Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011 Traditional Folk Magic Festival – Day Two (of Three)

The second day began for many of us with the Voodoo Doll Making workshop with Bloody Mary.

I just love Bloody Mary, whom I first got to know during the year we were prepping for our wedding. Someone had recommended her to me as one of the people in New Orleans that were the “real deal” and could not only officiate for us, but also provide all the referrals to other trusted places and service providers since we were planning everything from a distance. She proved to be an invaluable friend during that year, and every place and person she recommended were lovely and really came through for us. She also helped us craft a beautiful and meaningful marriage ceremony that was based in Voodoo, but was easy to understand and was generally accessible for our non-magically-minded friends and family. We were married in Congo Square, on Halloween, with our guests being given a fantastic tour of the French Quarter by Mary beforehand and led directly to the ceremony. It was AMAZING! So I was very much looking forward to seeing Bloody Mary again, and actually getting to learn some stuff from her.

I was really excited for the Voodoo Doll workshop, as she had made a Bride and Groom set of dolls that were just stunning, and I wanted to know her method! I was not disappointed. She brought all the supplies – bags of Spanish moss, sticks from ancient oaks, cloth and ribbons of various colors, beads, bells, and bangles. We not only got a fantastic overview of doll making, but some great NOLA history and lore as well. I’ve heard it said many times that Bloody Mary’s forgotten more NOLA lore than most people will ever even know, and I believe it. She’s a priceless fount of information! We spent time cleaning and loosening our moss, while impregnating every single motion and act with significance and intent.

She showed us how to wrap the moss around the sticks to craft the body of the doll, and then how to drape and tie the fabric around it. Once everyone had successfully put together the bodies of the dolls, we were given some free time to embellish it. Markers, buttons, sequins, bells, beads, ribbons, feathers and more were all there for us to use. She reminded us to make every single action mean something while crafting and decorating it. We were then walked through the process of naming, tasking, and then enlivening the dolls. Bloody Mary aided us by feeding the dolls with some Florida Water, and giving her own blessing and "newborn spanking" to them!

I was a little stunned when without any warning one of the fest goers reached over the yanked my doll from my hands in order to see how I had tied the fabric! But I just shook off the shock as, thankfully, it hadn't been named yet and just kept on going. (I can’t imagine just grabbing someone else’s work like that – mundane OR magical…but especially magical.) Nothing was going to mess up my baby! Just goes to show that all levels of experience with conjurework were present, which for the most part, was part of the joy of the Fest.

They turned out really great! I couldn’t resist having a picture snapped with Mary and my dolly and me!

Yes, I've blanked out my dolly. I don't like posting active work, and I am actively working with this dolly!
Call me paranoid. Better safe than sorry as far as I'm concerned. The internet is not immune from shady people.

The afternoon session was an extraordinary powerhouse. Momma Starr and Orion Foxwood teamed up to give a 3.5 hour lecture and workshop on Conjuring with the Bible. This was such a spirit-led and filled experience that it’s hard to really communicate what exactly went down during it. It was much more like going to church – and I mean that in the absolutely BEST way possible – then attending a lecture. Orion did most of the talking, as the Spirit was really moving through him. He discussed how powerful the old time folk Christian practices and Bible readings were, giving examples from his childhood. Momma Starr often chimed in with really interesting things which she’d found while working with the Bible.

While the Bible was the jumping off point, and all workshop participants got a Bible of their own to take home and work with, this class was really more about the very powerful Spirit-filled practices of the anointed Christian congregations. We were taught about prayer cloths, and Orion led the participants through a prayer and praise session, filled with layered s
ing/chanting, clapping, and drawing down the Holy Spirit which was directed towards empowering some olive oil with Divine energy, and filling the white cotton handkerchiefs with the same.

Let me tell you…I’m usually fairly dull when it comes to physically feeling the vibrations off of spiritually-charged items. When people pass around crystals, or other spiritual items ooo-ing and ah-ing over the strong vibrations, I usually just end up smiling and nodding, and feeling sort of left out. It’s just not where my particular extra-sensory perceptions seem to lie. But when we were given those prayer cloths that Orion and Mamma Starr had been praying over and we’d all been directing our energy and calling the Holy Spirit into – WOAH!! It was like holding something that had a mild electric current running through it. I was floored. I can’t even imagine what the people who are more sensitive felt.

