October is the season for everything supernatural and spooky to start filling up tv slots, which is right up my alley. It’s even better when the show is based on historical events; there is something about knowing that true events inspired the story that just up the fear factor. American history has its fair share of mysterious folklore but the South seems to be the epicenter for many of these legends. New Orleans, Louisiana is without a doubt the most famous Southern city in terms of mysticism. Although the city has been known for its voodoo culture for decades, popular media still play on the history of the city and magic that surrounds it for inspiration. The theme of Louisiana Voodoo traditions can be seen in television, movies, and books such as Anne Rice’s famous gothic novels. For example, this fall, the newest installment of American Horror Story will take place in New Orleans. Although many television shows that draw upon Southern history fabricate a large portion of it, in the case of
Louisiana voodoo the truth is stranger than fiction.
These legends date back to the era of the colonization in the South. New Orleans was a major port for the slave trade as well as a melting pot for many Europeans, though the city is most known for its heady French community. After the Haitian revolt in the 1700’s a large Haitian community began to form in the city and meld with the cultures that were already inhabiting the city. The Haitian culture was rich and spiritual and quickly began to saturate the city with color, giving the French city the vibrant flare that we know today. The combination of Haitian voodoo practices and Catholicism are the roots of Louisiana voodoo and this marriage continues to entrance us. Although the practices of voodoo did become popular throughout all the communities within the city, it remained hidden and taboo. There are a few famous practitioners whose names are still approached within trepidation today, and one of the more sadistic voodoo priestess will make an appearance in this fall’s tv line up.
This fall FX is premiering the third season of American Horror story and they are calling upon the history of Louisiana voodoo for the inspiration of this year’s story line. The show will be set in the present as well as in the mid 1800’s. One of the main characters for this season who is based in the past is inspired by the life of New Orleans socialite Delphine LaLaurie. Born in 1777, she moved to Louisiana from Ireland with her family at a young age and they quickly became prominent members of the New Orleans community, though she became infamous for her own exploits later in her life.LaLaurie was married three times throughout the duration of her life, with her first two husbands meeting untimely deaths. By the time that her third husband passed away LaLaurie had acquired a substantial amount of money and with this money she purchased property within the center of New Orleans. It was a large estate for the middle of the city and she even had a slave quarters built near the mansion.
Although she appeared poised and polite to the public eye, another side to her came out when the slave quarters was set afire in 1834. When policemen arrived to the scene of the incident they discovered that one of Delphine’s slaves was chained to the stove. The officers worked to unchain her but the woman confessed to having chained herself to the stove in an attempt to end her own life. She told the authorities that she wanted to die for fear of a punishment that her mistress was going inflict on her. LaLourie was a practitioner of dark magic. She used voodoo that required blood sacrifices, which she used her servants for. Upon searching the house it was discovered that she was torturing her slaves in a room located on the top floor. It is said that she was using the blood and bodies of her slaves to perform voodoo spells to keep herself young and powerful. Although the police were not too concerned with her treatment of her slaves the elite Southern class had to keep up appearances and did not appreciate her vulgar displays in the public eye. A mob was formed and LaLourie fled the city for Paris where she died a mysterious death.
In traditional voodoo practices the practitioner worships the high god Bon diue, however in voodoo practice it is known that this god does not interfere in human affairs and instead serves as a creator who only observes, which is why much attention is paid to the Lao or spirits who guide the practitioners. The Lao are individual entities that are led by Bon duie, with whom the practitioners can speak to and also be taken over by. One of the most mysterious and interesting parts of voodoo culture are the possession ceremonies in which individuals invite spirits to temporarily inhabit their bodies. The ceremonies begin with a prayer and an animal sacrifice, the prayer shows dedication and respect to the Lao and the sacrifice was believed to rejuvenate the spirit and transfer nature’s energy back to the Lao. When the Lao is believed to be within the human plane then the practitioner offers their body to be taken over. The possessions were known to last hours, and largely consisted of dancing and the reciting of sacred songs. However, in some instances those who were possessed relayed messages of prophecy, warnings, or advice to the congregation.
Although the traditional workings of Louisiana voodoo are certainly not as gory as the actions of Delphine LaLaurie, they are still just as mysterious and fascinating. After learning so much about the history of Louisiana voodoo and how it has manifested itself in such horrifying ways I can see why voodoo still remains such a large part of the culture within the city. If like me you’re a fan of the supernatural genre then comment below and tell me your favorite book, movie, or tv show that has used Louisiana voodoo for inspiration!