Sunday, November 27, 2011

Venezuela's Espiritismo Marialionza

Thanks to the Wild Hunt blog I stumbled on an article about the Maria Lionza religion of Venezuela today and found it fascinating! It's a Spiritism tradition that has many groups of spirits - including Indians, Doctors, Criminals, and even some Vikings - which are headed by their Queen, Maria Lionza who was believed to be a native woman long ago. It blends Catholicism with some African practices, and Espiritismo beliefs, and 1/3 of Venezuelans are said to participate in it - though it's not just limited to local Venezuelan devotees.

What really caught my eye is that Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez who I frequently work with for healing and finding appropriate treatments and practitioners, is one of the main figures in the Doctor family of spirits. This makes sense seeing as how he is Venezuelan!

I'd love to learn more about this, and especially in how the Blessed Dr. Hernandez is worked with in this tradition - and thought that perhaps other readers of my blog who hadn't heard of this current of practice might also find it interesting as I had. I especially liked this short video showing some of the practitioners and rituals associated with Espiritismo Marialionza:


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Trad Folk Magic Fest 2011 – After Thoughts

After spending 3 days immersed in conjure culture and meeting many new friends and colleagues, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the attendees and talk about our experiences. The likes, dislikes, and things we’d like to see in the future as this Festival appears to be really taking root and growing like a weed! Basically you’re in for an opinion piece peppered with wild fantasies…so buckle up. At the end I’ll tell about my creepy experience in the Séance Room of Muriel’s with some of the others.

LIKE: We all liked when we were provided with live demonstrations and hands-on practice opportunities. Books and the internet are fantastic, but learning face-to-face from other practitioners is where the gold is, and this kind of Festival provides an opportunity to do just that. Obviously with the number of people present and space at a premium (both lecture rooms were barely large enough to contain everyone), these kinds of classes require extra logistics – such as supplies, extra tables, etc – that makes them more challenging to hold. But that doesn’t change that we’d love to see more of that.

LIKE: We loved having the opportunity to get out into the city with some of the presenters for special events, such as the magical shopping trip (which I sadly did not attend) and the Voodoo séance. We also loved how visceral some of the lectures became as spirit started to move through the presenters and the room. But it seemed that presenters often held back, perhaps because they felt the context was not completely appropriate or that some in the eclectic audience would feel uncomfortable.

WISH: We wished that there had been more opportunity for immediate experiential application of the material we’d covered in the lectures. Especially with something like the Boneyard Work lecture with Orion. It would have been AMAZING to have been able to leave from the lecture, and go into a cemetery to care for some graves. Now, obviously in New Orleans most cemeteries close mid-afternoon, so that would make it necessary to have the lecture in the morning, etc. But having that experience while the spirit and energy of the workshop was so fresh would have been invaluable.

WISH: It would have been extremely wonderful to have been able to more fully experience the local spiritual culture of New Orleans. I’m sure it was a logistics thing again, but with several well respected Voodoo houses in the immediate area, it would have been amazing to have had the opportunity to experience a full-scale Fete, with the entire compliment of drums, and traditional litanies and songs, and authentic dances. Many attendees have never had the blessing of attending a Fete before, and it’s an amazing experience that would be of particular interest to those practicing the folk arts of the African diaspora.

Even if it’s not specifically Voodoo, especially as they are looking at holding future Fests in other locations, but a full-scale ritual (as much as one can pull one off in that kind of larger Fest atmosphere) would have been thoroughly appreciated. I know many of us were left really wishing that Orion had let fly during the Bible Conjure workshop, as he admitted he’d held back. I understand that in the middle of a workshop might not be the best place to let the Spirit take over, but for those who may wish a closer spiritual experience the option of attending a full ritual or even charismatic praise service would have been most welcome, instructive, and valued.

