No other city that I have ever visited pridefully advertised itself as the locale of Voodoo and Witchcraft. Not to mention that it is a place where you can find and satisfy nearly any vice imaginable, whether legal or illegal. It is a place frequented by witches, sorcerers, voodoo practitioners, vampires, werewolves, the rich, the famous, tourists from nearly everywhere, and the poor and the homeless, too.
There is a superficiality promoted to the tourists and visitors, and there is a darker underground where resides the real practitioners of the forbidden arts. The food is astonishingly good everywhere, from cheap sidewalk vendors to expensive upper-class restaurants. And everywhere is an overflowing abundance of mixed drinks, from tailored and timeless Sazerac and Absinthe, to disgustingly sweet daiquiris. There are plenty of people getting alcoholized at all times of the day and night.
While fundamentalist Christians would be horrified at the excesses and dark reputation of the Big Easy, I found it completely charming and even beguiling. It was an insightful experience for me, and I feel as if I have found a second home. A Witch walking the streets of the French Quarter is almost as ubiquitous as a Muslim walking the streets of Cairo. Or at least that is how it felt to me. I saw lots of people dressed up in Goth clothing, with obvious occult tattoo subjects inked on their bodies, talking about their latest Tarot card reading or the book of spells that they are reading. These were also local folk, with some tourists gawking at them as if they were some kind of exotic and weird species of hominid.
Two of my favorite stores were the Esoterica Occult Goods and Sassy Magick. We looked over the premier Witch store Hexe, but I found that it was blatantly pimping its owner, Christian Day, and his forgettable book on Necromancy. We are talking about two sets of shelves, from floor to ceiling containing just copies of his book. Another set of shelves had the book written by his lover about beginning Witchcraft. I found that presentation to be a sad example of an over stuffed ego versus a genuine desire to promote many writers and perspectives. He could have had a small table with his books and those of his lover, but multiple shelves? Anyway, Esoterica was a very friendly place without the hype of Hexe, with lots of interesting books and products. The same could be said of Sassy Magick, which now has two stores within blocks of each other. I would recommend these stores, but not so much the over hyped Hexe.
While strolling around the French Quarter, I saw a number of really beautiful buildings decorated in the old classic style, upper story galleries with wrought iron railings, shuttered doors, and occasional glimpses at garden courtyards adorned with flowers, pools and fountains. This is where old wealth lived and congregated. I had an impression of being in one of these courtyards with a select group of people, performing a magical conjuration, with dim gas lights and candles illuminating a sequestered domain in the dark of the night. It was a brief vision, and I don’t know if it is based on some premonition, or just my fanciful imagination. Perhaps if I returned some day and spend some time in New Orleans, I might just discover this to be a premonition instead of just a day-dream. Needless to say, the book store owners informed me that my books were so popular that they couldn’t keep them on the shelves, especially the book “Spirit Conjuring for Witches,” but the others were popular as well. I didn’t have time to meet anyone for any length of time, but I intend on going back next year and making some further connections there. It seem like a welcoming place for me to explore.
New Orleans is a tourist town and is geared to promoting memes and themes that help draw in visitors from all over the world. There are lots of events, venues, hotels, eating and drinking establishments, live entertainment of every stripe, and many locations that hearken back to a more French provincial colony kind of existence, a veritable window into a time long past. That past, while seemingly picturesque and charming to today’s visitors represented a time of inequality, slavery, persecution, exploitation, and the illicit mixing of races, religions and cultures. There were dark places and times in those days where unspeakable cruelty reigned all the while the class system was white-washed with Catholic morality and white race superiority. While slavery has disappeared, inequality has grown over the decades, and now there is once again a servant class serving the needs of the well healed along with the neglected and dispossessed homeless who are abundantly seen throughout the town. New Orleans has its superficial charm that is consumed by the tourists, and it has a dark underworld of predation and despair.
Ray Bradbury described what he called the Autumn People in his book “Something Wicked Comes This Way” and I think that it brilliantly applies to my perceptions of New Orleans. How curious it is that I visited this town in the “autumn.”
“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth....Such are the autumn people.”
At the very bottom of New Orleans, striving up from the crumbling above-ground cemeteries to the gritty taverns, gentlemen’s clubs, seedy bars, and secret gathering places of predators, sorcerers, witches, pagans, vampires, despoiled Christians, drug addled or drunken victims and the vagrant and pathetic, filthy homeless, are the autumn people who quietly lurk and inhabit the town while mindless and heedless tourists flitter about them. It is a fascinating place, but despite the hype and whimsey about witchcraft, voodoo and sorcery, there is a true bedrock of practitioners and cultists living invisibly amongst the visible tourist traps and party atmosphere. That is the New Orleans that I love and seek to know better in the future. It may be in my autumn years that I have discovered this wondrous place, but perhaps I may have some adventures there in the future. Only time will tell.