Voodoo priestess at Abba Dlo Festival, New Orleans Healing Center (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
You won’t find many people who practice voodoo in New Orleans, and the exaggerated fictional mystique of the city created by films and Anne Rice books often leaves locals chuckling. (Though with the common occurrence of low sitting fog, illness that once plagued the port city, and graves that couldn’t keep the dead down because of flooding, it is easy to see how fiction developed.) That said, while voodoo isn’t part of New Orleans’ present, it was a vital part of its past. There’s no better way to experience the city’s rich cultural yesteryear than to explore the long history of New Orleans voodoo.
A folk religion originally practiced by West African slaves and blended over time with the beliefs and traditions of French and Spanish Catholics (and, later, Haitian Vodou), Louisiana’s former voodoo culture lives through tours, museums and specialty shops. Here are four of the best spots to learn all about it:
Marie Laveau’s Tomb (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
This four-hour New Orleans voodoo tour begins at 10 a.m. and takes participants through the French Quarter. As Tree (that is his legal full name) the tour guide leads partakers through the city’s streets, he reveals secrets behind the city’s architecture, its most storied residents, and its rich Creole culture. Stops along the way include the Voodoo Museum and the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 on Basin St — the oldest in New Orleans and the alleged final resting place for the voodoo priestess Marie Catherine Laveau. (Her tomb itself has had an interesting history.)
The details: The tour is $45 per person and can be purchased online. End times are typically around 1 p.m.
Voodoo Authentica (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
At the Voodoo Authentica cultural center, you can learn about the practice of voodoo in addition to its history. The center’s rooms are packed with various goods such as books, handmade ritual soaps, oils, voodoo dolls and gris-gris bags. (Gris-gris are charms or talismans kept for good luck and protection.) Voodoo Authentica also offers readings, rituals and spiritual work. Be sure to stop by the shrine where visitors can leave offerings and wishes.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
A favorite destination of voodoo scholars and literary researchers, this museum is dedicated to chronicling voodoo history, folklore and its role in present day New Orleans literature, film and music. The museum gift shop sells locally handmade voodoo dolls, gris-gris bags, candles and potions.
The details: $7 per person. There are discounts for seniors, military personnel, students and children under 12. (There is no additional cost if you visit the museum as part of a tour.)
Erzulie’s Authentic Voodoo (Photo: Joshua Brasted)
Looking to buy a love spell? Erzulie’s sells them, as well as voodoo dolls and psychic readings. The French Quarter shop also offers oils and large handmade bars of voodoo soaps such as the Cosmic Cleanse, made of organic goats milk, cocoa butter, lemon grass, tulsi, tree oil and jasmine.