ORLEANS STYLE DAY OF THE DEAD
ORLEANS VOODOO LOCALS CELEBRATE
Story by C. Kirsham Artwork by Ricardo Pustanio
© 2006 All photos by Harriet Cross
Day sacred for local Catholics day of the
dead, For Catholics worldwide, November
1st, known as "All Saints Day,"
is a holy day of obligation. But in New
Orleans, it's an occasion that is met with
slightly more fanfare compared to other
places around the world.
Day also bears significance for the New
Orleans area for another reason. On November
1, 1966, the NFL awarded an expansion franchise,
later named the Saints, to the city.
as the Lwa of the Dead in Vodoun,
Papa Gede, or Ghede, Guédé,
is also known as the Baron Samdi,
and is married to Manman Brigit, mother
of all Gedes. Together the Gedes dress
in funeral colors of purple and black
and surround themselves with graveyard
imagery. The Gedes are very wise,
Papa Gede most of all, because they
possess the accumulated wisdom of
all the dead.
Each Year La
Source Ancienne Ounfo & The Island
of Salvation Botanica & Magical
Pharmacy present their Annual New
Orleans DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION,
Voodoo Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman presiding
holds a open to the Public day of
the dead ritual. Followers
white with a purple head scarf, or
black and purple for Gede. They bring
a dish of food for the people, and
an offering for the Dead and of course
Gede’s tastes tend towards
peppers, flat breads, rum, cigars,
goats, crosses, grave-digger’s
tools, black cock feathers, skeletons,
sunglasses with one lens, hot Creole
foods, money, the colors black, mauve,
and white. He is synchronized with
Or you can bring something with you
that your ancestors or loved ones
enjoyed in life.
New Orleans All Saints' is more subdued
but still an important day for visiting
and decorating cemeteries. A modest but
steady stream of people makes its way to
family tombs in Lafayette or St. Louis No.
1 or Cypress Grove, and Save Our Cemeteries,
an organization devoted to the study and
preservation of the Crescent City's historic
graveyards, has taken to stationing its
members in several of the older cemeteries
to pass out information and solicit memberships.
This is the traditional day for visiting
and beautifying the cemeteries of New Orleans.
To true New Orleanians this day is as important
as Mardi Gras.
names a family of raucous spirits who personify
the ancestral dead and sexual regeneration.
Their boss is the Baron (Bawon Samdi, or
'Baron Saturday'), married to Grand Brigitte,
mother of the Gedes. In Vodun, Maman Brigitte
(Grann Brigitte, Manman, Manman Brigit,
Manman Brijit) is a death loa, the wife
of Baron Samedi. She drinks hot peppers
and is symbolized by a black rooster. Like
Baron and the Ghede, she uses obscenities.She
protects gravestones in cemeteries if they
are properly marked with a cross. A New
World loa, Maman Brigitte is probably traceable
back to the Irish Saint Brigid.
Family members dress themselves in black
and purple costumes reminiscent of Masonic
garb, and surround themselves with graveyard
imagery. They also favor sunglasses because
the world above ground is too bright. Gede
is a shameless trickster, a wise counselor,
and a benevolent healer known to have special
love for children. Devotions to Gede are
carried out on Fridays and/or Mondays, and
during the entire month of November, especially
the Days of the Dead-All Saints (the 1st)
and All Souls (the 2nd).
is observed in different ways by different
New Orleans Voodoo groups or societies.
Each has their own unique traditions secrets
and rituals. The day of the dead has the
secular connotations of so many Christian
festivals throughout the Western world.
Traditionally in New Orleans , the day begins
with a feast during the early hours of 2
Well Known Secret New Orleans' Voodoo Cemetery
Gates Of Guinee, The Portal To The Afterworld.
is a very wise man for his knowledge is
an accumulation of the knowledge of all
the deceased. He stands on the center of
all the roads that lead to Guinee, the afterworld.
