Vacation #2: Rosalie Alley, NOLA

Between Piety and Desire in the Bywater is Rosalie Alley, which you’d probably pass and not even know was there. It’s where the peristyle for La Source Ancienne, the Vodou society headed by Sallie Ann Glassman (who also owns/runs the Island of Salvation Botanica), is located, and the fences are covered in art.

Rosalie Alley

Rosalie Alley

Rosalie Alley

Rosalie Alley

Rosalie Alley

Like me on Facebook!

Advertisements

Is it still August?

So, August is grinding on and on and on, but there’s only a week left. Truth be told, September is nearly as bad, but at least by the time it rolls around you know the end is in sight. Plus, I’m taking a week’s vacation at the end of September, so… I got that going for me.

I do not do photography during the summer, except for rare exceptions where I think of something that’s both air-conditioned and worthwhile to photograph–the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans was probably the most successful of those ventures. I like to spend the time I would usually be out photographing combing antique stores for more cameras, but that’s fraught with its own kind of peril, as small town Louisiana antique stores tend to be housed in old buildings that are poorly air-conditioned. Or not at all, as I learned to my horror when checking out a couple of “stores” in Sunset last spring that turned out to be old barns. It was only the first week of June and already terrible; I can’t imagine they actually keep the places open during the dog days of summer. Anyway, I’ve been slowly working my way through the Louisiana Antique Trail over the last few months, although I’m saving Slidell and Covington for when my bank account is a little more recovered from the car purchase. Those towns both contain large antique “districts” with several stores, and I’ll probably want to spend some real money.

I haven’t had much luck finding anything at the stores I’ve visited thus far; I think hipsters are doing to vintage cameras what they did to vintage typewriters a few years ago. What I tend to find in stores lately is either broken and cruddy, or way overpriced. I did find a couple of fun items for my Conjure experiments at a store in Maurice (a small town between Abbeville and Lafayette) last weekend.

road opener lamp

Small oil lamps are not at all an unusual item in antique stores, although finding a small clear one kind of is–for some reason the small ones tend to be opaque or painted glass. This one was only $12, and it was totally intact with a wick that had never been used (although it was severely frayed at both ends and I had to trim a bit off), so I bought it and turned it into a  into a Road Opener spell lamp.

lamp close-up

Inside the bowl:

  • Broom straws (for sweeping away obstacles)
  • Dragon’s Blood resin
  • Orange peel
  • Five Finger Grass (along with salt–see below–frankincense, and angelica root, this is an “add to everything” ingredient for me)
  • Rock salt
  • A bay leaf that’s also my petition paper (use a Sharpie)
  • A quarter, a dime, and a nickel, which adds up to age and has my initial scratched onto each one
  • A few drops of Van Van Oil
  • Some orange glitter. I was hoping it would make a suspension in the oil but alas, it’s too heavy and just settled to the bottom.

I’m also waiting for delivery of a piece of tourmalinated quartz and I’m going to add that when I get it, assuming it’s small enough to fit in the lamp without taking up too much space. Crystals are not a traditional element of Conjure and to be honest I mostly consider them to be New Age Woo, but I just kind of felt like I wanted a crystal in this one and I’m going with my gut. File it under “Won’t hurt, could help”. One of the alleged elements of this stone is that it helps with “self-sabotage”, and that is definitely something I struggle with.

fish bottle

I also found a tiny blue bottle shaped like a fish; it once held a brand of bitters called Fisch’s. I dug out the cork fragment lodged inside with an awl, then soaked it first in Dr. Bronner’s and hot water then Florida Water and hot water, several times each. It’s now holding an offerory oil for my ocean altar of sandalwood, vanilla, and ylang-ylang essential oils in a carrier of sweet almond, and I dropped in a pearl from an old earring (I stopped wearing earrings years ago). An offertory oil isn’t a condition oil like Van Van, it’s just an offering: “I made this for you, it smells nice”. (It does smell amazing BTW; I don’t measure but it’s about an ounce of carrier and it was something like 5 drops each vanilla and sandalwood and maybe 8 of ylang-ylang.)

