Showing posts with label new orleans voodoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new orleans voodoo. Show all posts

Monday, June 17, 2013

Celebrating the Holy Day Of New Orleans Voodoo



St. John’s Eve is the Holy Day of New Orleans Voodoo and is one of the only feast Days in Catholicism that celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist, the other two being Jesus and Our Lady. Usually, feast days celebrate the deaths of saints. In New Orleans, it is the day for celebrating the Mother and Father of New Orleans Voodoo, Marie Laveaux and Dr. John Montanet. 

The celebrations of St. John's Eve typically honor Marie Laveaux. I am certainly among those to pay homage to our Queen this time of year. However, I think it is time to start deliberately celebrating Dr. John, as well. After all, he did as much for New Orleans Voodoo as did Marie Laveaux. He brought gris gris into the commercial practice, taught Marie Laveaux the art of gris gris, and played a prominent role as a drummer in the celebrations at Congo Square - rhythms that can still be heard today.

There are a number of small things you can do to begin incorporating Dr. John into your yearly celebrations. As he is considered the patron loa to drummers and male Voodoo practitioners (although, as a lover of women and other personal reasons I will not disclose at this time, I believe he can just as well be patron loa to women as well), any celebration that incorporates drums and drumming is appropriate. Since he was a rootdoctor, offerings of any medicinal plants and foods can be made to him. Louis Martinie suggests medicinal liquids like camphor are also appropriate.

Some customs to observe this day in honor of Dr. John and St. John center around the gathering of St. John’s Wort, Mother Earth’s own protection ward and antidepressant. To harvest, cut the top half of the plant, tie into a bundle and hang to dry. Hang a few sprigs above doors and windows as a protective ward. Tie a few sprigs together with red string and hang above the image of St. John to keep evil away. Better yet, plant a few in your garden in honor of the great rootdoctor.





St, John's Wort is a wonderful medicinal herb. It can be used medicinally as a general tonic for wellbeing or for specific conditions such as depression, sleep disorders, chronic tension headaches, and mild rheumatic pain. To reap the benefits of this marvelous little magical and medicinal herb, make a tea or tincture:

  • To make a tea, place two teaspoons of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and drink 3 times a day. Add sweetener to taste.
  • To make a tincture, place 3 ounces of the dried flowers or fresh herb to fill a one pint jar. Cover with Everclear and shake the contents well. Let steep for two weeks, shaking the jar once a day. The resulting liquid should be a bright red, which represents the color of the blood of St. John, whose beheading is remembered on August 29th. Strain out the herbs and pour into 1 oz dropper bottles Drink two droppers full three times a day for adults and one dropper full for children.*

A custom in celebration of St. John is to make a wreath and hang it on the front door. Wreaths are made from the foliage of magnolia and oak trees, cushion bush, asparagus fern, bay laurel and marjoram. Flowers for the wreath can include lavender, larkspur, hydrangea, baby's breath, goldenrod, pussy willow, yarrow, purple coneflower, roses and globe thistle.
    I will post a magic lamp for Dr. John in an upcoming post so stay tuned! You might also be interested in an article I posted at the New Orleans Voodoo Examiner called What can we Learn about Dr. John Montenet from his Handwriting?

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    Article Copyright 2013 Denise Alvarado All rights reserved.

    * This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not a substitute for medical care given by physicians or trained medical professionals.

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    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Custom Devotional Altar Dolls



    Mad busy this time of year with Custom Voodoo Devotional Altar Dolls! Tell me who you want and I will make it for you! These custom devotional altar dolls are lovingly constructed from a base of sticks and Spanish moss in true New Orleans Voodoo folk art tradition. They are self standing and measure around 10 to 12 inches tall. No spirit is off limits, we are inspired to create sacred spiritual art from any tradition to suit your needs. We use the finest fabrics, lace brocade, ribbons and fancy yarns, feathers, beads, leather, fur, and semi precious stones. The faces are hand sculpted out of polymer clay and painted. All of our dolls are anointed with highly perfumed, exotic oils. Put the icing on your favorite altar with one of our one of a kind devotional altar dolls. Order now and get your order by Christmas! Pictured is Serket. You can see all my dolls at Planet Voodoo www.planetvoodoo.com and purchase from that site if you prefer or crossroadsmojo.com.






