Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Louisiana's Folk Magic and Mystic Spiritualism

The Gauthier family woke one morning to find a cross of moist salt on the front porch. The neighbors gathered and the newspapers carried headlines concerning the symbol that warned of trouble for the members of the household. Voodoo and hoodoo though subjugated over the years, still exists in New Orleans.

If you lived almost anywhere else in the United States, you might simply sweep the porch and think it was just a prank. But if you live in Louisiana, you'll probably react differently....for a cross of salt, in the vernacular of hoodoo, means trouble.

That is why Mr. and Mrs. Gauthier of New Orleans thought twice before sweeping away the cross of salt that they found on their porch. It is also why neighbors flocked to the Gauthier home to examine it and why the newspapers carried headlines about it. Voodoo and hoodoo has not abandoned New Orleans.

Hoodoo and conjure are emerging from the shadows and into the lives of everyday people. There seems to be more root workers, two-headed doctors, conjurers, Voodooists, and hoodoos more than ever before. People are flocking to related social networking sites hungry for information about taking control of their lives, defending themselves from their enemies, thriving in a recession, and connecting to their dead loved ones. Websites featuring “love doctors”, “rootworkers” and “Spiritual Mothers” offer a variety of psychic and spiritual services and carry the hard to get sticks, stones, roots and bones needed by the multifarious conjurer. Hoodoo no longer belongs to the poor black demographic of the deep South as historically depicted. Practitioners cross all racial, ethnic, political, geographic and socioeconomic line.

So...what is hoodoo? In it's purest form, hoodoo taps into the elemental belief that every living thing has "Spirit." Every rock, tree, root, and stone is connected to a single Divine energy and as such, is Divine energy. The practitioner understands that it is the root that connects and grounds the universal life force; thus, the ultimate power lies within the root.

When enslaved Africans came to the Louisiana delta directly from Africa, they arrived with intact, encyclopedic knowledge of the use of herbs, roots, bones, natural elements and their spiritual qualities. According to Dahomean cosmology, the knowledge of how to utilize the sacred herbs, roots, bones, and other natural elements for controlling and changing one’s destiny was given to them from Papa Legba, who received the knowledge from the "Forest Spirits."

As a result of slavery, tribes and families were separated, religious expression was forbidden and the traditional transmission of the venerable knowledge of the African religion of Vodou and spiritual traditions such as Ju Ju were all but stopped. Tragically, the trauma associated with slavery forced a separation of the magic and religious aspects of Vodou. The response to this psychic disturbance was to adopt and assimilate similar beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of North America and European immigrants to fill in the blanks...forming what we call hoodoo today.


The practice of Voodoo is probably as old as the African continent itself. Sometimes written Voudou, Vodou or Voudun, the word itself means God Creator or Great Spirit. It has been greatly distorted and misused; human sacrifices, vampires, dripping blood and devil worship all make the stuff of spooky novels and Hollywood movies. Yet none of these originated with or ever belonged to Voodoo.

It was not until the 1930's that Louisiana Voodoo went underground when New Orleans became a major tourist destination. The slave trade brought the African belief in spirits and when the slaves got to New Orleans it was not long before the African Voodoo and the Roman Catholic Church mixed to become Louisiana Voodoo.

Along came the Voodoo Queens like Marie Laveau who was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. It is said that before long it became known that Marie Laveau was the strongest ever of the Voodoo Queens and Marie Laveau conducted private rituals behind her house on St Ann's street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

It was Marie Laveau who encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass and it was Marie Laveau who mixed Catholic traditions and beliefs into her Voodoo to make it uniquely Louisiana Voodoo.

