In 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,
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.
Voodoo 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
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!