To find these mysterious gates in the city
of New Orleans might take a little detective
work. Some Locals say if their open when
you find them... beware! If you then enter
you will never return to the real world.
location of the haunted cemetery gates isn't
really ever told to outsiders of the Secret
Societies. New Orleans Tour Guides and Haunted
Cemetery or ghost tours will skirt around
the issue, or just look at you like they
don't know what your talking about, so never
mention it (seriously). They say just to
talk about the accursed cemetery gates spells
doom to those that ask or search for it
or speak of it openly to anyone. Those who
know feel it is inviting them , "The
Ghede" to take you away. Only someone
pure of heart with only one burning question
to be answered by the dead is ever told
the whole truth. A unnamed New Orleans Voodoo
priestess says quite bluntly, search and
you shall find them rusted shut, or worse
they will certainly find you and be wide
find these gates, they say is to find the
way to communicate openly with the dead.
And not just the spirits of those that have
died in New Orleans. Local Voodoo followers
of Marie Laveaus' Secret Society profess
that anyone can come to these gates of Guinee
if you can find them.
Speak the name of the deceased you wish
to speak to aloud five times through the
bars, and they will come and speak to you
from the other side. One real warning though,
if the rusted shut heavy gate opens do not
enter. For you will be one of the living
trapped in the world of the dead forever.
If you arrive and the Guinee gates are open
turn and walk away crossing yourself three
times as fast as you can and don't look
In New Orleans
voodoo-religion, Guinee is the legendary
place of origin and abode of the voodoo
gods. It is here that the souls of the deceased
go after their death. On their way to Guinee,
they first have to pass the eternal crossroads
which is guarded by Ghede.
" Although one is pure of thoughts
and in heart, searches for the gates of
the truly dead. You never know when the
November winds blow, If the cursed gates
are searching for you too."
"If you enter the gates backwards
you might have a small chance, to flee
with your life all intact. But if your
motives are untrue then the living death
calls your name , then there is nothing
you can do."
Attributed to Madame Marie
Laveau, 1800's New Orleans
is represented as an undertaker, dressed
completely in black wearing dark glasses.
His followers disguise themselves as corpses
and they dance the Banda. Other members
of his retinue are Baron la Croix (Baron
of the Cross) is the mystical Baron responsible
for the reclamation of souls, and Baron
Cemetière a spirit of the dead.
is one of the Guédés, related
to and intertwined with Baron Cemetière
and Baron La Croix. He is a Guédé
of the Americas, bridging the Guédés
and Legba. Both are guardians of the crossroads,
the place where spirits cross over into
our world. If the intercessions desired
are with the loa, then Legba is saluted
and asked to allow the loa to participate.
If the intercessions are with the dead,
then Guédé (Ghede) is the
Cemetiere is an obscene, sexual persona
known for causing disruptions and hallucinations.
He is fond of liquor, especially rum. He
also enjoys hot red peppers, coca oil and
burning incense. Rodents and insects are
his constant companions, and cold dark spaces
are where he finds himself comfortable.
Baron has the power to turn people into
slaves by using his magic spells and zombie
powder. Some say he even has the ability
to change shape, and possess people.
one of the most accessible and beneficent
of all the lwa, for the simple reason that
he is the ruler of all ancestors, and everyone
has ancestors. The first man buried in any
cemetery is Baron. The first woman buried
in any cemetery is Maman Brigitte. Together
they reclaim the souls of the departed,
and transform them into Gede lwa. You may
put before Baron any case of injustice which
you have suffered, or you may ask forgiveness
for any wrongs you have done. You may ask
for the protection of Baron, Brigitte and
Croix (Baron the Cross) is the mystical
Baron responsible for the reclamation of
souls. Baron Samedi is involved in the magical
ceremonies of the Sanpwel, including those
in which the punishment of zombification
is inflicted on criminals. Baron Cimitiere
is the Big Black Man in the cemetery, he
is the one who guards the bones of the dead
at night. Baron Kriminel works for pay,
and must be paid by the end of the year,
November 2, the Feast of the Dead.
In all his aspects, Baron
is a judge. He determines the guilt or innocence
of those brought before him. If someone
is the victim of malevolent magic, if Baron
is invoked to help them and he sees that
the person is innocent, the person can not
be killed. But if he is invoked to punish
an evildoer, he himself will send spirits
of the dead into the body of the offender,
and the evildoer will die a slow death.
or traditional insignia, of these lwa is
a cross on a tomb. The details of the vever
may vary depending on the particular lwa
or aspect being invoked.
