Wednesday, December 25, 2013

St. Nicolas the Wonderworker and Bringer of Gifts




IT sounds like a nightmare straight out of American Horror Story, and certainly not what we would typically imagine when thinking of jolly ole St. Nick. It was during a time of great famine, and the people were hungry—so hungry, in fact, that some resorted to the most desperate of actions in order to quell their hunger pangs. For example, one person—a butcher—lured three innocent children into his shop, proceeded to chop them up and began preparations for selling them as packaged meat. But first, the bodies had to be placed in brine and cured.  Nicolas was in the area at the time, busy doing what he usually does, caring for the less fortunate and feeding the hungry. He realized what had happened when he saw the butchered bodies of the three children curing in barrels.. Horrified and determined to right the wrong, Nicolas performed his first miracle by resurrecting the three children from the barrels through his powerful prayers. Needless to say, the butcher was on the naughty list that year.
    
In a different version of this story, the slaughtered victims were three clerks as opposed to children. The three clerks needed a place to stay the evening and asked to spend the night at the butcher’s home. He agreed, and then promptly murdered all three. The butcher’s wife—clearly a sociopath—suggested her husband turn the dead bodies into meat pies. Nicolas saw through this evil crime and through his powerful prayers, brought the men back to life.  

As with any legend, there are naysayers who do not believe either of the aforementioned stories. To them, the story of St. Nicolas’s ability to raise the dead is considered absurd and can be attributed to a simple matter of mistaken identity. The real story, according to the doubting Thomases, begins with a man with three daughters who were unable to find husbands because they were dirt poor. The man’s solution to the problem was to turn out his daughters to the streets and into a life of prostitution. Now, St. Nicolas’s parents died when he was a young boy and as his folks were well off, he inherited an obscene amount of money with which he pledged to utilize for charitable work. He took the opportunity with the man and his three daughters to act upon his pledge.
     
St. Nicolas, however, was a very humble person and was not into doing charitable work for public recognition. So, true to his reputation of performing acts of kindness on the downlow, he took a bag of gold coins and tossed it into a window of the man’s home in the dead of night so he couldn't be seen. There was enough money for a nice dowry for the eldest daughter, and she was married soon thereafter. St. Nicolas did the same thing for the second and third daughters, all of whom were subsequently married. During his third attempt, however, the man actually saw St. Nicolas toss the bag of gold into the window. Now, the man was able to express his deep gratitude to St. Nicolas for the kindness he had shown his family.
     
And, this is the part of the story where the mistaken identity comes into play. Paintings and artistic renderings of St. Nicolas and his iconography sometimes feature three bags of gold. According to this explanation, the three bags of gold have been mistaken for the heads of three children, giving rise to the murder by dismemberment tale. Personally, I’m not sure which of the stories are more absurd, raising the dead and reassembling chopped up bodies or mistaking three bags of gold for the heads of three children. In my opinion, the latter seems as much of a stretch as the reanimation story. But whose to say? It is supposed to be a miracle, after all.
    
Whatever may be the case, it is not putting dismembered bodies back together, fighting cannibalism, or reanimating corpses that put St. Nicolas on the world map. Before he was a saint, Nicolas (270 – 6 December 343) was well-known for his generosity and gift giving. It is said he would secretly put coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and he would routinely help the hungry and the needy. He was a true philanthropist. Because of his generous nature and penchant for giving gifts, he became the role model for the modern day Santa Claus.
     
Indeed, St. Nicolas is arguably the most popular saint in all the world—second only to the Virgin Mary. He is known by different names depending on the country and region in which he is venerated. Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Odin the Wanderer, Jule Nisse and Jouluppukki, are but a few names he goes by.  In Louisiana, he is known as Papa Noel.   

As with most legendary characters of New Orleans, Papa Noel is surrounded by a fog of mystery and myth.
              From citrusquark.com
He doesn't own a sleigh as it wouldn't be practical traversing the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, and he has no need of reindeer because it is said the Creole food would make them too fat to fly. Instead he moves about in a pirogue, a narrow, flat-bottomed boat that can penetrate the 
deepest swamp. Some say he has 8 fat alligators and a red-nosed loup garou to pull his pirogue. Others say no, the alligators are just close friends, the loup garou is a distant cousin, and it's Papa Noel who has the red nose (he is particularly fond of Ponche au Lait - Creole Milk Punch, reindeer beer and crawdads). The bon fires are lit all down the levees to help guide Papa Noel to the children in the area. 

