Synonymous with New Orleans, voodoo first came to Louisiana with enslaved West Africans, who merged their religious rituals and practices with those of the local Catholic population. New Orleans Voodoo is also known as Voodoo-Catholicism. It is a religion connected to nature, spirits and ancestors. Voodoo was bolstered when followers fleeing Haiti after the 1791 slave revolt moved to New Orleans and grew as many freed people of color made its practice an important part of their culture. Voodoo queens and kings were spiritual and political figures of power in 1800s New Orleans.
The core belief of New Orleans Voodoo is that one God does not interfere in daily lives, but that spirits do. Connection with these spirits can be obtained through various rituals such as dance, music, chanting, and snakes.
Today gris-gris dolls, potions and talismans are still found in stores and homes throughout the city – a reminder of the New Orleans fascination with spirits, magic and mystery. Voodoo practices include readings, spiritual baths, prayer and personal ceremony. It is used to cure anxiety, addictions and feelings of depression or loneliness, as well as to help the poor, hungry and the sick.
Located in Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood, Congo Square served as a gathering place for enslaved Africans. It was a place reserved for African traditions and expression of culture, including Voodoo. Hundreds of people would gather to form drum circles and spiritual ceremonies. The area remains open today and continues to host cultural meetings.
The most famous voodoo queen was Marie Laveau (1794-1881), a legendary practitioner buried in St. Louis Cemetery No.1. She was a devout Catholic and attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. She encouraged others to do so as well. She lived in the French Quarter on St. Ann Street, where many people stopped to ask for her help at all hours of the day and night. She was a free woman of color whom adopted children, fed the hungry and nursed the sick during the yellow-fever epidemic. She was known to help enslaved servants and their escapes. It is said that politicians, lawyers and businessmen consulted her before making any financial or business-related decisions.
Her home was adorned with candles, images of saints, altars and items to protect the house from spirits. You can find nickels, paper flowers and various offerings on her tomb today. Stay at the Inn on St. Ann in the Marie Laveau Annex, the Creole Cottage she actually owned.
The most famous voodoo king of New Orleans was Dr. John, also known as Bayou John. He was born in Senegal, where he was kidnapped as a slave and brought to Cuba. He eventually moved to New Orleans as a cotton-roller, where he became part of the local voodoo community. He bought property on Bayou Road and became known as an excellent healer in Voodoo and fortune teller. He was the teacher of Marie Laveau.
On June 23rd, St. John's Eve is celebrated around the world for the summer solstice. The holiday has a special celebration in New Orleans each year. The celebration began in the 1830s by Marie Laveau on Bayou St. John. A head-washing ritual was combined with a public party, a celebration that International House Hotel has since adopted. You can also return to Bayou St. John to participate in the ritual each year as well.
Today, Voodoo remains in practice to serve others and influence life events in connection with ancestors and spirits. Rituals are usually held privately, but there are various places that will give you a reading or assist in a ritual. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple is New Orleans' only formally established voodoo temple, located across the street from Congo Square.
The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is a great stop in the French Quarter to learn about the Voodoo history of New Orleans. Learn about rituals, voodoo altars and artifacts from Africa, Haiti and old New Orleans.
Take an educated tour about Voodoo in New Orleans from Haunted History Tours, Island of Algiers Tours or Free Tours by Foot. Visit Marie Laveau's tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and leave an offering.
Several Voodoo shops can still be found around the city such as Voodoo Authentica, Island of Salvation Bontanica and of course, Marie Laveau House of Voodoo. Shop for products or get a personal reading.