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Brad and Sherry Steiger

Please Visit his Official Web Site ~ edwardshanahan.com

Conscious Channeler Edward Shanahan



Gede , the powerful Lwa spirit of the dead .


Story by C. Kirsham Artwork by Ricardo Pustanio © 2006 All photos by Harriet Cross

All Saints Day sacred for local Catholics day of the dead, For Catholics worldwide, November 1st, known as "All Saints Day," is a holy day of obligation. But in New Orleans, it's an occasion that is met with slightly more fanfare compared to other places around the world.

All Saints Day also bears significance for the New Orleans area for another reason. On November 1, 1966, the NFL awarded an expansion franchise, later named the Saints, to the city.

Ghede Awaits You !

Known as the Lwa of the Dead in Vodoun, Papa Gede, or Ghede, Guédé, is also known as the Baron Samdi, and is married to Manman Brigit, mother of all Gedes. Together the Gedes dress in funeral colors of purple and black and surround themselves with graveyard imagery. The Gedes are very wise, Papa Gede most of all, because they possess the accumulated wisdom of all the dead.

Each Year La Source Ancienne Ounfo & The Island of Salvation Botanica & Magical Pharmacy present their Annual New Orleans DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION, Voodoo Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman presiding holds a open to the Public day of the dead ritual. Followers wear white with a purple head scarf, or black and purple for Gede. They bring a dish of food for the people, and an offering for the Dead and of course Gede'.

Gede’s tastes tend towards peppers, flat breads, rum, cigars, goats, crosses, grave-digger’s tools, black cock feathers, skeletons, sunglasses with one lens, hot Creole foods, money, the colors black, mauve, and white. He is synchronized with St. Gerard.
Or you can bring something with you that your ancestors or loved ones enjoyed in life.

Today in New Orleans All Saints' is more subdued but still an important day for visiting and decorating cemeteries. A modest but steady stream of people makes its way to family tombs in Lafayette or St. Louis No. 1 or Cypress Grove, and Save Our Cemeteries, an organization devoted to the study and preservation of the Crescent City's historic graveyards, has taken to stationing its members in several of the older cemeteries to pass out information and solicit memberships. This is the traditional day for visiting and beautifying the cemeteries of New Orleans. To true New Orleanians this day is as important as Mardi Gras.

Gede names a family of raucous spirits who personify the ancestral dead and sexual regeneration. Their boss is the Baron (Bawon Samdi, or 'Baron Saturday'), married to Grand Brigitte, mother of the Gedes. In Vodun, Maman Brigitte (Grann Brigitte, Manman, Manman Brigit, Manman Brijit) is a death loa, the wife of Baron Samedi. She drinks hot peppers and is symbolized by a black rooster. Like Baron and the Ghede, she uses obscenities.She protects gravestones in cemeteries if they are properly marked with a cross. A New World loa, Maman Brigitte is probably traceable back to the Irish Saint Brigid.

Family members dress themselves in black and purple costumes reminiscent of Masonic garb, and surround themselves with graveyard imagery. They also favor sunglasses because the world above ground is too bright. Gede is a shameless trickster, a wise counselor, and a benevolent healer known to have special love for children. Devotions to Gede are carried out on Fridays and/or Mondays, and during the entire month of November, especially the Days of the Dead-All Saints (the 1st) and All Souls (the 2nd).

This holiday is observed in different ways by different New Orleans Voodoo groups or societies. Each has their own unique traditions secrets and rituals. The day of the dead has the secular connotations of so many Christian festivals throughout the Western world. Traditionally in New Orleans , the day begins with a feast during the early hours of 2 November.

The Well Known Secret New Orleans' Voodoo Cemetery Gates Of Guinee, The Portal To The Afterworld.

Ghede' is a very wise man for his knowledge is an accumulation of the knowledge of all the deceased. He stands on the center of all the roads that lead to Guinee, the afterworld. To find these mysterious gates in the city of New Orleans might take a little detective work. Some Locals say if their open when you find them... beware! If you then enter you will never return to the real world.

