Mutilated dolls, stuffed animals, and hexes are just a few haunting images that pop into mind upon hearing the word Voodoo — popular misconceptions that label the religion as ‘spooky.’ But Voodoo — also spelled Vodou or Vodun — is not an evil practice. It was brought to Louisiana from West Africa and the Haitian exiles after the revolution. Voodoo is a spiritual system of beliefs with practices that range from communion and worship rituals to animal slaughter, love potions, and charmed amulets. Here are four American cities that you probably didn’t realize had a large Vodun sub-culture:
Leave your mark on the most famous Voodoo grave in New Orleans, L.A.
New Orleans is the best-known city in America for its Voodoo secrets. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, opened in 1972, provides visitors a glimpse into the Vodun world: Voodoo dolls, stuffed animals and an introduction to the great Marie Laveau are some of the highlights awaiting guests at the museum. When African slaves from the Benin region of Africa brought their Vodun practices across the Atlantic, their beliefs mixed with Catholic practices to form the Creole version of Vodun, also called Louisiana Voodoo.
Voodoo Sights to See:
- Marie Laveau’s tomb is located in St. Louis Cemetery, the oldest in New Orleans, and is said to be extremely haunted. Laveau was known as the ‘Voodoo Queen’ and the ‘daughter of New Orleans.’ She was a respected Creole woman who practiced Voodoo in New Orleans from 1820 to 1840. Believers still leave talismans on her grave to this day. The ‘XXX’ symbol is a way to talk to the Queen and make a wish on her tomb.
- The Voodoo Spiritual Temple is in the French Quarter across from Congo Square. Founded by Priest Oswan Chamani and Priestess Miriam Chamani, the temple serves Voodoo practitioners and combines elements from other religions to expand its reach. The Cultural Center is right next door to the temple and offers Voodoo dolls, blessed candles, and mojo bags made by Priestess Miriam.
Stay at the Lamothe House on Esplanade Ave. in the heart of the French Quarter. This charming bed-and-breakfast style guest house offers a mixture of historic charm and modern comfort. Once the home of a French sugarcane planter from the 1830s, the Lamothe House features antique furniture and period décor, but it also offers guests complimentary Wi-Fi.
Enter a West African village down in Sheldon, S.C.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of this sleepy rural area, but if you have heard of it, it’s most likely because it’s home to Oyotunji, a traditional West African village founded in the 1970s by Voodoo priests. The village houses a group of families who maintain their connection to the Yoruba people of Africa. Vodun practice in the Village is still widespread, as the descendants of the village are African Americans from the Nigerian and Benin regions.
Voodoo Sights to See:
- The Oyontuji African Village allows visitors to enter for a $10 fee. Guests can see how this group of families live together in the woods practicing ancient rituals and claiming to be completely separate from the United States.
Spend the night in nearby Beaufort (15-minute drive) at the Comfort Suites Beaufort Inn which includes complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi, and comfy beds. See more info.
Catch a glimpse of a Voodoo exorcism in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Along with parts of Harlem and Queens, Brooklyn hosts a large community of Haitian natives and individuals of Haitian descent (one of the largest concentrations in all the U.S.). The Voodoo community in Brooklyn is led by the ‘Mambos’ or Vodun priestesses who regularly answer prayer requests and help with love spells. Many Vodun rituals in Brooklyn take place underground in colorful basement ceremonies.
Voodoo Sights To See:
Although most of the Voodoo happenings take place underground in Brooklyn basements, visitors can try to roam around New York’s Flatbush neighborhood in hopes of finding the basement temple located in a nondescript storefront. The temple is run by a Mambo Voodoo priestess called Rose Marie Pierre, who reportedly holds rituals and exorcisms in her basement.
Try the lovely King and Grove Williamsburg hotel in Brooklyn. It’s in the Flatbush neighborhood and offers a modern flair to traditional comfort. Bamboo floors, outdoor patios, and clean lines make up the hotel’s decor. Get more info about where to sleep in the city that never sleeps.
Visit the smallest park in San Francisco, Calif., former home of the SF Voodoo queen
Ever heard of Mary Ellen Pleasant? Not many people know how significant she was to San Francisco and the fight for civil rights. It’s Pleasant’s legacy that renders San Francisco a Voodoo destination. She moved to San Francisco in 1852, but prior to that Pleasant studied under the great Vodun Priestess, Marie Laveau. Locals believe that the mysterious deaths of some of her associates were connected to Voodoo practices. Voodoo queen or not, Pleasant was indisputably a soldier of civil rights efforts who fought to free slaves via the Underground Railroad system.
Voodoo Sights To See:
- Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Grave is in the Tulocay Cemetery in Napa, Calif. Visitors can stop off at the cemetery for a quick tour, led by guides in period costumes, and then continue on to view the beautiful Napa countryside. Wine tasting sites are endless, but the Taste at Oxbow wine tasting salon is less than a mile away and offers daily tastings from Waterstone Winery accompanied by gourmet food.
- Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park is located on the corner of Octavia and Bush Street, where her home used to be. It’s the smallest park in San Francisco and known for its six giant eucalyptus trees, all that remains of the 20 trees that Pleasant once planted.
Stay at the nearby Queen Anne Hotel for an authentic and historic San Franciscan lodging experience. The hotel is close to the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park and boasts exquisite antiques and undeniable old-fashioned Victorian charm. Get more info on this lovely lodging.
Feature photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash