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In New Orleans, Voodoo practitioners hide in plain sight

Louisiana Voodoo – also known as New Orleans Voodoo – is just one of the many incarnations of religions from the African diaspora. It developed within many populations (French, Spanish, African), who combined it with Catholicism and other practices found in Louisiana during the slave trade.

It’s often confused with Haitian Voodoo or Santeria, but practitioners of New Orleans Voodoo believe in one supreme god, followed by spirits who rule over family, love, happiness and more.

Voodoo has also been confused with what we see in Hollywood, like on the hit FX show “American Horror Story: Coven.”

The religion has become so synonymous with the Crescent City that it’s seen as a marketing tool.

“It’s become a hot word, like ‘cajun.’ It’s a hot label. You put that label on it, it’s going to sell,” said Jerry Gandolfo, historian at the Voodoo Museum in the French Quarter.

But the real Voodoo “hides in plain sight here,” according to Cinnamon Black, a Voodoo practitioner who grew up surrounded by it.

“As I grew up I realized, you see, you don’t pick Voodoo,” Black explained. “Voodoo pick you.”

The practice may be done behind closed doors, but Voodoo relics are everywhere here, from dolls to Marie Leaveau memorabilia to shrines of Catholic saints.

Many who walk through the streets of the French Quarter and into the doors of the Voodoo stores or museum are in search of help with love or money. Others are just curious.

“I was Googling places to go and saw people say to go here. People said this one was more authentic. I don’t know if that’s true or not so I decided to poke my head in,” said Cody Despain, 25, who was in town on a job hunt.

Gandolfo and other voodoo experts said the number of practitioners has dwindled from nearly 5,000 before Hurricane Katrina to about 400 today.

Passing on the tradition is of utmost importance to Black.

“It is like life or death. It is more important than anything in the world, than you can imagine,” she said.

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