Saturday, January 07, 2006

Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau

'The forty-four cemeteries of New Orleans lend themselves to mystery, ghost stories and occult tourism. Local citizens call them 'cities of the dead'. First time visitors receive a surreal shock - ancient ruins, marble monuments and tall crypts celebrate death and refuse to sterilize, deny or make it merely a medical fact Against the skyline, angels, crosses and statues of grieving mothers make the aura of decomposition exquisite. Mile after mile of tombs resemble houses, small mansions or places of worship - neighborhoods where another branch of the family lives . . . The Creole citizens of New Orleans came to be infatuated with tales of open graves, gruesome deaths and skeletons or ghosts who lead independent lives along the avenues of the cities of the dead. . . (p. 94)

This new biography by Martha Ward is published by University of Mississippi Press, at approx 20 UK pounds (ISBN 1-57806-629-8). Beneath the dull gray cover lurks a colorful hardback documenting the history of the New Orleans Voodoo clan of Marie Laveau and her eponymous daughter. Marie I, born in 1801 died 1881, is buried in the famous New Orleans Tomb which every year is visited by many thousands of pilgrims. She and her daughter lived extraordinary lives, spanning the purchase of Louisiana by the fledgling USA, the civil war, the decline and suppression of Voodoo and the rise of segregation.

Its unlikely that any earlier author had as much freedom to research the subject, using original documentary material, her own intuition and the extensive archive of oral history compiled during the years of the depression by the Federal Writer's Project. Marie Laveau's magick is clearly neither wholly black nor white - she was charismatic enticing her second racially white husband to declare himself black despite the vicious race laws of the time. Time and time again her actions emerge as not quite what they seem - the accusation that she owned slaves changes significance when the author's painstaking research exposes how she and her husband manipulated the law to resist slavery and secure a kind of freedom to anyone in their orbit.

Her daughter (also Marie Laveau) at first resisted but later embraced Voodoo. 'she liked parties, she loved the attention men paid to her striking good looks. She danced the Bamboula and the Calinda in Congo square on Sunday afternoon. There each time she ran into Jim Alexander (Dr Jim not Dr John??) a voodoo practitioner and respected two-headed doctor of Hoodoo, he confronted her; he told her that she radiated power. He offered to initiate her, to be her mentor, to take her through the door to the spirits. She turned him down time after time, because "she would rather dance than make love". One night however ' a great rattlesnake entered her bedroom and spoke to her.' p110.

Some say that in 1999 she returned to a St John's Eve Voodoo gathering on Bayou St John - hopefully she will return. Highly recommended book [Mogg]

Combining Egyptian & Hindu Pantheons

The whole 'Tankhem' project is predicated on the hypothesis that there some sort of synthesis is possible between Egyptian & Hindu religious concepts. How that's going to be, is still to be discovered - it's an intuition that they share something but not yet fully articulated.

Yesterday, in the House of Life, I was reading Jan Assmann's 'Search for God in Ancient Egypt' - which I really recommend, even if some of his theories are very controversial - he does also talk about comparative religion and how it might apply to the Egyptian quest.

Many people talk about different _forms_ of deity or contrast for example Tantrik ‘ideas’. Seems like many people are in their personal religious quest, seeking a common religious experience rather than a narrow cultural expression. Personally I am very drawn to the project of reconstructing this common ground between traditions - including the 'international' language of magick.

Jan Assmann talks about three types of religious experience:
1. Ecstatic/shamanic
2. Mystical / personal piety
3. Historic or religion of personal destiny

Corresponding examples would be -
1. Neolithic 'shamanism' (having no real geographical domain)
2. Hindu mysticism & yoga
3. e.g.: Judaism

Incidentally Assmann says none of these models quite fits the Egyptian material 'as a whole' but there are notable exceptions - which is where we all come in. For example, the cult of Hathor is very ecstatic - involving crazy dancing and consumption of beer - laced with red ochre - (Guinness might work here ;) is very apposite in this context). Another important exception occurs in the Cult of Seth - which probably has all the aspects of ecstatic/shamanic religion, a mystical or path of personal piety and perhaps (as in the case of the King Ramesses) - an notion of personal destiny.