Peace be with you, my friends! There is so much misinformation regarding Voodoo, either Haitian or Louisianan, that it is nearly impossible for someone unfamiliar with the culture to distinguish between the lies and the reality. That is why I have decided to write a series of educational articles to teach the public what exactly it is that I practice and why it is nothing to be feared, but a beautiful love and peace based spiritual practice.
Distinguishing between the lies and the reality
First of all, let me make clear that I am not a hougan, a priest of Haitian Vodou. I have not undergone the kanzo initiation and I do not pretend to be an expert on that tradition or have any knowledge beyond the basics. I am however a life long practitioner of Louisiana Voodoo and am highly knowledgeable in its traditions, am a ceremonial expert and highly skilled in the preparation of gris gris and spells. I am also fluent in Louisiana Creole and a practicing Catholic, once the norm among New Orleans Voodooists, but now rare qualities. So what is voodoo?
More and more I find people offering Voodoo services that resemble nothing of the traditional practice handed down from generation to generation in Southern Louisiana. I find people incorporating elements of Santeria, Wicca, Buddhism and Hinduism, all beautiful and soul touching religions, but not a part of the traditional Voodooist’s repertoire. Even more shocking, I find people trying to remove all elements of Catholicism/Christianity from Voodoo and even some claiming not to profess belief in God. Such a notion would have scandalized the Voodoo community only a generation ago. Now, having said this, bare in mind that Voodoo is by its very nature a syncretic religion and practitioners will use whatever works to get results, but everything has its place. For example, I often use a Maneki Nekko figure, the Japanese money cat, when doing prosperity magic and have fantastic results, but I would never involve her in an orthodox Voodoo service along side service to my ancestors and saints.
Now at this point it becomes important to define Voodoo. Well, Voodoo is a spirit religion with origins in West Africa in what is today Benin and Togo and surrounding areas. Practitioners both in Africa and the New World believe in one all powerful creator God, called Bon Dieu in Haiti and Louisiana, and a pantheon of lesser spirits that each represent an aspect of nature and the human condition. In Haiti, these spirits are called “Loi” which is the French word for “law,” since each spirit is a law of nature to which we are all subject. Voodoo came to the American colonies as a result of the slave trade. The majority of the enslaved people brought to the French colonies came from the Dahomey region of West Africa, however many also came from the Congo, Senegal and possibly Nigeria, which would account for some of the differences between Haitian and Louisiana Voodoo.
Haitian and Louisiana Voodoo developed separately initially. In both colonies the Catholic faith was imposed and the Voodooists hid their spirits behind Catholic iconography when the authorities forbade them to practice their traditional religion. In Haiti, where Africans greatly outnumbered Europeans and overseers were more scarce, the Voodooists were able to continue their large scale dances and were able to get by with a minimum of syncretization. However in Louisiana, where Africans were fewer in number and watched more closely, the emphasis was on the preparation of charms and Catholicism was more heavily incorporated. Many experts also believe that the emphasis on gris gris and Voodoo dolls, which is absent in Haitian Voodoo, is a carry over from the practices of Senegalese fetishists or possibly European magic. In many cases, in Louisiana, the original names of the spirits were forgotten, except for Papa Legba, the gatekeeper, who is invoked by name and is heavily syncretized with St. Peter, the keeper of the keys to Heaven. There is also a serpentine spirit name Li Grand Zombi who anthropologists believe to be of Congolese origin.
Following the Haitian revolution of the 1790’s, many wealthy French land owners fled to Louisiana and brought with them the few slaves and Creole servants that remained in their service. This new influx of Haitians recharged the Voodoo practices that had already taken root in Louisiana and gave it more of a communal spirit and people began to hold formal dances where they presented offerings and called upon the spirits of ancestors and saints to seek their help and intercession. Throughout the 1800’s, New Orleans, by then having come under American rule, became know as an exotic Creole city where Voodoo and debauchery flourished in stark contrast to the Anglo Protestant nation of which it found itself a part. The 1830’s to the 1920’s was the heyday of Voodoo when Voodoo Doctors, like myself, consulted with clients and Voodoo Queens, such as the great Marie Laveau, held court and presided over dances at Congo Square and on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The Voodooists even had the blessing of the local Catholic clergy under the leadership of the gentle and tolerant Pe`re Antoine.
By the early 20th century, Voodoo went underground and many Voodooists practiced in secret, giving in to the pressure to assimilate into mainstream American culture which viewed Voodoo as backward and ignorant or worse yet-demonic. Then in the latter part of the century, due to relaxed cultural norms and a resurgence in interest in the occult and magic, Voodoo once again flourished as a tourist attraction in New Orleans. The downside, however, is that it is harder and harder to find a traditional priest who adheres to orthodoxy and practices Voodoo as handed down through generations of sacred lineage going back to Africa. For this reason I wanted to take the time and write the post to educated the public a bit about my particular spiritual tradition.
I will continue to write on various aspects of Voodoo. If you have any questions or are in need any of my spiritual services, please don’t hesitate to contact me. May God, the Ancestors and all the Saints bless you abundantly!
Many, many thanks to the author of the works Charles M. Gandolfo and for permission for making these available for use, thanks to Jerry Gandolfo & the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
James Duvalier is a master psychic and medium as well as a priest of New Orleans Voodoo. A practioner of New Orleans style Voodoo and Spiritism, he is dedicated to dispelling the myth that only ignorant, backward people believe in the supernatural. He holds a masters degree from Babes Boyai University, speaks 7 languages and has written many short stories ,as well as, a novel. Passionate about his work, he enjoys helping others.