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.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Get the Real Story about Mary Oneida Toups in the Special Edition Issue of Hoodoo and Conjure New Orleans!


The first issue of the acclaimed magazine journal under the new name of simply Hoodoo and Conjure, formerly Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly, is here!

In all its gloriousness and fabulous writ, Hoodoo and Conjure: New Orleans brings to you a fantastic collection of articles from a variety of notable as well as up and coming authors. The majority of the articles center on New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo, however, we also include some fantastic articles about southern conjure traditions in general. Here we go...are you ready?

Get the original story about Mary Oneida Toups by the original author, 6th generation New Orleans born Alyne Pustanio! News flash, American Horror Story: Coven is not the first to tell her story! Our very own Alyne Pustanio is!

Here are some of the articles jam packed in this issue of Hoodoo and Conjure New Orleans:

FEATURE STORIES

  • New Orleans-Style Day of the Dead with Sallie Ann Glassman by Alyne Pustanio
  • In Memorium: Coco Robicheaux by Alyne Pustanio
  • Digging in the Dirt by Dorothy Morrison
  • The Wishing Tomb of Marie Laveaux by Denise Alvarado
  • The Story about Mary Oneida Toups by Alyne Pustanio
  • Tituba, the Voodoo Girl of Salem by Witchdoctor Utu
  • Food as Medzin by Madrina Angelique
  • The Graveyard Snake and the Ancestors by Dr. Snake
  • Holy Death and the Seven Insights: A Gay Man’s Story of Self-Transformation and his Search for Love by Carolina Dean
  • Adventures in Ghost Hunting by Carolina Dean
  • It Might be a Sign of Things to Come by H. Byron Ballard
  • Wicca and Voodoo: Bringing the Two Together by Nish Perez
  • Wicca and Voodoo: Rhythms by Louis Martinie
  • Crimson Light through Muddy Water: Southern Goth as an Occult Reality by Tim Broussard

And more!!!


APPLIED CONJURE

  • Spell Work with the Dead by Madrina Angelique
  • How to Bury an Enemy by Madrina Angelique
  • Uncrossing Land by Aaron Leitch

And more!


PHOTO ESSAY

  • Herein lies the Poor and the Indigent: A Photo Essay of Holt Cemetery by Denise Alvarado and Alyne Pustanio 


INTERNATIONAL CONJURE

  • Mystery Of a Sacred Sastun and The Trinity of Stones: An Interview with Winsom Winsom by Rev.Roots

TUTORIAL

  • Tutorial: How to Make a New Orleans Style Rope Doll by Denise Alvarado 



BOOK REVIEW

  • Talking to God with Food: Questioning Animal Sacrifice by Louis Martinie, Review by Denise Alvarado


This magazine journal is an 8 X 10 special edition, full color bleed, 125 pages, of the highest quality and bound like a book. A true collector's item and must have for any student of conjure and lover of New Orleans and Southern folk magic traditions. 

To purchase, please visit Creole Moon.


Hoodoo and Conjure New Orleans. It's for real, y'all.






Thursday, October 3, 2013

Open Letter to Cat Yronwode and Lucky Mojo Regarding the Accusation of New Orleans Voodoo as a Faux Religion Perpetuated by Fakers


This blog will address a very serious matter. It will likely offend some people, enrage others, and amuse those with no vested interest in the issue. Frankly, I don't care what people think. This is something I need to say for me and for my ancestors whose voices are the ones to whom we should be paying attention.

As some of you know, over the past 2 years I have been the subject of much gossip. You would think people had better things to do than talk about me and my life, but some folks thrive on making themselves look better by deliberately attempting to discredit others.

I was informed this morning about an article on the Lucky Mojo website that has made stunningly inaccurate statements about New Orleans Voodoo as a religion. It is called "Hoodoo is not New Orleans Voodoo." Here is a portion of the article, followed by my response.

In recent years, contact between Americans and Haitians, an influx of Haitian immigrants to the USA, and the popularity of Voodoo among interested white practitioners with backgrounds in Paganism and/or Hermetic magic have led to the creation of a form of the ritualized practice hat goes under the name New Orleans Voodoo.

New Orleans Voodoo is a newly constructed faux-religion which has no cultural, family, liturgical, or social roots in traditional African, African-American, or Haitian religions, but traces back to literary sources instead. Since the mid 20th century it has evolved under the hands of four major promoters, none of whom had direct lineage transmission from the previous ones and each of whom accreted a small following which took no part in the major social life of New Orleans.

Each of these promoters was or is an author and/or the owner of a tourist venue or a store. Each of these promoters and their followers drew or draw upon a handful of 20th century anthropological and popular works describing Haitian Voodoo, which they use as source-books for their performances. These source-books include the works of authors such as Zora Neale Hurston (1938), Maya Deren (1953), Alfred Metraux (1958), Milo Rigaud (1969), and Wade Davis (1985). At best the fabrications of these promoters can be said to be historical fantasy recreations in the style of the Renaissance Faire venues in the USA, and at worst they have been a means to part sincere seekers from their money under the guise of offering exotic initiations or ecstatic worship services that are spurious at their root.

The four major promoters of the faux-religion of New Orleans Voodoo have been Robert Tallant (1940s), Charles Gandolfo (1960s-1990s), Sallie Ann Glassmann (1990s), and Denise Alvarado (2000s). Other, less well-known, promoters have included the author and publisher Raymond J. Martinez (1950s), the dancer Ava Kay Jones (1980s-1990s), the author and store owner Sharon Caulder (1990s), the store owner Miriam Chemani (1990s - present), the author John Shrieve, and the paranormal / haunted tour organizer "Bloody Mary."

New Orleans Voodoo has historically had no community membership base, in Louisiana other than as a source of employment for shop employees, dancers, authors, and publishers. These faux-religionists write books, compose music, sell Voodoo-themed goods in their shops, hold Voodoo-themed festivals and workshops, and put on Voodoo-themed dance and drumming performances for tourists. The latter events were especially popular under the direction of Charles Gandolfo and Ava Kay Jones.

New Orleans Voodoo has been promoted to the outside world by small independent coteries of less than ten or twenty core participants who charge money for their literature, workshops, museums, tours, and/or performances. Its wider range of participants are tourists and spiritual seekers; there is a notable and significant lack of community participation from the environs of New Orleans. None of its leaders or followers can demonstrate that its practices spring from a local community base.

Having been repeatedly accused of fakery, some of the promoters of New Orleans Voodoo have belatedly sought initiations in Africa or Haiti to add gravitas to their literary mining expeditions through well-known works describing Haitian Voodoo. Others have gone out of their way to acquire actual African artifacts to display in their museums, or to purchase Brazilian Quimbanda statuary to resell as spurious Voodoo goods. At least one made a point of importing Haitian art for sale -- some of which, it turned ut, was manufactured for her by a movie-prop maker in Hollywood California. And always among the expensive and exotic faux-Voodoo religious goods are salted a dizzying variety of small, cheap faux-Voodoo trinkets made in China, often decorated in Mardi Gras style, as if Mardi Gras were an alternative form of Voodoo. And, of course, when they wish to promote "magick" or "spell-casting", they turn to traditional African American hoodoo, which they re-brand as Voodoo.

First, before my response, I have a couple comments. Where is your source of information coming from? Have you not read any of the historical records or literature that clearly indicate Voodoo arrived in the 1700s when the first Bambarans set foot in New Orleans? Who happened to have also brought the gris gris tradition with them which remains, since the 1700s, an integral part of New Orleans Voodoo?

More importantly, how many New Orleans Voodoo or Hoodoo practitioners have you spoken to? Anyone over the age of 30? Have you ever heard of the term oral tradition, the hallmark of the transmission of knowledge for virtually all indigenous traditions? How about institutionalized colonization? Cultural appropriation? Cultural hegemony?

How is it that a white Jewish woman from California, who has never spent a significant amount of time in New Orleans, if any at all,  has claimed the narrative of  New Orleans Voodoo and Southern Hoodoo?

