Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ken Allan Dronsfield writes and shoots

Lesser Temptation

Streams of ethereal dreams 

while lost in the crimson bayou
a weeping willow serenades
an ominous decrepit mansion.

Cartwheeled off through Hell,
left cowering under the lamp
in the old voodoo swamps
of misty heartless sanction.

Quaking within the freeze
or perhaps a new disease,
left shirtless and bereft
in the cold without ration.

Stuck within the embrace
of a shadowy woman's arms;
ghostly visions singing of
shattered pious abdication.

Waking within the fantasy,
still reeling from the reality
whispers from fractured doors
and deeds of lesser temptation.

Casting glances are bestowed
ringing down the singing hallway.
Marie Laveau dances peacefully to
a sonnet of high righteous inflection.


  1. Marie Laveau was the renowned “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.” She was, by some accounts, the illegitimate daughter of the city’s 5th mayor and one of the Creole “Gens de Couleur” (free men and women of color) who may have been of mixed African-Native American heritage. After the disappearance of her husband, a “French Creole” (a mixed-race Haitian) carpenter who had fled the Haitian revolution, she became the placée of a man descended from French nobility, who had served under Andrew Jackson in the 1815 battle of New Orleans. (Plaçage, from the French “placer” [to place with] was a recognized extralegal system by which white men could cohabit with non-white women; though the women had no legal status as wives, they had property and financial rights that were protected by law. Gens de Couleur called them “mariages de la main gauche”[left-handed marriages].) They had seven (or 15) children, though only two survived into adulthood; the youngest of these, Marie Philomène Glapion, became known as “Marie Laveau II.” However, little is known about her, including her birth year, though she has left a strong legendary footprint in the local imagination: That she learned her craft from Doctor John (Bayou John, Prince John), who had been born in Senegal and taken to the US as a slave; that she added Catholic practices (holy water, incense, statues of the saints, and Christian prayers); that by 1830 she became a prominent voodooienne, taking charge of the rituals held in Congo Square (in modern Armstrong Park) and selling gris-gris (some combination of herbs, oils, stones, bones, hair, nails, and grave dirt) throughout the social strata; that she invited the public, press, police, and thrill-seekers to the “secret” ceremonies at Lake Pontchartrain, charging admission and making voodoo profitable for the first time; that she built the Maison Blanche to preside over orgies she arranged for wealthy white men and black, mulatto, and quadroon women; that, as the “Widow Paris,” she worked as a hairdresser, which took her into the homes of the affluent and allowed her to develop a network of informants among their servants; that politicians paid her as much as $1000 to win elections; that she danced with a snake named Zombi, named after the serpent spirit who used his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets and to shape the hills and valleys on earth and, by shedding his serpent skin, created all the waters on the earth; that she staged ceremonies in which participants became possessed by loas (spirits) and danced naked around bonfires; that she often stood on the gallows, ministering to the condemned; that she magically caused the deaths of a lieutenant governor and a governor of Louisiana; that her spells enabled slaves to escape captivity; and that she remained perpetually youthful while living for more than a century. In 1869, she gave her last performance as a voodoo queen, but she continued her prison work until 1875, just as her daughter assumed her public identity.

  2. Her lengthy 1881 obituary in the “Daily Picayune” commented, “Besides being very beautiful Marie also was very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs. She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly. Her skill and knowledge earned her the friendship and approbation, of those sufficiently cultivated, but the ignorant attributed her success to unnatural means and held her in constant dread…. At anytime of night or day any one was welcome to food and lodging. Those in trouble had but to come to her and she would make their cause her own after undergoing great sacrifices in order to assist them. Besides being charitable, Marie was also very pious and took delight in strengthening the allegiance of souls to the church. She would sit with the condemned in their last moments and endeavor to turn their last thoughts to Jesus. Whenever a prisoner excited her pity Marie would labor incessantly to obtain his pardon, or at least a commutation of sentence, and she generally succeeded…. All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not lag in her work. She always had the cause of the people at heart and was with them in all things. During the late rebellion [the American Civil War] she proved her loyalty to the South at every opportunity and fully dispensed help to those who suffered in defense of the ‘lost cause.’ Her last days were spent surrounded by sacred pictures and other evidences of religion, and she died with a firm trust in heaven. While God's sunshine plays around the little tomb where her remains are buried, by the side of her second husband, and her sons and daughters, Marie Laveau's name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”