The exact location of the haunted cemetery gates isn't really ever told to outsiders of the Secret Societies. New Orleans Tour Guides and Haunted Cemetery or ghost tours will skirt around the issue, or just look at you like they don't know what your talking about, so never mention it (seriously). They say just to talk about the accursed cemetery gates spells doom to those that ask or search for it or speak of it openly to anyone. Those who know feel it is inviting them , "The Ghede" to take you away. Only someone pure of heart with only one burning question to be answered by the dead is ever told the whole truth. A unnamed New Orleans Voodoo priestess says quite bluntly, search and you shall find them rusted shut, or worse they will certainly find you and be wide and opened.

To find these gates, they say is to find the way to communicate openly with the dead. And not just the spirits of those that have died in New Orleans. Local Voodoo followers of Marie Laveaus' Secret Society profess that anyone can come to these gates of Guinee if you can find them.

Speak the name of the deceased you wish to speak to aloud five times through the bars, and they will come and speak to you from the other side. One real warning though, if the rusted shut heavy gate opens do not enter. For you will be one of the living trapped in the world of the dead forever. If you arrive and the Guinee gates are open turn and walk away crossing yourself three times as fast as you can and don't look back.

Guinee Gates to the afterworld. Many say they have found them and talked to the dead.

In New Orleans voodoo-religion, Guinee is the legendary place of origin and abode of the voodoo gods. It is here that the souls of the deceased go after their death. On their way to Guinee, they first have to pass the eternal crossroads which is guarded by Ghede.

" Although one is pure of thoughts and in heart, searches for the gates of the truly dead. You never know when the November winds blow, If the cursed gates are searching for you too."

"If you enter the gates backwards you might have a small chance, to flee with your life all intact. But if your motives are untrue then the living death calls your name , then there is nothing you can do."

Attributed to Madame Marie Laveau, 1800's New Orleans

Ghede is represented as an undertaker, dressed completely in black wearing dark glasses. His followers disguise themselves as corpses and they dance the Banda. Other members of his retinue are Baron la Croix (Baron of the Cross) is the mystical Baron responsible for the reclamation of souls, and Baron Cemetière a spirit of the dead.

Baron Samedi is one of the Guédés, related to and intertwined with Baron Cemetière and Baron La Croix. He is a Guédé of the Americas, bridging the Guédés and Legba. Both are guardians of the crossroads, the place where spirits cross over into our world. If the intercessions desired are with the loa, then Legba is saluted and asked to allow the loa to participate. If the intercessions are with the dead, then Guédé (Ghede) is the intercessor.

As Baron Cemetiere is an obscene, sexual persona known for causing disruptions and hallucinations. He is fond of liquor, especially rum. He also enjoys hot red peppers, coca oil and burning incense. Rodents and insects are his constant companions, and cold dark spaces are where he finds himself comfortable. Baron has the power to turn people into slaves by using his magic spells and zombie powder. Some say he even has the ability to change shape, and possess people.

Baron is one of the most accessible and beneficent of all the lwa, for the simple reason that he is the ruler of all ancestors, and everyone has ancestors. The first man buried in any cemetery is Baron. The first woman buried in any cemetery is Maman Brigitte. Together they reclaim the souls of the departed, and transform them into Gede lwa. You may put before Baron any case of injustice which you have suffered, or you may ask forgiveness for any wrongs you have done. You may ask for the protection of Baron, Brigitte and the Gedes.

Baron La Croix (Baron the Cross) is the mystical Baron responsible for the reclamation of souls. Baron Samedi is involved in the magical ceremonies of the Sanpwel, including those in which the punishment of zombification is inflicted on criminals. Baron Cimitiere is the Big Black Man in the cemetery, he is the one who guards the bones of the dead at night. Baron Kriminel works for pay, and must be paid by the end of the year, November 2, the Feast of the Dead.

