Although tourism is considered leisure, tours can serve other means for the tour-participant. Tours can prompt memories of the past, and offer a framework for understanding our pasts. This essay uses touring as a metaphor and a mechanism of exploring our pasts to better understand our presence/present. Through autoethnographic methods, this essay examines tourism as ritual and explores rituals as a resource for making sense of painful pasts. Painful memories can pervade individuals’ minds, altering their perspective and understanding of events, interactions, and relationships. This essay demonstrates how tourism can help people overcoming the memories of sexual assault to find healing.
The performance of touring, specifically the participation in Voodoo Tours in New Orleans, LA, is a ritual. Victor Turner states:
Rituals separated specified members of a group from everyday life, placed them in a limbo that was not any place they were in before and not yet any place they would be in, then returned them, changed in some way, to mundane life.1
Through ritual, members are transported from their current state, transformed, and sent back to their everyday lives after finishing the ritual. As ritual, tours evoke memories and can change perspective on those memories. Autoethnographic methods allow the process of writing to serve as a tour through one's memories, while simultaneously touring spaces in New Orleans related to Voodoo practices. Autoethnography is a practice that permits movement between memories. This essay is an autoethnographic journey wherein I make sense of painful memories through touring. Touring gives a space to relive memories while in a different space, both physically and mentally. Visiting this space allows me to visit the memories as well, rather than live with them every day.
Autoethnography is a way of recounting memories while doing. Carolyn Ellis and Arthur P. Bochner explain that narratives
long to be used rather than analyzed; to be told and retold rather than theorized and settled; to offer lessons for further conversation rather than debatable conclusions; and to substitute the companionship of intimate detail for the loneliness of abstracted facts.2
The story of the tour and the stories that the tour evokes intend to take the reader on a journey of memory, ritual, conversion, confusion, processing, understanding, and heartbreak. I show what Arthur P. Bochner and Carolyn Ellis call “people in the process of figuring out what to do, how to live, and the meaning of their struggles.”3 As I participated in several Voodoo Tours in New Orleans, I recalled events from years ago. Aspects of the tours elicited memories of traumatic events from my past. Understanding touring as rituals, and participating in the embodied act of ritual, I utilized the tours as a way to reconcile and better understand past traumas.
VOODOO TOURING IN NEW ORLEANS
While taking the reader through a Voodoo Tour in New Orleans, I also introduce other philosophies, histories, tour guides, and fellow tour-participants I meet along the way. I went on two Voodoo Tours in New Orleans in 2004, and I participated in seven tours between 2014 and 2015. I informed every tour guide and tour-participant that I was researching Voodoo Tours and Marie Laveau. The tours ranged from 90 minutes to four hours. When calling to reserve the tours, I ensured that the tour guide would also be a Voodoo practitioner. Each narrative in this essay occurred as described and has been edited for readability. The compilation of narratives and characters is common in autoethnographies. This essay compiles multiple Voodoo Tours from various companies and their respective guides. This is not unlike Tony E. Adams and Stacy Holman Jones, who do not define which experiences belong to whom, and Carolyn Ellis, who creates composite characters.4 I, too, created composite characters of the various tour guides. As I toured, I encountered fellow tour-participants, and created composite characters of them, giving them pseudonyms.
Like memories, tours are sometimes disjointed and segmented. During a tour, time may be spent in transit, walking, or independently viewing sights not on the tour. This essay simulates those junctures, which are intended to leave space for the reader's mind to wander as well. Touring is a way to try on another's practices and examine the self. By getting out of our comfort zones, “We might,” as Orvar Löfgren asserts, “view vacationing as a cultural laboratory where people have been able to experiment with new aspects of identities, their social relations or their interactions with nature and also to use the important cultural skills of daydreaming and mind-traveling.”5 Participating in Voodoo Tours in New Orleans provides a way for tour-participants to engage in practices that permit them to reflect on their spiritual histories. Just as tour-participants explore religion and histories through the performance of touring, so too does the individual explore the histories and experiences of one's life. This is a personal story of transformation through histories, memories, and the ritual of touring. The essay's structure is not sequential and is out of chronological order, much the way memories occur.
The journey to this essay was not easy; however, exploring the journey autoethnographically served as a way to understand my past. As Stacy Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis explain, “The method allows researchers to write through painful, confusing, angering, and uncertain experiences.”6 I was sexually assaulted for a nine-month period beginning when I was 14 years old. I didn't know how to deal with it or the trauma. I went to therapy, I prayed, and then I found alcohol as a way to cope with the pain of the assault. Rather than revisit the assault, except through a brief window, this essay is a recounting of the decade-long journey of understanding that trauma. Through experimentation with rituals and religions and touring, I sought to cope better with the assault that haunted me for the years following it.
