It’s always amazing the things I find when I am doing other research. Much has been written about voodoo in New Orleans, whether through books or scholarly articles. In my first lecture on the Mascot I had Veronica Russell read an article from the Mascot regarding voodoo (she complained in the second lecture when she couldn’t read it, but was happy with the one I gave her about the female prisoner disguised as a man).
Here is an article I found in the Times Picayune (known then as the Daily Picayune) when I was researching another subject. It’s from June 24, 1875.
Its Worship and Worshipers
Their Customs and Rites.
Voudous and Voudouism
For years and years – in fact as far back as the time of the Spanish possession – the voudon or fetish worship of heathen Africa has held no mean place in the minds of a large class of our citizens. The worship is that of the devil, which is that of the “fetish” in Africa, and was first introduced here by the slavers who in the olden time with their human cargoes found refuge in the dark lagoons and swamps of Louisiana. It is a belief that the devil has supreme power to punish and that annually he has to be propitiated with a gift and festival to be held in his honor. At the sametime it is necessary to dance away the demon, and when he is summoned by the songs of the believers by a sudden rush into cold water he is ejected and the sin of the year completely washed away with him.
The believers are of course
and indulge in the wildest orgies, such as the imagination can hardly picture, and which, strange to say, are believed in by a large number of our ignorant creole negroes, who fear that the “wudo” will charm them, and by weird spells throw them into sickness and subsequent death.
Formerly the bestial performances used to take place within the city limits, down in what was then known as the Old Faubourg Treme, back of Rampart street and the Old Basin, but an ordinance having been passed on the subject, the police succeeded in supressing these, since which time the annual festival only has been held, and that on the lakeshore, between Bayous St. John and La Salle.
The worshippers in this faith believe mainly in
which are generally manufactured by the Queen of the sect, and are composed of lizards’ eggs, old pounded brick and various vegetable condiments, some of an agreeable and others of a disagreeable odor. These are placed near the person to be bewitched, and will, it is stated, cause death, illness or anything, in fact, that the mind of the fetish Queen chooses. They can also manufacture love powder, or, in fact, anything that any one is willing to pay for and believe in. There are now about three hundred Voudons in our city, presided over by a Queen, who is elected annually, and amongst whom are numbered, strane to relate, at least eight or ten white women, who participate with the others in the hellish orgies. Outside of these “firm ones” there are about a thousand more who, while ashamed to openly acknowledge their belief, secretly have faith and can be found practicing its tenets. The belief is one of fear, and it is this, in fact, that drives many of this latter class to admit their participation.
Desirous of finding someone who might be enabled to give some idea of the real staus of the creed, our reporter yesterday searched out
Marie Lafont, the Ancient Queen,
and asked her relative to the present condition of the society. He found her in a low hovel on St. Ann street situated back in the yard, and overgrown with vines. In a low room, with the sides whitewashed and stained with wet, here and there a box or bundle, in one corner a table, with rude images and drugs in vials and packages. Opposite the bed, tumbled as if but lately occupied, and seated in a chair, just in the rear, under a little trellis of covering vine was the figure of what had once been a tall, powerful woman, but who was now bent with age and infirmity. Her complexion a dark bronze and her hair grizzled back, while her trembling hand was supported by a small crooked stick. Her gown, of plain dark calico, was neatly fastened with a dark brooch, and her hair was partially covered by a handkerchief.
A kindly smile and –
“Bon jour, Monsieur.”
“Bon jour, Mamma Marie.”
And so the conversation opened. She had been infirm for years – two at least – and could hardly move from her home.
“Ah! no, Monsieur, I am no Voudon now; I am a believer in the holy faith;” and she kissed a small cross which she had in her hand.
“Well, Mamma, you can tell me something of them, can you not!”
“Not much, now, Monsieur. Last year I was not there; this year Eliza, a black woman, was the Queen. She lives on the lake shore, way beyond Milneburg. It is a bad thing – a very bad thing.”
After a litte conversation in which it was elicited that she had no more belief in the faith, and the the principal portion of the voudou worshippers were negroes, though there were some white, it was understood that of late years the faith had somewhat degenerated, though it was still extensively practiced.
It used to be the custom, also, long ago, to sacrifice little “picaninnies;” but, of late years, the law was too strong and the people too poor to do this, and they had to be satisfied with a chicken, which was tossed into the pot, feathers and all, alive, and which, with the other ingredients, formed a sort of stew, which, if the faithful drank kept them from the evil eye for a year.
This was all, or at least all the statement that she would make, and we departed.
From this it would appear the glory of the thing had much departed; as, indeed, it was but last night determined the rites should be again resumed, and a license was obtained from the authorities.
Numbers, in spite of the weather, were out and quite a time was had, though owing [sic] to the lateness of the hour a full description had to be postponed.”
*The reporter is likely refeering to Marie Laveau, the voodoo priestess who died six years later at the age of 80. Her fame was so widespread that even the New York Times work a lengthly obitatury on her, honoring her as a “wonderful woman.” Whether the reporter actually met her or not could be debatable. But real or not, it is an interesting glimpse into whites’ perception of voodoo during this time.
The event the reporter is describing is St. John’s Eve, which occurs on (depending) June 23rd or 24th. It is still practiced in New Orleans to this day.