WISH: If a particular presenter is known for being able to go on and on and still be providing fantastic information, find some way to allow them longer slots of time! Mamma Starr and Orion both could have been given much more substantial blocks of time, and everyone there would have just eaten it up. Their storyteller styles lent to a more free-form and spirit-led method of getting across information, and it would have been nice not to have been rushed out of some of their workshops. Auntie Sindy and Miss Susan seemed much more attuned to the more traditional presenter/teacher formats, and so they were more able to succinctly get across the amount of material they planned for, without their being the sense of being rushed or getting cut off. It would be great to see presenter styles taken more into consideration when planning out lecture schedules in the future.

WISH: Since the Fests are going to be occurring regularly, and many new attendees will want to partake in some workshops that have been given before, and the presenters are worried about repeating information for those who are returning attendees, perhaps offer some 101 and 201s. For instance Mamma Starr didn't talk too much about Black Hawk, because she assumed that most had been there before and wouldn't want to hear similar information, and also she wanted to build on the information she'd given before. All understandable. But those of us who hadn't attended last year were a wee sad to not hear the Black Hawk info. If she had a Black Hawk workshop for new attendees, and then a White Eagle & Mother Ross workshop for those who wanted to deepen their knowledge, that would have been ideal! Having some more "advanced" class options for repeat attendees would be really amazing.

WISH: This one really is just pure fantasy, but I wish there had been a way that I could have attended ALL the workshops! In attending Mamma Starr’s Black Hawk, White Eagle, and Mother Ross lecture, I had to miss Orion and Auntie Sindy’s workshop on cleansing and uncrossing work. Trying to decide between those two power-houses was like some kind of Sophie’s Conjure Choice. I also missed out on Miss Susan’s workshop on Astrology for Conjure, and Auntie Sindy’s workshops on love and home protection/prosperity work.


LIKE: The workshops were, for the most part, all filmed this year. So if we missed something, or we just want the relive something, we’ll be able to order the tapes!! And also, the intent is to make those tapes available to the public too, so even those who cannot make the Fests will be able to get a good portion of the material in the future.

DISLIKE: Overall, there was precious little to complain about!

However, there were several instances where an attendee sort of “dominated” a workshop, and really took overly large chunks of time away from the lecture. Now anyone who has taught or spoken in public knows that there is often that one (sometimes more if you’re unlucky) person who continually asks off-topic questions, or asks incessant questions that stall the presenter completely, or otherwise repeatedly interject with their own stories and opinions, and this easily takes over and takes away from the facilitator and indeed the other participants. I’ve been there and had to face the challenge of wrangling such a person. In fact, at the beginning of the Fest we were all asked to basically just listen to the material, and save questions and comments for the end when a presenter would invite such. I realize this was an attempt to pre-empt “over-enthusiasm”. But it fell on some deaf ears. Several workshops were taken over in this manner, and it was frustrating to those of us who really wanted to milk every second of knowledge from the sessions. It would be nice to have presenters be a bit less polite and accommodating when it’s apparent that someone is over-stepping such boundaries.

So that’s my Hindsight Analysis!

Now, the final night of the Fest, after all the workshops were through, everyone dashed off in different directions to party in whatever way the fancy struck them. I ended up going with Andrea and her hubby (SOO sorry I can’t remember his name), and Randy Love into the French Quarter. We had reservations for cocktails in the Séance Lounge at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. I ADORE Muriel’s and especially the mind-numbingly atmospheric Séance Lounge, which is actually where I had my wedding reception. (Seriously – click on the link and look at the pictures; you won’t regret it.) I was excited to be going back.

When we got to the Quarter, we were a little early for our reservations, so we stopped for a drink at the hilariously elaborate Pirates’ Alley Café for some absinthe and general pirate-goodness. Yes, the bar staff all dress the part! I don’t like the flavor of anise, fennel and other black licoricey things, which is sad because the whole ritual of absinthe is gorgeous and I would love to partake. Too curious to not at least give it a go just in case, I had a sip of Randy’s and it was much smoother than I imagined, but still icky for my palate. *Pout*

Onwards to Muriel’s, we found that our reservations had been quite superfluous, as the Séance Lounge was completely empty except for us. This was both cool – as we had the place to ourselves – and not-so-cool as Muriel’s apparently plays a 3 minute loop of spooky dissonant music in there when it’s not populated, just to add some ambience for when people stick their heads in just to look. This 3 minute loop becomes its own form of Water Torture when one sits in that room for any length of time, let me tell you!

Oh, and did I mention that Muriel’s is haunted? Yea. It is. For real.

Now, not being a natural medium I am blessedly not inundated with spirits all the time. I usually have to work at perceiving them – sitting down to meditation, asking them to come, being very still and very quiet so I can pick up the subtlety when they arrive. Generally speaking, unless it’s VERY good or VERY bad, I don’t immediately pick up on presences. Also, when it comes to spirit beings I’m usually very even-keeled and cool-headed. Non-carnate entities (being that have never had a physical body, or had one so long ago that it’s almost a moot point now), and human-spirits-in-visitation don’t phase me. But my skin will crawl and my hackles raise like crazy if a true disembodied spirit is around. I don’t like it. My anxiety shoots through the roof, and despite all my knowledge that everything’s going to be ok, I still get really creeped out. I feel guilty about that, especially since my mother is quite gifted in ghost rescue, but it’s the truth.

This all makes me feel all the worse since Death doesn’t frighten me, and Spirits of Death – such as Santa Muerte, Kali, Baron Samedi and the Ghede, Archangel Azrael – just love me and we get along like gangbusters. I also don’t have a problem with graveyard work, though I admittedly don’t do too much of it. But I’ve always LOVED cemeteries and find them extremely peaceful and beautiful places. So the fact that disembodied spirits of dead people freak me the hell out seems really illogical. I think, in listening to Orion’s breakdown of the various parts and natures of the spirit, that it makes sense. Lingering disembodied spirits are “off” – that’s not a state that is in balance. So that sets my spiritual alarm bells ringing, and gives me a good case of the creeping horrors. Spirit-impressions and Spirit-visitiations, both of which I have no problems with, are balanced and appropriate manifestations of spirit and so don’t jangle me. (These are all just my own personal musings and opinions. I realize plenty of other people would heartily disagree with my interpretations, and that’s totally fine. I hold multiple truths, this is just how I experience things and explain them to myself.)

Back to the story, we’re sitting around talking and having a great time in the Séance Lounge (despite the 3 minute loop of doom), and I keep seeing something out the corner of my eye in the next room by this mirror. I also am feeling really tense. But I tell myself it’s just the music wearing on my nerves. Next thing I know both Andrea and Randy are saying, “do you see that in the corner by the mirror?” My stomach drops, because I’d really been telling myself that I’d just been seeing a wisp of my own hair out of my peripheral vision, and the anxiety was the music. Now I can’t lie to myself anymore. Dammit.

We nicely greet the spirit, and Andrea invites it to sit with us if it wants. I am wanting SO badly to not feel scared, and ever the indoctrinated Canadian just do my best to project apologies for my fear, and communicate goodwill.

The spirit starts knocking in various places in the room. Fine. All well and good. It seems to mostly like to hang out in the corner by that mirror across the room, and that’s also fine with me. Of course, then it starts jumping around in all these wooden carved faces that are on the walls – from one face to another to another. I try to tell myself I’m just making this all up in my head. Sure, the spirit is knocking and hanging out by the mirror, but jumping faces? Nah. That’s when Andrea and Randy both mention that it’s jumping around in the faces. Dammit.

I’m getting really tense. I’m trying to stay all calm and nonchalant. Apparently it’s not working, because everyone starts laughing at me and my obvious discomfort. Andrea decides we should all move and sit over near the mirror where the spirit is. I like to push my boundaries, so I agree. I guess the spirit has a wicked sense of humor, because no sooner do we get over to that area then it starts knocking directly underneath me and also directly behind my head. Gee, thanks. Dammit.

I decide I really can’t take much more. I’m all tense and anxious, and I’m starting to feel kinda dizzy. Ghosts just don’t agree with me. So I ask St. Michael to please put a shield around me so I can no longer be effected by the spirit, but ask that the spirit still be allowed in the general area since everyone else seems to be enjoying it. Immediately, I felt pounds and pounds lighter, the anxiety diminished, and I was able to just enjoy the company of my friends. The spirit still dashed around the room, and we all saw it, and it knocked a few more times.

I will say that although I did not get a sense of overt malevolence from the spirit, it definitely had some anger. I guess you’d kind of have to have a little something unpleasant going on – whether its sadness or anger or pain - or else you wouldn’t be a ghost! When the conversation would turn to something a bit more frustrating or negative, its strength would increase exponentially, and when things would lighten up with laughter and mirth the activity would drop down to nearly nothing. To me that says a little something about the resonance of that particular being. So I don’t feel too badly about putting up my shields! I just DON’T do well with ghosts.

One more freaky thing happened that night. As we stepped outside Muriel’s, a man walked by who was noticeably drunk, but who had something else riding along with him, if you get me. He locked eyes with us on the doorstep of Muriel’s and said “Oh you’re talking to spirits, eh? Hehehehe.” And just walked off as quickly as he’d appeared. The hehehehe part was said really deadpan and weird. It was creepy. I just told St. Michael not to let anything follow me back to the hotel, and when I got back there I put the prayer cloth we’d gotten from Mamma Starr and Orion’s workshop on top of my head to sleep!

The next morning I ended up having a lovely chat with Heatherleigh, Jacki, Papa Newt, and Orion before we headed off to one last breakfast before everyone parted ways. It was a perfect end to a perfectly magical weekend!

My husband was going to be flying in and meeting me that afternoon, and we stayed in NOLA for another 6 days. I was going to be trying to find my family crypt in Lafayette Cemetery, collecting dirt and waters from various sacred locations, visiting churches and Voodoo temples, and eating LOTS of delicious food. And, yes, I’ll tell y’all about that too. With pictures!

Till next time….

Traditional Folk Magic Festival 2011 – Day Three

The third day of the Fest began with a champagne brunch, filled with mimosas, crawfish pies, macaroni & cheese, and bread pudding. Yea. You read that right. Other than a noticeable lack of sauce for the bread pudding (wassup with that?), it was glorious!

I had a cleansing and healing scheduled with Mamma Starr, so I held off on the eating and drinking until after that session. It was so wonderful to get a chance for some hands-on work by her. It’s not only good for the soul, but it’s also instructive, and I tried my best to take in as much as I could. It was a powerful experience, and since having that healing I can attest to having many of the fears that had been plaguing me banished far, far away. And as a completely unanticipated side-effect of the healing, my long standing sensitivity to caffeine has disappeared!

For the past 10 years, I’ve had to either avoid caffeine all together when at my most sensitive (even decaf drinks and chocolate candy often had enough caffeine in them to cause me to become ill), or be extremely judicious in my intake (like anything more than ½ cup of green tea every other day would overload my system). At my worst, I was so sensitive to any stimulating substances, that I had to avoid spicy foods, sugary foods, and even peppermint tea! Thankfully, that phase passed a few years ago, but I still had to be very careful. Papa Newt can attest to how closely I was monitoring my caffeine intake during the Fest so as not to get sick.

Since that healing, I’ve been having REGULAR coffee – and New Orleans-strength coffee at that, and full mugs of green tea without any issues. Sometimes even 2 or 3 cups of green tea in a day. I’ve not been ill, and my sleep has not been disturbed. HALLELUJAH!!

I can’t express how much I’ve missed my coffee and tea, and how grateful I am to have that enjoyment back in my life. Thank God, and thank you Mamma Starr for being a conduit for that healing.

At the conclusion of my healing session, Mamma Starr gave me some very strong encouragement to start learning to read the bones. It’s not something I had really considered, but her method of encouragement was such that there was really no way to get out of it! I’m looking forward to spending time cultivating knowledge of how to work with that form of divination, and have had some bones already present themselves to me…so I seem to be on the right path.

The remainder of the champagne brunch was used to spend more time getting to know the other goers better. I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Coventry Creations’ owner Jacki, who did some impromptu readings with the new oracle deck that she’s made. It’s quite ingenious, using the labels from her extensive line of spiritual candles as the basis. Among them there are world deities, magical plants, condition formulas, and magical actions. When they are dealt in a 3-card draw, they create an extremely accurate portrait of the query, along with suggested courses of action. I didn’t even concentrate on a specific question when I drew, letting Spirit give me a message through the cards. And DAMN if it didn’t speak directly and unambiguously to a major challenge in my life at the moment. Jacki is an extremely gifted reader, and her elaborations on the cards were bang-on. Everyone around the table that was blessed with a reading came away feeling blessed with insight and clarity on a variety of issues! Those are some good cards!

After we’d all had our fill of delicious food, and most had at least a slight buzz from the bottomless mimosas, it was time to begin the day’s classes.

The first workshop I attended on Sunday was Creative Conjure with Miss Susan Diamond. This actually turned out to be more of a round-table discussion and brainstorming session than a class or lecture. Miss Susan opened up by speaking a little on using what you have available to you to do the work that needs doing, and not having your magic limited by lack of fancy supplies and exotic herbs. She also spoke a bit about finding the spirits in urban environments, and using a city to one’s magical advantage. Once the ideas starting flowing, the floor was opened up, and Fest-goers began just sharing different creative ways they had approached work in the past. Some really unique ideas were tossed around, and it was interesting to hear about other peoples’ styles.

The next class was the Candle Burning Workshop with Mamma Starr. This was really great, as she pulled up a huge table and laid out all kinds of the tools and supplies she works with. She wasn’t just talking about the work, she was showing us exactly how she goes about doing it! Her style is just so straight-forward and simple, it’s fantastic. Need to shut someone up? Tape their picture to a dressed candle, draw a mouth on top of it, and slap the hell out that mouth while commanding that person to shut it! That co-worker making trouble for you at every turn? Stick their picture upside down under a rock!

As always with Mamma Starr, the topic she begins with is really just a jumping off point. You’ll learn about that topic, but you’ll also get about 10 streams of related information along the way. Bottle work, controlling work, road opening work, blessing work – you name it. And the stories she tells to illustrate her points are just priceless. If you’ve listened to her radio show or read her books on these topics, it’s great to confirm that you’ve correctly understood her method of working by getting to see it performed first-hand. And if you hadn’t encountered her style before, it was a fantastic introduction that will make her other materials all the more instructive.

Over dinner break, the various presenters generously made themselves available to attendees so that anyone with additional questions or concerns could get clarification. Mamma Starr even held a little informal talk with some of the people who had asked about harder works during the general workshop. It was also a last-chance for people to buy from vendors there. I grabbed a few extra oils from Miss Susan’s Serpents Kiss line, and grabbed a few conjure crafts from Mamma Starr for my altars at home. Everyone was feeling happy and energized, and also really anxious for the final workshop of the Fest, the much anticipated lecture on Graveyard work with Orion Foxwood.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter WHAT Orion is talking about. Even if he’s just casually chatting with you, so much knowledge and wisdom just comes flowing out of him in this amazingly accessible, humorous, and inspiring way that’s its just pure bliss. He has this gift for saying exactly the right thing that really makes something hit deep in your heart and take root, bringing your understanding of it to a whole new depth. It’s really remarkable. He’s also extremely charismatic and his presence just effortlessly commands the entire room. This was going to be a great finale to a wonderful weekend.