    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    Casey Anthony Voodoo Dolls: Profit from Murder or Justified Revenge?



    When the whole country first became aware of the murder of little Caylee Anthony, the media latched on to the story like no other. And after the arrest of her mother Casey Anthony on July 16, 2008, people with a macabre perception of  free enterprise clamored to make a buck off of  what panned out to be one of the most notable cases of this century for the murder of a child.

    It wasn't long before someone claiming to be from my hometown of New Orleans created a voodoo doll representing Casey and put it on eBay for sale. What that person did with the money, I don't know. In fact, for the longest time I tried to find out who was making these dolls, but never did find out. It certainly got more than the appropriate share of press which I am certain spawned further sales. And of course, others jumped on the bandwagon with their attempt to make a more "palatable" doll in the eyes of the general public when the Caylee Anthony Sunshine Doll was created in 2009. Fortunately, this distasteful product launch was not met with the public's embrace and the Anthony family attorney demanded it to be taken off the shelf, which it ultimately was.

    Now, I am getting Google feeds daily about the demand for Casey and Cindy Anthony voodoo dolls. I have even been approached about making these dolls. After all, I have written articles and have several mini sites dedicated to predators and child sexual abuse AND I make Voodoo dolls. But here is a big difference: I make Voodoo dolls and these other folks make voodoo dolls. Furthermore, my websites that are geared towards predators and child abuse are all not for profit with 100% of the proceeds going to the Polly Klass Foundation.


    Casey Anthony Voodoo Doll
    http://www.theweeklyvice.com/2009/01/casey-anthony-voo-doo-doll-for-those.html

    This whole issue of people profiting off of the murder of others spawns many discussions, the least of which is the question of morality. Is it right to profit from other people's pain? This is a complicated question in the world of hoodoo if one is a two headed practitioner. And the answer would be "yes", if we are to be completely honest. People come to practitioners because they are hurting, desperate, tired, and sick and tired of some person, place or situation. We do what we can to help them change it, whatever it is. But, there is a big difference in this kind of profit as opposed to profiting off of the murder of a child, or any murdered person for that matter.

    Many folks will say there is no moral code in hoodoo, usually in reference to the concepts of karma and the Wiccan rede that are not part of the African-derived traditions. But I disagree with this. Of course there is a moral code in hoodoo, and it is as individual as the practitioners themselves. We are all guided by our own set of morals, shaped by our upbringings, beliefs, and life experiences. To say otherwise is just ignorant.


    http://www.babble.com/mom/selling-casey-anthony-25-weird-wacky-items-from-etsy-ebay/


    Yet, the whole discussion of "hoodoo morals" is, in my opinion,  a good one. All religions and spiritual practices have a set of guidelines governing moral behavior. The idea that in hoodoo or the public concept of voodoo one can do whatever they want because there is not a written or universally determined body that regulates behavior is ludicrous. Typically, this stance is defended because hoodoo is a "magickal system" and the general public has no real understanding of the Voodoo/Vodou religions. If this is true, then why do we always say to perform cleansings after doing such work? Because we aren't worried there will be negative side effects? Because we want to separate our energy from the energy that we have manipulated? Because we don't want to be attached to whatever situation it is we are working? Because we don't want our families and pets to suffer as a result of putting the mojo on someone? Or all of the above? The World of Spirit has its own set of rules, and if you are going to be a player in that world, you had best be ready to deal with the consequences of your choices within that world.

