Most brides would describe their wedding day as a once in a lifetime experience, but for Nicola Bell, her whirlwind wedding in ‘Voodoo County’ really was.
Nicola and Jimmy knew just four days after meeting that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together; a feeling Nicola can only describe as ‘a peculiar experience and mad mix of questioning that you can love someone so truly in such a short space of time.’ Nicola had planned to tour America on a road trip with her two friends in November, when it was decided in the August that Jimmy would come along too. Despite neither of them having ever envisioned getting married, they both knew they wanted to elope whilst in New Orleans.
Nestled deep in Louisiana, New Orleans is perhaps better known as Voodoo County to those who live there. Louisiana Voodoo or New Orleans Voodoo has its cultural practices, languages and religious beliefs rooted in the worship of spirits and ancestors. As Nicola explains, the religion is known for its spells and ‘gris gris bags’ (a voodoo amulet thought to protect the wearer from evil or to bring good luck), and the couple both felt it would be a perfect reflection of the magic they felt for each other, but also how they met and fell in love almost instantaneously.
It goes without saying that arranging a wedding from the other side of the world has its challenges, but arranging a voodoo ceremony was something completely new to Nicola. Having done lots of research into New Orleans and Voodoo, Nicola quickly discovered there were endless event organisers claiming to be voodoo priestesses and priests offering an array of inauthentic ‘voodoo’ wedding packages designed for tourists. It wasn’t until she found Priestess Miriam of The Voodoo Spiritual Temple, a not-for-profit organisation that Nicola felt her authentic voodoo wedding could go ahead as planned. As the High Priestess in Louisiana, Miriam is well known internationally and counts Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley as two of her customers.
Due to society’s view of Voodoo, Miriam gets lots of prank calls so was reluctant to commit to anything until she met the couple. As a result, Nicola and Jimmy’s wedding plans had to be made with a level of scepticism, risk and hope. Happily, as soon as Nicola and Jimmy met Miriam all their fears were washed away. ‘She was the most inspiring, kind and generous lady, and Jimmy and I knew instantly that all our worries had been worth it’ adds Nicola.
Because the couple hadn’t known what to expect from the ceremony, they couldn’t plan anything other than Nicola’s outfit, in fact, they didn’t even buy wedding rings until they were there. Wanting to stay true to her own bohemian/70s inspired style, Nicola had planned to wear a favourite cream crochet dress until her mum kindly offered to let Nicola wear an altered version of her own wedding dress from the 70s. In a nod to the voodoo theme, Nicola teamed her mum’s wedding dress (now a skirt) with a beaded halter top (a bargain Ebay buy) and a beautiful ‘blue’ stone headpiece given to her by her jewellery designer flatmate. Accessorising with her trademark ‘trailer trash’ Jimmy necklace and a borrowed silver snake ring, Nicola’s wedding outfit was the perfect combination of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue to take with her on her New Orleans adventure.
The Voodoo Ceremony was even more magical than the couple could have hoped. Priestess Miriam had a beautiful bouquet made for Nicola by a local florist, as well as an amazing chocolate wedding cake and plenty of wine for the wedding party to share after the ceremony. She also decorated the temple with candles and flowers. Coincidentally, the flowers she chose were gladiola, Nicola’s favourite flowers. If that wasn’t spooky enough, the wedding cake Miriam had made looked remarkably similar to the flower heart offering Nicola had made as a gift for the altar, which Miriam had never seen.
The ceremony lasted two and a half hours, beginning with drumming and chanting around an open fire in a Creole courtyard. The party then moved into the temple where Miriam sang and chanted words of wisdom and blessings. Unlike a traditional church wedding, Miriam’s words were of guidance, from experience and from the heart, so felt much more meaningful and practical to the couple. The ceremony also offered praise and thanks to their mothers and family, celebrating and being thankful for the passage of love through souls coming together.
As is customary in a Voodoo Ceremony, the bride and groom were presented with a plate of three ingredients; honey, cayenne pepper and salt which symbolised that marriage is made up of all these things and they had to become committed to finding the balance between each aspect. Finally, the couple were greeted by Aida, the python. The snake is the deity in the ceremony and is wrapped around the couple as a symbol to show that they have shed their old lives and are starting a new life together from this moment. As her cold skin curled around her neck, Nicola admits she felt nothing but comfort and relief, Aida’s cold skin was especially welcome after the three hour ceremony in the New Orleans sunshine.
Although it was difficult at first, adopting the attitude, ‘whatever will be will be’ actually made the day so much more exciting and enjoyable Nicola explains. ‘The day was better than we could have ever planned.’ We asked Nicola to sum up her wedding in three words and she chose ‘unforgettable, heartfelt and magical’ – just the way a wedding should be, regardless of where in the world it’s held.