Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Hoodoo Queens

Newt Harlan


I watched a program the other night on the Learning Channel or Discovery Channel about voodoo and how it is practiced around the United States and elsewhere in the world. The program started me thinking about my old friend Lula Mae and some of her escapades with voodoo and hoodoo and all that.

Y'all remember Lula Mae, the old black lady, who worked as a maid for our family about forty years ago, around 1970. She always had a story to tell and taught me many things, not only about black culture, but also the various spells and other things involved in hoodoo and voodoo. Lula Mae was a devout Christian and sang in her church choir, as well as a choral group, but she didn’t let any of this interfere with her belief in hoodoo and voodoo and other practices of the occult.

She went over to various places in Louisiana every three months or so with a group of her church lady friends to sing in church chorus competitions and while there, took advantage of the opportunity to get a fresh supply of all the herbs and potions necessary to cast voodoo spells. It was during one of those trips that she went to visit the Hoodoo Queens.

This particular choral competition was in New Orleans or one of the surrounding towns. Lula Mae's group sang their preliminary competition on Wednesday night and then had Thursday and Friday to sightsee and explore before their next competition on Saturday. Of course, a large part of the exploration was to the various voodoo shops in and around New Orleans. It was a tip from one of these shopkeepers that sent Lula Mae and her friends on their great adventure to meet the "Hoodoo Queens”.

Here's the whole story as she related it to me:

*****

We was four of us: me, Sister Etta Ruth, Sister Carrie, and Sister Mary Fay. All of us was members of the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Church Reformed competition chorus and were all full-blooded church members, exceptin' for Sister Mary Fay who is half-Catholic. There was four other sisters what sang with us, but they was high-falutin' heifers and didn't much stay with us when we wasn't singin'.

We had won our primary singin' on Wednesday night, so we was on our own till Saturday. On Thursday morning, we got up early and was going to the Audubon Park Zoo, but we got lost, and by the time we figured out where we were, it was time to go to lunch. Since the church was paying for meals, we ate lunch at one of them famous cafes. We all split one of them hurricane drinks, and let me tell you, Mr. Harlingen, if one person was to drink one of them things by their selves, they'd be drunker than a waltzin' pissant. Shoot, just the little bit I had made me plumb dizzy.

Anyway, that afternoon we went down in the French Quarter to them hoodoo places. I bought me some of that incest burnin' stuff to keep the bad spirits out of my house and a couple of geegaws to put in my good luck sack. But mainly we was lookin' for a special powder made out of dried frogs and poke salat and sassyfras and some other stuff, that Sister Mary Fay needed to help her catch a man. Lord knows, Mr. Harlingen, with her looks, bless her heart, it was gonna take some sure ‘nuff powerful stuff to help her.

We looked and looked, but nobody had any and really didn't seem to know what we were talkin' about when we asked for it. Finally, it was getting late in the afternoon and we found this little shop down on Chopolouplas Street (I think she was talking about Tchopitoulous) that a grizzled-up old white woman was runnin' and she knowed exactly what we was lookin' for, but she didn't have it. She told us the onliest place that she knowed where a body could get that stuff was from the Hoodoo Queens that stayed way out in the swamps.

Well, it wasn't nothin' gonna satisfy Sister Mary Fay until she got some of that powder, and she asked the old lady how to get to the Hoodoo Queens' place. At first, the old lady couldn't rightly remember the directions and offered to order some of the powder for Mary Fay. But when Mary Fay told her that she wasn't from here and couldn't wait, while handing over a five-dollar bill, the old lady suddenly remembered the directions.

She told us to go out to Clearview Parkway and go across the Mississippi on Huey P. Long's bridge. She said after we crossed the river, to stay on Highway 90 and don't turn until we got to Paradis. When we got to Paradis, we should look for a big white sign with three colored dots on it in a triangle. She said she thought the dots were red and green and yellow, but wasn't real sure. She said it didn't really make no difference because we'd know the sign when we saw it. We was to turn left on the road by the sign and go till we come to another sign with dots on it and turn whichever way the arrow on it was pointin'. Said to keep on followin' them signs and directly we'd come to the Hoodoo Queens' place.

