Thursday, June 9, 2016

Celebrate St. John's Eve with vodou ceremony

Forget Hollywood. Vodou — or what most people call voodoo — is an authentic religion with origins in Haiti and it’s practiced in New Orleans by Vodou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman. Close to the Summer Solstice, St. John’s Eve on June 23 is celebrated in New Orleans as homage to Catholic St. John the Baptist mixed with Haitian Vodou and other traditions. In New Orleans, St. John’s Eve remains the highest holy day of the Vodou calendar.
In honor of this day, the International House will celebrate St. John’s Eve from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 22 (one day early), at the boutique New Orleans hotel. The occult summer ritual will include a head-washing ceremony by Glassman along with drumming, dancing, chanting, Haitian rum and a bottled elixir.
Most people know that New Orleans has ties to Haitian Vodou. French colonists developed Haiti, once called Saint Domingue. Many French citizens, their slaves and free people of couple fled to New Orleans in the early 19th century when slaves revolted on the island. The faith came with them, and was made famous by a 19th century hairdresser named Marie Laveau, now known as the “Voodoo Queen.” She always honored the biblical St. John in her occult ceremonies, with thousands in attendance held on the banks of Bayou St. John, where she performed head-washings, a ritual akin to baptism that leaves the participant feeling refreshed.
A Maine native but current New Orleans resident, Glassman has been ordained in the Haitian Kreyol tradition and ministers to many from her Island of Salvation Botanica and Bywater temple on St. Claude, across from the St. Roch Market (both worth a visit!). Her altar in International House’s lobby is dedicated to Marie Laveau. The June 22 ceremony will also feature a 10-foot papier mache statue of Marie with billowing white sheers bearing her insignia that dance in the summer breeze. The sheers signify the porous veil between the spiritual and the physical worlds.
            To enhance the occasion, “spirit handler” and barkeep Alan Walter, local artist Britney Penouilh and Glassman have also co-created John’s Way, a limited-edition bottled elixir in a handmade wooden box with custom vodou accessories and charms.  
“I created it as a handmaiden to personal reinvigoration — the new ways and fresh starts in life that we all need,” Walter said in a hotel press release. The bottle contains purifying Florida water; genepi and Boomsma Clooster bitters, both rife with herbs; and liqueurs featuring thyme, honeysuckle, caraway and Spanish moss, among other ingredients.
            “It’s a composite creation,” Walter said. “It should be poured into tiny glasses in ritual fashion. A bottle ought to serve at least 12.”
Bottles of the elixirs will be sold at $100 each.
International House hosts seven local rituals throughout the year as a way of sharing with locals and visitors alike an authentic taste of New Orleans. Hotel officials encourage visitors to bring offerings for Marie of blue and white candles, flowers, hair ribbons, brushes, barrettes and Creole foods, and take a white scarf as a symbol of spiritual rejuvenation and a reminder that we are all spiritual beings on a human journey.
            The St. John’s Eve schedule is as follows:
            6 p.m.: Introduction by Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman
            6:30 p.m.: Toast to St. John by Alan Walter
            7–8 p.m.: Ceremony honoring Marie Laveau by Sallie Ann Glassman

John's Way elixir

Glassman's homage to Marie Laveau at her Island of Salvation Botanica 
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of several Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire. She is also the co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

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