Monday, January 23, 2017

My Vodou Story

It was a chilly January morning in 2001 when my family and I arrived in New Orleans to drop me off at my new residence in the graduate dorms of Loyola University. I was beginning a masters program in religious studies, but more importantly I was finally moving to the one place in the country I’d most wanted to live since I first visited when I was 18. After many, many trips during community college (Co-Lin in Wesson), the year I took off from school and lived in Jackson, and university (Mississippi State University), I would at last have a New Orleans address and be able to call it home. I was a ball of mixed emotions, trying to contain my excitement while also feeling sad saying goodbye to my family as they helped me move into my room, then drive away. I was also nervous about grad school at a private (and Catholic!) university, being this public school-educated Mississippi boy. However, the religious studies program sounded awesome and I couldn’t wait to dive in. Speaking of religion, if you’ve read my account of my journey in Wicca and Witchcraft (“Journey of the Moon, Parts 1 and 2”) you know at this point in my life I’d been practicing a very eclectic form of Wicca for a few years, and I was super excited about meeting people in the New Orleans pagan scene. (If not, go read it.)

The last thing on my mind at this point was trying to connect with any “voodoo” people. In fact, the only thing I really knew, or thought I knew, about anything Afro-Caribbean was what I’d read online about Santeria. A couple summers prior while at Mississippi State I apartment-sat for one of the counselors of the Campus Crusade for Christ, which was weird considering I was the president of the Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance at the time, but whatever. She was a minimalist and didn’t own a TV, so radio it was! One Sunday morning NPR did a special on Santeria featuring sound clips from Desi Arnaz singing “Babalu!” which of course caught my attention. So I went to the library to look it up. Keep in mind that was around 1999 (aka The Dark Ages of the internet), so there wasn’t that much out there. Anyway, the point is that I didn’t really know anything about any of it, and I certainly wasn’t expecting my life to take a complete left turn into lands of “darkest Africa!” But considering how life can be sometimes, that’s exactly what happened.

I had a Planet Gay (or something like that) profile back in the Stone age of gay internet dating and was so happy about being in New Orleans and not having the nearest person on the site be an hour away. About a week or two after settling into my new fancy cosmo city life I got a message. He said his name was Mark, but he went by Aboudja (however the fuck you were supposed to pronounce that I had no idea!) and wanted to know if I was interested in meeting him. So my first date in this awesome new dream bubble I was living was him picking me up in his jeep and taking around town to show me the lay of the land. We grabbed some food and went back to his place, and that’s when I discovered he was anything but ordinary. He was renting half a house from his godsister Michelle on General Pershing Street a block or two riverside (that means south in New Orleanian, lakeside would be north) of S Claiborne Ave. I walked into the living room and there were colorful altars with Catholic images and statues, lots of bottles, and many other things, too many to take in. Unable to ignore the elephant in the room he told me quite casually that he was an Houngan Asogwe (a what?) of Sevis Ginen (of who?). “Oh, you’re a Voodoo Priest!” Well, something like that.

After that date Aboudja and I became friends (not boyfriends) and I spent a lot of time with him at the CC’s coffee shop he worked at on the corner of St. Philip and Royal in the French Quarter. We talked about religion, magic, and of course Vodou (he corrected my spelling pretty early on.) He’d recently gone back to Haiti for his third time going through the kanzo (initiation.) Now, I’ve written about much of this in an article “Memories of Kay Aboudja” for the purpose of preserving my memories of the Vodou House that Aboudja Built, but I want to emphasize at this point how much I didn’t appreciate back then just how much knowledge Aboudja had acquired over many years of initiations, training, and trips back and forth to Haiti and New York, where his at-that-time Mambo (priestess) lived. He’d lived in Haiti for a year, spoke Haitian Kreole, knew his herbs, his prayers, his songs, just so much! To this day I’ve never met another non-Haitian who went that deep into Vodou. A white boy from Texas. He hated it when I called him white, always talking about some Eastern European and Native ancestors, way back when…but he was white.

Anyway, I got invited to my first Vodou ceremony a year later at the same house he brought me to on our (one!) date. I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to feel the same type of electricity in the air as when I was younger and attended a Pentecostal church (Church of God) in Mississippi! That shit was cray! After the party was over it was a Hallelujah moment where I was utterly convinced that I’d finally found what I was searching for. (And it was. At that time.) REAL spirits coming down into people and interacting with us, not someone wearing crushed velvet standing in a circle spouting off psycho-babble. (“Look inside yourself. You are stronger than you know. Here’s a cookie, don’t be hungry.”) Wicca-what? Wicca-who? I shelved that shit so fast and dove right into the waters of Ginen, swearing never to look back again. We all know how that went, but anyhow I was super stoked to finally be part of something that had a legit history that went back before the 1940s. (Burn)

From January 2002 to January 2003 life was Vodou. Vodou was life. I dropped out of the grad program (goodbye, stuffy old academia; hello, living religion!), got a job as an archivist for the State of Louisiana’s Vital Records like a grown-up, and moved into the Marigny area to be closer to Aboudja and the botanica one of the house members, Tribble, opened, The New Orleans Mistic on St. Claude (more info in the “Memories” article.) I spent all my spare money building altars for the Lwa and learning how to serve them from Aboudja. And by October of that year I got THE DREAM. The one where the Lwa show you secrets only someone who’s gone through the kanzo would know. That was the sign! I needed to go to Haiti and initiate. I was chosen. I was special. I was validated. I was VERY young and naïve. But damn it I was going to Haiti! AND it just so happened that the brand new job I’d gotten with the state was offering a lot of overtime that I could use to take the time off I needed for the trip, and Brandi Kelly of Voodoo Authentica offered me a part time job at her shop in the Quarter, so there was the money! I worked my ass off for two months, taking no days off and getting everything together just in time to leave. Nervous, excited, and full of an optimism only a twenty-something with no experience whatsoever could have, off we went!

Yeah, they tried to prepare us for Haiti. But Haiti’s not really something you can prepare for, not mentally, anyway. Not that first time. As you leave the airport there are lines of beggars on either side of you desperately asking for money in broken English. Pregnant women crying, guys with no legs, and Haitian dudes offering to carry your luggage…for a fee, of course. However, we were well cared for and got scooped into the back of a truck with boards for seats and no fucking shocks at all! Every bump, of which there were many because the roads are shit, was felt by my scrawny white ass. I probably had bruises but I couldn’t tell cause it was dark as fuck by the time we got to where we were going…where ever the hell that was. (The roads made no fucking sense, and I’d given up all hope of knowing if we were anywhere near Port-au-Prince still.) When you’re used to having electricity 24 hours a day, you don’t realize how pitch-fucking-black it can get until you’re stuck in a third world country, somewhere in the middle of bumfuckegypt, with only candles going. It was at this point I started to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake and would make it back to the U.S. alive. But who cares cause I was gonna be initiated into Haitian Vodou, bitches! Yeah! (Slight eye-twitching at this point.)

