Yes, witches really do exist, but not like you heard about in fairy tales or saw on TV. Real witches are everywhere and a lot more like you than you think.
Earlier this year, Singular magazine editor Kim Calvert visited New Orleans to do research for a travel feature and to finalize plans for the upcoming SingularCity Halloween Adventure. While there, she had an opportunity to interview Kim Cairelle Perilloux, who identifies herself as a witch. Perilloux spoke about what it means to be a witch, the New Orleans Black Hat Society that she founded in 2011 and plans for their upcoming Witches’ Ball on November 1.
Singular: Are you originally from New Orleans?
Perilloux: I was born in Maryland because my dad was in the Navy, but my mom’s family’s has been down here for more than 200 years. I grew up here and have lived here most of my adult life.
Singular: Is your mother a witch too?
Perilloux: My mom wouldn’t call herself a witch. She says she’s in a “church of one” (Universal Spirit of Our Mother Earth). It’s out in her pasture among three oak trees. There’s a bench out there and that’s where she goes to pray. But she doesn’t call herself a witch. We all identify as what we feel suits us. You don’t have to use the word witch.
Singular: Do you have an official title with the New Orleans Black Hat Society?
Perilloux: I’m the President and Executive Director of the New Orleans Black Hat Society, and for the New Orleans Witches Ball, which is a fundraiser for that, I’m the Event Coordinator.
Singular: Did you create the New Orleans Black Hat Society?
Perilloux: Yes I did.
Singular: What inspired you to do it?
Perilloux: My friends and I totally love Halloween so, among other activities during that time, we go to the local Vampire Balls. I was at a Vampire Ball in 2010, dressed up as a witch, and I said, “You know, this is a nice party, but it doesn’t suit us. I want something different, I’m going to do a Witches’ Ball next year” and my friend was like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” I could tell she was kind of like, “Yeah, whatever” and I said, “No, really. I’m doing it.”
By the end of November, I had the idea rolling. Initially I started it as a for-profit thing but our little group of like-minded witchy pagan sorts were already pitching in and volunteering to do things in the community so I thought we could contribute to that effort. I didn’t want to limit it to just Halloween and the Witches’ Ball, so I decided to start a Black Hat Society as a way to organize and really make an impact.
Singular: And that name just came to you, or-?
Perilloux: Well, there are Black Hat Societies all over the country and of course, I added “New Orleans” to designate our location. I wanted to make ours official, make it a non-profit corporation. We’re registered with the State of Louisiana as a non-profit corporation, self-declared as a 501(c)(4).
Singular: On your website, you mention that what’s good about a (c)4 is that you don’t have to reveal certain information, like the names of your members and donors. Why is that important?
Perilloux: Some people aren’t out of the broom closet, so to speak. It’s pretty easy here in New Orleans to say, “I’m a witch” or whatever you want to call yourself. You can be whoever you want and generally nobody cares. You go into central Louisiana and a lot people don’t like that, they’re not very open to it.
Singular: It’s more conservative?
Perilloux: I mean, we’re in the South, we’re in the Bible Belt, so yes, it’s very conservative. Down here a person can be ostracized for being anything other than Christian. I don’t ever want for someone to avoid getting involved with us because they’re afraid their name would be revealed, so I went with the (c)4 status. The New Orleans Black Hat Society has a duty to protect, as much as possible, the privacy of those who join. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Singular: Is it just for women?
Perilloux: No, it’s for everybody! It just so happens that the charter members are women.
Singular: So men are witches too?
Perilloux: Yes, men are witches too. Some men use the term “warlock” to designate themselves as a separate but equal entity, but that’s a hotly debated topic. I just refer to everybody as “witch.” If someone prefers something different, they’ll let me know.
Singular: What’s the difference between a witch, a pagan, or other terms people might use to define themselves?
Perilloux: There’s a lot of confusion about that. Witches are given the title of “wiccan” as a generic term by people who don’t know better, but that’s not always accurate. Wicca is a religion but not all witches are Wiccan. For me, witchcraft is a craft. It’s that thing I do, like, if I light a candle and I do a spell…
Singular: You do that?
Perilloux: Yes, I do… and maybe that would be like someone else lighting a candle in church and saying a prayer. When you talk about your god or your deity or whatever, I think we’re all talking about the same concept of a higher power. We just have different ideas about what it means and different words to describe it.
Singular: What other witchy things might you do in a day?
Perilloux: I focus a lot on protection and I keep my home positive and happy. I work with a lot of herbs and oils, and I love to burn candles for people. I have an altar in my home with candles for different things — health, protection, prosperity — and it’s all similar to how people will pray, “Please God, this person is sick and needs help to heal.” It’s the same. You may call it a prayer, I may call it a spell or a ritual. Is there really a difference? I mean, we’re all gathering in the name of X, Y, Z to send out this good intention for whatever.
Singular: Are witches born or made, and do you think some people might have a natural tendency to become a witch?
Perilloux: That’s another hotly contested topic. I think most everybody can look and remember an old aunt or granny, or other relative who read cards or who went out and gardened by the moon. But even if you don’t have that in your family tree and you found this path when you were 25 or 45 or 90, you’re still just as valid and real as someone like me who was brought up with it all.
Singular: So you’re a hereditary witch?
Perilloux: I guess, but I don’t use that word. I just say, “Well, my grandma read cards, she did that woo …”
Singular: That woo?
