Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well.
Dalton Trumbo

This week, we are talking to community member Belfazaar Ashantison. Zaar, as he might be better known to the majority of the community, has been involved in the Vampire Community, both offline and online, for many years – much longer than this writer. He was one of the first people I met when joining the community – and he is one I have stayed in contact with, through various groups, over those years. One of the few lucky enough to live his life openly, he talks with us this week about his spiritual path.

Hello and thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. I know that religion is a very personal topic, one that many of us are not willing to discuss with others. It is especially difficult to discuss with those outside our respective religious circles as not everyone is open to beliefs other than their own.

Will you please start us off by explaining your vampirism? Are you sang or psi?

–Thank you. I am a sanguinary vampire who believes that our condition is a physiological one. I’ve seen too much “evidence” to support this belief.

GYP: Thank you! And what faith do you follow?
BA: I am Vodouisant. A Voodoo practitioner. I am fully initiated in New Orleans style of Voodoo and working on my Haitian initiations through Voodoo Authentica, the shop/family that I’ve joined with and my God Mother, Mama Lola.

GYP: I have heard Voodoo is very similar to Catholicism. Is this because there are revered Saints in both religions, or are there other similarities?
BA: New Orleans style of Voodoo, as with many of the offshoots of Ifa/Vodun traditions, has incorporated Catholicism into its core beliefs… Both of the religions believe that there is only one God. Both also believe that this God uses intermediaries to aid the daily lives of the believers. In Catholicism, you have the Angels and the Saints to contend with. In New Orleans Voodoo, you have the Orisha and Loa…

GYP: Do you attend regular services?
BA: I host regular ceremonies in my home which are open to friends, family, House members and “visiting dignitaries. In Voodoo/Vodou, each house has its own way of doing things, though several similarities in their approach. Such as Ellegua/Papa Legba being saluted first in EVERY ceremony… However, we do come together on the “High Holy Days” which are termed “Fetes”

GYP: I see different spellings of Voodoo, both used here and across the Internet. Is this similar to the Vampire/Vampyre debate, or does each spelling denote a certain path within the religion?
BA: Voodoo tends to be the Americanized version of the spelling and denotes American practitioners and heritage, where Vodou is the Haitian spelling and denotes a Haitian heritage.

Of the offshoots of the original African traditions that came by way of the slave trade through the Caribean, each has its own heritage, system of advancement and stories of the Orisha and Loa…

GYP: How long have you followed this particular path?
BA: I’ve been a practitioner of Voodoo/Vodou for 15 years but only initiated for 11 years. It is my desire to work my hardest, achieve Houngan status in Haitian Vodou, and truly begin to help those in need…

GYP: What is Houngan status?
BA: Houngan is the Priest of the religion. To make it to this status means a person has dedicated themselves to the service of Spirit… In New Orleans style of Voodoo, I am Houngan though I only say that I am Vodouisant (a practitioner), I am not really going lay claim to it until I have fully initiated in the Haitian traditions with my Godmother, Mama Lola… It is truly my hearts desire to follow this path to its fruition…

GYP: When you say that you want to “truly begin to help those in need”, are you referring to your charitable works via NOVA (New Orleans Vampire Association), or do you mean as a mentor for those interested in following the Voodoo path?
BA: It is in my heart to help people, period… I feel that when I am fully initiated in Haitian Vodou as well as being initiated in New Orleans style Voodoo, it will further that aim and help me focus more on my goals, even with NOVA..

GYP: Have you ever experienced anything that might have shaken your faith, or caused you to doubt?
BA: Not stating this to down Christianity, but when I was a straight forward Christian, I saw things which struck down my faith rather regularly. Since expanding my conscious conception of “God” through my Voodoo/Vodou path, I’ve never once doubted the power behind my faith. “God” is real to me like he has never been before.

GYP: Do you ever feel that your vampiric needs are contrary to the teachings of your religion?
BA: In more than a decade of solid practice, I have yet to run into anything that would be contradictory to the physiological condition of vampirism in the teachings of Voodoo/Vodou.