    But is revenge ever justified? And is it ever justified to do Voodoo or hoodoo on a perpetrator? Of course it is. Particularly in cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and murder of a child it is justified and we have specific spirits that are more than willing to take on these cases upon request. The best discussion I have ever read to date on this issue is in Luisah Teish's book Jambalaya; The Natural Woman's Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. In that book, Chief Luisah Teish discusses the case of rape and how one might going about seeking revenge in a manner that has the desired outcome in terms of punishing the offender and keeping oneself safe from negative consequences of initiating such revenge. If this book is not a part of your library, whether you are a man or a woman, I highly recommend it.

    Casey Anthony and Cindy Anthony Voodoo dolls are wrong and I will not be among those people who make them and sell them on eBay. Not only do I hate eBay, I hate the very idea of profiting off of a child's murder. There is nothing in that scenario that I can see to make it a good idea, unless one is doing it for the express purpose of raising money for an appropriate, related organization with the power to do a lot of good in this world. Otherwise, these folks are creating their own bad mojo. Whether you believe in karma or not, or Newton's Law that states all actions have an opposite and equal reaction, or that the actions of a hoodoo has no consequences, none of us live in a vacuum in this world. We are all connected,and as such, we all effect one another.

    If you are outraged by the release of Casey Anthony and want to honor Caylee's memory, and the memory of all murdered children, check out the Polly Klass Foundation as a start. There are many things we can do on a personal and social level to make a difference in the prevention of violence against children and to help in finding missing and exploited children. I have listed a few links below for your convenience.

    Finally, there is power in numbers. Whether it is a social cause or spiritual cause, when a group of people focus their energy to a desired end, there is a greater chance of seeing the change you want to see. If you wish to effect change on a spiritual level, work in tandem with the people in your magickal circle towards a specific purpose. Help to send light and protection to the children in the world who need it. Bind the perpetrators. Do whatever you feel is within your power to do. The important thing is to take action. Sitting idly by without doing anything is complacency, and that has its own set of consequences.


    Never doubt that a small group of thoughful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
    (Margaret Mead 1901-1978)

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    Image Credit: (Top) http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/crime/orl-casey-voodoo-doll-photo-photo.html

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    There is No Such Thing as War Water

    Did I get your attention? Good, because I want to talk about what is tradition and what is not tradition.

     



    Here’s the great debate: War Water is rusty water that may contain cut nails, rusty nails, or coffin nails. The nails may come from different places in order to take advantage of their magical correspondences and amplify the formula. In Louisiana, war water was often oil of tar in swamp water with a little Spanish moss thrown in. The latter is the formula I am most familiar with as a New Orleans native, though I make a nice rusty water too. Nails may or may not be an addition to this basic recipe. Though, as with anything hoodoo, formulas vary between families and practitioners.

    I can hear it now...some folks reading this are throwing a fit...you can’t have war water without rust! You have to have nails in the water! The nails have to be cut so they can oxidize in the water! War Water has to have rust because rust is a by product of iron and iron is associated with Mars, the god of war and ...wait, what does Mars have to do with hoodoo? (Okay, don't answer that one because I know about European influences).




    So this is where I am going with this article...the arguments about “my war water is more authentic than your war water” is a moot point if we really want to talk authentic, traditional formulas. War Water shouldn’t even be in the same sentence because it is not a traditional formula or hoodoo weapon.  Africans used other methods of warfare, as did the Indians. And when they were forced together through the slave trade, if they compared notes, I'm pretty sure war water wasn’t in those notes.

    The preferred weapon of war was gris gris, which was reconstructed through the diaspora. Gris gris was brought to these shores via the marabouts and their occult skills and military traditions. It was used in numerous slave revolts as well as in the Haitian revolution. On the other hand, War Water was the creation of the hoodoo marketeers, white folks who looked to make a buck off of the black folk. Then there are the well-meaning white folks who started serving the black communities because there was a need as many stopped preparing their own remedies and so the hoodoo drugstore was one place to go for these remedies. There are many such creations that we tend to call traditional or authentic, when in reality, they do not  originate in African or indigenous spirituality, religion, or folk magic. Things like War Water and the fictional antidote Peace Water  is not an African product; it is the result of commercialized hoodoo.

