Wednesday, July 1, 2015
A small buzzing drone flies slowly back and forth above the wooden-planked bridge over Bayou St. John. A professional film crew pans the crowd and inserts a huge microphone close to the chanting congregants. It's Saint John's Eve and Sallie Ann Glassman, our respected vodun (also called "voodoo") queen, has gathered us together to commemorate this day.
I’m one of about one hundred attendees who are all wearing white loose-fitting clothes that are perfect for the summer evening. Still, I feel the sweat roll down my back and have to brush it away from my eyes. On the middle of the bridge, a gorgeous sculpture of Marie Laveau stands with flowers at her feet. Participants line up to gift her with eggs, candles and more flowers. The light is perfect. Magic hour.
The drone and the film crew have thankfully disappeared as the sun sets and the Creole chants heat up. Many in the crowd choose to wait their turn for their head washings. Sallie Ann and a few others will gently rinse the participants' heads with blessed water. They return to their friends in the crowd smiling and with scarves covering their wet hair. Their friends embrace them as if they've returned from an invigorating journey.
This is my third vodun ceremony and while I’m fulfilling a photographic dream, I’m also denying myself an opportunity to be fully open to the spirit of Marie Laveau. My bulky camera strictly places me on the side of the observer or so I thought. Two years ago, I had serious doubts about the existence of the spirit world. Then a close neighbor and friend-- someone whom I've always considered to be hyper-rational-- shared her one-time possession experience with me and I became a believer. She was so affected by a spirit during one of the ceremonies that she couldn't find her way back home just a few blocks away.
The evening light fades along with my energy. Since camera flash isn't appropriate at ceremonies, there's nothing more for me to do. I reluctantly begin to head home with an empty feeling in my gut. Accompanied by chanting in the background, I walk toward the street and before I come to the bridge's end, my own spirit and energy seem to lift. In fact, I begin to feel a bit mischievous. I look around at the couples and small groups of friends sitting on the banks of the bayou. There’s a tiny piece of moon in the black sky. A young man raises his arms for balance while walking on the bridge rail.
I begin to shoot upward toward available light in the atmosphere. Since I'm outside the ritual, I can now use my flash. I begin to dance to the chants. Step, shoot. Step, shoot. I'm curious and childlike. I review the images in the camera and they're perfect illustrations of the ceremony and the night itself. In the end, I believe I was partially present. Next time I'll do better but it may mean leaving the camera at home.
Posted by zoe at 2:42 PM