The next morning: Here’s the toilet. You have to fill the back of it with one of these buckets to make it flush because the water hasn’t been turned on yet…but only if you go Number 2. “If it’s brown, flush it down. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” Here’s your bath, from the same set of buckets (because the water hasn’t been turned on yet!!!), try not to use too much. But the fucking coffee was awesome!

The first few days was the “acclimation period,” and boredom quickly set in. Using what little Kreole I’d been able to absorb in a year I tried making really basic conversation with some of the locals. That didn’t last long. Tried reading a book I’d brought, then thought, “I’m in Haiti for my kanzo, why am I reading Lord of the Rings?!?” So I put that away and counted chickens until the ceremonies started, slowly getting used to the feeling that I could never rinse off all the soap from my morning baths. Oh, how I would miss that feeing in just a couple of days!

We were taken from the house we first stayed at to the place the ceremonies would take place. Another butt-busting trip from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere else. I’m not going to relate the whole kanzo experience, but in a nutshell here we go. The first night those of us going through the kanzo slept on mats on the dirt floor outside the room we’d eventually be cloistered in covered from head to toe in a dark, gritty oil. It kept us warm and moisturized. The next two days were us sitting in small wooden chairs with woven seats while the loud and aggressive “bat ger” ceremonies took place and many of the ritual items we’d receive were being made. Drums, dancing, possessions! Now we’re talking! Finally! The day after they gave each of us 21 cleansing baths made with sacred herbs. I’ve never felt sexier than sitting there soaking wet, shivering, between baths 18 and 19, with okra sliming it way down my face. I still won’t eat okra today. After that we dressed in whites and sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally that night the ceremonies began, and we were spiritual “balanced” before being blindfolded and led into the djevo, that tiny altar room we wouldn’t come out of for five days later. I can’t talk about the rituals that took place inside, but I can say this. Being closed up in a small room, sleeping on sheets on mats on the ground, hot and with open flames going the whole time, not being able to take a bath, and eventually being covered with all sorts of “really spiritual stuff” takes its toll. And the smell. Oh my God, the smell. I called it Djevo Funk. One woman lost her shit and went balls-to-the-wall crazy. And then something happened to me.

Crazy lady had a fear of fire cause she was badly burned in an accident she was in at another New Orleans Vodou house involving a gauzy dress, an open-faced heater, and an inattentive Mambo. So, when the ants came in for the food that was laying at our heads and the people doing the kanzo came in with gasoline to sprinkle down (cause that’s always a great idea with open flames everywhere!!!), she acted a fool until they came back with bug spray. Let’s review once again. Open flames and enclosed room…and now bug spray? Well, the peristyle (temple complex) we were at was an old one having recently been re-opened after many years of disuse. The altars in the room were old and everything except the very front of them were the recent offerings were was black with soot and age. The back of them contained only what God knew…until now. Once the billowing clouds of bug spray reached back there, out crawled about a dozen of the largest spiders I’d ever seen in my life. They crawled up the walls and to the ceiling. Now, ladies and gentlemen, let me say that up to this moment in my life…including this moment…I’d suffered from arachnophobia. Badly. And now in this moment, I found myself trapped in a small room, in a foreign (tropical!) land, looking up at my worst fear. One of those furry-legged bundles of hope and joy decided to perch itself on the edge of the altar right above my head. As I slowly maneuvered into a sitting fetal position and my skin turned an even paler shade of white, I contemplated the choices I’d made that had gotten me into that situation. And I started right at it and counted its eyes. Yep, 8. Eventually the spiders crawled back into the altar, but I was stuck with the truth of knowing we would co-habitate in that room for the remainder of the kanzo. Still slightly arachnophobic, but not nearly as much as I used to be.

With the kanzo concluded, we headed back to the U.S., and I never loved my bed and my shower more than in those first few days back. (The Djevo Funk lingered a bit.) I was elated and relieved it was over, and despite the harsh physical conditions, it was the most awesome spiritual experience up to that point of my life. The next test was getting through the 41 day taboo period afterwards. No sex, a whole list of foods not to eat, nothing too hot or too cold, no sex, not being outside after dark, wear white clothes, did I mention no sex? Because it’s during those 41 days when I had every opportunity I never had most other times to have sex all I wanted. Guys hitting me up left and right! Day 42? Crickets.

I’d love to say that after all this my life changed for the better and I’ve had a fantastic spiritual life ever since. But I can’t. In fact, things kinda went to shit soon after. A tropical storm came through and collapsed a ceiling in my apartment, and then I moved into a new one, only to have the roommate quit his job and leave me paying all the bills I couldn’t afford. And of course all the rumors of my kanzo not being done properly started flying around and the Vodou house I was in started falling apart. I took these as signs I’d probably been had and I should just go back to Wicca. At least with Wicca I didn’t to pay lots of money for a whole lot of nothing! I tried to walk away but got sucked back in time to help with one last ceremony before Hurricane Katrina hit the city and I landed up in Massachusetts, where Traditional Wicca took over my life for a while. (See “Journey of the Moon” for details.)

About two years after Katrina and having had no contact with anyone Vodou I got invited to a presentation at Harvard where a Mambo from south Boston would be lecturing and hosting a short ceremony after. I went, and of course that reignited everything for me, so after I got back in touch with Mambo Marie and went down to a ceremony at her place in New York. Before I knew it I was on a plane going back to Haiti to go through the kanzo all over again! The first time I initiated at the lowest level, that of Hounsi, basically a ritual assistant. This time, however, I went for the third and final level (no, you don’t have to go through all three; it’s whatever your spirits say…or you have the money for) of Houngan Asogwe. My second kanzo was much better than my first one! Much more organized, and even sweeter was that it was the same group of people who had been hired to do my first one. But this time they were in their home peristyle. And they remembered me! They had nicknamed me “Sen Josef” because of my beard, and Sen Josef had returned. 2007 ended up being a great year for many reasons, but also because almost immediately after getting back from Haiti, I got a new job that would set the stage for me to return to New Orleans.

