Meet Robi. He looks like a normal 25-year-old with a creative presentation and a healthy dose of self-confidence. Long dreds, faded jeans, a self-deprecating sense of humor with a second sense about how to tell a good story. It would probably take you a long time to guess that Robi is a Haitian High Priest in the voodoo tradition.
Last week, I joined Robi for a voodoo tour of New Orleans that was not scary.
Voodoo has been part of New Orleans culture for hundreds of years and has always been misunderstood by The Dominant Culture (white people). The religion originated in parts of Africa and was practiced by slaves. Voodoo was mysterious because it was different and white slave owners tended to take a dim (racist) view of anything the slaves did. Even today, voodoo is associated with casting spells and black magic. This is convenient for tourist shops in places like New Orleans.
During our tour, Robi was happy to address any stereotypes we might have about followers of voodoo:
- They do not eat babies. This disclosure was a huge relief to the two-year old who was with us for the tour;
- They believe in one god. Named “god.”
- They do not perform animal sacrifices unless the recipe calls for meat
- They pray (like Christians and Muslims) and occasionally enter into trances using meditation and hypnosis (like Buddhists and Hindus)
- Some use “potions” — also called “herbs” — to cure illness but this is not voodoo. It is hoodoo;
- They have used “magic” through their history, most of which is today called “science.”
Robi also said voodoo priests have secrets that he couldn’t share or he would have to kill us. Not really. I made that last part up.