Voodoo Folklore, Witchcraft Folklore and Voodoo Legends of New Orleans! Ms. Kalila Smith, native New Orleans Voodoo & Witchcraft practitioner, provides us a glimpse into the history of Witchcraft Folklore, Hollywood’s Witchcraft and Voodoo Legends in New Orleans. Please scroll down for this multi-part article on both Witchcraft Folklore of New Orleans, New Orleans Voodoo Folklore and Voodoo Legends.
Witchcraft Folklore, Witchcraft Fairy Tales & Hollywood Witchcraft! Witchcraft and Witches have always been favorite themes in even the most beloved stories. If you examine many of these tales, chances are there will be a witch featured as the villain. In Snow White, the evil Queen turns Sorceress through the use of a magic mirror. This mirror enables her to not only “see all” but it enables her to transform herself into a hag thus disguising herself as a beggar. She deceives Snow White by giving her a poison apple. The kiss of true love, of course, breaks the spell and Snow White recovers to live happily ever after. Additionally, it was a curse of the evil Fairy Witch that put Sleeping Beauty to her long rest. Maleficent casts the spell of death on the child at birth. The “Good Fairy” who lessens the effects of the spell intercepts the spell. Sleeping Beauty is only cursed to sleep until the spell is broken by, of course, true love’s kiss.
Prince Charming wasn’t always the hero in these tales; sometimes he was the victim. Witches in fairy tales often turned handsome princes into frogs or some other beast. The prince was then doomed to scour the land in search of a maiden to break the spell with a kiss. In the story of Hansel and Gretel, the Witch not only kidnapped the children, but also prepared to have them for her dinner. These fairy tales gave way to the term Wicked Witch. A term that has type cast witches throughout the ages. In spite of their negative connotations, the spell of a fairy tale witch could always be broken.
When these stories were written, witches were believed to have had the ability to shape-shift, fly, become invisible, and kill at a distance. They were also believed to indulge in cannibalism and infanticide. In folklore, witches were held responsible for the creation of creatures such as vampires and werewolves. Vampires were believed to be either children of witches or the product of a witch who had died. In the 1600’s, a French Jesuit priest named Fr. Francois
Richard linked vampirism to witchcraft, using observations from the Malleus Maleficarum, which stated that 3 things had to be present in witchcraft: the devil, witches, and permission of God. Richard added in his works that like witchcraft three things had to be present in vampirism: the devil, a dead body, and the permission of God.
Werewolves on the other hand, were believed to have either been cursed by a witch or perhaps the witch itself had the ability to transform into a wolf through ritual. Often times, the afflicted was born under a curse. On the night of the full moon, the victim would transform into a wolf and roam the countryside killing and eating its victims. In many cases, if the werewolf is injured, it is transformed back to human form revealing its identity.
In cases where the sorcerer purposely changes into a wolf, it was usually believed to do evil and destroy his enemies. The practitioner would rub some sort of herbs or balm on the body, wear a wolf skin and then recite magical incantations to make the transformation. Werewolves were believed to be servants of the Devil. The church perpetuated that witches often rode werewolves to attend their Sabbats, or secret meetings. Werewolf trials and burnings plagued Europe throughout the 15th & 16th centuries, particularly in France.
In the 20th century classic, The Wizard of Oz, the concept of the good witch and the bad witch were examined. Being a contemporary tale rather than medieval, it shows how the concept of black and white magic had come into perspective. The good witch was the beautiful, Glenda, and as she put it “only bad witches are ugly.” The Wicked Witch of the West is portrayed as a screeching green creature flying on a broom that spews red smoke. She is accompanied by a legion of flying monkey demons that serve her. Refreshingly, there is no prince’s kiss necessary in this tale. Dorothy destroys the witch with the help of some friends and finds that she was empowered all along.
In the 1960’s, Hollywood later turned to a more Satanic portrayal of witches such as in Rosemary’s Baby. The story line contained all the essentials of what was presumed to be of witchcraft. The witches worshiped the devil and made pacts with him. A young, innocent woman is raped and impregnated by the devil. The child is later stolen from her to be taken care of by the witches who worship him as the Anti-Christ.