Perilloux: Yeah, that’s what my husband calls it: the “woo.” He’ll come home and I’ll have a candle on the stove, and he’ll ask, “Uh, can I move this?” And I’m like, “No, you have to leave it there for another hour.” He’ll laugh, “Alright.” So he knows. He sees weird things around the house and he just skirts around them.
Singular: Do you believe in otherworldly spirits?
Perilloux: Oh, yeah. There are so many things we don’t understand about energy and I think there are just too many strange things happening in the world for it to be coincidence.
Singular: So why does New Orleans seem to be such an epicenter for vampires, ghosts, witches and magic?
Perilloux: There’s always been a magic to this place. We’re surrounded by so much water and water is very spiritual, its movements are connected to the moon, and it has a weight to it down here that allows spirits manifest quite easily. That water weight gives them something to form around.
A lot of people — magical people — come to New Orleans for the Witches’ Ball and every single one of them says there is an attraction to this place that they don’t have in other places. I don’t know what exactly it is, but it’s there and it’s tangible.
Singular: How does one join the Black Hat Society? Do you have to prove you’re a witch?
Perilloux: No. Membership is open to anybody that supports our vision and our mission statement — and who believes in doing good works. We’re together because we want to perpetuate this culture of magic, and by magic, I don’t mean the bibbity, bobbity, boo movie stuff. I’m talking about the whole mentality that our world and the universe are this big, magical connected place and we all have a part in it.
We’re also looking for people who want to have a lot of fun. We’re starting small but the idea is create a place for people to come down, experience the magic of New Orleans, network, and find out how they can take some of that back home and build their own Black Hat Society and do things where they live.
Singular: How is the New Orleans Black Hat Society structured?
Perilloux: We have a council that functions as our leadership – kind of our governing body. There are community leaders within our council that fall into four different areas of interest that are element-based, and their work focuses on those areas.
Our Earth-based group deals with animal welfare. Our air-based group deals with all the things that revolve around communication, like our network, our events and our conference. Our water-based group deals with women’s issues, homeless shelters, and stuff like that, and our fire-based group focuses on children and the arts.
We do find that we have to be kind of careful because some groups don’t want to say, “The Black Hat Society gave us these things.” That’s okay, we are fine with them saying, “We had a generous donation.” This philanthropy is not about us; it’s about making a difference, and I do believe eventually our work, and similar work by others, will erase some of the fear that people have that we worship Satan and boil children, and whatever other crazy things they think.
Singular: So you’re not dancing under the moon naked?
Perilloux: Nobody wants to see me do that — I’ll leave that there — but I have friends who do!
Singular: So what’s in store for upcoming Witches’ Ball?
Perilloux: I’m excited that this is our fourth year! Our theme for 2014 is La Grande Danse Macabre and we’re holding it the day after Halloween on November 1st.
On Halloween weekend in New Orleans, all the events stack up and that makes for a great time. People will come to town and do the Anne Rice Vampire Ball Friday night and then the next night, many of those same people will come to the Witches’ Ball. We’re also hosting a meet-and-greet on Halloween night in the French Quarter. Our “Witch Way to Bourbon?” is starting early enough that folks attending the vampire event can stop by for a drink and a hello before they head out for the night.
Singular: So the purpose of the ball, besides philanthropy, is to create connections with like-minded people?
Perilloux: The Witches’ Ball is an event for witches, organized by witches. Of course we have many people who come who are not witches because they know it’s a good party, but I think that most of our folks are witches and we like to offer things that resonate with them at this very important time of year.
We have a ritual — and it is a true ritual, it’s very serious, it’s not a show. The priestess coming this year is a Morrigan priestess which fits in with our theme, because the Morrigan is a Goddess of Death and our theme this year is about dancing with the ancestors.
You see, Halloween is a time when the veil is thin — Samhain, we call it. We’re able to communicate easier with those who are gone. I have a big Memento Mori urn that I set up every year and our guests write notes to people who have passed on. I take all those notes and I send them up in flames and smoke as a way to get them to their intended recipients.
In regard to the rest of the event, we’ve got great entertainment, an open bar, the food is amazing and the Elms Mansion is just an unbelievable venue. We have dancers and free readings (although we strongly encourage a donation) — and upstairs we have a silent auction and a portrait photographer. In the dining room there’s a huge table loaded with cheeses and dips and breads and crackers and soups, and there’s a carving station with turkey, there’s crawfish pasta and passed hors d’oeuvres — I could go on and on. It’s all so delicious! Then, on your way out, you get a swag bag full of goodies from our sponsors.
Those sponsors are the backbone of what keeps us going every year. When I first had the idea to do the Witches’ Ball I went to Esoterica Occult Goods and I said, “I want to have this party next year. I need $1,000.00.” And she said, “OK, here you go. I believe in your vision.” Mama Creepy, an online retailer, came in 2012 and said, “I want to be a sponsor next year — this is a great party.” Boutique du Vampyre said, “What can we do for you? What can we do for the silent auction?” There are many more who’ve given time, money and merchandise to help us raise money. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them.
Singular: What an exciting vision you have. What would you like to accomplish next?
Perilloux: We want to reach out to all of the other Black Hat Societies that are out there, we want to create a network across the nation. If you’re in a Black Hat Society, we want you to get in touch and tell us about what you’re doing. Let’s make a presence online and across the country so people can see who we are, where we are and what we’re about.
Copyright © 2014 Singular Communications, LLC.