Archives For New Orleans

Whether it’s spelled Voodoo, Vodou, or Voudoun, this frequently-misunderstood religion of the African diaspora is starting to get a makeover in the American consciousness. A traditionally secretive religion, Vodou has long been represented in movies and television shows as being focused on sticking pins in dolls and making people into zombie slaves. That image is starting to change, however, in ways that could make members of the Pagan community sit up and take notice.

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

In contrast to the Hollywood vision of Vodou, an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago seeks to present an accurate picture of Haitian Vodou through its artifacts. According to a press release about the exhibition, “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti looks beyond myths and manufactured Hollywood images – exhibition visitors will see no dolls with pins stuck into them. Instead, the exhibition explores the underground history and true nature of a living religion and reveals Vodou as a vital spiritual and social force which remains an important part of daily life in Haiti.” Text and video of members of the religion are used to explain the symbolism behind, and uses of, the more than 300 objects, many of which are on loan from the Marianne Lehmann Collection in Pétionville, Haiti.

Patrons of the Field Museum will come away with some understanding of Haitian Vodou, one of the major branches practiced in the United States today. The other is Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, a tradition which evolved in that southern city thanks in part to the fact that slave families were more likely to be kept together than they were in the East. Followers of the two paths kept mostly to themselves in the city, according to a profile of the religion in Newsweek, although initiation into both wasn’t entirely unknown. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina changed all that; many Vodou practitioners lived in the Ninth Ward, which bore the brunt of the damage when the levies broke:

“After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

“The new scene has also encouraged members of the ancient religion to create a web presence —- forums such as “Vodou, Voodou, Vodoun, Vodun” on Facebook and “A Real Voodoo Club” on Yahoo Groups are popular —- as well as welcoming outsiders to their events for the first time. “Before, you really would have had to know who a mambo or a houngan was to participate in a public or private ceremony. You would have to be in the inner circle. Now it’s accessible with a few keystrokes,” says Parmelee. “Plus, people who left are returning. The community is definitely coming back.””

New Orleans Healing Center

New Orleans Healing Center

The most impressive demonstration of this new face of Vodou is surely the New Orleans Healing Center, a 55,000-square-foot complex which has become a focal point for the religion since it opened in 2011. The center hosts public ceremonies, a bustling shop, and has gone a long way towards normalizing perceptions of this religion in New Orleans. It cost a reported $13 million to build, including both public and private funds, and represents the type of infrastructure many Pagans yearn for, and others shun.

There are many reasons why such an massive project was possible in the Vodou community, while similar ideas remain dreams for Pagans. For one, while there are different schools of thought, Vodou is not an “umbrella” of often unrelated faiths, as Paganism is. For another, Paganism is wrestling with questions of money that Vodou has mostly put to rest.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“Gardner said not to charge for spiritual services,” explained Lilith Dorsey, who writes the blog Voodoo Universe, but “Marie Laveau was the first to charge for services.” She was referring to Gerald Gardner, whose contributions to Wicca in the 1950s set the tone for many conversations in the Pagan community today, and 19th-century Vodou priestess Laveau, whose impact on New Orleans Voodoo was equally seminal. “Some people may have no other way of making a living,” she said, “they might be uneducated, or crazy, or this is just the only skill they have.” Instead of having a cultural bias against accepting money, in Vodou it’s expected.

One of the interesting details about this mainstreaming of Vodou is the monotheistic bent it’s taking. The Newsweek article is quite clear on that point, saying that both New Orleans and Haitian Vodou “are monotheistic (the highest god is Bondyè, the “good lord”), are mostly oral- instead of text-based and celebrate thousands of cosmic and natural spirits (akin to Catholicism’s saints).” Since Dorsey writes about Vodou for a Pagan site, The Wild Hunt asked her if Vodou is a monotheistic religion.

“That’s a sticky question,” Dorsey replied. “It’s more acceptable to be monotheistic in this culture. I approach it anthropologically: if you offer to it, it’s a god or goddess. I consider lwa and oreshas to be gods. In the Catholic Church they call them saints, but they function like gods.” However they function, though, in her experience, “People don’t want to have a lot of gods.”