Let me just speak from an academic standpoint, since everyone seems to thinks of Ms. Yronwode as a scholarly writer. If indeed it is Catherine Yronwode who authored the article, and since it is on the website I assume it is and if not, then it is approved by her to be there, the very premise for the argument is flawed. First, you are using French Quarter Voodoo as the context of comparison. French Quarter Voodoo is geared towards tourists. It does not define the tradition, which is very idiosyncratic given the social and historical conditions that have influenced its evolution. Secondly, your facts are just wrong, period. Show me some scholarly sources that back up your statements. Third, this kind of article is a prime example of the insidious nature of colonization and its wonderful counterpart hegemony, which in essence means that you have used one cultural platform of comparison as the legitimate one (your opinion), to judge another, usually indigenous one, in this case  New Orleans Voodoo. Cultural hegemony occurs when a dominant culture (European American) manipulates and dominates another, typically minority, typically indigenous, culture. In laymen's terms, you have presented your opinion as the legitimate one, "my way is the right way," without any kind of productive discourse with anyone intimately involved. This is just wrong. It is something indigenous (African and Native American) people of the Americas have endure for over 500 years and frankly, I'm sick of it.

Here is my response to Ms. Yronwode. Knowing how she operates, it will be posted by her somewhere anyway, so I want people to see it from me first.


Greetings Catherine,

As you and I have never had a real conversation other than one concerning mutual plagiarism, and with the unfortunate exception of our initial "introduction" to each other where I was falsely accused of being the editor for a document that someone on my forum had written, I had hope we remained on at least cordial grounds as I continued to look out for your work being lifted, etc. and shared with you instances of the misuse of your online presence by unscrupulous others, simply out of common professional courtesy and an effort to demonstrate good will and character.
It is evident we don't see eye to eye on things in terms of our mutual experiences and knowledge about Southern hoodoo and especially New Orleans Voodoo. Yet, I have never publicly named you as a major hoodoo marketeer or accused you of anything other than offering an alternate point of view from my own. Any personal thoughts or feelings remain my own.
Imagine my surprise to find this in my inbox. "The four major promoters of the faux-religion of New Orleans Voodoo have been Robert Tallant (1940s), Charles Gandolfo (1960s-1990s), Sallie Ann Glassmann (1990s), and Denise Alvarado (2000s). Other, less well-known, promoters have included the author and publisher Raymond J. Martinez (1950s), the dancer Ava Kay Jones (1980s-1990s), the author and store owner Sharon Caulder (1990s), the store owner Miriam Chemani (1990s - present), the author John Shrieve, and the paranormal / haunted tour organizer "Bloody Mary."
And of course, I was provided a link where i got to read the whole sordid story.
Now this could get really ugly, as I feel as though the respect I have shown for you has not been reciprocated, given past experiences and this current article on your website.  And nothing gets in my craw worse than someone who shows me one face and behind my back shows their true character. With the numerous times in which we have emailed back and forth and the many times Nagasiva has written and asked questions about things he said he wanted to know my opinion about, it would seem to me we could have had some very constructive conversations about your thoughts and opinions about New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo, or your concerns about me as a person or my qualifications. But no, you had to make it personal by jumping on the discredit Denise bandwagon. Okay, let's go there.
You have a right to your opinion, as do I. But let me ask you this, could it be possible that you are wrong? Could it be possible that what you know about New Orleans Voodoo and the role of Hoodoo in the tradition is not what you think it is? Could it be that you don't know me at all except for what others who don't know me have stated, and our limited email conversations? 
Let me be clear about a few things. One, I was born and raised in New Orleans, and my experience with Hoodoo and Voodoo never did and never has come from the French Quarter Voodoo variety. Nor has it come from literary sources about Haitian Vodou. And this is why everything you have stated and all of the haters fail; the platform of comparison is not qualified as such. That is tourist Voodoo, that is not the Voodoo that has survived along the bayous in its many variations and handed down through families and by virtue of being in the culture. You also have not recognized the small group of people in the French Quarter who are actually doing great things with regards to the preservation of the religion and who have worked hard in the community to preserve things like the sacred cultural geography intimately related to Voodoo in New Orleans. Voodoo in New Orleans began as a bunch of different African religions forced together, where slaves and Natives found common themes, and it is through those common themes where New Orleans Voodoo comes from. It has come to embrace the influences of many cultures as you are aware. While there was a period of time when there were community ceremonies and celebrations, these were not the actual rituals taking place, only parts and representations of it. The real stuff was and always has been until recently behind the scenes, in secret. Unless you grew up as a person of color in the South, which you are not,  and experienced the necessity of remaining underground, which you have not, then it would be hard to understand.

