Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Interview with A Famous Voodoo Priestess

During my study of voodoo for my novel about Marie Laveau, I've often been frustrated by the lack of information online and in books.  At a certain point, you have to hear things from the horse's mouth. I contacted a famous priestess in New Orleans and asked for a short interview. Thankfully, she was happy to discuss my questions over the phone.

I would like to post her name and the entire interview, but I chickened out before I could ask her permission. She probably wouldn't have minded, but there's always the fear a person will say no and then not be as open. I regret it now, but at least I can post some of the highlights.

My first question: There are several branches of voodoo belief in Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and New Orleans. During the recent resurgence of voodoo in America, most practitioners are training in Haiti instead of here. I asked her why.

In the eighteenth century the slaves in Haiti staged a successful revolt that was inspired by voodoo leaders, and the priestess said this process made voodoo acceptable in their society. In America, however, the religion had trouble taking hold. While voodoo flourished in New Orleans for the first half of the 19th century, after the Civil War it was so heavily repressed that it went underground. Now it's become fragmented and turned into mere magic tricks (which is referred to as hoodoo). People go to Haiti for a mystical community experience.

Veve: a drawing on the floor that calls spirits to ceremonies
A big problem I'm having with voodoo is that it's an unorganized religion. As a Christian, I'm used to a stringent structure. Anything goes in voodoo, and it's hard for me to understand how such a system could function.

The priestess explained that practicing voodoo is an art form. Suddenly, the concept clicked for me. Artists don't have to produce the exact same work to communicate the same idea. Even if an artist doesn't create a piece the same way you would, the piece can still "work" for you.

Marie Laveau was so famous in the 19th century that people still honor her today by holding ceremonies, building altars, and making sacrifices to her. The priestess even told me she's seen Marie possess people. ("Possession" in voodoo is a process where a spirit enters a person's body and controls their actions. I saw one happen in New Orleans.)

I personally don't know what to think about possession. The people aren't just making it up to put on a show and I don't believe it's Satanic. I think God will give a spiritual experience to anyone who asks for one, but I don't see why he would use that method. Since I feel it's rude to question other people's spiritual experiences, I'll leave it at that.

When she said Marie's spirit is possessing people today, I got excited because I saw the potential for further insight into Marie's character. When a person is possessed, you can tell which spirit has "mounted" the person by their behavior. I asked how Marie behaves.

The priestess said Marie is mesmerizing and spellbinding. She's very nice to people, and she has a dramatic magical flair. You don't have to be possessed by her to feel her influence, though; she is powerful enough that you can feel her just by going to her tomb.

Almost all the believers in voodoo I've seen are white, which was confusing to me because voodoo is traditionally African. She said the religion was attacked so heavily that a great cultural theft happened. African Americans were taught that voodoo was embarrassing, superstitious, and only for old people. Most of them converted to Christianity and rejected voodoo. Those who didn't avoid performing ceremonies in public (which is why all the ones I see are white) because they don't want to be seen. There's too much racial damage.

One aspect of voodoo that fascinates me is the process of "being called by the spirits." You can't become a practitioner or priest without the spirits requesting it of you. Just having a desire to serve is not enough. I asked her what it's like to be called of the spirits.

In her experience, she believes most people who consider themselves called only wish they were. Those who are truly called often try fervently not to be. Being called is not necessarily a blessing. It's inconvenient  isolating, makes living a normal life difficult, and people go through a period where they feel like they're going crazy. 

They can't avoid the call, however, because avoiding their destiny will disrupt their lives, even make them sick. Most of them reluctantly come to voodoo kicking and screaming. But that's a process she says everyone goes through when they discover who they really are.

I asked about her own experience being called. She said for her, she was born seeing things. In her earliest memories she had an awareness of invisible things that were more real to her than what was on the surface. It took her a long time to realize not everyone saw things the way she did. This spurred on a fascination with all things spiritual, and it wasn't until her thirties or forties that she found her place in voodoo.

I can't believe I got so much information in only twenty minutes. Hopefully I can go back to New Orleans soon and meet her in person!

7 comments:

  1. Amazing interview! I loved it, Teralyn.

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  2. So possession is not, in your view, Satanic and you assume that it must 'come from God'? If God is able to do this, why cannot demonic powers, and a person may not be 'asking' God for a 'spiritual experience' but some other entity.

    St Paul said that not all spirits were from God, and that we should 'Test the Spirits' instead of being afraid of being 'rude'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not saying it's impossible for for the spirits to be satanic and it's good to wary of such things, but like I said, I witnessed a possession and didn't feel unnerved by it. That's all the"testing" I plan on doing.

      As a Mormon, I've been accused of being satanic enough times that I'm not going to make such an accusation lightly.

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    2. Voodoo is satanic. If it's not from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob then it is not of God. Bottom line. Jesus said don't be decieved and that He is the ONLY way. Everything else is spiritual counterfeit. He who has ears let them hear. Peace and blessings to you and yours.

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  3. Vodou is still practiced in Haiti, and may differ somewhat from New Orleans voodoo.

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  4. This post is awesome. Well done. I learned a lot and since I intend to do some writing about different religions this is definitely a reference point for me. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
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