In all his aspects, Baron is a judge. He determines the guilt or innocence of those brought before him. If someone is the victim of malevolent magic, if Baron is invoked to help them and he sees that the person is innocent, the person can not be killed. But if he is invoked to punish an evildoer, he himself will send spirits of the dead into the body of the offender, and the evildoer will die a slow death.

The vever, or traditional insignia, of these lwa is a cross on a tomb. The details of the vever may vary depending on the particular lwa or aspect being invoked.

Maman Brigitte, wife of Baron, is the Vodou manifestation of the Celtic goddess Brigid. During the Stuart Wars, many Scottish and Irish men and women loyal to the Stuart crown were deported to the West Indies, and that is how Brigid arrived in Haiti. Maman Brigitte will heal the sick if she is invoked for that reason. She is also a magician, and a particular friend of women and children.

The spiritual children of Baron and Maman Brigitte are the Gede lwa. Every human being on earth can become a Gede lwa, although not all do! The Gedes are powerful, and will prophesy the future, heal the sick, give advice, or perform magic of all descriptions.


The great Baron is identified with the image of St. Martin de Porres, who stands with a broom in his hand, with rows of people on their deathbeds on either side of him. Gede is represented by St. Gerard, who wears severe black clothes and meditates on a skull. Maman Brigitte does not have any particular image strictly associated with her in Vodou, but some people use the image of Our Lady of the Candelaria, the same image often used to represent Oya in the Lucumi tradition.

Possessed by Gede lwa, and by Baron and Brigitte. These lwa use a great deal of indecent language, but they are never nasty to people, they don't curse at people, but instead they tell hysterically funny dirty jokes.

They dance the banda, which is a wildly suggestive dance miming sexual intercourse. And in the midst of all this winding and grinding, these lwa keep perfectly straight faces - they are cadavers, they feel nothing!

November 2, All Soul's Day, commonly called Fet Gede (pronounced GAY-day), New Orleans' Catholics attend mass in the morning and then go to the cemetery, where they pray at family grave sites and make repairs to family tombs. The majority of New Orleans Catholics are also said to be Vodouisants, and vice versa, so on the way to the cemetery many people change clothes from the white they wore to church, to the purple and black of the lwa Gede, the spirits of the departed ancestors.

The Feast of the Ancestors, Fet Ghede, is considered the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, much as in the European Wiccan tradition. Any debts to Baron, Maman Brigitte, or Ghede must be paid at this time. Baron Kriminel sings to his debtors:

(Haitian Creole)
Bawon Kriminel, map travay pou ve de te yo, m pa bezwenn lajan (repeat),
Bawon Kriminel, O! Lane a bout o, map paret tan yo.

Baron Criminel, I'm working for the worms of the earth (lowly, poor people),
I don't need money (repeat),
Baron Criminel, oh! The year has ended, oh, I'll appear, to wait for them (to pay me).

Mariposas gifts to send to the dead.

In New Orleans the people light candles and and place offerings to Gede' and the dead on winged boats shaped like a coffin lid called mariposas (Spanish for "butterfly"), to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead. Ghede is able to help with grief, and there are many grieving here and throughout the Diaspora that is post-Katrina New Orleans. Gede will also lead the Beloved Dead across the black waters of the Abyss where they can rest, and their loved ones can heal.

Well known Guédé spirits include Guédé Nibo, Guédé Plumaj, Guédé Ti Malis, Guédé Zaranye, and many others. They are known for the drum rhythm and the dance called the "banda" and in possession will drink or rub themselves with a mixture of raw rum or clairin and twenty-one habanero or goat peppers.

Gede Nibo is a psychopomp and acts as an intermediary between the living and the dead, who gives voice to the dead spirits that have not been reclaimed from "below the waters". Many sets of religious beliefs have a particular spirit, deity, demon or angel whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife, such as Heaven or Hell. These creatures are called psychopomps, (psychopompos), literally meaning the "guide of souls". They were often associated with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls, sparrows, harts, and dolphins. This could include not only acompanying the soul of the dead, but also vice versa: to help at birth, to introduce the newborn's soul to the world.

