“If you’re open to it, New Orleans will teach you about yourself, but if you want to hide from who you really are, the city will help you do that, too.
– Laurell K. Hamilton
I had been sending my friend Amanda (the deputy editor at the UK-based magazine Lonely Planet Traveller) enticing snapshots of Louisiana for about a year when one day I got the email that a story was on. The last time she and I traveled together was for a reindeer migration in northern Sweden, shivering through arctic nights out in the snow with the magical, comical reindeer. It seemed natural that we should track animals together. She posted on facebook before she boarded her plane in London: “Off to track down aurochs with Kris Davidson. Feeling pretty confident we’ll find some.”
We did not find any aurochs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans — only human wildlife. In the swamp we found some alligators, but still no aurochs — not too surprising as the mystical beast is actually an extinct animal, the ancestor of domestic cattle. Immortalized forever in many primitive cave paintings, the auroch was recently made famous again in the Louisiana-based indie film Beasts of the Southern Wild. Instead we found ourselves meeting up with historian Jerry Gandolfo and time traveling to understand the elusive, secretive voodoo culture. As we strolled through the French Quarter he told us: “Voodoo is alive. Voodoo is all around in New Orleans. Voodoo hides in plain sight.”
We traveled less than a mile on foot on the surreal tour, but the trip took us back about 400 years, backwards from New Orleans to Haiti, to Africa. We saw life in the slave quarters in the French Quarter, heard the primal drumbeats of early jazz echo through Congo Square, sensing the sweaty frenzy of dancing bodies. We endured a very real, ominous thunderstorm in St. Louis #1 Cemetery just after visiting the voodoo queen Marie Laveau’s tomb. Taking refuge in a nearby Catholic church, Gandolfo led us to St. Expedite tucked away in a remote corner — he is something of a voodoo saint, apparently capable of expediting one’s prayer requests. There is immeasurable crossover of Catholicism and Voodoo in New Orleans. Hiding in plain sight, indeed.
Voodoo is infused in so many parts of the city’s soul, borne from rich spiritual traditions of the African diaspora. Voodoo is not a black magic cult, but rather the modern manifestation of deep religious beliefs, originating in Africa – beautifully assimilated — that endure today in the United States. It lives on. Come see for yourself.
Here is the published article: