A Sacred Place of Goddess
Struggles to Survive Our Arrogrance
By Rev. Karen Tate
Iseum of Isidis Navigatum
Author of "Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations"
In the last few months the world was reminded once again how the arrogance of humankind is destroying families,
communities and Mother Earth. We now know Hurricane Katrina was not the reason for the demise of New Orleans. It
was the failure of humans to preserve or restore the wetlands that act as a natural buffer for the cities that lie beyond. It
was the greed of over-development in areas never intended to sustain housing. It was the incompetence of the Corps of
Engineers who built substandard levees to protect people and the city. And it was and is the short-sightedness and ineptitude
of callous and corrupt government and elected officials who have forgotten they serve the people. Post Katrina, it is
business as usual on these same fronts, only the light has been shed on where to place some of the blame. And two years
later, the carpet baggers are once again set loose upon the city whose spirit could once be summed up in the phrase, joie
de vivre, or the joy of life.
This comedy of errors, arrogance and neglect only punctuates the effects of a government and society absent
a set of ideals Goddess Advocates would call principles of the Sacred Feminine:
* Reverence and respect for Mother Nature
* Recognizing the Divine in all things
* Compassion for human suffering
* Responsibility, wisdom and accountability
* Creation of partnerships and a more level playing field so no one is lost at the bottom of any heap.
Yet in spite of everything, the Vieux Carre, itself that jewel that so aptly personifies New Orleans, literally
stands on high ground and has managed to survive the devastation that surrounds it. Not unlike the Sacred Feminine herself,
surviving in a world gone mad, a world destroying itself for the sake of greed, with leaders intent on wielding power and
control over others, the Vieux Carre maintains a presence. This oldest section of the city endures, like a beacon,
for the people and a city hoping for a future that reflects these ideals of the Sacred Feminine.
The Vieux Carre, recognized as a sacred site of Goddess because of the many faces of the Divine Feminine represented
in this melting pot of diverse peoples and traditions, and for the city’s spirit that exudes the nature of Goddess,
stands at a precipice like the Divine Feminine herself. Do we believe enough in what she stands for to make the necessary
investment for real change toward a direction of sustainability for all? Or will it continue to be business as usual,
with society continuing to suffer at the hands of those who value power, control and wealth above all else?
While growing up in New Orleans, I did not have the awareness to see her sacredness. It took moving away
and glimpsing her from a distance to recognize her beauty, grace and that joie de vie that makes her a sacred site of Goddess. Today
she is a city in mourning. She grieves for her children scattered and cast upon the winds. For those trapped in
toxic FEMA trailers, victims of social injustice who are suffering all the more. She weeps for her empty streets and
for the times past that gave New Orleans it’s mantra, Le bonne temps roule, or let the good times roll. Needless
to say I miss her. And I wonder if her tattered dignity will ever be properly restored.
That being said, I would like to introduce you to the Vieux Carre of New Orleans and invite you to see this
great city through the lens of the Sacred Feminine.
The Vieux Carre of New Orleans, Louisiana
Sacred Site of the Divine Feminine
Excerpted from Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations
The essence of the Goddess, as a celebration of life, holds sway in New Orleans within the core of the people. Life
here moves at a slower pace and New Orleanians see no reason to catch up. It is a city proud of its diverse cultural
and ethnic heritage, where people look for just about any excuse to indulge in the pleasures of life. There is a sense
of life being a bit more in-sync with natural rhythms and life’s simple pleasures. Despite the influence of the Catholic
Church, the lifestyle in New Orleans is hardly dogmatic or puritanical. In the Big Easy, as the city is often called, the
spirit of the Feminine is also reflected in the Old World charm of the architecture of the Vieux Carre, in celebrations such
as Mardi Gras with its pagan roots dating back to the rituals of the Lupercalia, Cybele and Attis, and in the worship of the
Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and various goddesses in the Yoruban pantheon.
Goddess lives in the steamy heat of the city whose motto is “let the good times roll,” and where
Stella’s raw sexuality in A Streetcar Named Desire exploded onto the screen. Goddess is alive in the women
who gather at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the fringe of the Vieux Carre (or French Quarter) to say their rosary and pray
the novena for their families. Her spirit lives in the flora and fauna of the dense bayous, the groves of oak trees with their
Spanish moss, and in the luscious and heady scent of the exquisite flowers of the magnolia tree. It might even be said she
lives in the strength and determination at the center of the Southern Woman who might sit ladylike in her finery on the verandah
sipping a Mint Julep one day or found wearing her old blue jeans to pull up crab traps the next.
