Priestess Miriam Chamani is one of the most prominent voodoo queens in contemporary New Orleans. She has been providing spiritual services to the New Orleans community since she moved with her husband, Priest Oswan Chamani, to New Orleans in 1990 to found the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. Since her husband’s death in 1995, Miriam has overseen the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center, where she provides readings, rituals, and other spiritual services. The Temple, located in the French Quarter across from the entrance to Armstrong Park, focuses on West African spiritual and herbal healing.
Born to sharecroppers in Pocahontas, Mississippi, on 8 March 1943, Mary Robin Adams took on the mantle Priestess Miriam when she began her spiritual work away from her home state. Raised deeply Baptist in post–World War II rural Mississippi, she showed an early inclination toward religiosity, as her family remembers her speaking to spirits as a child. To escape the harsh Jim Crow–era South, she left to work in New York as a domestic in 1962, only four days after graduating from high school.
After working as a housekeeper in New York for several years, Miriam moved to Chicago and began a nursing program in the fall of 1966. There, she was introduced to the Spiritual Church, which incorporated voodoo as well as Protestant, Catholic, and Native American religious components. Miriam became involved with Angel Angel All Nations Spiritual Church on Chicago’s South Side, and she was ordained and served as a bishop there from 1982 to 1989.
In 1989 Miriam met Oswan Chamani, a priest of obeah, an Afro-American folk magic and belief system of his native Belize. Obeah, like voodoo, Santeria, and Shango, has roots as a form of resistance in New World African slave cultures. Miriam and Osman soon left Chicago for New Orleans and married in 1990. They performed divination readings at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and were involved with the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum before establishing the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. Temple gatherings took place in Miriam and Oswan’s living room until 1994, when the Temple opened its current location on Rampart Street. Priest Oswan died in 1995, but not before he had shared with Miriam his extensive knowledge of herbs used for spiritual and physical healing, which she continues to utilize at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple.
Priestess Miriam has linked her medical training with her spiritual preparation, noting that Marie Laveau used her pharmacological knowledge of herbs both in her work nursing the sick during yellow fever outbreaks and in providing spiritual services. Priestess Miriam combines her medical knowledge, her Spiritual Church training, and the spiritual and herbal healing techniques she learned from her husband to serve those who visit the Voodoo Spiritual Temple. She holds readings and consultations at the Temple and performs rituals in the courtyard. Priestess Miriam often gives interviews with the news and entertainment media and has advised on voodoo practices for Hollywood films such as The Skeleton Key (2005).
- Hans A. Baer, The Black Spiritual Movement: A Religious Response to Racism (2nd ed. 2001)
- Toni Costonie, Priestess Miriam and the Voodoo Spiritual Temple: A Brief History (2004)
- Toni Costonie, A Voodoo Queen in New Orleans: The Story of Priestess Miriam and the Voodoo Spiritual Temple (2006)
- Carolyn Morrow Long, Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic, and Commerce (2001)
- Anthony Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience (1998)