While Voodoo may be a unique expression of African identity that survived the ravages of slavery, it faces strong opposition in New Orleans’ largely Catholic and Baptist black community. Gregg, an African-American tour guide and driver whose family has lived here for generations and who asked to withhold his last name, echoed sentiments widely shared by many in his community who declined to speak on the record.
“If it was up to me, every Voodoo shop in the world would be closed down,” said Gregg, a devout Catholic, “for the simple fact that no one should think they should have that much power over anybody’s life.”
African-American history professor Kodi Roberts, a native New Orleanian writing a book on Voodoo and power, began studying the religion “as a way to understand the evolution of black identity in the U.S.”
But he found it wasn’t so simple. “Funnily enough, the more research I did, the less black and African Voodoo started to look,” he said. “You ask yourself, ‘When was this black?’”
Some say that after centuries of vilification by the Catholic Church, literal demonization by Hollywood and being virtually outlawed in the South under codes that, for example, prohibited the unlicensed practice of medicine, Voodoo may have become a lot more attractive to white spiritual seekers than to their black counterparts.
“If you’re black and you’ve fought so hard not to be identified with barbarism, why would you say, ‘Yes, [I practice Voodoo]’?” said Ina Fandrich, a German immigrant, a prominent scholar and the author of “The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux.” Fandrich spoke to Al Jazeera from the Masonic Cemetery with her partner, Glover, an African-American native of Baton Rouge who practices much of his Voodoo in cemeteries.