Wailing, Weeping Women

My great grandmother Bertha DeVoe (who I'm amused to note, my father looks exactly like).

My great grandmother Bertha DeVoe, as seen in an old photograph at my parent’s house.

There’s a story in my family about my great grandmother. She died at home in southern Ohio, very near the Ohio River. She was surrounded by family in her bed. As was the usual custom of the time, my great aunts, who were standing at the foot of the bed, let out the death wail.

The death wail is a very traditional keening cry done at a family member’s death. Its not something you see very often anymore, but when you hear it, you’ll never mistake it for anything else. It’s an eery noise that will haunt you for a long time. (The British Library has a recording of one that you can hear here: death wail on wax cylinder).

So my great grandmother dies. The doctor who was also there, pronounced her death and my great aunts let the death wail loose.

My great grandmother sits right back up, looks at my great aunts and asks, “Can I go now?” At the family’s shocked silence, she laid back down, closed her eyes and was gone again.

Needless to say, they did not give the death wail again and as far as I know, my great grandmother still peacefully sleeps in the family cemetery. (At least we all hope she does).

The family grave site.

The family grave site.

Death wails and laments were traditionally done at funerals as well and in Celtic mythology were tied to the tradition of the Banshee.

My family is very Irish and the mythology around the death wail is fairly potent.

In Irish and Celtic mythology, the Banshee (or Bansidhe) is a figure that appears to families to worn about an imminent death. There are many myths surrounding the Banshee, who is said to wail when someone is about to die. In other Celtic myths, the Banshee will be seen washing the bloody clothes or armor of those who are about to die. In Ireland, the more powerful families were said to have their own Banshees and many people refuse to marry into family’s with Banshees, since they are seen to be so unlucky.

Banshees are traditionally fairy women (who funnily enough are also known for herding fairy cattle), but they can also be the ghost of a murdered woman or just a ghost associated with the family they are forewarning.

Banshee sightings have continued to occur even over here in America, especially in the Appalachian regions that were settled by so many Celtic immigrants. Very famously, in 1874 on the Ohio River, Mary Marr met a veiled woman on her path by the river who, when greeted by Mary Marr said, “I am here to tell you, Mary Marr that Thomas Marr has just died. Say your prayers, Lady. I bid you well” and then mysteriously disappeared. Thomas Marr was Mary’s husband, and sure enough, Thomas Marr’s body was found on the riverbank later that day.

And this is not the only story of the Banshee along the Ohio River. In 1935 near Parkersburg, West Viriginia, a little girl and her grandmother supposedly met the Banshee on horseback while they walked to the outhouse before going to bed one night. This occurred during a flu epidemic. The Banshee pointed at them and said, “One of yours is to die this very night!” before disappearing before their very eyes. Sure enough, the little girl’s uncle died of the flu within the hour.

The tradition of the wailing woman is not just tied to the Banshee. The White Lady ghost tradition is found throughout Europe and Asia. And this particular ghost is famous for appearing along abandoned stretches of roads, always foreshadowing the death of a loved one. In America, the White Lady story is usually tied to the death of young women who are tragically killed in car accidents. Usually a motorist will see a woman in white walking along the road where the accident happens. If the motorist stops and picks her up to give her a ride, she will give a shriek after riding for a while and then suddenly disappear, of course scaring the m.

In the South West, you’ll find La Llorona, the ghost of a woman who murdered her children after her husband leaves her for

another woman. La Llorona is a more malevolent spirit who supposedly kills children that she meets in order to appease her own murdered children. She wanders the hills and desserts, weeping for her lost children. A famous song comes from this story:

My family has a somewhat happier ending when it comes to the death wail. My great grandfather was dying in the same bed that my great grandmother died in, and supposedly suddenly smiled. When the family asked him why he was smiling, he said that he could see my great grandmother standing in a beautiful garden. He reported that she said to him, “It’s beautiful here, you’ll like it, don’t be afraid. When you see me again, we’ll be together forever.” He died with a smile on his face a while later, proving that the foreshadowing doesn’t always need a wail, but sometimes just a quiet word.