Dorsey, who maintains connections to the Vodou communities in New Orleans and New York City, also said that not everyone is happy with the public face of Vodou that is emerging. “Will it be good? I can’t say. On one hand, the more neighbors you have who practice Voodoo the more okay it seems. I have neighbors who are okay with Voodoo but not with ‘evil Santeria.’ On the other hand, public ceremonies mean cameras, and there are things one should not be taking pictures of. “That’s hard for the average person to determine. I do a class on ritual blessings for camera, and once you start talking about photography, that’s another whole level.”

Art museums and shiny new healing centers are signs that the face of Vodou is changing fast. Dorsey said that, like water, it will find its own level. When it does, it could be possible to draw some conclusions about how Pagan religions may change as they become more normalized, for good or ill.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Akhenaten's daughter (Tutankhamun's sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

Akhenaten’s daughter (Tutankhamun’s sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

  • One ongoing issue relating to the political tumult within Egypt (which is ongoing) has been the fate of art and antiquities looted during these times of crisis. So, it’s a small ray of light that French officials are returning five pieces that were spotted by Egyptian officials at auction. Quote: “Five antiquities looted and removed from Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 have been returned by the French government to the Egyptian authorities. “Egyptian officials in charge of monitoring antiquities sales abroad spotted five Ptolemaic dynasty objects [323BC-30BC] for sale online, including two that were posted by a Toulouse-based auction house,” Ali Ahmed, an official at the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, told the French newspaper Le Figaro. A head, torso and arm, which were part of a glass sculpture of a man, were among the stolen items.” Egypt’s vast and rich archeological heritage has been an engine of it’s once-booming tourism industry (currently hobbled by the chaos), and the preservation of this legacy a key component of recovery. For now, it’s a hunt to restore priceless treasures of one of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations.
  • If you wanted to know more about the painting of famous Voodoo/Vodou Queen Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans being painting pink, The Art of Conjure has a very good round-up of the story. Quote: “Whether it is vandalism or devotion is not the issue here, however. Rather, according to Morrison, it is the fact that it was apparently done without Mam’zelle’s consent. At least, that’s what Morrison expressed after being there in person and informing Mam’zelle that her tomb had been painted pink. Traditionally in New Orleans Voudou, Marie Laveaux is associated with the color blue, perhaps because of her association with water.” On Thursday I featured Lilith Dorsey’s views on this incident.
  • NPR has a deeper look at the recent controversy over the auction of Hopi sacred artifacts, and the struggles in general of preserving Native/indigenous sacred lands, places, and objects. Quote: “‘Indians in Arizona and elsewhere continue to be guided by religious traditions that have been handed down by the Creator,’ said James Riding In, a member of the Pawnee Nation and Indian Studies professor at Arizona State University. He adds it’s difficult for those who are not Indian to understand the spiritual connection many tribes have with their land and with items such as the Hopi sacred objects.” A nice summary of several stories that I’ve touch on over the years here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The New York Times profiles Kumar Natarajanaidu, a Hindu priest who set up a temple in the back of a retail space in Queens. Quote: “To pay the rent, Mr. Natarajanaidu uses the front portion of his temple to frame pictures and sell videos, flowers and religious apparel. But beyond the DVD counter, the temple begins, pieced together by his untrained hand. It is a hodgepodge of cleverly rigged curtains and shrines made from stray planks, tape, string and ornate wall coverings. The carpet segments are duct-taped together, and overhead is a water-stained drop ceiling. But as if by divine intervention, it all comes together as a glowing, opulent holy place, with a seductive mélange of colors and a flood of fragrant incense.”
  • Here’s BBC coverage of the Druid leader Arthur Pendragon-led protest against the display of human remains at the new Stonehenge visitor center. Quote: “Mr Pendragon said that until the bones were taken off display and reburied, he would continue a campaign that will cost English Heritage money and turn the public against them. He has claimed the bones discovered in 2008 are the remains of members of the royal line and wants them reinterred. ‘Today was just a shot across the bows – it was just a taster,’ he said.” For another perspective, I spotlighted a review of the new center, here. Here’s an excerpt from his announcement to protest.
The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