    Marie Laveau was well versed in the art of gris gris, as was Dr. John. Some venture to say Dr. John was an even better gris gris doctor than she and that he taught her about gris gris. My guess is that if Marie Laveau’s  Peace Water is actually her formula, she would have used it to cool down conditions or used it to bless people, places, and things. It would not have been used as an antidote to War Water because there was no War Water during her time.

    And if that isn’t enough to get you going, here is something that might. Where I come from, hoodoo is Voodoo (I can hear it again, folks going off on me ...how dare I say they are one and the same? hoodoo is the magic, Voodoo is the religion...blah, blah, blah). The magic is PART of the religion, not separate from it. Those who separate it and those who practice hoodoo as “African American folk magic” are only “using” part of the actual tradition, which has become an American tradition. And while I am at it (oh, this is good!), Christianity was NOT one of the original religions- Voudon, Orisha, Ifa, Mami Wata, Islam and others were among the traditional religions brought to the Americas via the slave trade. Africans were not even allowed to worship as Christians during slavery. Then later, Christianity was imposed on Africans as part of the Code Noir and if they did not conform they were tortured or even killed. But the Africans knew who they were praying to, and it wasn’t Saint Peter.

    So, to show you I am not a fool with my head in the sand, I am quite aware that many folks believe Christianity is what makes hoodoo authentic. Moving forward in time, we see many of the colonized folks adopting aspects of Christianity and eventually completely converting. And likewise, we see many descendents of the colonizers defining Hoodoo as a Christian tradition. But hoodoo did not start on these shores. It is not a “later” development. Its origin comes straight from Africa, and is a complete magicospiritual tradition that is intimately connected to the spirits of Voudon (that’s right, the religion).

    In my opinion, it is tragic why Christianity is such a big part of American hoodoo. It is the direct result of colonization, a process that interrupted the transmission of the religious aspects of Voudon to subsequent generations and that caused folks to fear their own cultures of origin to the point of rejecting their ancestry.

    As I always say when I make such controversial statements, not everyone in New Orleans sees it the way I do. Not everyone uses the power of the spirits to energize their magic and gris gris. But many do. However, it has remained underground for a long time and there are those who still will not come out publicly. I have been taken by my elders to secret locations for ceremonies heretofore undisclosed for fear of intrusion and harassment by outsiders. I am still sworn to secrecy. So I understand. One day, perhaps we won’t have to fear being open about our true religious preferences.

    What I have presented is food for thought. Whether you agree with this article or not does not matter to me. I am telling it the way I see it, it’s my opinion, and I am not going to argue about it, though I am happy to have lively discussions.

    Reference

    Diouf, S. A.  (1998). Servants of Allah: African Muslims enslaved in the Americas.  New York: NYU Press

    Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    In the Company of Black Hawk

    We all know that Black Hawk is an important figure in many spiritualist churches. He is not found in all churches, which is evidence of the independent nature of the various congregations. Typically, it is the spirits that follow the reverend mothers and bishops of the churches that dictate which spirits are emphasized in worship.

    The emergence of Black Hawk among spiritualists can be traced to Leafy Anderson, who, according to some reports, was half Mohawk Indian and the assumed founder of the spiritualist church in New Orleans. She is reported to have said Black Hawk was the saint of the south while White Hawk was the saint of the north. I don't remember anything about White Hawk in New Orleans; what I know of him is from an indigenous perspective and from study of the spiritualist church doctrine and manual for reverend mothers.

    Though spiritualists will often deny any association with Voodoo or hoodoo, there are a number of similarities and correspondences. The emphatic public dissociation with Voodoo and hoodoo makes sense given the sociopolitical climate in the early twentieth century when African Americans were routinely hassled for their religious beliefs and often imprisoned.