Maman Brigitte, wife of
Baron, is the Vodou manifestation of the
Celtic goddess Brigid. During the Stuart
Wars, many Scottish and Irish men and women
loyal to the Stuart crown were deported
to the West Indies, and that is how Brigid
arrived in Haiti. Maman Brigitte will heal
the sick if she is invoked for that reason.
She is also a magician, and a particular
friend of women and children.
The spiritual children
of Baron and Maman Brigitte are the Gede
lwa. Every human being on earth can become
a Gede lwa, although not all do! The Gedes
are powerful, and will prophesy the future,
heal the sick, give advice, or perform magic
of all descriptions.
The great Baron is identified
with the image of St. Martin de Porres,
who stands with a broom in his hand, with
rows of people on their deathbeds on either
side of him. Gede is represented by St.
Gerard, who wears severe black clothes and
meditates on a skull. Maman Brigitte does
not have any particular image strictly associated
with her in Vodou, but some people use the
image of Our Lady of the Candelaria, the
same image often used to represent Oya in
the Lucumi tradition.
Possessed by Gede lwa,
and by Baron and Brigitte. These lwa use
a great deal of indecent language, but they
are never nasty to people, they don't curse
at people, but instead they tell hysterically
funny dirty jokes.
They dance the banda,
which is a wildly suggestive dance miming
sexual intercourse. And in the midst of
all this winding and grinding, these lwa
keep perfectly straight faces - they are
cadavers, they feel nothing!
2, All Soul's Day, commonly called Fet Gede
(pronounced GAY-day), New Orleans' Catholics
attend mass in the morning and then go to
the cemetery, where they pray at family
grave sites and make repairs to family tombs.
The majority of New Orleans Catholics are
also said to be Vodouisants, and vice versa,
so on the way to the cemetery many people
change clothes from the white they wore
to church, to the purple and black of the
lwa Gede, the spirits of the departed ancestors.
of the Ancestors, Fet Ghede, is considered
the end of the old year and the beginning
of the new, much as in the European Wiccan
tradition. Any debts to Baron, Maman
Brigitte, or Ghede must be paid at this
time. Baron Kriminel sings to his debtors:
Bawon Kriminel, map travay pou ve de te
yo, m pa bezwenn lajan (repeat),
Bawon Kriminel, O! Lane a bout o, map paret
Baron Criminel, I'm working for the worms
of the earth (lowly, poor people),
I don't need money (repeat),
Baron Criminel, oh! The year has ended,
oh, I'll appear, to wait for them (to pay
In New Orleans the people
light candles and and place offerings to
Gede' and the dead on winged boats shaped
like a coffin lid called mariposas (Spanish
for "butterfly"), to honor and
celebrate the lives of the dead.
Ghede is able to help with grief, and there
are many grieving here and throughout the
Diaspora that is post-Katrina New Orleans.
Gede will also lead the Beloved Dead across
the black waters of the Abyss where they
can rest, and their loved ones can heal.
Well known Guédé spirits include
Guédé Nibo, Guédé
Plumaj, Guédé Ti Malis, Guédé
Zaranye, and many others. They are known
for the drum rhythm and the dance called
the "banda" and in possession
will drink or rub themselves with a mixture
of raw rum or clairin and twenty-one habanero
or goat peppers.
Gede Nibo is a psychopomp
and acts as an intermediary between the
living and the dead, who gives voice to
the dead spirits that have not been reclaimed
from "below the waters". Many
sets of religious beliefs have a particular
spirit, deity, demon or angel whose responsibility
is to escort newly-deceased souls to the
afterlife, such as Heaven or Hell. These
creatures are called psychopomps, (psychopompos),
literally meaning the "guide of souls".
They were often associated with horses,
whippoorwills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls,
sparrows, harts, and dolphins. This could
include not only acompanying the soul of
the dead, but also vice versa: to help at
birth, to introduce the newborn's soul to
of the first man buried in any cemetery
in Haiti, whether the person in life participated
in the Vodou religion or not, is dedicated
to Baron (not Ghede), and a ceremonial cross
is erected on the spot. In family compounds
in the countryside, a family may erect a
cross to Baron for their own lineage, and
no peristyle is complete without the cross
of Baron somewhere on the grounds.