  • The (much-reported) decision in Brown v. Buhman may not have legalized polygamy, but it is a victory for polyamory (and privacy). Quote: “The problems with this statutory language under the right to privacy most recently re-established in Lawrence v. Texas should be obvious. On its face, the law would prohibit not only informal consensual polyamorous relationships—problematic in itself—but any kind of intimate cohabitation between unmarried partners. Based onLawrence’s recognition of the fundamental right consenting adults have to engage in same-sex relations, it is very hard to argue that this section of the Utah statute doesn’t violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.” Is this the beginning of the end of morality laws?
  • Would you like to know what author Dan “The Da Vinci Code” Brown’s superpowers are? Quote: “Given the powers of ‘Inferno’, showing a glimpse of hell with every three line poem he writes, that reflects the future in 33 minutes.”
  • You know you’ve arrived as a minority religion when conservative Christians call you out. Yes, it’s from the Duck Dynasty dude. Quote: “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero,” Robertson explained. “That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.” Charming, isn’t he? He should get his own TV show! Oh… wait…
  • Here’s the backstory on how the Annenberg Foundation saved those Hopi and Apache sacred items at a French auction.
  • Here’s the complete “American Gods” soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “The Dark Knight” screenwriter David S. Goyer are producing an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” at Warner Bros. What could possibly go wrong? For the record, Gordon-Levitt was brilliant in “Brick.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Esoteric Artists Gather for Exhibition in London: From May 19th through the 25th in London an international collection of esoteric artists will be on display in a special exhibition sponsored by Fulgur Esoterica, publisher of the Abraxas journal. Entitled “I:MAGE,” the show boasts a impressive lineup of artists, both classic and contemporary.

Jesse Bransford

Art by Jesse Bransford

“Fulgur Esoterica is pleased to present I:MAGE, a week-long exhibition showcasing the best international artists working in the emerging category of esoteric art. More than 16 artists will exhibit their work at Store Street Gallery, Bloomsbury, London, from Sunday 19 May to Saturday 25 May 2013. The week will culminate with the publication of a special issue of Abraxas titled, Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art. Select Papers from the Cambridge University Conference, December 2012. The common thread between these artists is the internalisation of esoteric themes and the externalisation of the mythical, the magical and the mysterious in their many forms. Ranging from the post-1940 work of progressive women such as Ithell Colquhoun and Steffi Grant, to the contemporary dark symbolist wanderings of Agostino Arrivabene and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, and the exploratory audio-visual practices of NOKO, I:MAGE promises to be a landmark exhibition.”

In addition, famed London esoteric book store Treadwell’s will be hosting a range of talks, presentations, and discussions during the exhibition, and Abraxas will be publishing a special edition of its celebrated journal for the show. I’ve been in contact with Fulgur Esoterica, and hope to soon bring you an interview about the show. If you’re around London, I’d highly recommend attending this exhibition. I surely would if I could.

Llewellyn Titles Win Independent Publisher Awards: Llewellyn Worldwide has announced that four of their published titles have won an “IPPY,” from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The four titles largely deal with various New Age topics (with one book being about sexuality), none are a the esoteric/Pagan titles the publisher is largely famous for.

“The 2013 Independent Publisher Awards (IPPYs) were revealed via an announcement on their website. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on May 29. Our Llewellyn winners are below: Our Children Live On, by Elissa Al-Chokhachy (Bronze, Aging/Death & Dying), The Awakened Aura, by Kala Ambrose (Silver, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), The Good Energy Book, by Tess Whitehurst (Bronze, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (Gold, Sexuality/Relationships). In addition, one book from Llewellyn’s Midnight Ink imprint was also a winner (Hide & Snake Murder, by Jessie Chandler took Gold in the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Fiction category).”

Congratulations to Llewellyn Worldwide and the authors on this recognition! You can find out more about the awards, here.