We didn't want to be rude, so we looked around the shop a little longer, but soon made our excuses, and after going over the directions once more, we left the shop, found my car, and headed on back to our motel which was out by the airport. Sister Etta Ruth, who was the head navigator, looked on the map while we were on our way and found Paradis. It didn't look to be too far out, maybe fifty miles or so, and we decided, with a little begging from Mary Fay, to go out there the next morning and visit the Hoodoo Queens.

Early the next morning, we set out. It wasn't too much trouble to find Clearview Parkway and get headed in the right direction, but Mr. Harlingen, I’m gonna tell you, if I'd have knowed about Huey P. Long's bridge, we'd never have started out on that trip. That thing's a death trap.

It's got a railroad going right down the middle of it, and there was a train going on the track at the same time we were—talk about shake, I thought the bridge was gonna fall down and dump us all in the Mississippi River.

Sister Mary Fay said three "Hail Marys" and one "Our Father" on her rosary necklace, and I said two my own self, and I ain't even half-Catholic. And that wasn't the worst part. Them lanes was so narrow that we went by a big truck, and if the driver had spit out his window, it would've come right in ours.

Shoot fire, Mr. Harlingen, I was so scared that I'll bet I was as white as you is. Let me tell you, I was sure glad to get down off that bridge.

After that, it wasn't too bad going to Paradis, although it did seem like it was a lot further than it looked on Sister Etta Ruth's map. Sure enough when we pulled into Paradis, we hadn't no more than gone past the first red light, when we saw a big white sign with three different colored dots in a triangle.

I turned left, like the ol' lady said, and it didn't take no time till we was out of town and there wasn't nothing in sight but a bar ditch on one side of the road and a cypress swamp on the other and you could just tell they was both full of snakes and gators. Directly, here come another sign with three dots and an arrow pointing down a road across a little bridge over the bar ditch. I turned down the road and told Sister Etta Ruth and Sister Carrie to be sure to mark the landmarks in their head in case there weren't any signs on the way back.

We kept on going, getting deeper and deeper in the swamp. It seemed like every time we'd get about ready to turn around, thinkin' we was lost, here'd be another one of them signs with the colored dots pointing the way. About the only change was the swamp on either side got thicker and thicker and each road got thinner, until we were on a little bitty ribbon of a road, just barely wider than a pig trail, with a little asphalt spread on top. Two cars could pass, but they'd be pretty good friends after they got by each other, and they'd better well be payin' close attention or they'd wind up out in the swamp with the snakes and gators.

I'll tell you the truth, I was gettin' kinda scared, us bein' out in the middle of that swamp. We was all gettin' scared by then, since it had been a long time since we saw a sign with dots on it, and we just knowed we was lost. But we had to keep on a-goin' cause there weren't no place to turn around on that little bitty pig-trail-assed road.

Since that was all we could do, we just kept on a-goin’ till directly we come to this hand-drawed sign that said 'Ferry Ahead.' I slowed down and in about a half-mile, it looked like the road just quit on the edge of a bayou. There was another hand-drawed sign with a red light flashin' that said 'Ferry $2.50 Round Trip' and it had the three colored dots down at the bottom.

We looked out across the bayou to the yonder side and saw this funny lookin' boat settin' there. It had what looked like bridges hiked up in the air on both ends and this little ol' house thing hangin' off one side. Directly, this young fella goes out and unties the rope holdin' it to the shore, and it cranks up and comes across the bayou towards us.

