Social Documentary Photography – Religion & Spirituality in New Orleans, USA

St John’s Eve on the Bayou 2015
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Vodou Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman pours holy water over a veve as the Vodouisant around her pray . Veve are Vodou symbols drawn with cornmeal as part of a ritual to honor Marie Laveau. Her group, La Source Ancienne Ounfo, is a private Vodou society that works with the spirits of Haitian LWA.

 

Photographer Mary Lou Uttermohlen is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  These images are from her project ‘Spiritual Yaya‘. To see Mary Lou’s gallery of projects, series and photographs click on any image.

 

Litha Midsummer Ritual NEW ORLEANS, LA. A Litha ritual is conducted in midsummer around the summer solstice to honor the sun. At this time of year Pagans praise the creation of life as a result of the divine warmth and power of our sun. Through this ritual followers should discover the power of light in their lives.

Litha Midsummer Ritual
NEW ORLEANS, LA. A Litha ritual is conducted in midsummer around the summer solstice to honor the sun. At this time of year Pagans praise the creation of life as a result of the divine warmth and power of our sun. Through this ritual followers should discover the power of light in their lives.

 

Spiritual YaYa offers a peek behind the veil shrouding the spiritual communities of New Orleans. The series visits a variety of spiritual groups that intermingle here like the ingredients in a pot of gumbo. It explores mainstream spiritual customs like Mari Gras, St. Joseph’s Day, All Saints Days and Christmas Eve Bonfires but then it digs deeper into small private communities.

 

Krewe of Boo Parade NEW ORLEANS, LA. A Mardi Gras style parade travels through the French Quarter of New Orleans passing out candy and beads to celebrate Halloween.

Krewe of Boo Parade
NEW ORLEANS, LA. A Mardi Gras style parade travels through the French Quarter of New Orleans passing out candy and beads to celebrate Halloween.

 

Christmas Eve before the bonfires ST. JAMES PARISH, LA. The Mississippi river parishes of Louisiana celebrate Christmas Eve with bonfires to welcome in Papa Noel to Cajun country. This ancient Pagen tradition was practiced on French plantations around New Years and the Winter solstice and the tradition never ended it was simply moved to Christmas Eve. Spaced 12 feet apart about 150 fires burn on both sides of the riverbanks. These 12 foot tall mostly Christmas tree shaped structures packed with fireworks are all ignited at 7Pm as the community gathers to celebrate.

Christmas Eve before the bonfires
ST. JAMES PARISH, LA. The Mississippi river parishes of Louisiana celebrate Christmas Eve with bonfires to welcome in Papa Noel to Cajun country. This ancient Pagen tradition was practiced on French plantations around New Years and the Winter solstice and the tradition never ended it was simply moved to Christmas Eve. Spaced 12 feet apart about 150 fires burn on both sides of the riverbanks. These 12 foot tall mostly Christmas tree shaped structures packed with fireworks are all ignited at 7Pm as the community gathers to celebrate.

 

Maid on St Joseph's Day Float NEW ORLEANS, LA. In honor of St. Joseph, Italian Americans in New Orleans throw a parade with maids and maidens followed by a ball. During a famine in Sicily people prayed to St. Joseph for help and they believe the Saint answered their prayers. Ever since they honor the St. Joseph annually with altars, feasts and parades and the celebration has migrated to New Orleans.

Maid on St Joseph’s Day Float
NEW ORLEANS, LA. In honor of St. Joseph, Italian Americans in New Orleans throw a parade with maids and maidens followed by a ball. During a famine in Sicily people prayed to St. Joseph for help and they believe the Saint answered their prayers. Ever since they honor the St. Joseph annually with altars, feasts and parades and the celebration has migrated to New Orleans.

 

St Joseph’s Altar at St. Joseph's church This is a traditional St. Josephs day altar consisting of treats homemade breads,Italian cookies, fava beans for good luck and fruit. The altars are in churches and private homes. When they are taken apart the offerings are given away to the congregation or the poor.

St Joseph’s Altar at St. Joseph’s church
This is a traditional St. Josephs day altar consisting of treats homemade breads,Italian cookies, fava beans for good luck and fruit. The altars are in churches and private homes. When they are taken apart the offerings are given away to the congregation or the poor.

 

St Joseph’s Day Altar NEW ORLEANS, LA. Italian Americans in New Orleans brought a tradition of honoring St. Joseph for saving them from Famine hundreds of years ago. The entire city has adopted the sacred day rituals of building altars and making petitions to St. Joseph requesting miracles.