The grave of the first man buried in any cemetery in Haiti, whether the person in life participated in the Vodou religion or not, is dedicated to Baron (not Ghede), and a ceremonial cross is erected on the spot. In family compounds in the countryside, a family may erect a cross to Baron for their own lineage, and no peristyle is complete without the cross of Baron somewhere on the grounds.

Dozens on these two consecutive days are already possessed by a Gede, and their eyes and odd look are unmistakable. St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, the main cemetery near the French Quarter, is jammed with people on tours and familys visiting the dead.. Crowds press close around the tomb of Marie Laveau praying that she opens the door to the mysterious powers she still holds.

Many bring offerings of black coffee and rum, which they pour at the foot of her grave. They also bring food offerings of bread, grilled peanuts, roast, corn, and sometimes peppery cooked food. Occasionally a person, usually a Houngan or Mambo, will bring a pre sacrificed chicken or a pair of live pigeons or doves to set free.. Some people light white church candles, beeswax tapers, and leave religious images of saints considered to represent Baron, Maman Brigitte, and many Ghedes are left through out the cemetery.


All photos by Harriet Cross ©2006

La Source Ancienne Ounfo & The Island of Salvation Botanica & Magical Pharmacy peristyle is just one group that holds rituals in honor of Baron, Maman Brigitte, and the Ghedes. The people who come must all be fed, and the lwa who appear are also feasted from the donated food specially prepared for them.

Salie Ann Glassman New Orleans Voodoo Priestess.

Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman began by saying. "The beautiful city of New Orleans is broken but not beaten, is bent but not destroyed. Slowly, it is beginning to heal." "She is like a grand old dame who is suffering from a serious, life-threatening illness, and she needs every healing effort still." "Who better to call on now than Papa Guédé!"

Asking those present to honor the dead with their offerings, Mambo Sallie Ann also stated that the Loas have spoken to her in many ways since Katrina’s strike and that the spirit world is entreating all of us to be more mindful of the natural world surrounding us.

Following this, Mambo Sallie Ann bends down to the ground where she begins to draw in corn meal the intricate and powerful "veve" -- the otherworldly symbol that in this world is the mirror of the power of the spirit world. As she draws, pinching out the corn meal, her devotees will sing and circulate bottles of blessed water in which the audience is invited to wash their hands.

Ritual Voodoo drumming enticed everyone to dance with happy abandon in the Perystle as the ritual reached it's height. The feverish banda dancing went on long into the night. The artistry of the drummers ass incomparable, and even non-Vodouisants had come out their homes to watch. Just as in ceremonies past, the beautiful singing, drumming and dancing is designed to call Guédé, a powerful Loa, from across the Abyss to be present among us.

Jolie and a real Ghede Zombie Spirit Bottle.

Jolie brings her own personal voodoo offering of a special made Papa Ghede Zombie Spirit Bottle for this night to the La Source Ancienne Ounfo Peristyle.

In the aftermath of Katrina, when all the city of New Orleans still appears to be dead, who, you might ask, would want to hang around this place now?

Voodoo druming fills the night.

It would have to be somebody familiar with great heartache desolation, that’s for sure, and not put off by day to day hard challenges. Someone who brings the party with him, so to speak; who knows just the prescription for these one year and 3 months later post-Katrina blues.

Fireworks and dancing marked the arrival of the Guédé among the celebrants blessed intentions through the warm November night and into the world of Spirit.

Calling ghede to appear.

