INTERESTING FACTS AND HISTORY
In 1817, the mayor of New Orleans issued a city ordinance that restricted gatherings of African slaves to a spot named Congo Square. Located across Rampart Street, directly next to the French Quarter, it was an area where slaves were allowed to, once a week, trade goods, sing, dance, play music, and practice their religion of voodoo. It is said that because of Congo Square, voodoo became an integral part of the city’s culture. Today the square still exists and is a part of Armstrong Park.
The renowned Queen of voodoo was hairdresser to the rich and powerful of the city of New Orleans. She used her skills in voodoo blended with her ability to garner gossip from her clients to help the poor, sick, and wrongfully imprisoned in the city. Voodoo was a means to an end that allowed her to assert influence over the powerful men in the city. A devout Catholic who attended Mass every day, Marie Laveau was a skilled healer who used her knowledge of herbs to heal the sick and comfort the dying. Regarded by many locals as a saint, her tomb in St. Louis Number One is visited by tens of thousands annually. They say that If you make a wish at the foot of her tomb, Ms. Marie will hear your plea, and once deemed worthy, will grant your desires.
Bayou St. John
An inlet to Lake Pontchartrain that allowed traders to travel to the Mississippi and New Orleans, the bayou was originally named Bayouk Choupic. As New Orleans grew beyond the limits of the French Quarter, the banks of bayou became a gathering place for activities of a dark nature. Voodoo rituals, some lead by Marie Laveau, were held on the bayou’s banks. Even today, voodoo rituals are still held on the old Cabrini Bridge—one of the oldest bridges in New Orleans first used by Marie Laveau and her followers. Every June 23rd, St. John Eve, a consecrating voodoo ritual is carried out to bless all those who attend.
A part of New Orleans, brought by the African slaves to the city, it blends the ancient African religion with the Catholic and French culture of south Louisiana. Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo is often confused with Hattian Vodou and southern American Hoodoo. It differs from Vodou in its emphasis upon gris-gris, voodoo queens, and the use of Hoodoo paraphernalia (i.e. voodoo dolls and jou-jou bags) In fact, wearing charms and amulets for protection, healing, or the harm of others was a key component of early New Orleans voodoo. Part of the American lexicon, voodoo has had a commercial influence on the culture and tourists who travel to the city. To the locals, voodoo is a way of life.
In the beginning of New Orleans voodoo, singing accompanied by patting, clapping, and foot stomping were an integral part of the ritual process. Drum playing appeared later as the influence of the weekly public ceremonies conducted in Congo Square took hold. There are four phases to a voodoo ritual: preparation, invocation, possession, and farewell. Songs are used to open the door between the deities and the human world. Practitioners invite the spirits to possess someone participating in the ritual. The frenzy of dancing and crying out is meant to announce the arrival of the spirits. Once the spirits are a part of the festivities, the real magic can begin.
Madams and Mambos
The Red Light District of New Orleans was set up to regulate drugs and prostitution. Many of the elaborate homes erected in sixteen block district—designated Storyville for councilman Sydney Story who wrote the legislation for it—were run by madams who also had sizable political influence on city politicians and businessmen. Some were reputed to be very powerful priestesses in the city’s voodoo culture. One long-told tale relates how a mambo of New Orleans, or the voodoo high priestess, was the proprietress of a well-regarded house of prostitution. Her clients were said to come for the ladies, but stay well into the night to take part in her rituals.