New Orleans: Southern Fire of Magic

Author: Quill ofQuillsOccultSupply / Labels: , ,

This story has been a long time coming but I really wanted to be able to tell it properly.  On Monday I told you about something that happened to me earlier this month but now we're going to go way back and talk about a experience I had last September that I thought might never be possible.  Please note that absolutely none of this is in chronological order, but perhaps if you too have visited New Orleans you'll understand why that isn't important at all.

On a long-awaited day that seemed to arrive quite suddenly, I and my sister and niece took the long highway trail that leads from north to south, from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, and the bright, hot, magic-infused city of New Orleans.  Being a northerner through and through, NOLA seemed as distant as the moon so when the opportunity came up, I leapt at it.  Without any expectations (which is my favorite way to travel), I packed my things and hopped in the van to spend a week under the influence of the bayou and its ways.  I was not disappointed.

First, I'd like to note that though I am a witch and have been driven primarily by magic and Pagan thought since I was an early teenager, I chose not to explore the city in the standard way.  So I passed up the magical shopping (I'm already well-stocked so to do so would have been just the lookie-lou shopping that is a waste), I took no ghost tours, and I didn't have my fortune told.  There were, of course, a multitude of opportunities for each of these, but I enjoyed coming to the experience with an eye to find magic in the places that presented themselves to me without being bidden.

To that end, I took in the city as best I could in one week.  We saw both the rich and poor neighborhoods.  We walked quietly through the cemeteries.  We enjoyed street performers and jazz parades, ate at small restaurants, and talked with locals.  It was a scavenger hunt for all the particulars that make New Orleans its own beast.

What was most surprising to me was that even without hitting the standard magical scene, the city itself hums with magic.  Though the look of the place was fairly modern, the feeling one gets is that of the often yearned-for past ages when magic was accepted as obvious and ever-present.  Voodoo, Hoodoo, talismans for every purpose, spells, curses, occult symbols...they are everywhere.  Like my first trip to Salem, MA, I was confronted at every turn by images that I previously felt were so individual to my sub-set of society that it was a delightful shock to view them openly.

The juxtaposition of tall, sleek hotels and tiny mom-and-pop shops; the modern facades and old wrought iron railings and decorated window casings; icons of African diaspora and Catholicism, the well known business brands next to houses painted with touches of shocking tangerine and turquoise details.  Everywhere were bits of the profane and the sacred, the mundane and the magical, the thrill of a party town and the peace of classic Southern repose.  Though they surprised me at first, they never came across as contradictions, as though NOLA never learned who she was, but rather a sign of the variety and combined cultures who formed the city and grew with her.

The House of Blues was a temple to music.  What seemed like a simple venue from without quickly revealed itself within as an homage to the blues, jazz, and the kind of camaraderie that both seem to evoke from its fans.  We spent an evening in the parish and the signs of the building's former life
were like little eyes peeking from the shadows.  The likenesses of saints looked on from their alcoves lined with Hoodoo novena candles, the parchment colored walls and painted ceiling accommodating modern stage lighting, the stage itself festooned
with the painted inscription "Unity in Diversity."  I've never been in a lovelier church.

The other house of worship on our tour was Bourbon Street.  I'm not much of a drinker but the ever-present party spirit was enough to change my mind for the week.  Naturally, this lead to a case of too much too fast and I found myself regretting the pleasure I took in choosing the biggest and most colorful drinks available.  I couldn't have been alone in that state, though I saw only happy faces as we moved through the throng that filled the streets.  The scent was quite another matter.  In the halls of decadence are many pleasures and, I would suppose, few bathrooms.  We were told that the whole area had to be hosed down every night to wash away the vomit and urine, and the pungent evidence of this hung in the warm air.  Always the optimist, I prefer to think of this as one more inhibition shed: society forces us into a nearly constant state of discomfort that only a good party can properly loosen.  I kept myself within arm's reach of societal norms on my visit, but I don't mind those who didn't.

To me, the most important stop on our journey was a visit to what seemed to me to be the very heart of the city, the cemeteries.  Easily the second most recognizable "attraction" of New Orleans (right
after Marti Gras), the cemeteries are a lovely reminder of how this city has suffered but also how it has absorbed such suffering and made it beautiful.  The magic that feels like lifeblood in NOLA pulses through these places.  A respect for the dead, and death itself, is a permanent aspect of events.  The lurking underworld
spirit is actively invited into daily life, talked about, talked to, painted and sung, honored, even loved.

Walking in the gates at St. Louis #1 was strange mainly because it was so popular--great clusters of people regularly filtered through, a man at the gate was selling cold drinks, the tour guides proclaimed loudly to their wards.  A cheerful lady asked us as we were leaving if we knew where to find the tomb of the mass murderer Madame LaLaurie.  It was all too much.  Much like I feel in the local city library where "library voice" has been completely abandoned-- even by the librarians--I felt compelled to be extra quiet and meek to make up for the bustle.  But then we went to one of
the smaller cemeteries and found ourselves completely alone.  There the silence present needed no help from me.  I wandered silently in that still place, as though I had entered a painting.  I took sparse photos only out of hopes to capture that uncanniness, though with every snap I felt as though I shouldn't.   It was lovely, though, and so easy to make beautiful in film that I couldn't help myself.  Everywhere was whitewash and black wrought iron, potted plants on the steps of tended tombs and scruffy wildflowers growing atop those untended, all stretching out in the bright sunshine of a cornflower blue sky.  If this was a painting, someone had done a masterful job.

Coming back out again was a weird experience.  The rest of the city was so busy, even in the back alleys, that the contrast of the peaceful cemeteries felt impossible.  I don't recall hearing the traffic from the nearby streets while we were inside those gates.  Perhaps that's part of the mystique of such a place--it entombs you with all the rest and while yet living you may understand the peace of the dead.

Indeed, coming back to Pennsylvania after this trip seemed much the same.  There is a rich history and blend of cultures in my own home state but nothing quite so vivid as what I discovered in Louisiana.   I had entered the gates a student of experience and emerged again no scholar but certainly wiser and with one eye open to the underworld.


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About Me

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My name is Quill and I've been practicing witchcraft for the past 17 years. 10 of those years I've been reading tarot and teaching.  I own a shop on Etsy called Quill's Occult Supply (check it out at full of handmade ritual and decorative items, spell components, and wild picked herbs.

I love to work with my hands.  Magic is a tool to shape our lives, and I'm using magic to shape tools to shape magic.  Cosmic! 

I use a lot of my favorite things in my shop: herbs, candles, wood, fabric, paint, clay.  And I get to carve, burn, grind, mold, think, dream ... I'm in the perfect business!

I've written 3 manuscripts for publication (2 non-fiction and 1 fiction) and am an avid NaNo-er!  I and my husband run a local coven called Orbis Prosapia, and our children are growing up surrounded by magic, mythology, fairy tales, Earth worship, art, open discussion, music, and humor. 

In addition to working on Ex Penna about my experiences as a professional witch, I also write for Scenes from the Circle about being a coven leader. 

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