Priestess Miriam at her altar. Photo by David Berkowitz
Since 1990, Gcerquei has been a Voodoo spiritual temple in New Orleans. The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple opened its doors in 1990 under the ownership of Priestess Miriam Chamani and her husband Oswan Chamani. The temple is located at 828 North Rampart Street in the heart of New Orleans. The mission of the Temple states, “Our focus is “TRUTH”, True Spiritual Power. True Spiritual Power is for friendly people, as well as those that are sensitive to all vibrations of the Universe. “The temple serves the greater good of New Orleans by allowing people to channel the spiritual and mental powers that reside within each of us” (Voodoo Spiritual Temple Home Page: Voodoo Spiritual Temple, 2011). The Temple has been critical to retaining the Voodoo religion in New Orleans post hurricane Katrina.
According to activist Dalton Trumbo, “Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well.”
The Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center is a non-profit business located in the heart of New Orleans. Visitors are welcomed by unique oils, stones, incense, and African nuptials that pertain to the Voodoo religion. In 1990 the Priestess Miriam and her late husband, Priest Oswam, moved to New Orleans from Chicago and started the spiritual temple after spending three months working with the Voodoo Museum. Upon Priest Oswams death in 1995, Priestess Miriam continued the Voodoo Spiritual initiatives alone.
The Priestess Miriam was born in Pocahontas, Mississippi. Her birth name was Mary Robin Adams. She assisted her family’s business of farming cotton and various crops. As a child, the Priestess experienced incredible abilities at a young age through luminous dreams. Once she completed high school, the Priestess left the segregated south in search of a higher calling in New York City. After a stint in New York, the Priestess moved to Chicago, Illinois where she spent eleven years at Chicago’s Rush-Presbyterian hospital as an operating room assistant. In her spare time the Priestess worked towards spiritual enlightenment. In 1973 she joined Whitley Memorial Temple and continued her spiritual journey by becoming a licensed missionary. Priestess Miriam was heavily influenced by the works of Archbishop Mary Bates of Angel, Angel All Nationals Spiritual Church. The Priestess Miriam continued to cultivate her healing skills and inner wisdom. Eventually she was crowned Bishop. In 1990, Priestess Miriam and her husband Priest Oswam took a bus to New Orleans with six dollars to their name and began their own spiritual journey.
A typical voodoo altar. Photo by David Berkowitz.
Stepping into The Voodoo Spiritual Temple from the bustling streets of New Orleans is surreal. A stick of incense remains lit during open hours outside the shop to lure in curious customers. The main room of the shop is filled with various ornate tapestries, love potions, good luck stones, and special incense. Unique items such as the African Black Soap, unity dolls, and African masks infer a sense of history and remind the customer of Voodoo’s African roots. There is a sense of something mystical vibrating throughout the entire store, which is impossible to ignore. The back stock room is filled with various spices, oils, and natural ingredients for creating herbal remedies.The back “apothecary/botanica” is untouched by time. This sacred room is covered with every kind of religious statue imaginable. Elaborate tapestries, cigarettes, letters, dollar bills, African masks, and sentimental donations remain untouched in time.
The Voodoo Spiritual Temple defines the Voodoo Religion as a misunderstood belief. “It originates from the Fon word Voudon which means the power; that who is invisible; the creator of all things. It is the infusion of Traditional African beliefs with Catholicism. Voodoo, since its conception in the western hemisphere, has been the target of countless opponents depicting it as being a sinister and abominable belief that possesses anyone who dares engage in its practices. Unfortunately this is due to the deliberate misconception of priests (orthodox) and the misunderstanding of writers, anthropologists, scholars, and many more who publish inaccurate and false information. The misconception of Voodoo is then perpetuated when the Hollywood producers take advantage of the public’s misconception by making movies about blood thirsty Zombies and Voodoo priests and priestesses who buy and sell souls. Voodoo devotees, as in all other religions, believe in an Omnipresent Creator and the Loa or Orisha. The Loa act as intermediaries (like the saints in Catholicism) between the creator and the human world. These Loa interact with people and things to help create and maintain a spiritual balance. Voodoo is a religion of the universe. The way it works is through the energies and intelligence which are directed and manifested of ourselves and our universe. There are various aspects of Voodoo. Rada concentrates on the positive side of Voodoo only. Petro concentrates on both the negative and positive sides. Secta Rouge concentrates on the negative side. Zobop concentrates on the extreme negative. According to the website, the purpose of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple is to educate the community about Voodoo and to dispel the myths and misconceptions associated with Voodoo since time immemorial.” Many people are ignorant and see only the dark side of Voodoo characterized by the Voodoo Dolls. However, Priestess Miriam states, “People are so curious about the voodoo dolls. I speak to them in such a way as to make them conscious of themselves and of the universe. A dark energy must be placed in the light for change to occur.” The Voodoo Spiritual Temple strives to raise awareness and educate the public on the legitimacy of the Voodoo religion.