Just under three years of busing it to New York for ceremonies and serving the Lwa on my own,  2010 rolls around and I said deuces to Boston. Returning to New Orleans, where it all started for me was bittersweet. The Mistic was a junk shop, with only remnants of the beautiful peristyle behind it, and most everyone I knew in the house had gone elsewhere. Tribble was on the West Bank, Toby, a godbrother who started attending ceremonies only shortly after I did, came back to town a month before I had, and Aboudja was making plans to return about a month later. However, because of past Vo-drama, Toby and I kept to ourselves. We brought Mambo Marie down the following year, January 2011, which re-connected Marie and Toby and he later that year went to Haiti to make Asogwe. As I mentioned in “Memories,” though, Tribble passed away in 2011 and Aboudja in 2012. So, that left just me and Toby to carry things on. We slowly started to build things up, attract some interested folks, travelled up to New York and brought Marie down for ceremonies. That continued until Marie moved down here and set up a new Carmel and Sons Botanica in the Seventh Ward, which brings us up to how things currently are.

This Vodou ride has been rollercoaster, and I’ve left out so much just trying to touch on the major highlights. My road to Ginen has without a doubt been one of self-discovery, growth, and all those other spiritual Hallmark phrases. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not gone to that very first ceremony 15 years ago this month. Vodou has opened doors to other spiritual practices, too, which I’ll be writing about in the future, but Vodou has done so much for me personally, whether it be direct intervention of the Lwa themselves or by having gone through all the experiences that I have because of Vodou. If I had it to do over again I might tweak a few things here and there, but the overall timeline would remain intact.

Steven Bragg
Houngan Twa Pote, aka "Sen Josef"
January 2017

Memories of Kay Aboudja, a Traditional Haitian Vodou House in New Orleans, LA

(An article I wrote a few years ago.)

Today is the one year anniversary of the passing of Bo Houngan Aboudja, Mark Moellendorf, and I feel moved to preserve in writing some of my memories of having been a part of his Flower of Abomey Society, aka Kay Aboudja. I first moved to New Orleans in 2001, the same year Kay Aboudja was founded, and I met Aboudja online. We met where he worked at the CC’s coffee shop on the corner of Royal and St. Philip Streets in the French Quarter. Talked about religion, spirituality, modern Paganism, and then the conversation turned to Haitian Vodou. I’d only read the most superficial excerpts about it, but Aboudja had recently returned from Haiti where he had gone through the Kanzo for the third time.

Although we met and talked as often as I could, as I was in the Religious Studies Master’s program at Loyola University, it wasn’t until January of 2002 that I was invited to attend my first Vodou ceremony. It was the public portion of a Sevis Tet ceremony, presided over by Mambo Marie Carmel, and it was being held in the two-family house Mambo Michele owned in uptown, on General Pershing Street, near S Claiborne Ave. Mambo Michele and her children lived on one side, and Aboudja rented the other side, which also housed all the altars in the large downstairs living room. The second ceremony I attended was in the same location, but after that the ceremonies were held behind the New Orleans Mistic, the botanica owned by Houngan Tribble at 2267 St. Claude Ave. Kay Aboudja operated out of the Mistic until around 2004, and although it was only a short time, the events that took place are some of my fondest memories of my early days in Vodou.

After Kay Aboudja moved its base of operations to the Mistic, Aboudja rented a small Creole cottage on Bourbon St, between St. Philip and  Ursulines Streets, across the street from the Lafitte Guest House, managed by Eddie and Andy who were Tribble’s benefactors for the Mistic. Tribble had rented the cottage for office space, but didn’t need it anymore after the Mistic opened, so he gave it to Aboudja. It was a tiny, one-room apartment with high ceilings, but Aboudja built tall shelves for his large book collection and was very creative with his space. The main room had a small walk-through room to the kitchen and bathroom, and that was where he had his Lwa altars. I spent many hours with Aboudja in that apartment learning how to vire, or salute, the Lwa, learning the different nations and spirits, the reglaman, prayers and songs, and being taught what I could both before and after my Kanzo. I still have some of the cassette tapes Aboudja made for the Priye and the ceremony songs, although my copy of the transcriptions Aboudja pain-stakingly hand wrote were lost in floods from Katrina.

In May of 2002 I moved into an apartment on Spain Street in the Marigny, just blocks away from the Mistic. This was a dream come true as I was able to walk over to the Mistic to visit Tribble and help in the shop on the weekends and into the French Quarter to see Aboudja whenever I wanted. Spending time with Aboudja talking about Haiti and Vodou was one world I was exposed to, but spending time with Tribble at the Mistic opened me up to another one, that of New Orleans hoodoo and spiritual practices of the local people who came into the Mistic. It was the first time I’d ever seen a botanica, and all the different glass candles, saint statues, oils, powders, and charms, not to mention the altars Tribble had everywhere, were very enchanting, to say the least.

Kay Aboudja grew quite steadily with Sevis Tets here and Kanzos in Haiti. My memory of exactly who went through which ceremonies is a bit fuzzy, however it seems that in the first group of Sevis Tets, around 2001, were Tribble, Mike, Michael, David, and possibly a few more. I believe the first Kanzo of Hougan Aboudja and Mambo Marie Carmel together took place in the Summer of 2002, in a borrowed peristyle in Port-au-Prince, with Tribble, who made Houngan Asogwe, Deb as Mambo Asogwe, and Connie as Mambo Sou Pwen. The next Kanzo was in January 2003 which included Shane as Houngan Asogwe and myself as Hounsi Kanzo. One of the last Sevis Tets that took place at the Mistic included Toby, Cheryl, Raul, and Johnny. (I know I’m possibly leaving out some people, so I beg pardon if I am.)

The ceremonies were always grand events, as Aboudja would have it no other way. We’d pool our resources (those of us who were poor at the time dedicated time and physical labor) and fly down Mambo Marie Carmel, singers and dancers, and drummers. On several occasions Frisner St. Augustine and his Troupe Makandal came down to drum for the parties and provide drumming workshops in the days leading up to them. Months of preparations with go into every ceremony with a lot of ticket-buying and hotel-reserving being the source of the majority of the costs, which is why we usually only had two big parties a year. The altars for the parties were always loaded with statues, drinks, food, flowers, and decorated with lots of fabric and string lights...I remember this particularly as I helped with most of them. The shop would be buzzing and brimming with people cooking, talking, laughing, singing, and running out for last minute items. As chaotic as the prep time was, it always came together and Aboudja and Marie would sit down and begin the Priye. What followed would be some of the most beautiful and magical hours as we slipped through the gate and met the Lwa coming up from Ginen.

On these occasions, there was always a large crowd with people from far and wide, including visitors from the local universities, sometimes a film crew to record portions of the ceremony, and local residents who would hear the drums and wander in to discover a piece of their lost ancestry. Aboudja was such a charismatic, talented, dedicated, knowledgeable, skilled, and attractive Houngan, he became quite the Vodou celebrity. He had his faults, though, and he was far from being a saint, however, he was a personality to be reckoned with, and he managed to attract many people from many walks of life. Many of these people were influential in their careers and wanted to get involved with Aboudja for both spiritual and financial benefits. It seemed that the sky was the limit for Kay Aboudja.

