When ‘Coven’ was announced as the subtitle of American Horror Story’s third season, a certain disquisitive energy began to stir. American Horror Story – the FX television series created so that each season is its own miniseries – had already been widely popular in the first two seasons.
But this time around it was the subject matter, as well as its setting, that piqued the interest of a few new specific groups of people as well: witches, voodoo practitioners, and New Orleans residents. And especially when these elements are all combined; certain viewers will be watching to make sure it’s done right.
Witchcraft and voodoo are not only a part of the history in New Orleans, but also a prominent part of its culture. Residents and visitors alike either find these elements spooky, or they find comfort in that enigmatic vibe. Some people look forward to Christmas all year long, but there are some of us who are way more excited about Halloween; New Orleans is one of those rare places where you’ll feel at home if everywhere else kind of makes you feel like a misfit.
And this is why a Halloween-time Witches’ Ball fits into life in New Orleans just as well as jazz and humidity. Scheduled this year for Saturday, October 26, at the baronial Van Benthuysen – Elms Mansion on St. Charles, the New Orleans Witches’ Ball gains popularity and notoriety each year since its 2011 formation.
“It all started during Halloween 2010 when I attended a local vampire ball,” explains New Orleans Witches’ Ball creator and coordinator Kim Cairelle Perilloux, “We have amazing events down here that are fun and fabulous, but as I stood there in my witch costume looking around at a sea of vampires, I realized that none of those events filled the need I had for a true Samhain celebration with ‘my people.’”
“I wanted magic, ritual, beauty and a way to pay homage to the Ancestors. I announced that night to my friends that there would be a 2011 New Orleans Witches' Ball, that I would make it happen! I knew from the get-go that I wanted it be elegant and upscale, beautiful, and open to every one of all paths, even non-witches. Ritual would be an integral part of the evening and most importantly, there would be a charity component in the form of a silent auction. I wanted a true New Orleans Ball for Witches coupled with the opportunity to give back to the community. So, I got together a small group of friends to help me brainstorm and it just blossomed from there.”
Although witches’ balls are also held in places like Salem, Massachusetts and New York City, what makes a witches’ ball in New Orleans so right for Perilloux?
“New Orleans is made for celebrating. We party for pretty much everything and it was so easy to do this here. People didn't bat an eyelash when I mentioned my plans to start the NOWB. As far as the theme in relation to the city, the connection really lies in the magic that we have here, in the way we celebrate, in the way we honor our Beloved Dead. The City of New Orleans is the best place ever for a Samhain celebration! I've stuck with very witchy or goth-type themes thus far, but I'm sure one year in the future we'll cater to having a very New Orleans theme.”
Everyone knows that things rarely ever run smoothly, especially when planning something new or big – or let alone both. What were some of the challenges in organizing the first Witches’ Ball?
“The biggest challenge the first year was finding a venue,” Perilloux exclaims. “I knew what I had in mind in regard to vibe and aesthetics, and we are so fortunate to have found the Elms Mansion. From the beginning they've been incredible, very open-minded to the idea of a huge cackle of witches having a party and inviting dead people to join us, and I can't imagine us being any place else! I can't give them enough kudos.”
“Budgeting was the second challenge. It's frightening to put a five-figure budget in place and have to back that up with personal funds if things don't work out with ticket sales. Thankfully I've been very fortunate thus far that things have gone along mostly as I imagined them to go. I'm always on a very tight budget so it can be a juggle at times to bring to fruition the vision I have for that year but somehow it all seems to fall into place.”
And was Perilloux surprised at all by the response to the Witches’ Ball becoming a real event?
“You know, I really was surprised. I was so worried the first year about getting 150 people interested enough to come to my witchy party and by the time the event rolled around I was having to turn people away. It's been the same each year since. We always sell out. I think New Orleans herself is a big draw - most everyone wants to visit - and that, coupled with the idea of attending a true Witches' Ball, really set it in motion.”
Each year’s Ball has a specific theme – this year’s being Carnivale. What would Perilloux say to someone who's interested in coming to this year's Ball?
“Each year we try to come up with a theme that is fun, has a distinct dress/costume flavor, and that we can incorporate into the overall feel of the event, so I'd say put on your finest party clothes and come on down because you will have a great time!”
And what have the past motifs entailed?
“Because my original idea for themes was to use the various Goddesses as a base and incorporate one per year into a theme, our first was ‘Persephone's Descent which of course hints at her reign as Queen of the Underworld (while we're topside having winter). It was a beautiful theme and we had a lot of fun with it. After that, I just couldn't get the thought of the Victorian era out of my mind, with all its spiritualist tones - séances, curiosity cabinets, potions and more - and so we had ‘Nox Victoriana’ in 2012 and it was a blast. This year was a bit of a struggle because we'd had one idea and it just didn't come together, and then I remembered that I really wanted to do a carnival/gypsy-type theme, and so for 2013 we have ‘Carnivale du Noir.’ I really can't pick a favorite year because each of them has been fun in its own way and has been a blast to plan. We've already started planning for 2014 and I'm so excited about it, and I've already got 2015 and 2016 brewing too,” proclaims Perilloux enthusiastically.
“I've got themes lined up for the next several years,” she laughs, “Without giving away too much right now, I know that we will be doing a more goth-y rock theme in 2014 and I can't wait. Halloween actually – October 31st - is our date for 2015 and that's going to be a lot of witchy fun. Eventually I think I might like to expand the event so that we can host more people - we sell out every year now - and of course that requires a bit more funding. Also, since our main focus since day one has included a strong philanthropic mindset, I'm in the process now of incorporating a non-profit called the ‘New Orleans Black Hat Society’ which will operate under the mantra of ‘Good Witches Doing Good Works.’ We like to have a good time but we also like to do good things for those in need. I'm super proud of that aspect of things, and once the New Orleans Black Hat Society is in full swing, the New Orleans Witches' Ball will become our official fundraiser. It's exciting times here! I'm really happy about it and I think the non-profit will take the New Orleans Witches’ Ball to a whole new level”
With what must be a daunting planning process for the New Orleans Witches’ Ball, what is it that makes Perilloux want to do it all again the following year?
“It is super crazy and stressful! My volunteers pretty much know on event night that I'll have a brief stress-induced crying jag in our dressing room before the gates open, although I must admit to that possibly being related to my corset,” she chuckles, “Two things drive me to repeat this madness year after year. First, seeing how people react when they walk through the front door of the Elms Mansion is really inspirational and makes all the craziness worth it. Their eyes light up. They're excited. They've crossed through a portal of sorts and have turned into magical beings. So many of them put a lot of time and effort into their attire, and they pay good money for a ticket so it is always my goal that each person be transported into a truly unforgettable experience. Second, I know for a fact that witches are some of the most generous people ever. They care about their communities and their world, and they want the opportunity to selflessly contribute to charitable causes and to make a real difference. Our Silent Auction offers that to them and it's an added benefit that it just so happens at a really great event. It really makes me so happy to see all the donations arriving for each year, given by talented people who believe in our vision, and then to see all the witches bidding on those things is truly a delight. They get something awesome and in the process are doing something awesome at the same time. Once the glitter and hype from the event has settled, I get to sit down and tally up the generosity, then write a check that sends all that good energy and intent to those in need. It really is a win/win for me.”
Many of the tickets for the 2013 New Orleans Witches’ Ball are already gone, but not all!
And if you can’t make it to this year’s event it’s never too early to begin planning your regalia for next year.