I embarked on my first Voodoo Tour out of curiosity and searching for a spiritual experience. Ellis explains that “sense making and identity often are entangled with religious and spiritual beliefs.”7 Voodoo Tours are personal journeys that allow me to show how spiritual difficulties manifest themselves through religious exploration. Dwayne Custer discusses the present's effect on the past when he states, “Autoethnography can radically alter an individual's perception of the past, inform their present, and reshape their future if they are aware and open to the transformative effects.”8 Through an autoethnographic accounting of the Voodoo Tour, the reader can trace my thoughts through my past to an understanding of spiritual journeys. By performing rituals through the tours, I remember and am able to work through the past. Bennett Berger highlights: “To use life stories could be considered risky, embarrassing and tasteless.”9 Throughout this piece, I confront pasts that are traumatic and haunt me. These incidents challenged my sense of self and faith. The purpose of sharing these traumas is to give others a potential mechanism for understanding and confronting their own trauma(s).
TOURING THROUGH OUR PAST(S)
Individuals may have purposefully disassociated with their traumatic pasts. Touring, however, has the potential to reconnect us with our pasts and others’ pasts. While experiencing different cultural practices, tour-participants reflect on those cultural practices in relationship with their histories. This reflection on the past and its relationship to the current, touring, researcher/self is apparent in this essay. Mark Neumann describes touring and the relationship to our pasts thusly:
As people assign meaning and significance to their travel experiences, they reveal how culture and identity become incorporated through travel, the kinds of selves people find and lose when away from home, how identities are made as people confront others, and the peculiar and paradoxical ways that everyday life reappears as people seek to escape in their journeys.10
Utilizing autoethnography through the tour permits us to see the connections between the tour and the self. Combined, autoethnography and travel encourage us to confront and reflect on the parts of our identity from which we are trying to escape.
Recollections occurred throughout the performance of touring that reinstated difficult memories for me. Specifically, when I initially saw the Marie Laveau poster I happened upon while wandering the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter, the memories of my sexual assault were roused. Marie Laveau was an omnipresent figure in the culture of South Louisiana. She was the subject of many legends about the strength of women. While growing up, members of my community told stories about her, and I remember hearing about how she stood up to people who underestimated her. I was visiting New Orleans after uncovering that my then significant other had cheated on me. I felt raw, much like I had felt after being assaulted. Seeing the poster reminded me of the stories I had heard as a child. I wondered why I was not strong like her, and so sought to find out more. The search lead me to Voodoo Tours. Through the ritual of touring, I drew on her strength. I saw her strength in the balconies, on the street signs, through the fissured walls of the homes of the French Quarter, and I stepped from street to sidewalk and back again. I felt like I was walking through the swampy trauma, weaving in and out and up and down and through the gutters and sidewalks. These gutters and sidewalks were disjointed and awkward. The space between street and sidewalk was steep, which made every step up a winded venture and small triumph. As my calf-length skirt escorted each step, my confidence grew.
The tour led me to take on Marie Laveau's steps through the spaces we shared. Although our experiences in New Orleans were centuries apart, I pictured her walking through the city with confidence, conviction, and ease. The presence of the Spanish moss and seeing the preserved architecture of South Louisiana while touring the streets of New Orleans made me think of times I felt strong. Paul Connerton discusses how elements of our current environment manifest our memories, stating that “we conserve our recollections by referring them to the material milieu that surrounds us.”11 The structures and objects of the past were in my presence/present.
The memories of the past can also be painful and difficult to negotiate while living in the present. We carry our pasts through memories. Gaston Bachelard reminds us of the power of memories: “Not only our memories, but the things we have forgotten are ‘housed.’ Our soul is an abode. By remembering ‘houses’ and ‘rooms,’ we learn to abide within ourselves.”12 The idea that memories are housed in us is a frightening concept for those of us who have suffered trauma. However, the memories awoken by traveling allow us to face our pasts. Touring gives us a heightened consciousness not experienced in our everyday lives. Marvin Carlson discusses this consciousness in performance stating, “we may do actions unthinkingly, but when we think about them, this introduces a consciousness that gives them the quality of performance.”13 Carlson explicated how performance involves cognizance. One does not have to know one is performing to perform, but one has to be conscious of the actions one is performing—that cognizance enriches the performance. The cognizance of performance is also applicable to the performance of touring. The recollection of my past sexual assault was not as traumatic while performing touring. In traveling to the traumatic space emotionally, while physically traveling, I was allowed to “visit” the assault. The tour allowed me to encounter it, rather than live in it when not traveling. Tours allow us to tour memories through a heightened consciousness.