GYP: Do you incorporate your religion into your vampirism? Do you incorporate your vampirism into your religion?
BA: To answer both of these questions, I will simply state what I have stated for several years. My Spiritual Path and my physiological condition do not cross each other’s paths in any other way than they have mutually affected/effected the way in which I draw energy. Because of my metaphysical path, I can hone in on that which the blood contains which I need. Because of my physiological condition, I found better ways to focus the energies I need for my metaphysical path. They have complimented and augmented each other, but other than this, they do NOT cross…

GYP: Finally… We all know there is loads of misinformation on the Internet about any religion that might be considered a “fringe” religion, especially one that is as misunderstood as Voodoo (no doubt, thanks to fiction and the media, much like Vampirism). Do you have any websites that you recommend for those truly interested in learning more about the path, or would you recommend they visit a practitioner?
BA: In all honesty, there is not one website that I would suggest one check out… There ARE, however, books that I would suggest to help the person who is truly interested in learning…

“Jambalaya” by Luisah Teish
“Divine Horsemen” by Maya Deren
“Tell My Horse” by Zora Neale Hurston
“Mama Lola” by Karen McCarthy Brown

These books, especially Louisah’s will give the reader a better view of what Voodoo/Vodou truly is and allow them the chance to decide for themselves whether this path is the correct one for them…

There are a few good CDs out there with Voodoo music on them as well…

“Rhythms of Rapture”
“Angels in the Mirror”
“Bwa Kaymon”

Each carries a bit of knowledge that would be appropriate for the Vodouisant…

Voodoo Authentica endeavors to answer any questions that comes our way… People needing advice or wanting to ask questions about Voodoo or Haitian Vodou can contact us at voodooshop1@cox.net

Just a reminder, folks, the New Orleans Vampire Association will be running an art auction beginning May 15th… This auction will run until July 15th with various items up for grabs… Please see the upcoming events on the website for updates on this event…

http://www.neworleansvampireassociation.org/upcoming.html

www.neworleansvampireassociation.org

May 15th-July 15th, 2012 Silent (online) auction of a variety of items including artwork and jewelry
Here is what Zaar had to say about the event:
Greetings all,

As we, of the New Orleans Vampire Association, have decided to move forward with the next phase of our intentions, I thought I would explain what we are doing in a bit more detail.

As many of you know, NOVA is a State recognized non-profit organization. We have begun moving forward a little faster than we had anticipated on our next step. Our Federal status…

To accommodate this, we have decided to hold an “art auction”… Each House represented on the NOVA Council has offered articles to be auctioned off in a “silent” online auction. Three pieces, in particular, are donated by well-known New Orleans’ artists…

Once we have applied for our Federal non-profit status we will, with the help of another member of our local community, begin looking at possible grants which we can apply for to move into the next phase of our plans… Once appropriate grants are located, we have access to a grant writer, as well as other skilled members of the Council, to begin piecing together our ultimate goal… A Homeless Shelter.

The particular Homeless Shelter we are planning, as noted in the Season Finale of “Vampires: New Orleans” is going to be a two fold event. It will have “overnight stay” facilities as well as “transitional housing” for those who are truly looking to get a foot up in our local community. Our Homeless Shelter will focus on the gay/lesbian/pagan communities but be open to EVERYONE and ANYONE who needs it.

The design of the facility is also to be a safe haven for the vampire/otherkin communities. A place where meetups can take place in a friendly and safe environment, as well as education on HOW to be safe. It will give the community a TRUE place to turn that is NOT a bar type environment, allowing even younger members of the community to participate in events…

Among functions which we hope to offer are the following, however, we are not limiting ourselves to JUST these:

*a safe place for medical issues
*a safe place for psychological/psychiatric issues NOT revolving around vampirism or otherkin nature (Yes, the doctors, nurses and faculty WILL be informed of the VERY vampiric nature of the organization founding this)
*a safe place to pursue GED/educational classes as offered
*a mailing address (we will be installing P O Boxes as well as the transitional housing apartments)
*transportation to and from other appointments, as necessary

Should anyone have questions or wish to donate to this endeavor, they can contact us at www.neworleansvampireassociation.org

Yours,

Belfazaar Ashantison
Founder and Elder, House of Mystic Echoes
Founding Member of the New Orleans Vampire Association

That said, we here at the Grave Yard Press wanted to dig a little deeper when speaking with Zaar. Please enjoy the following “mini-interview”!
GYP: We see a lot of elders, self-described or otherwise, who focus on the community inward, while those of you in New Orleans seem to be focused on the community outward. It’s very refreshing in a day and age of “me, me, me”. But it also begs the question: Who taught you this?