New Orleans Voodoo practitioners do not deny that the religion lacks the formalized rites of Haitian Vodou. That doesn't mean it is not a religion. It doesn't mean that it is not a religion because much of the tradition for many, looks a whole lot like Hoodoo. That's not something I, or Mambo Sallie Ann, or Charles Gandolfo, or Zora Neale Hurston, for that matter, made up. That is the way it is and has been. Tallant, on the other hand, definitely fabricated quite a bit, much of which I have attempted to clarify over the years. I can understand the confusion, however, if you were never immersed in New Orleans culture or the traditions of the Louisiana swamps. Trust me, there's a whole lot more to the story than you will ever have the privilege of knowing or seeing.

Those who have accused me of "fakery" as whoever authored the article wrote, and I assume it is you, are at least half my age, not from New Orleans, never spent any significant time there or in Louisiana, and have never provided any sources for their accusations. They wouldn't know "real" New Orleans Voodoo if it stared them in the face. That is because the platform from which they are judging the religion is not the religion; it is French Quarter tourism. Of course it doesn't match up. But instead of taking me up on offers for productive discourse, they, as have you, have made assumptions about me and some very well respected individuals in New Orleans that is simply founded on ignorance. Instead they, as have you, have taken it to the public. This will not sit will with many of those whom you accuse to be fakers of a "faux" religion. 
In everything I have written, I have never claimed to be the last word on New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo, only to say that it is my experience. The reason for that disclaimer is because anyone from my generation, and anyone who has done their research (not just reading books, but actually talking to people who are actually from Louisiana and actual practitioners) will know that the manner in which it has been passed down was through individual families and thus there is variation. There is as much variation in the manner in which Christians may express their devotion to God,  some may actually do unto others while others could care less and still other fall somewhere in between. The variations do not disqualify it as a religion. There are still unifying beliefs and practices that make it what it is. New Orleans Voodoo is a living, breathing, fluid tradition and this is part of its beauty and its appeal to believers. 
It is true that some New Orleans Voodooists have sought initiations in related traditions. Some have clung to vestiges of the religion by continuing in the practice of New Orleans style Hoodoo and rootwork and no longer claim the religious aspects of it. Some are Christian, quite a few are not. Many have developed unique yet recognizable rites of their own. Some folks belong to temples and houses, most do not. New Orleans Voodoo has long been known to be an individual religion, having been made so due to sociohistorical circumstances like the Louisiana Black Code, and as I mentioned earlier, the rampant and pervasive racism that has characterized the South for so long. 
You may not wish to know the truth behind your accusations or have any interest in exploring preconceived notions based on outsider and fledgling opinions or blues songs. You may not have any interest in actually speaking with some of the people you have accused of fakery or perpetuating a "faux" religion. That is your choice. However, I find it deeply offensive what you have written, and a deliberate attempt at claiming a cultural narrative that is not yours to claim. Indeed you have a right to your opinion, but unless you have walked in my shoes, Priestess Miriam's shoes, Mambo Ava Kay Jones, and the many others whom you did not acknowledge in your misguided article, you will never know the truth. Instead, it appears this is more of the case of wanting to be "right," instead of really wanting to be right, and that is just unfortunate. 
You have not been, nor will you be the only narrative on the indigenous traditions of the South. More folks, and more folks of color, and more scholars of color, are speaking up. I strongly encourage you to do as our Cherokee elders say, "listen or your tongue will make you deaf."
Blessings,
Denise Alvarado


As I have always said, my door is open to discussion. We can use this as a learning opportunity for everyone concerned. I want to be clear I am not engaging in a drama warfare; however, because I am publicly implicated and deeply offended by the utter disrespect shown in the article, I felt compelled to go public with a statement.