New Orleans Celebrates First Ever Pagan Pride Day: There are many Pagan Pride Day events each year, and while each brings its own local charm and significance to this movement, some firsts stand out. Such is the case with the first Pagan Pride Day being held this September in New Orleans, Louisiana. Being that this is a first for New Orleans, a place steeped in a history of cultures meeting and connecting, the event will include practitioners of Vodou, spiritism, and other syncretic traditions.

“While it is always a joy to to bring together the Pagan community with entertainment that appeals to their tastes, the over-arching goal of this day is to develop a dialogue between Pagans and non-Pagans in a city with deep (and overlooked) Pagan roots. It is also our great pleasure to include this city’s syncretic spiritual systems (i.e. Voudon, First Nation spiritism, Thelema, etc.) in our celebrations as well, so that we might bridge more gaps in New Orleans. Our theme of “spiritual gumbo” is meant to reflect our deep reverence for ALL the beliefs that make this city one of the most unique in the world.”

The event will feature Selena Fox, The Dragon Ritual Drummers, Edain McCoy, Christopher Penczak, and more. They are holding an IndieGoGo campaign to cover their festival’s ambitious first-year roster. So, if a New Orleans Pagan Pride festival is something you’d like to see happen, you should check it out, and add your support.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

  • Last week, the comic book Young Avengers #2 had the conversation that many Pagan comic-book fans were awaiting: What’s up with Wiccan calling himself “Wiccan”? Here’s hoping it leads to a new code-name that isn’t also the name for a, well, Wiccan. The issue was written by Kieron Gillen with art by Jamie Mckelvie, the same team who did the criminally under-appreciated Phonogram miniseries (which should be required reading for anyone who loves the intersection of music and magic).
  • Some Charismatic Christians are worried that the practice of prophetic ministry might be crossing the line into “witchcraft” for some.  Quote: “When he released the words over me, it came with a spiritual force that made me feel as if I had been covered with goo. My eyes began burning. I felt like I was in a daze. It was spiritual witchcraft.” What’s interesting is that this piece gets close to admitting that a lot of charismatic practice is like magical energy work, and that it’s too easy to blur the boundaries. Now, if they’ll address spiritual warfare…
  • Are rooster heads found at a North Carolina cemetery “Voodoo”? No one knows for certain, but let’s wildly speculate anyway. Quote: “Brandy Nunn told Fox Charlotte, ‘God only knows what they’re really doing with cutting heads off. What are they really messing with over there?'” I’m sure that no one will jump to conclusions over this.
  • Bleeding Cool covers a new witchcraft-themed comic book, “The Westwood Witches,” complete with human sacrifice and appearance by Baphomet. It’s a “horror” book, so take that as you will. Quote: “It’s not just about witchcraft but about beliefs, too. What seems real to us sounds like nonsense to others, and that’s the power of literature… and quackery. But overall, The Westwood Witches is a tale about neighborhood and neighbors. In this book, they’re beautiful, they’re kind, and they’re demon worshippers. You could say it’s like Desperate Housewives with macabre murderings”.
  • Indie art-rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a new album coming out in April, and their lead single “Sacrilege” is influenced by “the New Orleans vibe. Just the juju in the air.”
  • It’s the collapse of mainline Protestent political power, and I feel fine. 
  • Religion in American Historyponders the reactions to Hinduism by U.S. President John Adams. Quote: “Adams consistently compares Hindu religion to Roman Catholicism in the margins, writing ‘Oh Priestcraft!’ and labeling Hindu practices as ‘ridiculous observances.’ When Priestley writes, “But the Hindoos go far beyond the rest of mankind in voluntary restrictions and mortifications,” Adams asks ‘Far beyond the Romish Christians?’ in the margin.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The Times Picayune interviews Sallie Ann Glassman, an initiated Vodou priestess who runs the Island of Salvation Botanica in New Orleans, and is author of “Vodou Visions: An Encounter With Divine Mystery.” Glassman has been gaining increased media attention lately because of her relationship with comedian Joan Rivers, who is performing at a benefit for the  New Orleans Healing Center. In the videos below, Glassman talks about Vodou, cleansing Joan River’s house, and the upcoming benefit.

