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THE VOODOO HOODOO SPELLBOOK
By DENISE ALVARADO
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2011 Denise Alvarado
All rights reserved.
In New Orleans, anyone can practice Voodoo. There is no formal religious initiation rite, no rigid orthodoxy, and there are no standard ways to worship—though there are guidelines. Voodoo is a fluid, adaptable, syncretic, and inclusive spiritual and religious practice that embraces the hearts of all people, no matter their race, creed, or origin. The loas, spirits, orishas, and mysteries—all terms used to describe the divine archetypal forces of Voodoo—are ever-changing, manifesting in infinite ways according to the filter of a given culture and geographic location.
The word Voodoo means "spirit of God." Contrary to popular belief, Voodoo is first and foremost about healing. It is a religious system based on three levels of spirit: God, the loa, and ancestors. Voodoo believers accept the existence of one ultimate god referred to as Bon Dieu (Good God), below which are the powerful spirits often referred to as loas. These powerful spirits act as intermediaries between Bon Dieu and practitioners and are responsible for the daily matters of life in the areas of family, love, money, happiness, wealth, and revenge. Finally, ancestor reverence is considered the foundation of New Orleans Voodoo. The loas and ancestors are not worshipped; rather, they are served and revered, respectively.
New Orleans was a major port where multiple cultures converged, and as a result, the influences on New Orleans Voodoo are very diverse. While New Orleans Voodoo as a unique system has no formal initiation rites, many people who practice it are, in fact, initiated into one of its closely related "sister" religions. There are also family lineages in New Orleans that pass down specific traditions that are held in confidence. These are the mambos and houngans who reside in New Orleans, more commonly referred to as priests, priestesses, or kings and queens of New Orleans Voodoo. There are Cuban-inspired Santeros, Haitian-initiated mambos and houngans, Obean rootworkers from the West Indian islands (i.e. Belize, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic), followers of the Spiritualist Churches, hoodoos and rootworkers who incorporate candle magic, spells, and the veneration of Catholic saints, and followers of the Yoruba tradition of Africa. New Orleans Voodoo is highly influenced by Native American spirituality and herbalism, as well. For example, the famous Indian War Chief Black Hawk is a Voodoo saint and is often included in the ritual work of hoodoos and Spiritualists. However, many Spiritualists who venerate Black Hawk deny engaging in hoodoo activities, despite the similarities found between traditions.
This edition of The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook provides more in-depth information about the history of New Orleans Voodoo as well as a beefed-up formulary that is based on authentic New Orleans materia medica as I have learned it. The formulas found in this book may or may not be consistent with rootworker formulas found in other areas of the South. For one thing, there are influences at play in New Orleans that are not present in other areas. For example, the inclusion of Spiritualist oils and Indian spirit products were inspired by the Spiritualist churches and exploited by the hoodoo marketeers. There is the infamous Algiers district of New Orleans where some of the most popular formulas such as Fast Luck derive. And there are the Cleo May and Dixie Love products that cater to ladies of the night and to all women desirous of their effects. Furthermore, French perfumery had a huge impact on the Creoles of high society, and some of these perfume names and ingredients made their way into the hoodoo formulary. The use of Voodoo dolls and doll babies in magick spells has become iconic of New Orleans Voodoo, although their use by genuine practitioners is much more complex than is commonly perceived by the public at large. And gris gris is a completely unique magickal system in New Orleans that involves far more than filling a red flannel mojo bag with a few symbolic items of conjure.
New Orleans Voodoo lacks the rigid orthodoxy found in Haitian Vodou. According to Louis Martiné, drummer, priest, and spiritual doctor with New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple:
New Orleans Voodoo is the wild child of Voodoo's feral religions, the trick played upon the trickster. In New Orleans Voodoo, where the ultimate authority rests within the individual and his or her living relationship with the loa, there can be no orthodoxy to sit in grand judgment. If judgment were to be meted out, its throne would well bear the word "success." And who is best suited to decide what is "success" than the involved mind stream as it is now (The Individual), as it was in the past (The Ancestors), and as it will be in all of its future incarnations (The Offspring)?
Because of the proliferation of misinformation on the Internet and in many books about the beginnings of Voodoo in New Orleans and, indeed, in America, I have provided a brief contextual background of its history in the following section. Many aspects of New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo are direct holdovers from the original African religion and are not just arbitrary additions by contemporary pagans and wiccans. Though there are those obvious recent neopagan influences, I have omitted them and focused this edition of The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook on the practice of Voodoo and hoodoo in Louisiana and Mississippi, with a special emphasis on New Orleans traditions.
