Round three. In regards to my narative poem of pridigiuos length, we looked at two of the three main characters SYTH and CROW. Now comes the third…or maybe the first, because she really gets the story rolling (well, the prologue gets the story going…but she starts the main story after that). Post prologue, the story’s action begins with a muse (Crow) summoned by a voodoo priestess in the acid burn streets of a city…
“…my past power
Was purchased by no compact with they crew,
But by superior science – penance, daring,
And length of watching, strength of mind, and skill
In knowledge of our Fathers”
-Lord Byron, Manfred, 3.4 112-17
What’s in a Name?
“Mama Nancy,” where for art this name? Aunt Nancy is an obscure figure from Vodou lore (and yet she pops up in America, Jamaica, Africa, and other places I’m sure). She is a spider-woman figure associated with arachnids and weaving. The name, “Aunt Nancy” comes from a corrupted translation of “Anansi,” a spider god from West Africa – a clever trickster god who often defeats his enemies through trickery and wit.
So now I have a nifty name. I like how closely Mama Nancy (if you run it all together) sounds like “necromancy” (magic over the dead) or “onieromancy” (magic over dreams). More importantly it gives me a motif: spiders.
I feel confident in writing a strong, voodoo priestess character. But…how do I make her different than say, every other old voodoo woman ever written in any movie or novel? I take that name and that motif and I let it shape her, define her.
First of all, she is tall, and thin (ever notice how old voodoo women are always plump?). She has long, flexible limbs (she’s very lithe for her age), with long, spindly fingers. Her fingers never stop moving, they always seem to be in creeping motion (like spider legs?). She is likely a very tactile person.
Webs…those are meticulous. Mama Nancy is very meticulous, very careful, very far thinking. The reader will not know just how meticulous she is until the very last chapter (the epilogue, in fact) and when I let you step back far enough to glimpse her whole grand web.
Oral history intrigues me. Urban legends are another form of that. The inner city landscape that Nancy exists in is full of these and she is at the center of much of it. She is a figure of urban legend and a complicated mythos. People know to come to her. Ice killer gang bangers know not to antagonize her. Story is sometimes more powerful than magic and Mama Nancy knows this. As such, she has acquired a plethora of names along the way:
-Mama Spex: Kids think this is for the purple shades she wears. Older folk will whisper to ya (but not too loud) that its actually short for “Specter.” Further whispers inform you that Mama Nancy can speak to the dead, speak for the dead, and, sometimes, they walk for her. Nancy only shrugs, if asked.
-Aunt Nancy: Nancy is also a weaver, and very good at her art. The children call her Aunt Nancy, after the spider woman. She takes in a handful of children, off the streets, and teaches them her art, gives them a skill by which they can help feed themselves later on. [This idea is based, primarily, on a woman I met in Africa. Her name was Mama Tie-dye. Her art was tie-dye – she made amazing pictures and art and clothing (things I never thought you could do with tie-dye). She would take in children from the very poor city and teach them the art…cause there are always rich tourists around to bye. I wish I had bought more.]
-Mama Lily: She lovingly grows the white flowers and is said to use them in rituals involving death.
-Mama Bone-Digger: Strung together, this nickname sounds too much like a very bad word. No one, NO ONE, not even the most vicious street thug in the area is willing to take that chance, not with her in ear shot, and sometimes not even outside that. There is a story about a guy who did though. He won’t be missed…
-Kahil Gibran, The Broken Wings
Image of a Mambo
As said above, she is tall and thin with long limbs and spindly fingers that don’t stop. A long web of silver hair falls over her shoulders, from out the wide brimmed, nearly shapeless, nearly colorless hat she wears. She also dons a set of purple shades – the right lens is popped out when she is channeling Papa Ghedi (showing that she is seeing into the physical and the spiritual worlds). Much of her clothing was woven by herself, various symbols stitched in (crosses, skulls, spiders, webs, etc.). Her skin is the color of creamed coffee and her demeanor ranges from sugary and sweet, to bitter and murcky. She is one of those people who’s age is a mystery – you’d be hard pressed to guess.
-Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, “Hoodoo Lady Blues”