In New Orleans there is a trinity of cultural expression that has been shaped into a neat pocket of ethnic convergence that contributes to the maintenance of African religious belief in the diaspora. This triad consists of: Native American (which represent as many as 50 particular ethnic/religious groups), European (Spanish and French Catholicism) and African culture (focused mainly on the Yoruba Ifa’ tradition but also includes Ewe, Fon, Kongo and Akan religious sensibilities). These three traditions form a point of convergence in New Orleans that makes the culture of the city (its art, music, architecture and cuisine) extremely unique. By extension, this tripod has blended together to form a spiritual tradition that is both enigmatic and utterly exposed in American culture, known as Voodoo.
To explain, most in the American populace have familiarity with Voodoo as the infamous mystery cult of Black magic however, what most people do not know or choose not to acknowledge is that Voodoo is a rich American religious tradition that has philosophically impacted and culturally shaped the American South. Appropriately, American author and researcher Zora Neale Hurston worked hard to demonstrate the beauty of Voodoo culture. To elaborate, Hurston consistently used Voodoo in her writing to display the mystery and beauty of the religious system. As well, she studied anthropology at Columbia University in order to gain the necessary skill to study how Haitian and Jamaican Voodoo were practiced in the Caribbean context. To compliment this effort Hurston also was initiated at several Voodoo ceremonies, providing her with the necessary insight not only to write creatively on the subject but critically as well. Based on her experiences she wrote Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. This offering fell short academically; nevertheless, she gave the practice of Voodoo a degree of academic seriousness at a time when most regarded the belief system as little more than cult. Furthermore, Hurston understood that researching the practice of Voodoo in the Western Hemisphere is an analysis of the connective tissue that culturally unites African people in the Americas.
To elaborate, in her travels, Hurston also spent a considerable amount of time in New Orleans, researching on, writing about, and participating in Voodoo ceremonies. One of the people she became familiar with through popular narrative is Marie Laveau, a well-known New Orleans Voodoo Queen of the nineteenth century. Laveau, and her daughter by the same name, were legendary Voodoo priestesses with a following that was not just centered on Louisiana’s African population instead their influence was broadly multicultural. Laveau the first was born of creole woman and European man of French ancestry in the late 18th century; her daughter, Laveau the second, was born in 1827 and also was well known for her mystical prowess. These two women controlled the spiritual life of New Orleans collectively for decades during the 19th century as well their spirit is still summoned by thousands of the faithful in New Orleans during annual pilgrimages.
On the other side of the gender spectrum there are a number of Voodoo Kings that dominated New Orleans spiritual life. Jean Montaigne (also known as Doctor John, Bayou John and/or Prince John) is one of New Orleans most well-known Voodoo Kings and a late contemporary of Queen Laveau the first. Voodoo legend claims that he was originally from Senegal and was brought to the American South sometime in the mid to late 19th century. He learned the mystical arts in Senegal and continued his practice in New Orleans with an already well established Voodoo community. He passed his art down to Fred “Chicken Man” Staten, another key personality of the New Orleans conjure community. The Chicken Man was born in Haiti 1937 and traveled with his family to New Orleans at a very young age. His family believed he had particular gifts in the mystical arts, a point he validated by studying under Doctor John in New Orleans. Staten also made many trips to Haiti to perfect his supernatural craft again demonstrating the cultural connectedness of African religious culture in the Western Hemisphere.
The personalities of New Orleans Voodoo help define the craft. Meaning, the individuals discussed above are well known because of a very grassroots following that comes from a Voodoo Queen or King’s reputation. Without a reputation there is no power to speak of and no legends that will attract the faithful. Given this, one of the major ways a Voodoo Queen or King can build their reputation is through healing. To elaborate, within Voodoo, as with other conjure traditions of the Western Hemisphere, there is an herbalist or pharmacopeic element called Hoodoo. Practitioners of Voodoo use Hoodoo for any and all medicinal needs that their devotees might need or desire, everything from a lonely heart to cancer. Hoodoo as a component of Voodoo is sometimes practiced independently or in conjunction with Christianity. Hence, one can be Christian and practice Hoodoo without contradiction.
As well, New Orleans Voodoo is an extremely unique religious manifestation, not just because it is a syncretic belief system, but also because it is an element of the syncretic belief structure of Spiritual Churches. The first spiritual church was founded by Mother Leafy Anderson in Chicago during the early 1920s, but Claude Jacobs and Andrew Kaslow in the text The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans, argue that Anderson did not actually found the spiritual movement, because the Spiritual Church movement was already a key component of New Orleans religious culture. Instead, they argue Anderson founded the institutionalization of the Spiritual Church movement that was already well established throughout Louisiana. Meaning, Anderson established the physical church for worshipers and lifted the movement out of New Orleans so that people across the country could be exposed the spiritual system.
Interestingly, New Orleans Voodoo molded the Spiritual Churches into a syncretic Christian belief system derived from a syncretic Ifá tradition. Jacobs and Klaslow argue that “It was within the context of south Louisiana’s diverse religious traditions, Europeans and African, Catholics and Protestant, orthodox and unorthodox institutional and popular, that the Spiritual Churches came into being.” New Orleans Voodoo is compiled of the same religious material as Spiritual Churches, and both religions would not be what they are without its diverse components. Unfortunately, today New Orleans Voodoo has been reduced to a tourist attraction and trinkets in gift shops as well it heroes/heroines have been reduced to rumors and some of its legends such as the “seven sisters” have all but disappeared entirely from history. Nevertheless, the religion has shaped the culture of New Orleans in beautiful ways and stands as an eternal reminder of the splendor and dynamic nature of African religion.
 Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow. The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 21. Though I argue that the Yoruba Ifá tradition is most prominent in New Orleans Voodoo, it must be noted that just as the city was an amalgam of diverging ethnicities, there are a number of African traditions that stand out beyond the Yoruba. The authors state: “While slaves destine for Louisiana were taken from several regions of Africa, linguistic and cultural evidence along with the designations used by eighteenth-century slave traders place the primary sources as ‘Guinea, the Gold Coast and Angola’: the main groups initially were identified as ‘Mandinkas, Fon, Bambara, Fanti, Gambians and Senegalese’; later arrivals included large numbers said to be ‘Guineans, Yorubas, Igbo and Angolans.’” From: Thomas Marc Fiehrer. “The African Presence in Colonial Louisiana: An Essay on the Continuity of Caribbean Culture.” Louisiana’s Black Heritage, ed. Robert R. Macdonald, John R. Kemp and Edward F. Hass, 3-31. New Orleans: Louisiana State Museum.
 Wendy Dutton. “The Problem of Invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston.” Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 131.
 Zora Neale Hurston. Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Hait and Jamaica. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1990).
 Wendy Dutton. “The Problem of Invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston.” Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, 132.
 Martha Ward. Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009) ix.
 Ibid., xii-xii. Ina J. Fandrich. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth Century New Orleans. (New York: Routledge, 2016).
 John W. Blassingame. Black New Orleans, 1860-1880. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 23.
 Kenaz Filan. The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook. (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2011), 98-107.
 Hoodoo is to Voodoo, what Lucumí is to Santería.
 Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow. The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans: Origins, Beliefs, and Rituals of an African-American Religion. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 32.
 Ibid., 31.
 Investigation into the seven sisters brings up a myriad of conflicting information from the name brand of voodoo products in New Orleans (i.e., sacred ceremonial oils) to a cult group of seven Voodoo priestesses (including the Laveaus) who dominated the Voodoo underground throughout 19th century New Orleans.