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New Orleans Voodoo

Luglio 2010
Divisi tra i loro culti originari e il cattolicesimo dei bianchi, gli schiavi neri portati in America dai francesi diedero origine al Voodoo. New Orleans è ancora la capitale di quest’affascinante pratica a metà tra magia e religione.

di John Rigg

File audio:

Voodoo doll
Voodoo doll

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

New Orleans is famous for its Voodoo heritage. The city’s history and its customs were formed by this ancient African religion. Forget the Hollywood films and their horrific zombies. New Orleans’ Voodoo is a religion with surprising links to the Catholic Church.


Slaves brought the Voodoo religion to the United States in the 18th century. The slave trade usually divided families, but in New Orleans and Louisiana families worked together on plantations. So a strong community developed and they maintained their Voodoo beliefs and customs.


Voodoo practitioners worship one god, and the spirits of ancestors. Their religion had many similarities to the colonial French settlers’ Catholicism: one god, saints who act as intermediaries and the practice of giving offerings to these saints for favours. In fact the two religions have combined over the centuries to form a unique Louisiana religion. Voodoo, however, uses magic. This involves secret rituals and gris gris – Voodoo dolls or small pouches of herbs and personal objects. The Voodoo doll isn’t used for revenge. Forget the idea of evil witches pushing pins into dolls. The doll is used to focus energy. There are fertility dolls, good luck dolls, dolls to cure illnesses and so on. Voodoo practitioners believe in karma, so hurting others is not advised.


A key figure in New Orleans’ Voodoo culture is the Voodoo Queen or priestess. The most famous of these was Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830s. Visitors can find her tomb in St. Louis Cemetery, one of New Orleans’ legendary Cities of the Dead. These cemeteries look like small cities because of their many splendid and sometimes ruined tombs.


There are many Voodoo rituals: blessings of cemeteries, the Mississippi, wedding ceremonies. But the most important is the Hurricane Protection Ritual performed by the priestess Mambo Sallie Ann (pictured right) every July. Cynics suggest the ritual failed when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. But other people say that Katrina heard their drums and changed direction at the final moment. The city was saved from total destruction.


The Legend of Queen Marie Laveau

This legend gives a real insight into New Orleans’ secret Voodoo culture. In the 1920s a vagabond decided to spend the night in St. Louis Cemetery. He woke in the middle of the night and saw Marie Laveau and a giant snake glowing in the dark. Men and women danced around the queen. The terrified vagabond ran away.
The legend can be explained. It is a secret ritual: the current Voodoo Queen leads her followers to the tomb of the ancient Queen Marie Laveau. The followers begin a silent dance. They invoke Marie Laveau, and ask for her blessing.

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heritage - tradizione.

customs - usanze.

ancient - antica.

slaves - schiavi.

worship - adorano.

ancestors - antenati.

settlers - pionieri.

giving offerings - fare offerte.

small pouches of herbs - borsettine piene di erbe.

revenge - vendetta.

evil witches pushing pins into dolls - streghe cattive che spingono spilli nelle bambole.

to cure illnesses - curare malattie.

hurting others is not advised - fare del male agli altri non è consigliato.

blessings - benedizioni.

failed - fallì.

drums - tamburi.

insight - prospettiva.

a giant snake glowing in the dark - un serpente gigante che riluceva nel buio.