Orion shared his understanding of the Realm of the Dead, or as he often refers to it the Ancestral Current, and its place in our world and existence, as well as our responsibility to it as spirit workers. His take on that nature of the spirits that are being worked with in graveyard work was really fascinating. Rather than graveyard work being a matter of calling back a spirit to work with you (which he said can, of course, be done – but is a whole different ball of wax), he said that it is more a matter of calling upon the memory of the person that is recorded in their physical body and the energetic impression of that person and their qualities that radiates and is stored in the soil as they return to the earth. The imprint of the person can be quite strong and complete, and does contain an intelligence that can be communicated and interacted with by the worker. He painted a beautiful picture of upon having gained assent from the grave-resident to work with their plot, calling forth from the soil the quality of the person you wished to utilize in your work, and then digging and leaving payment for the gift.

As he was explaining this, you could see some of the other presenters (who were all gathered to take in this talk as well) finding the information both new and compelling. Obviously, there is a pervasive understanding of graveyard work as, in fact, being with an actual spirit-being as opposed to a spirit-impression. I think this perspective was new to many people there, and would be hotly debated by practitioners from other traditions, but it seemed to resonate with many present. Though specifics vary, the idea of the soul having several parts is common among many different spiritual traditions – the Nephesh/Ruach/Neshamah in Herbrew mysticism, Ti Bon Ang/Gros Bon Ang in Vodou, Ib/Sheut/Ren/Ka/Ba in ancient Kemetic belief, etc, etc – so hearing the particular traditional witchcraft perspective presented by Orion, especially in the specific context of graveyard conjure, was really fascinating and valuable.

Orion stressed that graveyard work should be something that manifests balance and healing to both the physical world and the Ancestral Current. He shared some heart-wrenching stories of powerfully healing experiences he’d had over his years of working with the residents of cemeteries. His tales had tears falling from many in the room, and his love and respect for the dead was inspiring in its depth.

This lecture was only 90 minutes, and I think everyone there would agree that it should have been closer to 3 hours. He barely scraped the surface of what he had to share when it was over! I felt like I could have spent an entire weekend just listening to him speak on that ONE topic. I really hope I have more opportunities to learn from him in the future.

My post-Fest analysis and story of last night run-ins with ghosts in the Quarter to come…

Trad. Folk Magic Fest 2011 - The Marie Laveau Messages

So in my last post I told about the game of Exquisite Corpse we played as part of the Voodoo ritual calling upon Marie Laveau for a message to us. Good timing being what it is, today the document was posted online through Conjure Crossroads' Facebook page, and I have reprinted it for you. It really is beautiful. I hope you enjoy it!

Through this misguided world, I wish I could speak so you could hear-the running water of the Mississippi River- where I give you my heart, Breath and soul- a Soul without cause is never rejoined.

Voodoo Queen we ask you for guidance for the yes. Yes to the power of the spirit within a glow flickering deep in the heart-something that brings out the spent personification of ourselves- yet often does not appear to ourselves as it does to others. They wander and wonder why the earth trembles and the waters flowed, why from her hair rose great birds that cried out the joyous sound of her name,
“I did time, unlike most people my age, unlike most who lived in my time”

Yourself -is the vessel, lifting you skyward like a dust. Surrender yourself! Give soul to soul, ashes to ashes, dust to soul –become the one.
“Listen, as the bayou sings, my child, Remember to always listen while running in the moonlight so fast--- Unbelievable… ‘

The moss on the crypts add grave beauty to wisdom which comes with the Gators – plentiful in New Orleans where two people met and became one.
Ills are not something that is here in the bayou.
"Oh, What the world has come to …”

New Orleans, the Spirit of Marie lives within love. Love unites us all conquers all fears, soothes all hurts and cures all---------.
Be focused – Right is strong & belly full, proud!

If SHE could see, she would still stay in the old ways, with the ports and the ships trade that carried those goods for trade, bringing people and culture together with the beauty of the bayou in the air and felt beneath feet,
“I too danced around the oak tree “.

SHE fears- her worlds fly.
“The cock will crow. Crow spirit brings us to realms of death where our beloved beckon us to share joy with them once more, “
She said and a mist rose to cover all around.

