Monday, October 27, 2008

Day 41/365 Laissez les bons temps rouler! 5 days till Samhain

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (less-say lay bon tonh roo-lay) Louisiana Cajun for:
Let the Good Times Roll!

With my natural bent towards creepy things that go bump in the night, maybe it was only a matter of time till I moved back to New Orleans as a young adult. Growing up there as a child doubtlessly left its mark on me, happily warping my outlook permanently. My first Mardi Gras memory is one of having a string of beads thrown to me from a float, catching them, then dropping them in the push of the crowd. A tall, hairy man in a lime green Jackie O dress, complete with matching heels, a pillbox hat, handed them back to me and smiled. I have never had any problem with gay rights since then.

New Orleans was also where I broke the barrier at the public library and vaulted from the children's section to the adult bookstacks, at age 8. Nevertheless,my mother had to take the librarian aside and personally speak to her, before I was allowed to check out an adult book on Louisiana hauntings and folklore.

That book is where I met the haunted side of the city, the side that is so commonplace that most residents don't even blink when told a place is haunted. With a city dating from 1718, there tends to be a great many spirits about, and most don't bother waiting for Halloween to make an appearance.

In addition to ghosts, Nouvelle Orleans also has Marie Laveau, the Voodun Queen. Her influence and reputation still run rampant through the city, even though she may have died in 1881. I say may have, because there are those who believe she still lives.

Marie was born a Free Woman of Color in 1794. She became the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, respected and feared by all. Voodoo in New Orleans was a blend of West African religion and Catholicism, with deities called Loahs that are closely paired with the Catholic Saints. Like almost everyone in New Orleans, Marie was a devout Catholic and attended Mass daily. She began as a hairdresser and later became a nurse during the Yellow Fever epidemics while becoming skilled in the practice of medicine as well as the healing qualities of indigenous herbs of the Louisiana delta.
She was the first commercial Voodoo Queen specializing in romance and finance (what an unbeatable combination!), and was known as a very astute business woman. Marie was all-knowing and all-powerful. She could easily help you get a lover, keep a lover or get rid of a lover.
White and black, rich and poor, pillars of the community and slave alike, they all visited Marie to ask favors: she would say prayers and create mixtures to drink, to rub on, to throw over the shoulder or to throw into the river. In the end, everything would happen just as she predicted.
Marie married Jacques Paris at St. Louis Cathedral when she was 25. He disappeared one year later without a trace, never to return. A year following Paris' disappearance, Marie became the common law wife of Captain Christopher Glapion and had 15 children by him. The youngest of these, also named Marie, followed in her mother's footsteps and succeeded her.
She died just a few days shy of the eve of St. John, the highest holy day of Vodun, and one that, for the previous 24 years, had seen her leading the bayou celebrations as High Priestess.
In voodoo it is believed that when a Voodoo Queen dies, her spirit re-enters the river of life and moves to the next realm that lies adjacent to this one. Her spirit will always be here, close at hand, in New Orleans. To this day, people still visit her tomb, leaving offerings of money, cigars, white rum, candles and candy, and marking scratched charcoal X's on her tomb to mark voodoo spells.

To truly appreciate Marie (and New Orleans), you need to stand in front of her tomb at night(preferably with at least two very large friends to watch your back -St. Louis Cemetary #1 is not usually on the recommended tour list).
All those ghost stories, voodoo spells, and Anne Rice vampires come pouring into your mind as the thick humid air turns to midnight fog - fog so thick you can't see the owner of that hand that brushes your arm. Fog so thick it muffles the soft footsteps of booted feet until they pass you only inches away, close enough to feel their breath on your cheek.
Fog so thick you really have no idea who else may be there.
It could be anyone.
It could be Marie.