Dozens on these two consecutive
days are already possessed by a Gede, and
their eyes and odd look are unmistakable.
St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, the main cemetery
near the French Quarter, is jammed with
people on tours and familys visiting the
dead.. Crowds press close around the tomb
of Marie Laveau praying that she opens the
door to the mysterious powers she still
Many bring offerings of
black coffee and rum, which they pour at
the foot of her grave. They also bring food
offerings of bread, grilled peanuts, roast,
corn, and sometimes peppery cooked food.
Occasionally a person, usually a Houngan
or Mambo, will bring a pre sacrificed chicken
or a pair of live pigeons or doves to set
free.. Some people light white church candles,
beeswax tapers, and leave religious images
of saints considered to represent Baron,
Maman Brigitte, and many Ghedes are left
through out the cemetery.
DE LOS MUERTOS WITH SALLIE ANN GLASSMAN
All photos by Harriet
Source Ancienne Ounfo & The Island of
Salvation Botanica & Magical Pharmacy
peristyle is just one group that
holds rituals in honor of Baron, Maman Brigitte,
and the Ghedes. The people who come must
all be fed, and the lwa who appear are also
feasted from the donated food specially
prepared for them.
Sallie Ann Glassman began by saying.
city of New Orleans is broken but
not beaten, is bent but not destroyed.
Slowly, it is beginning to heal."
"She is like a grand old dame
who is suffering from a serious, life-threatening
illness, and she needs every healing
effort still." "Who better
to call on now than Papa Guédé!"
Asking those present
to honor the dead with their offerings,
Mambo Sallie Ann also stated that
the Loas have spoken to her in many
ways since Katrina’s strike
and that the spirit world is entreating
all of us to be more mindful of the
natural world surrounding us.
Mambo Sallie Ann bends down to the
ground where she begins to draw in
corn meal the intricate and powerful
"veve" -- the otherworldly
symbol that in this world is the mirror
of the power of the spirit world.
As she draws, pinching out the corn
meal, her devotees will sing and circulate
bottles of blessed water in which
the audience is invited to wash their
Ritual Voodoo drumming
enticed everyone to dance with happy abandon
in the Perystle as the ritual reached it's
height. The feverish banda dancing went
on long into the night. The artistry of
the drummers ass incomparable, and even
non-Vodouisants had come out their homes
to watch. Just as in ceremonies past, the
beautiful singing, drumming and dancing
is designed to call Guédé,
a powerful Loa, from across the Abyss to
be present among us.
Jolie brings her own personal voodoo
offering of a special made Papa Ghede
Zombie Spirit Bottle for this night
to the La Source
Ancienne Ounfo Peristyle.
In the aftermath
of Katrina, when all the city of New
Orleans still appears to be dead,
who, you might ask, would want to
hang around this place now?
would have to be somebody familiar with
great heartache desolation, that’s
for sure, and not put off by day to
day hard challenges. Someone who brings
the party with him, so to speak; who
knows just the prescription for these
one year and 3 months later post-Katrina
Fireworks and dancing
marked the arrival of the Guédé
among the celebrants blessed intentions
through the warm November night and
into the world of Spirit.
is a wide-ranging phenomena which is
probably the most popular form of union
with the divine in human history. Possession-oriented
rituals are apparent in ancient Egypt
and it has been shown that the earliest
forms of Cabbalistic practice were oriented
towards this type of experience. Possession
was a recognized phenomena in ancient
Greece, two examples being the Delphic
oracle, and the practices of the Theurgists,
defined by Proclus as "... in a
word, all the operations of divine possession."
Possession is a central feature of Voudoun,
Santeria, and Macumba, religions which
are gaining increasing popularity, and
is apparent in most tribal cultures,
from America to Australasia.
Ghede mounts someone he often singles
out people who pretend to be aloof from
eroticism. He ridicules them, embarrasses
them, exposes them (in more ways than
one). He is especially hard on whites
since they often have the puritanical
sexual attitudes of western culture.
