I asked a frequent visitor to New Orleans what her favorite attractions were and she said “the Chalmette Cemetery/Battlefield and the Voodoo Museum”. I knew about neither and both sounded intriguing. Ruth & I made it to both.
The Voodoo Museum at 724 Dumanie Street in The French Quarter is increasingly popular. In it, Ruth and I were elbow to elbow in a small space with many young people. They all seemed as fascinated as we were. Behind the entry desk was a fanciful, glamorized portrait of Marie Leveau, New Orleans’ Voodoo Queen. No one really knows what Marie looked like. She lived from 1801 until 1881 and specialized in love potions. A benign humanitarian, Marie was a practicing Catholic who adopted orphans, cured yellow fever victims, etc. She is appropriately buried in St. Louis Cemetery at #1 Basin Street.
According to this museum, voodoo, a practice which comes from the Fon People of Benin in Africa, is a generally non-harmful practice connected with African religions and is often confused with witchcraft, a European concept. Voodoo came to New Orleans in 1719 with the arrival of the first slaves, and voodoo dances in Congo Square became regular Sunday events. Rarely used for evil, voodoo is more likely to enhance love and sex, help someone achieve power and domination over others, or bring good luck. Zombies, alligators, werewolves, and other mythical creatures enter the mix in voodoo practices. The painting below shows a Voodoo queen dancing with a snake known as Le Grand Zombi. One of the most curious objects on display was a wishing stump like the one used by Marie Laveau. Visitors are encouraged to leave a note and a small token for Marie to elicit her attention and assistance from the great beyond.
This voodoo museum has been around since 1972. When it first formed, it was mostly hidden from the general public and tourists. Now it’s far more mainstream and has lots of stuff to buy. I watched as almost every visitor got in line to purchase something. I finally asked the receptionist what was most popular, and she didn’t have to ponder long to answer, “Voodoo dolls and gris gris bags”. These bags are like child-sized caskets containing objects intended to solve a romantic or personal problem. I laughed when I read in a souvenir guide that the spirits one is trying to influence are like politicians because they are “bribable, malleable and otherwise corruptible”.
The rather cramped and dark rooms in this truly unique museum contain a lot of altars. Almost all of them are strewn with coins and dollar bills. Several are decorated with bizarre images and Mardi Gras beads. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s lots of fun and very French Quarter.