Review: Jambalaya by Luisah Teish

I’m slowly working my way through my giant Pile o’ Books, and since I just, just finished this one, it’s time for another review.

In a nutshell, this book is part memoir, part spiritual workbook, and part New Orleans Vodou 101, which, as it turns out, I’ve been confusing with hoodoo this whole time (I’m more familiar with Haitian Vodou). In this book, you will learn how to set up an ancestor altar, basic candle magic, a bit about hexing and crossing, information on the Seven African Powers (I should note here that she doesn’t include Orunmila in her list, as he is patron of a priestly office open only to men, so she substitutes Oya instead, a much more appropriate choice for a book geared towards women), and a whole lot more than I can cover in this brief paragraph. Throughout the book, Teish switches from the autobiographical to the practical as she recounts events from her life and follows that up with a ritual, or “work”, at the end of each chapter. The exercises in the book range from simple (setting up a simple altar for your ancestors) to the more complex (a specific ritual to be performed if you ever visit Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans).

My previous exposure to Teish’s work is a brief segment in one of the Women and Spirituality films, where she tells the story of Yemaya’s included in this book. Teish is a wonderful storyteller, and writes with a very friendly style, as if she’s sitting talking with the reader over a cup of coffee.

Now, there are a few things to keep in mind before you all run out to get a copy, the most important being that this book was written in the late 80s, which means that you will at times run across a reference to “the burning times” (especially in the intro, written by Starhawk). I don’t know a thing about the Louisiana Purchase (other than that it sounds like somebody was purchasing Louisiana) so I can’t judge how accurate the rest of the history in the book is (she does admit that some of her information on Marie Laveau is, well, UPG though) but I’d suggest having a grain of salt handy. There’s also one particular ritual centered around rape survivors that strikes me as being potentially unsafe (the ritual involves suddenly grabbing them and spinning them around in the middle of a cleansing bath, or, alternatively, making a sudden loud noise when they’re finished quietly listing their problems) but that is for the survivor to ascertain. Still, it is something to keep in mind. Again, grain of salt.

Actually, no, salt repels the ancestors (and other spirits), so maybe it’s more accurate to say have a pinch of tobacco handy. 🙂

So, what can you learn from this book? Well, if you’re at all interested in Vodou a la New Orleans, this book is a good place to start (though it is obviously not exhaustive or academic). Personally though, as a white woman of European-descent, I’m more than a little hesitant to try any of the exercises in the book. It just seems highly culturally appropriative, though the candle magic in the book is very similar to candle magic in eclectic Wicca 1o1 type books. However, if you have no clue where to start honouring your ancestors (for instance) you might learn something from the strong tradition of ancestor reverence in ATRs and diasporic traditions. Teish even offers advice on what to do if one of your ancestors was a Nazi, a slave-owner, or another sort of person who Did Shitty Things.

So, yeah, I learned about New Orleans style Vodou, what gumbo ya ya is, and that blood makes Ogun hungry, so no exposing him to menstrual blood or cuts on the body.

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