Letting a death wail loose lets an intense amount of energy go. Grief is never an emotion to think lightly of. It’s no wonder that so much folklore and mythology surrounds women who make those types of noises. I don’t know that I agree that these ghostly figures are unlucky, but I also would prefer not to meet one unexpectedly on the road. Unlike many other fairy figures, there is no way to protect yourself against the Banshee who appears. She comes, she gives you the omen of death, and leaves. Just like the tragedies of life, the wailing woman cannot be stopped, she simply must be survived and surpassed.

Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020

Commencement 2015

I graduated on Friday with my M.A. in English Literature. I did this degree full time over the last two years as I worked full time. I graduated with a 4.0, which was an act of humongous will and stubbornness.

I am very proud of my degree. I wrote my thesis on the witch Erichtho and passed my defense with distinction. Hopefully in the future I can continue the little scholarship on this very interesting Greek witch and contribute to the witchcraft discourse in an academic way.

At graduation, I was confronted with an invocation by a Catholic priest who ignored every non Christian (well really, every non Catholic) in the room. It was uncomfortable. I thought it was in poor taste from a university that celebrates diversity.

Our speakers were decent enough, they had some interesting things to say, but nothing that truly moved and inspired me.

Today, Neil Gaiman posted a link to Ian McEwan’s commencement address to Dickenson College. This is the speech I wish I had heard. I think the things he talks about are so important in today’s world and in today’s America.

If you want to read through it, Time posted the entire speech here.

McEwan says at the end:

I hope you’ll use your fine liberal education to preserve for future generations the beautiful and precious but also awkward, sometimes inconvenient and even offensive culture of freedom of expression we have. Take with you these celebrated words of George Washington: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then, dumb and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”

We may be certain that Dickinson has not prepared you to be sheep.

Remember that your words have power. At the end of the day, intention and will is at the heart of every magical working and when you blindly parrot the speech of others, without truly investigating or thinking about what is being said, you help their words take action and form in the world around us. Our speech has consequences, sometimes in ways that we aren’t even aware of. Sticks and stones as the old childhood rhyme goes, but we should all know better.

God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman

One of the very first assignments we give to students who are studying with us is the “God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman” assignment. It’s a way for students to start learning about the Gods and to make them aware that the divine is in and around us all the time. We tell students to take a person in their lives and compare them to a God or Goddess. We ask the student to tell us about the God or Goddess and then explain how the person shares similar characteristics or qualities with that God or Goddess. By looking at the people around us and seeing how they share characteristics with the divine, it becomes much easier to recognize that divinity within us as well.

One of my students gave us her first entry today and I thought it was extremely well done and very well thought out. I thought I would share it here (with the student’s permission). It certainly made me think and I think it will make you think too!

Athena

(My Beloved Sister) and Athena (The Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Courage, Strategy and Warfare)

According to myth, Zeus was so fearful of the conception of the child that had been prophesied to be even more powerful than Zeus himself (king of the gods and ruler of the universe), that he tricked the mother, Metis (cunning, wisdom and prudence) into becoming a fly and then swallowed her. He was too late, and Athena grew inside him while Metis forged her a suit of armor. The hammering caused him great discomfort that eventually culminated in a massive headache. When an axe was used to split open his head (presumably in an effort to relieve the headache), Athena sprung from his head fully grown and armed. Instead of his rival, however, she soon became Zeus’s favorite child, and was even entrusted to yield the power of his lightening bolt. In contrast to Ares, the god of war, violence, and bloodshed, Athena is associated with the strategy, valor and generalship of warfare and is accompanied by Nike, goddess of victory. She is a virgin goddess, but is loved and revered by the Athenians who look to her as the patroness and guardian of their city.

My sister* is strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent. She is righteous and responsible in her actions, holding herself and those under her care/authority to the highest standard. Though she may appear cold and objective in her relationships, she is exceptionally generous, protective and loyal. She has a brilliant mind with a natural aptitude for math and science, and her impressive education has made her a force to be reckoned with.

Well beyond her years in wisdom and maturity, her competence and understanding levels have consistently surpassed expectations since early childhood. In many ways, it was like my sister was born fully grown and armed. She was able to demonstrate levels of judgement, reason and responsibility you can’t expect from most adult men before she reached puberty. Though to a certain extent, I believe that her maturity and armored personality are a result of early influences and circumstances, her strength and intelligence are unique, and not everyone could have adapted and excelled with such grace.