Possession is a wide-ranging phenomena which is probably the most popular form of union with the divine in human history. Possession-oriented rituals are apparent in ancient Egypt and it has been shown that the earliest forms of Cabbalistic practice were oriented towards this type of experience. Possession was a recognized phenomena in ancient Greece, two examples being the Delphic oracle, and the practices of the Theurgists, defined by Proclus as "... in a word, all the operations of divine possession." Possession is a central feature of Voudoun, Santeria, and Macumba, religions which are gaining increasing popularity, and is apparent in most tribal cultures, from America to Australasia.

When Ghede mounts someone he often singles out people who pretend to be aloof from eroticism. He ridicules them, embarrasses them, exposes them (in more ways than one). He is especially hard on whites since they often have the puritanical sexual attitudes of western culture. Ghede is a clown, an interrupter, a coarse fellow. He is much loved because his appearance always brings laughter and joy, singing and dancing, though much of it is lude. He loves cigarettes and is often seen smoking two at a time. He is neither good nor evil, but is amused by humans and that's why he jokes around so much. He is usually the last to appear at a ceremony.

Another of Ghede's great powers is as the protector of children. He does not like to see children die. They need a full life. Thus he is the loa to go to when seeking help for a sick child. He has the power over zombies and decides whether or not people can be changed into animals. Any such black magic Voodoo must seek the help of Baron Samedi/Ghede.

Possession also appears in early Christianity - particularly with the manifestation of "speaking in tongues" which remains popular in modern-day forms of evangelical Christianity. St. Paul's dramatic experience on the road to Damascus bears all the hallmarks of a sudden divine possession, yet he was worried by the phenomenon, and found it necessary to lecture the Corinthian Christians on the need to carefully manage speaking in tongues:

"If therefore, the whole church assembles, and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? ...do not forbid speaking in tongues, but all things should be done decently and in order" (I Corinthians, 14)

The ability to 'loose control' appears to be a key factor in the possession experience..

This is not of course, an issue, in ceremonies where the entire assembly knows what to expect of the entity manifesting. William Sargant gives an account of a Voudoun ceremony he witnessed in Haiti, where two girls became simultaneously possessed by Ghede, a loa who is known to be particularly sexually active: "They half stripped each other and one girl symbolically raped the other with a masculine type of pelvic approximation. It ended with the total emotional collapse of both participants." Sargant goes on to say that the group was somewhat amused by this episode, and that the girls, who were normally restrained and quiet, had no memory of what they had done. He notes that the only people who were 'upset' by the incident were the boyfriends of the girls, but that they could say nothing, as it was the manifestation of Ghede. This in itself is an important point. In many possession-oriented cults, there is a tacit understanding that whatever a possessed person does, it is the action of the indwelling entity and as such, they cannot be faulted. Furthermore, after the person comes out of possession, they are not told about how they behaved.

The Baron Arrives!

Many awaited the grand appearance of Papa Guédé, who in fact did arrive dressed to the nines. His appearance this November warm night was foreshadowed by a great gust of the north wind and a deathly cold chill in the air. Those who were outside the Perystle felt his approach as the drumming reached a fever pitch inside and many of the dancers slowed from the heat filling the room. That’s when Guédé appeared and wanted to hear another song, have another drink, and eat another meal! The party for the dead really began. With top hat, dark sunglasses with one eye out, to symbolize his power in the world of the seen and the unseen. And with a large thick dark cigar he found with his offerings and with a smile all knew he was very pleased.

Ghede he is a masculine lwa with a nasal voice who carries a walking stick or baton, uses profanity liberally, and dresses in black or purple. He is considered the last resort against deaths caused by magic, because even if a magical spell should bring a person to the point of death, if Baron refuses to "dig the grave", the person will not die.

Ghede may possess anyone, anytime. Baron and Maman Brigitte, are absolutely notorious for their use of profanity and sexual terms and his gyrating banda dance make him unmistakable. There is a reason for this - the Ghede are dead, beyond all punishment. Nothing further can be done to them, so the use of profanity among the normally somewhat formal Haitians is a way of saying, "I don't care! I've passed beyond all suffering, I can't be hurt." In a country where disrespect for authority figures was until recently punished by torture or death, this is a powerful message.

