New Orleans Voodoo originated from the ancestral religions of the African Diaspora. It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in the West African Dahomean and Central African Voodoo traditions. It became syncretized with the Catholic religion as a result of the massive forced migrations, displacements of the slave trade, and the Code Noir.
The gumbo of cultures that comprised colonial Louisiana included people of French, Canadian, Spanish, Latin American, Anglo, German, Irish, English, Scottish, Jewish, Native American, and African descent. After the United States purchased the Louisiana territory in 1803, there were several influxes of immigrants from Saint Domingue (Haiti). While some of these refugees settled in New Orleans, most of them made their homes west of the Atchafalaya Basin in Saint Martinville and the surrounding area (Speedy, 1994). Because of the large number of Haitians settling in this area, it became known as le Petit Paris, as residents attempted to recreate their lives as they had been in Saint Domingue (Spitzer, 1997). Undoubtedly, the spirits followed the refugees, and thus we can see how some of them became part of the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon.
With such a diversity of cultures convening in one area it is no surprise that New Orleans Voodoo has incorporated aspects of these cultures into its indigenous religion. It is not uncommon for New Orleans practitioners to acknowledge the loas found in Haiti, the orishas of the Yoruban tradition and Santería, the Catholic saints, the spirits of ancestors, zombie spirits, Native American spirits, archangels, and spirits that are uniquely New Orleanian in origin. In fact, it is not unusual to refer to spirits, saints, angels, and archangels as loas. The voodooists’ relationship with the loas differs from saints and angels in that the loas are not merely petitioned with prayer—they are served. They are distinct entities with their own personal preferences and individual sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols, and special forms of servitude.
One of the ways in which the Spirits are served is with offerings of food. Some of the food offerings are simple, like fresh fruit, while others are more elaborate like gumbo. Each Spirit has its own favorite offerings and these offerings have what is referred to as ashe in the African derived traditions (ATRS). Ashe is life force, power, prana; there are many different ways to describe it and each culture has its own unique descriptor of it. In fact, everything and every action has varying degrees of ashe – whether it is lighting a candle or incense or preparing food for the Spirits.
In New Orleans Voodoo, our loas and saints have their favorite dishes that serviteurs take care to provide when inviting the Spirits into their lives for assistance. Much care goes into the preparation of the food as the preparation of the food is considered part of the ritual. The food is prepared and offered on the altar and after the ceremony the food is shared amongst participants while a portion is reserved for the Spirits themselves. Below, are a few of the favorite foods of some of the Spirits of New Orleans along with the recipes for how to make them. Whether you are a Voodooist or not, you are sure to enjoy these Creole dishes. Somehow, connecting them to the traditional New Orleans spiritual traditions makes them even that much more special.
MARIE LAVEAUX’S HOPPIN’ JOHN
Marie Laveaux is best known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, as well as a humanitarian, healer and beautician. Legend tells us that one of her favorite dishes was Hoppin’ John. Should you ever call upon her for assistance ot visit her tomb to ask for a wish, you may want to make a dish of Hoppin’ John to take to her as an offering. She would surely smile upon you if you do.
- 1 lb. Black-Eyed Peas
- 8 slices Bacon, cut into fourths
- 1 1/2 cups Onions, finely chopped
- 1 cup celery, finely chopped
- ½cup bell pepper finely chopped
- 2 1/2 quarts water
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon Thyme
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1/8 teaspoon Rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2 cups raw Rice
Soak black-eyed peas overnight in water. Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Add 1 1/2 cups onions, and cook until the onions are transparent. Add 2 1/2 quarts water, bring to boil. Add garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Drain peas and add the boiling mixture. Barely simmer mixture, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hour. Add 2 cups raw rice. Serve with crisp French bread. Enjoy!