However, as with everything in life, there came an end to this time of innocence, joy, and wonder. The darker side of human nature crept in. Jealousy, greed, pride, conspiracy, paranoia, all finally succeeded in destroying one of the most precious periods of my life, as Kay Aboudja fell apart in 2004. From one house, came three: Kay Aboudja, Casa Alta Gracia, and eventually Kay Mystique. I spent the majority of 2004 with my parents in Mississippi, and so was shielded from most of what happened, but the stories I was told sounds as though it was a very rough ride. I returned in January of 2005 and lived with Tribble, Eddie, and Andy in their mansion at 820 Marigny St. There was one last grand ceremony, held by Tribble, in June 2005, before Hurricane Katrina dispersed the majority of us all across the country. We found ourselves in Texas, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, and some other places. Tribble tried to keep the Mistic open in the aftermath, but eventually he had to close up shop and sell only from the website, working out of his sister’s home on the West Bank.

Aboudja went back and forth from New Orleans to Texas to New York to Atlanta to California before returning to New Orleans one final time in 2010, just after Toby came back from Texas and I came back from Massachusetts. Not long after that did we receive word that Tribble was very sick, and then before we could blink, he passed away due to cancer. That was August. Aboudja never re-established his house here, but he had plans to establish a non profit cultural center in New Orleans and a peristyle in Haiti. However, in late 2011 did he find out he, too, was battling cancer. I visited him during his chemo cycles, and after he completed them and received a clean bill of health, he stayed with me for a week before going to visit his sister in Atlanta. But before I could turn around he was sick again and back in the hospital here at the LSU Medical Center. He lasted three weeks in intensive care, and I would check in on him almost every day and update his family and friends who couldn't make the trip to see him. For those who could, I ran a hostel in my apartment. When he finally passed, I felt a very large chapter in my life close. I was honored to have been a part of such a unique chapter in the history of New Orleans and had to the opportunity to have been part of Aboudja’s fascinating life.

Today there are only three people living in New Orleans who were members of Kay Aboudja. Both (ti)Kay de la Fler Blan (the house of Houngan Toby) and Root of the Bone Spiritual Society (of which I am co-founder) carry part of the legacy of what was started here 12 years ago. Let us never forget where we come from, and let us never repeat the mistakes of the past, looking only to serve the spirit and to build a better future for the spiritual generations to come.


Steven Bragg
Hougan Twa Pote, aka “Sen Josef”
July 19, 2013

Friday, January 6, 2017

Three Kings Day!

Happy Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany! The twelve days of Christmas are over and now begins the Carnival season, eventually leading up to the big Mardi Gras celebrations here in New Orleans and a few other places in the U.S. Many of us here are enjoying our first King Cake of the season.

As I was taught, the image of the Three Kings in Haitian Vodou represents the Kongo nation of Lwa. However, on Three Kings Day many who serve the Lwa on the Ginen side of things feast the three big kings of their house. These can vary depending on practice and the history of that house. They can be Damballa Wedo (the King of all the Lwa), Papa Loko (the Lwa who gives the sacred Asson rattle to the priesthood, the Houngans and Mambos), and the Ogou (the warrior who protects) who rules over the house, such as Ogou Badagris.

For those in the Secret Societies (of sorcerers,) like the Makaya and Bizango, you may see them feasting the three major Lwa of their society. Again, these may vary. You can see Kalfou, Simbi, and the Baron. Or you may see Kalfou, Gran Bwa, or the Baron. It depends. But rest assured that anytime there is a major Catholic event happening, there is always an underlying sorcerous event happening somewhere in secret, but also right in front of your eyes. Sorcerers are sneaky that way, hiding things behind a thin veneer or completely invisible to those who don't know what to look for.

Whatever may be happening, today is a day of celebration, somewhat of an end to the New Year's celebrations to help us get through the dark, cooler months and usher in Spring when we get to March. If you haven't booked your Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans by now, you might be hard pressed to find a place to stay.

Laissez le bon temps rouler! (But don't forget your protections.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

New Santisima Muerte Booklets!

Head over to The Vodou Store if you want to order one or both of my new booklets on devotion and working with La Santisima Muerte!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Journey of the Moon (Title Still Sucks): Part 2 (Post-Katrina)

After a very long cross country car ride with chows in the back seat and everything we had access to in the trunk, we finally arrived in the Northeast…New Jersey, actually, to the home of who would become my Gardnerian High Priestess and later Witch Queen. We spent the night with her and the next morning made it up to Massachusetts. I have to admit, the first couple of months are still some of my most exciting memories of the entire experience. The rocky landscape, the wild European herbs growing alongside the roads, the small fishing towns that look like they were made for Stephen King novels, and the difference in the air and sky were just all new, fantastic experiences. The cute cemeteries, the rocky coastlines, the quaint coffee shops and local pubs, and that the temperature at night went below 80 degrees in September was so exciting. The people, not so much. It was a bit of a culture shock, really. Most folks were very understanding when they heard we were just up from New Orleans and the Katrina thing, but otherwise they were kind of prickly and rude. But I guess that’s the Southerner in me. And don’t get me started on the accent!

My partner’s sister and brother-in-law owned a three family in Beverly, and at first we stayed with his mother on the second floor. Later, the third floor tenants were evicted and we moved in up there. When they opened up New Orleans, we rented a truck, drove all the way down there, packed up whatever we could salvage, and drove all the way back. That week sucked. However, right before that and just in time for my birthday, I was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca by the New Jersey HPS in the temple of a well-known HPS in New York. Woohoo, I was finally in! With all these new exciting things happening for me, and with this Southern boy experiencing his first New England Autumn (holy crap it was magical!)…what’s the phrase from Practical Magic…oh, yes, “with the sweet, comes the sour.” Salem. And Salem Witches. Looking back on it, I’m not really sure what I expected, but considering the whole scene is a tourist industry based on a tragic piece of American history, started and kept going by business owners who tattoo their faces based on works of fiction and practice daily occult cosplay? Well, I don’t know what to say about all that. However, I can say that it didn’t matter that my partner and I had just had our lives turned upside by the worst natural disaster in the history of the country, a few Salem Witches decided to pick up old axes and began to grind in very petty ways. This was in part due to my partner’s history with several of them, and I was convicted as guilty by association without ever having met any of them. Hanged without a fair trial. How fitting for Salem.

