March 4, 1987, Ash Wednesday, The Voodoo Museum, New Orleans
Crossing the threshold I enter a room which serves as a gift shop for the museum. White candles burn on a shelf by a small window, their flames casting shadows near the ceiling where a trail of incense hangs like a small cloud.
As my eyes slowly adjust I can feel someone watching me a snake slithering on a woman’s shoulders flicks his long black tongue. The massive size of the boa constrictor accentuates her bright red dress as she gently glides the snake’s head with one hand while holding his body around her left arm. Black-painted fingernails compliment her jet-black hair, her skin a milky white against the snake’s brown-patterned scales.
The woman does not speak to me lost in her own mystical world. I know nothing about the mysterious world of Voodoo except for what the perception of the word conjures: Magical spells and Voodoo dolls manipulated to inflict pain.
I pick up a book,
Famous Voodoo Rituals and Spells, Fascinating Secrets of Mysterious Voodoo, by H.U. Lampe.
The Voodoo Religion
Voodoo. Vodoun, Voudoun are different spellings of what is one of the world’s most exotic religions. Voodoo combines certain aspects of both religion and magic. As with a majority of religions, Voodoo varies in many details depending on locale and country. The Voodoo in Haiti is exceedingly complex and difficult to comprehend.
The front door swings open and a stocky, black-haired man wearing glasses comes in, greeting the woman with the snake. He then turns to me.
“Hello, I am Charles Gandolfo, proprietor of the Voodoo Museum,” he drawls reminding me I am presently in the deep, deep south. Shaking my hand, he eyes the book I am holding in my hand, “Interested in Voodoo”?
Feeling comfortable from his warm reception, I share that I am Lynne Warberg, a photographer traveling to Haiti next week. I have a friend who is working on a film called, The Serpent and the Rainbow, based on ethnobiologist Wade Davis’s account of finding the zombie powder in Haiti. The powder is believed to be a poison prepared by a sorcerer to win control over one’s physical being or soul.
The next day, after a portrait session with Charles at the Museum he tells me about the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie LaVeau.
and a spell I can perform at her above ground tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1.
Charles holding his gris-gris bag. New Orleans, Voodoo Museum
Marie LaVeau’s Crypt, St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans
Remembering Charles’ instructions I take a deep breath, exhale and begin to knowingly cast my first spell.
“Knock seven times on the tomb.
Make seven crosses on the crypt with a red rock, you will see pieces lying on the ground next to the tomb.
Leave an offering of seven pennies, then enlist the renowned spirit’s assistance.”
You can ask her for anything!
I hadn’t thought of my wish before I arrived here…
“ Maman Marie please assist me in photographing voodoo in Haiti “, I say to the silence in the air.
Things are beginning to percolate if only in my mind.
“One common saying is that Haitians are 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, and 100 percent voodoo,” said Lynne Warberg, a photographer who has documented Haitian voodoo for over a decade. Like any other religious practice, voodoo brings great benefits, explains Warberg, the photographer. “Participation in voodoo ritual reaffirms one’s relationships with ancestors, personal history, community relationships—and the cosmos. Voodoo is a way of life,” she said.