You’ve likely heard of the Blessing of the Fleet, which many Catholic communities do for their fishing boats at the start of fishing season. It’s such a big deal that many towns have entire festivals devoted to it and is quite popular in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard. And since New Orleans is such a Catholic city, we’ll pretty much bless anything that moves and a few things that don’t!
In researching the blessing of vehicles, I found an approved Blessing of an Airplane in the Sancta Missa Blessing of Things Designated for Ordinary Use. Is an airplane “for ordinary use”? Discuss amongst yourselves. I even found a picture of Pope John Paul II blessing a TWA airplane, one that flew him over Medjugorje, which he also blessed…from the air. Thai Airways had their planes blessed by a Buddhist Supreme Patriarch. And the Buddhists believe that blessing vehicles brings luck and avoids accidents.
Well, why not bless my airplane then? But not just any blessing! It would have to be New Orleans style! Since I love all things New Orleans, I couldn’t resist inviting local voodoo Priestess Miriam Chamani to come out and bless the airplane after having the pleasure of meeting her recently and visiting her incredible voodoo temple. Now, before you hit the send button on your hate mail to me and before you go all hatin’ on voodoo, please humor me for a minute. Voodoo rituals and ceremonies, as in many other religions, can be used for good or evil purposes. Louisiana Voodoo is also very heavily influenced by Christianity, including recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary and attaching the images of Catholic Saints to their own spirits. In contrast to what you see in the movies, Louisiana Voodoo today is used mainly to serve others and positively influence life through connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors. I think that’s why it fits so well into New Orleans culture because we also highly value our connection with nature and our families.
To make it even more special, it was just days after Priestess Miriam’s 70th birthday, so I asked if she’d like me to take her on a short flight around the city as a birthday present. When I told my friends at the airport about my plans, they said to be sure she blessed the airplane *before* she came flying with me to be sure her heart was in it! Sound advice, that.
I fretted all week over what the weather would do on our scheduled blessing day, and I’m happy to report that I was blessed not only with a voodoo blessing but also with beautiful weather on a clear day!
I had no idea what to expect for a voodoo blessing. Priestess Miriam began by cleansing the airplane with a refreshingly-scented spray called Florida Water. She sprayed that thang down! Must have used up the entire can of spray. Note to self: if I ever need a new paint job, hire the Priestess! Florida Water is used as a cleanser and protective wash. It has essence of sweet orange, lavender, and clove. Tomorrow’s student pilot renters will wonder what the strange, exotic smell is in the airplane.
Next she purified the plane by taking a mouthful of gin and spraying it from her mouth onto the airplane. Yes, dear readers, I actually enlisted the services of someone to come spit all over my plane. Never thought I’d be saying that! This was repeated all over the fuselage and control surfaces. And since it was a windy day, I was getting a bit purified myself when the wind caught the spray! Once the airplane was dripping with spat-out gin, she then poured small quantities of gin on the ground all around the airplane to purify my parking spot. Too bad the plane isn’t always parked in that spot!
She wondered out loud if she should burn the incense she brought, but I didn’t think the fire rescue squad at the airport would like to see us setting fire to anything near the airplanes, so I just took the bag of incense and other goodies she had brought and told her I’d burn them in my house. In the bag was sage, some unknown mixture of aromatic herbs, and something labeled “evil away”.
Last, she said a lovely and peaceful prayer with one hand on the engine cowling, one hand under mine just above the spinner, and my other hand on the other side of the engine cowling. She prayed for safety on all flights, that the airplane bring joy to its passengers, and that the pilot always be blessed. She prayed for the airplane’s synergistic union with the elements of nature, especially the winds. I nodded my head a few times in agreement because it’s what I hope for on every flight I take!
Then it was time for the flight. She seemed slightly apprehensive at first but was calm and joyous in the air. We took off towards the West and headed South to fly and circle over the city. I pointed out the French Quarter and Rampart Street, where her temple is located, and she marveled at how small everything looked. We flew over the Crescent City Connection bridge, saw the Mercedes logo on the top of the Superdome that many people don’t know about because they never see it from that angle, and noted the many cemeteries that look like miniature cities. Audubon Park, St. Charles Avenue, City Park, the Fair Grounds, Bayou St. John, I-10, traffic, and the river twisting and turning as far as the eye could see. We saw it all! There were a few small bumps, but she just let out a “Weeeee!” each time the airplane jumped.
Coming in for a landing, she said it’s amazing how easy it is to fly, especially in a small airplane. You take off, you fly, you land. No waiting in line. No taking your shoes off. No delays. We wanted to fly over the city, and we did just that. What a wonderful freedom!
I was going to push the airplane back myself and save her the trouble of helping me, but she was curious how much the plane weighed and how hard it was to push back. So I got out the tow bar, and this spry 70-year old lady helped me push it back into the now-purified parking spot. She said she thoroughly enjoyed the flight and thanked me profusely for taking her flying. She couldn’t wait to tell all her friends how she got to fly over New Orleans and how beautiful it was. Funny, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now!