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FOR AN ODYSSEY INTO

TRUE AFRICAN VOODOO IN NEW ORLEANS

DON’T MISS

“In midlife, native New Yorker Dr.Sharon Caulder PhD left her successful physical therapy practice to find her soul among the Voodoo people in the Republic of Benin, West Africa…Filled with adventure and romance this is a story that will speak to your psyche and your heart.”

CHEZ VODUN VOODOO MUSEUM AND TEMPLE

A. Pustanio Photos: C. Modjeski

 

 

“In midlife, native New Yorker Sharon Caulder left her successful physical therapy practice to find her soul among the Voodoo people in the Republic of Benin, West Africa…Filled with adventure and romance this is a story that will speak to your psyche and your heart.”

 

From Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to My African Voodoo Heritage

In her mid-40’s Dr. Sharon Caulder Ph.D undertook an incredible, magical journey that most of us only dream of. With little more than a backpack and intuition, Dr. Caulder set forth on an odyssey to find understanding of her life experiences, to connect with her African American heritage, and to give freedom to her soul. Great expectations for anyone, you might say.

What is most astounding is that not only did Dr. Caulder accomplish all these goals and more, she is able to share all that she learned with any who are still searching.

Dr. Caulder left a thriving spiritual healing practice in California and traveled to the Republic of Benin, in West Africa, based solely on the inuition given her by her spirit guides – and with a little help from her soul. That journey, chronicled in her fascinating and moving book “Mark of Voodoo: Awakening to my African Spiritual Heritage,” led Dr. Caulder to the roots of her African heritage where she found herself inextricably interwoven with the roots of the Voodoo religion.

Having been exposed at a young age to voodoo rituals and ritual abuse at the hands of her family, it was important for Dr. Caulder to find a place for all this emotional baggage and to test the validity of its presence in her life. Once immersed in the rhythm and lifestyle of a new, but strangely familiar African country, Dr. Caulder immediately set out in search of the Supreme Voodoo Chief of all African Voodoo.

Yet again, Dr. Caulder aimed for the top and attained the summit.

She was taken under the tutelage of one of the greatest leaders of the Voodoo religion to ever hold the title of Supreme Chief on the African continent, Daagbo Hounan Houna. To Supreme Chief Daagbo it was quickly apparent that Dr. Caulder was truly on a soul journey, a journey that had begun many lives before this one and which had culminated in their meeting; it was not long before Dr. Caulder progressed from initiate to Chief, one of the few women ever to hold that high a title in the Voodoo religion.

Supreme Chief Daagbo and Chief Sharon Caulder also realized the great loves of their lives during this sojourn in Africa, but Chief Sharon felt her duty called her back to America. With reluctance, she left the rediscovered Motherland of her people and returned to the United States where she began her spiritual work as a full-fledged African Voodoo Chief.

Working in Oakland, California, Chief Sharon welcomed people from all over the US and the world offering help with physical and psychological conditions and healing for spiritual crises. Ultimately, however, the rhythm of Africa called to her to again take up a journey, but this time she followed the beat of the African Voodoo tradition to the melting pot of cultures and beliefs that is the spiritual community of New Orleans.

 

FOUNDING CHEZ VODUN

Chief Sharon was drawn to this most unique of Southern cities for many reasons, not the least of which is its long history of Voodoo and African religious traditions. Chief Sharon also felt drawn to New Orleans as the great port where many of her African ancestors took their first step onto the soil of the white slaveholders: an unpleasant but valid analogy to the great West African port of Ouiddah, through which so many Africans passed, never to return.

 

The location of Chez Vodun (822 Rampart Street in downtown New Orleans) was purchased by Chief Sharon sight-unseen. Ironically, the location is actually adjacent to the site where, in the mid-1800’s, wealthy white landowners used to maintain their beautiful quadroon mistresses. These enticing beings, hidden for most of the day in shady gardens of crepe myrtles and oleader, would walk out in the evening down the Rue des Remparts with a sashay in their step and beautiful silk scarves on their heads, primped in fantastic shapes and sizes, and wander through Congo Square, which is just across the street from the front door of Chez Vodun today.

Chez Vodun itself is a massive structure, with no hint of its size given by the small entryway. The ground floor houses the marketplace, fronting Rampart Street, where all kinds of spiritual items, jewelry, African artwork, handmade Voodoo dolls and even teas and coffee are available. Through a low, beaded doorway is the bar and café area where the high walls are decorated in poignant and empowering images rendered by local artists: One wall depicts the Middle Passage and the deck of a slave ship from three different perspectives. Another created by local artist Shakur depicts the Dahomean people of West Africa from the beginning of time, through the height of their civilization, on through slavery and the African diaspora in the New World, including the slave rebellion of Haiti and the empowerment of African Americans today.