Part one:

Part two:

For more on Sallie Ann Glassman, check out the Times Picayune’s story from 2010 about how she rescued her mentor, Vodou priest Edgard Jean Louis, after the disastrous Haitian earthquake. It’s nice to see such uniformly positive coverage of Vodou practitioners in the United States.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Thursday.

COG Local Council Protests Go Daddy: The Dogwood Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess (COG), a regional body that serves Witches and Wiccans living in Georgia and Alabama, have sent out an announcement that they have stopped using the Internet domain service Go Daddy and are joining an ongoing protest that stems from company CEO Bob Parsons shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe.

“We understand that Parsons’ acts were within the legal limits of Zimbabwe’s laws. And he may believe that he is doing good. However, the ends do not always justify the means. After careful consideration, we, as Witches and members of humanity, have decided to protest these killings,” states Hawk, First Officer of Dogwood Local Council and High Priestess of GryphonSong Clan […] “While we do not want to see humans starving as a result of these roving elephants, we cannot condone the progressive annihilation of a species simply because they are in our way. And the African Elephant is still on the WWF endangered species list.”

Parsons has repeatedly defended his actions as humanitarian in nature, criticizing his critics as unwilling “to step up and do anything,” saying they are “all talk and no walk.” Vanity Fair notes that Parsons seemingly failed to realize that the “heroism of rich white men shooting elephants” has long ago fell out of fashion. As for Dogwood’s protest, it remains to be seen if the rest of COG, or other Pagan organizations, will follow suit.

The Wicker Tree Will Be Coming to America: Fangoria reports that “The Wicker Tree”, the forthcoming companion film to the classic 1973 Pagan-themed horror film “The Wicker Man,” has been picked up by Anchor Bay Entertainment for distribution, and that the film will be screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“Fango has learned that writer/director Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER TREE—the British helmer’s semi-sequel to his 1973 classic THE WICKER MAN—has been picked up for distribution in North America and the UK, as early as this fall. The film’s international sales agent, High Point Media Group, will screen THE WICKER TREE at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival on May 14 and 16. Anchor Bay Entertainment will release THE WICKER TREE, described as a “companion piece” to the original film and based on Hardy’s 2006 novel COWBOYS FOR CHRIST (the initial title for the follow-up movie, previously attempted and scuttled a few years ago), which takes place 40 years after the events of the previous film.”

So we could be seeing this film in theaters this fall! Maybe just in time for Samhain? We’ll keep you posted. You can read all of my “Wicker Tree” coverage, here.

New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo Gets a Magazine: New Orleans Voodoo Examiner Denise Alvarado brings our attention to a new quarterly magazine entitled Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly.

“Recognizing the resurgence of folk magic and the growing community of hoodoos, rootworkers, and spiritualists, Planet Voodoo has created a new, high quality journal that meets the needs of today’s conjurers and curious. Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly (HCQ) journal is the first publication of its kind that focuses on New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo and related African derived traditions. It shares historical and contemporary information about aspects of the conjure arts, including magico-religious practices, spiritual traditions, folk magic, southern hoodoo, and religions with their roots in the African Diaspora and indigenous herbalism. Each issue of Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly brings you original and traditional formulas, spells, tutorials, root doctor, spiritual mother, and conjure artist profiles, information about New Orleans Voodoo and more!”

The periodical was created by Alvarado and her business partner Sharon Marino. The first issue came out in March, is in full color, and is 100+ pages long. If you want order a copy, please visit Planet Voodoo.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did end up watching the second half of last night’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. While the Saints seem like a well-honed and remarkably skilled unit, at least to my inexperienced eyes, I was also struck by how “lucky” the team seemed in those final quarters of the game. Did they have some “outside” help? Religion reporter Gary Stern noted that many of the Saints are devout Christians, who quickly thanked God for the victory.

“Well, that was quite a game. You have to feel good for the city of New Orleans, no matter which team you root for. Coming five years after Katrina, the Saints’ big win seems perfectly scripted. By whom? A bunch of Saints players are saying that it was “God’s plan” that they beat the Colts.”