Goddess lives in the rituals of the Catholic Church which assimilated what it could not stamp out. She is an
embodiment of life’s earthy pleasures, and nowhere in the United States does she manifest her robust essence with such
fun and flair as in her many faces that peak from behind her carnival masque in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans. Author Samuel
Kinser cites carnival origins starting in an urban and country reaction to strict Lenten rules and a groundswell of interest
in a variety of social and agricultural practices in pre-Christian Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Roman sun, wind, and water
On the other hand, Henri Schindler, a local author in New Orleans and an expert on Mardi Gras, believes the
carnival season in New Orleans has its origins in Spring rites of the Greek and Latin world, namely the two celebrations of
the Lupercalia and those of the Goddess Cybele and her consort, Attis. The ecstatic festival of the Lupercalia, held on February
15th, was associated with Romulus and Remus, said to be the founders of Rome, who had been suckled by a She Wolf (a metaphor
for Mother Nature) when they were infants. During the Roman festival dogs and goats were sacrificed in a cave at the foot
of Palatine Hill and the meat consumed. Some of the animal’s skin was turned into whips, and its blood used to ritually
paint the priests and two youths who were then wiped with wool dipped in milk, the nourishing fluid from the Mother. During
the celebration priests chased naked men and women around the Palatine Hill of Rome and through the streets of other towns
where the celebration was held, lashing out with their whips, with the intention, according to Schindler, of forgiving them
of their sins. We are reminded of self-flagellation as a penance for sin.
Other sources say women sought out the priests, thinking a touch from their bloody thong would cure them of
barrenness, in a form of fertility magic. Schindler states the sacramental strips of the whip were called Februa, so it might
be a good time to mention Mardi Gras, like Lupercalia, is usually held in February! When there were not enough priests to
perform the rituals, laypersons took over the duties and flayed themselves until they felt purified. It is no coincidence
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the culmination of the carnival season, followed the next day by Ash Wednesday and the beginning
of 40 days of Lent, when Catholics fast and pray and ask forgiveness of their sins. Lent then ends with the celebration of
Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus, who Christians believe died and arose for the sins of humankind. It was at
Lupercalia, that Antony, the consul at Lupercus, offered a royal diadem to Caesar in 44 BCE. The festival of Lupercalia survived
until at least 494 CE when the Bishop of Rome banned the rite and absorbed it into the Feast of Purification for the Virgin.
As one might imagine, the Church was not happy with these celebrations, but they could not quash the traditions.
In the 5th century some control was managed when they adapted the celebration and veiled it in Christian significance,
renaming it Carnelevamen, a “consolation of the flesh,” which came to be called carnival. In 600 CE, Pope
Gregory officially set the often fluctuating date for Easter (which celebrates the resurrection of Christ) at the first Sunday
following the Vernal Equinox. Thus the Christian celebration of Easter would for all time overlay the spring rites of Cybele
and Attis, Ishtar and Tammuz, and the Druids. Also it must be remembered that this time was set aside for the more ancient
Goddess Aostara rituals. Eventually the ancient rituals to appease the gods and goddesses and ask their forgiveness on a seasonal
basis gave way to daily services on altars often without personal interaction by the masses. As Shindler puts it, mirth became
Long story short, carnival came to New Orleans with the French. New Orleans was founded in 1718 and the first
Mardi Gras parade was held in 1837. The parade and masqued ball was a theatre-like performance meant for entertaining the
members of the carnival club and was usually based on a particular theme drawn from mythology or history. The very first theme
in North America portrayed Demon Actors from Milton’s Paradise Lost with Persephone, the Fates, Furies, Gorgons,
and Isis all making their acting debut in the New World. Subsequent parade themes such as Egyptian Theology have produced
floats representing ideas of temples, tombs, palaces, pleasure, sacred animals, and resurrection. Since then, masked groups,
called “krewes,” wearing very androgynous looking costumes, have looked to the Feminine for inspiration as their
organizations have taken the names of Pandora, Aphrodite, Diana, Isis, Rhea, Diana, Ishtar, Juno, Hestia, Nemesis, Hebe, Hera,
Helena, Oshun, and Cleopatra. Obviously one of the carnival krewes of Mardi Gras did their homework because the Krewe of Babylon
has as its Captain, King Sargon, the namesake of Ishtar’s royal father.
|Isis Krewe Doubloon
Oddly enough, New Orleans may even have some Egyptian connections – and we certainly know Egypt influenced
Greece and Rome! According to scholar, R. E. Witt, “the carnival of medieval and modern times is the obvious successor
of the Navigium Isidis,” an ancient festival that began in Egypt, but in time with the spread of Isis’ worship,
began to be practiced throughout the Greco Roman world. In this festival, which included cross dressing, processions, and
all manner of hilarity, music, and revelry, a ship laden with gifts being offered to the Goddess Isis was launched upon the
waters in exchange for her blessings for anyone dependent on the waters and sailing season. It should be noted in the fishing
villages south of New Orleans an annual Blessing of the Fleets is performed by Christian clergy for safety and abundance of
the fisherman and their ships. This is an obvious remnant of the Isidis Navigium festival of ancient times.