It is fitting to compare my sister to a virgin goddess, especially one who is most often depicted wearing a suit of armor. Growing up, she always emphasized the importance of modesty, and even still, she is constantly telling me to be more careful in concealing the things that make me vulnerable to others who could hurt me. Even as a newborn, Athena is never naked. My sister is a virgin in the sense that she is untouched and unknown to pretty much everyone, even me at this point. She is unexposed. And though I know there are scars beneath that armor, she is protected, whole and unbroken.

Our father taught us that the knowledge and wisdom from great books are like armor. He used that analogy too. He said he wasn’t exposed to books like The Art of War and The Prince and Atlas Shrugged until he was in college, and that when he discovered them, it was like building a suit of armor. He was finally able to understand the world around him, protect himself, and succeed. In an effort to arm us, and give his own children the head-start that he believed would have spared him so much struggle and pain, he gave us these books, and many more, all before we started high school.

I was a disappointment on this front. I was not able to appreciate the brilliance of Machiavelli and Ayn Rand at the age of 13. And you know, I don’t beat myself up for that, I don’t think most people can. Those things started clicking much later for me, and like mythology, many things still are sinking in at the right time for me. I tend to think my father wouldn’t have been so shocked and disappointed by my reading and comprehension level if it hadn’t been for my freak of a sister who came before me (just kidding, she is a goddess…).

My sister not only read the books he gave her, but sought out the writing of every great philosopher, poet, novelist that he ever quoted (which pretty much makes up most of our dialogue). What’s more, she actually understood them and could have intelligent conversations about them as a preteen. I attend a liberal arts university and I can honestly say that my sister was more well-read as a 16-year-old than any college student I know.

And yet, even though at times I could almost believe that she literally sprung from his head as his mental conception of the perfect child, the two of them have spent countless nights fighting until dawn. Her persistence, intelligence and strategic approach have definitely provided him with a worthy sparring partner. The appreciation and mastery of the art of argument and war that he has always respected and encouraged in her has also lead, I’m sure, to some excruciating headaches (I know they have for me).

Like Athena, however, my sister’s strength and intelligence have made her the favorite. Her loyalty and hard work have earned her his favor and trust, and just as Zeus empowered Athena to share in the power of his lightening bolt, our father has gifted and entrusted my sister with power and opportunity known to very few. Though a great weapon and power in itself, it is only in addition to the already impressive force that she is on her own. The mere force of her will has been enough to defeat even her most formidable opponents in battle. If, however, there is ever a time when this is no longer true, she is equipped with the gifts and support of a very powerful ally.

While her spirit is confident and unflinching, she remains unassuming and heedful of the constant flux of threats and opportunities around her. There is a simultaneously intoxicating and sobering quality to her determination that should not be taken lightly. She is never unarmed, and she is never unprepared. She is strategic and offensive in her
interactions with the outside world, and others look to her as a leader, guide and guardian.

She is courageous and unrelenting in her endeavors, and her achievements are both grand and well-deserved. She is wise, skilled, accomplished and respected in her field, and as with Athena, victory is at her side.

*Name ommitted to protect the innocent :)

