Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy St. Joseph's Day

In honor of St. Joseph's feast day, here is an excerpt from The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook. While in Haiti St. Joseph is most famous as the image used to represent Papa Loko, in New Orleans he is a major saint in his own right. I listed him as one of the "bringers of good fortune" because he is such a powerful intercessor in financial matters. If you need some financial success, here are some ways you can call on his assistance.

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Oh, St. Joseph, you worked as a humble carpenter, earning your wages by the sweat of your brow. Assist me in obtaining my wages that I may be able to support myself and my loved ones as you supported Jesus and Mary. Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, so that I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
After the Civil War New Orleans became a favorite destination for Italians traveling to the New World. Between 1850 and 1870 the city had more Italian immigrants than any other city in America: the French Quarter became known as “Little Palermo” and “Little Sicily” thanks to its large Italian population. These new residents brought with them their cuisine (which is still enjoyed today in po’ boys and muffaletta sandwiches) and their work ethic. They also brought with them an undying devotion to a saint who has become a New Orleans favorite – St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

In Italy, as in New Orleans, one celebrates a holiday by feasting. St. Joseph is typically honored on his day (March 19) with groaning tables of food put out in his honor. This tradition has been carried over to the Crescent City. A table put out in the 1920s by Mrs. Messina, a New Orleans Italian, gives you some idea of how big these repasts can be:
I have five hundred different kinds of food. Besides the three sorts of Saint Joseph’s bread, I have stuffed artichokes, stuffed crabs, stuffed peppers, stuffed celery, stuffed eggs and stuffed tomatoes. I have lobsters, red snapper fish, shrimps, crayfish, spaghettis, macaronis, spinach, peanuts, layer cakes, pies, pineapples… My God! I have everything!
In addition to food, these tables are also decorated with flowers, candles, electic lights, and statues of saints, with a large statue of Saint Joseph occupying the place of honor. Whatever else they may contain, they always have St. Joseph’s Bread (a braided egg bread which is almost identical to the challah bread served on the Sabbath in Jewish homes). They also have a large bowl of fava beans. At the end of the feast the leftover food is given to the poor. Participants take with them a bean and a small piece of bread. The bread is kept in the house until next year: it is said that in return St. Joseph will keep the household from going hungry. The beans are said to bring good luck. While it is traditional to leave a coin on the altar in exchange for this gift, gamblers will sometimes leave large sums of money in exchange for a lucky bean.

If you want to win St. Joseph’s favor, you can make a special St. Joseph’s potpourri for him. Place in a white bowl the following: Balm Of Gilead buds, juniper berries, tonka beans (also known as wishing beans), fava beans and star anise. If you can find them you can add fishberries, also known as Levant berries. Fishberries were part of the original mixture catalogued by Zora Neale Hurston but can be difficult to find as they are quite toxic and no longer widely used in conventional or alternative medicine. Basil (also known as St. Joseph’s Wort) will be an acceptable substitute. Put this bowl before your St. Joseph statue or image and add fresh potpourri regularly: not only will it be a great offering, but it will fill your space with a subtle fresh scent that will draw positive energy and good fortune.

To make a powerful St. Joseph’s oil, place this mixture at the bottom of an oil lamp: fill the lamp with high quality olive oil and place it before your St. Joseph image, then light it and leave it burning while you say a Rosary in St. Joseph’s name. When you are finished, snuff out the lamp: repeat this for nine days (a Novena). After you have said these prayers, strain out the potpourri and save the oil. You can then use the oil to anoint the doorway of your business or your workplace: you can also put a few drops on your wallet or bankbook if you are looking for a raise. As the patron saint of workers, St. Joseph will be happy to offer his assistance if you’re willing to do your share and earn your money.

And while St. Joseph is typically called upon to help out in money matters, he is also a sympathetic defender of lovelorn men. New Orleanians who suspect their wives of infidelity will often come to St. Joseph for his help. They reason that since his wife had someone else’s baby, he will understand their plight and come to their aid. This may seem disrespectful, but it has a long history. In medieval mystery plays, St. Joseph was often played for comic relief as a cuckolded husband: among Eastern Christians, he was frequently presented in Nativity scenes as despondent and downhearted, unable to comprehend the great mystery of the Incarnation and filled with doubt at his wife’s purity. Yet he was able to overcome those doubts, become a loving husband to Mary, and support the young Jesus as his own child. It is not surprising that he would take pity on others who find themselves in a similar situation and offer them his help.