NEW ORLEANS – Protestors have once again organized against HexFest, an annual event in New Orleans organized by Brian Cain and Christian Day of the Hex: Old World Witchery store in New Orleans. HexFest is described as a “Magickal event for Magickal people that welcomes all people of different traditions, paths and practices,” says Day.
The protest took place at Place de Henriette DeLille on the intersection of Orleans Street and Royal Street, about half a block from the HexFest Venue, The Bourbon Hotel.
About 15 people participated, beginning to pray in unison at about 9:00 AM. The protest ended about 20 minutes later. The protestors carried a statue of the Virgin Mary, and part of the prayer invoked protection against the spells of Witches and Druids, as well as protection against drowning, boarding, and burning, techniques commonly targeted against heretics during the time of the inquisition.
Although one of signs carried by protesters insisted that Hexfest was “satanic” and another implied that Witchcraft was trampling Catholic heritage, the protesters did not approach the hotel venue nor enter the HexFest event. (A video of the protest is available on The Wild Hunt Facebook page.)
Day became aware of the possibility of protests on August 4, 2019, when the Spiritual Bulletin Board of Louisiana posted that “the Hex Fest is again coming to New Orleans in August.” On Facebook, Day announced that “apparently the far right Catholic HexFest protesters are coming back.” The link for additional information about the event on the Spiritual Bulletin Board of Louisiana that now produces 404 error, stating that the page is not available. A flyer describing the protest later surfaced on a related Facebook group called Spirit Daily, which bills itself as “the official page for Spirit Daily, Catholic News from Around the World,” and whose founders conduct research into Marian apparitions and spirituality.
The flyer describes a schedule of events for the protest, including the celebration of mass. The flyer requests that all Catholics “do penance for the end of all Witchcraft and occult practices and rituals that offend God,” and adds that “HexFest may be stopped, all rituals be rendered useless and that the evil one be thwarted in his efforts to lead souls astray.”
Thomas Drake, one the organizers, spoke with The Wild Hunt just prior to the start of the prayer vigil, while the group was organizing their sound equipment and signs. Drake explained that while Witchcraft is contrary to Catholic teachings, part of the motivation for the protest is to draw attention to the venue.
Drake noted that the protest is not connected with the archdiocese of New Orleans, nor supported by any parish. He said that he and his fellow Catholics are “saddened by the use of the hotel, which was a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Family.” The Sisters of the Holy Family are a Roman Catholic order, founded by Henriette DeLille as the Sisters of the Presentation, and were composed primarily of freed women of color who served and educated the poor of New Orleans. It was the first female-led African-American religious order in the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized Henriette DeLille’s heroic virtues and termed her “venerable” on March 27, 2010, one of the final steps toward beatification. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a Vatican committee that explores the possibility of bestowing sainthood, gave its formal assent on June 22, 2010, to begin that process, and DeLille was given the title of “Servant of God”.
The hotel, indeed, bears a plaque of its history as a convent and its connection to DeLille, but the building existed before the convent’s founding. Prior to housing the Sisters of the Holy Family, the hotel contained the Théâtre d’Orléans, which housed the city’s opera in the early 19th Century and premiered many French and French-translated Italian operas in America.
The hotel survived a fire in 1866 and subsequently became the convent. The Sisters reportedly acknowledge the history; nuns would often remark to visitors of the chapel, “This is the old Orleans Ballroom; they say it is the best dancing floor in the world. It is made of three thicknesses of cypress. That is the balcony where the ladies and gentlemen used to promenade. Down there, on the banquette, the beaux used to fight duels.”
Despite this current prayer vigil, Day’s concerns about the protest were validated by several locals. Day himself reports that “the sales manager of the riverboat where the first night of our event is held told me someone claiming to be from the archdiocese called and insisted the event be cancelled because they are hosting devil worshippers.”
Persephone of Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop said that these protests occur occasionally, recalling that it happened last year as well. “They chant, ‘you’re going to hell!'” she said. “It’s disturbing.”
Persephone added that while the current protest might be targeting HexFest, a group of Christians will occasionally appear in front of Oz, a gay dance club located on Bourbon Street, shouting a litany of homophobic statements. She added that they also protest events like Southern Decadence, an annual six-day gay pride event that occurs in New Orleans near the U.S. Labor Day holiday.
Persephone referred to the groups as “hard core,” but did not know for certain whether the groups are the same.
Yardi of Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Shop on Bourbon Street said there have been some protestors, but not many, in the little over a year that they have worked at the shop. Yardi added that Southern Decadence does bring out the protests, but then said there aren’t many targeting Laveau’s because “they know what they’re dealing with.”
Starr Casas, a rootworker and traditional conjure woman with over three decades of practice in her ancestral art of old-style conjure, identifies as Christian and acknowledged her belief in the Holy Trinity. She is co-owner of Old Style Conjure and is a presenter at HexFest.
Casas expressed both her disappointment and sadness at the protesters. Casas said that “Christians are supposed to be tolerant” and are supposed to let “God be the judge.” She found the protesters to practice a brand of Christianity she found alien and lacking the basic and central ideal of Christian love.
“I’m a member of the ACLU and I respect their right to protest,” said Day, but he added “that does not include the bullying tactics like putting fliers under hotel doors to scare guests.” He recalled a mother and daughter from Australia last year who were terrified and in tears about what might be happening at HexFest.
Day says he will resist these tactics by the protesters. “I will not be bullied.”