Enough about all that, just suffice it to say that it never got any better and continues to this day. Ignoring it is the best medicine for that ailment. So, aside from petty pagan politics, the next three years were like existing inside this bubble of witchcraft and coven meetings. My partner and I moved into another house, and started up a grove of the Minoan Brotherhood as well as set the stage for a Gardnerian and Alexandrian coven. Every other weekend it seems was full of gatherings to meet new people, training classes, circles, initiations, elevations, sabbats, adopting other initiates into our groups and lineages, making magical tools...vacuuming the floors, loading and unloading the dishwasher, picking up after people left, getting little rest before the workweek started up again. It was exciting and exhausting at the same time. Oh, and I can’t forget SO MUCH HANDCOPYING of Books of Shadows! But having the High Priest as a partner meant lots of conversations about Craft matters pretty much on a nightly basis, and that made the copying go easier. I absorbed so much Craft information, experienced so many circles, witnessed and participated in so many initiations during that time it seems like it should have been nine years instead of three! I think time moves differently in the North.

Well, as goes the way of all things, this chapter in my life came to an end as my partner and I split, and I moved closer to my job in Boston. I continued my Minoan Brotherhood grove, but put Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and the NY Welsh (which I received right before the split) on hold, save for a few circles here and there with other covens. After a year of this I was approved, and rather quickly, for a transfer to…New Orleans! I was so excited to be going back to my spiritual home, especially considering how the city had recovered in the four-ish years since I’d left. And to be bringing these Craft traditions with me! I flew down that January for the birth of my sister’s first child, and while passing through New Orleans, stopped and picked up some key things around the city. I used those in my working to have my transfer go through as fast as possible and promised that if it did I’d work to establish these traditions down there. Well, something worked cause not only did my transfer go through in record time for a government position, but my job paid for it and hired movers to move all my stuff! It was the easiest move of my life, and considering how many times I moved during my pre-Katrina NOLA days, that’s saying a lot! Two months later I was back in time for the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day parade and starting over again, but this time I was home.

I wasted no time in establishing my Minoan grove and starting things up with the one third degree Gardnerian High Priestess in the whole region, who was pretty much the only one left from the pre-Katrina coven. The one in Baton Rouge we stayed with during the storm, I heard, had left for California. My grove flourished, the coven though didn’t get very far, and after about a year things changed. The Gard HPS moved to Florida, and my spiritual life took a rather strange turn. I’d already gone back to Haiti in 2007 and become an Houngan (priest) in Vodou, but then other spiritual forces started creeping in. Much darker ones than I’d dealt with before. I blame it on New Orleans in general having a very active dead scene and living two blocks from the beginning of the Cemetery District. (Not really, but sounds good, doesn't it?) Enter La Santisima Muerte, Palo Mayombe, and in some ways Quimbanda…all stories for another time because this is about witchcraft! But, yes, I placed my Craft practices on hold for a couple of years in order to deal with these systems and forces and integrate them into my life. Those were…interesting years. I learned a lot about love, death, despair, drugs, depression, suicide, anxiety, more petty politics, betrayal, paranoia…many of these things I experienced indirectly, but all of these things are ones usually hidden by night and shadow, which I’d stepped willingly into without knowing.

During all this, though, and as the gods would have it, one of the people who attended the Santa Muerte chaplet services approached me for Craft training. At first, I really didn’t want to start all that back up again considering everything I had on my plate, but she asked a few more times over the course of some months, so I agreed. I geared myself up for BTW work, blew the dust off my Book of Shadows, and to my surprise it was refreshing to be circling again. Things flowed nicely and we started up a coven. Now I’m not gonna lie and say it’s been Woohoo! Wicca! over the last three years. There’s been some ups and downs, but as it currently stands the coven is active, I’ve decided to reboot my Minoan grove, and there are new people popping up for both. So, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me still with one hell of a juggling act to manage.

Post-Katrina has been just as much of a ride as pre-Katrina was, and of course I’ve struggled quite a bit. Having European-descended modern witchcraft and BTW on one side and the ADRs on the other has most certainly been a challenge. (And of course Santa Muerte comes in and fucks up everything I thought I knew.) For instance, with the ADRs you have a direct, unbroken history and sets of practices, necessarily altered to work in the New World, and the spiritual beings that have distinct personalities and backstories. Then you have the New World syncretic folk practices and “saints” that have popped up from the merging of different cultures and spiritual traditions, but still the timelines are relatively easy to follow. But looking at BTW and modern witchcraft from this point of view, it’s like who the fuck are these gods and spirits? Yes, I know we have secret names for them, but where the hell are their stories, outside Doreen Valiente, that is? Who the hell is THE GODDESS? Which one are you talking about? And wtf with all the waving around of wands and knives? Did that particular patch of air just piss you off or something? It’s taken me a while to reconcile these very different approaches to the spiritual, and in all honesty it’s a continual thing. I don’t claim to have any solid answers about any of this crazy shit, but I’ve managed to arrive at certain points on how it all works…FOR ME. I can’t speak for anyone else, and the struggle has been real, but at least I sleep better at night the more I just let it happen and keep following where my gods, spirits, and ancestors lead.

I wonder what these next 10 years are going to be like.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Journey of the Moon (Or, Insert Title Here Because That One's Bad), Part 1 (Or, Before the Storm)

On the night of December 24, 1996 there was a full moon, and I was standing outside a tiny Catholic church in my hometown of Magee, MS waiting for my first boyfriend to finish up his duties as choir director for the Midnight Mass that just happened. It was a bit chilly, and the sky was clear. My boyfriend’s father was standing nearby talking with a fellow parishioner, and I overheard him say something about the winter solstice and the full moon, so I looked up. When my eyes made contact with that lunar orb this electric, tingling sensation ran all over my body. Shocked, my eyes focused on the moon, and it was as if everything else quickly melted away. All I could see was a tapestry of white, blue, silver, and black. From nowhere, inside my head, and all around me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “You will find your path soon,” and as quickly as it came on, the whole thing ended. I remembered where I was when my boyfriend walked up and started talking. I probably looked all deer in headlights, but shook it off and went about the night.

That next week on New Year’s Eve I found myself in a bookstore in one of the malls in Jackson, MS, and I wondered into the tiny New Age section and started browsing through all the titles. I squatted down to look at the bottom shelf and one cover caught my attention. A guy in a yellowish robe was standing near a stone altar holding something with smoke coming off it. As I reached for it and stood up, another electric rush went through me, and I felt the spirit of my mother standing behind me. She died when I was 8, and I’d felt her from time to time growing up, but never this strongly before. It felt as if she placed her hand on my left shoulder, then faded away. Well, I’m not that thick-headed, so I bought the book! It was Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” I devoured it and went back to buy as many books as my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed. So many new and exciting concepts and things to try, and so many questions! Like, was the voice I heard the night of the full moon my mother’s or someone else’s? If it was her, was she actually guiding me towards this path? I grew up Pentecostal but left the church after I realized I was always staring at the butts of the football players and not the cheerleaders, but witchcraft? Wicca? Isn’t that the devil? I mean, I'd had a long fascination with it growing up, reading all the books in the library about it, and all, having dead relatives visit me in dreams, but... I’m going to Hell now, right? I’m fucked.