Even today devout voodoo followers travel to Marie Laveau's tomb to try to get a favor from the Voodoo Queen herself. Marie Laveau was a devout Catholic up to the time of her death. Ever since her death people have claimed to see Marie Laveau walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Modern Voodoo has taken several directions: Spiritualist Reverends and Mothers who have their own churches, Hoodoos who integrate and work spells and superstitions, elements of European witchcraft and the occult, and traditionalists for whom the practice of Voodoo is a most natural and important part of their daily lives, a positive search for ancient roots and wisdom. The practice of Voodoo involves the search for higher levels of consciousness in the belief that -as indeed all of the ancient scriptures teach - it is we who must open the way towards the Gods. for when we call out from our hearts, the Gods hear and indeed are compelled to respond.

NOTE: there are a myriad of twists and turns when it come to Vodou and Hoodoo....let me suggest the following website - Alyne Pustanio - lots of very good original articles. As well, our moderator Judy (BunkieLA) at the Phantoms and Monsters Wiki is a New Orleans resident and has intimate knowledge of this and other indigenous phenomena...Lon

Louisiana's Folk Magic and Mystic Spiritualism


madisonmartha said...

Toussaint L’Ouverture is a prominent slave in the history of the slave trade. He rose up and fought the French oppressors. You can see a clip of his last moments in prison from the film “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture” – a short film –

Jum said...

I don't know who wrote that article, but I think the author may be misinformed about a major point of the post. As to any suggestion that Vodou or Voudou was an "African religion" or came from Africa, it's simply not the case.

It is well established that Voudou was born in Haiti in the late 17th and early 18th century, and was a New World amalgam of several different animist traditions from various West African regions, mixed with religions of several of the Caribbean Indians.

After all, when Europeans came to Haiti, or Hispaniola as it was known in the 16th century, the natives were not blacks, but Indians. The Africans were brought in as slaves to work the cane fields. Over the centuries nature took its course, and DNA from four continents was mixed and remixed, and dozens of wildly dissimilar cultures and religions, including Catholicism, were thrown together into the hot, bubbling mess that was Haiti.

When Haitian slaves came to New Orleans in the 18th century, Voudou there took on a distinctly American flavor. So it is truly a multi-cultural religion, and no more African than it is Caribbean, or even American.

J.Griffin said...

Voodoo is no more African than Kwanzaa.

KWANZA,with only one "A" at the end,
IS African-
it is the money used in Angola.

I have to agree with Jum-
I'm from New Orleans and there is probably more hype and misunderstanding about the New Orleans culture than any city in America.

Most of your "practitioners" here would be called something else somewhere else,
but the ones that are tourist/money oriented are just cashing in on an image,
like much of America these days.

As I have said elsewhere on this blog,
religion has by no means cornered the market on hypocrisy.

Merely doing the opposite of what has been declared
is only the most basic form of the concept-
the word hypocrisy truly refers to a "masquerade",
like the masks worn in Ancient Greek tragedy/comedies
(today,they are known as soap operas).

Those masks STILL represent acting&hollywood-
America&tbe world today is far more affected by
over-exposure to mindless drama than most know
or will admit.

Haiti has had the voodoo/catholic mix pretty much as long as they've had either.

To credit Leveau with that is really pretty silly.

Lon mentioned the questionable accuracy of this post and referred to better sources-
perhaps it would have been better to post from those sources instead.

Voodoo is,in short,another form of shamanistic animism.

Though the details very,
the general framework doesn't change.

What is sad is that as I have traveled the world I have seen A LOT more fear,superstition,intimidation and exploitation across the continents under these "practitioners" than most will ever know.

why does everybody rag on TV preachers but when somebody exploits people in a jungle or in Siberia,
it's glorified and romanticized?

I am only saying that wolves in sheep's clothing can really be found anywhere,
including science&psychology(perhaps especially there!)
so don't just pick on the obvious and assume that you've got them all.

If somebody wants to charge you pretty blatantly for their help,
what's their true motivation?

Are they really trying to help you or...
is it more about the money?

Money,"love",the future and the dead have ALWAYS
been the greatest pulls for the preadtors&parasites to get their hooks into the scared,the lonely,
the hurting....
and the vulnerable.

Caveat Emptor.

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