 

The bar and café also include a performance area that has hosted everything from poetry readings to live bands. Chief Sharon is quick to explain that the bar and café are the main source of income that support the museum and healing center she maintains at the site, thus enabling her to concentrate more on her spiritual work. Chief Sharon is also not averse to innovation and is considering opening an African Tea Parlor in the café to highlight the tea and coffee products of the African Continent; it would be the first of its kind in New Orleans. Chez Vodun is already the home to one exclusive: the pitch black Voodoo Martini!

The museum and actual temple are located in the quiet second storey of Chez Vodun.

Chief Sharon explains that “African Voodoo is the root of all Voodoo,” and the exhibits in the museum are designed to enhance the experience and understanding of this much-maligned and misunderstood belief system. The sculptures, artwork and carvings are all original works from the African continent, and Chief Caulder patiently stops at each piece with an explanation of what part of the journey of faith it reiterates.

The collection at Chez Vodun is extensive and many pieces are obviously priceless; most if not all are one of a kind. There is a comfortable mixture of African and Middle and Near Eastern works and Chief Sharon readily points out how the transmigration of artistic styles support her theory that ancient peoples were in contact with each other sooner, and in greater proportions, than most modern authorities believe. She points to a clearly Eastern influenced head sculpture that was found on the lower African continent, thousands of miles from any (obvious) Oriental influences. Chief Sharon likes to use this to illustrate how, despite, or perhaps because of, our varied belief systems, we are all connected as one.

Some of the pieces are dark and brooding, fetishes from the Congo, for instance, riddled with nails and bearing fearful expressions. Chief Sharon explains that the Congo is not a place to take lightly and that, on her journey, even she gave the fabled land a wide berth. The pieces she was able to obtain from the Congo are admittedly fearsome, but some of the apprehension is alleviated as Chief Sharon explains that the purpose of the fearsome look is to keep evil away from those the fetish is created to protect. That said, the dark figures become more accessible.

Another collection of dark works were entrusted to Chief Sharon by a black voodoo Bokor and include pieces bearing the skin and other body parts of humans. One piece, a bottle bound with a voodoo fetish doll and other indiscernible bits of once-human anatomy is particularly disturbing and Chief Sharon explains that this is because the piece was used in black voodoo magic.

“Unfortunately, this is the only kind of voodoo that comes to mind these days, especially here in New Orleans,” she says quietly, standing before the bokor’s work. “Everyone associates voodoo with bad magic and voodoo dolls. That’s the image I’m here to change.”

 

There are several priceless bronzes and gorgeous lamps from North Africa; everywhere there is something to delight the eye. The multicultural hall that Chief Sharon maintains on this floor of Chez Vodun is replete with oriental bronzes – a seated buddah, Chinese dancers, gorgeous Morrocan lamps and a wonderfully refreshing painting of Supreme Chief Daagbo meeting with the Dalai Lama several years ago. Chief Sharon explains that the Dalai Lama had called a great conclave of the supreme leaders of the great religions of the world and that he had particularly requested that Supreme Chief Daagbo attend. Clearly it is a fond memory for Chief Sharon, whose great partner and Supreme Chief passed on just over a year ago.

 

In addition to the museum, the second floor of Chez Vodun also houses the temple area where Chief Sharon conducts all her rituals. The temple, flanked by altars dedicated to major deities that Chief Sharon holds particular devotion to, is an oasis of palms and water: a great image of Mami Wata, the Dahomean water deity and mother goddess of the Fon people of Benin, rises above the waters of a fountain. Chief Sharon explains that Mami Wata is usually a benign mother, but sometimes, as all mothers, her patience runs thin. It is good to keep her appeased and so every aspect of the temple is designed to please her great spirit.

As our visit wound to a close Chief Sharon shared with us a little foresight into her future plans. These include the development with St. Augustine High School in New Orleans of an African American heritage walking tour that will allow visitors to literally follow in the footsteps of slaves and free people of color in early 19th century New Orleans; Chief Sharon also cooperates with New Orleans Ghost Tours and their “Voodoo Walking Tour.”

 

Chez Vodun hosts a buffet dinner followed by an Authentic African Voodoo Ritual with Chief Sharon in the Temple every Saturday night at 9 p.m. Chief Sharon also offers Healing Nights every Monday night where patrons can experience authentic healing rituals including crystal healings, African aerobics and Kemetic yogo, and participate in African Voodoo initiations.

FOR A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE OF

TRUE AFRICAN VOODOO IN NEW ORLEANS

BE SURE TO VISIT

CHEZ VODUN

MUSEUM AND TEMPLE

CAFÉ AND BAR

822 NORTH RAMPART STREET

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA 70116

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

(504) 558-0653

www.chezvodun.com

AVAILABLE FOR DAILY TOURS,

PRIVATE PARTIES AND SPECIAL EVENTS

 



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