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NEW ORLEANS — This week, members of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple hung the official sign outside of the organization’s new home. The Creole cottage, which had housed the temple since 1991, was destroyed by fire in February, and supporters of its leader Priestess Miriam have been working toward this day ever since. The entire process has made clear how well regarded Miriam is for her work, with 543 people donating to the effort and many others putting in time and effort. Witchdoctor Utu, a student who spearheaded the online campaign for Miriam, provided some details about what has already been accomplished, and what’s to come.“Truth of the matter is this past weekend was not the reopening,” Utu explained, “just when they got the new sign, so the place is a bit more visible now. They never really closed, just maneuvered throughout the worst situation possible. They have been in that location since April,” he said, and have been fully moved into the new location since July. The building is located on 1428 N. Rampart St. is nine-tenths of a mile up Rampart from the former temple site. The Voodoo Spiritual Temple was founded in 1990 at yet another address on N. Rampart St., but was moved to 828 just a year after opening. When the 2016 electrical fire forced Miriam and all religious ceremonies out of the 828 building in February, hopes were high that the site could be rebuilt. However, such was not to be.
Nevertheless, many people came forward to work on restoring it in some form. Utu set up a crowdfunding campaign with the assistance of Christian Day, and a fund raising event called Moveable Feast was held in April. While the online campaign has not yet collected a third of the $75,000 goal, enough has been raised through it and through offline donations to make the move possible.
Beyond financing the operation, It has taken a tremendous amount of effort, not all physical, to move the temple after all these years. A new location had to be identified, and a quarter-century of sacred and historic objects needed to be carefully packed away. Utu chronicled that process in pictures posted publicly to Facebook, writing, “the majority of this work, daily, every day for two months has been for the most [part] Miriam herself, her husband Allen, as well as Louis Martine and a few others, but for the most part it’s been Miriam’s job…I don’t know how she has the energy.”
Priestess Miriam may be leading this ongoing effort through example, but she is far from alone. In addition to members of the temple and wider Voudoun community offering money or time, many Pagans have also stepped up, including members of the Salem Witch community, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Ár nDraíocht Féin. Utu attempted to list them all in his Facebook accolades. In addition to Day and other New Orleans residents, he named Alexander Cabot, Kirk Thomas, Ivo Dominguez Jr., Jason Mankey, Raven Grimassi, “and plenty more, too.”
The transition’s toll has required no small amount of emotional work, as well. “There was no handbook or script for this,” Utu told The Wild Hunt. “No one knew for over a month whether the temple could stay at the original location, so it was a complex emotional ride that took the efforts of literally hundreds of people from across the globe.”
Many that are on the boards of festivals, small and large, came together on behalf of their tribes and for that I am very grateful, and it’s why your festivals are the ones I will be attentive to over the coming years as far as support and attendance. [It] means a lot when the folks in your immediate area rally to support the temple that you are a member of and show thanks for the years of rituals, shows and support we have done over the years, really meant a lot.”
Sorting through beloved objects, deciding what can be salvaged and what must be destroyed, is difficult under the best of circumstances, but here the objects often held sacred significance. Utu said that there were “tons” of actions that needed to be performed to honor gods and spirits associated with the temple, most of which were designed for this specific situation.
“It was pragmatic, hard emotional tiring work, which does possess magic and power in [and] of itself,” he explained. Spirits can be tied to specific locations or items, and much of that had to be disentangled along with the feelings of loss, nostalgia, and grief over this change. Again, Utu wrote of how Priestess Miriam has led the way:
This process is not an easy one, nor a rush job, certain items are being refurbished, sealed and saved from water damage as well as smoke, as some of them are simply irreplaceable with a history few could imagine, it takes a special pace and temperament to make it happen. Priestess Miriam is amazing to be able to keep this pace going while being positive for the future.
The hanging of the sign on Tuesday epitomizes the physical, emotional, and spiritual labor needed. It was painted by Oswan, Miriam’s late husband, who founded the temple with her in 1990. After removing it from the old site, it was sealed to preserve his handwriting, in which Oswan’s spirit might be seen. Putting that sign up again signified much more than simply being open for business.
In fact, the official grand opening of the new location is still in the works, and Utu expects that the healing will take much longer. He wrote on Facebook, “As much as I would love to say things are back to normal nothing could be further from the truth, this will in reality take years to recoup and be back to something resembling normalcy and what once was, but it’s all good, that’s life and [a] new era for the temple is in its infancy.” During that infancy, at least, the fund raising continues.
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