Witt also cites the Christian Feast of Lights or Epiphany with roots in the rituals of the priests of Isis.
Interestingly, the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6th is also known as Kings Day in New Orleans and it is the kick-off
of the carnival season in “the city that care forgot.” Beginning on Kings Day, New Orleanians begin a series of
King Cake parties. Within the cake is a plastic doll. The person getting the piece of cake with the doll hidden inside is
obligated to host the next party, thus the party season continues up until Mardi Gras.
Neo-pagans have taken to the idea of reclaiming the tradition of the King Cake and associating it with the ancient
custom of cakes, bread, or the preparation thereof, as being sacred to the Goddess or the Queen of Heaven. And in one
last association between Goddess and January 6th, a date with so much special meaning in New Orleans, Witt cites that within
Gnosticism, this is the date Aeon/Horus was born to the Goddess Isis.
Like her sister cities of New York and Miami, the Goddess is also within the New Orleans View Carre in the guise
of the worship of the Yoruban goddesses of Voodoo spirituality. Religion scholars who track such things cite the Yoruban deities
being worshipped more in the New World than in the Old whence they came. While some believe shops selling voodoo dolls are
just for the tourists (some are!) there is a thriving community here that seriously worships the Goddesses Yemaya, Oshun,
and Oya. The Voodoo Temple run by Priestess Miriam on North Rampart Street, along the fringe of the Vieux Carre, is one such
example of the authentic practice of this spirituality.
With New Orleans and the Vieux Carre located along the crescent of the Mississippi River, the aforementioned
river goddesses are right at home and their serious practitioners make an attempt to dispel misconceptions and teach those
interested in their faith. There is an annual Voodoo Fest in New Orleans where visitors can get up close and personal with
the reality of Voodoo in New ‘Awlins where practitioners are involved in a hybrid version of syncretised Christian and
Yoruban traditions. (Side Note: In New Orleans, the name of this religion is still spelled Voodoo.)
The aforementioned Neo-Pagan community is actively involved in Goddess Spirituality here in New Orleans, while
others venerate the Feminine Divine in the guise of the Virgin and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the latter having a church honoring
her on the outskirts of the Vieux Carre.
When coming to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the most expensive time to visit for airfare and hotels, remember
the parades begin about seven days prior to Fat Tuesday, culminating with Rex and Comos, the oldest clubs, hitting the streets
on Mardi Gras day and night. The larger, more elaborate parades are the weekend prior to Fat Tuesday. Scoring an invitation
to a masqued ball is quite difficult unless you have some local connections. And remember, when that doubloon comes your way
from the masqued rider on that float, let it drop to the ground, step on it, and when the crush of the crowd eases off, then
bend over and pick it up! Don’t forget to yell to those masked revelers on the passing floats, “Throw Me Somethin’
Mister” because Mardi Gras is not about waving to the pretty girls sitting on the back of convertibles. It is about
how much loot you can grab, then going to Bourbon Street, having a drink and eating a good meal. Aahh - sacred pleasures! Just
don’t forget your mask!
About the Author
For over two decades, Karen's work has been fueled by her intense interest and passion for travel, comparative religions,
ancient cultures, and Goddess Spirituality. A prolific writer, published author, and tour organizer, Karen's most recent
published work blends her experiences of women-centered multiculturalism evident in archaeology, anthropology and mythology
with her unique literary talents and travel experience throughout the world to pen Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations.
Her second book Walking an Ancient Path, a guide toward mainstreaming Goddess, will be available in bookstores June 2008. Tate's
work has been highlighted in the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers. She lectures and appears before local
spiritual congregations regularly, as well as being interviewed on radio and television. Tours to sacred places of Goddess
in France and Turkey are planned for 2008. For more information, please go to www.karentate.com
Karen's book "Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations" is available now, her next book "Walking An Ancient
Path" is due in bookstores in the Summer of 2008.
You can learn more about the work of Karen Tate at the links provided below:
Voices of the Sacred Feminine Internet Radio
http://www.karentat e.com/Tate/ radio_show. html
Sacred Sundays Begin Again January 2008
http://www.karentat e.com/Tate/ sacred_sundays. html
Tours of the Sacred Feminine coming in 2008:
PARIS - May 2008 or Two weeks in TURKEY - October 2008
All photos for this article provided by the author, with the exception of St. Louis Cathedral, by Rafal Konieczny,
used by permission. Photos are copyrighted, all rights reserved. Drawing of Romulus and Remus, antique, public domain.