What Comes After Postmodern

Culture as an Evolutionary Force

NOTES: Interview with Sallie Ann Glassman (by Kimberly Pratt)

 The Day of the Dead celebration marks the day the dead come back to visit the living. The celebration originated in Mexico.  In America, we often see it in communities with a concentration of Mexican immigrants.

 It is also significant that November is sacred to Gede in Haiti.  Gede are the family of spirits that rule over the family of the dead, sexuality and regeneration, although Gede is typically spoken of as though it were an individual spirit. 

 Gede is the mediator who heals and is the force of regeneration in the world.  He is who you go to for life & death situations.  Gede is also the patron spirit of New Orleans.

 For these reasons, “Fet Gede” is a festival for Gede that is celebrated simultaneously with the La Source Ancienne Ounfo’s (the New Orleans Vodou society founded by Sallie Ann Glassman) Day of the Dead ceremony.

 The annual Day of the Dead celebration in New Orleans takes place at the La Source Ancienne Ounfo temple, Achade Meadows.  The celebration includes drumming, dancing, singing and chanting. 

 Sallie Ann says that by dancing to rhythms, people loosen up things that have become atrophied and welcome in invisible forces that are otherwise keep locked out.

 The temple is set up for the ceremony with a number of alters, each dedicated to a particular Vodou spirit.  After the ceremony, participants proceed to a nearby cemetery to leave spirit offerings for their loved ones who have died.

 

HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS’ DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION

 This year was the 26th year of the annual celebration.  Sallie Ann used to hold the celebration on Holloween.  At some point it was switched to November 1, the second day in the traditional Day the Dead celebration when loved ones are said to come back to visit. 

 Until this switch, the celebration was more of a Halloween party.  For some time, people would show up at Sallie Ann’s door on Halloween and she would have to explain that the ceremony would be held the next day.

 The Day of the Dead ceremony seems to have acquired a life of its own.  Sallie Ann suggests that if she were to fail to hold the Day of the Dead celebration on November 1st, people would show up anyway and break down the door to the La Source Ancienne Ounfo temple if needed so the ceremony could be held.

 

HISTORY OF SALLIE ANN GLASSMAN

 Sallie Ann Glassman was born in Maine.  In 1977, Sallie Ann was living in a cousin’s unheated barn in Kennebunkport.  She had been very involved with yoga, metaphysics and ceremonial magic for some time. 

 On a 20 degree weather day her brother called to say he was just hired at Tulane University, and it went through her head that it would be very cool to be surrounded by the Vodou and jazz culture of New Orleans

 The next day, Sallie Ann got on a plane to New Orleans.

 

HOW HOLDING THE CEREMONIES HAS CHANGED HER

 It seems that there is a symbiotic dynamic to holding these ceremonies over the years.  As Sallie Ann further evolves the ceremony – learning how to draw spirits out of the water and tap the energy of the community to bring it into the more spiritual realm – the ceremony also changes and evolves her. 

 When Sallie Ann first started hosting the Day of the Dead celebration, she and her Vodou society or ‘house’, the La Source Ancienne Ounfo, did not know how to do what they do now – using hundreds of Creole songs, Haitian drum rhythms, the proper order of the ceremony, and how to draw the spirits out of the water.

 Sallie Ann feels the community puts trust in her and depends on her for the ceremony, so she is obligated to learn these things to help make the ceremony the best it can be.  She also said that she is always still learning and never thinks she will know it all.

 

WHERE SALLIE ANN GETS HER KNOWLEDGE OF VODOU

 When asked where she gets her knowledge from, Sallie Ann cites three sources.  First, she obtains knowledge of Vodou from books.  Sallie Ann said that The Divine Horseman by Maya Deren was the first serious book on Vodou that she read.

 Sallie Ann also acquires knowledge from he visits to Haiti, where she has a Vodou Papa and a Vodou family.  When Sallie Ann brings people to Haiti to initiate them as Vodou servitors, she stays in the temple and acquires new skills and understandings.  It should be noted that the name of the temple in New Orleans where Day of the Dead and the weekly ceremonies are held is called Achade Meadows.  Achade is the name of her Haitian Vodou family, and Meadows is the last name of the architect and his brother who designed the temple.

 Perhaps the most important source of knowledge that Sallie Ann cites is working with spirits directly in dreams and in ceremonies, where the spirits posses you and tell you how they want the ceremony to be done.

 The music and drum rhythms used in Sallie Ann’s ceremonies are Creole or Haitian.  There are not many recordings of the Haitian songs, so she has to go to Haiti to learn them or have her Papa in Haiti sing the songs into a tape recorder so she can transcribe them – a difficult and time intensive process.