Voodoo in New Orleans has manifested into a unique sector vastly different from its African and Haitian origins. Over time, the Voodoo religion has grown to adapt certain Roman Catholic beliefs in order to assimilate with the community. In Robert Tallent’s book, Voodoo in New Orleans, he argues that the Voodoo began to excel in New Orleans once runaway planters arrived to New Orleans with ample amounts of slaves during the Saint Domingue Revolution. The slaves carried over religious beliefs from Haiti, however in Haiti the Voodoo religion was forced to go underground using a false Catholic cover to avoid persecution from the French regime. Hence, the region had innately changed from its historic roots. Tallent argues that the goals of Voodoo in New Orleans vary drastically from its Haitian predecessors, with a strong emphasis “on selling of “work” both negative and positive and running dances and other sexually oriented services and healing.”
In 2006, during Hurricane Katrina, Priestess Miriam evacuated the city of New Orleans with her parrot Mango, closing shop for only a month. In a candid interview taken in 2006 by an NPR correspondent, the Voodoo Priestess reacts to the tremulous storm: Priestess Miriam urges people coping with the aftermath of the storm to learn, “how to cut out the debris or the circumstances internally, and then resolve the crisis. In this, we were talking about the disruption that took place through the storm. What I’m going to say is that nature and the cultivation of our life is better cultivated when there is a disturbance. And so that was what would be necessary to come back to you, to create the humility that is necessary. It comes in a way that you going to remember… People, over the last six months, have been looking to FEMA-that they owe us. And then everything moves away from their divine or the spiritual soul. And I remember growing up, the preacher always preached and that God may not be there when you think it should, but God is always on time. But he never said that the person, who is in the same physical form you are, is going to be right there on time. And perhaps, somebody will remember that that moment that you thought somebody physically should have been there, you know there was something greater there than a personal character that you may have wanted to rely on. And so we have to see this act of nature lifting us up that we’ll become more elated with life. And so, relax about what FEMA can give you for a moment. If God is good to me, and has took care of me through the storm, don’t you know he takes care of you?” Priestess Miriam’s resilient attitude has allowed her Spiritual Temple to power through the storm. Today the Temple is doing better than ever and she continues to encourage citizens to seek their own fortune no matter what life throws your way.
An article from Pool & Spa News describes the temple as “Nestled equidistant between New Orleans’ tantalizingly tart French Quarter on the north and the grassy, green knolls of Louis Armstrong Park on the south, is Priestess Miriam’s Voodoo Spiritual Temple, a most memorable stop on life’s journey.”
“Priestess Miriam is unbiased and without prejudice seeing people not for race or color but instead what is within their hearts. When the politics of organizations and businesses compete around her, Priestess Miriam is not judging nor condemning but instead forgiving only allowing her true inner spirit and her Temple to excel forward in ‘Truth’.”
Question: “Is the Voodoo Religion misunderstood?”
Response: “Yes, yes, yes.” Priestess Miriam shrugs away the impertinent questions.
“If one is to deal successfully with the dark side of life,” she says, “then one must understand the light side” (Pool & Spa News). “I have heard that (Voodoo is misunderstood) a billion times in the past 20 years.” (hearty laugh) “The problem is that people are not sturdy with themselves. All religions are misunderstood; it is just a way to continue to advance a person’s excitement with life. All religions are just a sexual orgasm gone wild… Balance is the secret to a tranquil and rewarding human existence.”
“Religious institutions are creatively made for the overly excited people so that they can know more, its sinister. What people don’t understand is that we need to rock sturdy baby. Nothing asserts its self as a person wants it to, because things were already rocking for a long time before we came along. Too many institutions attempt to collect and organize people, tell them how things should be and they attempt to secure our attitudes by giving us readings and attention making the individual feel rewarded and special…you know whatever it takes to sooth yourself.”
