New York, New York 06/01/2019
By Kendrick Sadaka
For generations the Vodu practicing residents of the Bridlemile community in the West Hills of Portland have lived a charmed life. Practically undisturbed since the end of Reconstruction, this community has seen remarkable stability in its way of life and has prospered in the way the America Dream suggests one might with the right amount of pluck and ingenuity at its disposal. However, charmed or not there are intimations in the wind that change may be on the horizon. And the residents of this fine community speak of a hint of menace in the taste of the air as of late.
Originally settled in the late 1910’s by Oregon’s Great Migration spearheads, the town was a haven for southern Vodu practitioners escaping Jim Crow violence, the sharecropping economy and Protestants. Apart from the fact that the area was largely unsettled, Bridlemile also boasts of one of the most powerful Ley Line configurations in the American West, a fact divined by the Oracle Sally Adeola Winthrope in a dream largely believed to have been kindled by the birth of her first child..
After a grueling but determined journey northward, the promised land was found and stakes pounded firmly in the fertile Fanno Creek-fed land. As it had already for hundreds of years, the Bridlemillion’s Vodu continued to flourish and infuse the community with the crucial link to the past that anchors and binds together a people in its present. (By way of disclosure, I should say that my own parents were descended from families that figured centrally in the migration, but split off early to the east coast to pursue professions as best they could.) All throughout the 20th century a remarkable succession of High Priestesses, Vodunsis (Priestesses) and Vodunons (Priests) not only worked to keep the traditions a vital part of the successor generations’ lives, but built a strong and self sustaining economy with its own banking, farming, crafts and trade. It should be noted that this particular line of Vodu is surprisingly “pure” in the sense that its historical protectors – even throughout slavery – were able to keep it largely unalloyed of the Christian influence that would normally lead to a radically syncretized hybrid as is the case with Santeria, for instance. When I asked about how this feat was achieved, the priest I was interviewing asked me why I looked so tired and I woke up in my hotel room remembering that, whatever his answer was, it was very satisfying and not worth pursuing any further.
But the close of the 20th century had brought with it an influx of new blood to Portland and, as the city’s reputation has grown, so has an awareness of some of its idiosyncratic marvels, most notably its Ley Lines. Residents remember with trepidation the first crystal shops opening up eastward of the Fanno Creek. “All the sudden, you got these young college-types in hippie shirts reading tarot cards and auras and whatnot. Buying rocks with their parent’s money, showing up at parks, chanting on the 1 and the 3. Just doing all this out in the open and nobody is bothering them,” says Bridemillion Tuck Manute Jimmeson. “And with that,” he continued “they started pouring in.”
The consequence of this foreign incursion has been predictable. Across the creek to the east, competing markets have gone up, sporting rare and imported ritual and spell casting herbs like Hyssop and Bergamot which quickly became en vogue, but also Vodu staples such as High John Root and White Sage saw significant rise in consumption and concomitantly, price. In the early 2000’s, witches and warlocks began to rent some of the properties on the edge of the worryingly contracting Bridemile enclave, effectively driving rents up as the did so. Several meeting places, almost exclusively the basements of homes owned generationally by Vodu clans, have had been lost to foreclosure or in some cases zoning changes wrought by the increasingly non-Vodunon held seats of the local council.
When asked how she came to find the community, local Ohio transplant and Neo-Druidess, Kylesstra Moon Steinerberg, cited “Stoned Henge” an Anarcho-Crust-Punk Teen Witch ‘zine she’s read in highschool extolling the ambient energetic qualities of the then remote neighborhood. “It just seemed, like, this REAL place. I was tired of my parents and my school and the stripmalls. I needed to get away from all that to realize my true spiritual destiny as it was meant to manifest. And to hear of this completely untouched and untapped well of power just sitting out there…I just knew I’d end up here. And now I own this building we’re sitting in,” she says elatedly as she gestures grandly at the handsome old redbrick building in which we sat. The storefront is a Gaia theory-themed organic juice bar/internet cafe called SingulariTea. Above, in what used to be apartments, she rents out spaces for Reiki and Tarot practices to recent transplants from Iowa and California, respectively.
Articles like the one which galvanized Steinerberg so were quite common at the time, as the closely held secret of the place’s vast reserves of Ley Line voltage began to filter out into the mainstream Magickal consciousness. And she is not alone. At present, the eastern, and increasingly the western, strips of the Creek are lined with seemingly unending varieties of boutique stores frequented by both the devoted and the simply curious wandering in from Muggledom: a wizard staff and orb artisan; love potion cordialist; an Hellenist bone oracle; a Gypsy Diaspora genealogist and pawn shop, etc.
Back on the Westside, I sat down with the reigning High Priestess, Mother V. She is a regal women of storied descent in her late eighties with a presence that is both formidable and deeply comforting. When I ask her what she thinks the future may hold for her community, she is cryptic. Her voice in the basement ritual space into which she has graciously welcomed me seems to split and echo itself as the sentences overlap and surround me. “We are rooted here now, this is true,” comes her whisper from behind me. “But roots spread. They reach and spread and stretch to find sustenance and resources from the outside to draw back into what they feed. The lifeblood of the earth is drawn in and transformed into seeds, sent into the wind. Seeds are travelers, yes. But they are also messages. Messages from the past to the future. Soon, new roots will taste the Earth. Other, distant Earth. They will yawn as they awake and grasp backward in space and in time. Back toward home. Beneath the earth the roots will meet and kiss and embrace and the child will know its mother as she gives way to her child’s beautiful hunger. She will wither and she will knot and fall slowly to pieces enriching the soil with her memories. Her child, though so very far away, will drink from her and know its mother in its deepest dreams.”
With that, she leaned over the table and blew gently into my forehead and I was back home, sitting in front of a glowing screen with a heart aching to tell of a people who will survive.