A Modern Witch’s Guide to the Magic of New Orleans

A growing interest in pagan travel inspired me to start my latest category, aptly titled Pagan Travel.

In this series, I hope to share with you my experiences in exploring local traditions around the world from my perspective as an interfaith witch.

From festivals to small, street corner shrines, my interest in local religions feels innate.  The passion, beauty and spectacular diversity of spiritual expression across cultures has left me breathless, mesmerized, and sometimes moved to insight.

My trip last month to New Orleans refreshed this sense of wonder.

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Nowhere does local religious tradition thrive more colorfully than in what has perhaps become my favorite city in the US.

Naturally, we had go on a ghost tour.  No matter how you feel about spirits, or cheesy, theatrical ghost tours, or what your thoughts are on the afterlife, no one should pass up the opportunity to follow a local around the French Quarter at dusk and listen to some classic New Orleans ghost stories.

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Our guide was . . . passionate about what he does.  LOL

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We heard all the traditional tales, like the dubious legend of Madame LaLaurie and, of course, the famous haunting of Hotel Monteleone.

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But I learned plenty of new ones.

In fact, it seems every bartender in town has a tale to tell about ghosts in the rafters, ghosts in the wine cellar, ghosts haunting every dusty, 100-year-old trap door in the closet.

Particularly, the bartender at this historical tavern regaled us with legends of drunken spooks.

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But first, a magic tonic with an infamous past.

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Notorious for driving Edgar Allen Poe further into the rabbit hole of eloquent delirium, absinthe sparkles with the mysterious allure of 17th century poets and mad painters.

I love the mythical glamour of this centuries old elixir.  It is all the things many people imagine the occult to be: dangerous, intoxicating, magnetic.

But to me, absinthe calls to mind all the magical properties of its key ingredient, wormwood; herb of seduction, dark matters of the heart, and prophetic dreams.

I asked the bartender the same question he probably gets several times a night:

“But it isn’t real absinthe, right?”

The bartender explained that the modern absinthe now legal in the US contains much lower concentrations of the key (and highly toxic) ingredient, thujone, than Victorian-era versions.  I leave it to you super nerds to argue whether or not the modern stuff is “real.”

But though you may not see swirling green fairies on your way home from Frenchmen’s Street, many people report experiencing vivid dreams after a night of drinking modern absinthe.  Given the role of wormwood in witchcraft, I found this a very interesting rumor.

No exploration of the spiritual side of New Orleans would be complete without at least touching on the subject of voodoo.  I have little to say.  Voodoo seems to be one of those occult practices that’s impossible to talk about without pissing people off on all sides, and to me, those discussions aren’t productive.  I’ll just say that I enjoy the pride with which this tradition is celebrated in New Orleans, and the open references to it, from kitschy souvenir shops to the altars of serious, dedicated practitioners.

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Finally, the eerie splendor of New Orleans’ crumbling, historic cemeteries provides a transcendent place to contemplate otherworldly matters.   Haunting and strangely beautiful, wandering between the cracking concrete monuments felt like drifting through an earthly purgatory.

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