Photos by Michael Winters, unless otherwise noted
Sallie Ann Glassman isn't the last real voodoo priestess of New Orleans, but she is one of a dying breed. For nearly 40 years, Glassman has conjured ancient sprits, a craft she learned in Haiti, in order to protect her community and rid her neighborhood of fiends and crack dealers. She isn't some low-rent tele-psychic with a box of tarot cards and a credit-card machine. Sallie Ann knows her shit. She even scared a pissy demon out of Joan Rivers's house in the 1990s, helping Rivers during one of the most tumultuous times of Rivers's life, and cementing herself as the late comedian's personal spiritual guide.
After a bloody summer, the voodoo priestess is again calling upon a higher power to cleanse her neighborhood, and bring balance back to her home. Glassman spoke about her close and long-standing relationship with Rivers, along with spooking drug lords and crooked cops out of her community.
Vice: Hi, Sallie Ann! Why have you called on the spirit Ogou, specifically, for this ceremony?
Sallie Ann Glassman: I called on Ogou Achade because he's one of the most fiery of the warrior spirits. He was the spirit that sort of governed my papa in Haiti, and when my papa died I inherited that spirit as one of my guiding spirits. He's kind of a magician, and he is very protective of family and community. He loves fire, and fire is really nice when you're trying to fight crime. The great thing about fire is that it transforms material things into spirits, or into the spirit realm, and so much of voodoo is about making that transference between the visible and invisible and back again.
And this isn't the first time you've called on Ogou, correct?
Yes. In the 1990s, Bywater was ranked as one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country, so we called on Ogou then.
Was there a noticeable shift in crime?
It totally dropped, and part of that the police take credit for, but we just knew it was the amazing power of voodoo. It brought the community together in a way that had not been cohesive in the past. I think the neighbors came out and did the ceremony together and bonded as a community—and right in the face of the criminal who was intimidating everyone until that point.
There was one specific guy?
There was a specific guy. It turns out he had a whole gang around him and the police were involved in it. So the police were involved, and we all knew the police were involved, which is why we felt we had to go to a higher power. We couldn't negotiate this on normal, everyday terms.
What happened after you performed the ceremony?
Well, the day after, the drug dealer came to my doorstep begging for forgiveness, and I said, "I can't help you. I've already called on Ogou. It's his deal. He answers to his own moral authority. I'm not going to tell him what to do."
What happened to the dealer?
He was almost immediately thrown in jail, where he died of AIDS a couple of years later.
And what about the crooked cops?
The police who were involved were busted, and it was a very brief amount of time between the ceremony and the arrests.
Like a couple of weeks?
Something like that. They busted the police with two-hundred pounds of crack cocaine being warehoused in Bywater.
Couldn't you make the case that crime went down because two-hundred pounds of crack were taken off the streets, though?
You could. But to me and to the people who were at that ceremony, we set in motion energies that found their natural result and brought balance back and cleaned up the neighborhood.
And why, now, do you think you need to call on Ogou?
This is of a whole different magnitude when kids are beating people for the sheer pleasure of it or whatever they're getting out of it. We've got a problem. So we went to the ancestors first of all, because they love us best; they're most connected to us, they have compassion for us and an understanding of where we've come from, and they have hopes for us, just as we have hope for ourselves.
Can we talk about your relationship with Joan Rivers?
I first met Joan twenty-two years ago when she had a demonic presence and a ghost in her apartment that she was trying to move in to. Edgar (Rosenberg, her husband) had killed himself, and she was trying to get out of LA and start her life over. She was banned from the Johnny Carson show, and she had spent all of her money on this apartment in New York, which is a spectacular brownstone, and she owned the top three floors.
Photo courtesy of Sallie Ann Glassman
And she couldn't move in because of the ghost?
The ghost is still there, but the ghost isn't the problem and never was. The ghost is fairly pleasant, and Joan didn't mind the ghost, but there was something deeply demonic about the place. It was one of the scariest places I've ever been in my life. Melissa didn't want to step foot in it.
What exactly was going on inside of the house?
There was a sub-basement, and there was a door that went under the street. It used to be a walkway under the street, but it had been cemented all the way across. And there was a howling wind coming through it, and there was this dark liquid bubbling up from underneath it, but there was nothing but cement there. That was pretty creepy. There had also been multiple suicides in the building. The doorman was terrified to be there. He described all kinds of events, like poltergeist kind of events.
At one time, there had been a superintendent who lived in the sub-basement, who I think was just psychotic. He had been a hunter, and instead of mounting animals' heads, he would mount deer legs, coming straight out of the wall. Something about it was just so disturbed. The energy was really upsetting and just frightening.
So how did Joan come in contact with you?
They brought in a metaphysical scientist, who had a demon meter of some sort, and the demon meter was just ringing off the wall. And the scientist went to a mutual friend of mine, and they suggested that I come up and clear the house because he knew I knew how to do that.
What happened when you got to her house?
She sent her limo to come pick me up, and her driver was telling me all the way there that Joan was really frightened to meet me—you know, this voodoo priestess coming from New Orleans—and I was very intimidated to meet her.
I finally get out of the car and she's standing there, and in her stiletto heels, we're exactly eye to eye. And she just put her head down on my shoulder and started to cry and said, "Can you help me?" We just instantly became friends after that.
How did the ceremony go?
At one point I was in the lobby, and Joan had to go and get something. She had a goblet in her hand, and I had a sword in mine, and I'm dressed in this floor-length black robe. I'm screaming my lungs out, and the sword's raised when all the other tenants in the building happened to come in the front door at that moment, and they look at me like, "Who are you? What are you doing?"
And before I could answer, Joan comes down the stairs—click, click, click in her high heels with her goblet—and she says, "I've had enough of this shit, and I'm doing something about it. If you want us to come into your apartment, we'll do that too, but you're not stopping us." And they were all like, "Yes. Please come into our apartments."
And how long did the ceremony take?
We spent about three days together working on that.
At various times she had called you her spiritual guide. I'm assuming the relationship continued after the initial ceremony.
Yeah. She ensured the relationship stayed alive. She would call me and fly me to conventions, and I would stand at her side, make her a gris-gris bag, and just give her some support. The other thing was that I didn't charge her for anything, and I was probably the only person in Joan Rivers's life who never charged her for anything.
When was the last time you saw her?
I had been to her house three weeks before she died.
Did you know that would be the last time you would see her?
I knew it was, because when I found out she was in a coma I was trying to send healing light and energy to her, and I heard her, just clear as day, say, "Fuck that. I'm not gonna struggle through this [life] as a drooling invalid. I'm eighty-one years old. I'm out of here."
Thanks, Sallie Ann!
Note: Although Glassman's supernatural claims should of course be regarded as hearsay, they often correspond to real news events. However, her account of the drug dealer dying of AIDS in prison could not be confirmed.
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