 

WORKING WITH SPIRITS

 A serious practitioner of Vodou is called a servitor.  This term is used because it reflects that servitors view of themselves as serving the spirit, which is different from having a god or gods that you worship.

 They are many levels of servitors.  An Ounsi is of the first level, a Kanzo of the next, a level said to be characterized by trial by fire.  A Vodou priest is called a Manbo and a Vodou priestess is called an Oungan.

 There are two sub-levels for a Mambo or Oungan.  The first is called Sur Pwenn (meaning “on the point”) and the second Asogwe.  For example, a ‘Papa’ who serves as your mentor would be an Oungan Asogwe, and Sallie Ann is a Manbo Asogwe.

 Sallie Ann is not married to a spirit as some Vodou practitioners are.  But there are some Vodou spirits she works very closely with.

MET TET: this is not any one spirit.  Met Tet refers to any spirit that is said to ‘rule your head’.  A Vodou servitor typically has one or more spirits that resonate most closely to their nature.  This kind of spirit is called a Met Tet, and is the one that first possesses you, or possess you most often or is the spirit that is least disruptive during possession as it is the easiest for the servitor to handle.

LA SIREN: a sorceress linked to intuition and psychic powers.  She is one of the spirits of love, a mermaid who rules in the deep waters of the psyche.

OGOU SENJAK: a spiritual warrior associated with St. James Major.  He is also associated with weapons, metal tools, iron, iron forges.

OGOU ACHADE: Ogou is the name given to all the warrior spirits.  Sallie Ann inherited the Ogou Achade spirit from her Papa in Haiti.

 Another spirit worth mentioning is ERZUILE FREDA.   She is associated with the Christian Mary and La Siren is one aspect of her.

 

SPIRIT POSSESSION

 During the Day of the Dead celebration and other Vodou ceremonies, servitors say they allow spirits to enter their bodies and that they are in a state of ‘possession’ by these spirits.  Vodou servitors report that someone who is fully possessed will have no idea of what is going on.

 Since the Day of the Dead is said to be ruled by Gede, Vodou servitors seek and emphasize his presence at the ceremony.  While anyone who is said to be possessed by Gede appears and acts differently, it is understood that there will be behaviors and mannerisms you will recognize in Gede no matter who he possesses. 

 Sallie Ann explains this as being similar to how different actors portray Shakesphere’s Hamlet.  Sir John Gielgud and Mel Gibson present very different versions of Hamlet, but you still recognize the essential characteristics that make each actor “Hamlet”.  Sallie Ann also says that the possessed has total amnesia of what they have said and done during possession. 

 People commonly ask:  “Where does your spirit go during possession?”  Those who are initiated into Vodou have a head pot made as a part of the initiation process, and say that the part of them that is not present during the spirit possession can sit in the pot until the possession ends.

 The uninitiated can have a rougher ride that is more perilous, since there is no safe and protected place for their spirit to go.  But Sallie Ann emphasizes that very rarely will a spirit imbalance the person they are riding, and if this does happen, it signifies that the person is seriously out of line with their intended path in life and that their life itself is out of balance.

 Sallie Ann feels that this “disturbingly honest” nature of Vodou is one of the reasons people fear it – you can’t hide yourself or your nature from the spirit.  She also notes the aspect of losing control is something that some people are inherently not comfortable with. 

 Sallie Ann also explains that although some view this process of letting go of control as a sign of a lack of discipline, it actually takes a great deal of discipline and typically practice to learn to do so.

CLICK HERE to go back to "New Orleans Celebrates Day of the Dead" article with photos

 

WEBSITE LINKS: La Source Ancienne Ounfro and Island of Salvation Botanica

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La Source Ancienne Ounfo

EXCERPT: La Source Ancienne Ounfo is a private Vodou society that exists within my (Sallie Ann Glassman's) home. Its main purpose is to serve the Lwa and the community. To that end, ceremonies have been held every week for 25 years for the Lwa. Vodou is a living tradition. Our ceremonies are based on traditional Haitian Vodou, but incorporate ongoing inspiration and innovation. You will absolutely encounter some aspects of ritual in my home that are not traditional to Haitian Vodou and yet are absolutely legitimate to the ongoing development of Vodou as a syncretic religion.

 

 

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Island of Salvation Botanica

EXCERPT: Welcome to the Island of Salvation Botanica. We offer a wide assortment of materials for people interested in reaching the Spirit. Many of the items are handmade by Manbo Sallie Ann Glassman.

835 Piety St.
New Orleans, LA. 70117
(504) 948-9961

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