The Hunting of the Hare

Betwixt two Ridges of Plowd-land, lay Wat
Pressing his Body close to Earth lay squat.
His Nose upon his two Fore-feet close lies
Glaring obliquely with his great gray Eyes.
His Head he alwaies sets against the Wind;
If turne his Taile, his Haires blow up behind:
Which he too cold will grow, but he is wise,
And keeps his Coat still downe, so warm he lies.
Thus resting all the day, till Sun doth set
Then riseth up, his Reliefe for to get.
Walking about untill the Sun doth rise
Then back returnes, down in his Forme he lyes.
At last, Poore Wat was found, as he there lay
By Hunts-men, with their Dogs which came that way.
Seeing, gets up, and fast begins to run,
Hoping some waies the Cruell Dogs to shun.
But they by Nature have so quick a Sent,
That by their Nose they race, what way he went.
And with their deep, wide Mouths set forth a Cry,
Which answer’d was by Ecchoes in the Skie.
Then Wat was struck with Terrour, and with Feare,
Thinkes every Shadow still the Dogs they were.
And running out some distance from the noise,
To hide himselfe, his Thoughts he new imploies.
Under a Clod of Earth in Sand-pit wide,
Poore Wat sat close, hoping himselfe to hide.
There long he had not sat, but strait his Eares
The Winding Hornes, and crying Dogs he heares:
Starting with Feare, up leapes, then doth he run,
And with such speed, the Ground scarce treades upon.
Into a great thick Wood he strait way gets,
Where underneath a broken Bough he sits.
At every Leafe that with the wind did shake,
Did bring such Terrour, made his Heart to ake.
That Place he left, to Champion Plaines he went,
Winding about, for to deceive their Sent.
And while they snuffling were, to find his Track,
Poore Wat, being weary, his swift pace did slack.
On his two hinder legs for ease did sit,
His Fore-feet rub’d his Face from Dust, and Sweat.
Licking his Feet, he wip’d his Eares so cleane,
That none could tell that Wat had hunted been.
But casting round about his faire great Eyes,
The Hounds in full Careere he neere him ‘pies:
To Wat it was so terrible a Sight,
Feare gave him Wings, and made his Body light.
Though weary was before, by running long,
Yet now his Breath he never felt more strong.
Like those that dying are, think Health returnes,
When tis but a faint Blast, which Life out burnes.
For Spirits seek to guard the Heart about,
Striving with Death, but Death doth quench them out.
Thus they so fast came on, with such loud Cries,
That he no hopes hath left, no help espies.
With that the Winds did pity poore Wats case,
And with their Breath the Sent blew from the Place.
Then every Nose is busily imployed,
And every Nostrill is set open, wide:
And every Head doth seek a severall way,
To find what Grasse, or Track, the Sent on lay.
Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.
For though the Wind had tied the Sent up close,
A Busie Dog thrust in his Snuffling Nose:
And drew it out, with it did foremost run,
Then Hornes blew loud, for th’ rest to follow on.
The great slow-Hounds, their throats did set a Base,
The Fleet swift Hounds, as Tenours next in place;
The little Beagles they a Trebble sing,
And through the Aire their Voice a round did ring.
Which made a Consort, as they ran along;
If they but words could speak, might sing a Song,
The Hornes kept time, the Hunters shout for Joy,
And valiant seeme, poore Wat for to destroy:
Spurring their Horses to a full Careere,
Swim Rivers deep, leap Ditches without feare;
Indanger Life, and Limbes, so fast will ride,
Onely to see how patiently Wat died.
For why, the Dogs so neere his Heeles did get,
That they their sharp Teeth in his Breech did set.
Then tumbling downe, did fall with weeping Eyes,
Gives up his Ghost, and thus poore Wat he dies.
Men hooping loud, such Acclamations make,
As if the Devill they did Prisoner take.
When they do but a shiftlesse Creature kill;
To hunt, there need no Valiant Souldiers skill.
But Man doth think that Exercise, and Toile,
To keep their Health, is best, which makes most spoile.
Thinking that Food, and Nourishment so good,
And Appetite, that feeds on Flesh, and blood.
When they do Lions, Wolves, Beares, Tigers see,
To kill poore Sheep, strait say, they cruell be.
But for themselves all Creatures think too few,
For Luxury, with God would make them new.
As if that God made Creatures for Mans meat,
To give them Life, and Sense, for Man to eat;
Or else for Sport, or Recreations sake,
Destroy those Lives that God saw good to make:
Making their Stomacks, Graves, which full they fill
With Murther’d Bodies, that in sport they kill.
Yet Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
And is so Proud, thinks onely he shall live,
That God a God-like Nature did him give.
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him, to Tyrannize upon.

~ Margaret Cavendish, 1653

Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Proteus and Orpheus 2015

Muses may be my favorite parade, but I think that Proteus and Orpheus have some of the most beautiful floats. They’re always a little bit Pagan themed as well. I loved this year’s Proteus floats and while I didn’t stay through most of Orpheus due to the rain, their floats are still pretty spectacular as well…

Proteus always starts out with…well, Proteus. Proteus is the Old Man of the Sea, said to be ever changing and therefore able to tell the future.

