(1) What is the difference between what is commonly called New Orleans Voodoo and the practice of Hoodoo or Root Work?
New Orleans Voodoo is a religion with one God, a pantheon of Spirit Forces (Lwa/Orisha) similar to the Catholic Saints, as well as certain rituals, steps of initiation, etc., which are all important elements of the tradition. Hoodoo is a collection of Southern spiritual traditions, Spirituality & folklore without a strict theology attached to it. It's a "bowl" into which many things are thrown -- root work, the use of jujus (such as gator heads for protection), etc. Many New Orleans Voodoo practitioners, especially in the Louisiana area, do incorporate elements of Hoodoo into their practice. This is simply a testament to the very adaptive nature which has kept the religion of New Orleans Voodoo alive in the New World.
(2) Can you tell me a bit about Voodoo's relevance today? Why are people drawn to it in the modern world?
People are drawn to Voodoo for such a varied amount of reasons. There are the curiosity seekers, the truly interested who wish to find their spiritual paths, the desperate or underinformed who feel "Voodoo Magick" will help them gain power over a certain person or situation -- so many different people with different reasons!
We try to impress upon people that New Orleans Voodoo is a valid religion first and foremost. It is also a rich part of New Orleans' history and culture and heritage that we should treasure. Today, the ancient religion of New Orleans Voodoo and its theology & message are more timely than ever. Its ability to adapt, evolve & survive against all odds, from West Africa to the New World, is truly a lesson to us all. This adaptive nature is built in to the theology of our practices. This is an important point, as so many people are ready to call today's New Orleans Voodoo a "watered down version of the original". Actually, New Orleans Voodoo has been misrepresented by Hollywood, the media and so many other uninformed sources for such a long time, that few people actually get to see its pure practice in motion.
(3) Is there a Voodoo Bible?
In short: nope! The religion's tenets are very ancient & have been primarily passed on orally. Many of the old African teachings have just begun to be written down in the last several years. Also, because of its practitioners constant & daily connection to & communication with Spirit, New Orleans Voodoo's theology is in a constant state of evolution.
(4) Can you please tell me about the Gods of Voodoo. I've heard about the 7 African Powers -- who are they?
In New Orleans Voodoo, there is one God and a pantheon of Spirit Forces, similar to the Catholic Saints. Each Spirit has His/Her own day, number, favorite foods, etc. Their names are Ellegua, Obatala, Yemaya, Oya, Oshun, Chango and Ogun. They are each called upon for very different and specific reasons.
Ellegua: Likened to St. Michael and St. Peter, Ellegua is the guardian, and opener, of the crossroads of the world. His day of the week is Monday and His number is 3. His colors are red and black. His favorite foods are corn, candy, and rum. Voodoo practitioners place representations of Ellegua behind the front door of their home in order to clear their path and to bring protection.
Obatala: Compared to Our Lady of Mercy, Obatala rules over the clouds. Obatala's day of the week is Sunday and His number is 8. His colors are white with silver or purple and His favorite foods are pears, coconuts, and black-eyed peas. Practitioners place representations of Him in the living area of their home to bring Spiritual cleansing, peace and protection.
Yemaya: Likened with Mary, Star of the Sea, Yemaya rules over the ocean. Yemaya's day of the week is Saturday and Her number is 7. Her colors are blue and white and her favorite foods are cornmeal, molasses, and watermelon. She is often called upon to bring peace in the home and family, nurturing maternal energy and fertility. Representations of her are most often placed in the bedroom, children's room, or bathroom.
Oya: Likened with St. Theresa and St. Catherine, Oya rules over the winds and the hurricanes. She is the Queen of the Marketplace. Oya's day of the week is Wednesday and Her number is 9. Her colors are red, burgundy, purple, brown, and burnt orange, and her favorite foods are egg plant, plums, grapes, and red wine. Practitioners call on her regularly when a great change is needed; representations of Oya can often be found in the library or study in a home.
Oshun: Likened with the Mother of Charity, Oshun rules over the river and is called on in matters of fertility, love, and the erotic. Oshun's day of the week is Thursday and her number is 5. Her colors are yellow, green, and coral, and her favorite foods are honey, cinnamon, oranges, pumpkins, and French pastry. Representations of Oshun can often be found in the kitchen and bedroom.
Chango: Likened to St. Jerome and Santa Barbara, Chango rules over the sky, lightning, and trees. Chango's day of the week is Friday and his number is 6. His colors are red and white and his favorite foods are apples, yams, corn, and peppers. In rituals, Voodoo practitioners often honor Chango with a fire dance. Representations of Him can usually be found near the fireplace or business desk.
Ogun: Likened to St. Anthony and St. George, Ogun rules over iron and the deep woods. Ogun's day of the week is Tuesday and His numbers are 3 and 4. His colors are green and black and his favorite foods are roots, nuts, meat, and berries. In ritual, practitioners often do a sword/machete dance in Ogun's honor. He is considered to be the Guardian of Truth and is often called upon when help is needed with a court case or issue of honor. He is also excellent to call upon for help with problems many of us have with modern technology (computer glitches, etc.) as He rules over machines as well. Representations of Him can often be found behind the front door and around machines.
(5) Is Voodoo in New Orleans practiced like it is in Africa or Haiti?
No, not very much at all. Voodoo in Africa and Haiti has maintained much of its original structure and orthodoxy, whereas Voodoo in New Orleans is more of a folk religion composed of European, indigenous American, and, most especially, African cultural elements.
New Orleans Voodoo is associated with memorable personalities such as Dr. John and Marie Laveau, who were responsible for maintaining the African spiritual presence in an environment which was almost always hostile to it.
Many of today's priests and priestesses in New Orleans are finding their way back to the original form of practicing African religion through initiations in both Africa and Haiti.