But thinking about the religious and cultural climate of New Orleans, I had some other notions of who might deserve a thank-you. Lisa Johnson, sister of retired football pro Eric Dickerson, and a root-worker for several NFL stars, tells Gawker that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The Colts were up against every single “Southern root doctor, voodoo priest, and conjurer” in the Bayou last night. Johnson knew the Saints were getting special help when she watched the NFC Championship against the Vikings two weeks ago: quarterback Brett Favre took a beating, playing terribly after a whole season of the best football of his long career. “I guarantee you,” she said, “when he got up at the end of the game, he felt like an old man.” The conjurers went to work on the Colts the week before the game … From midnight to 5 a.m.—”the witching hour”—the conjurers “burn candles, sage and tobacco” Chicken feet were used to curse opposing players and protect the Saints. By the time the game started, Johnson knew the Colts couldn’t win…

While I’m sure there were some practitioners in Indianapolis trying their best to influence the outcome, they were probably out-gunned by sheer numbers alone. For weeks the media has been hinting that alongside Christian prayers, many fans were trying to appease the spirit of Marie Laveau, or engage in some root-work to make the win happen. Indeed, many commentators, despite thinking the Colts were technically better, decided there were too many mystical intangibles working for the Saints to lose.

“Sure, Peyton Manning is the most ruthlessly clinical surgeon under center since Joe Montana. But he tempted the fates. He might have offended New Orleans’ late voodoo queen Marie Laveau along the way. Or did you miss the “gris-gris” bestowed upon the once-favorite son of the South? Brett Favre, who grew up a Saints fan in neighboring Mississippi and later became King Creole, had the audacity to ride into the Louisiana Superdome with Minnesota. He needed a mere five yards or so to set up a game-winning field-goal attempt in the waning seconds. And as he rolled right, the field opened up. Then, as if someone (Laveau?) stuck a pin in the right arm of his purple-clad voodoo doll, Favre uncorked a cross-body pass. Interception. Overtime. Favre never touched the ball again. The erstwhile Aints were Super Bowl-bound.”

So as Get Religion explores the many Christian dimensions of yesterday’s Super Bowl, let’s also acknowledge that there was plenty of “extracurricular” spiritual activity happening on the side-lines. I mean, can you have a big win in New Orleans without thanking God and the spirits? Something tells me there are going to be plenty of offerings left at crossroads, graves, and shrines in the coming weeks alongside the “amens” in church.

Ben Windham of the Tuscaloosa News travels to New Orleans to visit the tomb of Marie Laveau, perhaps the most famous practitioner/“Queen” of Louisiana/New Orleans Voodoo. He quickly discovers that Laveau’s tomb has become a bigger place of pilgrimage and offerings than any of the local Christian churches.

“In the more than 160 years since its construction, her tomb has become a shrine, a magnet more powerful than any in this city’s “legitimate” churches. Even visitation to the St. Roch chapel, with its astounding assortment of crutches, shoes and plaster casts of body parts, is eclipsed by the crowds of faithful or curious who come daily to Courtesy of Mary Angelyn Fisher. Offerings of candles, beads, coins, trinkets, tobacco, toys — almost anything you can imagine — are strewn in front of the tomb. Its sides are covered with crosses or X’s, usually in threes. Some are scrawled in red chalk.”

VooDoo in New Orleans, like Witchcraft in Salem, is a thriving tourist industry, so it is difficult to tell how many sincere adherents there are among the various hucksters and opportunistic hangers-on, but there must be a significant number if even a fraction of Laveau’s many offerings come from active practitioners. Then again, there seems to be a strong thread of belief (some would say superstition) in Laveau’s powers among the many “normal” visitors.

“I know one thing, however. I made sure that all of our offerings were left on Marie Laveau’s tomb and that we left with nothing that wasn’t ours. Years ago, I visited the tomb with a friend, a self-styled tourist guide. As we were leaving, I swiped one of the offerings from the grave — a blank piece of metal, the size of a coin. I figured it would make a good luck piece for Alabama’s football season. I don’t know if there was any direct cause and effect but I suffered for two years after I took that slug. I got cancer. I almost lost my job. And Alabama sports tanked. It has been only this year that I’ve dared to visit the tomb again. And this time, it was with a new — and profound — respect for Marie Laveau, voodoo queen of New Orleans.”