While Voodoo in New Orleans is again becoming more communal, I am from the era of oppression and intolerance that made it necessary for practitioners to go underground and practice in secret by themselves or among their families and trusted friends. Segregation was still alive and well when I was born, and I was among the first children who were "bussed" to schools in black neighborhoods and vice versa. My "in-between" color saved me from being beaten up in school, but I will never forget what it was like to watch my best friend be taunted and beaten because she was white. When I attempted to intervene, I was told by the black kids, "You okay 'cause you brown." I share this story to illustrate the climate of New Orleans from the perspective of a Creole child who received many mixed messages from members of my family and community about my ethnic identity (only claim your French heritage if you must because of your skin color; identify your Hispanic Catholic heritage, but never your indigenous roots ... all the while holding secret séances, working with the spirits, doing candle magick, learning fortune telling, my mother braiding my hair and telling me stories about being Cherokee, and being taught how to work a Voodoo doll behind closed doors). I am one rootworker who has lived long enough to witness a social climate that, while not completely tolerant by any stretch of the imagination, is more accepting of indigenous beliefs, and contains a segment of the population that not only tolerates but embraces books about Voodoo and hoodoo. The times they are still a-changin', folks. I was born a New Orleans Creole into the Mysteries and this is what I have learned by living it and breathing it.
What Is New Orleans Voodoo Hoodoo?
New Orleans is now and has ever been the hoodoo capital of America. Great names in rites that vie with those of Hayti in deeds that keep alive the powers of Africa. Hoodoo, or Voodoo, as pronounced by the whites, is burning with flame in America, with all the intensity of a suppressed religion.
New Orleans Voodoo originated from the ancestral religions of the African Diaspora. It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in the West African Dahomean and Central African Voodoo traditions. It became syncretized with the Catholic religion as a result of the massive forced migrations, displacements of the slave trade, and the Code Noir. Slave owners forbade the Africans from practicing Voodoo under penalty of death and, in areas controlled by Catholics, forced many of them to convert to Catholicism. The result was a creolization of the names and aspects of the Voodoo spirits to those of the Christian saints that most closely resembled their particular areas of expertise or power. Under the guise of Catholicism, the religion of Voodoo survived.
Louisiana was founded in 1682 after the King of France, King Louis XIV, embarked upon active exploration of the Mississippi River in order to enlarge his own empire and stop the progress and expansion of Britain and Spain. René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, reached the mouth of the Mississippi River and claimed possession of the river and all the land around it for France. He called the new territory "Louisiane," or "Louis' land." Louisiana's colonial period lasted from 1699, when the French established a permanent settlement in the area, to 1803, when the United States purchased it. New Orleans was designated the capital of colonial Louisiana in 1718. According to the New Orleans Voodoo Museum, New Orleans Voodoo had three distinct phases: African, Creole, and American. Upon examining the historical records, I tend to agree with this categorization. The African phase began in 1719, with the arrival of the first 450 Africans who set foot in New Orleans from the Bight of Benin. According to records of the French slave trade voyages from Africa to Louisiana during the French regime, two-thirds of the slaves brought to Louisiana were from Senegambia. In 1720, 127 more slaves arrived from Senegambia. In 1721, 196 were from Senegambia, 834 were from Bight of Benin, and 294 were from Congo/Angola. From 1723 to 1747, all of the people stolen from Africa were from Senegambia, with the exception of 464 from Bight of Benin in 1728.6 Some of the specific African cultural groups that arrived in Louisiana include the Bambara, Mandinga, Wolof, Fulbe, Nard, Mina, Fon (Dahomean), Yoruba (Nago), Chamba, Congo, Ibo, Ado, Hausa, and Sango.
Most references to the African origins of New Orleans Voodoo emphasize the Congo region; however, the historical documents reflect a significant population of people from Senegambia, including some practicing Muslims (which makes sense, given Senegambia was under the rule of the Islamic Almoravides Empire; though, many resisted the conversion to Islam and maintained their traditional African religions and beliefs). The reason that so many Sengambians were sold into slavery in Louisiana was because the slave trade was organized by the Company of the Indes, a privately owned company licensed by the King of France, who held an exclusive trade monopoly in Senegal and Louisiana during the years of the African holocaust.
From a geographic perspective, Senegambia refers to a large region between Senegal and the Gambia rivers. One might assume that since the region is so large, the culture would be heterogeneous. On the contrary, there were many commonalities among the differing cultural groups, as evidenced by the similarity of language groups. It might be likened to Scandinavian culture; while Scandinavia is comprised of three different countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway), they are related linguistically and culturally. If you can speak one Scandinavian language, you can typically understand (i.e. speak and read) the other two. Examination of the traditional practices of the people from the Senegambia region reveals a far greater influence on New Orleans Voodoo than has been previously recognized. For example, gris gris, a religiomagical tradition from Senegambia, is one of the hallmarks of New Orleans Voodoo.
