Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Marie Laveau

My husband and I decided to take a trip to New Orleans and returned about a week ago. This was his first time, and my first time really hanging out of Bourbon Street, which is an event in itself! However, my reason for going was to visit two places I had missed; Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Congo Square.

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 is where Marie Laveau is believed to be entombed, though WHICH tomb is disputed. I chose to leave offerings at both but I did spend more time at the one I feel she is resting in.

When we arrived at the cemetery (only a few blocks from Dauphine St. where we stayed) we were greeted with a tour guide and group. In the future, I will remember to look up the times of these tours in order to avoid them-or go at night. Of course, there are also "haunted "tours running at night. I had forgotten about this and it made it quite difficult to get private time with her tomb, as it is near the front of the cemetery and, obviously, a popular stop.

I had spent the good portion of the day deciding on an offering and looking for a place to purchase one. The idea crossed my mind that one of the Vodou shops there ought to carry such things and provide information about leaving a proper offering. Another idea to store in the old vault for "some day".

I was extremely disappointed with the shops in New Orleans, but that's what I anticipated. Everything was far too commercial and shops were full of colored oils bearing Marie's name. I was also treated very poorly by the woman behind the counter at one shop, until I took out my credit card. Now, I can blame it on the amount of uneducated people, or drunk people, who wander in and make fun of the wares they offer. I could blame it on the fact that I don't look "scary" enough to practice (which is the best disguise of all). I figured she probably dealt with rude tourists all day, everyday, and I can only imagine how fed up she got. So I forgave her shortness and her leeriness of my ability to pay for what I'd picked out. We then had a lovely talk of our obsession with hoarding paper and packing materials. This helped to smooth the transaction.

The man in the back was extremely helpful and we spoke of how the new resin Orisha statues were very "Disney-looking" and how we preferred the old, Catholic Style chalkware or plaster pieces for our altars. He was a very sweet and kind young man. He showed me their gris gris bags after I had chosen my statues saying I could use those along with the statues if I was "really into it". He was feeling out my practices-something practitioners do. I politely declined the bags remarking that I prefer to make my own offerings.

I decided on taking a bottle of the perfume oil I wear and a cigar to Marie's tomb. We stopped at this little hole-in-the-wall cigar shop run by a young Indian boy and I purchased the best cigar I could afford. I brought my perfume because I sense spirits through the olfactory and I often wonder if spirits can smell me too, so I like to wear a signature scent. Everyone says they can smell me coming.

I got to her grave about 15 minutes before the tour did-enough time for my husband to stand guard and shoo people away while I had my time in offering and praise. It seemed people got the point as they kept moving right along while I was there. I put on my perfume and my lipstick. I left the cigar and found 3 pieces of brick to leave there so I could draw my X's and so someone else would have something to draw with as well. I drew my X's, thanked her for everything she had done for her followers and asked her to protect my family, blessing us with health and happiness. Lastly, I kissed her grave.

My X's

Why the X's?
There are different theories about why three X's are drawn. The idea is, you draw three X's then knock, or spin around, and say your request and the spirit will grant it. Slaves were illiterate and uneducated. They drew an X to sign their names, since they could not write. It is believed that the original X's were a signing of her devotees names, saying "It's me, I was here". The number three is also sacred in most any religion as the holy trinity exists in some form or another to most people. It is also believed the X is a symbol of the meeting of light and dark and at the center is where we can communicate with the spirits. There is also a theory that since Vodou originated in Haiti, the slaves passing through is how it was brought to New Orleans, that the X is a version of the Haitian Cross which can look like two X's overlapping.

As I was leaving my cigar, and I was surprised it was the only cigar there, I felt the presence of two people approach. My husband stood between me, as I was kneeling in prayer, and them. It was what I assume to be a father and daughter (in her late teens, early 20's). She asked my husband "What's all this?" He replied "It's the grave of Marie Laveau." She replied "Who's THAT?" My husband's response; "She was a Vodou Queen." The young woman replied with an"Oh". And she hurriedly backed up, walked WAY around me and left.