Spirits rose and formed whole again. Yet there is something. – slipping again- a masked face in a dark room you don’t know.
“Who is that I became?

It was not for me to say- it was something that could happen only in a place like this.

Why already she has seen 4 signs from her friend that had recently passed but had not yet contacted her.

She IS of the earth, core, center and will come to the meeting of the sun and moon where she like a dark lover, slipped into his embrace of a world that changed.

SHE : The gators speak of Guneia. The Power of change is within all of you. Trust yourselves, you are the land and the moss on the trees traveling in me.
“Retire, then to the Quarter and enjoy decadence with all seen and unseen.”

US: With your visions and your presense we honor and respect you and look forward to your messages.

SHE: Messages travel through the streets on a wild writhing horse- frothing and riding through the city- riding the unbridled pulse of the city, delivering blessings from its foaming mouth, like the witness of creation

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!...

Monday, November 21, 2011

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

I scrimped and saved over the year in order to attend the 2011 Traditional Folk Magic Festival in New Orleans, held by the practitioners of Conjure CrossroadsMamma Starr, Orion Foxwood, Auntie Sindy Todo, Miss Susan Diamond, and Bloody Mary. I was extremely excited to get to meet these wonderful practitioners and learn some new things first-hand. The fact that it was held in New Orleans was just an extra added blessing – being an ancestral dwelling place for my maternal line, as well as the spiritual place of pilgrimage that it is, as well as where I was married my husband would be joining me after the festival for a week! So, it was going to be a powerful and uplifting 10 days for me that I had been looking forward to for many anxious months.

The festival did not disappoint, and I encourage anyone who is able, to make the effort and attend one of these. Not only is the opportunity to meet and learn from the practitioners of Conjure Crossroads extremely valuable, but the company of the other attendees is also priceless. It was an incredible bunch of loving and truly enjoyable, inspiring people. I made many new friends that I very much look forward to keeping in touch with, and hopefully even collaborating with in some way in the near future. I’ve heard that Conjure Crossroads is considering holding 2 Fests a year, one on each coast of the US, in order to try and make it easier for more people to attend and therefore disseminate the traditional knowledge as much as possible! International conjurers may or may not find this beneficial – but hopefully it will still provide more chances to take in some wonderful company and information.

The 2011 festival was 3 full days, which was an expansion from the 2-days they held last year. I could have taken in 5 days without an issue (hint, hint)! It was fantastic. Because there was so much to do, see, buy (my credit card is groaning from the copious purchases of truly mind-blowing conjure craft that was available), and so many amazing people to meet, I’ve decided to break up these blog entries day by day of the Fest so as not to overwhelm my readers with a marathon post.

The first day I arrived a bit early, and had to press my little nose up against the wrought-iron gate drooling over the vendor tables from afar. When the Fest opened, there was a rush on those tables! Auntie Sindy Todo had some really remarkable railroad spikes that were beautiful pieces of conjure art, each one a unique one-of-a-kind piece with a great backstory, and instructions for use. These flew off her table – you snoozed, you lost! I picked up one crafted for working with St. Michael which was named “The Knight”. It was painstakingly decorated with lengths of chainmail and beading, and was simply stunning. St. Michael has been wanting me to build up his altar a bit, and this was the perfect piece to begin that process.

After securing my spike, I settled in for the opening prayer, and scurried off to the first class of the day, which was Mamma Starr’s Black Hawk class. I was thrilled to be meeting her and getting to hear her teach in person. She is such a BIG energy, it’s very surprising. She’s full of joy and laughter and tough love, and infectious enthusiasm! This year she decided to expand on her class from last year, and primarily talk about White Eagle and Mother Ross, two spirits that work very closely with Black Hawk. I was a little disappointed, because I hadn’t gotten to attend last year’s class (during which I heard she called down Black Hawk), but hearing her speak more on these two spirits was really an honor. If you haven’t gotten her amazing book on Black Hawk, I suggest you do so, and also go through her BlogTalkRadio archives for the episodes where she speaks on Black Hawk, as you’ll get an idea of the kind of info and work that was covered during the lecture…but Mamma Starr doesn’t recycle info from class to class, so whenever you get a chance to hear her teach, do it! Be ready to write REALLY fast, too – when she starts, it’s rapid fire.

