New Orleans Voodoo

Once the outward and public expression of the religion went underground, many people believed Voodoo all but disappeared in the twentieth century. There is a common presumption that any “authentic” Voodoo in New Orleans disintegrated into gris gris as if gris gris were a less important system (see Jacobs and Kaslow, 1991, for a discussion on the influence of Voodoo in New Orleans Spiritualist Churches). This perception is undoubtedly due to a lack of understanding of the religious context of gris gris and its association with Voodoo and Islam in Africa. Instead, gris gris is likened to a mojo bag and not recognized as religious tradition. The misinformation is further perpetuated by contemporary and popular authors, hoodoo marketeers, and other ill-informed individuals who continue to publish and republish the same misinformation.

The term Voodoo hoodoo is commonly used by Louisiana locals to describe our unique brand of New Orleans Creole Voodoo. It refers to a blending of religious and magickal elements. Voodoo is widely believed by those outside of the New Orleans Voodoo tradition to be separate from hoodoo magick. However, the separation of religion from magick did not occur in New Orleans as it did in other areas of the country. The magick is part of the religion; the charms are medicine and spiritual tools that hold the inherent healing mechanisms of the traditional religion and culture. Voodoo in New Orleans is a way of life for those who believe.

Still, there are those who separate Voodoo and hoodoo. Some hoodoo practitioners integrate elements of Voodoo, and some do not. Some incorporate elements of Catholicism or other Christian religious thought into their practice, while others do not. How much of the original religion a person decides to believe in and practice is left up to the individual. Some people don’t consider what they do religion at all, preferring to call it a spiritual tradition or African American folk magic. Throughout this book, I use the term Voodoo hoodoo in reference to the blend of the two aspects of the original religion as found in New Orleans Voodoo and as a way of life. A fellow New Orleans native and contemporary gris gris man Dr. John explains it this way:

In New Orleans, in religion, as in food or race or music, you can’t separate nothing from nothing. Everything mingles each into the other—Catholic saint worship with gris gris spirits, evangelical tent meetings with spiritual church ceremonies—until nothing is purely itself but becomes part of one fonky gumbo. That is why it is important to understand that in New Orleans the idea of Voodoo—or as we call it gris gris—is less a distinct religion than a way of life.(17)

New Orleans Voodoo evolved to embrace aspects of the “fonky gumbo” of cultures in the nineteenth century and as a result, it is distinguishable from other forms of Voodoo and hoodoo found in other areas of the country. For example, there is a blend of Spiritualism, African Voodoo, Native American traditions, Santería, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism. An additional hallmark of New Orleans Voodoo hoodoo is the borrowing of material from European and African folk magic, Kabalistic influences, ancestor worship, and strong elements of Christian and Jewish mysticism, such as the use of various seals and sigils. In fact, for many practitioners, the Bible is considered a talisman in and of itself, as well as a primary source for magical lore. The psalms and the saints are aspects key to hoodoo practice for many practitioners, though not all.
New Orleans Voodoo is unique in its use of Spirit Guides in worship services and in the forms of ritual possession that its adherents practice. There is candle magick, and there used to be Voodoo séances (I don’t know how prevalent these are among practitioners today; though my introduction to the tradition began with such a séance). The Voodoo-influenced Spiritual Churches that survive in New Orleans are the result of a mingling of these and other spiritual practices. I should point out that Spiritualists will typically say that they have nothing to do with Voodoo or hoodoo. Still, some of the spiritual practices are extremely similar, whatever you call it.
A most important difference, however, is the retention of elements of the various religious practices from the different African cultural groups that arrived on the Louisiana Coast. For example, there is gris gris from Senegambia; the “serpent cult” of Nzambi from Whydah, or Li Grande Zombi as it is known in New Orleans; the obvious influence of fetishism, the nkisis or “sacred medicine,” from the Congo basin of Central Africa; and the Bocio figurines from the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Kingdom.

*Excerpted from the Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, pp8-10.

16 The New Orleans Voodoo Museum (n.d.). Voodoo. Retrieved from
17 Rebennack & Rummel, 1994, p. 159.

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