Television, later, in the 1960’s made witches trendy with the comedy show Bewitched. And through the years, it has been followed by a string of others. Today, television hosts shows such as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Charmed. Similarly, Hollywood played a part in the public’s view of Voodoo as well. Numerous movies throughout the 1950’s and 1960 have portrayed Voodoo as demonic. The theme usually revolved around the re-animation of the dead into zombies, the living dead. Horror films such as Candyman and Child’s Play danced around a Voodoo theme. Even in more contemporary films about Voodoo such as Angel Heart and The Serpent and the Rainbow, Hollywood couldn’t resist the temptation to add the element of evil to Voodoo. The theme of the practitioner having the ability to destroy as well as create, and to be able to kill from afar continued in the minds of many.
Witches have played a significant part in folklore as well. In Greek mythology, the goddess Hecate was the patron of magic and witchcraft. She has been referred to as the destroyer of life and the restorer of life as well. In ancient Greece, believers sought to appease her by leaving chicken hearts and honey cakes on their doorsteps, as offerings.
In contrast to witches of fairy tales, who were usually ugly, old, and haggled, witches in folklore were often beautiful and seductive. Circe was a sorceress in Greek mythology and was daughter to Hecate. She was a fair-haired beauty who controlled fate and the forces of creation and destruction with the braids of her hair. Circe is best remembered as the enchantress who turned the Odysseus’s men into swine.
In ancient Rome, the strix was a night flying demon that could transform into animals and would attack infants. The strix then became the strega (witch) of medieval Italy and the strigoi of Romania.
New Orleans Voodoo Folklore & Voodoo Legends
In New Orleans, tales of witches were an integral part of our folklore. Among the Cajuns, it was believed that when an evil witch died, she might return as a chauchemar or nightmare witch. This ghostly creature would attack victims in their bed as they slept. The creature would pin the victim down, causing temporary paralysis. You can’t scream, you can’t move. Once she has you, she’ll ride you like a horse. Many a victim has awakened from griping nightmares to find actual whip marks on their body as evidence of the attack! In other parts of the country, as well as in Europe this is referred to as an attack of the Old Hag. Today we attribute this sort of phenomena to psychic vampirism rather than witchcraft.
The werewolf legends of France were brought with the settlers into Louisiana. Here thrived the belief that a witch’s curse would bring about lycanthropy. Once the soul of a man is cursed to be the Loup Garou, he will become the dreaded creature, and will roam the bayou tearing into and devouring whatever or whoever crosses his path. Cajun legend says that the werewolves even gather for Loup Garou Balls. It is said that they fly in on large bats, and dance together under the full moon. If you go out in search of the creature and your eyes meet his red glowing eyes then you too, will become transformed into one. Like the legendary vampire, the werewolf can bite and drink the blood of its victim as well as devour his flesh. Once the curse is passed on, the previous victim is freed from the spell. If the creature becomes injured or killed, they instantly become human again. If you do meet eyes or survive an attack of a werewolf, and if you tell no one of the incident for one year and one day, you may be freed from the spell as well as free the spirit of the attacker.
New Orleans is stock full of folk tales of Voodoo practitioners who can transform into animals or cause animals to invade others. Rather than transforming into
wolves, the Voodoos are generally reported as becoming cats. As late as the 1940’s, stories of frogs, snakes, lizards and snails inside the bodies of the cursed flooded New Orleans. Family members’ bearing witness to these creatures expelling from the bodies and then disappearing shrouded numerous cases of unexplained deaths. In Jim Haskin’s book, “Voodoo and Hoodoo,” the author records actual spells that were supposedly used to invoke living creatures in the body. The spells usually involved the blood of the creature or a powder made from the dead creature being introduced into the food of the intended victim. Once ingested, the victim proceeds to grow living creatures in the stomach, veins or under the skin. Needless to say, there were spells for casting out living creatures in the body as well. Herbs were generally used to cleanse the body and drive away any living creatures that may have been inflicted!
One can only assume that much of the legends that have arisen in New Orleans were spawned by fear and superstition. It is human nature to fear what we do not understand. Voodoo could be perhaps, one of the most misunderstood religions that have ever existed. Its presence in New Orleans has brought with it a veil of mysticism that has shrouded our fair city and confused its onlookers. The magical history and folklore of New Orleans even inspired local best selling author, Anne Rice, to produce a string of novels about a family of witches, The Mayfair’s. No matter what one’s opinion may be of Voodoo and Witchcraft, no one can come to New Orleans and not be curious as to its wonder.
To learn more about Voodoo Spells, New Orleans Voodoo History and the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, click here to read more historical articles written by native, New Orleans Voodoo Practitioners at Erzulie’s Voodoo in New Orleans!