Marie LeveauIn 1799, a slave uprising in Haiti brought the Free People of Color and their Voodoo religion. These people had no reason to believe that they could not come to this city and worship freely. The first Voodoo Queen in New Orleans was Sanite' DeDe, a young woman who bought her way to freedom, she would later be teacher and mentor to the most famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau! She would hold rituals in her courtyard on Dumaine (the same street Erzulie's is located) and Chartres Streets, just blocks away from the Cathedral.

The rhythmic beat of the drums could be heard in during mass! It was because of this that in 1817, the church decided that any religion that was not Catholic would not be allowed to practice within the city limits. Congo Square, now Armstrong Park was the location that the early Voudoun held their rituals. The Voodoo religion is based on one main supreme deity and several demi-gods called Loas. The Loas are much to Voodoo as the Saints are to Catholicism, each one serving a specific purpose. In the language of the Dahomey tribes, the word Voodoo means Gods or Spirits. The Dahomians believed that these spirits had the ability to enter the worshippers. This was believed to be a valuable experience, warding off illness and misfortune. It was in Congo Square where Voodoo became mixed with other tribal religions of the slaves and with Native American traditions.

Hatian Voodoo DollsVoodoo in New Orleans had started to evolve becoming more indigenous to the city. Eventually, New Orleans Voodoo became immensely different from the purer form of Haitian Voodoo. Tales of Voodoo curses this mystical, spiritualistic religion spawned not only fear and hysteria to New Orleans, but shrouded the Crescent City in a veil of mysticism spilled over into our folklore for over one hundred years. The Voodoo hysteria of New Orleans lasted through the 1950's. It left behind a trail of folklore and legend of Voodoo Queens and Root Doctors who have become ingrained in the city's history.

Police who actually arrested participants frequently broke up rituals! In 1863, the Times Picayune recorded the trial of one such arrest. Approximately 400 women were arrested and tried for the crime of "dancing naked" at a Voodoo ritual. A young woman had reported the crime to the police after accidentally walking into the area. After three days of trials, the women were released for "lack of evidence". It seems that the girl who reported the "crime" had become strangely confused and was unable to testify properly against them. The charges were dropped. Many believed that the Voudouns hexed the girl and then charmed the judge. Due to such incidents, many a ritual was relocated in secret to the swampland on Bayou St. John, near what is now City Park. Today, Voudouns continue to hold rituals in Congo Square.

New Orleanians feared nothing more than the dreaded Voodoo curse! It is the worst of all fates. Evil magic in other parts of the country paled in comparison. Practitioners today generally will not do negative magic but back in 1944 when Robert Tallant wrote about Voodoo in New Orleans, he spoke to elders in the community who gave a different account of the way things were!

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