Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: Lynn Emery

Lynn's winner is: Anya K. Congratulations, Anya K! Send me your contact information and I'll pass it along to Lynn. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The Real Story on Louisiana Voodoo

Being a Louisiana native, south Louisiana to be exact, I have a unique view of the supernatural. Unlike most of the other states in the country, here we view the paranormal as “normal."

Our culture incorporates belief in traditional religions. We’re not called “The Bible Belt” for nothing. Yet along with being faithful Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and other conventional religious dominations, our culture is infused with Native American and African spiritual traditions and beliefs. I grew up hearing about spells and whispered references that “something was put on her."

My elderly babysitter, a Creole from old New Orleans, taught me to burn the hair from my combs and brushes. Not only would I be vulnerable to spells, but mice and rats would use the hair to build their nests which would give me terrible headaches.

For the most part when I read about Louisiana voodoo or Marie Laveau in books, the authors typically write a mixture of stereotypes and incorrect facts. That old cliché “Truth is stranger than fiction” definitely applies. Naturally I don’t have enough space to give this topic the full attention it needs, so I’ll just provide a few tips from this Louisiana native Creole (mixture of African, Choctaw Indian, and Spanish descent). Feel free to use them in your fiction.

Marie Laveau perfected the art of creating a layer of fiction to disguise the truth of New Orleans voodoo. She was brilliant at PR, recognizing the value of creating a mystique for the public. She perfected the public performance of voodoo celebrations that helped her become a force in New Orleans, and even in state politics. Marie used her influence to in effect become one of the earliest feminist activists. In her time, late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, women had no rights. Once married anything she owned belonged to her husband. He could divorce her, but she couldn’t get rid of him. Marie consulted with white and black women to help them gain some measure of control over their lives. She used a network of Creole freeborn servants, slaves and merchants to gather inside information. Her clients were convinced she had mystical powers to learn all these secrets. Marie also used her brains and skills to free slaves. I highly recommend VoodooQueen -- The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau by Martha Ward (, a thoroughly researched and well documented account of the real story of this voodoo icon. In fact, you’ll learn much about old New Orleans and Louisiana history.

Voodoo as practice in rural Louisiana is different from what you see as a tourist in New Orleans. Actually most of what you see as a tourist is just that, created for the consumption of “outsiders”. In rural Louisiana, in most of the state really, true voodoo practitioners are very secretive. They don’t advertise. You must find them only through their former clients, friends and relatives, who will first feel out if you can be trusted to keep your mouth shut. Why? If others know about your spells or gris-gris then they will counteract them and thus render them ineffective. The other reason is because we are The Bible Belt, and they don’t want to feel the backlash of dabbling in what some consider witchcraft or sorcery.

This is just a small sample of the real story on voodoo in Louisiana. I haven’t even touched on traiteurs, loup garou and more. Here are a few more books I can recommend if you want to write stories about Louisiana:

The Free People of Color of New Orleans by Mary Gehman

Dictionary of Louisiana Creole by Albert Valdman, Thomas A. Klingler, Margaret M. Marshall and Kevin J. Rottet

Cajun Self Taught by Rev. Msgr. Julies O. Daigle

Louisiana Ghosts by Tracie Trog

You can read my short novel
A Darker Shade of Midnight for a taste of Louisiana.
Lynn will give away a collection of three of her novels set in Louisiana. Leave a comment here to enter her giveaway. Her winner will be selected and posted on Tuesday night. Stop back by to see if you won.


Blogger s7anna said...

Interesting a child, I saw my Gramma and her peers talk about voodoo practices and white/black majicke so it definitely wasn't something that I thought was too out-there.


9:15 PM  
Blogger Victoria Roder said...

Thanks for sharing the information. Sounds fascinating!

7:39 AM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Hi Anna. Thanks for the comment. Your Gramma sounds like some of the ladies I knew growing up. Sounds like you have many interesting family stories. Take care!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Thanks, Victoria. Glad you found it interesting. Have a great week!

9:16 AM  
Blogger Candace said...

That's fascinating! You know it's interesting how perspectives change so much and become so far removed from the original. I took a religious myths and rituals class my very first year in college and one of the religions we looked at was the Haitian voodoo practicing community in the U.S. I can't remember the title of the book, but it was a really interesting read.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I find most religions fascinating and was exposed to quite a few growing up. My dad was mormom, mom was catholic, grandma was Baptist but took me to seances and tarot card readings with her. I've been Wiccan for over 20 years, which made my entire family think I was weird for the longest time.

Very interesting post, the book sounds like an excellent read.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Suzanne Johnson said...

Lynn--great post. I definitely will have to check out your book/s. I write about South Louisiana voodoo in my urban fantasy series set in post-Katrina New Orleans (hope I didn't get it too wrong!), and love anything set in my favorite neck of the woods!

12:12 PM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Thanks for the comment, Candace. Voodoo went through a few more changes here in Louisiana, but it's still similar.

Hi Mary. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Hi Suzanne. I will check out your books. Thanks for the comment. I can also recommend Mules & Men by Zora Neale Hurston, a collection of folk tales about "root work", hoodoo, and Marie Laveau.

3:46 PM  
Blogger tetewa said...

Enjoyed the post, I'm always looking for new authors and series to read!

9:26 PM  
Blogger Anya K said...

I loved your article. I am an older woman who grew up in Louisiana and shudder and/or giggle at some of the "voodoo" stories out there. Thank you so much for this!

1:13 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

How interesting!! I love anything related to New Orleans, voodoo, etc. Thanks for the contest!

1:39 PM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Hi tetewa, hope you enjoy A Darker Shade of Midnight.

Thanks for stopping by Anya. As a kid I was hooked on zombie movies. Those didn't scare me, but some of the ghost stories family and friends told used to keep me up nights!

Hi Rosie. I hope you enjoy some of the links in my posts. Thanks for the kind words.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Linda Andrews said...

I'm definitely adding the books you listed to my reading list. What inspired you to write A Darker Shade of Midnight?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Hi Linda. Hope you find the books helpful, they're sure fascinating IMO.

A Darker Shade of Midnight features the bad girl from my very first novel Night Magic (included in the collection that someone will win!). LaShaun Rousselle was the nemesis of the heroine in that novel. She was so good at being bad that I had fun making her the lead character in her own story.

In A Darker Shade of Midnight, LaShaun has to deal with a dark spirit, a loa, that she stirred up in her wild years. I'm also working on a longer version of that novella (with added scenes) that I'm going to release as an e-book.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Madeleine Drake said...

Thank you for the fascinating post and the recommended reading on Marie Laveau!

9:27 AM  
Blogger Lynn Emery said...

Thanks, Madeleine. Glad you found interesting info!

5:12 PM  

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