Subcutaneous Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 91

I f you've turned on the television recently, you might see a movie where an evil voodoo doctor repeatedly stabs a voodoo doll or a person inhales a poison that turns them into a flesh-eating zombie. Although these movies are meant to entertain, some people may watch these films and believe that voodoo is all about black magic, voodoo dolls and cannibalism. Voodoo is actually a legitimate religion with one God and many spirits. My goal is to demystify voodoo and enlighten the reader by discussing my personal experience with a religion that revolves around healing, love and community. It all began while I was teaching an African art history course at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. During my discussion of the art of the Fon people of West Africa, one of my students asked me about Haitian Vodou*. I remember telling the student that the only thing I knew about the religion was all the negative stereotypes I had learned while staying up late watching B horror movies. During these late night viewing marathons, evil voodoo doctors destroyed enemies with their voodoo dolls and betrayed lovers exacted revenge with a voodoo curse. The student’s question piqued my interest so I tried to get my hands on every book ever written on the subject. I found general books on Haitian Vodou, books on Voodoo spells and art, and even books about famous Voodoo priestesses. After reading the books I had a better understanding of the religion and I added the sacred art of Vodou into my African art course. After lecturing about Haitian Vodou for several semesters, I had a student ask me about New Orleans Voodoo. The search for knowledge began all over again and, unfortunately, there are very few books on New Orleans Voodoo. The books I did find were more about New Orleans than Voodoo. I decided to investigate by taking a trip to New Orleans. Before I left, I remember having a conversation with another one of my students, a Louisiana native. She told me I was going to really enjoy New Orleans. She was right. When I first entered the French Quarter, I had the feeling that I had been there before. The French colonial architecture and the smell of the muffuletta sandwiches oozing from the restaurants seemed oddly familiar. It was as if I had lived here in a previous life. On the second day of my trip I took a tour of the French Quarter. An elderly man who worked for the New Orleans Voodoo Museum gave the tour. The man was full of interesting information, but his sense of humor was extremely dry. At times I thought Mr. Furley from Three’s Company was giving the tour. As Ralph Furley informed me about the history of the French Quarter, I imagined what it must have been like to walk these streets in the 19th century. We ventured out of the quarter to the Treme district to visit Congo Square. This is where Voodoo formed way back in the 19th century. As I stood in the square it was if I had traveled back in time. I could hear the faint beat of the African drums and see dancers spinning around celebrating the presence of the spirits. Our next stop was the grave of the Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. As Mr. Furley discussed the life and career of Marie I felt a deep connection with the deceased Voodoo priestess. She was a healer and after I received several tarot readings I found out that I am too. Marie spent her life healing the sick and feeding the poor. She did not spend her life sacrificing babies to Papa Legba as American Horror Story's "Coven" would have you believe. The last stop on the tour was a Voodoo temple. Inside the temple there was an altar with a statue of Buddha, Virgin Mary, St. Lazarus, Jesus, Kokopelli and an elderly black man with a beard. Seeing Buddha, Jesus and Virgin Mary together on the same altar really resonated with my Unitarian Universalist beliefs. This was not the first time I had seen a voodoo altar. The syncretic nature of the altars not only caught my eye, they caught my spirit. I left New Orleans with a new understanding of Voodoo and a couple of years later Voodoo became my spiritual path. When people find out I practice Voodoo, the question I always get is how did a white boy like me get into it? My answer is a dream. I still *Voodoo is the English spelling of the Haitian Creole word Vodou and the remember it. In the dream, an elderly black West African word Vodun. The word Vodun means spirit. For this article, I will man with a grey beard knocked aggressively on the use word Vodou for Haitian Vodou and Voodoo for New Orleans Voodoo.