Interview: Vodou Priestess Sallie Glassman

onesideanbadlo_finalNew Orleans vodou priestess Sallie Glassman has been working tirelessly since Hurricane Katrina to ensure that the city’s unique cultural and religious legacies weren’t washed away. On October 30 her New Orleans Hope and Heritage Project presents the Anba Dlo festival, which will rock the burgeoning St. Claude Avenue Arts District.

The fest’s main event is the Waterline 2009 outdoor costume dance party featuring DJs, dance floor, a trance/spiritual room, fire dancers, acrobats, and an art exhibit. Local artists will create a massive onsite “water sculpture” out of Katrina debris, to be unveiled at midnight.

Wanna go but light on cash? Volunteers who work three-hour shifts get free admission – and drinks! Email Lorien Bales (and include your phone number). Advance tickets (and fonky posters and T-shirts for those who just can’t make it to NO in time) are already available.

Vodou, the Kréyol (Creole) spelling of “voodoo,” is the religion of some 15% of all New Orleanians According to Sallie, “Anba Dlo is Kréyol for ‘under the waters.’ It refers to the realm of departed souls. On All Hallows Eve, the day of remembrance for the departed, we call these souls forth. In New Orleans, this name has special resonance; our city has been called up from under the waters to rise, rebuild and heal.”

Here’s the rest of our recent conversation:

Debra: What is the most important thing outsiders can do to help New Orleans recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina?

Sallie Glassman: Move here! Visit here! Celebrate New Orleans — spread the word! Volunteer here!

Why do you think it’s important to the recovery to keep the city’s Vodou culture and religious practices alive?

Vodou’s history and legacy are inseparable from the city of New Orleans. You can trace Vodou’s presence throughout the city — even today — in the cuisine, the architecture, in the graveyard displays, in wrought iron ritual graphic designs, in the music and rhythms, in the Mardi Gras Indians’ beaded costumes and second lines. People say that New Orleans is a European city, but I think it’s an Afro-Caribbean city. The process of Creolization is embedded in the city: trends come to New Orleans and the people here put a unique spin on them, make them their own. In the aftermath of Katrina, everyone here went through a situation that was reminiscent of what the slaves must have experienced: plucked from their homes, families, communities, belongings, identities and cast out into the arms of Spirit. I think the presence of Vodou gave New Orleanians the resilience, creativity, and strength to survive, rebuild, and keep the faith.

What results have you seen from your own work in rebuilding the city’s unique culture and helping its citizens regain a sense of community and heart?

The community is solidly behind our efforts to build The New Orleans Healing Center. We have unified formerly polarized communities: Lakeside/riverside of St Claude, black/white, rich/poor, business people/artists — all are becoming one community. Our recent open house preview played to a packed house of overwhelmingly positive supporters. The healing has begun! We began right after Katrina with our New Orleans Hope and Heritage Project, which collects cultural videos that present positive, insider perspectives on New Orleans’ unique and irreplaceable culture and supports and encourages the makers of that culture — one of the city’s greatest assets.

We have strong support also for our public Vodou ceremonies, which are attended by hundreds of participants. The cover article in New Orleans Magazine for June was about NOLA’s relationship with Vodou and presented Vodou’s culture and philosophy in a respectful manner.


To learn more, check out Sallie’s book, Vodou Visions: An Encounter With Divine Mystery, Severine Singh’s Voodoo Crossroads, and Michael Ventura’s classic essay on vodou’s influence on rock, “Hear That Long Snake Moan.”

Debra is the lead singer/guitarist for Devi, “a ferocious guitar-driven power trio equally adept at sprawling psychedelic jams and terse, haunting three-minute rockers.” (Lucid Culture)

Tell your friends!