When I was about fourteen or so, sequestered away in the confines of the Pine Barrens at the Jersey Shore, I had one of the most vivid dreams that I can remember. In the dream, I was on a houseboat floating through a super thick night on what I knew in dream language was the Mississippi.
Just barely, I could make out thick swampy trees overhead. The sky was perfect black. Around me, there was a group of people, and all of us were silently lighting tiny white votive candles and setting them afloat in the water. The light just barely illuminated the water around the boat, and there was an aura to the dream that I definitely didnt know from my hometown.
Years later, in a bout of fiscal irresponsibility, I decided to take a trip cross-country. It was just before my last year of college, and thinking it a good idea to spend every penny I had before the year started, I swung a big loop around the good ole U. S. of A. Eventually, this led me to New Orleans. Ahhh, New Orleans. If you think about places in terms of vibes, the city, as you probably know, is crawling with them. Rolling into town, they washed over me in a way that only happened again when I first landed in Memphis.
While in New Orleans, I pretty much just wandered around aimlessly. My shoestring budget was painfully frayed at this point, as in well below the zero mark, but I still wanted to check out the shadows of the city, and wasnt that what credit cards were for? Eventually, this fiscal misjudgment led me to Mary Leveaus House of Voodoo, a smallish museum dedicated to the practice and history of the faith. For a small price, you can tour the museum, which is essentially two rooms, a space to watch films, and a library. So I went in, paid the $5, or whatever it was, and readied myself to learn something about the mystique of voodoo.
The second I walked into the museum, I got a mild shock. Literally, the first thing in the entire place, just past the entrance and to the right, was a painting of a body of water at night, filled to the brim with white candles. Spooky, eh? The caption beneath the picture explained that the lighting of white votives is a voodoo ritual used to ward off evil spirits and bad energies. Well, well, well, I thought, thrown back to the dream I had remembered from my teenage years. Synchronicity at work.
After that, I meandered through the rooms cases of voodoo dolls and various totems, and then settled in to watch the film that the museum showed as part of the tour. The theme was, of course, the origins of voodoo, and the role of Mary Leveau in spreading and defining the faith. During the course of the movie, my esoteric juices flowing, I started indulging in all sorts of pan-ultimate thoughts and conjectures.
Places like that will do that to you, and I figure why not let them? Its much more fun that way. So, I thought, getting all excited, that I had figured it all out! Will things to be through focused energy, and you will make it happen.
When the film was through, I stepped into the small library in the back of the museum. Behind this room, was an even smaller office space, in which a very old woman sat and stared at me. I mean stared. Perhaps its just a ploy to make the museum seem more authentic, I thought, and tried to ignore her, even as her eyes were burning holes into my back.
To break the tension, I grabbed a random book off of the shelf and opened it to a middle page. And of course, to completely seal my already growing sense of discomfort and intrigue, my "realization" about willful energy was repeated in the first paragraph of the page at hand. AHH! Freaky.
So I guess you can say that I have a fascination with the offbeat. As I said before, Memphis is the only place other than New Orleans where Ive sensed the energy that I remember from my childhood dream. Funny that I ended up here. There have been several strange days and nights since Ive set up camp as a Memphian. Last October, on Friday the Thirteenth, my friends and I were drinking Chartreuse and stumbled upon the evidence of an attempted suicide (luckily unsuccessful) in their back house. It was still there in the morning, in case you were wondering.
Ive also found myself surrounded with some of the most creative people that I have ever known, which makes me wonder if my pre-pubescent dream was some sort of sign. Things will happen in Memphis, if you let them. Pondering all of this creepy stuff, I stopped into Ebbos Spiritual Supply House on Madison this week. If youre curious about alternative religion in Memphis, this would be a good place to start your inquiry. The place is filled to its smallish brim with candles, incense, and just about every herb you could possibly imagine. Filling out the store are several altars dedicated to several of the orishas, or spirits, of Santeria.
After browsing about for a bit, I selected several books about Santeria, which I remember as interesting from a history class I took in college, and a bottle of "road-opener" oil. For two dollars, I figured Id give the oil, which is just a sweet-scented substance with two fluorescent orange things in the bottom, a shot. Besides, my allergies prevent me from wearing perfume, so natural oils are the only scents I can wear.
When I was paying for all of this, the guy behind the counter was pretty knowledgeable, and happy to talk to me about what he knew about Santeria. He explained the alters in the store, and their associated deities. He also warned that if one decides to set up such altars at home, they must be careful not to select opposing deities, as that creates bad luck and energy.
While I take all of this somewhat in stride, I do find it fascinating to explore. Surely, many of the formative identities of Memphis, explored this as well, as evidenced by the information on hoodoo and the blues. My philosophy is that if its there, why not learn about it. So maybe tonight Ill sit home, light a candle, listen to the Exuma tracks I downloaded off the Internet, and focus on opening my roads. Ill let you know where it takes me.