Comments welcome, haters, don't waste your time.



Monday, August 12, 2013

TO FIX A LANDLORD

Here's an old time hoodoo bottle spell conjure from the ebook "Granny's Secret Conjury" (which you will receive in your email if you are a Conjure Clubber): 

Write the landlord's name nine times on a piece of paper and place in a bottle. Add some gin, whiskey, and rum. Take two teaspoons of sugar (white sugar if the landlord is white, brown sugar if the landlord is not white) and put water from three sources in the bottle: some river water, water from the faucet  and some well water. Shake well every day at twelve o'clock. Burn nine green candles—one a day for nine days—and say Psalms 1 and 18 each day. Plant the bottle with the neck down close to the front door. This is believed to ensure you stay in your home.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jesús Malverde, Mexican Robin Hood & Narco-Saint


DEPENDING ON WHO you talk to, Jesús Malverde is either the “Mexican Robin Hood” and “Angel to the Poor,” or the “Narco-Saint” and Protector of drug traffickers. His intercession is sought by those with problems of all kinds and it is said miraculous healings and blessings have been attributed to him. Offerings are made to him along with photos of individuals in need of help, and when requests are granted, he is thanked and a public recognition is made commemorating the miracle.
     
The stories about Malverde and the culture in which he originated is actually quite fascinating. The legend of Malverde begins during an era of much poverty and suffering in Mexico, referred to as the Porfiriato.  Under the reign of a dictator named Porfirio Diaz (1877-1911), Mexico was being modernized by big business at the expense of the majority of the population who - not included in any beneficial way in Porfirio’s modernization efforts - remained in extreme poverty. Watching progress pass them by left impoverished Mexicans brewing in social unrest, and as a result, the countryside became littered with bandits. Here, in this context, the bandits aren’t the bad guys; they are the ones standing up to a neglectful government and fighting social injustice for the poor. Eventually, this social climate led to the Mexican Revolution, and many of these bandits rose to the status of folk hero.
   
Jesús Malverde was one such bandit who rose to the status of folk hero, and later to the status of folk saint. Born Jesus Juarez Mazo sometime in 1870 near the town of Mocorito, Malverde is believed to have been either a tailor, a construction worker or a railway worker.  He reportedly rode the hills near Culiacan  Mexico during the Porfiriato stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. These deeds are why he earned the name Mexican Robin Hood. Unfortunately, his unorthodox humanitarian efforts were not appreciated by the Mexican government, and he was eventually caught and hung from a tree on May 3rd, 1909, his body left to rot. This is the origin of his feast day, and every year  at this time there is a great celebration at his shrine, which is located near the railroad tracks on the west side of Culiacan, and is well-known to just about everybody in town (Quinones, 2001).
     
This is but one version of his legend—there are many others. According to Quinones (2001), “Some say Malverde began a life of crime after his parents died of hunger. Some versions say he was finally betrayed by a friend, who cut off his feet and dragged him through the hills to the police to collect a 10,000 peso reward. Others have him betrayed and shot to death. His betrayer dies three days later, and the governor who wanted him, Francisco Canedo, dies 33 days later, from a cold contracted after going out at night without slippers.”
     
Malverde’s first miracle is said to have occurred shortly after his death, while his bones were left hanging in the Mesquite tree  as a deterrent to other potential outlaws.  It was a friend of his, legend says, that went to Malverde’s hanging bones to ask his dead friend to help him locate two mules laden with silver and gold that he had lost. He ended up finding them, and so in gratitude, he gathered Malverde’s bones and took them to the cemetery where he bribed the guard for permission bury Malverde there. The friend buried him in a secret location in the cemetery, just as if he were burying smuggled goods. No one knows exactly where he was laid to rest, nor is it likely anyone will ever find out.
    
