Why I Like Codified Ritual

Generally speaking, I do not attend public rituals.

It started when I began attending rituals outside of my own little group, and had some really terrible experiences. In one ritual, the ritual leader was encouraging people to become warriors for mother earth and he proceeded to have each of the 100 attendees come up individually, take a hold of a machete, and stab viciously at the Earth. I was flabbergasted and more than slightly disturbed. I know what the ritual leader was trying to do (well, maybe, I think I do) but was horrified by how he chose to go about it.

In another, I was dragged across an unknown piece of property at night in 20 degree (F) weather for four hours. By the end of it, I didn’t know which way was up or had any sense of having accomplishing anything. My poor feet didn’t warm up until somewhere around noon the next day.

I had another friend who went to a public ritual recently and ended up laughing so hard at what was happening that she had to leave. She felt terrible about it, but even while telling us about her experience she couldn’t stop giggling as she described the ritual, which was pretty outlandish.

The last public ritual I went to was led by a Voodoo House here in New Orleans, and it was lead by a very established priestess. She also made it clear that it was going to be a codified ritual done by her House. The public was invited and included in the ritual, but the bulk of the ritual was done by the Mambo and Mamba of the House.

Now that was one of the most profound rituals that I have been a part of. But it was because the House did their ritual, the way they would have done it had no public been attending. And they knew how to do ritual!

If you think that you’ve had a bad ritual experience, you probably have. I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was when it was appropriate to remove myself from a ritual that was not right for me.

After being Eclectic for so long, one of the big things that convinced me that Wicca was right for me was the codification of the ritual itself. The ritual that I found in my Blue Star Circle had an amazing impact on my ritual experience. I had never before realized what was really supposed to happen in ritual. Having a codified ritual to do every time allows me to know several things.

A. I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically. I’m not standing there worrying about how I’ll respond if the priestess asks me to do something (yes, this has happened to me as a first time guest in a ritual). My mind can just be there, in the moment.

B. I know what to expect: I understand the mindset I need to bring, the deities that I will be working with, the names of the various entities that are called, and that I’ll be working within a Pantheon that I’m comfortable with. I heard a story once from a Priestess of Blue Star’s sister lineage who attended a ritual for feminine strength. They ended up calling Lilith, and the priestess painted everyone’s foreheads with menstrual blood (without explaining this ahead of time). I’m all for feminine strength, but Lilith is not a Goddess that I want to call on, and I certainly do not want some strange woman’s days old menstrual blood on my forehead!

C. I’m working with traditions that I’m comfortable with and that I understand. One of the things that I dislike about general, Eclectic ritual, is that I never know what traditions are going to pop up. I prefer to understand the background of the things I’m doing in ritual so that I know that I’m not upsetting anyone or anything. I also feel extremely uncomfortable when a ritual leader starts trying to call on every God/dess out there without thought to how those deities might get along with each other. I somehow doubt that the Egyptian Sekhmet really wants to have anything to do with the Welsh Henwen. In most public rituals I’ve attended where this has happened, I realize that the ritual leaders were trying to make sure everyone was represented. For me this doesn’t work and I stand through ritual waiting for lightning to strike (which my S. O. actually saw happen once). I like understanding the things I’m doing in ritual. Another friend was telling me that her group said “Thou art Goddess, May you never thirst”. “May you never thirst” comes from the Church of All Worlds. The Church of All Worlds is based on the Science Fiction novel Stranger in a Strange land, so “may you never thirst” is based on the fact that Mars has no water. Why would I care about Mars? I’m working here on Earth. And “Thou art Goddess”? You’re going to call Hekate into your ritual and try to tell her that you, puny mortal, are a Goddess? Really? I know this has become a common practice, but I do not like trying to convince the Goddess of the crossroads that I’m just like her. I’m not.

