Many religions and faiths concern themselves with a form of afterlife or gathering place for spirits. The entrance is usually difficult to find, only appearing once the individual has passed on. Not so for the Voodoo underworld. According to legend, it lies in New Orleans behind a set of physical gates.
Where else would you expect to find such a gateway?
Finding the Voodoo underworld
I kept the title of the post as vague as possible. Otherwise, I’ve essentially answered the question in the opening paragraph.
I should also make it clear that the gates we’re talking about grant access to a specific part of the Voodoo underworld. Known as Guinee, it’s the place where the souls of the dead spend their time. It’s more of a transitory space than a permanent one. They pass through on their way to meet their ancestors.
Baron Samedi presides over Guinee. He represents death and rebirth, and he’s the loa of the crossroads between the worlds. The Gates of Guinee form one such crossroads.
New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries, and some believe the graveyards hold the secret to the gates. St Louis Cemetery, and St Louis Cemetery No. 2, could hold gateways. Some practitioners claim the cemeteries around Canal Street act as the entrance to the Voodoo underworld.
Or do they?
Other legends use Baron Samedi’s sigil (veve) as a form of map. Laid over the New Orleans street plan, the sigil points to the Canal Street crossroads as the final gateway. Some think the seven stars of the sigil can be plotted onto the streets, giving up the location of the gates. If this is true, then the alleged tomb of Marie Laveau, an early voodoo queen, becomes the first gateway.
What do you do with the Gates?
A soul seeks to pass through them. Yet the living can’t simply walk up to them and saunter through. If you approach them wrong, spirits may sneak through. It’s their job to drag you back to the Voodoo underworld. So the order the gates should be opened is important, as is the timing for opening them.
A traditional rhyme states; “Seven nights, Seven moons, Seven gates, Seven tombs.” Many believe this refers to the timing, though for obvious reasons the exact timing is shrouded in mystery.
So you need to work out the locations – in the right order – and the right timing. Many think the gates are easier to open at Christmas, New Year, Mardi Gras, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, Ancestors Day, Twelfth Night, and St John’s Eve.
If that weren’t enough, a guardian watches over each gate. It’s their job to keep out the living. According to legend, their tempers run short, and only ritual offerings can appease them.
Apparently, they guard the gates in the following order;
- The First Gate: Baron LaCroix
- The Second Gate: Guede Nibo
- The Third Gate: Guede Plumaj
- The Fourth Gate: Baron Cimitiere
- The Fifth Gate: Guede Babaco
- The Sixth Gate: Baron Kriminel
- The Seventh Gate: Baron Samedi
If you stumble across the gates and they’re already open, then cross yourself three times and walk away. Those who enter can’t get back to the world of the living.
Are the Gates real gates, or metaphorical?
It depends on the Voodoo practitioner you ask. For some, the seven gates represent the seven days after death. The soul passes through each gate and meets Baron Samedi at the final gate. At this point, the soul enters the Voodoo underworld. During these seven days, the body risks being zombified because the soul lurks nearby.
Some fear the gates so much they believe even talking about them invites the dead to steal you away.
Others believe that the gates offer a means of speaking with the dead. Say aloud the name of the person you want to speak to. You’ll need to repeat it five times. They should come to the other side of the gate to speak to you. Voodoo practitioners caution that you don’t enter if the gate opens.
You just have to find the gates first. And be sure that you’re pure of heart when you go looking. Those who aren’t, risk the wrath of the dead.
Since many travel websites note tour guides won’t share the locations, it’s safe to assume the gates are quietly rusting in a New Orleans cemetery. But that doesn’t mean the Voodoo underworld isn’t still on the other side, waiting for the unwary to drop by…
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