Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman to conduct the annual St. John's Eve ceremony.
Forget Hollywood. Vodou — or what most people call voodoo — is an authentic religion with origins in Haiti and it’s practiced in New Orleans by Vodou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman. Close to the Summer Solstice, St. John’s Eve on June 23 is celebrated in New Orleans in homage to Catholic St. John the Baptist mixed with Haitian Vodou and other traditions. In New Orleans, St. John’s Eve remains the highest holy day of the Vodou calendar.
In honor of this day, the International House will celebrate St. John’s Eve from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, at the boutique New Orleans hotel. The International House lobby transforms itself for the ceremonial tribute with a 10-feet tall statue of Marie Laveau, carved out of Louisiana wood, essential to the ritual of St. John’s Eve. The occult summer ritual will include a head-washing ceremony by Glassman along with drumming, dancing, chalk drawing and chanting out to loa, the Haitian name for Vodou spirit.
You can watch the hotel's past ceremonial ritual here.
Abigail Gullo, the Spirits Creative Director for the hotel’s bar, loa (one of the Tales of the Cocktail top 10 honorees for the “Best U.S. Hotel Bar” category) will present the Beltane Bonfire Punch. Using Clairin rum which originated in the countryside of Haiti, the drink honors where Vodou took root. The juice is made from wild sugar cane and fermented with indigenous yeast strains before distillation.
According to the hotel’s press release for the St. John's Eve event, the cocktail is prepared with fire — mimicking the traditional bonfires along the levees of South Louisiana — the community punchbowl is a blend of the rum with Cognac, sorrel, Caribbean spice, red summer flowers, and fragrant fruit. This fire is meant to draw God’s blessing on the summer crops and to repel evil spirits.
A complimentary sampling toast from the bowl is offered to the attending guests and full glasses may be available for purchase on a limited basis.
Most people know that New Orleans has ties to Haitian Vodou — French colonists developed Haiti, once called Saint Domingue. Many French citizens, their slaves and free people of color fled to New Orleans in the early 19th century when enslaved residents revolted on the island. The faith came with these enslaved people, and was made famous by a 19th-century hairdresser named Marie Laveau, now known as the “Voodoo Queen.” According to the hotel's press release, Laveau honored the biblical St. John in her occult ceremonies, with thousands in attendance held on the banks of Bayou St. John where she performed head-washings, a ritual akin to baptism that leaves the participant feeling refreshed.
A Maine native but current New Orleans resident, Glassman has been ordained in the Haitian Kreyol tradition and ministers to many from her Island of Salvation Botanica and Bywater temple on St. Claude Avenue in the city's St. Roch neighborhood. Her shop is located across from the St. Roch Market and both are worth a visit.
In addition to the “Midsummer’s” experience, International House will offer a handmade limited-edition bottled elixir titled John’s Way, available for purchase. The elixir employs seven waters: aguardiente, an anise and sugarcane spirit meaning “firewater;” genapi, a rare alpine liqueur flavored with wormwood blossoms; kummel, a spirit infused with caraway; foraged Spanish moss; jasmine; sweet olive; and other local herbs. Each keepsake bottle is accompanied by a white candle, a gris-gris bag, a white headscarf and detailed instructions for a private ceremony intended to heighten the potion’s effects.
International House hosts several local rituals throughout the year as a way of sharing with locals and visitors alike an authentic taste of New Orleans. Learn more on their website.
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the co-author with Jude Bradley of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Her how-to book shows readers how to create their own gris gris bag.