Papa Noel's Ponche au Lait (Creole Milk Punch)

Ingredients
· A glass of whole milk
· 1 tablespoon of sugar
· 1 tablespoon brandy or whiskey
· Crushed ice

Dissolve the sugar in the Brandy or Whiskey. Pour chilled milk into a glass about halfway to three quarters of the way full. Pour the sweetened Brandy or Whiskey over the milk and add crushed ice. Put on St. Nicolas’s altar for him to enjoy.

Read more about St. Nicolas including recipes and working with him from a conjure perspective in Gumbo Ya Ya #4.

And now a little lagniappe...

Cajun Night Before Christmas 


Twas the night before Christmas an' all t'ru de house,
Dey don't a ting pass Not even a mouse.
De chirren been nezzle good snug on de flo',
An' Mama pass de pepper t'ru de crack on de do'.

De Mama in de fireplace done roas' up de ham,
Stir up de gumbo an' make de bake yam.
Den out on de by-you dey got such a clatter,
Make soun' like old Boudreau done fall off his ladder.

I run like a rabbit to got to de do',
Trip over de dorg an' fall on de flo'.
As I look out de do'in de light o' de moon,
I t'ink, "Mahn, you crazy or got ol' too soon."

Cuz dere on de by-you w'en I stretch ma'neck stiff,
Dere's eight alligator a pullin' de skiff.
An' a little fat drover wit' a long pole-ing stick,
I know r'at away got to be ole St.Nick.

Mo' fas'er an' fas'er de' gator dey came
He whistle an' holler an' call dem by name:
"Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an' Alcee'!
Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an' Renee'!

To de top o' de porch to de top o' de wall,
Make crawl, alligator, an' be sho' you don' fall."
Like Tante Flo's cat t'ru de treetop he fly,
W'en de big ole houn' dorg come a run hisse'sef by.

Like dat up de porch dem ole 'gator clim!
Wit' de skiff full o' toy an' St. Nick behin'.
Den on top de porch roof it soun' like de hail,
W'en all dem big gator, done sot down dey tail.

Den down de chimney I yell wit' a bam,
An' St.Nicklus fall an' sit on de yam.
"Sacre!" he axclaim, "Ma pant got a hole
I done sot ma'se'f on dem red hot coal."

He got on his foots an' jump like a cat
Out to de flo' where he lan' wit' a SPLAT!
He was dress in muskrat from his head to his foot,
An' his clothes is all dirty wit' ashes an' soot.

A sack full o' playt'ing he t'row on his back,
He look like a burglar an' dass fo' a fack.
His eyes how dey shine his dimple, how merry!
Maybe he been drink de wine from de blackberry.

His cheek was like a rose his nose a cherry,
On secon' t'ought maybe he lap up de sherry.
Wit' snow-white chin whisker an' quiverin' belly,
He shook w'en he laugh like de stromberry jelly!

But a wink in his eye an' a shook o' his head,
Make my confidence dat I don't got to be scared.
He don' do no talkin' gone strit to hi work,
Put a playt'ing in sock an' den turn wit' a jerk.

He put bot' his han' dere on top o' his head,
Cas' an eye on de chimney an' den he done said:
"Wit' all o' dat fire an' dem burnin' hot flame,
Me I ain' goin' back by de way dat I came."

So he run out de do' an, he clim' to de roof,
He ain' no fool, him for to make one more goof.
He jump in his skiff an' crack his big whip,
De' gator move down, An don' make one slip.

An' I hear him shout loud as a splashin' he go,
"Merry Christmas to all 'til I saw you some mo'!"

____________


From  "Cajun Night before Chrismas"
By "Trosclair"
Edited by Howard Jacobs
Illustrated by James Rice
Pelican Publishing 1992
Copyright 1973 


CAJUN NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wicked Witch Extraordinaire Dorothy Morrison Delivers Evidence of a Pink Marie Laveaux Tomb



You can just imagine the reaction devotees of our beloved Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveaux, experienced when they read these words by Dorothy Morrison posted on her Facebook wall several days ago: "As grand a time as we're having in New Orleans, we did make a rather disturbing discovery this morning: Someone painted Marie Laveau's tomb...I can hardly bring myself to say this...pastel PINK!!! WTF??? Someone local: Please find out who did this, and make them change it back! It's disgusting, and I don't think Madame is very happy about it."


