American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Voodoo in the Crescent City, Part 1
Last Thursday, my fellow Moon blogger Christopher P. Baker posted some enlightening information about the practice of santería in Cuba – which inevitably led me to think about the practice of voodoo, a religion that also involves aspects of Catholicism. Curiously, voodoo is still embraced in the Crescent City, a fact that I explored while gathering research for my upcoming guide, Moon New Orleans.
Given New Orleans' historical ties to the voodoo religion, it surely comes as no surprise that the city is still home to several voodoo practitioners. In addition, whether you're seriously interested in the faith or just curious about this often misunderstood aspect of New Orleans' culture, you'll also find a handful of voodoo-related shops in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, most of which provide everything from gris-gris bags to potion oils to handmade African crafts, not to mention rituals and readings. Such tourist-friendly emporiums include:
Erzulie's Authentic Voodoo
807 Royal Street, 504/525-2055, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Monday
Owned by a woman who calls herself “The Root Queen,” Erzulie's is hard to miss along Royal Street. That's partially due to its purplish hues – there's even purple glitter on the sidewalk in front of the shop. Beyond the glitter, however, you'll find an array of voodoo spells and ritual kits, voodoo dolls and magical fetishes, spiritual perfumes and elixirs, handmade soaps, pure essential oils, and other items intended for magical rituals. Moreover, Erzulie's offers psychic readings, plus stunning iPhone apps that help to shed some light on the mysterious and often misrepresented voodoo faith.
Island of Salvation Botanica
2372 St. Claude Avenue, Suite 100, 504/948-9961, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Run by longtime voodoo practitioner Sallie Ann Glassman, this spiritual supply shop is a good place to find herbs, oils, incense, bath salts, specialty candles, Haitian artwork, decorated spirit boxes, spirit-calling sticks, dashboard statues, and voodoo-related books. You can even purchase custom-made gris-gris bags, filled with various herbs, stones, oils, and other materials – including a clipping of your own hair or nails. Housed within a ramshackle building along the edge of the Faubourg Marigny – admittedly, not the best part of town – the Island of Salvation Botanica also provides readings, healings, and other spiritual services.
Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo
739 Bourbon Street, 504/581-3751, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Amid the inebriated tourists on Bourbon Street lies one of my favorite shops in the city – a small, often crowded space filled with candles, incense, authentic masks, voodoo literature, spell kits, tarot cards, symbolic pendants and figurines, and locally crafted voodoo dolls. Throughout the store, you'll spy cluttered, hands-off voodoo altars, which have been created in honor of Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.” While you're welcome to leave an offering of your own, taking photographs of these altars is strictly prohibited. In the rear room, meanwhile, you can experience private tarot-card readings – as I did on a recent birthday.
Reverend Zombie's House of Voodoo
725 St. Peter Street, 504/486-6366, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday
The folks that run Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo also operate Reverend Zombie's, which carries much of the same voodoo-related paraphernalia and local souvenirs of its sister store. Likewise, it also features private tarot card readings in the rear room. As a dubious bonus, though, there's an attached tobacco shop that offers quite an array of cigarettes, cigars, lighters, and the like.
612 Dumaine Street, 504/522-2111, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily
Owned and operated by voodoo practitioners since 1996, Voodoo Authentica carries many of the same items that other French Quarter voodoo shops feature – including incense, candles, potion oils, gris-gris bags, ritual kits, handmade voodoo dolls, Haitian crafts, helpful books and DVDs, and unusual jewelry, such as necklaces made of alligator claws and teeth. Besides offering spiritual consultations throughout the year, this unique cultural center presents VOODOOFEST, a free annual festival that always occurs on Halloween and, for more than a dozen years, has celebrated the voodoo religion's influence on New Orleans traditions through educational presentations, book signings, and an ancestral healing ritual.
Another terrific resource is the Voodoo Spiritual Temple (828 N. Rampart St., 504/522-9627, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun., donations accepted). Operated by Priestess Miriam, this center of voodoo worship and healing offers voodoo services, consultations, rituals, lectures, and workshops, as well as city tours. An on-site gift shop, meanwhile, sells handcrafted voodoo dolls, talismans, gris-gris and mojo bags, blessed candles, aroma oils, herbs and incense, art and jewelry, and books and CDs related to voodoo. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple is a frequent stop on other city tours, like the walking tour hosted by the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum; while on such tours, you'll typically be able to experience the temple's impressive altar room, which is filled with spiritual altars of all kinds. Be respectful, though; these altars constitute a strictly “look but don't touch” attraction. Be aware, too, that the hours of the temple are flexible, so don't be surprised to find the front door locked at random times.
Of course, if you've seen The Skeleton Key (2005), you might also be aware that some southern Louisianians also practice hoodoo. So, what, you might wonder, is the difference between voodoo and hoodoo? Well, depending on who you ask, that can be a rather complicated question.
The voodoo of New Orleans is similar to that of Haiti, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands, where the ancient West African religion of Vodoun has been influenced by Catholicism. Hoodoo, by contrast, is not a religion, but a folk magic that blends the practices of various cultures, from African and Native American traditions to European grimoires. Often referring to magic spells, potions, and charms that include conjuration, witchcraft, rootwork, and Biblical recitation, hoodoo supposedly enables people to access supernatural forces in order to improve aspects of their daily lives, including love, luck, health, money, and employment. Naturally, some people also use hoodoo for more nefarious reasons, such as revenge on those who have “crossed” them. No matter what your intentions, though, as with other magico-religious traditions, hoodoo often involves the utilization of herbs, roots, minerals, animal bones and other parts, candles, bodily fluids, and an individual's possessions.
In truth, many modern-day voodoo followers integrate hoodoo folk magic into the practice of their religion. For more information about both traditions, consult such books as Denise Alvarado's The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook (San Francisco, CA: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2011), Stephanie Rose Bird's Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004), and Jim Haskins' Voodoo & Hoodoo (Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House, 1990).
So, if this post has piqued your interest about the practice of voodoo in the Crescent City, stay tuned for the second part, in which I offer additional ways to explore this intriguing aspect of New Orleans' unique culture.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo © 2012 Daniel Martone / Text © 2012 Laura Martone