Zaar: Throughout my life, I have been blessed to have guides, Elders and teachers who were about giving back. This has been a precept that I have constantly worked into my life. It all begins at one point, however. My Grandmother. My Grandmother was a loving woman who spent years helping others in any way she could. Along with my Grandfather, she was a loving foster parent to several within the foster care world. This was my first exposure to a world helping others. It set the pace for the person I was to become.

Thankfully, when hearing what the ultimate goal of the Homeless Shelter idea was, the members of the New Orleans Vampire Association chose to carry on this tradition as well. This took a great deal of pressure off of the House of Mystic Echoes from doing it as a lone project.

GYP: What are you doing to share with and teach the newer and younger generations?

Zaar: One of the primary lessons I teach, personally, is that “adaptability is the father of survivability, just as necessity is the mother of invention”. In this, those that are in my care learn a large array of survival skills, martial arts and life skills. I was truly surprised by how many of the newer generation of children (both young and old) really had no earthly clue how to do even the basic things, such as shop for groceries, plan a budget, do laundry properly… It is truly a crying shame. It seems that our children are being just pushed through school systems with just the barest of standards…

There was a time where education took precedence… Now… The barest minimum of life skills are being instilled in our children… Educational cuts suck majorly…

GYP: Did the food drops after Hurricane Katrina inspire you (holiday dinners and food drives), or was this something that was always in the back of your mind?

Zaar: Honestly, it was always something in my heart to do, however, I didn’t really have the chance to do anything about it until that most calamitous event, Hurricane Katrina… When she blew through, I had the chance to see and BE the changes I had longed to be part of. I began this with the help of two other friends. We set up our own food drop at the corner of 18th and Edenborn in what is popularly called “Fat City”, Metairie… We were even listed by local news as the “Official Unofficial Food Drop of New Orleans”… Consequently, we were also the ONLY food drop in the city that did not get robbed nor stolen from… Of course… That could have had something to do with a 6 foot 1, fanged man carrying around swords and singing songs to Orisha and Lwa… But hey… It could have been any number of things back then… LOL

GYP: Can you tell us about the larger vampire community prior to Katrina?
Zaar: Before Hurricane Katrina, the vampire community was set up on a Court System based off of the Sanguinarium system from the New York area. It was truly evident within the first years of this system that it DID NOT WORK here in the New Orleans area. New Orleans has her own flow, history and methodology… Applying a system that works in one place does not always mean it will work in another area… However, to be completely honest… It didn’t work in New York either… More often than not, if your House/Clan/Coven was not “recognized” by this system, you were treated as “less than worthy” by the members OF this system…

There was one specific leader that CHOSE to elevate specific people and the rest of us within the community were EXPECTED to bow, scrape and kiss their asses… I don’t bow, scrape nor kiss anyone’s ass…

During this time, many of the community members who were abused by such people pulled away from the community to seek their own methods and paths, instead of work together to find a better way of doing things…

GYP: Many of our readers are interested in the “old school”. Do they still show up now and then? If not, do you know what happened to them?

Zaar: Here in New Orleans, most of the “old school” have since either fled because of mistreatment OR because of Hurricane Katrina… Once in a while, they pop their heads out and we will see them at an event… More often than not, though, there is no sight, no sound and no sign of them… Which is truly a sad thing to me… All that knowledge lost…

I am glad that I keep in touch with my former Elders… It truly helps me to keep my head on straight, having that connection that I can always touch base with, even though I don’t follow their particular path these days…