Real New Orleans Voodoo Dolls
NEW ORLEANS REAL VOODOO DOLLS ACCEPT NO IMITATIONS
As most everyone knows, the
voodoo tradition was brought to the New Orleans region by
African slaves, often via Haiti and other islands in the eastern
Caribbean. Voodoo’s arrival in the Louisiana region
caused it to interlope on other traditions already in place,
such as Native American and Atchafalaya Gypsy nature and root
work practices. Ultimately, African Voodoo’s assimilation
into these practices resulted in a potent regional hoodoo
tradition that persists to this day.
Popular among slaves, some speculate that
making voodoo dolls and sticking them with pins was one method
by which the slave could exert some control over the master:
from the very start white plantation owners, mostly of European
descent, feared this and its obvious connection to the more
familiar poppet magic of their cultures. More often than not,
however, the voodoo doll was employed as a weapon against
other believers in voodoo, or vodusi, who did not hesitate
to use it and immediately recognized its consequences.
Primitive dolls, often bound with twine
or cat-gut and stuck through with everything from pins to
fish bones, have been unearthed on several plantations in
South Louisiana, evidence that the concept of vicarious punishment
through use of an image doll was firmly in place among the
African slave populations of 18th and 19th century Louisiana.
But the idea of using voodoo dolls and other
forms of hexes such as gris-gris and mojo, reached its zenith
during the reign of the infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,
none other than Marie Laveau.
Equally famous for her hairdressing skills
as for her practice of Voodoo, Marie Laveau rose to fame in
New Orleans during the latter half of the 19th century when
her reputation as a powerful voodoo mambo (or priestess) grew
by leaps and bounds. She was constantly being sought out by
rich and poor alike to lend her aid in all sorts of requests,
some well intentioned and others not so. Most came to her
with simple requests to make a certain person fall in love
or to secure the healthy delivery of a baby or an inheritance.
But just as often, there were those who asked her to use her
power to punish and avenge when they felt they had been wronged
in one way or another.
The lore of 19th century voodoo is filled
with the tales of victims of this vengeful magic who awoke
after a fitful night’s sleep to find bones, graveyard
dust and the inevitable voodoo doll laying on their porch
steps – placed there in the darkness by Marie Laveaux
herself. The tales would otherwise be a footnote in New Orleans
history were it not for the fact that, according to reliable
sources, nearly all the voodoo Marie Laveau performed actually
worked. Often, the mere suggestion that the Voodoo Queen had
“worked” a person would be enough to cause physical
or emotional collapse; this, according to some accounts, was
often followed by actual death. The power possessed by Marie
Laveau is still at work in the Voodoo practiced in New Orleans
today, and the tradition of the Voodoo Doll is still alive
Some proponents of Voodoo as a religion
attempt to distance themselves from the voodoo doll cursing
tradition and there are many examples of dolls created for
more positive purposes such as healing and spiritual enlightenment.
These practitioners claim that use of voodoo dolls for vengeance
and punishment is a form of Bokor (Black) Voodoo that has
contributed to the bad reputation the religion has had to
bear over the centuries.
But it remains a fact that most, if not
all, people who seek out a Voodoo practitioner for the creation
and manipulation of a Voodoo doll is usually bent on vengeance,
at a minimum, or often genuine, irreversible harm. There is
something viscerally satisfying about pricking and puncturing
an effigy of your worst enemy; the natural expansion of this
concept lends itself easily to the act of greater harm and
the consequent feeling of control one can obtain from this.
Though in recent years there have been no
actual reports of a person dying because a voodoo doll was
employed against them, it is still not high on the list of
things a local from New Orleans wants to see on his or her
doorstep any given morning. No one finding this will have
any doubt as to the intent of the person(s) who left it there!
The practice of sticking pins in "voodoo
dolls" has history in healing teachings as identifying
pressure points. How it became known as a method of cursing
an individual by some followers of what has come to be called
"New Orleans Voodoo", which is a local variant of
hoodoo is a mystery. Some speculate that it was one of many
ways of self defense by instilling fear in slave owners. This
practice is not unique to New Orleans "voodoo" however
and has as much basis in European-based magical devices such
as the "poppet" and the nkisi or bocio of West and
Central Africa. In fact it has more basis in European traditions,
as the nkisi or bocio figures used in Africa are in fact power
objects, what in Haiti would be referred to as pwen, rather
than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery
whether for boon or for bane. Such "voodoo" dolls
are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended
for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port au Prince.
The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions
in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies.
There is a practice in Haiti of nailing
crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery
to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different
in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by
"voodoo worshippers" in popular media and imagination,
ie. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person.
Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation
of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent
or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned
use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa. One Haitian artist
particularly known for his unusual sacred constructions using
doll parts is Pierrot Barra of Port au Prince.
