It’s a quarter till 11 at night, and I admit, I’m hesitant to start writing this post because I know it’s going to creep me out, and then I’m going to either not be able to sleep OR fall asleep and have nightmares where I’m chased by voodoo dolls or some such nonsense.
But here I go anyway; wish me luck!
When Charlie and I visited New Orleans last year, we did all the touristy things (well, most of them; since we don’t drink, I think we missed the most popular tourist activities.), including visiting a voodoo museum. We can thank (blame?) Siri for sending us to the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
After the hours we spent exploring the sunny French Quarter, the interior of the aged, converted row house on Dumaine Street felt dim and shadow-filled. As our eyes adjusted, we found ourselves in a tight entry crowded with a handful of tourists, voodoo paraphernalia, and a reception desk.
“Welcome to the Voodoo Museum; the tour will begin shortly,” the lady behind the desk greeted us, her voice velvety and thick with the Creole accent so typical for New Orleans. Dressed in flowing garments with her jet-black hair wrapped in a colorful headdress, she bore a striking resemblance to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, whose portrait hung on the wall over her head.
As we waited, we perused bookshelves acting as the gift shop, stocked with potions, charms, gris-gris, and voodoo dolls made by local practitioners. Not being voodoo savvy, I consulted the always-helpful Wikipedia to learn that gris-gris is a Voodoo amulet worn as protection against evil or to bring love, luck, or fertility. During slave times, gris-gris were used in black magic, and slaves would often employ them maliciously against their owners. I’d like to assume that the gris-gris for sale in this museum were the benign variety, but I’m not totally convinced.
Shortly, it was time for the tour, which consisted of Marie Laveau’s look-alike taking our $5, briefly describing the museum and the history of voodoo, handing us a pamphlet, and telling us to move freely about the museum’s adjoining hallway and two rooms.
“Museum” really isn’t the most accurate word for this place. I don’t know about you, but when I think of a museum, carefully curated and organized collections come to mind, with placards explaining the history of the displayed artifacts; museums are generally airy, well-lit, and clean, and usually don’t smell like evil…
Yes, I said it; this place smelled of evil, the weight of it heavy in my lungs. My breath grew shallow in an effort to keep out the tainted air.
Voodoo music emanated from hidden speakers, casting its mystical spell, cheap incense clung to the musty air, and years of dust caked every surface. The hair on the back of my neck prickled.
Charlie and I made our way down the narrow, dimly lit hallway, examining the framed documents, yellowed news articles, and dusty artwork covering the walls…scenes of voodoo rituals replete with drums, hands-in-the-air prayers, and near-naked figures dancing around fires.
The Gris-Gris Room
Halfway down the hallway, we entered the first room, which was filled with gris-gris and spirit statutes, its brick walls covered with animal skulls, skeletons, and crosses made of leg bones.
Against the back wall of this room stood a man-size rendering of Rougarou, a half-man/half-alligator creature who prowls the swamps around New Orleans searching for those who break the rules of Lent (or so local Cajun parents tell their children). Being that I don’t follow Catholic Lenten practices, I’m glad we didn’t encounter him on our swamp tour the day before.
The final straw for me in this room was a yellowed human skull impaled on an iron fence, its crevices stuffed with offerings of cigarettes, coins, and paper money.
The Altar Room
I had hopes that the second room, the room at the end of the hallway, would be less…less… I don’t know…less wrong.
This room housed an altar for Marie Laveau, adorned with statues, both voodoo and Catholic, candles, photos, and other voodoo relics and artifacts. On this altar, previous visitors had left offerings of the strangest things: lipsticks, hair pins, beads, old licenses, pictures of children (that is wrong in so many ways), a bottle of nail polish, condoms, liquor. I wonder what they were hoping to gain from leaving these things behind, and I also wonder what power, if any, these gifts provide to the spirits lurking in the shadows.
Also in this room was a collection of old (used!!) voodoo dolls; countless were pinned (ironic, that!) in a grimy display case, many more set out on tables amid candles, crosses, and other relics. How many lives have been ravaged through the use of these old, dirty creations because of anger, jealousy, or the desire for revenge? They felt like ghosts hanging in the air, waiting to tell their stories to anyone willing to listen.
I was NOT one of those people!
And I was ready to GO!
Let’s Get the Hell Outta Here!
I looked at Charlie. “Are you ready to get the hell out of this place?” he asked me? The words were barely past his lips as I grabbed his hand and pulled him back down that narrow hallway, towards the entrance that promised fresh air and release from the weight of these rooms.
“I feel dirty,” I told Charlie as we emerged into the light, feeling sheepish for being so creeped out by what basically amounted to dirty, old knickknacks. I felt a bit better when he answered me that he needed to find a place to wash his hands…ah…he felt it too…
One person framed it perfectly in a Yelp review of their visit: “Spiritual deception is as real as the artifacts in this museum.”
Breathing deeply of the fresh air, faces tilted upwards towards the cleansing sunlight, Charlie and I hurried away from this place. Voodoo, I’ve decided, is definitely not my thing.