New Orleans, Louisiana, has a long magical history, with its culture of Vodoun and folk magic. I asked some of our Pagan readers in the New Orleans area for suggestions on some great things to do and see if you're a Pagan visiting New Orleans. From the Voodoo Shops of the French Quarter to the historical museums and cemeteries, there's pretty much something for everyone in New Orleans. Check out some of their suggestions for some witchy things to do while visiting New Orleans!
Marie Laveau was known for years as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, and she maintains that title even after her death. The House of Voodoo Shop is run by Marie’s family members, and their website proclaims, “We offer a wide variety of items to help in both learning and practicing spiritual and religious ceremony, tribal masks and statues from around the world symbolizing our ancestors’ connection with the spirit and earth, talismans and charms directed towards many different supplications.” Shopper Trista L. says, “The store is a bit campy at times, but the staff is very knowledgeable. You can tell they enjoy the tourist trade, but there’s plenty that goes on behind closed doors as well. Actual practitioners of magic will find all kinds of useful items there, and it’s worth it to take some time to talk to the staff about Voodoo practices.”
Ardenth, a witch who lives in nearby Biloxi, recommends visiting Voodoo Authentica on any visit to New Orleans. In addition to being a shop full of handmade items such as poppets and mojo bags, there’s also a lot of history and culture on display. Ardenth says, “Although the shop is fairly commercialized, like a lot of stores in the area, you can tell the employees really know what they’re doing. I bought a gris-gris bag, and they took the time to customize it so that it fit my personal needs, instead of just selling me something off a shelf.”
New Orleans is known for many things, and its haunted history is certainly part of the city’s heart and soul. A number of companies offer tours with various themes, but one in particular seems to get rave reviews from the Pagans who have visited. New Orleans Spirit Tours offers a variety of tours of the city, and one of the most popular is the Cemetery & Voodoo Tour. Guests are led through the city’s famous St. Louis Cemetery, and then learn about the history and modern-day practice of Voodoo, from its West African origins to contemporary practitioners.
Our About.com Guide to New Orleans Travel, Sharon Keating, says of LaLaurie House, “Of all the haunted houses, in America's most haunted city, the LaLaurie House has surely endured the most gruesome history, and its reputation for otherworldly visitations is well-deserved and well-documented.” The home of Dr. Louis and Delphine LaLaurie, the house was known as the site of several brutal acts, many of which were perpetrated upon the family’s slaves. When a fire broke out in 1834, firemen who responded found slaves chained to attic walls, and many of them had been beaten and mutilated. Delphine and Louis escaped before they could be brought to justice, but their house remains as one of New Orleans’ landmarks. It is currently a private residence, but there have been reports for many years of paranormal activity on the property.
Reader Enchante’ recommends visiting the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. Like much of the other businesses in the area, there is a certain degree of commercialization involved, but she says, “The Voodoo Museum is pretty cool – you can tell that a lot of the items there are authentic voodoo fetishes with their roots in West African and Caribbean traditions. As you walk through the museum, you see a sort of evolution of the city itself, from its beginnings as a slave center up through the New Orleans of today, post-Katrina.”
Are you someone who loves to visit cemeteries? New Orleans has more than you can shake a stick at, and the website New Orleans Cemeteries has a comprehensive list of the dozens of graveyards that you can visit. Search by neighborhood or by cemetery name, and spend a day walking through the historic cemeteries of New Orleans. The website also has a helpful list of funerary symbols, many of which are found on the headstones and grave markers throughout the city.
Louisiana reader DoctorWhoDoo recommends visiting the Pharmacy Museum if you get a chance. He says, “It sounds kind of lame, but visiting the museum you can get an idea of what it was like for early apothecaries, who worked in cities like New Orleans. There was a blend of science mixed in with traditional folk remedies, and you can see that reflected in the museum’s collection. Also, there’s a really cool exhibit of embalming tools and equipment.”
The New Orleans City Park is a 1300-acre spread dedicated to preserving art, culture, and the natural beauty of New Orleans. There is a grove of oak trees that are some six hundred years old, winding trails, and the Botanical Gardens. Although much of the Gardens’ collection was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the city was able to reopen a significant portion of the Gardens just six months later, thanks to donations from around the world.
New Orleans is all about color and flamboyancy, and has never been a city that shied away from enjoying itself. As such, NOLA has a pretty big GLBT population, and has been voted one of the country’s most gay-friendly cities. Be sure to check out New Orleans Online’s guide to GLBT New Orleans, to find out where the current hotspots are.