New Orleans is known as the home of Louisiana voodoo, and one of the many of the most popular things to do in the city feature revolve around the practise of voodoo in New Orleans. For my first blog post of October (it’s officially spooky season!) let’s find out more about this practice.

I love all things creepy and macabre (I guess I never quite grew out of my 2007 emo phase), so I was definitely keen to explore the voodoo museum in New Orleans. I was also intrigued to find out how much “genuine” voodoo there is in New Orleans, versus that which is drummed up for paying spectators.

To find out more about voodoo in New Orleans, I decided to visit the voodoo museum as well as do some of my own research. Here’s what I found:

Polaroids in the New Orleans voodoo museum

The History of Voodoo in New Orleans

Before I get into discussing the voodoo museum in New Orleans, let’s have a bit of a history lesson on the practice and how it managed to make its way to Louisiana. Like most of the cool stuff in New Orleans, Louisiana voodoo is largely the result of a blending of different cultural beliefs and practices.

The earliest influence of voodoo arrived in New Orleans with the slaves from West Africa. Many of these slaves were originally from Benin, a small West African nation where voodoo remains the official religion to this day.

The slaves who survived the arduous journey from parts of Africa to French-controlled New Orleans were, in theory, converted to Catholicism on arrival. However, understandably, most slaves refused to give up the traditions of their homeland and beliefs, and continued to practise voodoo.

In addition, New Orleans was somewhat unique as it permitted gens de coleurs libre (free people of colour), who had obtained freedom through various methods. Once free, people were permitted to practice their own religion and congregate in groups.

This further strengthened the practice of voodoo in New Orleans, although elements of Catholicism also started to seep into the practice over time.

Picture of a Woman in the New Orleans Voodoo Museum

Another ingredient would be added to the blend that makes up Louisiana Voodoo when there was an enormous revolt amongst slaves in modern-day Haiti. These slaves, who also practised a form of voodoo shaped by Haitian practices, fled to New Orleans, furthering the amount of practitioners of voodoo in the city.

Over the years, voodoo became increasingly well known in society and it was famous High Priestess Marie Laveau who really raised its profile. Said to be the daughter of a white man and a black Creole woman, Marie Laveau was a devout Catholic and practitioner of voodoo who became respected amongst people of all colours, who would seek advice and magic from her. She remains, to this day, the most well known face of voodoo in New Orleans.

For decades, voodoo in New Orleans was hush hush, feared by mainstream society who saw it as dangerous. There was much pearl-clutching as people worried that voodoo was synonymous with devil worship, zombies, spirit possessions and animal sacrifices.

Slowly, however, this fear has dissipated and today voodoo is practised by a handful of people, but enjoyed by thousands of visitors to New Orleans.

candles in the voodoo museum new orleans

Ok, but what is voodoo?

Good question. In New Orleans, there’s a lot of talk about voodoo without explaining what it actually is.

Perhaps the reason for this is that voodoo varies a lot depending on who and where it is practised. Unlike other religions or beliefs which have texts and canon law to guide practitioners, voodoo doesn’t have a set of definining rules or beliefs.

As I understand it – based on what I picked up from my time in NOLA and this fascinating article – voodoo is a set of beliefs and practises centred around the idea that the spirit world and natural earth and connected, and can be bridged and inspiration can be drawn from the spirits.

Through various practises – nearly all non-violent – practitioners try to seek the advice and assistant of these spirits to help with their lives. Animal sacrifices do exist in some places and with some practitioners, but its importance to voodoo seems wildly overstated for the most part.

Book at the voodoo museum in New Orleans

Back to the Voodoo Museum in New Orleans

As I said – I have always had quite the fascination with the macabre, the occult and the odd, so the idea of finding out more about voodoo was one of the things that attracted me to New Orleans.

On our third day in NOLA, I visited the Voodoo Museum at 724 Dumaine Street in the French Quarter. I hoped I’d find out more about the practice of voodoo.

Overall, I enjoyed the museum however I didn’t really learn much at all about voodoo. The museum is made up of two rooms filled with various artefacts and a couple of makeshift altars. The altars are brimming with items that have apparently been left for the spirits, including whisky, mardi gras beads, cigarettes, money and photographs.

I highly doubt most of these items have been left by actual practitioners of voodoo but it did make for some cool photographs.

My main gripe with the voodoo museum in New Orleans is that there is very little information to learn about the history of it and the beliefs. I suppose a lot of people who visit the museum aren’t that interested and just want to say they’ve been there, but I do think a little more effort could be made to make it a bit more visitor-friendly.

Skull in voodoo museum

Where Else to Learn About Voodoo in NOLA

I left the museum not feeling a whole lot more enlightened about voodoo than I had been when I came in.

Over the next few days I popped into a few shops which sold voodoo items, everything from comical voodoo dolls to potions. While these seemed to largely cater to tourists, I was assured by a NOLA local that they do also sell items to genuine voodoo practitioners – they just try to avoid the tourists.

It seems that without a personal connection to voodoo in New Orleans its not easy to get behind the touristic facade and find out more. However, one of the more authentic places is apparently the Voodoo Spiritual Temple, run by Priestess Miriam. At the Temple on North Rampart Street, you can buy various oils, sachets and books. She also does weddings – in fact, she married Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley (did you guys know they were married once?)

Had I had more money/guts, I’d probably have tried out a ritual or blessing – but alas, I’m a bit of a chicken, so that’s an adventure for next time!

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Learning About Voodoo in New Orleans
A Guide for Travellers - Voodoo in New Orleans
A Guide for Travellers – Voodoo in New Orleans

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