    There are a few major spirit guides that are emphasized among spiritualists in New Orleans. Among them are St. Patrick, not surprising given the importance of Damballah Wedo in the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon and the subsequent syncretization of the two. Queen Esther is another major Spirit guide, though she did not take off in popularity like Black Hawk or St. Patrick. This is curious given her worship is focused on the empowerment of women and breaking the confines of socially determined gender roles. The spiritualist church is clearly a female dominated tradition.

    Father John is another of the popular spirits of devotion in the Church. It is difficult to determine his origin and it seems to depend on who you talk to. He is affectionately referred to as Cousin John, Father John and some say Father Jones, though it is not clear whether or not Father John and Father Jones are the same spirit. Father John is reputed to be a great doctor and healer and guiding force among the spirits themselves. For this reason, he is often said to be the spirit of Dr. John, the famous gris gris doctor in New Orleans during the time of Marie Laveau. His energy feels consistent with this theory to me.

    In addition to these popular spirit guides that appear among spiritualist circles, it is interesting to note that Black Hawk sometimes appears with two other spirits on his altar. This is something that you may not be aware of unless you are from New Orleans and have ever peered into a church yourself. I call them the Holy Trinity of Spiritualism, though not everyone will share this perspective since there is great variation in the spirit guides among churches themselves. However, they appear frequently enough that I believe it is a fitting description.

    There is the common depiction of Black Hawk's altar consisting of his statue sitting in a bucket of sand. Yes, this is one way of creating his altar, but is by no means the only way, nor is it the manner in which he is situated in the Spiritualist Churches themselves. The "Black Hawk in a bucket" scenario is often promoted by those with no real ties to the Spiritualist Churches of New Orleans or with New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo. Alternately, it is a tradition practiced by some elders in the Hoodoo tradition who maintain an altar in this manner in the privacy of their homes. I personally have Black Hawk sitting in a metal galvanized bucket that is filled with a mixture of different earths; some from the land of his birthplace, some from a crossroads, some from a graveyard, etc. The earth blend that he sits on is a very powerful blend that can be used in other works pertaining to him and in starting buckets for others who tutelage under me. Having Black Hawk sit on a blend of earths such as I have described is an old tradition that seems to have been whitewashed in the bucket of sand scenario.


    There are many other nuances about Black Hawk that I may eventually share as someone who is an insider looking out as opposed to an outsider looking in. What I want to focus on and stimulate discussion about is his relationship with two other spirits that sometimes appear on his altar in what I call  the Holy Trinity of Spiritualism. These two other Spirit Guides are St. Michael the Archangel and Dr. Martin Luther King.

    There are numerous cultural and religious implications with this trinity of spirits, and close examination of the three reveals a lot about the collective psyche of the people who follow this tradition. New Orleans is a wonderful city in many ways but it has an awful, dark history of discrimination and oppression of people of color, particularly Africans and Indians. This fact is one common ground that unites the two populations. From this perspective, it is not surprising to see Black Hawk and Dr. Martin Luther King gracing the same altar.

    It is also not surprising to see St. Michael share the same altar. St. Michael is said to be the defender and Guardian of Israel. He also is a protector and defender of an oppressed people. An altar to Black Hawk will many times have one or two statues of St. Michael flanking the statue of Black Hawk with a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King hanging on the wall behind or standing in a frame behind Black Hawk.

    But what do Jewish people have to do with New Orleans, you may ask? Well, the Jews were right up there with Africans in the Code Noir (Black Code) set forth and implemented by King Louis of France, which called for the forced religious conversion of all Africans to Catholicism and the expulsion of Jews from the city. The first three articles of the Code speak for themselves:

    Article I. We desire and we expect that the Edict of 23 April 1615 of the late King, our most honored lord and father who remains glorious in our memory, be executed in our islands. This accomplished, we enjoin all of our officers to chase from our islands all the Jews who have established residence there. As with all declared enemies of Christianity, we command them to be gone within three months of the day of issuance of the present [order], at the risk of confiscation of their persons and their goods.

