Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Selenia y Marie

As I mentioned in a recent Zorro post, The most intriguing new character in the telenovela is a witch named Selenia, apparently modeled on Marie Laveau, who appears in Isabel Allende's Zorro novel. It's not an exact match. Selenia comes from Europe and markets her magic to the wealthy. But her communion with the spirits reminds me of the character of Marie Laveau in the novel.

In her story, Diego winds up on the island controlled by the pirate Jean Lafitte off the Lousisiana coast. One of the characters there, Madame Odilia, takes her ill daughter Catherine to see the legendary Louisiana witch:

... Marie Laveau, suma sacerdotisa del vudú. Se internaron en los bosques más tupidos, lejos de las plantaciones de azucar de los blancos, entre islotes y pantanos, donde los tambores conjuraban a los espíritus. A la luz de hogueras y antorchas, los oficiantes danzaban con máscaras de animales y demonios, los cuerpos pintados con sangre de gallos. Los poderosos tambores vibraban, remeciendo el bosque y calentando la sangre de los esclavos. Una prodigiosa energía conectaba a los seres humanos con los dioses y la naturaleza, los participantes se fundían en un solo ser, nadie se sustraía al embrujo. Al centro del círculo, sobre una caja que contenia una serpiente sagrada, danzaba Marie Laveau, soberbia, hermosa, cubierta de sudor, casi desnuda y preñada de nueve meses, a punto de dar a luz. Al caer en trance sus miembros se agitaban sin control, se retorcía, se le bamboleaba el vientre de lado a lado, y soltaba una retahíla de palabras en lenguas que nadie recordaba. El cántico subía y bajaba, como grandes olas, mientras el recipiente con sangre de los sacrificios pasaba de mano en mano, para que todos bebieran. Los tambores se aceleraban, hombres y mujeres, convulsionados, caían al suelo, se transformaban en animales, comían pasto, mordían y arañaban, algunos perdían el conocimiento, otros partían en parejas hacia el bosque. Madame Odilia le explicó que en la religión vudú, llegada al Nuevo Mundo en el corazón de los esclavos de Dahomey y Yoruba, existían tres zonas conectadas: la de los vivos, la de los muertos y la de los que aún no han nacido. En las ceremonias honraban a los antepasados, llamaban a los dioses, clamaban por la libertad. Las sacerdotisas, como Marie Laveau, efectuaban encantamientos, ensar-taban alfileres en muñecas para provocar enfermedades y usaban gris-gris y polvos mágicos para curar diversos males...
My translation:

[... Marie Laveau, high priestess of voodoo. They went deep into the densest forests, far from the whites' sugar plantations, among little islands and marshes, where the drums conjure the spirits. By the light of bonfires and torches, the celebrants danced with masks of animals and demons, their bodies painted with the blood of roosters. The powerful drums vibrated, swinging the forest and heating the blood of the slaves. A prodigious energy connected the human beings with the gods and nature, the participants merged into a single self, no one got away from the witchcraft. At the center of the circle, on a box that contained a sacred serpent, danced Marie Laveau, proud, beautiful, covered with sweat, almost naked and nine months pregnant, on the point of giving birth. Falling into a trance, her limbs shook out of control, writhing, her belly swaying from side to side, letting out a stream of words in languages no one remembered. The song rose and fell like big waves while the vessel with the blood of the sacrifices passed from hand to hand so that all could drink. The drums accelerated, men and women convulsing fell on the ground, tranformed into animals, ate grass, bit and scraped, some them lost consciousness, others left in pairs for the forest. Madame Odilia explained that in the voodoo religion, brought to the New World in the hearts of slaves from Dahomey and Yoruba, there exist three zones connected to one another; that of the living, that of the dead and that of those who have not yet been born. In the ceremonies, they honored their ancestors, called on the gods, clamored for freedom. The priestesses like Marie Laveau cast spells, inserted pins into dolls to cause sicnesses and used gris-gris and magic powders to cure various ills...
Unfortunately, even Marie Laveau's powers weren't enough to help the ailing Catherine.

Marie is not a major character in the Zorro novel. Her presence is largely atmospherics which reinforce the native wisdom that Diego and Bernardo learned from Toypurnia and her tribe. In the novel, Diego does a spirit quest as a young man and his totem animal turns out to be a fox (un zorro). She uses touches like that throughout to give the Zorro character a more mystical and mysterious character. Meeting your personal zorro on a native spirit quest just has a different feel about it than picking the name Zorro for your masked bandit persona because foxes are sneaky.

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