Manbo Sallie Ann Glassman’s yearly celebration in honor of one of New Orleans’ great protectresses took on a special significance in the face of the disastrous BP oil spill that is killing the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s ritual is the first part of a weekend of ceremony and supplication organized by Manbo Sallie Ann to appeal to the spirit protectors of New Orleans and the great spirits of the oceans to forgive mankind’s disregard for the environment and to aid us in our time of need.
In previous years, the Midsummer Ritual honors Marie Laveau as the great mother of voodoo culture in New Orleans. Significantly, the celebration is held on St. John’s Eve when, according to all accounts, Madame Laveau held her greatest rituals of the year. Although Marie Laveau’s rituals were held at the spot where historic Bayou St. John empties into nearby Lake Pontchartrain and sometimes attracted thousands, Manbo Sallie Ann’s ritual remembrance is more simple and subdued.
But as she stood to speak to the crowd this year, a mass of people nearly all dressed in white and sweltering together in the humid evening air, Manbo Sallie Ann reminded everyone of the “troubles and challenges of our time … challenges that are so unlike any we have faced in the past.” She also stressed the importance of community, of “supporting each other so that we can all face the trying times ahead.”
New Orleans has always had the benefit of great spiritual protectors, such as Ougun La Flambo who is called upon to stem the tide of crime in the community and Erzulie Dantor the fierce protectress summoned to keep away hurricanes. Marie Laveau, according to Manbo Sallie Ann, is no less powerful in her ability to respond to the appeals of her people, the community of New Orleans among whom she lived and served.
“We need all the help we can get now,” Manbo Sallie Ann told the gathering, “that’s as simple as I can put it. And hopefully tonight, Marie Laveau will hear us and answer.”
The great conch shell was blown signaling the beginning of the ritual and Manbo Lorien of La Source Ancienne Ounfo began to sing in the Kreyol language of Haitian voodoo the ritual prayers to summon the spirits. In the lilting cadence of the antique French island patois, Manbo Lorien calls upon Legba, the great guardian of the crossroads, to open the way and allow spirit to enter. Other powerful beings such as Damballah Wedo, the “universal snake” in the heart of the dark waters of the spirit, are also called upon, until finally Marie Laveau is invoked with song and the tracing in cornmeal of her veve – or ritual symbol – on the ground.
As Manbos Sallie Ann and Lorien worked their ritual upon the footbridge, supported by drummers and members of La Source Ancienne Ounfo, Manbo Mary Milan (also known as “Bloody Mary” the tour guide and one of the top ten most powerful voodoo priestesses in New Orleans) glided gently over the waters of the bayou in a canoe laden with offerings and candles. Manbo Mary placed offerings in the water near a central piling where a single candle had been placed. As the canoe moved in and out near the pilings of the old footbridge, Manbo Mary held up a bottle of motor oil, a stark reminder of the reality of the oil disaster in the Gulf. A tiny bit of the motor oil was mixed with other liquids in a glass skull and the skull was placed next to the single candle flickering on the cement piling. Soon afterward, while Manbo Mary’s canoe was stationary near the bridge in observance of the ritual being performed there, two strange whirlpools appeared in the calm water. About two feet apart, the whirlpools spun in simultaneous, exact momentum. As Manbo Mary rowed over to inspect the strange phenomenon, someone on the bridge called out, “Ayibobo, Manbo!” acknowledging the powerful magic that had just been done.
On the footbridge, the time had come for the people to bring their offerings to the altar of Marie Laveau, and the crowd gathered round. As the last offerings were placed, the Manbos began to prepare for the headwashing ritual. Two large metal bowls were brought forth and the Manbos, assisted by the other members of their temple, began to mix the ingredients for the headwashing – all materials from the altar of Marie Laveau. Consecrated water, champagne, Florida Water (a fixture in voodoo rituals), perfume, fruits and juices, even coconut cake – said to be a particular favorite of Madame Laveau! – were mixed into a fragrant, thick, decadent bath for the heads of the vodusi.
One by one members of the crowd came forth and bowed before the bowls to have their heads washed by one of the powerful Manbos. The washing is a form of voodoo “baptism” and although it places the recipient under no obligation to follow the path of Vodoun, many who have had the headwashing performed ultimately end up practicing the voodoo religion. The headwashing also has the effect of cleansing the negative spiritual energy from the recipient; its residual effect will be to remove those things in one’s life that are obstacles, and to help advance positive growth on the spiritual path. Since the sighting of the water spirits some attendees decided to swim about in the Bayou before coming up on the bridge for the headwashing, in their mind doubling the spiritual impact!
Night settled over New Orleans, the sky shimmering in that shade of blue that no one here can describe, but if you’re from here, you just know and love it. The moon, nearly full, and the early evening stars shone down upon the vodusi as they danced and celebrated into the night.
Tiny little Sophie, whom everyone was calling “the Littlest Voodoo Queen,” danced about with her mother and cried happily, “Ayibobo!” Everyone shouted back, “Ayibobo!” in hopeful certainty that this night the spirits had heard the ritual call.
Copyright © 2010 by Alyne A. Pustanio
MANBO SALLIE ANN GLASSMAN CONTINUES HER QUEST TO CALL UPON SPIRIT TO CLEANSE THE WATERS AND MAKE LOUISIANA, AND THE GULF COAST, WHOLE AGAIN IN HER “BACK TO THE OCEANS: AN APOLOGY TO THE SPIRITS OF THE WATERS” RITUAL THAT WILL TAKE PLACE SUNDAY, JUNE 27TH, 2010, IN UPTOWN NEW ORLEANS WHERE OAK STREET MEETS THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER LEVEE. CEREMONIES BEGIN AT 5:00 PM. HAUNTED AMERICA TOURS LOOKS FORWARD TO SEEING YOU ALL THERE!