fish bottle top

Normally what I do with old bottles is carve a smaller cork out of a wine bottle cork, but this bottle is so tiny it didn’t seem like the best solution. I’m pleased with the workaround I came up with: I found an old glass bead big enough to not fall through the neck, and sealed it to the bottle with gold sealing wax. If I want to use the oil, all I have to do to re-seal the bottle is pass the bead through a candle flame to re-soften the wax, and then stick it back on the bottle neck.

lucky cat dish

I also went to World Market that day, and I found this little Lucky Cat dish for just a few bucks, I think it’s supposed to hold used tea bags. It’s going on my prosperity altar to hold small offerings/items. My “family tradition” is Catholic and I mostly try to work within that and not appropriate much from other cultures, but Lucky Cat and Buddha are small exceptions, both on my prosperity altar. Oh, and I like the Hamsa, but that’s such an ancient symbol that it’s really kind of universal.

loaded cowrie shell

Loaded cowrie shells are an idea I got from Rita’s Spiritual Goods. I actually bought one of hers, although I haven’t gotten it yet; in the meantime I wanted to make one of my own with a humpback cowrie I already had. I really like the idea, although I don’t know how traditional they are. I’ve been told they are, but I’ve only seen them in Rita’s shop and in another online store that I’m pretty sure got the idea from her. They feel traditional though, and of course cowrie shells are not uncommon in African-derived religions.

loaded cowrie shell top

Inside I put crushed pine incense, frankincense, blessed Dead Sea salt crystals, and dried orange peel. Those are all cleansing/protecting ingredients.

loaded cowrie shell bottom

The bottom is covered with blue linen from an old napkin, and I pressed the line of glue around the edge into dried pennyroyal, then dressed the shell with Blessed Oil. The smell of the stuff inside passes through the fabric, especially when you shake it up and get the juju flowing. The one I bought from Rita has healing ingredients, so I don’t feel like having two of them is going to be superfluous.

Lucky Nine Oil

Lucky Nine Oil

I think this is the last oil that I’ll make for a while. There are hundreds–possibly thousands–of different Hoodoo condition oils, but there are maybe a dozen that you’d use on anything like a regular basis*. This isn’t even one of them, I just made it because I thought it looked fun and I had one more bottle from World Market that wasn’t being used.

Lucky Nine Oil is a very NOLA-specific condition oil, and you’ll always find it in books by NOLA-area workers like Anna Riva and Denise Alvarado. It’s called that because it has nine ingredients, and you’re supposed to add nine drops to your bath for nine days in a row to get what you need. (It’s said to work well for those seeking employment.) Nine–three threes–is an especially lucky number in African-derived magico-religious systems; it’s also a sacred number in Catholicism, folk or otherwise, hence the novena, which literally means “nine” and lasts for (yup) nine days.

Oils:

  • Musk
  • Rose geranium
  • Frankincense
  • Myrrh
  • Sandalwood
  • Orange
  • Bergamot
  • Allspice

Add a few pinches of dried vervain and blend in a base oil that’s light and sweet-smelling, like almond or sunflower. This is an oil where I wouldn’t substitute dried herbs or resins for the oils, because as mentioned, it’s primarily a bath oil, so you want it to be liquid.

*The only one I haven’t attempted to make myself is Van Van Oil. For whatever reason, I prefer to buy it; I like to get it from different sources and compare. Everyone makes it slightly differently: some people make a cheap and easy version with just lemongrass oil and vervain; some people go so heavy on the citronella that it smells like bug spray; some people sweeten it up with lots of lemon verbena. I drove down to Arabi last Saturday to photograph the remains of LeBeau Plantation (look for a blog post about that later), and on my way back through NOLA I stopped at F&F Botanica, where I’d never been before. I was so overwhelmed by their candle selection that I forgot about everything else, and I’m kicking myself for not getting some of their Van Van Oil. I guess I’ll just have to go back soon!

Lomographers of Acadiana meetup: New Orleans Pharmacy Museum & The Historic Voodoo Museum

I was uploading photos from this weekend to Flickr when I realized that I never posted last month’s meetup. Unfortunately I only have digital photos, because the batteries in my flash were dead and I didn’t realize it until the morning of the meetup. Oh, well.