So how does a simple creature of cloth,
wax or clay become imbued with such power to create havoc
More than just consecrating the doll as
the image of a certain person, a lot of the “magic”
of making voodoo dolls, especially “black” voodoo
dolls, comes from the person creating it. Traditionally, the
maker is instructed to concentrate all her thought and effort
into the making of the doll, envisioning during the construction
all the evil that can possibly be heaped on the victim. Some
practitioners will spend days in the creation and “charging”
of their doll, keeping it in sight and venting their anger
and frustration at the doll until, when the time comes, the
doll is finally given the name of the intended victim and
the ritual abuse of the voodoo doll can begin. This process,
according to experts in the field, rarely fails, unless the
will of the creator falters at some point. The resulting humiliation
or punishment of the victim may then be less potent than otherwise
Bianca the Voodoo Queen Of New Orleans,
began her studies with Voodoo at a very early age. She does
not believe in using dolls to harm others in any way shape
or form. A noble concept, as what goes around comes back around.
Bianca says the origin of the New Orleans voodoo doll was
not to inflict pain, but for healing. Choose between the Money
vcome to Me Voodoo Doll, Heath and Wealth, Peace and Protection,
Love and Passion or Lucky Voodoo Doll.
A form of positive (though still manipulative) magic for which
the voodoo doll is excellently suited is the traditional magic
“binding.” In this instance, the practitioner
ritually binds the voodoo doll, charged and named for the
individual in question, from doing harm or evil toward others.
Thus bound, the ill-intentioned efforts of that person will
come to nothing; the person whom the practitioner has protected
will experience no harm at the hands of a person thus bound.
Conversely, a person can be bound with evil intent and although
this is often used in Bokor Voodoo the tradition is an ancient
one. European grimoires are full of rituals detailing the
use of poppets and dolls for bringing evil to selected individual;
many of these rituals even go so far as instructing the practitioner
to bury the doll in a kind of symbolic funeral. Once this
is done, the person whom the doll represented will be seen
to waste away and, ultimately, die. This kind of ritual is
not uncommon among those who use voodoo dolls for evil purposes.
Today there are literally hundreds of kinds
of voodoo dolls available. Many are the traditional primitive
sort, produced by local voodoo workers for sale to the public.
These dolls can usually be identified by their similarities
to each other, and often come with a packet of pins and instructions.
Most people who purchase these dolls will keep them around
as a curio, usually as a reminder of a fun trip to the Land
of Voodoo, New Orleans. Although there is a tendency to laugh
at this trade, to true practitioners of Voodoo there is a
real danger inherent in these mass-produced dolls.
“Just don’t name it unless you
really intend to use it.” This is the warning given
by most reputable mambos or priestesses who provide such items
to the public. Obviously, how a voodoo doll is used depends
on the person who owns it, but there have been instances where
even the most garish-looking tourist trinket voodoo doll has
ultimately caused harm – however minor – after
arriving at its destination. The lesson here should be obvious.
Other voodoo dolls available to the public
are more specialized and are usually purchased by collectors
or persons who are not unacquainted with the caveats that
go along with owning such artwork.
Many popular voodoo dolls are created in
honor of a particular Lwa, one of the powerful spirits of
the Vodoun religion, and though there are many styles, most
renditions remain true to the aspects of the particular Lwa
they depict. Probably the most popular of these Lwa dolls
is Gede, the great Death Lwa, who is represented in various
skeletal forms with colors and accoutrements easily recognized
by his devotees. Other popular Lwas are Manman Brigit, Erzulie
Freda, Papa Legba, and Lasirien, with her aquatic motif.
Other dolls available are rendered in synch with devotion
to a particular Lwa but are designed to invoke the power of
the Lwa in the owner’s life. These devotional dolls
are created more for actual use than for display, and since
most are one of a kind, created from an intimate consultation
with a practicing mambo or priest, the dolls are highly prized
and extremely personal. These dolls are also kept very secure
because any ill-intentioned person possessing such a creation
can produce no end of aggravation and harm to the devotee
As you can see, voodoo dolls come in a myriad
of styles and sizes and can be created for any number of purposes.
It is important to remember that the voodoo doll as we know
it today represents centuries of magical tradition and as
such it should never be treated lightly, even when it doesn’t
seem to take itself very seriously (such as the tacky, tourist
voodoo magnets mentioned above). Always treat your doll with
respect and approach it with the knowledge that it is a creature
of craft, your craft or that of another, and as such it has
– whether you acknowledge it or not – a life all
Today about 15% of the population of New
Orleans practices Voodoo. Modern Voodoo has taken several
directions: Spiritualist Reverends and Mothers who have their
own churches, Hoodoos who integrate and work spells and superstitions,
elements of European witchcraft and the occult, and traditionalists
for whom the practice of Voodoo is a most natural and important
part of their daily lives, a positive search for ancient roots
and wisdom. The practice of Voodoo involves the search for
higher levels of consciousness in the belief that -as indeed
all of the ancient scriptures teach - it is we who must open
the way towards the Gods. for when we call out from our hearts,
the Gods hear and indeed are compelled to respond.
According to Charles M. Gandolfo, founder
of the Historic Voodoo Museum, in his booklet, How to Use
Your Voodoo Doll for Serious Practitioners (1993), the stereotype
is untrue: "First of all the voodoo doll is used about
90% of the time to help people find love, to keep a lover,
to guide someone in the right direction, to bring some financial
help, or to heal." He adds, "The other 10% is to
influence that someone that is evil and to send away that
evil person from your life."
Voodoo dolls are largely sold as souvenirs,
curios, and as novelties in New Orleans.