On a visit home to see my parents from graduate school, I drove the familiar streets from my familial home to the French Quarter. I explored art galleries and perused the antique, clothing, t-shirt, and souvenir shops along Royal, Decatur, and Dauphine Streets. I felt at peace. I felt at home. Through the window of a shop, I saw a poster of a face I recognized but could not place. I had seen this poster as a child, but seeing the poster again reminded me of who she was. She was strong and beautiful. She was self-assured and stately. She was Marie Laveau. I wanted to be strong and beautiful. I wanted to be self-assured and stately. Marie Laveau was the subject of many stories I had heard as a child. She was both a Catholic and a Voodoo Queen. The rumors about her activities as a Voodoo Queen were mythical and frightening.
I walked down Rue St. Ann to Jackson Square to jot down my fieldnotes while I sat on one of the long, semicircular benches flanked by blooming white azalea bushes and shaded by centuries-old trees sprinkled with Spanish moss. I thought, if only the trees could speak, I bet they could share histories of Marie Laveau.
My thoughts were interrupted when I heard, “Shorty's tired!” I looked to my left and saw a man with his arms outstretched above his head. “Shorty” was tattooed on the inside of his arm.
Shorty was speaking in the third person. Shorty had a bandage over his left eye, which made his eyebrows prominent. Wearing a white Charter House Café t-shirt, black pants, and black tennis shoes, his shirt was stained with remnants of this morning's brunch service.
Shorty and I made eye contact from distant corners of the bench. I smiled at him. Shorty returned my smile, and two tall men who were sitting on either side of Shorty also smiled at me.
“This is Pops, and this is Zane. I didn't catch your name.”
“Jennifer,” I reply.
Shorty leaned forward and asked in his New Orleans dialect, “What choo writin’?”
“I'm a student.”
“What are you studying?”
“Right now, Marie Laveau.”
“Marie Laveau?” Shorty shook his head, “all that Voodoo stuff?”
“Oh yeah,” Zane said while pulling out a book from his book bag, “Marie Laveau, she's from the Bombura tribe in Africa. She's a Voodoo priestess.”
Shorty shook his finger at me with caution and said, “I don't mess with that Voodoo stuff.”
Joseph Roach notes that “genealogies of performance document—and suspect—the historical transmission and dissemination of cultural practices and attitudes through collective representations.”14 Although Roach was talking about New Orleans’ Carnival when discussing the “genealogies of performance,” this statement applies to New Orleans’ Voodoo as well. The rituals of Voodoo and its presence in New Orleans has a storied past. Because of its reputation, many New Orleans residents shudder at the mere mention of Voodoo. Growing up in the New Orleans area, we were taught to fear Marie Laveau and Voodoo. Women who lived in the neighborhood and even teachers threatened other neighborhood children, classmates, my sister, and me with “getting the gris gris thrown on us by Marie Laveau” if we misbehaved.15 I did not really know what this meant, but I knew that whatever could be thrown on us after acting out would not be good. The mysteries surrounding Voodoo I heard about in the past made me curious to find out more about the rituals and practitioners as an adult. However, we do not know the origins of every Voodoo practice. Harkening back to Löfgren, I decided to experiment with the cultural practices of Voodoo by participating in another cultural practice—touring.16
RITUAL, TOURING, AND THE BODY
Tourism as ritual echoes the rituals of religion and the body's role in these rituals. David Crouch describes the body as the medium for touring: “in encountering place in tourism our bodies are important mediators of… what we comprehend to be ‘there.’”17 As a tour-participant, I relate the tour metaphorically to a search within myself for peace and healing. I see Voodoo as a way to find strength through trauma. Mimi Sheller and John Urry highlight the body's role in emotionally understanding place and the self. For me, the Voodoo Tour acted as a “recentering of the corporeal body as an affective vehicle through which we sense place and movement, and construct emotional geographies.”18 Through the body, I sought to understand the ritual of touring and its relationship to Voodoo.
I wanted to see if through Voodoo I could uncover rituals and practices that would offer solace and help me find peace. I still struggled with the series of assaults that happened when I was 14 and 15 years old. I sought the language and the emotional capabilities to understand that these assaults were not my fault. I also did not understand why this history cultivated doubt and mistrust, which haunted my romantic relationships. I sought what Turner referred to as the “freedom to transcend social structural limitations, freedom to play—with ideas, with fantasies, with words… and with social relationships.”19 I hoped that learning about Marie Laveau through Voodoo Tours would help me play with the ideas of non-traditional religion, with females as the heads of church, where I was a queen, and where I was no longer a victim.