First we went to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street. It’s a museum of 19th century medicine housed in the office/home of the first licensed pharmacist in the Louisiana Territory. All of the displays are authentic, none of the items are reproductions. If you’re in the French Quarter and looking for something a little different I recommend it. It was really interesting, there was a lot to see, and admission is just $5.

PICT1436

One of the things I found fascinating was how so many of the herbal medicines of the 19th century contained ingredients that are used today in rootworking–the apothecary jar 4th from the right on the top contained tincture of asafoetida, a foul-smelling herb sometimes called “devil’s dung” that is used in Hoodoo to both repel evil and harm enemies. I saw a lot of other names I recognized, too.

PICT1432

I really, really want this graduated chest of drawers!

Gold- and silver-plated pills

Pharmacists sometimes compounded silver- or gold-plated pills for their wealthy clients. They knew that the metals had no medicinal properties, but they also knew they’re inert and pass through the system without causing harm, and it got bored rich people to quit whining about their made-up problems for 5 minutes, so what the hell.

Medicinal tobacco and marijuana

This was a display about the medicinal use of cannabis and perique (a type of tobacco grown in Louisiana)–tobacco was apparently prescribed to treat asthma!

Voodoo potions

Display of Voodoo potions. People used to get their spiritual supplies from the same place that they got their medicine. The potions were numerically coded (hence “love potion #9”) so that rich white people could ask for them without admitting they practiced or believed in Voodoo, which officially was only practiced by slaves and free people of color.

(So, to the people who say New Orleans Voodoo is a 20th century invention of people who wanted to make money off tourists, riddle me this: if it didn’t exist before that, how do you explain these bottles?)

Pond's tampons

Tampons in the 19th century contained opium. I demand a return to this practice.

Soda fountain

Early 19th century soda fountain. Soda was invented to get people to take bitter-tasting medicine, they would drown it in sugary flavored syrups and add mineral water.

Afterward we walked to the Historic Voodoo Museum on Dumaine Street. It’s pretty small, just 2 rooms and a hallway. And their air-conditioning does NOT work very well, it was stifling. In addition, the exhibits were filthy with dust, and some of them were a little… exaggerated, shall we say. Kanzos in the bayou, etc. NOLA Voodoo is a non-initiatory religious system (which is why the terms “houngan” and “mambo” are not used), and practitioners who want to be initiated usually have to travel to Haiti for it.

PICT1444

Main Altar

The main altar. The wooden rod in back is where the lwa come down.

Yemaya Shrine

Yemaya is one of the Yoruban orisha that made its way into NOLA Voodoo in the 20th century, probably via Santeria.

PICT1439

Special Oil No. 20

special oil no 20

This is a really simple, classic Conjure oil that I threw together yesterday. Special Oil No. 20 (sometimes called Wick Oil, Candle Oil, or Brown Oil) is patchouli and vanilla. In the old days it was made with patchouli leaves and vanilla pods, which is how it got its brown color; nowadays it’s more commonly made with essential oils and dyed brown.

Some rootworkers add this or that herb or root or maybe another oil; but in its simplest form it’s just the two essential oils, a carrier oil, and your prayers. I knew this had patchouli and vanilla in it, but thought there must be a 3rd ingredient that I couldn’t detect with my nose. Luckily a more experienced rootworker in my Facebook group clued me in. (I had also made the mistake of wandering into an old Yahoo! group that was clearly populated by fluffybunny Wiccan types, they kept insisting Special Oil No. 20 has at least one floral note.)

Vanilla is one of the most positive scents in Hoodoo, it encourages love–one of the simplest and most popular Hoodoo spells is to keep a vanilla pod in the family sugar bowl. And patchouli is one of the most versatile scents, used to draw both love and money and to break jinxes, so it’s almost always found in “multi-purpose” oils. Therefore, Special Oil No. 20 is appropriate for use in any positive or defensive workings. But not “left-handed”* work!

*One of the most striking differences between Hoodoo and Wicca is that Hoodoo has no equivalent to Wicca’s “Rule of Three”. Hoodoo is a belief system of poor and marginalized people who read the Bible if they read nothing else, and anger and revenge–or just needing to get people out of your life–definitely have a place in it.