    Article II. All slaves that shall be in our islands shall be baptized and instructed in the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We enjoin the inhabitants who shall purchase newly-arrived Negroes to inform the Governor and Intendant of said islands of this fact within no more that eight days, or risk being fined an arbitrary amount. They shall give the necessary orders to have them instructed and baptized within a suitable amount of time.

    Article III. We forbid any religion other than the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith from being practiced in public. We desire that offenders be punished as rebels disobedient of our orders. We forbid any gathering to that end, which we declare to be conventicle, illegal, and seditious, and subject to the same punishment as would be applicable to the masters who permit it or accept it from their slaves.(Édit du Roi, Touchant la Police des Isles de l'Amérique Française (Paris, 1687), 28–58).

    Given the eventual syncretization of Catholic saints into the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon, it is logical and clear as to how St. Michael found his way on the altar beside Black Hawk and Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Black Hawk is referred to as the "Watchman on the Wall" who will "fight your battles for you". He is the guardian of a combined Indian nation, the Sauc and Fox (together referred to as Meskwaki). St Michael is the Guardian of the nation of Israel and her people, and Dr. Martin Luther king is the champion of the Civil Rights movement and representative of freedom from bondage and great leadership. All three of these spirits convey a message of strength, victory, and militancy.


    References

    Édit du Roi, Touchant la Police des Isles de l'Amérique Française (Paris, 1687), 28–58

    Painting of St. Michael by Erzengel Michael, circa 1636, p.d.

    Photo of Black Hawk Bust copyright 2009 by Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved.

    Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King from the Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, p.d.
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    Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    Who Skinned the Black Cat? Online Botanica sells the Face of a Black Cat as Good Luck Curio




    I want to know, since when was a black cat face used for good luck?

    I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon this page the other day, all I know is that I did.  I normally like to peruse Papa Jim's Botanica site because he carries stuff I don't carry. However, this is one item I won't be purchasing from him or anyone else, and I certainly won't be aspiring to carry it.

    The website says "Black Cat Face. Place in your home or business for Good Luck, Protection From Evil."

    "This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 24 February, 2011."

    Now, I am all for  the rare and hard to find curios and I will climb a mountain or mountains (literally) to get them. But a black cat face?

    I don't even know where to begin with this one.

    Well, I posted a link to it on my Facebook page and got a lot of responses, which is why I thought I would blog about it and do a little scientific examination of the evidence. And, being the scientist that I am, I have an inquiring mind and I want to know, who skinned the black cat?

    Any research begins with a question. We want to find out something, so we research it. We form a hypothesis and develop a theory, collect our data and then methodically go about proving or disproving the hypothesis. The results may or may not support the hypothesis. Either way, if we can confirm one way or another it's good research, even if we don't confirm the initial hypothesis because at least we have accurate information about the issue at hand and draw a conclusion or conclusions based on facts. We end up with more information than we had in the beginning of the research so we add to a specific body of knowledge that everyone can draw from. Not only do we benefit the scientific community with new found knowledge, we also benefit society at large.

    Research also begins with something the researcher is passionate about. When I saw this image and the accompanying advertisement, I was appalled. And I am  not alone. Here are a couple of the comments that supported my initial reaction:

    Sorcha Puridai Isn't there some law against that? It should be reported. If it originates from outside the country, it's illegal to import - or export if its inside. There should be a way to shut this down. More education is needed because there are superstitious and impressionable people out there who support this kind of trade ...

    Fred Cislo Jr Okay that is just wrong! I would be pissed if somebody told me they bought that!

    And there were more. but then, there was this post:

    Willa Wylde im betting its not a cat face at all but a fox, you can buy them from various leather places like Tandy, i used to use them to make dream catches and such it even looks like the fox shape...just saying

    It's always good to have different opinions about things. Sometimes we can't see the other side of Exu's hat because we can't stand on both sides of the street at one time. But, if we are open-minded and don't jump to conclusions, we can discover the truth based on the evidence at hand.