They made it across the bayou and come in right against the bank on our side. The young man took hold of this crank and let the bridge thing down so it matched up just perfect with the road, then he hopped off the boat with a rope and tied it up to a stob there on the bank. While he was doin' all that, this little ol' wizened-up black man, all stove up and stooped over with arthritis, but dressed in an official uniform, come out of the little house that's hangin' on the side of the boat, tyin' on a nail apron. He come up to my window and told me in a language that sounded like Cajun English, that it was $2.50 for a round trip. I gave him the money and asked him for a ticket for my come-back trip. He put the money in his apron and told me not to worry cause he'd be there when we came back from seein' the hoodoo queens, cause there weren't no other way out. I asked him how he knowed we was going to see the hoodoo queens and he said that was all there was out there.

The little man hobbled out on the boat and waved me to come on. I was scared to death, so I just half closed my eyes and drove on till he said to stop. The boy cut loose the rope and cranked up the bridge, and we put-putted across the bayou, and they let us off on the other side.

After we got off the boat, we drove just a little ways down the road, through a thick stand of trees, and then we saw it—the hoodoo queens' castle. It really looked more like a big barn than a castle.

We was surprised that there was already fifteen or twenty cars in the parking lot, as early as it was, but we pulled in and found us a parking place right up near the front gate. We decided to put on our choral robes, they being purple and all embroidered up and everything, we figured they'd be right nice to wear to see the hoodoo queen. Besides, we wanted everybody to know we was together so they wouldn't try anything on just one of us.

When we got up to the gate, there were two guys dressed up in soldier suits and carryin' bazooka guns. They come to attention, and this little lady who was dressed like a soldier, too, and sittin' in this little booth, told us that it would be $5.00 apiece to get in. We thought that was kinda funny for them to be chargin' admission since we was comin' to buy somethin', but we wasn't about to argue with them soldiers with bazookas. So we
paid our money, told her our first name, got our tickets, and went on in.

We had to walk a hunnert feet to the front door of the castle, and when we got there, the doors just automatically opened up into this little waitin' room. It was dark inside, but I'm here to tell you, there stood two of the biggest black men I’d ever seen—they was huge, huger than any pro-football or basketball man.

They both must've been at least seven-foot tall, and they had these solid gold turbines on their heads that made them even bigger. They was all dressed in white with a gold sash around their waists, gold chains and jewels hangin' from their necks, rings on every finger, and each one was holdin' a big scimitar sword. The darker one of them spoke in a big boomin' voice and told us ‘Welcome to the house of the seven sisters. Welcome to each of you: sister Lula Mae, sister Etta Ruth, sister Carrie and sister Mary Faith. We hope you enjoy our hospitality. Sister Lula Mae you may enter first.'

I was a lot scareder than I was comin' over that Huey Long's bridge, and I was scared half to death on that thing. How you reckon he knowed our names, him just standin' there and all? They say hoodoo queens knows everything and can read your mind, but this guy was just a helper. I told him that we was all together, that's why we all was dressed alike. He said sorry, that each sister had to go alone into the castle to wash off her soul of bad spirits and bad luck. He said there was four rooms all in a row, and you had to go through each one to get to the next one, until finally when you was in the fourth room, you'd find all the herbs and incest and stuff and most of all the seven voodoo queens. But you had to get through the first three rooms first. I looked over to the other girls, and they said to go ahead and they'd be there if I needed them. Well, I just toughed up and went ahead on in, since I knowed I had my lucky bag around my neck.

The first room wasn't too bad. It was all mirrors. Mirrors on the floor, mirrors on the ceiling, mirrors on every wall. Everywhere you looked there was a mirror, and I saw myself in every one of them--must've been about a million Lula Maes in all them mirrors. I like to see myself in lookin' glasses and all that, but seein' me ever where I looked really spooked me. I couldn't wait to get out of that room, but I couldn't remember which way to go, so I walked round and round till a door just opened up like magic. Boy howdy was I glad to get out of them mirrors--at least for a second. Then I seen what come next.

