Sunday, August 12, 2012


 My friend Laura is awesome. From her recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, she brought me back this skull from the Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo Gift Shop. I'm not sure if this skull is specifically related to Voodoo, or strictly the Day of the Dead, or both-- but it has ignited an interest in the subject of what the Voodoo religion is-- its history, myth and-- like any religion-- occasional relation to the occult.

 Voodoo, I've come to learn, is a more umbrella term for a number of religious practices which originated during the tragic time in our history known as the African diaspora-- when African people were enslaved and brought to America. There are several voodoo traditions-- Haitian and Louisiana among them-- and the one I've now read most about is Louisiana Voodoo. Voodoo came to Louisiana by way of African, Haitian and French cultures mixing in this central place. From the influence of the French (Louisiana, at the time, being a French colony), Voodoo gained a considerably Catholic influence, resulting in spirits existing in Voodoo who were  called by their African names, but later took on the names of Catholic figures and saints. Among more modern practitioners of Voodoo, there is even a movement to canonize Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen who lived from 1784 through 1881. 

 Why, then, has Voodoo become, in some areas, so synonymous with the supernatural? Largely, this appears to be from the often intertwined aspects of the religion with the practice of Hoodoo, which is loosely defined as African folk magic. Voodoo Queens such as Marie Leaveau became famous for their legends, which contained the practicing of spells and other mystical dabbling-- a legend that lives on today, as visitors to the tomb of Marie Leaveau continue to write "XXX" on the walls of her tomb in the hope the Voodoo Queen of the 1830's will grant them a wish.

 Similarly, the concept of a "voodoo doll" has become representative of voodoo, however with origins not easy to trace. The practice of sticking pins in a doll appears to have originated more in the folk magic of Hoodoo, while being often linked to the world of Louisiana Voodoo. In New Orleans Voodoo, the voodoo doll is a form of "gris-gris," or invoking the spirits-- and, surprisingly, have historically been used more as a talisman for luck than for the infliction of pain and or misfortune on one's enemies. The folklore around the voodoo doll-- used both for luck and revenge-- is extensive, and it is easily apparent how tales such as using a doll to call upon spirits for deeds dark or light find an easy home in the supernatural.

 Zombies also have a like history to voodoo. Tales of the zombie, the dead brought to life, appear most commonly found in the folk magic associated with Haitian Voodoo-- or, more accurately, the legends and mythologies born out of such practices-- and the tales of these spirits being called upon to bring back the dead to us is absolutely a task of the supernatural.

 There is so much to this topic I see the creation of many future blog posts to do this justice; exploring what the religion of Voodoo is, and how its customs birthed such dark, varying and interesting legends.

 Someday, I will make it to New Orleans.

Images: Marie Leaveau's Tomb / Voodoo doll

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