XXX Algiers Oil

Making Hoodoo/Conjure oils is something I’ve recently become interested in. I always had an interest in New Orleans Voodoo and usually had some oils from this or that NOLA botanica around; but since Granny died my desire to know more about it has grown. Like a lot of elderly people in south Louisiana, my grandmother had some Hoodoo beliefs, although she always thought of herself as a Catholic (not that the two things are mutually exclusive).

And of course in Cajun culture there is a long tradition of traiteurs/traiteuses. That’s a kind of faith healing that mostly uses the “laying on of hands”, although a lot of them also use various herbal or otherwise natural remedies. (To get rid of a wart, rub it on a cut potato and bury it at a crossroads, etc.) My mother was a spastic child who was always falling off roofs and whatnot, so I know she got dragged to one by Granny at least once.

It’s a rewarding hobby, and an inexpensive one too: essential oils are almost always less than $5 a dram (1/4 of an ounce), and you only need a few drops to make a whole ounce of oil. Essential oils are overpowering and can even be harmful in their undiluted form, so you always want to use a neutral carrier oil. Old school rootworkers will say you have to use olive oil, but I think it makes everything smell like salad dressing and I use sweet almond oil. Jojoba oil is also a popular choice with younger rootworkers. And I squeeze a vitamin E gelcap into every bottle, which keeps the oil fresh longer.

If you’re a cook with wide interests (like me), you’ll already have a lot of the herbal ingredients in your pantry. More obscure ingredients like lodestone gravel or angelica root can be obtained at botanicas, or online, for a few dollars. Etsy has lots of spiritual supply shops.

xxx algiers oil

I made this yesterday, it’s XXX Algiers Oil (usually spoken as Triple Strength Algiers Oil). It’s a great multi-purpose oil that originated in the Algiers neighborhood of NOLA. Most “condition” oils are meant to remedy one condition: get you a job, win you a court case, make your man stop straying. But XXX Algiers Oil is supposed to attract love, luck, and money–hence the XXX in the title. It’s a fun oil to make because the roots/herbs/etc. you put in the oil are up to you, so long as you use one each to attract the three conditions. You can use it to dress candles or anoint petition papers or as a perfume (it’s a unisex scent).

Most rootworkers will not share their formulas, but I say fuck that. I’m not looking to make any money off this, and sharing knowledge is never a bad thing. (Anyway, XXX Algiers Oil is not a big secret.) The essential oils are patchouli, cinnamon, vanilla, and wintergreen–essentially it’s Red Fast Luck Oil with the earthy patchouli added to “slow down” the oil. (Red Fast Luck works fast, as the name implies, but the results don’t last long.) I combined the patchouli, wintergreen, and vanilla in more or less equal amounts, but I find cinnamon oil has a REALLY strong smell and I put in a little less of it.

In the bottle, before I poured in the oil, I placed a pinch of lavender flowers for love; a few nutmeg shavings for luck; and a small piece of pyrite for money. I chose a love herb that’s slanted more towards promoting familial peace and harmony, as opposed to an outright romantic one like rose buds. Of course, any plant parts you put in oils have to be ABSOLUTELY DRY, or your oil will go rancid. A good resource for the different meanings of plants, minerals, and zoological material is Catherine Yronwode’s* Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic.

I bought several small bottles at the Washington Schoolhouse Antiques sale last weekend (I haven’t missed one of the semi-annual sales–there’s another one in April–since I moved to Louisiana), with the purpose of using them for oils. They’re all different shapes and colors, but all hold about one ounce. I spent all weekend soaking them first in hot soapy water, then diluted vinegar, then water scented with Florida Water, then finally just water. In between I scrubbed them out by wrapping bits of cloth around a wooden skewer. This bottle is actually an orphan salt shaker, I made it airtight by coating the inside of the shaker top with silver sealing wax and rubbing the threads with soft orthodontic wax.

I’m waiting on another batch of essential oils, and next week I’m going to make Peaceful Home Oil.

*I refuse to get involved in the American Hoodoo/NOLA Voodoo pissing matches, so any comments slamming either Cat Yronwode OR Denise Alvarado will not be approved. Everyone involved needs to just do what they do and stop trying to prove their way is the One True Faith.