Voodoo, in all of its many forms, has been a part of our world for centuries. The World Order of Congregational Churches has only recognized this practice as a religion since 1945.20 However, the origins of Voodoo can be traced back to the People's Republic of Benin in West Africa.21 Voodoo has many relatives, such as Santeria, Vodu, Vodou, Yoruba, and Obeah. These are practiced in parts of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, coastal South Carolina, and New Orleans. Much has been written about Voodoo practices in New Orleans. One of the earliest books—containing the author's collected accounts about Voodoo handed down from generation to generation—is from the Writers Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA) titled Voodoo in New Orleans.22
Controversy surrounds much of Marie Laveau's story. For example, Robert Tallant and Martha Ward believe her daughter took over her practice after her death, while others, such as a tour guide I encountered claimed there was only one “Big Mama.”23 Despite debates over the existence of Marie Laveau, most of what is written about Voodoo in New Orleans centers on her. Because she was a woman of color, there are few official records detailing her life. For example, no birth or death certificate exist for her. Because so few archival records and documents exist about Marie Laveau, we are forced to line up against history. Women of color were erased in society, and to thrive was an added affront to the history that tried not to acknowledge her. As Roach states, “A culture is both an actual community and an imagined one; it is a special way of doing things together and a way of insisting on the more or less compulsory ‘normality’ of that specialness.”24 The varied histories of Marie Laveau are a part of the landscape and culture of New Orleans. Thus, Marie Laveau's history, as told through the archives, and then re-told through Voodoo Tours, displays her pivotal role as a free woman of color in nineteenth-century New Orleans. I admired that she had the courage to move between disparate and impossible worlds. The gaps in information about Marie Laveau became spaces for my imagination to frame her differently. Instead of fear, I framed her with the courage I saw in her.
As a woman of color, Marie Laveau's presence in the archives of the city showed her ability to transcend the boundaries of the time. In “Performance at Hull-House,” Shannon Jackson looks at archives as a site where history is performed, defining the presence and absence of history by “sensing the invisible through the visible.”25 Despite the disputes over Tallant's book as a WPA project, which was researched six decades after Marie Laveau's disappearance, the text serves as one of the few works about Marie Laveau. It requires us to “read between the lines” and learn about her through its incomplete history. Much of the information about her is suspect since the records of people of color were sparsely recorded and maintained in New Orleans at the time.
We do know that unlike many religions where men make up the leadership, women are central to the Voodoo religion. As Jessie Gaston Mulira states, “in all matters affecting actual worship in the voodoo cults, the queens and priestesses possessed supreme authority.”26 As Tallant relayed throughout his collected accounts, residents respected and were cautious of Marie Laveau's power as a Voodoo priestess.27 These histories prompted me to decipher how I wanted to understand her role and influence on me.
I knew someone who was a member of the Mormon Church. She lived down the street from me, and we were acquaintances. In the final days of our senior year in high school, I started asking questions about her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). She invited me to church that Sunday, and I went.
After the service, two well-dressed men in short-sleeved white shirts and black ties came up to me to ask me if I wanted to learn more. There were two sets of three lessons. My friend's mom offered to host the prescribed lessons at their house. Each evening after school, I walked down our tree-lined street, ushered by the Spanish moss that hung from the trees. Every ten or twelve steps on the way to her house, I would bend my neck to see the moon through the moss.
At the end of the first lesson, the men, who were missionaries, told me God loved me and I was his child. They asked me if I would be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I agreed to think about it. In the second lesson, they taught me about Joseph Smith, and described how he translated the Book of Mormon into English. Joseph Smith was given the priesthood, and all men deemed worthy were eligible to attain the priesthood at age 12. I also learned Jesus came to South and Central America. I had always thought, if there was a God, it seemed s/he could go wherever s/he wanted to—why wouldn't s/he travel? The missionaries reiterated to me that it was “God, the father.”
The Mormon men did not pressure me for anything. I could trust being around them. We were all waiting until marriage. No one had to know what happened years earlier. Logically, I knew being raped was not my fault, but I still felt responsible for it, and dirty. The missionaries told me that asking for forgiveness of my sins was the first step to living a wholesome life. That evening, I knelt next to my bed, and I asked God for forgiveness.