SAINT EXPEDITE’S POUND CAKE
Saint Expedite is the patron saint of those who need fast solutions to problems, who strive to put an end to procrastination and delays, and who seek financial success. His feast day is April 19th. In New Orleans Voodoo, he often represents Baron LaCroix, one of the Voodoo guede spirits of death. In New Orleans, tradition holds that St. Expedite is offered pound cake in exchange for his services. Specifically, he is offered Sarah Lee pound cake. However, just like a guest to your home would no doubt appreciate a piece of Sara Lee pound cake, they would probably much prefer a fresh loaf of Creole pound cake along the lines of what our grandmother’s made. He is believed to grant any request within his power, provided the petitioner recommends his invocation to others. Here is a recipe for creole pound cake handed down in my family from my Mamaw, and trust me, you won’t be able to eat just one slice!
- 2 1/2 cups of white pulverized sugar
- 10 eggs
- 4 cups sifted flour
- 1 grated nutmeg
- 1 wineglassful of Brandy
- 1 cup of butter
- 1 tablespoon of rose water
- 1 teaspoonful of baking powder
Remove a heaping teaspoonful of butter from the cup. Beat the rest of the butter to a rich cream with the sugar, and add the well-beaten yolks of the eggs. Beat until very light and add a part of the flour, into which you have sifted the baking powder. Add a part of the egg whites beaten to a stiff froth, and continue alternating with the flour and the eggs until all are used up. Then, add the grated nutmeg, the Brandy and the Rose Water, and continue beating steadily for a half an hour. Bake in a moderate oven for one hour.
In the olden days, some of the Creoles used 16 eggs, leaving out the yolks of four; others used 12 eggs. The above measurements are exact and if made precisely as instructed, the resulting cake will be delicious.
The above recipe yields a four pound cake. A portion of the cake can be kept in the freezer and when ready to petition St. Expedite, simply slice off a generous piece and put it on a plate for him on his altar.
BLACK HAWK’S RED BEANS AND RICE
Black Hawk was a famous leader, warrior and appointed war chief of the Sauk American Indian Nation. During the War of 1812, Black Hawk fought on the side of the British. Later he led a band of Sauk and Fox warriors against settlers in Illinois and present-day Wisconsin in the 1832 Black Hawk War. After the war, he was captured and taken to the eastern United States, where he and other British band leaders toured several cities. Black Hawk died in 1838 in what is now southeastern Iowa.
The Spiritualist churches of New Orleans honor the Native American spirit of Black Hawk. Black Hawk is also considered a Voodoo saint, and is often included in ritual work wherein worshipers become possessed and gain the power to heal and prophesy. He is served by many Hoodoo practitioners as well. Father Black Hawk’s altar in the Spiritualist church is that of a teepee with a plate of incense on the floor in the front. He is frequently found alongside images of St. Michael, guardian of Israel, and Dr. Martin Luther King. This trinity represents three oppressed races and functions as a symbol of strength and victory.
Black Hawk is petitioned for help with money and protection, justice, release from prison, court cases, and to overcome tragedy. He is referred to as the Watchman on the Wall and wants to fight your battles for you. They say he will come to those who have enough patience to sit still. Black Hawk likes spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, bread and fruit, and is served these dishes on Wednesdays and Sundays. Here is a recipe for red beans and rice that will without a doubt please him.
Haricots Rouges au Riz
- 1 quart of dried red beans
- 1 onion
- 2 stalks of celery
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 poind of ham or salt meat
- 1 bay leaf
- bunch of parsley
- Sprig of thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons of vinegar
Wash the beans and soak them overnight or for at least 6 hours in fresh, cold water. When ready to cook, drain off this water and put the beans in a pot of cold water covering with at least 2 quarts so they can cook thoroughly. Let the water cook slowly and cook without salting until the beans are tender. Then add the ham or salt pork, and the vinegar, herbs, onion, and carrot, minced fine. Boil the beans at least two hours or until tender enough to mash easily under pressure. When quite tender, add butter, remove from the pot, put the salt meat or ham on top of the dish and serve hot as a vegetable with boiled rice as an entree. Serve with French bread and butter for a meal guaranteed to satisfy the hungriest warrior.
Alvarado, D. (2011). The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. Weiser Books.
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Other articles about New Orleans Voodoo you may find interesting:
Congo Square, African Heritage, and New Orleans Voodoo
Marie Laveaux, La Belle de Nouvelle Orleans
The Basics of New Orleans Voodoo: Part 1
The Basics of New Orleans Voodoo Part 2: Africans and Indians