We then had a lunch break, where we were all treated to our choice of Mamma Starr's chicken gumbo, or beans & rice...and let me tell you, that woman can COOK! It was lip-smacking good, and I just couldn't get enough of it. There was also red velvet cake for dessert. Seriously - it doesn't get any more amazing than that!

Over lunch break, I finally got to really spend some time with Mamma Starr. If you haven't guessed already, I just adore her and have the utmost respect for her. I feel eternally grateful that she makes herself so available to those who wish to learn through her radio show, her Ning community, her growing collection of conjure books, and her truly excellent tele-classes. I recommend that anyone interested in learning more about traditional old style conjure take advantage of all her offerings - you'll learn so much practical old time work your head will be spinning! All weekend when she was not teaching, she was providing healings, cleansings, and readings. It was a total surprise, and a deep honor to be invited by her to watch how she does that work, and I learned a great deal. I look forward to spending even more time with her in the future to deepen my understanding of the practices I was shown. That lunch break was just about the best one I ever could have imagined!

After everyone had had their fill of home-cooked deliciousness, it was time for Auntie Sindy and Miss Susan Diamond’s class on Prosperity Conjure. This was really a great workshop that primarily focused on things like practitioner/client mindset, recognizing unhelpful patterns, really making strategic moves towards finding income that is suited to your temperament and natural skills, and is also joyful to earn (which Miss Susan refers to as Right Livelihood), and being willing to make sacrifices to manifest the things you really desire, and then claiming that goal as won: all really important things that as spiritual counselors we try to guide people – and ourselves – through the discovery and implementation process all the time.

Miss Susan also has a fantastic approach of finding spirit allies who are already aligned and working towards the same things you are, and who you can join together with in a mutually beneficial relationship, to help manifest your work rapidly and in a harmonious way that isn’t as reliant on contract-based arrangements. She spoke a bit on how to find those allies, and also about how to determine how many allies you may need for any one job.

That class culminated in a prosperity working where everyone dressed a candle with one of Miss Susan’s condition oils – we got to choose from 4 or 5 – and then lit the candle, placing it into a communal holder, which was later worked over by the facilitators. I have to say that I fell in love with the oils from Serpent’s Kiss that Miss Susan makes. I ended up buying a half dozen or so different blends over the weekend, including one called Right Livelihood along with its accompanying candle! I do believe that for unique blends, or blends that I am just not equipt to craft here at home, I’ll primarily be going to Serpent’s Kiss. Talk about feeling the power when you take a sniff!

That night wrapped up with a wine & cheese meet-and-greet. It was lovely to spend some casual time chatting with the presenters, as well as the other guests. I was blessed to spend more time with Mamma Starr and her daughters, Papa Newt (who happened to be one of my roommates along with the wonderful Randy Love), Brother Ash of Crossroads of Sorcery who is quiet but once you tickle his funny bone you better look out, Andrea and her husband from Crossroads Little Shop of Conjure – a name which just sets my Broadway lovin’ soul alight with joy, Jackie of the amazing Coventry Creations who I also plan on finding some way to pick her brain in a more concerted fashion in the near future because she KNOWS her stuff, Heatherleigh of the Boston Tea Room who has a wicked sense of fashion and spirit alike, and many others.

I admit to being completely exhausted by the time the meet-and-greet rolled around, and so I ducked out a wee bit early in order to get some shut eye before the next day which I knew was going to be a long one (in a very good way) with an evening Voodoo-inspired spirit communication session outdoors at the bayou’s edge after all the day’s classes. I fell right to sleep and had a hilarious dream about having a friendly Shakespearian soliloquy competition with Sir Patrick Stewart, and Peter Dinklage!

More to follow….