During the next lesson, the missionaries asked me if I had prayed to God for forgiveness from my sins. I told them that I had. They asked me if I would be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I told them that I would.
The following Sunday, I was provided a long sleeved, ankle-length, thick, polyester white gown. My full immersion baptism into the LDS Church on 23 May 1997 gave me cleanliness and forgiveness, once and for all. The same water that soaked my long white baptismal gown washed away my sins. A ritual, performed by a man, washed away my sins.
I moved to Utah after college. Church, the place where I had sought forgiveness and friends as a way to forget and be forgiven for my sexual trauma, was suddenly cold and unwelcoming. What was once a group of people from all walks of life and experiences who shared the title, “Mormon,” was now cliquish.
Every Tuesday after work, I went to the temple in Salt Lake City to participate in rituals in which I served as a proxy for the deceased to receive the blessings of the “Gospel.” I meditated while performing the rituals. I progressed from one room, to another, and finally to a third room. In the temple I was safe from judgment and cliquishness. However, each year the requirement for permission to go into the temple via an annual interview with a male church leader haunted me. Over time, I became resentful that I was required to have a man judge my worthiness. Why couldn't I resolve my own issues with God? Why did I have to confess my sins to a man before I could go into the temple and experience the peace and solace of the space and rituals? I struggled with the ways patriarchy infiltrated the rituals and policies of the church. I questioned the church's intolerance and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer individuals, the exclusion of non-members, the methods of evangelism, among other things. After five years, I stopped going to church. I missed the peace I found through the rituals carried out in the temples, but I could not continue to worship with and support the organization.
Touring and Converging Histories
The tour was scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. in the most historic bar in the country, Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, on the corner of Bourbon and St. Phillip Streets. I entered and asked the bartender where the Voodoo Tours meet.
She asked, “Oh, Bloody Mary?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Just out that door and in the courtyard,” she stated as she pointed to her right.
I thanked her and saw a group of seven women in their twenties sitting at a table. I sat at a round table by myself and took out my notebook to start taking notes in the historic bar. At the neighboring table, the large group of women were talking loudly about the previous night on Bourbon Street. I tried to ignore them.
Before Voodoo Tours, I would try to calm myself. I tried to focused on something I wanted to learn about myself. I tried to center on Marie Laveau. I tried to channel her wisdom, her abilities to shift between cultures seamlessly, her strength, and her femininity.
A woman with long, flowing hair, a teal spaghetti-strapped top, and a multi-colored patchwork skirt entered the courtyard, made eye contact with me sitting by myself, and asked, “Are you here for the Voodoo Tour?”
“What's your name?”
“Okay, good. You're on my list. You can go sit over there,” she said, directing me to sit with a woman by herself at another table in a corner. I wondered how many of us solitary tour-participants there were. I had taken countless Voodoo Tours, and I was usually a party of one. I found I learned more about Voodoo, Marie Laveau, and myself by touring solo. Participating in Voodoo Tours by myself also allowed me to participate in rituals without the judgment of friends or family or strangers.
I walked over to the other woman sitting alone, sat down, and said hi.
“Hi, I'm Sarah,” she retorted quickly, but instantly put her head back down to look at her phone.
The tour guide then introduced herself, “Hi, I'm Sam. Where did you hear about us?”
“I just looked up ‘Voodoo Tours by Voodoo practitioners’ on the Internet.” I responded.
“I saw Bloody Mary Tours on American Horror Story,” Sarah countered.
Sam instructed us to follow her to the van. We trailed out of the bar and onto a mini-bus with “Bloody Mary Tours” written on the side.
As we walked, I resumed the conversation with Sarah from where we left off, “Are you just in town for the Voodoo Tour?”
“No, actually I'm here with my dad. He's here to get a liver transplant, so we'll be here two to six months. There's like a four-month recovery.”
“Wow,” I replied. I was not expecting to hear this from a fellow tour-participant. New Orleans is not known for its medical tourism.
“Yeah, it's my first time in the city, and I just wanted to see something so I decided to come on the Voodoo Tour,” Sarah replied.
Sam drove us a short distance to Congo Square. When we exited the mini-bus, she took two bags out of the back. One was a black messenger bag, and the other was a red reusable grocery bag with Spanish moss erupting from it. Sam ushered us with the bag of Spanish moss into Congo Square. I watched the moss bounce up and down like a spring as it hung from the side of the bag. A woman's voice echoed from under the archway of an abandoned building and interrupted my stare. Her voice carried in this unusually quiet part of New Orleans. A man sat on top of a storage pod with his legs spread in front of him. I tuned out the woman's voice as my focus shifted to the canopy above. Spanish moss was high in the oak trees, which shaded us from South Louisiana's relentless sun.
