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Many people who visit New Orleans are interested in learning about its rich, vibrant cultural history. And, among those people are those interested in learning about a specific part of their history, New Orleans Voodoo.
It comes as no surprise that people want an authentic experience when they come to New Orleans. They want to be able to say they touched the grave of Marie Laveaux or they danced to the drum beats in Congo Square. Most people, however, simply want to observe, rather than participate in, something considered "real Voodoo."
Voodoo hides in plain site in many forms in New Orleans—in her music, her food, in her Mardi Gras celebrations, in her crumbling red bricks and her Catholic Churches for starters. The fact is, people in New Orleans, whether they are residents are not, knowingly or unknowingly experience vestiges of Voodoo by virtue of just being present in the city. To those that know, the signs are evident. To those that don't know, the signs are simply enjoyable. Anyone who has partaken in the food, or listened to the down home blues of New Orleans music, cannot deny the pleasure those two activities alone can bring.
What tourists are likely to see when visiting the French Quarter, however, is something created for tourists—a show put on for entertainment, Voodoo dolls made in China and other "authentic Voodoo" created by non New Orleanians. These things may have similarities and characteristics of the real thing, but you won't find anyone truly calling on the Guardian of the Crossroads unless you know someone and are invited to a private ceremony. But don't be discouraged, there are meaningful things to see and experience if you know where to go and more importantly, when to go. The time of year in which you are visiting will dictate the number of authentic experiences you can participate in or observe. At various times of the year you will be able to catch authentic Voodoo rituals and even participate in those advertised as open to the public. You can find Priestesses dancing with snakes and if you show up on a Sunday, you can hear the drums beating in Congo Square, just as it has for the past 300 years. So, with all this in mind, I have created a list of five places to visit in New Orleans that will give you a feel for real New Orleans Voodoo. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a good place to begin.
Congo Square is by far one of the top places a person should go to truly connect with the history of New Orleans Voodoo. In the past, it was the only place for both free and enslaved blacks to gather and socialize in the manner of their ancestors—singing, dancing, drumming and marketing goods. It is located in the southern corner of Louis Armstrong Memorial Park next to the French Quarter in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans.
Tomb of Marie Laveaux
While definitely a spot of the tour guide's route, a visit to the grave site of Marie Laveaux is a must. No one can deny the impact she has had on the history of American Voodoo and she is considered by practitioners to be the Mother of New Orleans Voodoo. Ancestor reverence is at the foundation of New Orleans Voodoo. When Marie Laveaux was alive, people would go to her home on St. Ann Street and knock at her door to ask for help. In death, people go to her new home—her grave site, to knock and ask for help. Her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery number one has become a pilgrimage site for Voodooists and others interested in paying homage to the infamous Voodoo Queen.
St. Louis Cemetery
St. Louis Cemetery number one is not only the site of Marie Laveaux's grave, it is also the place where some New Orleans Voodoo practitioners carry out their personal Voodoo rituals in secret. A walk around the cemetery will reveal places where candles have been burned and offerings made to the Spirits of the Dead, the Guardian of the cemeteries, and the ancestors. While on the surface it may appear to be some sort of horror filled practice, it is in large part, acts of reverence and healing that bring practitioners to the cemeteries.
St. Louis Cathedral
The Catholic Church has played a large role in the formation of New Orleans Voodoo. Initially imposed upon slaves via the Louisiana Black Code (Code Noir), it is the church where Marie Laveaux is said to have attended daily during her lifetime. Visitors may enter the Church and light a votive candle for the healing and prayers of others. In doing so, they are doing the same thing, in the same place, as Madame Laveaux did over a hundred years ago.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
The New Orleans Voodoo Museum is invariably the first place most tourists go for their formal introduction to Voodoo. Here folks will find artifacts of New Orleans Vooodo such as skulls, rattles, mummified black cats and gris gris. Tours to the Cities of the Dead and other Voodoo-related landmarks are offered daily. The New Orleans Voodoo Museum is located at 724 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA.
To learn more about New Orleans Voodoo, check out the course offered at Crossroads University.