Ghede is a clown, an interrupter, a
coarse fellow. He is much loved because
his appearance always brings laughter
and joy, singing and dancing, though
much of it is lude. He loves cigarettes
and is often seen smoking two at a time.
He is neither good nor evil, but is
amused by humans and that's why he jokes
around so much. He is usually the last
to appear at a ceremony.
of Ghede's great powers is as the protector
of children. He does not like to see
children die. They need a full life.
Thus he is the loa to go to when seeking
help for a sick child. He has the power
over zombies and decides whether or
not people can be changed into animals.
Any such black magic Voodoo must seek
the help of Baron Samedi/Ghede.
Possession also appears in early Christianity
- particularly with the manifestation
of "speaking in tongues" which
remains popular in modern-day forms
of evangelical Christianity. St. Paul's
dramatic experience on the road to Damascus
bears all the hallmarks of a sudden
divine possession, yet he was worried
by the phenomenon, and found it necessary
to lecture the Corinthian Christians
on the need to carefully manage speaking
"If therefore, the whole church
assembles, and all speak in tongues,
and outsiders or unbelievers enter,
will they not say that you are mad?
...do not forbid speaking in tongues,
but all things should be done decently
and in order" (I Corinthians, 14)
ability to 'loose control' appears to
be a key factor in the possession experience..
This is not of course,
an issue, in ceremonies where the entire
assembly knows what to expect of the entity
manifesting. William Sargant gives an
account of a Voudoun ceremony he witnessed
in Haiti, where two girls became simultaneously
possessed by Ghede, a loa who is known
to be particularly sexually active: "They
half stripped each other and one girl
symbolically raped the other with a masculine
type of pelvic approximation. It ended
with the total emotional collapse of both
participants." Sargant goes on to
say that the group was somewhat amused
by this episode, and that the girls, who
were normally restrained and quiet, had
no memory of what they had done. He notes
that the only people who were 'upset'
by the incident were the boyfriends of
the girls, but that they could say nothing,
as it was the manifestation of Ghede.
This in itself is an important point.
In many possession-oriented cults, there
is a tacit understanding that whatever
a possessed person does, it is the action
of the indwelling entity and as such,
they cannot be faulted. Furthermore, after
the person comes out of possession, they
are not told about how they behaved.
Many awaited the grand
appearance of Papa Guédé,
who in fact did arrive dressed to the nines.
His appearance this November warm night
was foreshadowed by a great gust of the
north wind and a deathly cold chill in the
air. Those who were outside the Perystle
felt his approach as the drumming reached
a fever pitch inside and many of the dancers
slowed from the heat filling the room. That’s
when Guédé appeared
wanted to hear another song, have another
drink, and eat another meal! The party for
the dead really began. With top hat,
dark sunglasses with
one eye out, to symbolize his power in the
world of the seen and the unseen. And with
a large thick dark cigar he found with his
offerings and with a smile all knew he was
Ghede he is a masculine
lwa with a nasal voice who carries a walking
stick or baton, uses profanity liberally,
and dresses in black or purple. He is considered
the last resort against deaths caused by
magic, because even if a magical spell should
bring a person to the point of death, if
Baron refuses to "dig the grave",
the person will not die.
possess anyone, anytime. Baron and Maman
Brigitte, are absolutely notorious for
their use of profanity and sexual terms
and his gyrating banda dance make him
unmistakable. There is a reason for this
- the Ghede are dead, beyond all punishment.
Nothing further can be done to them, so
the use of profanity among the normally
somewhat formal Haitians is a way of saying,
"I don't care! I've passed beyond
all suffering, I can't be hurt."
In a country where disrespect for authority
figures was until recently punished by
torture or death, this is a powerful message.
possessed by one of the Gede taunts passersby
and swears at them. A New Orleans Voudun
initiate is ridden (”possessed”)
by Ghede. Photo below.
this profanity is never used in a vicious
or abusive fashion, to "curse someone
out". It is always humorous, even
when there is a pointed message involved.
