I had the surprising pleasure of spending most of the weekend at a small Louisiana Pagan festival put on by the Coven of the Gryphon Wiccan Church in Springfield Louisiana (i.e. out in the middle of freaking nowhere Louisiana…aka, the swamp). It wasn’t surprising in that I didn’t realize I would be there, we had known for several weeks. My S.O. was going to perform and we wanted to check out local Pagans.
I had absolutely no idea what sort of festival we were going to walk into. In Ohio, I was spoiled with a plethora of extremely well-known and very large Pagan festivals. Louisiana on the other hand, isn’t known for its Pagan festivals. You can see where I might have been worried; I had horrific images of your typical stereotype Rednecks gathered with their beer cozies, talking about the Goddess as they cleaned their guns. (Not that there is anything wrong with gun ownership! I am, after all, a lifetime member of the NRA myself!)
On Facebook I asked, “Question of the night: What do Louisiana rednecks wear to a Pagan festival?”
The answers that I received were: “Camouflage ritual robes with alligator boots…” and “Overalls with pagan flare buttons”.
And as I was only semi kidding, I think they were only sorta serious too…
Luckily, I found the complete opposite. It was a wonderful little festival all around. It was one of the most beautiful and well cared for camp grounds that I’ve ever been on. The festival itself, held at the “Gryphon’s Nest”, was very small. But the man who ran the event, who had been described to us as the “nicest Pagan you’ll ever meet”, turned out to actually BE the “nicest Pagan you’ll ever meet”.
Mama Madison was there, along with several other Voodoo Houses. Oddly enough, considering that I live in New Orleans, I forget about the prevalence of Voodoo down here. I forget that a majority of the Pagan community here is probably Voodoo. My impressions of the New Orleans Voodoo community is that they do their best to keep the stupid tourists away, at least away from actual Voodoo gatherings. And who could blame them? I’m sure a lot of the people who visit us want to see “real” voodoo, and that they drive our Voduns up the walls, literally and figuratively. So it’s not often that I am confronted by actual Voduns. Unless you are a member of the community here, you probably aren’t just going to find yourself in a gathering of real Voodoo practitioners in New Orleans itself. (Again, this is the view of someone who hasn’t sought out the Voodoo community here at all.)
I really don’t know much about Voodoo, but then it’s a practice that I’ve never been called too. To me, Voodoo is extremely visceral. When I’m around practitioners of Voodoo, my skin crawls, though not in repulsion. The sort of magic that they seem to practice is always right there. In Wicca, most people seek out their Gods. In Voodoo (from an outsiders perspective at least) this isn’t always the case. It is a very alien culture from what I’m used to. On many levels, because it makes me so uncomfortable, I avoid it.
But let me tell you, when you are out in the middle of the Louisiana Swamp, in the extreme darkness of a hot, muggy Creole night, and Mama Madison’s voice is wailing through the darkness, there is no way to avoid the knowledge that Voodoo is alive and well in Louisiana and is still, very much, a living, breathing, growing religion.
There were a lot of other things going on at this little festival as well. Paul Beyerl, one of the foremost experts on magical herbalogy presented workshops, as did Amber K and Azrael Arynn K, who have written a lot of books on Paganism and Wicca. In fact, Amber K was the first officer of CoG for three years, a major Wiccan network. Kenny Klein, well-known Pagan musician and author presented a concert and a workshop. Louis Martinie was also there, well-known drummer, tarot card creator and voodoo author. Mama Madison and Spiral Rhythm from PA performed the big concert Saturday night.
Overall it was a wonderful little Pagan festival that deserves much greater attendance. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely check it out.
And P.S. – Always take bug spray with you to the swamp! I learned this one the HARD way.