That second room really, really scared me. Everywhere you looked there was snakes and spiders and gators and all kinds of stuff like that just a hissin' and spittin' and snappin' at you. They even had snakes what was hangin' up in the roof and from the walls and everywhere. I ain't shamed to tell you, Mr. Harlingen, I was glad I had my choral robe on since I peed all over myself on account of I’m scared to death of snakes and stuff. Finally, I just closed my eyes and run as fast as this fat ol' woman could go to that next door.

The next room wasn't too bad.

It was full of black cats and rabbits and crows, just runnin' loose. All you had to do was to walk across to the next door, and your soul was all cleaned and washed of evil spirits and bad luck. This wasn't hard, exceptin’ for them damned cats kept on rubbin' on my legs and the crows were all raisin' hell.

Finally I gets to the room filled with herbs and roots and incest and powders and candles and all kinds of other stuff, shelves from floor to ceiling, with folks just a waitin' to help you find what you needed. This room had seven corners and in each corner was one of the seven hoodoo sisters, the voodoo queens, sitting on a throne.

Let me tell you, them gals was ugly! Them gals was so ugly that they made sister Mary Fay look like Miss America. There was only four on duty, so that's all I saw. But I’m gonna tell you, them four was ugly enough for all seven of 'em and then some. And they all looked at you just hateful and snarling. One, she had six fingers on one hand and her teeth all stuck straight out of her mouth. Another one, she had her eyes up on her forehead, and another had one really big ear and one little bitty ear and, I ought not be tellin’ you this, three tits, just a-hangin out there for the world to see, three of ‘em. The other queen looked pretty much like everyone else, except she was bald headed and she stared and stared and didn't say nothing to nobody and ever now and again she'd snap her fingers and lightnin' would shoot from them. Folks say they'll tell you anything you want to know, but to tell you the truth, I was too scared to ask them anything.

And, Mr. Harlingen, two of them queens weren't no sisters either. Two were black alright, but the other two were white. And I don't mean just light complected, I means white and I can sure tell the difference.

Well, all my other choir sisters finally got through and we got our candles and incest and other stuff we needed and were ready to go, except Sister Mary Fay was scared to ask one of the hoodoo ladies about her love potion. Finally, she just walked up to the bald-headed one and told her what she wanted, and that witch told her it would be $50. Sister Mary Fay gave the money and the queen snapped her fingers and the lightnin' flew and right away, here comes one of the helpers with a potion and hands it to sister Mary Fay, and we was ready to go.

We went out the door and, Mr. Harlingen, would you believe that them hoodoo queens had done switched that building around till we came out almost in front of our car? We all got loaded into the car and came back across the ferry and never did look back till we got to Nawlins.

Our chorus won the singin' on Saturday night and got a big statue for the church, but Sister Mary Fay didn’t care nothin’ about that, all she could talk about all the way from Nawlins to home was that magic powder and how she couldn’t wait to try it out on her latest man, Willy. Let me tell you, that ol’ gal was in a twit.

We ain’t no sooner got back home, but Sister Mary Fay had done give Willy a dose of that magic stuff. Lordy, I’m a-tellin’ you that stuff worked and it worked good. Sister Mary Fay done just what that hoodoo lady told her, and the next thing we knowed, she had done caught Willy and they was married up without tellin’ nobody.

But the shame of the matter was, that Willy, he turned out to be so sorry and no count that the police come and hauled his ass off to prison.

Now Sister Mary Fay is makin’ noises about goin’ back over to Nawlins. She wants to go back to them Voodoo Queens to see if maybe they can make up some kind of somethin’ to get her man out of jail and make him straighten his ass up and not be so sorry.

But I’m gonna tell you one more thing for sure, hoodoo or voodoo or whatever they call it, this fat old woman ain't never gonna be near them voodoo queens or them swamps or snakes again. Naw sir, I sure ain’t.

***

Newt Harlan has a BS from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas. After spending 4 years in the USAF during the Vietnam era and 35 years as an itinerant steel salesman, he is now semi-retired, dabbling in steel sales, and writing. His fiction has appeared in USA Deep South and DeadMule.com.

© Newt Harlan

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012