The first slaves in Louisiana were not African, however. They were Native Americans, most of whom were warriors. Some of the Native American tribes in the area at the time were the Natchez, Choctaw, Cherokee, Tunica, Tamira, Chaouchas, Chickasaw, Illinois, Houma, Arkansas, and Miami. The indigenous peoples from various tribes were captured and sold into slavery by both the British and the French. In fact, indigenous people were bought, sold, and exported from Louisiana to the West Indies at a ratio of two Indian slaves for one African slave. Even though the export of slaves was outlawed by 1726, the slave trade continued, albeit on a smaller scale.
Enslaved Africans joined enslaved Native American Indians when they arrived in Louisiana. Many times they lived under the same masters. Like the Native American Indians, the enslaved Africans were not the passive, submissive people so often depicted in print and media. Among the Mande, for example, there was the principle of fadenya, meaning "father-childness." Fadenya is the cultural principle of the innovator, the one who rebels against social order, and the one who travels "to foreign lands to gain special powers and rewards that are eventually brought back for the benefit of the village." The rebels are the ones who are considered heroes.
By the time the African slaves arrived, the Indians already had experience as escapees. The Indians who escaped retreated to the nearby swamps, and some even remained in the city, literally hiding in plain sight. They were well organized and heavily armed. It comes as no surprise that the Africans and Native Americans banded together to escape, and steal food, supplies, and weapons. They organized to raid settlers for more supplies and wreaked all kinds of havoc for their masters and the colony. The colonizers feared a great uprising by the joining together of these two populations, and with good reason. By 1729, the Natchez, in cooperation with recently arrived Africans, wiped out the entire tobacco settlement of the Company of the Indes, which had been in control of the colony along with approximately one-tenth of the French population. By 1731, the Company of the Indes officially turned its Louisiana concession over to France.
Undoubtedly, the French and the British allied with the various Indian nations and used these alliances to their benefit. They used slaves in battles that would turn African against Indian, Indian against African, and Indian nation against Indian nation. They dangled the carrot of freedom as incentive for alliance with both groups. They played upon the preexisting intertribal conflicts among Indian tribes. Arming slaves in any great number made the colonizers even more nervous, but they needed their assistance to achieve the goal of maintaining control over the colony.
The gumbo of cultures that comprised colonial Louisiana included people of French, Canadian, Spanish, Latin American, Anglo, German, Irish, English, Scottish, Jewish, Native American, and African descent. In addition to joining the Native Americans, the first African slaves also encountered the social rejects from France who were exiled to New Orleans, many of whom were made into indentured servants. France and Spain were fighting over Mobile and Pensacola, leading to mass desertions among French and Swiss soldiers. Consequently, New Orleans was comprised largely of rejects, deserters, and African and Indian slaves. The shared desperation among the diverse groups of people led to a degree of cooperation that seemingly transcended status and race.
Eventually, France was defeated in the French and Indian War and abandoned North America. New Orleans and the west bank of the Mississippi were ceded to Spain. During the years of Spanish rule (1763 to 1803), the white population almost doubled and the slave population grew 250 percent.
In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana territory. Shortly after this time, there were several influxes of immigrants from St. Domingue (Haiti); the first consisting of an estimated one thousand refugees. According to Debien and le Gaedeur, another nine thousand refugees arrived indirectly from St. Domingue via Cuba in 1809. While some of these refugees settled in New Orleans, most of them made their homes west of the Atchafalaya Basin in St. Martinville and the surrounding area. Because of the large number of Haitians settling in this area, it became known as le Petit Paris, as residents attempted to recreate their lives as they had been in St. Domingue. Undoubtedly, the spirits followed the refugees, and thus we can see how some of them became part of the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon.
From 1719 to about 1830, Voodoo in New Orleans was much like it was in Africa. The main difference was a merging of the different African cultures and region-specific religious practices. But the languages, dances, and traditions were decidedly African. The direct influence of African tradition, however, was eventually cut off when the importation of slaves from outside of the United States became illegal in 1808.
The Creole phase is marked by the convergence of distinctly different cultures, the loss of African languages, and the development of the Creole language. This phase was in high gear during the years between 1830 to 1930, when Voodoo peaked in cultural influence. The Creole language became the primary language, the African rhythms of Voodoo dances gave birth to jazz, and Voodoo Queens emerged. Gris gris continued as a system of coping with the daily problems of life. Voodoo rituals merged with Mardi Gras and other celebrations to the point that many activities that were Voodoo in origin went unnoticed by the ordinary person. New Orleans Voodoo had integrated elements of European folk magick, Native American spirituality and herbalism, African Voodoo, and Catholicism. Catholic saints took a prominent place in New Orleans Voodoo at this time, masking, but not replacing, the loas of the traditional African Voodoo religion.
Excerpted from THE VOODOO HOODOO SPELLBOOK by DENISE ALVARADO. Copyright © 2011 Denise Alvarado. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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