I am not a religious person, but I am aware of the importance belief has in the lives of people, and the comfort it can bring. I'm also aware of the very human need to petition something beyond our earthly selves when we are in need. You might call me a superstitious atheist.
If you are offended by my cavalier approach to religion, you might want to stop reading now. But please understand I have no intention to comment on your own personal faith or beliefs.
So given all that, I am now living in the city of New Orleans, a city where magic, folklore, superstition and a melange of creativity and culture has long given rise to a healthy practice of paying respect to the spiritual elements. The Other World seems present everywhere you look, from our famous Cities of the Dead cemeteries to the ghosts of the French Quarter, from the ritualized evocation of Catholic saints to the gris-gris of Caribbean voudou, and the practice of Hoodoo and Santeria.
|Doll left at a tomb in St. Roch cemetery on All Souls' Day|
|A veve, or voudou drawing on a Bywater House. This is for Papa Legba|
|An altar to Marie Laveau at Island of Salvation|
The other day I visited F & F Botanica Shop, a little storefront right across the street from the headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Here, the walls of the shop are lined with shelves holding spiritual candles - tall glass containers filled with enough wax to burn seven days. I am fond of these candles, having first encountered them in Los Angeles, in Latino botanica shops. They are imprinted with the images of saints or with the incantations of ritual. Do you want good luck? Do you want to keep the cops away? Make that man love you? Get that job? There are candles to burn for those who need that extra help from the Other World.
|Offerings left in the chapel at St. Roch cemetery|
|Magical waters at F & F|
While I was at F & F another customer, a big guy wearing a knit cap he stashed his pack of smokes in, bought a candle to petition the 7 African Powers - a rainbow colored candle that includes the synchretic images of Catholic saints that represent West African Gods. He had a new baby grand-daughter, he said, and he wanted to start her life out right. "And can you give me that St. Joseph statue, too? I'm gonna put these on the altar just as soon as I get home," he said.
So - I got to thinking. With all the turmoil and news, I'm getting more and more nervous about the upcoming election. Do you suppose I should go ask Tanya what kind of candle to burn for a favorable outcome?
Which of you would join me in a candlelight petition, if you can find a botanica in your town?