  3. The rival “New Orleans Democrat” was less kind: “Marie Lavaux, as is well-known by all the old residents of the city, was the queen of the Voudous, that curious sect of superstitious darkies that combined the hard traditions of African Legends with the fetich worship of our Creole Negroes. She was a woman of some presence and considerable conversational powers. Somewhat bent with years when she last officiated as regnant mistress of her weird domain, she yet retained a remarkable control over her whilom subjects and impressed them with her sovereignty…. Her eyes were peculiar in their look and had considerable magnetism about them. Her face was of the old Negro type, expressionless except when highly animated, wrinkled from forehead to chin and with a skin not unlike parchment. She was a peculiar character, and one which essentially belongs to an era of Louisiana long since passed away…. It is curious that her demise should have happened within a few days of the "eve of good St. John," which is the anniversary of the Voudous, and which has been commemorated by the sect under her regency, for the last forty years, on the twenty-fourth of June of each year…. She had love charms that brought lovers together and fearful drugs that sundered loving souls. Among her people her incantations, fetiches and charms were supposed to be without fail, and thousands crowded around her to obtain relief, fortune or revenge. How they were satisfied is neither here nor there, but they believed in the dark superstition, and faith covered all the faults and lies that made her a sorceress and a queen…. Now Marie Lavaux is gone, the least graceful or poetic of these strange personations of the past, but undoubtedly the most powerful, and we can say that with her vanishes the embodiment of the fetich superstition and the last representative of that class whose peculiar idiosyncracies were derived from the habits and customs of old Louisiana. Much evil dies with her, but should we not add, a little poetry?” And an editorial in the same paper was even harsher: “The fact is that the least said about Marie Lavoux's sainted life, etc., the better. She was, up to an advanced age, the prime mover and soul of the indecent orgies of the ignoble Voudous; and to her influence may be attributed the fall of many a virtuous woman. It is true that she had redeeming traits. It is a peculiar quality of the old race of Creole Negroes that they are invariably kind-hearted and charitable. Marie Lavoux made no exception. But talk about her morality and kiss her sainted brow - pouah!!!”

  4. A popular legend claims she never died but changed herself into a huge black crow which still flies over the cemetery, but nevertheless her body was buried in the Glapion family crypt in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, where (until 2015, when public access was prohibited without a tour guide, though relatives of the dead are still permitted to visit) people would routinely use a red brick to mark on X on her tomb (in violation of federal law), turn around three times, knock on the tomb, and yell out their wish; if granted, they would return, circle their X or leave three new X’s, and leave an offering of cigars, candy, coins, candles, beads, flowers, food, or white rum. Marie II carried on her mother’s career and reputation, and is often conflated with her; she became prominent about the time her mother retired, thus creating the legend of her longevity, although the facts of her life are as mysterious as her mother’s. By most accounts they looked remarkably alike, though some claim the daughter’s pupils were half-moon shaped, and apparently she lacked the warmth and compassion of her mother, inspiring more fear and subservience. As a hairdresser, she maintained the network of social intelligence gathering, and she continued the "Maison Blanche" liaisons, daring the police to raid them at the risk of being hoodooed, but she also ran a bar and brothel on Bourbon Street. She may have had three children, whom she sent to the Dominican Republic after threats were made to burn them alive. St. John's Day, in honor of St. John the Baptist, corresponded with the summer solstice and had become the central festival in the New Orleans voodoo calendar, celebrated at St. John Bayou on Lake Pontchartrain. Marie II made it her particular focus. The one she presided over in 1872 began as a religious ceremony, with Marie II arriving with a crowd of singers. Soon a cauldron was filled with water from a beer barrel, salt, black pepper, a black cat, a black rooster, various powders, and a snake sliced in three pieces to represent the Trinity, and the contents were boiled together; after a ritual meal, everyone sang the Louisiana folk song in her mother’s honor, "Mamzelle Marie" then stripped and swam in the lake. A sermon by the queen was followed by a half jour of relaxation or intercourse, then four naked women put the cauldron’s remnants back into the beer barrel, and Marie gave another sermon that lasted until daybreak. In 1874, these proceedings attracted 12,000 spectators. By some accounts, Marie II drowned in the lake during a big storm around 1895 and was buried in “the wishing vault” in St. Louis No. 2, frequented by women seeking husbands (though probably that is the burial site of a different voodooienne, Marie Comtesse), but more likely, she died of a heart attack in 1897 and was buried in the same vault as her mother. Both Marie Laveaus are said to haunt New Orleans in various human and animal forms.


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?