"He is the wise counselor and a shameless
trickster; he is especially loving toward
children, and is called the patron of children
throughout the Vodoun world." "The
family of spirits are the guardians of the
dead and masters of libido. Mambo Sallie
Ann had told all earlier in the night.
sexual personas arrival caused a disruption
to the wild dancing. "He is fond of
his liquor Glassman had remarked earlier,
especially his favorite brand of rum."
searched for it amongst the many wonderful
offerings brought to him this night. "You
can count on him to keep you from wallowing
in your sorrows," Said Sallie Ann Glassman
to the crowd. "Always Guédé
arrives when everyone is tired, exhausted
and ready to go home for much needed sleep."
Like many other types
of magical experience, possession is a learned
response. When an individual first experiences
possession, it may have far-reaching consequences
as a life-changing agent. It may occur suddenly,
or gradually, and in some accounts of possession,
it can be agonizingly painful. The degree
of resistance to the experience is interesting
in this light. Sargant notes that often,
the more one resists the onset of possession,
the more intense the experience actually
becomes. I have noticed that, in my own
experience of being possessed, whenever
I have consciously tried to limit the depth
of possession, it has in fact, proved to
be much more intense than I expected. With
practice, one may achieve a state of possession
The Baron answered many questions and
mingled amongst the many in attendance
that filled the Perystle and surrounding
grounds, puffing furiously on his large
dark thick cigar. Most
of all many here wanted to speak to
him, because he possess the accumulated
wisdom of all that are dead. As the
Avatar of Death it is within his power
to effect healing, and if ever there
was a need for healing, it is here,
now in New Orleans.
Ghede is said to be a
thief amongst the crowd. It is true
that he appropriates what he likes from
anyone, but once the person accedes
to Ghede's demands his pilfering is
usually limited to a few things very
minor such as demanding a dollar bill
or two. Glassman recounts that when
you make a request of Baron Samedi,
you use a something other then your
hand, a stick anything but your hand
extended in place of your hand. When
the Baron is ready to leave, he takes
with him whatever he's holding. By substituting
something, you don't loose your arm!
remains a powerful form of magical work.
It can be used to derive oracular information
(as used by the Greeks and Tibetans),
to charge magical weapons, to share
in the power of the God (as in ritual
Masses) or 'live' a particular mythic
transformation. In constructing possession-workings,
it can be useful to examine magical
and religious paradigms where possession
is a recognized and culturally-defined
technique. The experience itself can
be related to wider phenomenon such
as religious conversion, hypnosis, and
abreactive therapy. As with all types
of magical technique, it's use requires
careful analysis and evaluation if it
is not to devolve into a habituated
limitation. In general, magical possession
is both useful and enjoyable, if a little
hair-raising at times.
At Fet Ghede, Glassmans
peristyles followers also cook and bring
plenty of food especially for the many
of Ghedes which appear unexpectedly
and wander through the streets to the
pounding call of the drums.
dressed in top hat and smoked
glasses danced, ate cursed and
sang into the night.
It seems that some years ago,
under the regime of President
Borno, there suddenly appeared
in the streets of Port-au-Prince
a crowd of Ghedes (all of them
houngans possessed by Ghede) wearing
the "formal" costume
of the lord: the tall top-hats,
long black tail-coats, smoked
glasses, cigarettes or cigars,
and canes. An enormous crowd naturally
collected about them, and joined
them in their march to the National
Palace. They all took the guards
by surprise, and, singing, swerved
throught the gates and up the
drive and to the door itself,
where they demanded money of the
President. President Borno, who
is reputed to have been sympatheic
to Voudoun ritiual (secretly so)
and yet feared bourgeois opinion
was in great dilemma. He finally
gave in, ostensibly merely to
quiet the mob, and the Ghedes
with their supporters left the
grounds. But Ghede had make his
point. Death, who has consumed
so many heroes, bows before no
man and will remind even the most
illustrious that one day he too
will be consumed. So Ghede had
gotten his money and went off
to gorge himself, singing...
from Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren
Note: If you
are visiting New Orleans in the hazy
month of June, do not miss this opportunity
to experience this authentic open to
the public voodoo Marie Laveau ritual
hosted by one of the most powerful practitioners
of the religion in the South, Sallie
Ann Glassman. Featured on the Scifi
Ms. Sallie Ann Glassman is the author
of Vodou Visions, published by Random
House in May, 2000, which has received
acclaim from Vodou practitioners around
the world. She is co-creator and artist
for The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot, published
by Destiny/Inner Traditions, and is
the illustrator of The Enochian Tarot,
published by Llewellyn.