D. And most importantly, I know exactly what I’m walking into. A usual Blue Star ritual takes about an hour. Depending on the work we’re doing, it might be less or more, but I know that I’m not going to be standing there for an unreasonable amount of time. Anything more than an hour and a half and you probably aren’t paying attention anyway. You can only really focus for so long. And if a ritual leader can’t get the work done in an efficient amount of time, I don’t have much faith in the work they are doing. Yes…there are long and involved rituals out there, but…unless you’re working with an established group that knows exactly what they are doing and know how to work together after doing so for a long period of time, I don’t have much faith in the fact that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is going to get done. I know I could do a long ritual with my coven. I know them and trust them. I don’t think I should be doing rituals like that with strangers. Everyone says that you should enter a Circle with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, how can I do that with people I don’t know?

The goal of ritual is to put your conscious mind at rest and to bring your unconscious mind forward. This has never happened to me in a public ritual. Usually public rituals just make me cringe and feel uncomfortable. Religion is personal. While I like what most people are trying to do with public ritual, for me it’s just best to avoid them.

So it’s extremely ironic that I will be priestessing our community’s Oestara ritual this year (blame the S.O. on this one!). I will be doing a Blue Star ritual, not an Eclectic ritual. But I hope that I don’t forget my own experiences and that I can make it as worthwhile a ritual as the Voodoo ritual that I went to last year.

A Blue Star Altar

A Blue Star Altar

Shrine at Yuki

Yet another interesting public shrine that appeared in the Marigny for Twelfth Night and the first official day of the Mardi Gras season…

This was right outside of the restaurant Yuki, a Japanese restaurant and bar on Frenchmen Street.

It seemed like a mixture of Shinto/Buddhist and African (possibly Voodoo?) elements.

An Offering

My S.O and I spend a lot of time in the Bywater, a New Orleans neighborhood that sits right next to the infamous Lower Ninth Ward. The Bywater is generally known as an artsy neighborhood with a lot of character and local personality. Chickens roam freely about streets where many artists and musicians make their home.

Many of our friends live in this neighborhood. There are quite a few neighborhood bars and restaurants that we like, such as  The Country Club, a gay bar with clothing optional swimming in the back. When people come to visit us, I always love to drive them down through the Bywater so that they can see some of the most beautiful and interesting houses in New Orleans.

While a little bit rough around the edges, and certainly not the swanky Garden District, the Bywater is the place to be if you’re looking for charm and character.

The local traveling kids celebrate Dia De Los Muertos with an elaborate Day of the Dead Parade that walks through this neighborhood every year. And there are several artists’ lofts and colonies where people celebrate the neighborhood lifestyle daily, by creating amazing things.

One of my best friends lives here, and was walking out of her house when she came across this sight on Burgundy Street (that’s Bur-GUN-dy St. not BUR-gun-dy as it is everywhere else in the world)…

I assume it’s an offering to Papa Legba. It was sitting at a four-way crossroads.

I don’t know what the person was asking for, but this is one of the things that I love so much about New Orleans. How many other places are there in America where you can walk out your front door and find an offering to a Lwa, one that you known will be left alone and respected?

It’s always good to be reminded that Voodoo and Paganism are alive and well in my city.

A Voodoo Experience in New Orleans

As you’ve probably picked up by now, I live in New Orleans.

I’ve always been fascinated by this city. Its history, culture and color have continually drawn me to it over the years. When I had just graduated from college, I tried for the first time to come here but circumstances did not allow it. I tried many times over the intervening years to get here and it just seemed like it was never meant to be, until that fateful festival where I met my significant other. At that festival, he managed to convince my best friend and her boyfriend to allow him to go and stay with them while he performed at the Ohio Renaissance Fair. While he stayed with them, he gave them an open invitation to visit him in New Orleans as a way of saying thank you. They took him up on it and brought me with them. And in many ways, even though I went back and forth from New Orleans to Ohio for a while before actually moving here, as of that visit I never really left.

There are many things I love about the city, one of which is how openly Pagan this city is. We have a huge Voodoo community here (as you might expect) and a vibrant Pagan community. No one looks askance at the pentacle necklace that I wear. I had a girl come to the door the other day who was doing surveys. She asked me right away if I was Wiccan and exclaimed “How cool!”.  People openly have shrines and altars for various deities all over the place (and this goes for the Christians as well…). When I go to the cemeteries, I see spells drawn into the ground and offerings left behind. I do my best not to disturb these workings. You pass many businesses and residences that just have little bits and pieces here and there that speak to me of magic and ritual. I don’t care whether you believe in magic or not, there is magic in New Orleans.