St Joseph’s Day Altar
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Italian Americans in New Orleans brought a tradition of honoring St. Joseph for saving them from Famine hundreds of years ago. The entire city has adopted the sacred day rituals of building altars and making petitions to St. Joseph requesting miracles.

 

The word YAYA in the title comes from the language of the slaves brought against their will to work on plantations.  The word originated from the Yoruban tribe in Africa and it means divine. Today the word describes aging southern women and is spoken as a sign of endearment.  Like the word YAYA, culture has a way of getting transformed in Louisiana. People cherish their beliefs and resist change yet over time customs morph together. What once belong to someone else becomes ours. It is this intermingling of traditions that creates the soul of New Orleans today.

While the city remains predominately Catholic, many religions have a home here. Some preach that New Orleans is a portal where the veil between the realms it easier to cross. Tourists, evangelicals, energy workers, psychics, healers and ghost hunters arrive like pilgrims in anticipation of a supernatural adventure.

 

Pie Day In Scott, Louisiana the Cajuns still celebrate the pagan tradition of Pie Day on Good Friday. The Catholics in the town gather on Holy Thursday and bake pies. Then they fast on Good Friday and when they break the past the eat pies. You are not allowed to work on the holy day that includes cooking.

Pie Day
In Scott, Louisiana the Cajuns still celebrate the pagan tradition of Pie Day on Good Friday. The Catholics in the town gather on Holy Thursday and bake pies. Then they fast on Good Friday and when they break the past the eat pies. You are not allowed to work on the holy day that includes cooking.

 

Photographing this broad topic requires weaving in and out of small communities with the manners of a humble guest. It is a gift to be allowed to document sacred moments. People worship for their own personal connection with the divine and have no desire being photographed in these private moments. Creating this series is a sensitive undertaking requiring patience, grace, diplomacy and respect.

 

Feast of Brigid NEW ORLEANS, LA. Imbolc on February 1st, also referred to as St Brigid’s Day marks the start of the Celtic Spring. Local Pagans gather for a ritual and feast to honor the holiday.

Feast of Brigid
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Imbolc on February 1st, also referred to as St Brigid’s Day marks the start of the Celtic Spring. Local Pagans gather for a ritual and feast to honor the holiday.

 

Samhain Altar NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagens build an altar for their Samhain holiday ritual. Samnain is like a New Years celebration for Pagans marking the end of the harvest season the beginning of the new year.

Samhain Altar
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagens build an altar for their Samhain holiday ritual. Samnain is like a New Years celebration for Pagans marking the end of the harvest season the beginning of the new year.

 

Dancing the the Maypole 2014 SPRINGFIELD, LA. Pagens dance around the maypole celebrating fertility and planting seeds for a bountiful future harvest.

Dancing the the Maypole 2014
SPRINGFIELD, LA. Pagens dance around the maypole celebrating fertility and planting seeds for a bountiful future harvest.

 

Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt Blessings SPRINGFIELD, LA. The May King leads a ritual after the Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt. Beltane is the Pagan celebration of the transition from Spring to Summer when the earth energy is bursting with the potential of conception. This ritual was about a hunt for the May Queen by the May King and symbolic of blessed and fertile unions.

Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt Blessings
SPRINGFIELD, LA. The May King leads a ritual after the Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt.
Beltane is the Pagan celebration of the transition from Spring to Summer when the earth energy is bursting with the potential of conception. This ritual was about a hunt for the May Queen by the May King and symbolic of blessed and fertile unions.

 

In the spirit NEW ORLEANS, LA. As a result of music, song and prayer the energy of the spirits both saints and ancestors are invited in. Possession of people by spirit is likely and welcomed by most voodou followers. Here a woman is experiencing spirit.

In the spirit
NEW ORLEANS, LA. As a result of music, song and prayer the energy of the spirits both saints and ancestors are invited in. Possession of people by spirit is likely and welcomed by most voodou followers. Here a woman is experiencing spirit.

 

Pagan Summer Solstice Ritual at the Peristyle NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagans dance over the pentagram with symbolic offerings of the season as a drum beats. It is all part of a ritual to honor the Summer Solstice.

Pagan Summer Solstice Ritual at the Peristyle
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagans dance over the pentagram with symbolic offerings of the season as a drum beats. It is all part of a ritual to honor the Summer Solstice.

 

Phunny Phorty Phellow on the Streetcar NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA One of the Phunny Phorty Phellowson the streetcar dressed in costume and preparing for the ride to welcome in the holiday season.

Phunny Phorty Phellow on the Streetcar
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA One of the Phunny Phorty Phellowson the streetcar dressed in costume and preparing for the ride to welcome in the holiday season.

 

Hatian Voodou Altar for ceremony NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA An altar created during a Hatian ceremony. The voodou symbols are drawn using cornmeal and prayers.

