|Bethel, Alaska at midnight on the summer solstice|
Yesterday was the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and since the solstice plays a big role in my novel Polar Day I had hoped to find a juicy ghost story to tie in with it. Unfortunately when searching for solstice legends all I could find were stories about faeries. I realized I shouldn't have expected to find haunted stories connected to the day when the sun enjoys its longest time in the spotlight.
But I happened to stumble upon something new to me, which was the close connection between the solstice and the Catholic celebration of the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Celebrated on June 24, St. John's day has always been closely aligned with the solstice and the beginning of summer, and was originally celebrated any day between June 20 and June 26 before the church fixed the date as the 24th. Now, most celebrations to mark the day are held on June 23, or St. John's Eve.
The feast of St. John has a great deal of historical significance in the practice of Voodoo in Louisiana. I have always been both intrigued and a little freaked out by Voodoo. I think it is super cool to read about but also more than a little creepy.
|Voodoo Altar in New Orleans, taken by Greg Willis|
Apparently, the most important time of the year in the Voodoo religion is midsummer, or the solstice. I was thrilled to discover that the most famous Voodoo priestess in Louisiana history, Marie Laveau, was known to hold Voodoo rituals on the Bayou St. John in New Orleans on St. John's Eve, and many believe her ghost still keeps the tradition alive today.
Marie was believed to have been born in 1801 and she lived until 1881. Throughout her adult life she was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans and the most powerful and influential priestess in the city. Marie's ceremonies included the singing of Voodoo hymns, nighttime dances around a bonfire to show respect to the deities, and offerings made in sacrifice to the gods. I don't know what those offerings were but it's creepy to imagine, as the rituals were performed in the dark in an isolated stretch of the bayou north of the city.
Legend states that Marie's voice can still be heard chanting and singing at St. John's Bayou on St. John's Eve. In addition, city residents have reported seeing Marie at her home on St. Ann Street. If the stories are to be believed, Marie continues to walk St. Ann Street at night, wearing a long white dress, a turban, and a knotted handkerchief around her neck.
Marie Laveau is buried in the St. Louis cemetery in New Orleans, which is considered the most haunted cemetery in the United States. Visitors to the cemetery have reported seeing Marie walking between the graves and muttering Voodoo curses under her breath. Others have said Marie's ghost has taken on the form of a Voodoo cat with glowing red eyes. The cat disappears through the sealed door of Marie's tomb.
I have to admit I think a Voodoo priestess cat is very cool. What animal could be more appropriate for the ghost of a Voodoo Queen? I'd love to see this kitty and now part of me wants to come up with a story for a Voodoo priestess cat.
I really wouldn't want to be in New Orleans this week as I know the heat and humidity would be way too much for me, but I can't deny I'd be curious to go to St. John's Bayou on St. John's Eve and see if I could hear Marie's ghost leading her followers in hymns and chants. If by chance I did hear someone singing I'd probably run all the way back to Ohio. :D
I hope everyone had a great weekend!