Video: "Voodoo" draws thousands to New Orleans

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updated 12/30/2003 1:03:58 AM ET 2003-12-30T06:03:58

Over the years, the popularity of voodoo has come and gone – but today, New Orleans is in the midst of a voodoo revival.  But the voodoo that they do is not exactly what you might expect.

This is not your parent’s voodoo - that New Orleans tourist gimmick of dolls, hexes and potions.  Today, voodoo is showing its serious side and attracting people like  37-year-old Sheila Cunningham, a Detroit native diagnosed two years ago with ovarian cancer. Doctors told her the tumor was the size of a grapefruit. Today, Sheila is in remission, but she’d like to be cured completely, and so she’s turning to voodoo, quietly.

“I didn’t want to tell too many people what I was doing because it does have a negative outlook,” Cunningham says.

Her search for healing led her to Piety Street in New Orleans and voodoo priestess, Sally Ann Glassman. Glassman says she used voodoo to cure her own cancer earlier this year.

“I was willing to be healed and the essential nature of voodoo is to be healing, to heal cultures, to heal individuals,” says Glassman. That’s what Cunningham, who recently flew to New Orleans for a voodoo healing, is counting on.

“It was a little strange in the beginning,” says Cunningham of her first healing ceremony. “They sang and danced and called in the spirits.  But then when they started going into a trance, that kind of made me believe with what they were saying, just by the way they were talking to me. It was very spiritual.  It was very warm and very loving.”

Sheila’s reaction is no surprise to Glassman, who says she’s seeing an increasing acceptance of voodoo as more people look for spiritual insight and guidance.

There’s more evidence of a New Orleans voodoo revival at St. Louis Cemetery Number One, now home to one of the most visited graves in the country.  It is the tomb of Marie Laveau, a 19th century voodoo priestess, considered the queen of voodoo, leading this resurgence from the grave. 

“There’s a huge interest in voodoo,” says Cathleen Grant of Spirit Tours. Her firm provides tours to anywhere from 200 to 500 people each week.

Some of the visitors who go to Marie Laveau’s grave perform a wishing ritual. They knock on the tomb, mark it with three X’s, make an offering and then hope that their wish is granted.  For tourists, it’s fun. But for true believers, voodoo is  religion, and the tomb of Marie Laveau is Mecca.

“I believe we’re hungry in America for the knowledge that it’s possible to help and ease suffering,” says Martha Ward, author of a new book about voodoo and Marie Laveau.

Cunningham believes she may have been healed.  But if not, she’s very happy anyway, and says “it was an experience.”

This was the No. 2 story on the Dec. 16 edition of 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann.'

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