At home on the bayou

Mystics find welcoming spot for occult shop in Raceland

In a century-old house bounded by 33 acres of sugar cane on one side and a shopping center parking lot on the other, Jamie Authement may have finally found a place to settle — one she’s pretty sure is haunted.

Her reading table, Tarot cards and shrine to the voodoo goddess Erzulie have traveled from her first occult shops in Livingston Parish south to Raceland, not far from her childhood home.

“We are home and we are in the bayou and it’s good,” said Authement, 43, who goes by the name Gypsy, while sitting on the back porch of her shop, Lucky 13 Curio. “We’re home.”

Lucky 13 Curio sells books on the occult, talisman necklaces, candles and a wall of spices, herbs and waters used for ceremonial washings and spiritual purposes. In early May, it opened in Raceland just off La. 1 in a property belonging to the family of Authement’s boyfriend of two years and business partner Monte Plaisance.

She has searched for more than a decade for a place to anchor her business giving readings and selling the curios used by spiritualists and occultists.

The venture Authement started in Walker in 2001 ended badly, with Authement receiving Old Testament threats — “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” from Exodus 22 — along with an eviction notice from the shopping center’s landlord and an unwelcome nickname.

“I want people to take me seriously,” Authement said in November at her shop’s former location south of Denham Springs. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘Witch of Walker’ anymore.”

Since she started performing readings more than a decade ago, Authement has intermittently quit and taken other jobs, but, she said, something always brings her back.

“As long as I’m doing this, my life is fine,” she said.

They call themselves mystics, not witches or warlocks or Wiccans. They do not wear animal skins or pointed hats. Both look at least 10 years younger than their ages, Authement wearing long brown hair to frame her cherubic face, Plaisance sporting a black goatee and glasses.

They practice Hellenism, a continuation of the religion practiced in ancient Greece, though they say they believe that gods and spirits are “all spokes of a wheel going in the same direction,” Authement said.

“Each culture takes from that energy current and interprets it in its own way,” Plaisance said. “For us they are one and the same.”

Authement and Plaisance come from similar backgrounds, raised in conservative families on the bayou. A native of Chauvin, Authement was raised in a Baptist household. She became interested in the occult as a teenager when she saw a movie about Haitian voodoo.

Plaisance came from Lockport and Leeville, and at 13 had a near-death experience after accidentally hitting his head on a pipe while playing tag on bicycles. He said his experience was only explained after researching the occult.

He has a history of defending his beliefs. In 2000, as the owner of a witchcraft museum in Houma, he won a battle to repeal a 30-year-old city ordinance that banned fortune-telling and palm reading.

Authement and Plaisance spoke against a similar 2007 Livingston Parish ordinance that a federal judge ruled was unconstitutional in 2008.

“Even though hostility toward what they do is always going to be there, they do not shirk being very public, and this has gained much respect from many of the (spiritualists in south Louisiana),” Robert McNichol, a longtime friend of the couple, said in an email interview. “And the community at large is well aware of their good standing within the spiritual community.”

When Authement opened her first small shop in Walker in 2001, she practiced as a Wiccan, and, looking back, she said she was naive about the reception the shop would receive.

“I’m opening this shop, and it’s going to be spiritual and blah, blah, blah,” she said during an interview in November. “It was a shock to my system.”

The threats’ contents shocked her the most.

“You cannot burn people at the stake,” she told The Advocate in 2001. “This is not the 1600s.”

After closing in Walker, she commuted from Livingston Parish to New Orleans to open a shop in the French Quarter, which shared space with a museum run by Plaisance, who had previously operated an occult store in Houma called Crossroads. Each was married with a child at the time, but the two became close friends, they said, before closing the shop and museum just before Hurricane Katrina hit.

While Authement wanted to open a shop closer to home, she felt the psychological wounds from her previous experience were still fresh, and with her son in high school at the time, she decided against it. Then Authement went through what she called a “very bad divorce,” and found another line of work as an emergency medical technician — which would eventually lead her back to the occult business.

Working a “power truck” as an EMT, Authement said she covered a large area and saw a great deal of pain and death.

“That truck worked a lot of emergencies, a lot of drowning, children, car accidents, a lot of things you don’t want to see,” Authement said.

The effects of the “spirits of the dead” showed on her co-workers, she said, and she began to counsel them to carry a talisman, an object or necklace that could protect them. Authement also taught them to take spiritual cleansing baths in natron, a salt with several ancient purposes, or Florida water, a water, alcohol and citrus mixture, she said.

Counseling her co-workers and feeling burned out from three years of working on ambulances, Authement was emboldened to try opening an occult store again.

Last fall, Authement and Plaisance opened Lucky 13 Curio next to their home on three acres in rural Livingston Parish. They never even placed a sign in front of the tiny 10-foot-by-15-foot store, relying on word of mouth in the south Louisiana occult community.

In late November, a dispute with their landlord over a lease-to-own agreement led them to close the shop. Around Christmas, they moved to Raceland when Plaisance’s job with a retail store transferred to Houma.

A week after opening in early May, Authement spent the afternoon on the shop’s back porch, making traditional voodoo dolls from sticks and moss covered in cloth with her younger sister. They assembled the brightly colored dolls, then sewed and glued the pieces together. A pale blue spirit bottle used in seances stood on a rail of the porch behind them.

Lucky 13 shares the store with Plaisance’s mother, who sells handmade dolls.

“It’s nice to have family here to help,” Authement said. “You can’t beat the whole family.”

Lucky 13 Curio sells supplies and books for various spiritual pursuits. There are Catholic prayer cards and candles, automatic writing kits and tarot cards. Authement said she wants all sorts of customers to feel comfortable there instead of focusing on one particular sect of the occult.

So far, customers have learned about the store through word-of-mouth and the Internet via the store’s Facebook page or blog.

“We’re kind of like this little world over here,” Authement said. “We stay to ourselves. Everything is word of mouth. We’re not a freak show or anything. We have friends that come over and hang out and visit like everyone else. We’re just very spiritual people.”

When cleaning out the back of the old home that serves as their shop, Plaisance began digging through his great-grandmother’s dresser. A Cajun traiteur in the early 20th century, she was a faith healer. Inside her dresser they found a book called “Initiation into Conjuring” from the 1800s full of recipes for potions and oils.

“All the recipes, I’ve never seen before,” Plaisance said, gingerly turning the pages of the book. “Where my great-grandmother got this, I’ll never know.”

Over the months, while they remodeled the old wooden home to fit their business, Authement reported a couple of run-ins with ghosts. But, she said, nearly every place she has worked has been haunted.

“This one’s a good haunted,” Plaisance said.

Customers in Lafourche Parish, where families still pass down Cajun folktales on front porches, desire a different array of goods, she said.

“They want the spirit bottles,” she said. “They want the homemade gris-gris bags and the voodoo dolls and things like that. These people, bingo and gambling mean a lot to them, so they want to make sure they’ve got their little poppets and dolls with them.”

After years away from the business, then the short-lived store she opened last year, she finally feels like she is in the right place.

“I think we’re more welcomed in this area. I really, really do,” Authement said. “Baton Rouge and Livingston, it’s different. It’s a different type of people (in Lafourche Parish). They believe in the old folk medicines and the old things that worked for them back then. There is a lot of tradition.”