Counted as one of the twenty most active
Voodoo practitioners in the United States,
And as one of the top ten in New Orleans,
Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman is known
for promoting positive thoughts through
her Voodoo faith. She is also a historian
on Voodoo tradition and its roots in
Hatian Vodun. Like many native religions,
Vodou (often referred to as "Voodoo")
has been scorned and ridiculed in mainstream
Judeo-Christian communities. "The
word 'Vodou' sends chills down the spines
of most people, and conjures up age-old
terrors of sorcery, black magic, and
bogeymen lurking under the bed,"
writes author Sallie Ann Glassman (New
Orleans Voodoo Tarot/Book and Card Set).
This enticing compendium of the origins
and practice of Vodou makes for a fascinating
read, explaining how music, dance, and
artistic expression are the heart and
soul of this complicated religion. "What
I discovered was a vibrant, beautiful,
and ecstatic religion that was free
from dogma, guilt or coercion,"
says Glassman, a thoughtful and articulate
Jewish woman who first began studying
New Orleans Vodou in 1975.
of Salvation Botanica
Island of Salvation Botanica ·
Sallie Ann Glassman ... www.feyvodou.com
New Orleans Hope and Heritage www.nolahopeandheritage.org
SALLIE ANN GLASSMAN'S FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT
IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE KATRINA
ALSO SEE AND LEARN
MORE ABOUT :
NEW ORLEANS VOODOO DOLL ZOMBIE SPIRIT
BOTTLES AND SPIRIT BOTTLE SPELLS
AND DETERMINED: HAUNTED VOODOO SPIRIT
Orleans Days Of Holy Obligations
the Yellow Fever epidemics in eighteenth
century New Orleans, death always
loomed close. It's presence left the
lasting impression on this city and
its inhabitants that life is a gift,
perhaps fleeting, and should be enjoyed
to its fullest each day. And so, on
All Saints Day and All Souls Day,
New Orleanians honor the lives of
their dead loved ones by painting
tombs with brilliant whitewashes,
placing yellow chrysanthemums and
red coxcombs on graves and ringing
statuary with immortelle's (wreaths
of black glass beads). On these days,
cemeteries throughout the city are
alive with the flickering glow from
fields of candles, as death is forgotten
and lives lived are celebrated.
The most deadly diseases
to strike Louisiana during the antebellum
period were cholera, smallpox, malaria,
and yellow fever. In an epidemic year the
mortality rate could reach as high as sixty
percent of those who contracted a disease.
The death rate in New Orleans ranged from
a low of 36 per 1,000 in the late 1820s
to a high of 1 in 15 during the summer of
1853. Over 12,000 people died of yellow
fever in New Orleans that year, with still
more deaths in rural areas in south Louisiana,
marking the single highest annual death
rate of any state during the entire nineteenth
century. Because people died faster than
graves could be dug, the popular saying
was that pretty soon people would have to
dig their own graves.
It is one of the many rich New Orleans'
traditions we observe annually at International
House, for we can imagine no other city
which has turned such tragedy into such
a joyous celebration of life.
November 1st, All Saints'
Day, is the time when folks in New Orleans
traditionally come to pay their respects
and leave flowers on the family plot.
Of these older cemeteries,
St. Roch's, probably the best kept up, most
retains the older air of All Saints' hustle
and bustle. Once at the heart of the Ninth
Ward's life, it is still visited by many
former residents of the neighborhood who
have moved to Gretna or St. Bernard Parish
or other suburbs. Practically every grave
and every niche in the wall "ovens"
have flowers. People greet each other, chat
with each other, or stop to joke with St.
Roch's indefatigable sexton, Albert Hattier,
about his own recently completed tomb, which
sits prominently guarding the gate to St.