Sam led us to a long bench stationed under a large tree and with our backs to the archway of the building. She took two thin twigs from her bag, showed them to us, and instructed us to wander around the park until we found similar ones. I began to wonder why I paid $70 to look for twigs in a park. I found a small branch lying on the ground next to a tree and presented it to her. I wanted to make sure the twigs were the right shape, size, and thickness. She inspected them, broke them in two, and said, “This one is good. You want your bones to be from the same skeleton.”
Sam told us to make an X with the twigs. She then told us, “Now take the bunch of Spanish moss. This represents your body. Examine the moss, feel it, get a sense of it, and remove the impurities. If there are leaves or sticks in the moss, remove them. As you're doing that, make wishes.”
My head was down, and I was picking through the buds in the moss in threes. I made wishes in my head. I silently wished for peace in my family, happiness, and success in my career. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Sam interrupted my thoughts, “The doll represents you. It can be the healthiest you, the sexiest you, or the smartest you. Give the doll your full name. Now, say the name out loud.”
Murmurs of our full names came from our mouths.
“Now, wrap the Spanish moss around the skeleton three times to resemble your body shape. If you have big hips, then wrap it three more times around the waist. Then take the cloth I pre-cut for you and put it over the top of the stick. These are the clothes. Now wrap the three strings of yarn in the shape of X's across the heart.”
I glanced over to Sarah's lap to see how she was wrapping the doll. I accidentally noticed she, too, had tears in her eyes. She wiped them and moved her sunglasses from atop her head to cover her eyes.
Sam's voice broke the silence again. “Now remember, you're thinking about yourself as you make this doll. You're wishing for your health if you're ill, love if you're lonely, and money if you need money.” She paused. “Hell, we all need money!” She then took a gourd covered with a dress of beads from her bag and shook it. She chanted in an unrecognizable language while walking along the bench. We sat and held our dolls out in front of us at arm's length.
Sam stopped chanting and put the gourd back in her bag and removed a plastic bottle of clear liquid. “Now, this is Florida water I'm sprinkling on your dolls. We use this a lot in Voodoo rituals.” She chanted again while spraying a few drops on our dolls.
The distance between past and present, while evoking symbols of the past, provided protection and relief. As Nelson H. H. Graburn states, “Fundamental is the contrast between the ordinary/compulsory work state spent ‘at home’ and the nonordinary/voluntary ‘away from home’ sacred state. The stream of alternating contrasts provides the meaningful events that measure the passage of time.”28 For me, returning to New Orleans and seeing the Spanish moss brought up memories of comfort and safety. Participating in the ritual of touring with these symbols present offered a different perspective on the sexual assault. What I experienced on these tours prompted me to process the sexual assault as something I recognized as a part of my life, but it did not have to define my life. The assault suddenly had an altered, and less pronounced, significance because of the rituals I performed while in the toured spaces.
We followed Sam out of Congo Square and stood at the base of the Armstrong Park sign that arched over us. She told us to form a circle, and informed us, “We, Voodoo practitioners, beat the drum to put the queen into a trance-like state. I want you to know my grandmother, who is also a Voodoo practitioner, blessed this blanket.” She dramatically swung the animal-printed fleece blanket behind her and wrapped it around her waist.
“Dance is purifying,” she said as she handed a green cloth gris gris bag tied to a Mardi Gras bead to a fellow tour-participant. The tour-participant put the bead around his neck, and Sam handed him a larger drum made from a gourd.
Sam continued, “The Veve is a Voodoo symbol. It is a welcome to Papa Legba who connects us to spirits. I want you to know I got permission to draw one for you today.”
She took a piece of blue chalk from her bag, fell to her knees, and drew an intricate design with crosses, diamonds, leaves, and X's throughout.
“We must dance on it to cover it up!” She said as she rose from her knees.
“Drummer,” she said to the tour-participant with the gris gris bag around his neck and the gourd between his knees, “keep a good rhythm now!”
She danced as he drummed. She chanted and spun in circles. Other tour-participants began taking photos and video. Instead, I imagined myself in her body for a moment—confident and swirling on Rampart Street. Her blanket transformed into a cape flying from her back. Her head was thrown back and her long hair mimicked the cape as it flew. Her twirling was entrancing. We watched, as did other passersby who were exiting Armstrong Park. One stopped at the edge of our circle. He, too, was entranced. Sam was confident, carefree, and powerful. She danced three loops on top of the Veve. Her graceful dancing now marked this beautiful piece of artwork.
