Between Bourbon and Royal Street, just a few blocks away from the Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, you will find the historical Voodoo Museum. While the French Quarter has numerous Voodoo shops and other touristy boutiques, the Voodoo Museum really stands out. Even though it's been nearly three years since I visited New Orleans, I still find myself reminiscing over the photos and short video my wife filmed of this little museum.
This museum is authentic. None of the cheap imitations you find in the other shops you’ll find peppered throughout the Vieux Carré. Photos and videos are not only allowed, but encouraged--another aspect that sticks out here because most of the other Voodoo shops do not allow photos.
One of the displays that is particularly interesting is the alligator-headed man known as “L’Acallemon.” He seems to be a scarecrow stuffed with Spanish Moss. The name “L’Acallemon” is difficult to translate; it is not French, most likely from a local Cajun dialect. My attempts to translate it have failed to shed any light on the name's origin. His placard reads:
“L’Acallemon is a powerful symbol that protects against le loup-garou [French for werewolf]. In the springtime when the alligators come out of hibernation, Hoodoo practitioners honor him with a special ritual to ensure his protection throughout the year.”
In Cajun folklore, the werewolf (known both as loup-garou and rougarou depending on the region) is known to target Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent, disobedient children, and basically anyone out at night unlucky enough to cross his path. In some traditions, being turned into a werewolf is the penalty for breaking Lent seven years consecutively. Rougarou also takes on vampiric qualities--in some legends, the rougarou sucks one or three drops of blood from a victim and passes the curse onto them. On particularly dark and windy nights, all rougarous are said to gather for grand balls deep in the bayou.
Since the rougarou is such a danger, it is no wonder that L’Acallemon would have to be equally frightful to ward him off.
The skeletal man next to L’Acallemon is known as “Baron Samedi.” In Haitian Voodoo, he is the god of death. He is almost always depicted in a black dinner jacket and top hat because that is the traditional Haitian way to dress the dead for burial. However, as master of death, he also has the power to extend life. He can cure mortal illnesses and lift curses. He greets the newly dead and guides them through the spiritual realm. He is very sexual, drawing parallels between the interconnected nature of life, death, and rebirth. Baron Samedi features prominently in Black Magic.
Voodoo alters are quite cluttersome affairs. Offerings to the spirits, candles, and holy statues are all to be found on one. All offerings, be it a bottle of rum, a few small coins, beads or even cigarettes are commonly seen, and all are sacred to the spirits. Gris-gris are also to be found here.
|Voodoo Ceremony by C.M. Gandolfo|
Li Grand Zombi of Louisiana Voodoo is much more than just a snake deity. Zombi is the creator of humanity and is supreme among the other spirits, or “loas” as they are referred to in Voodoo. Li Grand Zombi is closely associated with Marie Laveau, the legendary Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Some say she had a giant boa constrictor that was kept either next to or under her bed. However, there is much ambiguity around these stories and many doubt that they are even true. The roots of this supreme snake god, however, lay in West Africa, where the supreme creator god is known as Nzombi a Mpungu or just Nzombi. In Voodoo, the snake does not have the same evil connotation as it does in the Christian tradition. The name Nzombi could even be compared to the Tetragrammaton of Jewish mysticism:
“The name for God is NZAMBI and its literal meaning is the personal essence (IMBI) of the fours (ZIA or ZA = fours). What then are the fours? They are the groups each of four powers called BAKICI BACI, which we have just discussed. The prefix BA the plural of N proving that these powers are personalities or attributes of a person, that is they are not ZINKICI like the mere wooden figures. Each group may be said to be composed of (1) a cause, (2 and 3) male and female parts, and (4) an effect. The group NZAMBI itself may be said to have four parts-(4) NZAMBI the abstract idea, the cause, (2 and 3) NZAMBI MPUNGU God Almighty, the father God who dwells in the heavens and is the guardian of the fire, NZAMBICI God the essence, the God on earth, the great princess, the mother of all the animals, the one who promises her daughter to the animal who shall bring her the fire from heaven, (4) KICI, the mysterious inherent quality in things that causes the BAVILI to fear and respect. This word was translated as 'holy' by the first missionaries that came to the Congo, but many people now speak of it as 'fetish,' and in Seven Years Among the Fjort, I write of NKICI as evil. I had then only heard the word used in connection with fetish as NKICI and had hardly heard of the BAKICI BACI." -- R.E. Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man’s Mind, chapter 16
This is of course too broad a topic to cover fully in this short posting. If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, a trip to the worlds only Voodoo Museum is well worth the small price of admission. The staff and owner are very warm welcoming and really love what they do. As can be seen in the above video, a wonderful mix of local music plays throughout the museum. The spirits are definitely present here and I have no doubt that they blessed me while I was here.
Address of the Voodoo Museum: 724 Dumaine Street, New Orleans, LA 70116
Official website: voodoomuseum.com