A woman possessed by one of the Gede taunts passersby and swears at them. A New Orleans Voudun initiate is ridden (”possessed”) by Ghede. Photo below.

However, this profanity is never used in a vicious or abusive fashion, to "curse someone out". It is always humorous, even when there is a pointed message involved.

"He is the wise counselor and a shameless trickster; he is especially loving toward children, and is called the patron of children throughout the Vodoun world." "The Guédé family of spirits are the guardians of the dead and masters of libido. Mambo Sallie Ann had told all earlier in the night.

Guédé sexual personas arrival caused a disruption to the wild dancing. "He is fond of his liquor Glassman had remarked earlier, especially his favorite brand of rum." Guédé searched for it amongst the many wonderful offerings brought to him this night. "You can count on him to keep you from wallowing in your sorrows," Said Sallie Ann Glassman to the crowd. "Always Guédé arrives when everyone is tired, exhausted and ready to go home for much needed sleep."

Like many other types of magical experience, possession is a learned response. When an individual first experiences possession, it may have far-reaching consequences as a life-changing agent. It may occur suddenly, or gradually, and in some accounts of possession, it can be agonizingly painful. The degree of resistance to the experience is interesting in this light. Sargant notes that often, the more one resists the onset of possession, the more intense the experience actually becomes. I have noticed that, in my own experience of being possessed, whenever I have consciously tried to limit the depth of possession, it has in fact, proved to be much more intense than I expected. With practice, one may achieve a state of possession relatively quickly.

The Baron answered many questions and mingled amongst the many in attendance that filled the Perystle and surrounding grounds, puffing furiously on his large dark thick cigar. Most of all many here wanted to speak to him, because he possess the accumulated wisdom of all that are dead. As the Avatar of Death it is within his power to effect healing, and if ever there was a need for healing, it is here, now in New Orleans.

Ghede is said to be a thief amongst the crowd. It is true that he appropriates what he likes from anyone, but once the person accedes to Ghede's demands his pilfering is usually limited to a few things very minor such as demanding a dollar bill or two. Glassman recounts that when you make a request of Baron Samedi, you use a something other then your hand, a stick anything but your hand extended in place of your hand. When the Baron is ready to leave, he takes with him whatever he's holding. By substituting something, you don't loose your arm!

Possession remains a powerful form of magical work. It can be used to derive oracular information (as used by the Greeks and Tibetans), to charge magical weapons, to share in the power of the God (as in ritual Masses) or 'live' a particular mythic transformation. In constructing possession-workings, it can be useful to examine magical and religious paradigms where possession is a recognized and culturally-defined technique. The experience itself can be related to wider phenomenon such as religious conversion, hypnosis, and abreactive therapy. As with all types of magical technique, it's use requires careful analysis and evaluation if it is not to devolve into a habituated limitation. In general, magical possession is both useful and enjoyable, if a little hair-raising at times.

At Fet Ghede, Glassmans peristyles followers also cook and bring plenty of food especially for the many of Ghedes which appear unexpectedly and wander through the streets to the pounding call of the drums.

Ghede Is Everywhere!

Many Guédés dressed in top hat and smoked glasses danced, ate cursed and sang into the night.

It seems that some years ago, under the regime of President Borno, there suddenly appeared in the streets of Port-au-Prince a crowd of Ghedes (all of them houngans possessed by Ghede) wearing the "formal" costume of the lord: the tall top-hats, long black tail-coats, smoked glasses, cigarettes or cigars, and canes. An enormous crowd naturally collected about them, and joined them in their march to the National Palace. They all took the guards by surprise, and, singing, swerved throught the gates and up the drive and to the door itself, where they demanded money of the President. President Borno, who is reputed to have been sympatheic to Voudoun ritiual (secretly so) and yet feared bourgeois opinion was in great dilemma. He finally gave in, ostensibly merely to quiet the mob, and the Ghedes with their supporters left the grounds. But Ghede had make his point. Death, who has consumed so many heroes, bows before no man and will remind even the most illustrious that one day he too will be consumed. So Ghede had gotten his money and went off to gorge himself, singing...

from Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren [p107]

Note: If you are visiting New Orleans in the hazy month of June, do not miss this opportunity to experience this authentic open to the public voodoo Marie Laveau ritual hosted by one of the most powerful practitioners of the religion in the South, Sallie Ann Glassman. Featured on the Scifi Investigates Premier.