    After reading Willa's comment, I questioned whether or not it was in fact a fox and not a cat. I am not convinced either way...yet.

    Now I am writing an article about black cat sacrifice in Volume 2 of Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly so I don't want to repeat that here, but I do want to give a little contextual background for our informal study of this alleged black cat face. There is no doubt that the use of black cats in magick has a long history in Europe and in hoodoo. Cats played a large role in ancient Egyptian society, for example, as they were used for pest control and were deified (i.e. Bast, Mafdet). In fact, cats  were afforded the same mummification and burial as people were. In ancient Greece, cats were revered and if one was found hurting or killing a cat, even accidentally, the punishment was death.

    In New Orleans Voodoo, black cats have been the subject of controversial sacrifice  in the past, particularly with regards to finding the one bone in the body that is all powerful.

    Thanks to Robert Tallant and other writers who focused on specific excerpts of his mostly inaccurate and sensationalized account of New Orleans Voodoo, the urban legend of the black cat as THE sacrificial lamb of New Orleans Voodoo has become an undisputed historical fact. He even has a chapter in his book Voodoo in New Orleans called Skin a Black Cat with your Teeth. According to Tallant, “ Sacrifice and the drinking of blood were integral parts of all Voodoo ceremonies. Usually it was the blood of a kid that was used, but often it was that of a black cat”(Tallant, p. 15). The prevalence and inaccuracy of such accounts is something I discuss in the article in HCQ. One thing I have not been able to find, whether truth or fiction, is the use of a black cat face specifically, for good luck.

    In at least 20 articles I researched for the article in HCQ, absolute statements are made about the orgiastic parties led by Marie Laveau where the Voodoo worshippers danced around a cauldron filled with frogs and into which snakes and a black cat was tossed. Where did they get their information? Tallant of course, typically the only source cited for these statements. Since the sacred serpent, Li Grande Zombi, is our major Spirit in New Orleans, I hardly doubt anyone was throwing snakes into a cauldron. With such proliferation of unsubstantiated claims, it has become an almost iconic representation of New Orleans Voodoo, albeit completely biased and unfounded. It reminds me of a similar phenomenon that is prevalent on the internet today where people take one source, usually Wikipedia, and regurgitate the information without any critical analysis of the information and without any original authorship that contributes to the body of knowledge. YAWN....

    Now the black cat bone is another issue, and it is seemingly supported by local lore and in various blues songs such as the one I have in this post. The truth is, however, the use of black cats in sacrifice didn't start with New Orleans Voodoo or hoodoo. For example, here is a description of the gruesome black cat bone ritual found in the book of St. Cyprian (O Antigo Livro de São Cipriano: Capa de Aço) first published in 1849:


    Cook the body of a black cat in boiling water witH white seeds and wood from the willow until the meat is loosened from the bones. Strain the bones in a linen cloth and, in front of the mirror, place the bones, one by one in your mouth, until you find that you have the magic to make you become invisible. Keep the bone with the magic property and, if you want to go somewhere without being seen, place the bone in your mouth."


    Do I have to say that a black cat bone, even the "one" alleged special bone will not make you invisible? Admittedly I have not tried it, but I would bet it just ain't so.

    During the 17th century, a cat boiled in oil was believed to be excellent for dressing wounds (Russell, 1972). While the mental picture of this is reprehensible, there may have been some (unknown at the time) scientific merit to this, if it was a black cat that was used.

    Researchers at the National Institutes of Health discovered the gene mutations associated with a black coat in three types of black cats: the domestic cat, jaguar and South American jaguarundi. Apparently, the mutations affect a gene in the same family as one that causes a resistance to HIV in humans. "There is a mutation in humans that knocks this gene out and causes complete resistance to HIV," O'Brien said. So it may be that the same gene responsible for a black coat may also provide resistance to diseases. You can read the whole article here.

