in your thinking if those words popped into your head, but you also wouldn’t be entirely correct. Don’t beat yourself up! It’s ok. Hollywood has given voodoo a tainted image over the years but I’m here to shed some light and show you that voodoo is not so dark. I had the chance to visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and as my last instalment of the KIK New Orleans Chronicles I’d like to share my experience with you.
The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum stands as an archive for the history of voodoo culture in Louisiana. Originally, voodoo practice traveled to Louisiana from West Africa in 1719 with the first African slaves. Voodoo is part of a larger group of practices, collectively called African Traditional Religion. It focuses mainly on spirits; spirits in general, ancestral spirits and God. Their voodoo chiefs, priests and priestesses can access these spirits through ritual, music and often dance. I won’t get too into it, but basically they seek guidance and leave offerings to entice the spirits to act in their favour and help from beyond the grave.
This Historic Voodoo Museum consists of three main rooms; The history hallway, the gris-gris room and the altar room. History hallway leads you into the two main rooms with an array of news articles and press clippings regarding voodoo leaders in the community. Marie Laveau is the most well-known voodoo priestesses in New Orleans so many clippings are about her. Marie Laveau was born in 1801 as a free woman of colour. She had a salon in town and became known as a savvy business woman as well as a skilled healer, especially regarding matters of the heart.
In the gris-gris room you can see the offerings that people have left for Marie and other spirits and saints they have called upon for help. A gris-gris is an amulet or talisman given to the client by the voodoo priest or priestess. It is the object that holds the supernatural power, such as a little pouch, bag, necklace or a small doll. It should be noted that voodoo is rarely used for evil. This is where the entertainment industry leads us astray. The most basic and widely used voodoo practices are for the purpose of: 1) love and romance 2) power and domination 3) fortune and luck. There aren’t many real voodoo priests or priestesses who would agree to doing dirty work for the dark side.
The altar room is the most impressive of all. Here you can see real altars and more offerings from people asking spirits to lend a hand. You can see some Catholic influence here and many spirits called upon for intervention are actually Catholic saints who have melded into voodoo practice over time.
The museum is located in the French Quarter and is all indoors. If nothing else, this tour was educational and great food for thought. We were free to walk around the rooms as we pleased and any questions we had were answered without judgement. The two employees I met were incredibly knowledgeable. Both practice and teach voodoo and also host voodoo ritual tours of the Quarter. I really enjoyed my conversation with the staff here and felt welcome even though our purpose of visit was mere curiousity. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open 10-6 daily and admission is $7 USD. Depending on how much you want to read, the tour can take up to 45 minutes to absorb.
With that, we leave New Orleans – a city filled with history, resilience, power and strength. I’ll never forget this place.