Hurriedly is an understatement.

I chuckled, and I think Marie did as well.

As I finished up, the tour then met up with us. The tour guide was pointing out the offerings-what were "true" offerings from devotees and what were from tourists. There was scads of make-up at certain graves through out the cemetery. The tour guide began to speak of the offerings; "The make-up is left by tourists. This is not an appropriate offering-a devotee would never leave this. The CIGAR however, is from a devotee as well as the beads, flowers, and food." I have to say, I was a bit pleased with my choice and hope Marie was as well.

The tour guide then talked of the strangest offerings he had seen; one being a dead snake and one being a cell phone. He laughed, "What is she going to do with that? Phone home?"

One woman on the tour, I'd say in her 50's and with red hair, stuffed some cash down into one of the vases in front of Marie's grave. The man with her seemed pleased.

I then realized an unspoken rule in my practice and the practices of most people I know; an offering should be biodegradable. Make-up is full of chemicals, synthetics, and plastics. It has no ashe'. It can not return to the earth. It will remain there forever making a big junky, gooey pile of trash. Without being told, I was always taught to leave offerings that would decompose; cigars, food, flowers, water, or liquor. If the ashe' from an offering can not return back to the earth, then how it is an "offering"?

We stopped at several more commonly visited tombs and we walked the whole cemetery. I learned the architecture of the 10 or so types of graves and stopped and paid respects as I was called to. My heart was heavy when I had to leave but I also felt spiritually refreshed, renewed, and fulfilled. Plus, I had to get over to Congo Square which is another post...
A Fleur de lis fence surrounding a tomb.

My big ass collecting brick pieces-permission asked and offerings left.

Pediment style tombs

Platform style tomb.

The ONLY painted tomb-all the other's were white or brick.

Oven Vault style tombs.

Dilapidated Pediment tomb.
Temple style grave.

Fenced-in graves are considered their own category.

I hope you enjoyed taking a stroll with me through St. Louis Cemetery No.1. If you haven't visited it yourself, add it to your bucket list:)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Altars in New Orleans

One of the most beautiful things about New Orleans is the juxtaposition of cultures, architecture, and religion. These then melded, as we all know, creating some of the richest tapestries of people and beliefs in the world. In order for the slaves to practice their African beliefs without punishment, the Catholic saints were melded with their own African deities. This created a brand new beleif system, new practices, and also added new facets and depth to the both Catholicism and the African traditions and religion. Vodou ceremonies were often held on week nights and then these same folks were also good Catholics, attending mass every Sunday. 

I wanted to attend both a formal Catholic cathedral and then Vodou's devoted to specific Loa or Saint to show the incredible asthetic difference between the ways of honoring and worship. Just the look and feel of the altars and tools are so completely opposite that one showcases the other. You may never notice the fine, crisp detials of the Catholic statues without the hand-hewn craftsmenship of the wooden jujus. For without darkness, there is no light and without both, there is no religion, spirit, or ashe'. Each enhancing the beauty of the other with the commonlaties and juxtaposition these beleifs and practices have evolved within and alongside one another.

A statue devoted to the American Indians of the land.

A stained glass window of Saint Anthony.

A statue of Saint Martin de Porres.

Mother Mary

A juju to protect the owner and building from evil spirits.

A three headed juju.

A statue of Exu.

Two human skulls left in offering to Baron Samedi.

A human skelton used as a vessel for Baron Samedi.

A painting of Marie Laveau and her snake in ritual.

An altar devoted to Aida Weddo.

A bible open to the Psalms.

An altar devoted to several aspects of Mother Mary.

An umbrella created and embellished for Marie Laveau. It bears her name in the gold "writing" and beading.

A collection of Vodou dolls.

I have a couple of more posts to come about my stay in New Orleans so stay tuned...