Hatian Voodou Altar for ceremony
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA An altar created during a Hatian ceremony. The voodou symbols are drawn using cornmeal and prayers.

 

Voodou ceremony with Sallie Ann Glassman NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA An altar created during a Hatian ceremony. The voodou symbols are drawn using cornmeal and prayers.

Voodou ceremony with Sallie Ann Glassman
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA An altar created during a Hatian ceremony. The voodou symbols are drawn using cornmeal and prayers.

 

The shrine for Our Lady Of Guadalupe NEW ORLEANS, LA. Recipients of healings leave thank you gifts to honor the Saint who answered their prayers.

The shrine for Our Lady Of Guadalupe
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Recipients of healings leave thank you gifts to honor the Saint who answered their prayers.

 

XXX on the tomb On Marie Laveau's tomb in St. louis Cemetery #1 tourist request wishes from the saint by knocking on the tomb three times, turning around three times and leaving a offering. Voodou practitioners used to leave offering to the saint but in 2015 the catholic church began restricting entrance to the cemetery to tour groups and family only.

XXX on the tomb
On Marie Laveau’s tomb in St. louis Cemetery #1 tourist request wishes from the saint by knocking on the tomb three times, turning around three times and leaving a offering.
Voodou practitioners used to leave offering to the saint but in 2015 the catholic church began restricting entrance to the cemetery to tour groups and family only.

 

Maypole in Audubon Park SPRINGFIELD, LA. Pagens dance around the maypole celebrating fertility and planting seeds for a bountiful future harvest.

Maypole in Audubon Park
SPRINGFIELD, LA. Pagens dance around the maypole celebrating fertility and planting seeds for a bountiful future harvest.

 

Pagen Summer Solstice 1480 NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagans dance over the pentagram with symbolic offerings of the season as a drum beats. It is all part of a ritual to honor the Summer Solstice.

Pagen Summer Solstice 1480
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Pagans dance over the pentagram with symbolic offerings of the season as a drum beats. It is all part of a ritual to honor the Summer Solstice.

 

Lighting a candle over a Veve A priestess lights a candle over a veve during a voodoo ceremony. The veve is a symbol to represent and welcome the Loa to attend the event. Loa are the Haitian Voodou saints. Vodouisants send their prayers to Loa to help magnify their prayers to God. Each of the Loa as associated with a Roman Catholic saint.

Lighting a candle over a Veve
A priestess lights a candle over a veve during a voodoo ceremony. The veve is a symbol to represent and welcome the Loa to attend the event. Loa are the Haitian Voodou saints. Vodouisants send their prayers to Loa to help magnify their prayers to God. Each of the Loa as associated with a Roman Catholic saint.

 

Headwashing & Blessing NEW ORLEANS, LA. Initiates to Haitian Voodou get their heads washed with holy water, sacred oils, flowers and fruit as a blessing are prayed for them. Then their hair is wrapped in a white cloth and told to let it stay that overnight as a part of the sacrament.

Headwashing & Blessing
NEW ORLEANS, LA. Initiates to Haitian Voodou get their heads washed with holy water, sacred oils, flowers and fruit as a blessing are prayed for them. Then their hair is wrapped in a white cloth and told to let it stay that overnight as a part of the sacrament.

 

St Roch Shrine NEW ORLEANS, LA. For the last century believers have been praying at the shrine of St. Roch for healings. In the mid to late 1800’s New Orleans was experiencing a high mortality rate from Yellow Fever. So a priest by the name of Father Thevis, prayed to St. Roch to protect his parishioners and in gratitude he would build a shrine to the Saint. None of his followed became afflicted and the priest kept his promise to build the shrine. Ever since the faithful have come to request healings or to be thankful for prayers answered.

St Roch Shrine
NEW ORLEANS, LA. For the last century believers have been praying at the shrine of St. Roch for healings. In the mid to late 1800’s New Orleans was experiencing a high mortality rate from Yellow Fever. So a priest by the name of Father Thevis, prayed to St. Roch to protect his parishioners and in gratitude he would build a shrine to the Saint. None of his followed became afflicted and the priest kept his promise to build the shrine. Ever since the faithful have come to
request healings or to be thankful for prayers answered.

 

Everyone appreciates being able to worship freely and without judgment.  One thing learned through the esoteric journey is that the religious freedom promised by our constitution is a right that people of Louisiana hold dear to their heart. It is also fair to conclude that New Orleanian’s literally enjoy dancing to the beat of their own drums!

 

See also:

Structure Out Of Chaos

Lighthouse For The Blind

By Mary Lou Uttermohlen

 


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