Ms. Sallie Ann Glassman is the author of Vodou Visions, published by Random House in May, 2000, which has received acclaim from Vodou practitioners around the world. She is co-creator and artist for The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot, published by Destiny/Inner Traditions, and is the illustrator of The Enochian Tarot, published by Llewellyn.

Counted as one of the twenty most active Voodoo practitioners in the United States, And as one of the top ten in New Orleans, Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman is known for promoting positive thoughts through her Voodoo faith. She is also a historian on Voodoo tradition and its roots in Hatian Vodun. Like many native religions, Vodou (often referred to as "Voodoo") has been scorned and ridiculed in mainstream Judeo-Christian communities. "The word 'Vodou' sends chills down the spines of most people, and conjures up age-old terrors of sorcery, black magic, and bogeymen lurking under the bed," writes author Sallie Ann Glassman (New Orleans Voodoo Tarot/Book and Card Set). This enticing compendium of the origins and practice of Vodou makes for a fascinating read, explaining how music, dance, and artistic expression are the heart and soul of this complicated religion. "What I discovered was a vibrant, beautiful, and ecstatic religion that was free from dogma, guilt or coercion," says Glassman, a thoughtful and articulate Jewish woman who first began studying New Orleans Vodou in 1975.

Island of Salvation Botanica
Island of Salvation Botanica · Sallie Ann Glassman ... www.feyvodou.com

The New Orleans Hope and Heritage www.nolahopeandheritage.org






New Orleans Days Of Holy Obligations

During the Yellow Fever epidemics in eighteenth century New Orleans, death always loomed close. It's presence left the lasting impression on this city and its inhabitants that life is a gift, perhaps fleeting, and should be enjoyed to its fullest each day. And so, on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, New Orleanians honor the lives of their dead loved ones by painting tombs with brilliant whitewashes, placing yellow chrysanthemums and red coxcombs on graves and ringing statuary with immortelle's (wreaths of black glass beads). On these days, cemeteries throughout the city are alive with the flickering glow from fields of candles, as death is forgotten and lives lived are celebrated.

The most deadly diseases to strike Louisiana during the antebellum period were cholera, smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever. In an epidemic year the mortality rate could reach as high as sixty percent of those who contracted a disease. The death rate in New Orleans ranged from a low of 36 per 1,000 in the late 1820s to a high of 1 in 15 during the summer of 1853. Over 12,000 people died of yellow fever in New Orleans that year, with still more deaths in rural areas in south Louisiana, marking the single highest annual death rate of any state during the entire nineteenth century. Because people died faster than graves could be dug, the popular saying was that pretty soon people would have to dig their own graves.

It is one of the many rich New Orleans' traditions we observe annually at International House, for we can imagine no other city which has turned such tragedy into such a joyous celebration of life.

November 1st, All Saints' Day, is the time when folks in New Orleans traditionally come to pay their respects and leave flowers on the family plot.