This past year, The New Orleans Healing Center opened up on St. Claude. This is a beautiful building that holds so many things: local artists are prominently displayed, there is a community theater, a book store, a little middle eastern restaurant, a yoga studio, a food co-op, a Botanica, , an interfaith meeting room, a police station and many other wonderful things. They hold community gatherings and fund raisers. It is a place for the community, by the community.

The New Orleans Healing Center

The New Orleans Healing Center

Last week I received an email through our local Pagan meetup about a public voodoo ritual that was going to be held out in front of the Healing Center. I was excited; I had never actually seen a real Voodoo ritual before and this one was going to be about helping to protect the community, which in that neighborhood especially, is definitely needed. Every little bit can help. The ritual was going to call on Ogou Achade to help fight crime in our beautiful city.

Sallie Ann Glassman

Sallie Ann Glassman

Sallie Ann Glassman, a well known Mambo here in New Orleans, and her house La Source Ancienne Ounfo, were running the ritual. Sallie Ann runs the Island of Salvation Botanica in the healing center and is a major contributor to the center as well. I’ve only ever heard good things about her and every time I went into the Botanica, I always found good vibes. I don’t know how else to describe it. While most Voodou practitioners set my teeth on edge (they carry a wildly different magical energy than any tradition that I’m familiar with), the Botanica always struck me as a welcoming sort of place.

One of the requirements of being a dedicant in Blue Star is that you go and see at least three other tradition’s rituals. This is to make sure that students of Blue Star are aware that there are other paths out there, to make sure that Blue Star wasn’t the first thing they found and that they think they are stuck with it. I’ve gotten off pretty easily on this; I’ve been Pagan long enough that I’ve had the opportunity to see many different rituals in many different settings. But some of our other dedicants haven’t. So this was going to be their first non-Wiccan ritual.

I had no idea what to expect. The invitation told us to wear all white and have a red head covering. It also told us to bring an offering and listed some things that would be acceptable. Not surprising most of them had to do with fire, metal and warriors.

We showed up early to find the ritual area being prepared. Sallie Ann was the first person we saw and she was immediately welcoming. Sallie Ann is an extremely frail seeming woman, but by the end of it all, I was seriously impressed with both her presence and with the work that she did. The ritual was done in French, so I really can’t tell you much of what was actually said. And again, I’m not familiar with Voodoo ritual, so this is what it seemed like to me:

They began by doing something similar to what we do in Wicca. It seems like they called the quarters and swept the circle. A male member (the priest/houngan?) drew the quarters from the altar (which was simply items placed in the middle of the space on the ground) with a machete and then several other female members danced behind him, presenting fire and water (it seemed like water, it was a liquid in a bottle, I assume that it had been blessed or was a mixture of other things). But they did this by song and dance as well. Sallie Ann did not sing the ritual, another member of the house did. This woman had a lovely voice, though it had more power to it than eloquence. The members of the house called back to her at specific moments. Next they presented offerings, again, dancing them through the quarters, presenting them to all the directions. After the house finished with their offerings, they let everyone else participating present theirs. Some were able to present their offerings in the way the Voodoo house had done it and others, like me, (knowing that there was no way I could do anything that complicated without much practice), simply walked up, presented their offerings respectfully and bowed. After presenting their offerings, each participant took a pinch of gunpowder and threw it on a lit charcoal. After everyone had finished, apparently something wanted a little more oomph, because seemingly for no reason that we could see, the whole little bottle of gunpowder exploded.

