I’m excited to be a part of the Sweet Unrest tour which is a perfect Halloween season read! Today I’ve got Lisa Maxwell on the blog talking about Voodoo! And before you leave, don’t forget to enter to win! 😉 In case it’s new to you, have a look at what Sweet Unrest is about:
Lucy Aimes has always been practical. But try as she might, she can’t come up with a logical explanation for the recurring dreams that have always haunted her. Dark dreams. Dreams of a long-ago place filled with people she shouldn’t know…but does.
When her family moves to a New Orleans plantation, Lucy’s dreams become more intense, and her search for answers draws her reluctantly into the old city’s world of Voodoo and mysticism. There, Lucy finds Alex, a mysterious boy who behaves as if they’ve known each other forever. Lucy knows Alex is hiding something, and her rational side doesn’t want to be drawn to him. But she is.
As she tries to uncover Alex’s secrets, a killer strikes close to home, and Lucy finds herself ensnared in a century-old vendetta. With the lives of everyone she loves in danger, Lucy will have to unravel the mystery of her dreams before it all comes to a deadly finish.
Guest Post by Lisa Maxwell
The One About VooDoo
In SWEET UNREST, native-Chicagoan Lucy Aimes is thrust into the world of New Orleans mysticism and is swept into a century-old vendetta that puts everything and everyone she loves into danger.
When I was writing the book, I had to learn what I could about Voodoo—as a belief, as a religion, as an art form. The Voodoo that appears in the book is based on actual beliefs, but as I plotted the book it became really clear that the Voodoo in the book was going to have to incorporate as much fantasy and fiction as reality. Balancing a respect for what is actually a religion with devoted followers with the need to make the book more than a religion lesson was one of the more difficult parts of writing the book.
But what is the reality of Voodoo? And how much of SWEET UNREST is based on Voodoo as it’s believed and practiced?
Much of my own research about Voodoo came from the ethnographies of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston is best known for Their Eyes Were Watching God—a novel published in the late 1930s and brought back to public attention by Alice Walker in the 1980s.
Hurston was a woman ahead of her time. She was trained by the father of American Anthropology, Franz Boas and was a serious and well-respected anthropologist herself. Most of her published writing was actually ethnographic studies of Jamaica and Honduras, Voodoo in Haiti, and the American South. She is really the gateway for understanding the history and practice of Voodoo in the 20th century.
As Hurston writes it, is that “mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing.” To get the real scoop on the practices, Hurston convinces the different Voodoo priests and priestesses—including the descendant of Marie Laveau—that she is a serious and legitimate initiate. She goes through numerous ceremonies and rituals herself and writes about them in detail in her two books, Mules and Men and Tell my Horse. These two books were key for all of my research.
But even if Voodoo is often a mystery to and secret from those not already sympathetic and knowing, there are some basic tenants of the belief that I used as the framework for my world building.
Here are some of the tenants of Voodoo and how I worked them into SWEET UNREST:
- There are subtle but important differences between West African Vodun, Haitian Vodou, and New Orleans Voodoo (Hoodoo). These differences are, in part, because Voodoo is a diaspora religion—it came with slaves and has changed and adjusted to it’s time and place as those peoples have moved from Western Africa east.
In Sweet Unrest: I focus more on New Orleans Voodoo, rather than Haitian Vodou, but Thisbe’s use of black magic isn’t really Voodoo at all.
- Voodoo is at its heart a syncretic religion—this means that it combines and melds what might appear to be very different and sometimes conflicting religious beliefs and practices. In New Orleans, you see this with the way Voodoo interacts with Catholicism. Saints are often found on Voodoo altars. In Sweet Unrest, Mama Legba makes reference to some of these parallels and she uses tools and ceremonies that aren’t necessarily straight-up Voodoo. For instance, she reads Tarot cards for Lucy.
- In Louisiana, Voodoo tends to focus on a knowledge of herbs and poisons, and rituals for creating charms and amulets (think Voodoo dolls and grisgris) used as spells (for protection or attacking).
In Sweet Unrest Mama Legba’s shop is first and foremost an herb shop. It’s nothing like what Lucy expects, because Mama Legba (like most of those who practice) is concerned with healing arts rather than curses. She does make Lucy and Chloe grisgris for protection.
- Voodoo practitioners recognize Loa—spirits most often associated with Haitian Vodou. These Loa aren’t Gods, but spirits of the major forces of the world—death and life, reproduction, health, etc. Voodoo practitioners are servants to the spirits. In Hatian Vodou, the Loa will often “mount” or possess those who commit themselves to this service.
In Sweet Unrest there is a St. John’s Eve festival that I took from a real ceremony that still happens today. The words used in the book are taken from my research of real ceremonies as well.
- In Voodoo the soul is important—but it’s split. There is the “gros bon ange” or the “great good angel,” which is the part of the soul that is connected to the life force of the universe and (and returns there at death). There is also the “ti bon ange,” which is the part of the soul that contains the personality and individual qualities of a person.
In Sweet Unrest, I used this understanding of the soul as the framework for the magic that traps Alex.
- In Hatian Voodoo, Papa Legba is the Loa that serves as the connection between the rest of the loa and humanity. Papa Legba is also the name often given to a trickster figure in Yoruba mythology that is a symbol for linguistic dexterity and power.
In Sweet Unrest, I played with the name on purpose. In Voodoo and in African and African-American folklore, this trickster figure is one of the central and most powerful characters, but it’s always a male figure. I gave this power to a woman (and to one of my favorite characters) on purpose.
- In the 19th Century, the Voodoo Queen becomes a really important part of Louisiana Voodoo. This is, in part, because in Louisiana—especially in New Orleans—free people of color had more freedom to move throughout certain parts of society. The interactions between races—African, Spanish, Creole, white—was different there than anywhere else in the country at that time.
In Sweet Unrest, the Voodoo Queens play an important role. Thisbe’s status is what gives her power on the River Road, and Mama Legba’s status gives her power in the present day—even the police and stuffy academics come to her for help.
- True Voodoo is not the showy, commercialized Voodoo you see on the street corners in the French Quarter or tourist shops. It happens behind closed doors. This doesn’t stop the tourist trade from profiting on the idea of Voodoo.
In Sweet Unrest Lucy has to let go of her ideas about Voodoo (most of which she got from late-night B movies) and learn to trust Mama Legba. Mama Legba’s shop is one you’d miss if you didn’t know it’s there. She works quietly, behind the scenes, and in a lot of ways has that much more power for it.
So while most of the Voodoo in Sweet Unrest is as much fact as it is fiction, I always started from the source. I wanted the Voodoo in the novel to be more than just a trick or a joke. But I also wanted it to be really clear that Voodoo is not the bad guy here. In the book, Voodoo is a tool: the characters use the beliefs and powers in all sorts of ways, but ultimately, it’s the individual goals of the characters that matter.
About the Author
Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest (Flux, Fall 2014) and Heartless Things (Simon Pulse, 2016). When she’s not writing books, she teaches English at a local college. She lives near DC with her very patient husband and two not-so patient boys.
8 signed copies of Sweet Unrest + swag
Art print bought in the French Wuarter
Adorable VooDoo Doll Charm
25$ gift card to the bookstore of your choice
Open to US and Canadian residents; use the Rafflecopter below to enter: