Tag Archives: magic

The magic of old New Orleans

The heart of New Orleans is the French Quarter
and at its center is Jackson Square.
There on the steps of the Basilica,
for the shuck of us rubes,
goes on the spirited commerce in lost souls:
tarot dealers and voodoo cursers,
faith healers and crystal readers,
they all vie for the right to sell you
the sweetest of illusions, control.
God here, the devil there—
in New Orleans you’d be crazy
not to deal the One without the other.

Built in the middle of a swamp, New Orleans’ original district, the French Quarter was once a city of canals, like modern day Venice. From the 1600s and through the 1900s, New Orleans had one of the highest death rates in the world. Combined with the large number of slaves that were brought in from the West Indies and Africa, this second misery of enslavement added to the first of location to gave birth to the Death Cult/black arts/voodoo worship/deep Catholicism aura that still haunts the city. Walk around there, you’ll feel it.

Thank you for reading The magic of old New Orleans. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photo is a copyright free image of Jackson Square. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Photograph, poem, and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Work 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.


Filed under Poetry

In a pentacle

Birch, maple, sycamore, oak and beech—
these I planted in a five-pointed star.
When I die, bury me there at their center, deep, unwashed,
alone and nude. Say no prayers.
In the summers, leave them to rustle their hopes over me,
in the falls, let them click and clack their magic.
Let me, as I lay there, hear their big hearts thrumming,
feel their hard bark stretching and taste their hungry roots delving.
People will picnic near us, unknowing and unafraid, not knowing why, but still…

After a dozen years sacrifice first the birch, then the maple,
but wait longer to harvest the rest.
Wait until my bones have moldered
and the roots have taken hold and ground me down to dust.
Wait until the trees are massive, with royal thick trunks seeking the heavens
and tall green crowns gracing the ground.
Wait until it is a spot renowned for its beauty, its peace, its tranquility;
wait until it is forgot, and lost, grown over, where people come no more.

Then cut us down. Chop us up and stack us neat to dry.
Build a fire pit and burn us there.
Let them—they who hear us—come to talk with us and laugh and play.
We, for our part, will spark and sputter and risk our embers to rise.
We will crackle and thrum, we will roar for them, we will whisper
sweet tendrils of scented smoke deep into their hearts and minds,
binding them.
We will do everything in our power to stay for them—until we can not—
and then when we go, ever so sadlygladlyboth,
we will go hand-in-hand with the wind.
Except, and this is the law, nothing can be made or destroyed.
They’ll know that by then. You’ll see.

A pentacle is an amulet used in magical evocations. I used it because the concept of turning oneself into wood and being burned seemed a very mysterious and Celtic-like motif of transmutation, and the pentacle is a very Celtic symbol.

some pentacles

some pentacles

Of course I was not really interested in the foolishness of actual ritual magic, but in using it as a metaphor for the real magic of touching hearts, of reaching out to people and with humility, sacrifice and love, affecting their lives. In a certain sense, that is what a poem is, a magical spell, an incantation to create meaning, launched to a life of its own.

I am grateful to an Iranian friend for the Persian metaphor of a tree that shows its humility by bowing closer to the ground the older it gets.

Thank you for reading In a pentacle. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Poetry