The Ink Well Prompt #35: Why Should the Devil Have the Moon?

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“Pardon me if I should ask the question of a loon –
Why should the devil have the moon?”

Jules Dubois was listening to his father, Monsieur Jean-Luc Dubois, sitting in his chair on the porch and singing along to a slow Dixieland-type jazz tune, and was intrigued.

“Never knew that one by Louis Armstrong,” the son said to the father.

“Neither did Louis Armstrong – that was written by your own brother-in-law, Louis Chennault!” the father roared merrily.

“Really?” Jules said. “New documentary project he's working on?”

“No,” said Père Dubois. “That song was inspired by a story from deep in the bayous, in a time when voodoo was practiced more openly in Black French Louisiana than it is today.

“I should say here, Jules, for your generation and younger, the idea of voodoo has come down to a word in marketing food products from Louisiana. This is a grave mistake made by a country that makes a commodity of everything it can get its hands on. Yet some things do not sit safely in a shopping cart.

“Voodoo is a corruption of the word Vodun, a spiritual practice of our African ancestors. It is a grave mistake to think there is not spiritual power in it that can easily overcome opponents who are not prepared spiritually or psychologically for it. Thus it was in the bayous when I was young. The people were nominally Catholic, but most people practiced a patois of religion as mixed as Creole French or Spanish, and what can be done in language safely cannot be done in spiritual or psychological matters.

“Thus it was that in my region, a family of voodoo practicians had amassed great power and had a great hold upon the minds of many in the community. It had been long seen how evil things occurred to those on whom they had displeasure, and those who they favored advanced even with white people in Louisiana. The local church and its priests could do nothing against them because the beliefs of the people were well mixed, and they feared voodoo more than the church.

“The weakness of the church also caused many strong Christian families to leave it in disgust – they were called Les Huguenots Noirs, but at the time of this separation, no one thought much of this except that it weakened the church still further and allowed the voodoo workers more power."

(Author's note -- Les Huguenots Noirs means The Black Huguenots, and is a reference to the Huguenots who separated from the Catholic Church in France near the time of the Protestant Reformation.)

“Yet, in the course of time, a son of the powerful family met a check he did not expect – a girl he was interested in rejected him. This girl … this belle noir … dark and lovely with a soft, quiet glow like the moon. Many men young and old wanted her, and it did not seem that a son of the most powerful family in the region should be rejected – and for a son of a Huguenot Noir family, no less!”

“Uh oh,” Jules said. “Looks like we are headed for a clash of powers on heaven and on earth!”

“That is what the song your brother-in-law has written is about, memorializing the incident that happened at the lunar eclipse that year.”

“I can tell you now what none of us knew, growing up: a lunar eclipse is when the shadow of the earth falls across the moon. If it happens in a certain way, at a certain time, the bottom edges of the full moon can appear like an upturned set of horns. Thus, this phenomenon is called a 'devil moon,' and under such circumstances, any manner of devilry might have a stronger psychological effect.”

“Thus it was, after our young, unsuspecting Huguenot Noir had walked the belle of his dreams home under a lovely full moon, he found that half the town had turned out on the road in front of his home to see the rival's family perform powerful voodoo rites on him, to his face.

“Voodoo dolls and all, eh?” Jules said.

“Oh, but you must remember, Jules, to the people of Black French Louisiana, those are not dolls, or even relics as the Catholics think of them. In true voodoo, objects are thought to have vital spiritual power, and thus the spirits would work upon the true and living things represented by the objects. So, it was not a light thing for this young man to see himself stabbed and pierced through and then burned in life-sized effigy just as the devil seemed to eat the moon and only show his horns in approval of the scene.”

“Yikes,” Jules said, “Even knowing what an eclipse is, I'm sure I would have been terrified.”

“So too our young Huguenot Noir – and remember, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in such a way for the very same kinds of effects, so this was doubly devastating to him. He trembled, and his knees knocked – but then, he remembered something, and found his courage.

“ 'Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye will do,' but, greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.”

“At that moment, the moon passed out of the shadow, and the light shone down in full brightness upon the scene as this young man walked past the crowd and into his house, in the company of his family who had turned out with all their weapons, but stood down when he was allowed to pass through.”

“But, why should there be any need for violence? After all, the rites had been done. To strike this young man and his family down with physical force would be a denial of voodoo's power, so, the rival, his family, and the crowd dispersed, to let the inevitable clash of the spirit world begin. Bets were made on the lives of this young man and his family – would they last a day? A week? A month? And if they did last a longer time, what greater horror would be prepared for them in the end?

“Even an atheist would understand that when the people of a region expect the worst, it can occur – the mass will of the people was set to see the evil done. The mental and psychological pressure alone upon the family as the locals separated from and isolated them caused them great harm. Everyone in the family then lost their work, for the average person of the community feared the spirits would transfer the curse upon the family to them, so no one would do business with the family except for the white people – but without money, that too soon could not be done.”

“So what happened – when did it finally happen, Père?”

To this point, Père Dubois had kept a grave face, but then grinned, his teeth capturing the light of the full moon above him as it came out of the clouds on this late summer evening.

“It never did! The Huguenot Noir community and some of the braver church people rallied and kept the family going with their support, so, the family stayed quiet at home and waited it out. The more nothing happened to them, the more the power of the family that had put the curse on them diminished.

“Many locals had scores to settle with that family of voodoo workers, and when the locals were no longer afraid, they set out to settle those scores. The people did not think of themselves as having spiritual power, but they did have torches and actual weapons.”

“Everything they wanted to bring upon their rivals … .” Jules said with a horrified look on his face.

“Yes, my son. I need not describe to you all that happened. Suffice it to say that the practice of voodoo went underground in the region, for a long time after that.”

“So, what happened to the young Huguenot Noir man, and his belle?”

Jean-Luc Dubois chuckled, and pointed with his chin. Jules turned around and saw a woman coming up the garden path with her arms full of tea herbs, her dark skin still glowing in the light of the full moon even 56 years later.

“They became your parents,” Madame Ebene-Cerise Dubois said to her son, and harmonized with her husband on the last two lines of the song their son-in-law had written for their 50th wedding anniversary:

“Pardon me if I should ask the question of a loon –
Why should the devil have the moon?”

Bonus material... I sing it for you!

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