After this, everyone seemed to settle down into the actual ritual. Sallie Ann and her priest had a mock fight. He carried the machete, she carried a shaking gourd. At the end of this fight, he submitted to her and they presented to each other. After this, Sallie Ann began to draw four veves around the central altar. This was an amazing thing to watch. I’ve seen veves before, sacred drawings in Voodoo worship, but I’ve never seen someone draw them in ritual with the traditional cornmeal. She did this quickly and precisely, though it still took her a significant amount of time. I assume that each veve had a different meaning for each direction. They were fairly large and intricate. Sallie Ann didn’t falter once. After she drew them, she and girl who had been singing the ritual, went to each veve and seemed to do another blessing with both fire (candles) and the water that was used before. When this was completed, I assume that the space had been adequately prepared to call to Ogou Achade. (From the brief explanation that she gave before the ceremony, they had to create the poles from above and below to call to the Lwa. I’m sure I’m mangling these terms, but it seemed like they needed to create a pole to draw the spirit in). She drew another large veve in the East that seems to have been the call to Ogou Achade himself.

First Sallie Ann and her priest went around the group and did energy work with each of us. They each had a shaker gourd (and after asking permission of each person), did a small working with each person. They worked their way up a person’s back, shook the gourd over their head several times and then worked back down again. This experience alone was enough to nearly knock me over. I have never felt energy work hit me that much before. And watching my fellow dedicants and our neophyte, who had come with me, they had a similar experience. Then Sallie Ann and her priest went around the circle and blessed everyone with the cornmeal of the last and central veve.

After this, Sallie Ann actually called Ogou Achade into her. I’ve never before seen someone who is ridden, but it was more than a little scary. There is no question in my mind that that seemingly frail little woman carried the warrior Lwa within her. Ogou Achade also worked his way around the circle and blessed everyone by spitting rum over us. This was an extremely intense experience. I’ve been a part of invocations before. Confronting a God is not new to me, but this was much scarier than the gods that I am familiar with. Ogou Achade carried the machete with him and the look in his eyes was not necessarily friendly. He was obviously a warrior that is willing to fight for the community, as we were asking him to. At the end, Sallie Ann had to lie on the ground and recover.

Through all of this the singing and dancing continued. The energy that was gradually built up was absolutely palpable. There were drummers who played through the whole thing as well. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a lot of the details and mixed the order of everything around. This was one of the most powerful rituals that I have ever been a part of.

This also ended up being one of the most public rituals that I have ever been a part of. St. Claude is a very busy street. Traffic flew past us the whole time and many people who were walking by did more than simply stop and go around us. We ended up with a lot of people who were simply walking past, who stopped and stayed on the outside of the ring for the whole two hour long ritual.

And one of the most significant things that I took from this ceremony was the joy that everyone who was there brought to it. Even the strangers who were passing by on the street stopped and either watched or jumped in to participate. No one stopped and accused us of worshiping the devil or of doing something bad. They were openly happy to see us doing this sort of work. Would that happen anywhere else in this country?

As one of my friends said, “It’s funny, but I always think of Vodou as New Orleans’ indigenous religion–I don’t practice it but I do like to visit & pay homage periodically”. I agree with this statement entirely. While Voodoo is not a practice that I will pursue for myself, I was amazed and grateful for being able to be a part of this ritual. I also think that it’s another amazing part of this vibrant and wonderful city and all I can do is reflect, once again, how lucky I am to get to live here and be a part of this. I would definitely encourage anyone to experience something similar!

(For another perspective, go and read my friend’s blog post “Ashe” from her blog, LA to LA).

Attention Louisiana Pagans!

This is more of a quick service announcement before I post a longer blog later tonight.

I am a member of the New Orleans Lamplight Meetup Group. We are working on putting together a Pagan Pride Day (under the umbrella group The Pagan Pride Project) for New Orleans in 2013. We are having our first official organizational meeting this Sunday. I am copying in below the email from our fearless leader Ty. If you are in Louisiana and want to participate, or know someone else who might, please pass this along!

Pagan Pride Days are great opportunities for the Pagan community, and hey…this is New Orleans, we have some big ideas for this. But we need a lot of help!