Eventually, the ritual dance was over and the newcomer asked, “What kind of tour is this?”
“Voodoo.” Sam responded, “It's a Voodoo Tour.”
As we left Armstrong Park, we followed Sam down to Basin Street to St. Louis Cemetery One. Two men in bright blue polo shirts and khaki pants verified the identity of our licensed tour guide and granted us entry. Our feet traced hers through the uneven pavement and tight turns in a maze of small crypts ranging in height from one to eight feet tall. We came to a stop, and I recognized from photos I had seen that we had arrived at Marie Laveau's tomb. Though our tour guide was speaking, I was not listening. I felt solemn and reverent at the sight of the tomb, and being there made me feel similar to the other times I had felt solemn and reverent—in the Mormon temples and when being baptized. Various items covered the base of the tomb where Marie Laveau and several family members are buried. Silver and copper coins were scattered among Mardi Gras beads, flowers, cigarette butts, a postcard of a Pomeranian, a picture of the Madonna, an orange-and-green water pistol, a marijuana pipe, and even a joint peeking out from behind the Pomeranian. The once whitewashed tomb was covered in trios of Xs written in pencil, pen, marker, and lipstick. The names of the residents were barely visible and a brass plaque mounted on the left side of the tomb read:
As I read this, I shook my head. Notorious? Is that because she freed people of color from the bonds of slavery and resisted the system of arranged marital affairs?29 Reputed? Is that because she was reported seen by a little girl by Bayou St. John on the Voodoo holiday, St. John's Eve, after she was dead?30
She told the little girl, “I love you, my child, and I don't love many people. I am Marie Laveau.”
“But they say you're dead.” The child began to shake.
“I know,” she replied. “Marie Laveau's been dead before.” And then she laughed, “I'm a strong woman. You come see me sometime.”31
I only had two dimes to offer Marie Laveau. According to Voodoo tradition, she prefers fifteen cents.32 I lagged behind the group to meditate, to thank her for leading me to her, and to ask for strength. Although I felt peace as I stood in front of her tomb, my heart raced. For me, the anticipation of becoming close to her came to fruition in the moments I stood on the concrete in front of her tomb. I felt safe. I felt strong.
Shaking, I touched my right index finger to the white stucco of her tomb. I did not want to disturb her or do anything to disrespect her or her powers. I gently glided my finger in a small X formation three times on the pimpled surface. Still shaking, I lowered my right hand, faced the site, took a deep breath, and then turned to join the tour group behind me.
Tour-participants seek to be engaged with the city of New Orleans and its histories in ways that are acceptable and comfortable. Taking a tour allows tour-participants to engage on the level they want to while keeping their distance. Dean MacCannell introduces us to the comfortable distance of touring in his discussion of the idea of sight sacralization, which, in its first stages, the “sight is marked off from similar objects as worthy of preservation.”33 The marking of the sight/site allows for a controlled environment. Voodoo Tour participants viewed and sampled Voodoo rituals throughout the tour in the presence of a Voodoo practitioner. Adrian Franklin and Mike Crang highlight tour-participants’ desires to engage with a place, asserting that “tourists are seeking to be doing something in the places they visit rather than being endlessly spectatorially passive.”34 In other words, tour-participants want to form a connection with a location. However, by touring, they are not expected to have full engagement in Voodoo practices—once the tour is over, presumably, so is their/our foray into Voodooism. Graburn defines the idea of traveling to experience ritual as “ritual reversal” or “ritual inversion.” He states, “Tourists leave home because there is something that they want to get away from, and they choose to visit a particular place because they believe that they will experience something positive there they cannot easily experience at home.”35 New Orleans is one of the few places in the United States where one can experience a Voodoo Tour and tour Voodoo.36
Tour-participants tour Voodoo through the safety/comfort of “disciplined rituals,” in which they engage in gazing, photographing, etc.37 They feel comfortable in these rituals because they know how they are expected to act/interact with the environment they are touring. Aware of the protocols of touring, these disciplined rituals make them feel safe. Tim Edensor likens these rituals to the rituals of religious ceremonies.38 Because of the safety of being on a tour, tour-participants are then able to have a limited, controlled encounter with different religions to see if they fit with their own belief systems.