Of these older cemeteries, St. Roch's, probably the best kept up, most retains the older air of All Saints' hustle and bustle. Once at the heart of the Ninth Ward's life, it is still visited by many former residents of the neighborhood who have moved to Gretna or St. Bernard Parish or other suburbs. Practically every grave and every niche in the wall "ovens" have flowers. People greet each other, chat with each other, or stop to joke with St. Roch's indefatigable sexton, Albert Hattier, about his own recently completed tomb, which sits prominently guarding the gate to St. Roch's No. 2.. Lower Louisiana is famous for its "Cities of the Dead," the cemeteries of above-ground tombs and wall crypts, or "ovens." Because so much of the area is below sea level, coffins did not readily stay in the ground but rather floated to the top. It only took a heavy rain to raise the dead. To address the problem antebellum authorities at times prohibited interment in the ground. Thus, most south Louisianans were, and still are, buried above the earth's surface.

Burial construction varied by class and faith. Wealthy Louisianans commissioned large, elaborate family tombs, while those with lesser means were buried in small units of oven like wall crypts. The very poor who could not afford tombs or crypts were buried below ground, often in unmarked or mass graves. During epidemics the dead were often buried one on top of another.

Jews also interred their dead below ground. According to Jewish belief, the body had to return to the soil and thus was usually buried in the ground in a wooden casket without nails.

But it is only in a few of Louisiana's rural communities, like Lacombe on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and Lafitte, on Bayou Barataria, where the sublime night-time vigils, once more common, still take place to give All Saints' an especially distinctive aspect. In both of these places, as well as in many others in South Louisiana where All Saints' is observed without the candlelight vigil, the week before is a time of intense preparation. Undergrowth, weeds, and any cemetery trash are cleaned up, and tombs and graves, most of which have copings or slabs or in some other way conform to the South Louisiana style of raised grave structures, are painted (once with whitewash, today more likely with latex).

Antebellum Louisianians mourned the dead by staging elaborate funerals and processions, decorating graves at the time of death and on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, placing black wreaths on doors and black ribbons on door pulls, and wearing clothes and jewelry that symbolized stages of mourning. Many customs incorporated Latin and African elements, a cultural heritage from Louisiana's colonial era.

New Orleans Mourning jewelry is composed in part of human hair. Hair jewelry could be made by the mourner or by artists who specialized in such work with hair clipped from the deceased at the time of death.

The level of subterranean water is high enough that coffins tend to pop up out of the ground. An exception is Holt cemetery, where the graves are in the ground.

"It's a cemetery for mostly people who don't have the money to build those big magnificent tombs. So there are a lot of handmade, homemade tombs, made with found objects, with materials that are just lying around, very impermanent materials. It's a lot of very improvised memorials. Very personalized as well."

Rob Florence is the author of New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead.

"It's one of the things that's very moving about this cemetery. You can tell that people have put a lot of thought and a lot of time and a lot of devotion into these memorials and within a year or even six months, it's not gonna be there."

The New Orleans Saints are a professional American football team based in New ... since the franchise had been granted to New Orleans on All Saints' Day. African-American influences on Louisiana mourning traditions included the celebration of funerals with dancing, music, and singing.

The wearing of white at funerals and other celebrations involving the dead had religious symbolism and was most likely an African-American cultural carryover. In 1819 English-born architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe encountered a funeral procession in New Orleans for an old Congo slave woman and wrote:

In going home to my lodgings this evening about sunset, I encountered a crowd of at least 200 negroes, men and women, who were following a corpse to the cemetery. Of the women, one half at least carried candles, & as the evening began to be dark, the effect was very striking, for all the women & many of the men were dressed in pure white. The funerals are so numerous here, or rather occupy so much of every afternoon in consequence of their being, almost all of them, performed by the same set of priests, proceeding from the same parish Church St. Louis Cathedral], that they excite hardly any attention.


In antebellum Louisiana, and even now, celebration of death did not end with the funeral. On or near tombs and crypts friends and relatives placed immortelles, wreaths commonly made of such durable materials as glass and wire.

In New Orleans, the religious and traditional meanings of this day are more obvious. For the traveller, anywhere in New Orleans is a good place to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The entire city is said to be haunted. And whether a day of special religious and cultural significance or the celebration of an almost-forgotten ritual, visitors are welcome to join in and feast with the Big Easy's dear departed.



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