If you throw a mandrake root on the ground, it will point to whomever is lying; angelica has strong protective properties, while dragon’s blood is simply powerful and magical. Among the dozens of jars of dried flowers, roots, powders and oils lining the shop’s walls lie a thousand possible cures and charms.
“I sell supplies that help people reach spirit,” explains Sallie Ann Glassman, owner of the Island of Salvation Botanica, located inside the New Orleans Healing Center. Her candles “help the spirits see,” she informs me as she shows off hundreds of varieties of candles and the sequin flags hanging from the walls that represent different Haitian vodou “loa” or spirits. Sallie is a fully-fledged, trained and initiated vodou priestess (or Mambo Asogwe) who serves the local vodou community and the New Orleans community at large.
“Vodou is where the visible and invisible worlds connect,” Sallie says, almost academically. She differentiates the faith she loves and practices from the sinister, sensationalized “Hollywood/tourist version of voodoo” which derives from fears and misapprehensions about the Southern folk magic practice of hoodoo.
Sallie herself is a convert, a small-built Jewish woman who moved from Maine to New Orleans in the 1970s and began studying the vodou religion. Her passion led her to Haiti and eventually into undergoing the initiation rite in 1995. Today, she is an esteemed religious and community leader with a deep love and understanding of her adopted home.
“New Orleans is an Afro-Caribbean city,” explains Sallie, detailing the area’s unique and separate history from the rest of the United States. After the Haitian Slave Revolt in 1804, some 10,000 Haitian immigrants arrived in New Orleans, doubling the size of the city and introducing a whole host of traditions carried over from Africa and Hispaniola. Today, one-third of of native New Orleanians are of Haitian descent. That culture is still very much alive today and has blended with elements of African-American, American Indian and Catholic traditions. New Orleans vodou pulls from this colorful mixture.
This diversity and color is precisely why she loves New Orleans and why she feels the city is so important in America today. “In an increasingly generic world, New Orleans remains unique. Boy, do we need that and boy, do we love that here.”