It would be years later before my mom’s sister (now my stepmother…welcome to the South!) told me that Momma had started practicing witchcraft before she died. Of course she did! Red headed, one of ten kids who couldn’t get away from home fast enough, so she stole my dad out from under her sister and ran for it. The adventurous black sheep that she was, Sagittarius sun sign, housewife in the 80s, of course she practiced witchcraft! Looking back I think it’s probably safe to assume her spirit was really there, giving me that nudge I needed to begin what’s now been a two decade journey into the fascinating, frustrating, exciting, disappointing, and ever renewing world of modern witchcraft and Wicca. Try as I have over the years to quit this addiction, it seems to be my drug, and the sight of a full moon always brings on a craving. In fact, I had a conversation with Her last night, which is why I’m writing this today. I want to share my story in hopes that it helps or inspires others in some way. Maybe others are struggling with a similar type of thing.

Ok, enough with the after school special, back to the story.

So there I was, back at my community college dorm reading all these books. (Yes, Llewellyn books…every single one…whatever, it’s all I could find/afford back then.) Dashing off to the crafts and fabric section of the local Wal-Mart, I started fashioning my tools and making my robe. By hand; no sewing machine. My Aunt Yvonna (no, no…where I’m from we pronounce that WHY-VONE-AH) taught me to hand stich before she died. (Yes, there were a lot of deaths in my family growing up, and that plays into another area of my spiritual life that comes in years later, but that’s a different thing.) Before I could blink, I had all the things! I was the witchiest Wicca witchlet in Wesson, MS, which is where my college was. Gay and a witch in rural south MS in the 90s. I have no idea how I survived, but by the grace of the gods I did, and by 1998 I wound up attending Mississippi State after having taken a year off school to live it up in the state capital. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the wild, legendary gay nightlife of that one gay club in Jackson that kept closing down, moving locations, and changing its name. What were its names again? The Birdcage? Jack and Jill’s? Polyester? The Village? Yeah, that one.

My time at Mississippi State opened me up to other eclectic, pagany people, as well as ceremonial magicians, vampires, and other goth kids of many flavors. I got some folks together, and we created the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Which is a fancy title for the handful of us that would meet once a month and talk about things we had absolutely no real experience in, because that’s what college kids do. But it was the first one of its kind in the state, and we were all proud of that. This opened us up to some expected situations, like all the Christian groups trying to tell us we were all going to hell at our fall festival booth. And some unexpected ones like me becoming friends with one of the Campus Crusade for Christ counselors to the point that I stayed in her minimalist apartment one summer while I took summer classes and she was off on a mission trip. Curiously, it was that summer where I was listening to a radio show on NPR (seriously, she did not have a TV!) when I first discovered anything Afro-Caribbean. They were doing a special on Santeria, so after the program I went to the university library and started doing some research. Like the good eclectic Wiccan I was, I immediately started to pray to the Orishas, and they must have answered cause I lit some incense, called to Shango, and there was a thunderstorm half an hour later! Yeah? No? Ok, well, whatever.

After graduation I hung around for another semester to apply for grad schools, which translates into: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and the new Bachelor’s in philosophy and world religious studies. (Really? What the hell was I thinking? I was thinking a LOT because of all those philosophy papers I had to write!) But there was one thing I knew I had to do, as it had been a burning desire for the last few years. I had to move to New Orleans. My mom’s family had lived in New Orleans long ago, and I grew up with stories about it, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I first visited. Friends brought me down here to party at the gay clubs (back when 18 year olds could still get in, you just got this huge black X on your hand), and I absolutely fell in love with it. Obsessively. I drove down every chance I got. Shopped at the witch shops, as there were a lot more back then, walked around the French Quarter, marveling at the history and architecture, and danced in the clubs. For a poor little gay Mississippi boy, living in New Orleans would be a dream come true.

And I made it happen. January 2001 I started the Master’s program in religious studies at Loyola University, and almost immediately started meeting Pagans, Wiccans, and many others in the city. This was a lot different from my mild Mississippi State meetings with the WPSA, lemmetellya! The local Wiccan church, which held all the public circles, had just had this huge blow up between the two head priestesses, and everyone was all up in arms over this or that, and I had no idea what was going on! So, I just focused on completing my correspondence training with this coven in Connecticut I’d made contact with towards the end of my time at MSU. The Sacred Garden Tradition of Wicca, it was called, and I did all my training via email and degree initiations in my little solitary circles. I did eventually start up my own coven in this, but it didn’t quite last that long. I had no leadership experience, and the rituals were a bit like a bad high school theater version of the movie The Craft. Bad acting and really crappy special effects. I did manage to meet the Gardnerian coven around that time and started their Outer Court training, but after my friend got busted having an affair with the High Priest’s boyfriend I got blackballed. No matter, as I’d found Haitian Vodou at that point, and from there a whole other adventure started…which I’ll write about later.

Ok, fast forward a few years to 2005. Witchcraft and Wicca had been on the backburner for a couple of years because of Vodou, and I was starting to feel that percolating feeling inside, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Oh, but wait! Remember the Gardnerian High Priest I mentioned? Yeah, we totally started dating, and I moved in with him. I know, it was fast, but the house I was living in sold, and I couldn’t find another place in time. Well, this High Priest held a few different Craft traditions, and he brought me into the Minoan Brotherhood, the BTW offshoot tradition for gay/bi men started in NYC by Eddie Buczynski in the 70s. Finally! I was initiated into a legit tradition of witchcraft! And connected to an oathbound community…er, Brotherhood…um, secret online group where no one seemed to be able to get along. But you kind of have to expect that when you have a bunch of queens with titles arguing over, I mean discussing, things behind the safety of a computer screen. Anyway, plans were being made for me to be brought into the Gardnerian coven (the same one that I got kicked out of their Outer Court), but the High Priestess wasn’t all that keen on the idea. She had a distaste for my involvement in Vodou, and it took a lot of convincing, but she finally agreed. And it almost happened! But….late August 2005…y’all remember what happened in New Orleans around that time? Yep. HURRICANE KATRINA.