~ Owl

Hi everyone!  This is Ty from New Orleans Lamplight Circle.  I am sending this email out to every group I know in the Pagan/Vodou/ceremonial magick community in the greater New Orleans metro area.  We are having a meeting on SUNDAY, JUNE 3RD AT 2:15 PM AT THE NEW ORLEANS HEALING CENTER 4TH FLOOR INTERFAITH SPACE (2372 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans).  This meeting is to discuss plans for a potential Pagan Pride Day in 2013.  We want this to be a big event that involves everyone in the community, so we want your participation as well.This first meeting will cover various topics, like:
1. Purpose and theme of a Pagan Pride Day
2. COMMITTEES!
3. Determining sources of funding
4. Types of activities
5. Potential dates and locationsYour personal and/or group’s involvement is up to you.  We definitely need people to be committee members to handle various parts of the PPD, and we also need co-sponsors (who would fundraise in their own group to bring much needed funds into the PPD budget).  PPD will be under the auspices of the Pagan Pride Project, a 501c3 non-profit organization, so all donations will be tax deductible.

I understand that not everyone receiving this email is Pagan; however, I believe many of us are so interlinked with each other spiritually and socially that it’s important that the Vodou and ceremonial magick communities also “represent” as well.  This day is meant to be a true representation of New Orleans Paganism, and many of us have embraced/incorporated other non Neo-Pagan paths into our practice.  All are awesome and all should be present at NOPPD 2013!!

Some of the groups we’re inviting (though there’s certainly no limit) are: Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church (New Orleans AND Lafayette), Circle of the Tree, Coven of the Gryphon/Gryphon’s Nest Campground, Highland Oak Nemeton, Alombrados O.T.O., La Source Ancienne Ounfu, Voodoo Spiritual Temple, Voodoo Authentica, N.O. Healing Center/Pluralism Project, Temenos ta Theia, LAW/Sacred Paths Community Center/Moondance Circle, Keepers of the Hearth, The Amethyst Cottage, Rose & Antler Coven, Wisteria Temple, House of the North, UU Church (New Orleans AND Baton Rouge), Coven of Moonlight Spirits, Central LA Pagan Assoc., Living Temple of Wicca, Dragon Moon Coven, CenLA Broom and Brew, Mosaic, Coven of the Grove, Circle of the Silver Moon, Mississippi Magick Society, K.C. Perilloux/N.O. Witches Ball, HEX, etc.  We would like to extend the area of the PPD to include southern Louisiana up to Alexandria, and southwestern Mississippi.  Please forward this email to anyone else who might want to participate, as I may not know EVERYONE in the community.
I am asking everyone to RSVP by responding to this email no later than May 31st.  Even if the leaders of certain organizations cannot be present, you can still send a representative in your stead.  If you have questions you need answered BEFORE the meeting, you can reach me at 504-621-0274.  Answers to questions regarding PPD stipulations can be found at www.paganpride.org.I hope to hear from all of you soon!Ty
tubebedubayou@hotmail.com
www.meetup.com/lamplight

And now…CHICKEN DRAMA!

Murder! Mayhem! And…Chickens?

Here’s a sad story that all begins with my trip to the Lower Ninth Ward.

This afternoon I went with my S.O. to one of his rehearsals down in the Holy Cross, which is a pretty little area in the Lower Ninth Ward here in New Orleans. I generally tag along to these things because I enjoy listening to the music, I enjoy the company, and I always enjoy an opportunity to sit in a back yard on a pretty evening somewhere and maybe…just possibly, get to see feral chickens.

See, I have a confession to make to you all. For all of my Wiccan, gothy, black-hearted tendencies, at heart I’m a country girl from Ohio with a thing for chickens. Seriously, if I didn’t studiously watch myself, my house wouldn’t hold a witchy air. There would be chickens EVERYWHERE. I know, I know…its an addiction. One that I’m ashamed to admit to, but there you have it. I laughed over the Bloggess’ five foot metal chicken post for days.

Hi, my name is Owl, and I am a chicken addict.

I love the fact that I live in a city where you can actively find not only domesticated chickens in people’s yard’s, but where wild fowl roam freely in the streets and alleys. It makes my whole day every time one of those ridiculous birds comes flapping over one of the neighbor’s fences and scares off the feral cats. (You do NOT want to mess with a feral chicken, they’re a tough sort of bird.)