Participating in Voodoo rituals through the tours evoked similar feelings to those I experienced when I performed LDS rituals. Because the ritual of touring followed the rituals in which I had participated as a Mormon, the act of moving through sacred spaces on the Voodoo Tour became embodied and transformative, underscoring Judith Butler's assertion that
action echoes prior actions, and accumulates the force of authority through the repetition or citation of a prior and authoritative set of practices. It is not simply that the speech act takes place within a practice, but that the act is itself a ritualized practice39
Relatedly, Graburn notes that “the ritual theory of tourism proposes that the motivations and compensations of tourism involve ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.”40 Thus, by experimenting with new practices, tour-participants can learn from, reject, and/or adopt the portions of the practices with which they are comfortable.
Edensor's discussion of the disciplined, commemorative performances of ritual at the Taj Mahal that pay tribute to one of Shah Jahan's wives reminds me of the inscription on the tomb of Marie Laveau, the chanting, and the gesture of marking three X's I experienced throughout the tours. Highlighting that the magnitude of the performances might make them memorable and significant to the performers, Edensor states: “It may be that the combination of sober ritual enaction and more carnivalesque festivities actually provides a stronger basis for reproducing the commemorative significance of the Taj than the disciplinary performance alone.”41 Although I was baptized Presbyterian as a baby, I did not remember that baptism. However, I do remember donning a white gown with long sleeves for my baptism into the LDS Church. I felt the same way when I was told to count and make three X's across the body of my Voodoo doll, shaped in my likeness. I felt the same significance of ritual as the pimples of stucco tickled the tip of my index finger when I physically marked three X's on Marie Laveau's tomb. I also felt the weight of my body and the sweat drip down my sternum as we walked under the unflinching sun through the French Quarter from St. Louis Cemetery Number One. The ritual of touring marked my body, and I marked the rituals as I toured. Each ritual transformed my view of myself from an individual who was marked as damaged and then further failed as a member of the LDS Church, to a woman who channels the strength of Marie Laveau.
Although sometimes the religious tours themselves seem forced, rehearsed, and kitschy, they can serve a deeper spiritual need for some tour-participants. Each tour-participant experiences each tour uniquely, and therefore, decides to connect or disconnect with the religion and its rituals. Scholars recognize touring is not simply about bodies walking around a space. Crouch confirms the corporeal nature of tourism: “Once we acknowledge the subject as embodied and tourism as practice it is evident that our body does encounter space in its materiality; concrete components that effectively surround the body are literally ‘felt.’”42 Not only was the tour a way of sacralizing and marking Marie Laveau's existence by visiting her tomb, but it was also a way of satiating a curiosity about her and about Voodoo practices without having to be totally immersed. In a sense, because of the engagement of the body in the tour, Voodoo was “felt.” Edensor discusses the way “the commodification of memory, evident in the intensified mediatisation of popular symbols, myths and icons, is part of the process whereby the social production of memory becomes externalized, situated and staged outside the local community.”43 Through television shows like American Horror Story and the Voodoo Tours themselves, Marie Laveau has been introduced to the world, rather than just those living in and around New Orleans. The memory of Marie Laveau has shifted from a figure to fear to a figure of strength.
Mormons sacralize the body as a site of purity. Voodoo, like Mormonism, teaches that once you “have the knowledge” you also have the responsibility to stay true to that knowledge—another sacralization. The body is framed and enshrined, much like the cemetery holding Marie Laveau's tomb. The bodily practices make the ritual of touring meaningful.
Tour-participants are labeled as insincere, when in reality, many are seekers. Following Graburn's assertion that “tourism is a secular ritual,”44 this essay uses autoethnographic methods to show how the performance of tourism is a spiritual and secular endeavor. Touring is an experience that allows us to relive our pasts. The Voodoo Tour exposes the tour-participants to different ways of looking at spirituality and healing to transform their perspectives. By focusing on the process of touring and how that process exposes connections in experiences, individuals, and meanings, the tours also occur within a larger context of the self. However, the tours are designed for observation at a safe and manageable distance rather than immersion, thus allowing tour-participants to flirt with the cultural phenomenon of Voodoo and choose how and when to make meaning of their experiences.
A bookcase in my home evokes memories of the Voodoo Tours. It is white and spans from the floor to the ceiling in my living room. Some shelves hold books, and some shelves have photos. On one shelf, coins collect in a jar with the occasional note. Another shelf has a blue candle with an M and a Veve on it; on the other side of the shelf sits a bottle of Florida water. A worn book of matches sits in between them. It reads, “Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo, New Orleans.” The Voodoo doll rests in the center of the shelf, standing at the back. It is my altar to Marie Laveau. It is how I replace the thoughts of my assault or the hurt of my hardest day(s) with memories of my strength.