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IMG_0555IMG_0564I loved the elephant in this one…

IMG_0566IMG_0568IMG_0572IMG_0575IMG_0577IMG_0580IMG_0581IMG_0584IMG_0589IMG_0596IMG_0598IMG_0600IMG_0603IMG_0610IMG_0615IMG_0618IMG_0619IMG_0623IMG_0629IMG_0633This was my favorite float for multiple reason which are probably mostly obvious…

IMG_0639IMG_0641IMG_0643IMG_0647IMG_0651IMG_0654IMG_0655IMG_0660IMG_0663IMG_0668IMG_0672IMG_0678IMG_0681IMG_0683Orpheus always pulls in the celebrities and the flashier floats. I didn’t stick around, it started to rain heavily, but I was impressed as usual with the start…

Instead of the usual knights, Orpheus has charioteers.

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*All Photography copyright Lauren DeVoe, please don’t use without permission

Krewe of Muses 2015

It is that time of year once again and Mardi Gras is literally right around the corner. I actually managed to drag myself out to the Muses parade last night.

Muses has always been my favorite parade. I think it embodies the best parts of local Mardi Gras and while more and more tourists are coming to it, it’s still largely a local crowd. A lot of kids, a lot of great costumes and the Krewe of Muses always does a lot of great things for their community. And they always have the best throws.

My camera and I had a fight throughout the night. It has been awhile since I’ve done any photography, but I got a few good ones that I thought I would share. While I did not get a shoe this year, I was not disappointed by the parade.

1

This lady had a truly impressive sign and was ready before the parade started rolling.

The beginning...

The beginning…

The Shriners always lead it off.

The Shriners always lead it off.

This year, the NOLA roller derby girls were the first line of the parade after the Shriners. The Big Easy Rollergirls were a lot of fun!

4 5 6 7 8The beautiful lit up butterflies came next and the official Muses front float.

9 10Next came the Muses Head Shoe and the Honorary Muse of the year. This year it was Sue Zemanick, the executive chef at local Gautreau’s.

This shoe is always very cool.

This shoe is always very cool.

The floats were great this year, though that certainly wasn’t a surprise. The Bathing Muses always start them off and the amazing (and my absolute favorite float ever) the Sirens always finishes them off. This year the riders were as sassy and excited to be out as ever!

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The Bathing Muses

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This was one of my favorite shots of the night. She is holding two shoes, one of which was made to look like the infamous Leg Lamp from The Christmas Story!

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The Shoe! People go nuts over these! Each shoe is handmade and each rider only has a few of them to give out. Outside of the Zulu coconut throw, these are probably the most prized throws of local Mardi Gras.

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Big Throw! This rider was hanging off the side of the float to catch the attention of a friend in the crowd.

13 14 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 25 27 28 29 30 32 35 36 41 42 50 51 The Sirens float is my favorite.  54 55Here is an article about the float with some more pictures. One of my favorite descriptions of New Orleans is from this article:

“The city of New Orleans is a very, very seductive place,” said Gisleson over the racket of power saws and spray-paint compressors. “It’s a place where the humidity almost has a personality, where letters open themselves and candles melt without being lit. We wanted to take that whole idea of seduction that is inherent in the Sirens (mythological creatures who lured sailors to their doom) and set it in our hometown.”

This float has over 200 lbs of glitter incorporated into it and it always comes at the end of the parade. When Muses was forming, they originally considered calling themselves Sirens instead. In mythology though, the Muses defeated the Sirens in a singing contest, so the all female krewe decided to go with Muses. To honor the Sirens though, they put them at the end of the parade, right in front of the fire trucks that always bring up the end of a parade and that blare their sirens loudly.

The Circus Arts kids were out and I caught this guy balancing his unicycle on his chin. They are always a fun edition to the parade.

26The Rolling Elvi were out. This is a fun subkrewe that allows everyone to go full out with Elvis! Clockwork Elvis, a popular local band that mashes Elvis and Clockwork Orange, performed with them.

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Throughout the rest of the parade were a lot of crazy fabulous people…

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Bearded Oysters are always amongst my favorites as well. Katrina Brees started this subkrewe and also created the amazing bikes below. Katrina created the I Heart Louisiana group, which works hard to get krewes to throw environmentally friendly throws.

39 40 43 44This guy was playing with a local band that floated past…

45I always enjoy seeing the Laissez Boys too…

46The NOLA Organ Grinders

47And Bate Bunda too!

48 49 52 53While the ending of the parade was bittersweet for me this year, it is definitely one you should get to and check out. Muses is a great time and just keeps getting better and better as the years go by.

*All photos copyright by Lauren DeVoe. Please do not use without permission!