A flurry of responses and reactions ensued and I rather suspect will continue for some time regarding this event.


Alyne Pustanio, author of Purloined Sories and Early Tales of Old New Orleans has this to say about the event: "Whoever painted the tomb probably was doing so at the behest of its owners and that's the color they wanted it to be. That tomb is painted more frequently than possibly any other tomb in the New Orleans area specifically because it is continuously defaced with X's and other markings; tourists, encouraged by "who me?!" tour guides, are the worst offenders. I can understand that pink is not the immediate color that would come to mind for those of you who are used to seeing the tomb whitewashed, but even a Pepto-Bismol pink will weather and fade after the rains of winter and the spring heat are done with it, and it may be this worn patina that the painter is after. I personally know of acts of random vandalism to which the old cemeteries have been subjected in the past, and in my opinion vandals are not going to stick around to paint that big tomb especially when it is easier to desecrate the other old, crumbling graves and paint graffiti on the cemetery walls. So don't worry, the color will fade."

But not everyone is so nonchalant about it or used to seeing this kind of thing. The passion with which devotees feel entitled to inscribe Xs on her tomb is fierce. According to one person, who seems to be misdirecting their anger at Pustanio (who knows more about New Orleans lore and Voodoo history than anyone I know), putting small Xs on her tomb is not defacement. "The tomb belongs to the Girondo family (I think thats the spelling) and if they did request it to be painted, don't you think they would have done it in a more professional manner and not with LATEX and painting the marble..??? are you kidding me? Oh you neglected to read where the remaining paint was dumped into a drain." While I know Pustanio well, and I know she is very aware of the whys and wherefores of the practice, I can understand the anger that this individual feels. My initial reaction was quite similar.

But, we all need to just calm down a minute and not get angry at each other for something none of us did.

On the other side of the coin, there are some...well, at least one...devotee who is pleased with the color choice. Upon learning the news, Oskar "Doc Mojo" Yetzirah exclaimed:  "PINK!? OOOO SHEEET! Madam Laveau just got a Barrio Style touch up!" Apparently, painting graves bright colors is a tradition found in Mexican Catholic cemeteries. According to Yetzirah, "'El Color es un recuerdo de La Vida' is the saying I had heard several times growing up. It means, Color is a reminder of Life."

Reaching out for comments from New Orleans natives during the Christmas season leaves many questions unanswered. However, I was able to get a comment from the Divine Prince Ty Emmeca who, while he does not know who did it, stated in reference to the color: "I assume (it was) someone fighting a Breast Cancer Cause." 

But for those who have not been there to see it in person, the energy is not palpable. Morrison states:
"I understand why some of you don't think this is a big deal. But if you could feel the atmosphere there now, you'd know why this is gnawing at me so."

That said, the tomb, while the leftover paint was reportedly tossed in a drain, does seem to be painted with more care than if it were simply an act of random vandalism. The edges are neat, and there is a carefully painted little heart next to the plaque on the ground (see photo below).

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Morrison, copyright 2013, All rights reserved.

This little telltale sign tells me that it is someone local who understands the healing grace with which Mam'zelle bestows on the sick. The color pink is associated with cancer - breast cancer specifically - and so, the Divine Prince's assumption rings true.

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. Morrison states: "I don't think it's the fact that it's colored paint. Instead, it's the actual color. If it had been painted a lovely rich jewel-tone - emerald green, sapphire blue, deep amethyst, or even garnet - I think she'd be okay with that."

The latest rumor from local informants describes a small, light-skinned black man seen walking around town with pink paint on his pants. Which immediately makes him a suspect...to those who don't care to investigate further.

Many thanks to Dorothy Morrison for bringing this issue to our attention. Sadly, the event hasn't made the news anywhere that I have found, aside from my blogs and article at the New Orleans Voodoo Examiner.

For anyone who wishes to visit the grave site, pay your respects and take photos, the tomb is located in St. Louis Cemetery #1. The tomb is marked “Famille Vve. Paris, née Laveau” and to find it, enter the cemetery at the front gate. Turn left and count between the 5th and 6th tombs on your right and cut in between the gap between the two. Look up at about 11:00 o’clock and there it is!


*Check out Hoodoo and Conjure: New Orleans for a lengthy article on the Wishing Tomb and how to serve Marie Laveaux as a devotee.