Mamma Starr also talked about some specific verses and how they could be used for different conjure purposes. At least half of the Fest participants were witches and Pagans, and she shared some of what she had been learning about the Holy Spirit and Wisdom being female (Shekinah and Sophia), as her friendship with Orion who is a witch had made her more curious about the Goddess-inclusive traditions. She read a bit from The Book of Wisdom, which is included in some Catholic version of the Bible. Momma Starr has just released a new book on Working with the Bible in Conjure, so if it’s a topic that interests you I recommend picking up a copy (actually many of her books include pages with Bible verse references that you can use for different intents), and also listen to some of the back episodes of her Old Style Conjure BlogTalkRadio show where she actually dedicated several hours of speaking on the topic.

After that marathon spiritually-thick session I was pretty exhausted, but the night was just getting started! Bloody Mary was back to take those who had registered for an outdoor Voodoo “séance” at the bayou’s edge, where we would be calling on Marie Laveau for written communications. We had a bit of a walk to the streetcar line, and a nice leisurely ride out to City Park which is home to the nation’s oldest Oak forest. These trees were hundreds of years old, huge, and magnificent! There’s also a patch of bayou left in the park, and it had created a small island under a canopy of gigantic oaks flowing with moss where the ceremony was held.

We chanted as we were led through the dark park and over a strangely precarious stone bridge onto the island. Her assistants had set up a beautiful altar, and we all sang, danced, and called upon Marie Laveau to visit us and inspire us with words that would express something about herself, the bayou, New Orleans, and Voodoo. Then we played a version of a parlour game from the 19th century called Exquisite Corpse, where each person writes a sentence on a sheet of paper, and then folds it over so that no one else can see what was written. Only the last word of the sentence or phrase is written on the “fresh” line, and the next person uses that word as inspiration for their own sentence. We were calling upon to inspire us with her message through this method.

I’ll be honest: at the time it felt quite cheesy and ineffective. The dancing and singing to call upon Mam’zelle Marie had been weak and uninspiring – no one knew the beat or the song, and let’s face it, a lot of folks find syncopated rhythms hard to keep up with. If you find NOT clapping on 1 and 3 a challenge, trying to clap and move to complex African inspired beats without a least a bit of practice is probably going to be near hopeless. (I say this with love and a big old smile on my face.) There was only one drum, so it felt “thin” to begin with and didn’t help support those who were struggling. When we sat to do the writing exercise, it wasn’t an overly inspiring experience. I felt a bit let down, even though a great deal of fun was had by all.

I did enjoy the end of the ceremony where we wrote a petition and presented it at the altar. Despite all our floundering to clap and dance, Spirit had showed up…even if it choose to stick close to the warm altar! Once you were up there, you could feel the thickness of the air and the presence, and it was wonderful to be able to spend a few moments with the Voodoo Queen.

This picture really doesn't do the altar justice. Without the flash it was too dark for my camera to capture a decent image, and then of course with it it just kills any sense of atmosphere. I assure you it was stunning.

Bloody Mary collected all the papers, and said that over the next day she would transcribe all the various sentences and arrange them in a logical order, and come by the Fest to read us the results of the communication. I didn’t have high hopes, but it was fun nonetheless. Several other Fest-goers expressed feeling similarly.

I’ll go ahead and tell the end of the story now, even though Mary didn’t come to read us the end result of the exercise until the 3rd day right before we ended. She showed up, and everyone was gathered together, not really sure what to expect. Would it be cringe-worthy? Would it be silly or saccharine?

We were all absolutely taken aback as Mary read out the message. It was stirring and powerful. It was filled with sadness, and strength, and anger, and hope. It expressed love and frustration, told of tears and of ecstasy. It was stunning beautiful. There were many people with tears flowing down their faces by the time it finished – myself included. We’ve been promised that Mary will send a copy to the Fest organizers, who will then forward a copy to all the attendees. I absolutely want to copy it out and have it be a part of the Marie Laveau altar that I’ll be building over the next few months. And when I do get the copy, I’ll make sure to post it here so that all of you can read what came of that night exercise. We were all very impressed, and a bit humbled by the fact that our preconceptions of what it was “supposed” to be like had caused us to doubt that Spirit would move through and be present for us that evening.

Once again, I was wiped out by the end of that Festival day. But I was also REALLY hungry. Andrea and her husband (I apologize for not having remembered his name – I’m just awful at names!), Randy and myself walked down to the gas station at the corner which had this really surprisingly good deli and fry booth. We got some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, and some delicious poboys. I never thought I’d rave about gas station food, but I suppose in New Orleans anything really can happen! We laughed and stuffed ourselves silly, and then fell into bed to rest up for the final day.

More to come!...

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