Whatever the story, there is, without a doubt, quite a bit of mystery surrounding this folk saint. He is angel to some, evil to others. Especially in recent years, when the only time one hears his name is in the papers and it is always associated with drug trafficking of some kind. Statues of Jesús Malverde are believed to keep drug dealers' stash invisible to cops, so cops look for the statue and if there are drugs close by, that is where they will likely be.  But, it appears that his image as Narco-Saint is a relatively recent phenomenon as compared to his original, more philanthropic reputation.   
     
I had to ask, when did Malverde change in image from Robin Hood to Narco-Saint? And, how did this happen?
     
Culiacan, the capitol of the state of Sinaloa, is the cradle of the Mexican drug trade, and this is the region where Malverde carried out his illegal activities. He had been served as a folk saint there since his death in 1909 and so it was not a leap for drug dealers to turn to him for protection and success in their activities. Drug dealing is a thriving economy engaged in by the disadvantaged in response to a lack of any other possibilities for relief from poverty. When a smuggling across the borders is successful, Malverde is thanked for “Lighting the way.”
     
However, it was during the 1970s that Sinaloa was targeted and entrapped in the military operation known as Operation Condor. The military declared war against the region's drug smugglers and the army went through the hills attacking drug smugglers and innocent ranchers alike. The state lost an estimated 2,000 hamlets and villages during those years as people abandoned homes, land and livestock and streamed from the hills to the cities (Quinones, 2001). "The press, sharing the same view as the authorities, or perhaps so as not to be left behind when the graft was being handed out, added their two cents," says Luis Astorga, a researcher of the narcoculture who lived in Culiacan during this time. "They labeled Malverde as the ´Narcosaint.' The drug smugglers, due to their social origin, had inherited the belief in Malverde. But the media gave it a kind of yellow slant. They were really the ones who made Malverde into the drug smuggler's saint, forgetting how old the belief in him really was"  (Quinones, 2001).


     WORKING WITH JESÚS MALVERDE

Working with Jesús  Malverde is really very simple, as is the case with most folk saints. Devotees talk to him regularly, develop a relationship with him, and bless themselves whenever they walk past his image. They wear Jesús Malverde perfume oil when calling upon him for help, guidance and protection. Images of Malverde and his prayer are hung behind the front door as a talisman to protect a place or are carried upon a person for protection and to keep the law away.
     
Often, shrines of Malverde include statues of Santa Muerte, as well as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Malverde himself is typically represented as a large bust in public shrines and as a smaller statue on personal shrines. But, since he is patron to the poor, your altar need not be fancy. If all you can do is print out his image, then tack it to the wall above a small table or dresser top and you will be fine. If you can’t afford fresh flowers, use plastic.  If you can’t afford colored candles, plain white ones will do.
  
Two candles are needed to petition Jesús Malverde: one, a glass encased Jesús Malverde seven color candle and the other, a glass encased three color Jesús Malverde candle. Some folks will use a white Santa Muerte candle and a green Jesús Malverde candle. Set an altar with the two candles on either side of his image, and place a photo of the person needing assistance on the altar. Set a written petition that has been placed in an envelope next to his image. If you have a bust or statue of him, place your hand on his head while praying. You may pray the following prayer:

PRAYER TO JESÚS MALVERDE

Dear Holy and Miraculous Malverde, I kneel before you today and ask for your mercy to heal my pain. You, who dwells in the glory of God Almighty, I come to you as a humble sinner asking you to hear my pleas for freedom from suffering. Oh miraculous Malverde,  grant me this favor and fill my soul with joy. Give me health, give me rest, Make me well and I will be happy. This is what I ask of you Malverde, to grant this favor. If you do this for me, I promise I will make an offering to you and make a charitable donation to the poor. (Concentrate on your desires) Amen.

The prayer can be altered to fit your need; as it stands, it is a prayer for healing. Offerings to Malverde run the gamut from candles, trinkets, corn cobs, photo collages, music and flowers to artificial limbs reminiscent of St. Roche in New Orleans.


REFERENCES
Quinones, S. (2001). True Tales from Another Mexico, University of New Mexico Press.

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Article and image Copyright 2013 Denise Alvarado, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.