    In hoodoo and in New Orleans Voodoo, black cats are associated with good luck and have been advertised as such since the late 1930s. They are particularly good luck in sports and games of chance. The tail of a black cat when pointing upward was considered lucky, and if you stroke a cat's tail nine times before playing cards, it is said to give you a winning edge in card games.

    There are many references to the various mystical attributes of black cats from numerous cultures - some positive and some negative. Most "superstitions" about black cats are positive, up until the Middle Ages, that is.

    I was born and raised in New Orleans and lived there over thirty years, and I never heard of using the face of a black cat for good luck or anything else. That doesn't mean it never was, just that I never heard of it anecdotally. Even the folks I knew who practiced the darker arts never used the skin of black cats. And try as I might, I can't find reference to the use of a black cat face specifically as a good luck curio in any of the folkloric or anthropological literature. I searched the entire database of literature available through the American Anthropological Association, as well as the library at Walden University, through which I have access to hundreds of academic journals. Nothing...not even a hint. If anyone knows of a reference, please post it in the comments section because I would really love to know if I missed something.

    However, my question, who skinned the black cat? is jumping the gun. I have to first prove there is indeed a black cat face on Papa Jim's website.

    Research Question: Is Papa Jim's Botanica really selling a skinned black cat face on their website?

    Or, is it the face of a fox? Let's examine the evidence, beginning with the obvious. Papa Jim's Botanica states: "BLACK CAT FACE... Place in your home or business for good luck, protection from evil."

    Of course, you can't believe everything you read or see, so let's check out the photos and and see if we can differentiate the alleged black cat face from a black fox face.

    The first aspect of the images to compare is the shape of the faces. I found a couple of photos of black fox faces and compared them against the black cat face found on Papa Jim's Botanica website. To do this, I used Photoshop to remove the backgrounds of both photos and placed them side by side for comparison. And to be completely fair, I am aware of the variations of pelts and there are some fox faces that appear more rounded than pointed, so I did a side by side comparison of those  as well.

    Sample 1:



    Sample 2:




    Next, I took the individual photos and superimposed them on top of each other, taking care to size them to equal sizes without distorting the ratio. Note that in the images, I made the cat face image into a colored graphic in order to clearly see any similarities or differences in the overall shape of the faces.

    Sample 1: Cat face superimposed on fox face

     
    Sample 2: Cat face superimposed on rounded fox face


    Next, I examined the details of the photos, starting with the noses. The alleged cat face appears to have a smaller nose than the fox face, which appears to be a bit square. In addition, in both of the fox photos, the snouts are narrower than the alleged black cat photo, although the fox face with a rounded nose is not as elongated.

    Another detail I noticed is the fur. The fur on the fox appears a bit coarser than the fur on the alleged black cat. And the ears...it looks as if the ears of the alleged black cat face are smaller  and more centrally located than the fox ears, which appear to be larger and laying to the sides.

    So far, it's not looking good.

    That said, my observations are extremely limited in both the photos and the lack of an ability to hold and feel both specimens firsthand. Further, it is difficult to see the details of either picture clearly.

    Even if it is not a real black cat, shouldn't the consumer be told? Why would they say it is a black cat if it is not? It's not like they are asking hundreds of dollars for it. Is it worth selling a black cat face for $22.00?

    What do you think?

    I have chosen not to link to the site because I am already giving them free advertising as the subject of this blog post. No doubt, some freak will read this and want to buy it. That is on them, not me. If you want to see the ad, just google the words "black cat face" and it will come right up (unfortunately).

    My first cat was a black cat named Moses. He was so sweet and I really miss him even though it has been over thirty years since he has passed. I can't imagine someone skinning a black cat and saving the face to sell on a website for good luck. That just can't be good karma.







    Black Cat Ju Ju at Creole Moon
     

    References

    Tallant, R. (1946). Voodoo in New Orleans
    California Folklore Society (1964). Western Folklore, Vol 23.



    Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.