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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Summer Pagan Festivals: What to Bring (& What NOT to Bring)

Whether you’re packing for a day trip, or a hopping a plane across the world, there are few ways to connect with your global pagan community than to participate in a summer festival.

To get you started on your journey, I’ve assembled a list of things to consider taking with you.  Welcome to: Packing Tips for Your Pagan Summer Festival

We’re assuming here that you have the basics of travel packing down. Hopefully, you haven’t reached this crossroads in life without knowing you need underwear, a toothbrush, clothing and your inhaler.

But there are a few things specific to pagan events that are nice to have along.

Here are six things to bring, and six to leave at home (or at least in the car!)

What to bring.

Tarot Cards. Even if you don’t read them fluently, at least 100 other people will. Tarot cards are a great way to get to know people, start conversations and generally break the ice.

A paper journal or Book of Shadows. Rediscover the lost art of handwritten journal entries.  Press flowers in them, take notes at workshops, draw whatever inspires you and write down spells and recipes you learn in your time there.

A lantern. The soft light of a lantern at night really warms up any outdoor space, encourages others to gather around you, and sets a lovely mood for spontaneous discussions.

A good bottle of red wine (and a corkscrew!). Here’s one heavier item that’s worth the weight! If you’re traveling from a far away land, bring something local from your home region to share during cakes and ale. Some people like to bring liquor because it’s less bulk, but I’m not a fan of the hard stuff. Red wine is usually served at room temp anyway, so there’s no need to keep it on ice, and you can drink it straight from the bottle like a hobo in a pinch. You will thank me for this.

A sturdy basket. I always bring a basket to carry around my random daytime stuff. You can use a backpack, but the baskets are so much more charming! Just make sure it’s high quality enough to withstand a beating. If you don’t have a good one, odds are there will be at least one artisan basket maker there, so treat yourself to a nice one.

A few of your most used tools. You can’t pack the whole sacred playground. Choose tools that are light, versatile and easy to carry.

Tea candles. Candles are infinitely useful at festivals or any pagan event. Our kind just can’t seem to function without them. But pillars and jar candles are bulky. Tea candles are lightweight. You can bring 50 without much trouble at all.

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What NOT to bring.

Your smartphone and/or tablet. Just . . . leave it. If you really, absolutely must get online for some reason, someone else will have something you can borrow. You’re here to connect with nature. In our modern world, part of this is disconnecting from the internet. The experience of this alone is its own kind of vision quest. Be present.

Excessive makeup, jewelry and other fluffery. I’m not saying you can’t get all dolled up for the nightly bonfires. But you’ll appreciate the lighter load if you can at least pair down your usual repertoire. A good rule of thumb is to take half your usual cosmetics and toiletries. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Or, try the challenge of bringing only natural personal care items like essential oils, handmade soap and sea salt scrub.

More than one book. Trust me. You won’t read them. One is more than enough, and you probably won’t read that one, either. It’s just extra weight.

Your dieting rules. With all the walking and the physical activity, you’ll really appreciate why our ancestors didn’t have to watch their weight.

Your vice. Pick something. Anything. Then aim to go without it. Kind of like a mini New Year’s resolution.  It’s easier to give up almost anything with the change of scenery and all the other over-stimulation.

Your personal limitations. Take the opportunity to challenge yourself. Go to workshops about things way outside your comfort zone.

Better yet, teach one.

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