Hoodoo, Vodou and tarot: A look into Louisiana's traditional healing practices

Many of these unique belief systems, deep history and ways to worship came as people and cultures migrated to Louisiana.

WaTeasa Freeman
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Lanny Anderson, The Louisiana Empress of Vodou, is a priestess and fourth-generation rootworker raised in both Larose and St. Landry Parish. She grew up watching her family practice rootwork and has now made it her mission to continue these spiritual practices.  

South Louisiana is home to many long-standing traditional spiritual communities. Many of these unique belief systems, deep history and ways to worship came as people and cultures migrated to the state.  

Among those practices are conjure, rootwork, hoodoo, tarot and reiki.

Some of these religious and spiritual communities have been thriving for generations and some have recently began taking roots in the area. These groups often are marginalized due to misunderstanding by the general public.

Hoodoo and rootwork

"I can remember being little and watching my grandmother and aunts work,"  Anderson recalls. "You would see people come everyday and leave with brown bags. I was always interested in helping and was able to use my gifts at a young age."

These brown bags contained work or chores which are essential to the hoodoo tradition. 

Hoodoo, often called rootwork or conjure, is a distinctly African American practice. It is often mislabeled as Vodou. Hoodoo is a practice of healing and protection for African American people and other Black people across the diaspora. 

Anderson has made it her goal not to shy away from her heritage and to teach others about it.

"Hollywood has always tried to make it seem so dark," she says. "Workers were always painted as evil or working with the devil and that's just not true. The Christian Bible is used in our work, my family has helped people for years. This isn't a fad for me this is my life." 

Lanny Anderson of Creole Conjure rootwork (middle) Ambrosio Herrera jr (left) Priest Ambrosio Herrera (right) Palenque, Colombia

Hoodoo is not a formal religion with its own higher power like others. People who practice hoodoo can believe in any god or gods they choose. Rootwork focuses heavily on one's ancestral lineage, being connected with those who came before you.

This practice also gives problems and sicknesses physical ways to heal. Items such as spices, herbs, honey, candles and food are used for different forms of healing. 

Hoodoo is a combination of several different religious principles from west and central Africa. It came into existence during the transatlantic slave trade and became one way enslaved Africans were able to remain connected to their history and spiritual beliefs. Throughout the American South there are hundreds of communities still practicing hoodoo in their daily life. 

Anderson offers spiritual cleansing, ancestral communication, oracle and tarot readings along with other services.

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Tarot reading

When you step into V Madame's work space you can smell the different fragrances that fill the room and may be greeted by her dog Aaron. She begins each tarot reading by asking a few questions including your first name, birthday, astrological sign and a color you feel drawn to. From there she begins to shuffle her cards.

Virginia Hanna also known as V Madame has been reading tarot for the past 30 years. She has always been interested in the mysterious things and found tarot as a way to explore that part of herself and learn more about others.     

Tarot card reading from V Madame in Lafayette Louisiana March 22, 2022

Tarot card reading is one of many forms of cartomancy also known as fortune telling. Historically tarot cards are used to help understand your past and present also to predict the future. The first written mention of tarot reading came around 1460, at that time cards were mostly used for games and not fortune style readings.

Jean-Baptiste Alliette also known as Etteilla lived in France and is known for being the first person to attach prophetic meaning to the cards. The practice quickly spread around France and over time royalty began seeking guidance from card readers along with civilians. Eventually it spread across the globe as people traveled and brought with them teachings and understanding.

Louisiana is known for its strong French heritage so it does not come as a surprise to most that tarot is something widely practiced across the state. Each card reader has their own way of understanding the cards given their knowledge of the practice and the listener's circumstance. 

"I never claim to be a physic," Hanna says. "There are some people who can make and support those statements. I can't read your mind but what my cards allow me to do is give insight about the world around you."

Gina Rose practices tarot, and reiki out of her Lafayette, LA. Friday, April 1, 2022.

Hanna works with a standard tarot deck of 78 cards that have two more suits of cards than regular playing cards. In the world of tarot there are several different card decks you can purchase. Each allows for a new understanding to be made. 

Spiritual healing

Looking at the spiritual issues to better understand the physical pain is the mission for Gina Rose a Christian spiritual worker. She uses her faith in Jesus Christ as the basis for her work.  

When you enter in you are greeted by calming music and powerful incenses. Rose considers her work as spiritual healing that has the ability to help the physical. For new clients or people dealing with a new issue she begins with a card reading from an oracle deck.

"My readings aren't like a traditional tarot reading," Rose says while holding up a card. "The cards I use were created by a Christian woman and give me insight on healing needs. What from your past could be hindering you right now?"

Gina Rose practices tarot, and reiki out of her Lafayette, LA. Friday, April 1, 2022.

Once the needed insight is formed she may begin a counseling or reiki healing session. Reiki is an energy healing technique originating from Japan. It's been known as a stress reliever and is praised for its balancing abilities. Rose uses this essential principle but channels the holy spirit to do the work inside the client.

"I am not the healer, I am the vessel. None of this would be possible without God. I love being able to see lives change from what is being done through the power of the spirit"

Rose grew up in a spiritual California community where people would seek out her family for help with life's issues. Her family members were often referred to as physic but she considers their work more intuitive. She says her gift came to her at a young age and she enjoys helping other people. 

Love is a huge pillar for the work Rose has done for decades, as it is a major principle in Christianity as well. She aims to fix 'love based relationships' whether it is between themselves, others or spiritual relationships. Rose uses many elements to help in her process including sage, crystals, singing bowls, oil and holy water.

As more people begin to explore their personal views on spirituality many communities are excited to teach newcomers. Some consider this a time of religious renaissance and some just find the information interesting. Regardless, spirituality in multiple forms is still alive across South Louisiana and continues to impact the lives of many. 

For more information and services visit: V Madame, Creole Conjure Rootwork, Lafayette House of Intuition

Connect with WaTeasa Freeman by email or on Twitter @wateasa