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Tourists get the scoop on Voodoo in New Orleans

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Bacchus float in a Mardi Gras parade. Photo courtesy of New Orleans CVB/Cheryl Gerber.

Think of Voodoo, and chances are images of glassy-eyed dancers shaking rattles and doing awful things to chickens to the frenzied beating of African drums come to mind. That’s about what you’ll see – perhaps with a kinder, gentler handling of the chickens – on tours of the U.S. city most often associated with the cult of Voodoo. That would be New Orleans (aka “The Big Easy”), of course.

On the tours you’ll find out that Voodoo came to New Orleans in the early 1800s when a large number of Haitians – who’d earlier imported their folk religion from Africa -- migrated to the Louisiana city.

A spokeswomen for The Big Easy’s Maison St. Charles Hotel and Suites shares a bit of local history: “For hundreds of years, many residents of New Orleans have feared the dreaded Voodoo curse and its malevolent magic, which some believe can destroy their enemies and alter the course of their lives. Veiled in mysticism and superstition, Voodoo legends have influenced the city’s culture and inspired songs, books and movies.”

She tells the story of the city’s first Voodoo Queen, Saint Dede, a slave from Santo Domingo who bought her freedom while residing in New Orleans. Another queen was Marie Laveau, who incorporated “holy water” and candles into Voodoo rituals. According the spokeswoman, “Ms. Laveau’s pact with a parish priest and her practice of encouraging customers to attend Mass formed a permanent bond between Voodoo and Catholicism in the city.”

Tour guides tell chilling tales about zombies and religious rituals that blend history, facts, myths and folklore. You’ll learn about Voodoo’s connection with Mardi Gras and its link to jazz, and the reason for jazz funerals.

Mosey around the city, and you’ll see all kinds of shops selling candles, herbs, powders and oils related to the religious rituals as well as “gris-gris” amulets and dolls that can be used to bring good luck, ward off evil and settle conflicts. A tip: Don’t miss the Voodoo Museum’s displays of artifacts chronicling the history of the religion.

The Maison St. Charles Hotel and Suites combines historic Louisiana charm with modern style and amenities. Conveniently located on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in the lower Garden District, the hotel provides easy access to the French Quarter and other area attractions. Guests of the hotel enjoy complimentary continental breakfasts, high-speed wireless and gym access as well as an outdoor pool and spa.