It would be interesting to know all the places of spiritual/religious pilgrimage in our country that step outside the Judeo-Christian norms. The ever-growing popularity of places like Laveau’s tomb seem to speak of a growing post-Christian (and post-secular) atmosphere where an organic process of reenchantment is taking hold. A process that seems to be allowing new and outsider faiths and customs to cement themselves within our cultural outlook.

The Times-Picayune brings us the story of a Wiccan mother, Susan “Willow” Schroeder, who responded to her son’s shooting death by painting her house, fence, and surrounding sidewalk with colorful designs and patterns.  Schroeder, who fought having her house demolished last year, is now dealing with an angry neighbor unhappy with the painted sidewalk, and a city that seems to be able to enforce sidewalk painting but unable to actually repair sidewalks in the neighborhood.


Susan “Willow” Schroeder and Karen “Feather” Espeut.

“Schroeder continued working out her misery through a sprawling memorial, covering her entire yard and every inch of her home, inside and out. Since the 2001 murder, most of her neighbors have watched the kaleidoscopic transformation with empathy for her inestimable loss. In a city that proudly embraces eccentrics, they say, the house fits right in. But one neighbor, JoAnn Taylor, didn’t share their tolerance. She called the encroaching sidewalk paint “harassment,” a frightful abomination. Soon, she enlisted City Hall in her quest to get the sidewalk returned to its usual gray.”

JoAnn Taylor and her husband call the house “spooky” and that it looks like a “witch’s house” (oh, the irony), and while Schroeder has erected a large fence to block their view of the house, they are still on a warpath to have all paint removed from public property. As for the city, a spokesperson said that Schroeder will soon be fined $100 a day until it is removed, and that the city, ultimately, may paint it over for her (at her expense). Meanwhile, her other neighbors seem to appreciate the mother’s artistic therapy writ large.

Most neighbors, however, seem to relate to the garden and the other paintings. “I like it,” said Roland Brown, who has lived his entire 20 years two houses away and knew Ayo. He sees images of himself and other longtime residents in the mural in the park. “It’s the whole neighborhood on there,” he said … Down the block, Larry Anderson talked about his fondness for Schroeder’s garden, where he said he sometimes goes to seek peace … Rose Gentry, 79, who lives directly across the street, said she likes to sit on her porch and look at Schroeder’s house. It reminds her of country houses, like the ones she grew up near in St. Francisville. Almost every day, she said, people stop outside and take photographs. She said she’s baffled that anyone would object …

This struggle brings to light the tensions between communal art, individual creative expression, and the laws designed to keep order and peace. While JoAnn Taylor and the city are clearly in their legal rights, the rest of the neighborhood seems to appreciate the art and Schroeder’s contributions to their community. One would hope that some sort of compromise could be reached that won’t incur fines and hard feelings all-around, but it appears to be too late for that.

The Digital Journalist has a wonderful essay up by producer and director Jim Gabour on the culture of Voodoo in New Orleans, and how a simple wedding gift of “mojo” made his neighbors see him in a new light.

“Seems two old friends in L.A. are getting married, and I want to send them something as a gift – they’ve both been very generous to me with their friendship and their unselfish introduction of a Looziana boy into the West Coast media community over the years. So I want to send an only-from-New-Orleans-and-only-from-me gift to celebrate their union. After much rumination I decide I will go to my favorite voodoo shop (the XXX Botanica is literally the Wal-Mart of voodoo paraphernalia) and put together a packet of lucky charms. Surely a New Orleans sort of thing, that. The XXX is out in a bad part of the Faubourg St. John area, and a bit of a drive, but I figure that the effort will make it more of a heartfelt gift.”

I won’t reveal the story here, but it’s worth the read for a no-nonsense look into the culture of hoodoo and Voodoo in present-day New Orleans. For more of Gabour’s writings, check out the Open Democracy site.