“All of the police men out there every day with those sturdy vests, no bullshit hits them but bullets where. They are there to attempt to create conduct, but all everybody ever does is complain ‘oh I didn’t do that the police are unfair,’ well I say take off that badge and give it to the complaining citizen, let them try it out and let them get shot.”
“Child you need to calm the overly hyper, you have been bit by the attitude. You need to summon your guardian for wellness to tame and organize yourself. Everyone is confused by religion and goes about misjudging the institution because its beyond what we can measure. You see religion is just a state of mind, an inner attitude just irrational and erratic actions. People need to deal with distracting forces. Organize the distractions of nature, other forces, and earth it’s the only way to alleviate waste and preserve mental view of world. Every branch of an institutiton is there to rationalize something. You need a rational mind to deal with irrational and exterior Plaines. Religions simply gives a wholeness and practicality to life.”
Question: “Why did you become a Priestess?”
Response: “I never decided to become a Priestess, practical enzymes become it, life is just a presentation of all things allowing us to conceive better ideas and principals. God is personal to an individual and how you conceive and feel is only understood by the individual. It is simply an individual reflection.”
“God is all over but specific thoughts feast on the uniqueness throughout life. You see Paul and Peter were from a different nation. Yet the spirit came to them, they were vibrating by a celestial force that’s lifts up life itself.”
“Nowadays people have thoughts and understand in English. But through enhanced institutions, creation and support people can know other languages much better now. It has become aggressive, creating an individual pattern for collective minds, it drafts away from the wholeness of a language. Now everything is selfish with separate boundaries and illusions innate differences use to interact now we’re just tearing apart languages.”
“In March of 1995 my husband Oswan passed away, but from death comes prosperity, creative enzymes. On a Sunday my friend road his bike by my house and asked if he could help me with anything. A spirit spoke to me saying ‘don’t forget,’ and I told the man I wanted to start a botanica. Originally my husband and I wanted to move back to his home in Belize to start a spiritual temple and botanica, but the divine spirit brought us to New Orleans so I had carry it out now.”
“You need economic structure to support any thing. So the front of the shop serves for economics so I have a sustainable system.
“God is a one sided entity, many tongues, but one god.”
“Herbal properties offer many remedies for health. They use to use warm lamb fat on peoples chest to pull the mucus out. Humans use to preserve things, being natural, using natural things. But that build ideas for more structure, the early humans were very creative.”
“My husband and I use to sleep in the back room, sleep on prosperity. Oswan and I had been doing spiritual ministries in Chicago. The head told us the importance, of how you structure yourselves within your ministries.”
“We got off a bus in New Orleans with six dollars to our name. We were offered a job at the Voodoo Museum and after three weeks of working we were able to pay our rent and eventually we could start our own.”
“Mans mind and art creates a way to share in establishments and secure yourself.”
“Most authentic institutions are from the minds of thousands of years that create ideas, theories. It is known more fruitfully when written and in turn manifests towards religion and truth.”
“Art is the most unique thing in the world. You need appreciation for art, don’t take hold of self, create wholeness to create personal space. This creates a blanket of grace to leave behind for the world.”
“Everyone has arguments and discrepancies prior to finding truth. People don’t utilize suggestions it takes a lot of time to gain a mindset to meet opposition.”
“If you want to build something you have to pound and rough up the ground to intimidate it first. But it’s all good intentions to build a horizon and home.”
“There needs to be courage and a wise mind to establish support. This morning I saw a man repairing a broken bridge. No one realizes the amount of faith they inadvertently hold in cement companies. They build bridges so that we may get around conveniently Some may call the man repairing the bridge a sinner because maybe he drinks too much or steals, yet every person crossing that bridge is holds faith in them. We are all the same, not one is better than another. People are too busy to be pleased with one another. Because the education center doesn’t questions societies construction strength, its without evaluation or appreciation. People should be more conscious of this countries support system. When people notice a crack in the bridge they freak out and are mad. They only notice the bad. A Practical mind is able to create and appreciate the goodness of the bridge in the first place. Don’t prize yourself over a sinner, it’s the common question of ‘How do you call yourself a Christian’?”