Roch's No. 2.. Lower Louisiana is famous
for its "Cities of the Dead,"
the cemeteries of above-ground tombs and
wall crypts, or "ovens." Because
so much of the area is below sea level,
coffins did not readily stay in the ground
but rather floated to the top. It only took
a heavy rain to raise the dead. To address
the problem antebellum authorities at times
prohibited interment in the ground. Thus,
most south Louisianans were, and still are,
buried above the earth's surface.
Burial construction varied by class and
faith. Wealthy Louisianans commissioned
large, elaborate family tombs, while those
with lesser means were buried in small units
of oven like wall crypts. The very poor
who could not afford tombs or crypts were
buried below ground, often in unmarked or
mass graves. During epidemics the dead were
often buried one on top of another.
Jews also interred their
dead below ground. According to Jewish belief,
the body had to return to the soil and thus
was usually buried in the ground in a wooden
casket without nails.
But it is only in a few of Louisiana's rural
communities, like Lacombe on the north shore
of Lake Pontchartrain, and Lafitte, on Bayou
Barataria, where the sublime night-time
vigils, once more common, still take place
to give All Saints' an especially distinctive
aspect. In both of these places, as well
as in many others in South Louisiana where
All Saints' is observed without the candlelight
vigil, the week before is a time of intense
preparation. Undergrowth, weeds, and any
cemetery trash are cleaned up, and tombs
and graves, most of which have copings or
slabs or in some other way conform to the
South Louisiana style of raised grave structures,
are painted (once with whitewash, today
more likely with latex).
mourned the dead by staging elaborate funerals
and processions, decorating graves at the
time of death and on All Saints' Day and
All Souls' Day, placing black wreaths on
doors and black ribbons on door pulls, and
wearing clothes and jewelry that symbolized
stages of mourning. Many customs incorporated
Latin and African elements, a cultural heritage
from Louisiana's colonial era.
New Orleans Mourning jewelry
is composed in part of human hair. Hair
jewelry could be made by the mourner or
by artists who specialized in such work
with hair clipped from the deceased at the
time of death.
The level of subterranean water is high
enough that coffins tend to pop up out of
the ground. An exception is Holt cemetery,
where the graves are in the ground.
"It's a cemetery
for mostly people who don't have the money
to build those big magnificent tombs. So
there are a lot of handmade, homemade tombs,
made with found objects, with materials
that are just lying around, very impermanent
materials. It's a lot of very improvised
memorials. Very personalized as well."
Rob Florence is the author
of New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities
of the Dead.
"It's one of the
things that's very moving about this cemetery.
You can tell that people have put a lot
of thought and a lot of time and a lot of
devotion into these memorials and within
a year or even six months, it's not gonna
The New Orleans Saints
are a professional American football team
based in New ... since the franchise had
been granted to New Orleans on All Saints'
Day. African-American influences on Louisiana
mourning traditions included the celebration
of funerals with dancing, music, and singing.
The wearing of white at
funerals and other celebrations involving
the dead had religious symbolism and was
most likely an African-American cultural
carryover. In 1819 English-born architect
Benjamin Henry Latrobe encountered a funeral
procession in New Orleans for an old Congo
slave woman and wrote:
In going home to my lodgings this
evening about sunset, I encountered a
crowd of at least 200 negroes, men and
women, who were following a corpse to
the cemetery. Of the women, one half at
least carried candles, & as the evening
began to be dark, the effect was very
striking, for all the women & many
of the men were dressed in pure white.
The funerals are so numerous here, or
rather occupy so much of every afternoon
in consequence of their being, almost
all of them, performed by the same set
of priests, proceeding from the same parish
Church St. Louis Cathedral], that they
excite hardly any attention.
In antebellum Louisiana,
and even now, celebration of death did not
end with the funeral. On or near tombs and
crypts friends and relatives placed immortelles,
wreaths commonly made of such durable materials
as glass and wire.
In New Orleans, the religious
and traditional meanings of this day are
more obvious. For the traveller, anywhere
in New Orleans is a good place to celebrate
the Day of the Dead. The entire city is
said to be haunted. And whether a day of
special religious and cultural significance
or the celebration of an almost-forgotten
ritual, visitors are welcome to join in
and feast with the Big Easy's dear departed.