The history of New Orleans Voodoo starts from 1719. The whole process of the religion’s development can be divided into three periods:
- The African period – from 1719 to 1830.
- The Creole period – from 1830 to 1930.
- The American period – from 1930 to present day.
The African Period
The first slaves arrived to New Orleans in 1719 from West Africa. A lot of slaves were brought to New Orleans from other regions of the US and the Caribbean as well. A significant number of slaves came from Haiti, where Voodoo had already taken the root as a national religion. The mix of different people and cultures gave rise to another branch of Voodoo, which gradually became estranged from the general African beliefs and became more of a black art than a new religious doctrine.
By the time of the first importation of slaves, the first Christian community of Louisiana haven’t fully settled yet, and therefore prepared for a massive flow of new people whose culture had almost nothing in common with European cultural traditions. The ratio between the number of African slaves and immigrants from Europe in Louisiana was about 2 to 1. The social and linguistic differences between slaves and people living in Louisiana were not that big. These factors have contributed to strengthening the solidarity among the black population.
The import of new slaves has ceased from 1808, and the authorities were forced to support the growth of the black population only at the expense of birthrate. This is why local authorities passed a law that forbade the separation of families. As a result, the African culture in its true sense has experienced new prosperity within the French society (at that time Louisiana still belonged to France).
The Voodoo which was developed in Louisiana included various African rites and rituals, witchcraft and healing. Rituals often included snakes, roosters, drinking blood and sexual relations. An important component of many ceremonies was the sacrifice of animals.
The Creole Period
The period between the first half of the 19th to the mid 20th century is called the “golden age” in the history of the New Orleans Voodoo. In the Creole culture, African languages had already embraced the French language, and African gods were more reminiscent of Catholic saints. The Louisiana Voodoo history of this period is closely connected to the biography of the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who began her activities in the 30s of the 19th century.
Marie Laveau was one of the people who made the religion of Voodoo into business. The popularity of teaching in the US has grown rapidly, not only among the slaves, but also across the white population. The black population used Voodoo as a way to get more respect from the European population. Being a Catholic by faith, Mary Laveau added elements of the Catholic religion into Voodoo, including statues and saints, prayers and holy water. She even called Voodoo a “Christian” faith.
It is because of Laveau that the foundation was laid until this day in modern New Orleans Voodoo. The mix of Catholicism with African and Indian traditions has become a full fledged religious doctrine in her lifetime. After the death of Laveau in 1881, Vooodoo began to turn into a system of superstitions and secret meetings, far from the original principles of Voodoo. Voodoo became known as “Hoodoo” in rural areas of Louisiana, which means ‘witchcraft’. The religion turned into a superstition among the rural folk. This led to black magic practice mainly in the United States.
The American Period
The American period has seen a sad turn of events for Voodoo. After the release of the 1932 film “White Zombie”, the magic of Voodoo has become a popular subject for discussion, as well as for books, movies and tourism. The repid growth in popularity led to “amateur” Voodoo, which exists to this day. The ancient doctrine has gradually turned into a business. Shops opened selling things which are vaguely reminiscent of actual Voodoo ritual accessories, and some religious ceremonies became the basis of Hollywood horror movies.
About Mambo Ava Marie
Ava Marie has spent most of her younger days in Haiti, studying and understanding Vodou from the highest ranks. She has years of experience and has joined forces with us to write and share her insights.