But, as I’ve mentioned before, I always forget that I also live in a magical town. A town where chickens have SIGNIFICANCE.

In Voodoo, chickens and their various and sundry bits and pieces are used for many things: chicken feet are used for protection, the whole chicken is used in sacrifices to various members of the loa, eggs are also used as offering and symbols, chicken heads are cut off as a threat or retributive magic, feathers are used for all sorts of things, chicken blood is used for spells and magic and of course, Chicken is always just plain old good eatin’. (Though I don’t know that Voodoo in and of itself has anything to do with that aspect).

In more mainstream witchcraft, chicken bones are used a lot, for both spells and to divine. Eggs also play a large roles in holidays such as Ostara. (In my particular tradition we throw eggs into the river to send them back to the Underworld as a reminder for the dead crops and game to be reborn.) As the article “Some Notes on the Folklore of Poultry” by L. F. Newman states, “One of the oldest and most respectable survivals met with is the belief in the efficiency of ceremonial magic in love affairs. Eggs take a prominent part in such divinations and, especially among gypsies, have generally formed the material for divination rites as to the future, particularly as regards the birth of children.” (Folklore) I mean, seriously, what culture doesn’t have chickens? (Ok, maybe some of the island cultures, but even they have slowly been overrun with chickens.)

And let’s not forget to mention all of the superstitions that involve chickens. A chicken crossing your path will bring you bad luck. If your chickens gather together on your porch you have company coming. Roosters crowing before midnight is an ill omen. If you bring eggs into the house after dark, you’re bringing bad luck into the house. Keep a black chicken in your front yard and you’ll never have bad luck. (It seems like luck and chickens are pretty intimately acquainted…)

So, having no other plans than maybe getting to see A feral chicken, we made our way down to one of the most superstitious neighborhoods in NOLA. (We stopped and got fried chicken on the way too…what else do you eat in the South?).

I had no idea though, that there was CHICKEN DRAMA occurring in the Lower Ninth Ward!

Apparently it started out with someone actively sitting up in one of the abandoned schools in the neighborhood and assassinating the neighbor’s chickens. (It’s  been six, nearly seven years, since Katrina, and it seems that the city has only just now started rebuilding our public schools. If you have children, they generally go to charter schools or Catholic schools…which all probably have a feral chicken infestation.) Apparently this personal attack wasn’t enough though. Now, as our friend put it, there happens to be a chicken serial killer running around Holy Cross, and people have gotten really touchy about any attention paid to their chickens by outsiders. Whoever this is, they are no longer content to passively pick chickens off from a great distance. Now s/he sneaks into people’s yards and sneaks off with the chickens, which are later found mutilated and thrown under the Lower Ninth canal bridge. The neighbors think it’s someone with a grudge against them and have taken to staking out their yard all night to watch their chickens. But no one can decide if it has any magical significance or not. Now think about that, a place where the whole neighborhood is actively contemplating the fact that their chicken murderer might be using chickens for black magic against them. Is this a great place or what?! (Not that I’m condoning the murder of marvelous chickens, but I think you see what I mean.)

Also, I now have this image of a chicken Jack The Ripper stalking though the Lower Ninth Ward cloaked in the fog from the Mississippi. Apparently even the ASPCA has become involved, actively investigating whatever is going on with the Lower Ninth Ward’s feral chicken population, sending ASPCA agents to investigate the chicken-knapper.

Will the chicken murders stop? Who knows, but needless to say, I am delighted by the things that people are coming up with.* Maybe my inner country girl was goth all along, but sometimes my morbid sense of humor just can’t stay hidden.

 

*To clarify, I’m not delighted by the senseless killing of helpless animals, I am however delighted by the response of the neighborhood that immediately turns its mind to a magical explanation. And by the fact that we have feral chickens.

Lost Chicken

Actual sign found on a corner near my house.

Heebie Jeebies in the Swamp!

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.

Louisiana Swamp Sights

These are things you find in Louisiana swamps...an alligator eating a smaller alligator at the Jean Lafitte National Park.