New Orleans Voodoo – Two contrasting videos

7 05 2009

One wonders how accurate this video is. I have yet to read a serious biography of Marie Laveau, mainly because I can’t afford it (sigh). Should we believe that the head of the New Orleans clergy and the chief Voudou priestess worked together in many ways? (Congo Square is about six blocks behind St. Louis Cathedral, almost in its shadow.) Perhaps our own ideas of acceptability when it comes to syncretism are different from those of “good Catholics” from back then. One thing is for sure: Marie Laveau was a fixture at the cathedral throughout her life, and no one tried to throw her out.

Of course, I picked this video because there is not a black person in it. I was recently at the St. Jude Shrine in New Orleans, which has a number of African-American parishioners. There was a woman who was doing something very interesting around the statue of St. Jude, probably something she made up, but it would look like “Voodoo” to anyone else looking on. The one thing about syncretic systems is that they are most authentic when people use them in the style of a bricoleur, that is, not self-consciously, systematically separating the “pagan” from the “Christian” elements. Indeed, it is middle class whites who often exploit syncretic systems, Indian shamanism, etc., in their own anti-Christian, neo-pagan quests for “real spirituality”. Marie Laveau or El NiƱo Fidencio would have never thought themselves anything but good Catholics when executing their “pagan” rituals. When outsiders arrive to take up their mantle, they more often than not miss that very important point.