After realizing how bad it was about to get in the city, my partner and I packed up two Chows, some clothes and all our ritual tools and Books of Shadows (like ya do) and got the hell out of town. We evacuated to the High Priestess’ restored antebellum plantation house in Port Allen, just over the river from Baton Rouge. Two hellish weeks we spent there with 12 people, 12 dogs, and 20 cats. Hellish not because of the conditions, which were pretty comfortable all things considered, but hellish because of what happened next. A couple days after the storm hit, because I was a probation and parole officer at the time, I was sent back into the ruins of my beloved city to help evacuate all the prisoners who were still sweltering in the prisons and jails. It was a nightmare. Worst thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. When I got back I pushed all those images to the back of my mind and focused on doing what I could with the house and those staying there. Not knowing what any of us where going to do with our homes flooded and jobs closing down, and everything in complete chaos, my partner got word from his family in Massachusetts, and we decided to go up and re-start our lives in a place I’d never even visited. In fact, I’d never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A whole new way of life. I’d be trading in my sultry Southern summers and everything and everyone I knew, for four seasons in that fantasy land called The North. Given the circumstances, it was the most logical choice, but truly I was excited. Of course, I’d be leaving my dear New Orleans, but the city was a wreck, and I was not about to be reassigned to some parish out in the middle of Louisiana to live in a place much like the conservative Mississippi I’d worked so hard to get away from. Also, his family lived in Beverly, which is just across the bay from….SALEM! The place where the witches are! Little did I know what was in store for me there.

This is long, so I’m going to pick back up in another post. Up next: Witchcraft in New England and the Salem Witches! Also, snow!

This is the book that started it all!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wica! Wicca! (And Wicca in New Orleans)

I posted this sometime last year (2015), so adding it back:

(no, I didn’t misspell the first word, and, yes, feel free to envision the dude from Little Ceaser’s)

So, my first post-intro blog entry should really be about Wic(c)a, since I have 20 years under my belt of reading about it, studying it, practicing it in one form or another, as well as criticizing it and giving it the stank eye from across the room. Keep in mind that this entry is about Wicca, not witchcraft, which I’ll be writing about later.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Thankfully, many people have already done the hard work for me, so I’ll just write a brief summary and provide a few links to some websites that go into detail.

Long ago and far away…that is, 1951 in England…a book was published by a man named Gerald B. Gardner, claiming that witches, or rather members of a pre-Christian pagan religion from Europe, who has been hiding in secret for an awful long time, had decided to tell the world they were still around. Yay! In Witchcraft Today Gardner explained how these seriously misunderstood folks had survived Christian domination, the Inquisition, and the witch hunts (good for them!) and what they believed and did. And he knew this for reals ‘cause he was one of them, having been initiated into a coven in the New Forest area in 1939. What he described greatly resembled what the Egyptologist and folklorist, Margaret Murray talked about in her 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Murray’s “Witch-Cult Hypothesis” was all the rage until it began being shot down by other academics, which happened almost immediately. No matter, said Gardner and the witches…

This got the ball rolling and Wicca was now public. Although originally spelled ‘Wica’ with one ‘c’ the second ‘c’ wasn’t far behind. Some folks who descend directly from Gardner (called Gardnerians, but only a few of them do this) prefer to use the original spelling so other people don’t confuse them with tweens shopping at Hot Topic. Two great websites that talk about Gardner and all the early members of the witchcult can be found here ( and here (

Of course the media in England went crazy with articles, tabloids, tv shows and the like. This, of course, attracted the attention of folks who became extremely jealous and wanted to be famous for being spooky witches….I mean, other witches who wanted to share with the world their own brand of ancient magic (magic? magic…k? Do we put the ‘k’ in now or not? Oh, Crowley’s already been here? So it’s with the ‘k’ now. Splendid.)…magick. Folks like Robert Cochrane, Sybil Leek, and Alex Sanders came out of the woodwork (I wonder if those trees that wood was made from came from the New Forest…hmm) and got themselves some attention with grandmother stories and other Gardnerian-independent claims of ancient witchiness.

But hang on a minute, Britian! The United States will NOT be left out of this! Ok, said the U.K., so in the 1960s they sent over a man and wife, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, so America could also capitalize on…I mean…share in this new-found old faith, guaranteed to boost antique store sales. Gardnerian Wicca settled in Long Island, New York, and much like Lillith, began to beget hidden children of the night, destined to bicker and argue amongst themselves and with outsiders for decades to come.

In the 1970s there was an occult explosion, with New York City as the epicenter. This article, The Doom That Came to Chelsea ( serves as one small window into this dramatic wave of witchcraft. The Warlock Shop, later known as the Magickal Childe, served as one of the home bases, while Long Island saw the Gardnerian coven pass from the Bucklands to Lady Theos and Phoenix, who produced a ton of new initiates that later migrated to other large cities and places across the country. Although Buckland was basically booted from the Gardnerian family due to the nasty divorce from Rosemary, he began to publish books and promote the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft (this makes a cameo appearance later in this entry.)

Much like a virus, Wicca began to spread and mutate thanks, in part, to several outsiders getting hold of non-initiate material (and maybe a tiny bit of actual initiate material) and assuming it was the Holy Wiccan Chalice, then writing books (printed on paper made from trees that were decidedly NOT from the New Forest) based on stuff they couldn’t possibly understand correctly without the oral lore that was meant to go with it. But before this, in1979, two books came out that plowed the fertile (and bored) middle class, sowing the seeds that would produce these anemic offspring. Spiral Dance by Starhawk and Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler were published. Housewives from shore to shore shouted “Blessed Be!”

If the 1970s and 80s saw the spread of the American mutation of Wicca, then what happened next can be seen as the rise of the intelligence-resistant strain. Enter: Llewellyn Publications, now known as Llewellyn Worldwide. Yes, that publishing house with the little crescent moon as its symbol began to shit out diarrhetic reams of the literary equivalent to branchless family trees, each of the dozens of authors cannibalizing one another’s scurvy-ridden pages to create a tapestry destined to become the next Hollywood backdrop.

And with the 1996 release of The Craft, every Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble then had a Neo-Pagan group chillin with all their very powerful magickal selves near the coffee shop section. It was around this same time that Yours Truly was browsing his local mall bookstore and found two books: The Truth About Witchcraft Today and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, both by Scott Cunningham (and published by Llewellyn.) Yes, folks, that’s right. I gobbled up every book my Wal-Mart paycheck allowed me to afford, and I was infected with that same virus as the pentacle-wearing 17 year old chick with purple hair who attended the newly-established Wiccan Church, that held public ceremonies, calling in every goddess known to mankind to come and Merry Meet them.

And after three solid years of holding my own solitary esbats in the woods behind my parents’ house and community college dorm, wearing my (not-at-all-natural) white robe with hooded cloak (that flowed so well since it was made from that material which was 50% off at the Wal-Mart I worked at, which explains the not-natural part), I was ready to provide the university I transferred into with some well-seasoned Wicca by establishing the Mississippi State University Wiccan/Pagan Student Alliance. Those couple of years with the WPSA was my first exposure to other (eclectic) Wiccans and Neo-Pagans and made my heart soar, and much like Icarus my time riding that broomstick of naïve eclecticism took a tumble after I graduated and moved to New Orleans to discover the putrid pit of pagan politics (which is most likely going to be a story for another day.)

