The Africans brought to New Orleans in the throes of slavery may have been forced to convert to Catholicism, but that didn’t mean they gave up the religious beliefs they carried with them in their hearts. Through incredible ingenuity and resilience, they managed to use the new religion to facilitate the memory of their original religions by associating various saints with the African Gods. Legba, for example, a much beloved Voodoo deity who stands at the Crossroads holding the keys to the spirit world, found a convenient cover with St. Peter, who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven. Under the guise of Catholicism, the New Orleans Voodoo religion was able to not only survive, but thrive and evolve.
There are many ways in which we can find New Orleans Voodoo holding hands with Catholicism in New Orleans. Most recently was St. John’s Eve, which coincides with the most important Voodoo holiday of the year. On June 23 of each year devotees celebrate the infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveaux with a type of Voodoo baptismal rite called a head washing ceremony at St/ John’s Bayou facilitated by Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman. In addition, St John’s day on June 24 is a day to remember not only St. John the Baptist, but also Dr. John Montenee, an infamous gris gris doctor and healer who figured out a way to make a living out of conjuring. Both Marie Laveaux and Dr John Montenee are credited with codifying practices that persist to this day and function as unique identifiers of our beloved New Orleans Voodoo tradition.
Today in New Orleans, another syncretic annual ceremony will take place. Every third Saturday in July per annual tradition, devotees plan to meet to call upon the Voodoo loa Ezili Danto in tandem with Our Lady of Prompt Succor to protect the city from the destruction of hurricanes. Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor dates back to the early 1800s when her intervention was sought by the Ursuline nuns. In 1788 a terrible fire erupted that destroyed most of the Vieux Carré. As the story goes, the winds pushed the fire closer to the convent, so a nun named Mother St. Micheal placed a small statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on a window seat and prayed aloud, “Our Lady of Prompt Succor, we are lost unless you hasten to our aid!” The winds were redirected away from the convent and the fire burned out, making the convent one of only a few buildings that were spared. As a result of this and other miracles, Our Lady of Prompt Succor was name the official Patroness of New Orleans.
What: Public prayer ceremony dedicated to Our Lady of Prompt Succor (who has intervened historically on New Orleans’ behalf when a hurricane has threatened) and Ezili Danto (also associated with Mater Salvatoris and Mount Carmel) to ask for protection from hurricanes
Where: Achade Meadows Peristyle, 3319 Rosalie Alley (Off N. Rampart between Piety and Desire in Bywater)
When: Saturday, July 25 at 7:00pm in CDT
What to bring in offering for Our Lady: flowers, statues, candles, religious pictures, jewelry.
What to bring in offering for Ezili Danto: Barbancourt Rum, Clarin, Florida Water, candles, daggers, dolls dressed in red and blue with gold trim or calico prints, spicy black beans, peasant cakes, unfiltered cigarettes, pan fried cornbread with peppers, fried pork, white crème de menthe.
What to wear: Please dress in white (the color of purity), with red head scarves, or all red (the color of Petwo rites).
How to Participate Without Being There
If you are unable to attend the public ceremony, you can still be part of the spiritual energy to keep New Orleans safe from hurricanes through personal prayer and setting up a small shrine. Clean up a small surface area, such as a dresser top, book shelf, mantle or small table top and drape a white cloth over it. Set up an image of the Virgin Mary either as a statue or figurine or print out a copy of an image and frame it. You can even just hang it on the wall with a push pin if pressed for time or money. Offer her some flowers and a blue candle and say the short prayer of protection from hurricanes that follows:
Our Father in Heaven, through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor and Saint Jude, spare us from all harm during this hurricane season, and protect us and our homes from all disasters of nature. Our Lady of Prompt Succor and Saint Jude hasten to help us. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen
Glassman, Sallie Ann. 2015, La Source Ancienne. http://islandofsalvationbotanica.com/source-ancienne/, accessed July 25, 2015.
Hurricane Turning Ceremony XXVIII 2015, https://www.facebook.com/events/1598676453721372/, accessed July 25, 2015.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Prompt_Succor, accessed July 15, 2015.
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