Tuesday, April 16, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Day 18

Who Do Voodoo You Do—Tea Leaves and More!

                Voodoo—what is it? We can all conjure up images of a voodoo priest or priestess conjuring spells to call the “dead” from their graves. We’ve seen voodoo dolls with pins and needles—and most of us know, as well, that voodoo is a recognized religion practiced by many people around the globe with place and custom making small changes in the religion, just as Christianity, Judaism, and other religions are practiced in different ways.
                                                                                                                               Voodoo as practiced in New Orleans is a religion that began in West Africa in the Dahomey region, an area and country now called Benin.  Needless to say, when slaves were taken from this area and brought to the New World, their practices and beliefs were influenced by those around them. Because of this, practices in Haiti changed in one way while differences came into being when the religion arrived in
 New Orleans and the United States. Slaves were forced into servitude, we know, and one way they kept their souls and individuality was through their language and their religion.
                Papa Doc—Haiti’s despot dictator—had a great deal to do with Voodoo appearing to be some kind of black magic practice in which the dead were awakened and brought to life in zombie form to perform ghastly deeds. And with more  zeal than Papa Doc—the movies stepped in to make the practice appear to be secret and menacing!
                I don’t pretend to really understand the practice of religion; I did meet once with a
Voodoo priestess on Rampart Street who gave me a sense of the beliefs and practices which don’t always seem exceptionally strange—Catholic saints were adopted into the religion and having grown up with such beliefs, I do get a feeling with altars and the way one can ask others to help them when they’re asking for help and intervention with their prayers.
                As in modern wiccan practices, Louisiana Voodoo or New Orleans Voodoo also looks to herbs and spells. Gris-gris bags can be created for protection and luck.
                Since Hollywood so managed to turn Voodoo into something creepy and to be feared, you can also buy many things in the local shops you might want to associate with
something underground and perhaps a bit magical and dark. Yes, you can buy a chicken foot talisman. But, remember, there are people out there shopping who are buying votive candles just as Catholics buy votive candles.
                My point here, of course, is not to explain something that I have no real right to explain. Those who are interested can find a wealth of books to study.
                The most famous Voodoo queen of New Orleans was, as most of us have heard, a woman named Marie Laveau. (Remember, you can visit her grave at St. Louis number one, set down your pennies, turn three times, and ask her spirit for luck or favors, if you wish!) Most people believe that like any good priestess, therapist, or spiritual advisor, Marie knew how to listen and use what she learned when giving advice.
                Today, you can stop by Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, a shop where you’ll find handmade and one of a kind items, items associated with the practice of Voodoo, gris-gris bags and more.
When you visit, please remember, they’re not really into helping you “hex” anyone. Nor would they help you get even with your ex-wife, put a curse on your husband, and go about practicing any kind of incantation to make your enemy’s jaw drop off.
                What you will find is a shop of wonderful things that are fascinating and interesting. When you make purchases here, you’ll have a special little piece of time and culture. Even if you’re not shopping, the place is atmospheric and fun; I’ve had many friends swear that they weren’t going to buy a thing—and then leave with a bag full of candles, jewelry, masks or maybe religious pieces. You can also purchase shirts and mugs, all kinds of souvenirs.
                Now, of course, you can buy spell kits. You’re more than welcome to cast spells—hopefully, good spells. Love spells, or spells to help you move forward in your job—maybe make peace with a troubling relative. There are fun little dolls, interesting potions, and more. No one says you can’t have a little fun!
                Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo can be found at 739 Bourbon Street. You can also
visit Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo at 723 St. Peter Street, and/or Voodoo Authentica of New Orleans Cultural Center and Collection at 612 Dumaine Street. It’s interesting, and very good I think, for those who don’t practice Voodoo to learn about Voodoo; it’s always great when we understand and respect what others embrace. Hey, most of have beliefs that seem strange to those of other faiths! There are more little shops and shops that carry Voodoo paraphernalia while they concentrate in other directions.
                Of course, we’re talking New Orleans, so there is more that is different here, more that is seen as occult. I have friends who consider themselves practicing vampires. While I’ve seen travel shows about groups and cults that really drink blood, this isn’t what is practiced by my friends. They consider themselves to be “spiritual” vampires; they “drink” energy and life from the air and the earth.
                One of my personal favorite shops in the city is the Boutique du Vampyre. You’ll find this at 709 and 1/2 St. Ann. This shop is owned by a friend of mine but trust me—that’s not why you want to come. You will love the unique merchandise. Beautiful, custom, locally made jewelry, candles, vampire hunter game boxes, custom fangs, perfumes, dolls—special dolls, as a matter of fact. You can get your “Vampire Worry Dolls” here. The shop has beautiful, fun, and amazing merchandise. I say—go!
                The city is, of course, filled with Voodoo shops and the unusual and I encourage you to step into all the doorways that intrigue you. Shopping is fun here because yes, while you can find the chain stores (nothing wrong with them) you can also find people who delight in what they do and sell, are experts in what they do and sell, and enjoy being as unique as possible.

                Two more I suggest that are fun—Hex, Old World Witchery—is at 1219 Decatur. Beautiful things! (Actually, there is an “original” in another great city, Salem, Mass.) And feel like a cup of tea along with a “reading?” Leaves, tarot, palm. Lovely store, great coffee and tea, and easy-going atmosphere. These will all be found at Bottom of the Cup Tea Room,  327 Chartres Street. It’s just about
right across from the W on Chartres Street—after or before your cup of tea, check out their gorgeous courtyard; the hotel staff won’t mind at all!


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