By this time, academics had begun taking note of the popularity of Wicca (both traditional and eclectic) and the various modern witchcraft and neo-pagan groups forming and fighting for equal rights. In 1999 historian Ronald Hutton’s book Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft was published, which essentially nailed shut the coffin that contained the moldering cadaver of Margaret Murray’s “witch-cult hypothesis” and the main party line of the older, traditional Wiccans. (Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was barely heard over the clacking of renaissance faire armor.) However, if there were still some cracks in the coffin, they would pretty much be sealed up with Philip Heselton’s 2001 Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival and his 2003 Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft.

Despite all of this, I was still a bit intrigued and a lot curious, so when the opportunity presented itself in 2005 in the form of my High Priest (now ex-) partner to initiate into Gardnerian (and other traditions of) Wicca I jumped on it. I became a 3rd Degree High Priest in Long Island Line Gardnerian and Farrar Line Alexandrian, as well as a 3rd Degree High Priest two traditions descending from New York City’s 1970s-era Eddie Buczynski: New York Welsh and the Minoan Brotherhood. It was a very busy four years, and my hand still hasn’t recovered from copying all those Books of Shadows…by candlelight…in the dead of night…to the baying of wolves.

Well, enough about me, let’s talk about what I think of Wicca.

First and foremost, everyone associated with Wicca, if they’re still doing this, has really got to drop the Witch Party Line, a phrase I recently stole…I mean borrowed…from Jim Baker in his 2014 book The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic 1550-1900. “The Witch Party Line” is pathetically holding on for dear life and priesthood to that Murray witch-cult hypothesis origin of the Wica (WICA…Wicca…wic(c)a. It’s an echo, you’re supposed to be hearing this in your mind like an echo.) Rather than basing your religion on a pseudo history, which has been 99% disproven so many times now, why not acknowledge its actual origins in Freemasonry, the OTO, the Golden Dawn, Dion Fortune’s work, and a ton of other cool sources. And Freemasonry? (Yes, Gardner was a Freemason and like a hundred other things, seriously, you need to read the Heselton books) Freemasons are said to descend from the Knights Templar. The *Knights Templar*! If that’s not metal enough for you, I don’t know what is. (I don’t know how true that is, I’m just trying to get some folks excited. Probably didn’t work.)

Ok, wait, look! Put down your athames and swords and hear me out. I know. I really know. I’ve been there. Wanting with all my heart and soul that I was somehow a recipient of some romantic Mists of Avalon, Druid, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, pre-Christian Goddess religion that somehow survived the Inquisitional fires despite all the evidence to the contrary. But come on. Let’s face it. Yes, we feel things in circle. There’s energy and spirits and stuff, but that doesn’t really mean that it’s an ancient practice. Espiritismo in the Caribbean is relatively new (compared to the older religions) and their shit works just fine. Their spirits come through with no problem. So, just get over it. Our stuff, well Gardnerians anyway, has been in existence since the 1950s and it’s managed to attract plenty of spiritual guides (now if most Wiccans could just get better training in spirit work, never mind, future post!) and we have our own list of ancestors at this point. It doesn’t need to be old to work. Elsa, what was that? Yeah! Let it go!

This one is for the eclectic Wiccans out there. Please know that currently published ideas like the “Wiccan Rede,” the “Three-fold Law,” and concepts like Karma and Reincarnation are horribly distorted. Remember earlier when I mentioned the publication of non-initiate material mistaken for initiate material? Yeah, that right there. I’m not going to go into them, but here’s a blog that does a fantastic job at it. And the Gardnerian who wrote this is my Brother and friend. It’s awesome. Go here. (

This is getting really long, so I’m gonna wrap it up by relating it all to New Orleans and the Wicca scene here.

I’m not an expert on the history of Wicca in New Orleans, but I have been an observer and participant starting in 2001. As far as I can tell the first organization to jump on the witchcraft bandwagon was The Religious Order of Witchcraft, established in 1972 by a woman named Mary Onieda Toups. Yes, the same one mentioned VERY BRIEFLY on an episode of American Horror Story: Coven. Although, from what I can tell, this was not originally a Wiccan thing. It was more of a home-grown, self-taught occult/witchcraft group, however, I understand it may have later adopted more Wiccan concepts. 

Not sure what all went on between the 70s/80s, but in the 90s a group emerged led by a woman named Velvet Reith. At first a coven called something like Swamp Witches, it eventually morphed into Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church and became an affiliate of Aquarian Tabernacle Church. I encountered this group in 2001 and at the time they had classes, open rituals, and clergy training. All their internet listings are gone now, so I’m going to assume it’s closed. However, a group of people from the CPWC has recently formed their own group called Bee Hive Coven. Here’s their website. (

Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca has had a presence in New Orleans since around the late 90s. My ex and his (now) ex moved from Salem, MA to New Orleans in 1999 and established a Gardnerian coven that lasted until 2005 with Hurricane Katrina (that bitch) blowing most of the members up to New England (myself included, although I wasn’t initiated by the New Orleans HPS, but later by the New Jersey HPS my ex works with.) It wasn’t until last year in 2014 that New Orleans saw the founding of another Gardnerian coven. There was allegedly an Alexandrian coven in New Orleans pre-Katrina. I met the HPS once right before the storm and I know of at least one of her initiates who is still here, although I have no idea if the HPS and rest of the coven stuck around. Not to worry, though, because my working partner and the HPS of our Gardnerian coven, the Crescent City Coven, (go here to inquire are both Gardnerian and Alexandrian. 

As for the boys who'd like to work within an all-male setting, there's also the Minoan Brotherhood here. My grove, Temenos ta Theia, is open and accepting new students. Go here to inquire:

As a curious little side note, there was a very brief period of time when the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft was housed and on display in the French Quarter. But it was mis-managed by folks who eventually lost the museum in a court battle and aren’t really worth me mentioning here. The Museum, I believe, has been set up as a trust with the most likely now defunct CPWC, mentioned above. 2016 Update: Looks like the museum is going to open again in OHIO! Yay. I'll be sure to book my trip early so to beat the crowds.

There used to be a group of Blue Star Wicca folks around, but since their HP, Kenny Klein, got arrested on child porn charges last year, they’ve all understandably gone quiet. 2016 update: looks like the HPS still has a witchvox listing for the coven:

However, if your tastes lie in more eclectic flavors, contact the New Orleans Lamplight Circle here (

You’d think that all the mystery and magic New Orleans is known for that there’d be more options, but no. It’s mainly tourists looking for voodoo dolls and ghost tours. And women who try to sell off their Catholic family histories as “secret New Orleans witch families.” But most of them are just first-generation eclectic witches.