“Get back in here!” Miriam stood in doorway watching an embarrassed man in his mid-30s shouting at a woman who was running down the street screaming. “What is going on with that girl?” she laughed. “Oh she… she just gets scared easily,” he said. Miriam shut the door and turned to me. “Some people these days, they’ve just gone crazy.” She smiled, but you could tell that her feelings were a little bit hurt. And you could tell that it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. But, then again, when you run one of the most famous Voodoo temples in the U.S., you have to expect a few faint-of-hearts to cross your path.
And Priestess Miriam is misunderstood by many.
I had questions – lots of questions – and I have had them since devouring The Serpent and The Rainbow as a kid. Chickens and strange dances, snakes and pentagrams. Fewer subjects have been as bastardized by Hollywood as voodoo has been. But do an hour’s worth of research, and you’ll find it’s practiced alongside many “normal” religions. Do they have practices that seem bizarre to some of us? Sure. But then again, Catholics eat the Body of Christ and Scientologists jump on couches when they’re in love.
But my barrage of questions was shot down by a lady who – if you didn’t know anything about her background – seemed like any other kind woman in the South. She named me “Mr. Curious” and invited me back to a ritual room that boasted years of practice, telling me to sit down and relax. There wasn’t a lot said for a few minutes, just the sound of the occasional car passing by. When we did start talking again, it was the most un-voodoo conversation I expected to have.
She mentioned the girl who ran away again, shaking her head and wondering aloud what she did to scare her.
She commented on the crime rate in New Orleans, wondering aloud what she could do to help, asking God to move the hearts of those in charge.
She compared the people who came to her to a fountain. The crisis is at the top, but if you look below, to the larger pool, it’s calm. The madness has to happen, she explained, in order for the rest to be okay.
An assistant interrupted to let Miriam know that a group was coming in. I started to rise and excuse myself, but she stopped me. “You don’t need to leave,” she said. “They’re just here for a photo.”
A photo? We were in a room that has been cultivated over two decades. Artifacts and treasures from every country imaginable – from clients who sought out the Priestess’s advice — hang on the walls. These gifts represent the dreams of people who paid good money for Miriam’s time, the dreams of people who trusted her. And now, a “ghost tour” group was there, wanting to stand next to her and take her photo? It didn’t seem right.
Miriam tried to engage with the picture-taker, encouraging them to drink lots of water on a hot day like this. “Do you know what your kidneys are?,” she asked a younger girl standing sheepishly next to her. “They’re supposed to stay in my body” came the answer, no humor intended. I looked at the Priestess and rolled my eyes. She returned a quick smile. “No, child, in the practice of voodoo, they’re your soul – the source of your body’s energy.”
No one asked any questions. They just snapped a few more photos and walked out.
Miriam sat back down and looked at me from eyes twice the age of mine.
“Now, Mr. Curious — don’t you want to take some pictures, too?”
I shook my head no. I’ll snap a few on my way out of the hallway.
“Okay then, Mr. Curious, what was it you wanted to ask me about voodoo, then?”
“Nothing,” I said, smiling back at this kind woman who was trying to spread love the only way she knew.
I kind of already got my answers.
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