Dr. John Montanee
A New Orleans Voodoo Grimoire
The Superposition of Dr. Jean
A Handwriting Investigation
© 2014 Denise Alvarado
My experiences with Dr. Jean began many years ago when I was still a teenager. But, it wasn’t until recently that I realized who this person was who made himself available to me for advice and guidance during a time in my life when I needed it very much.
He was someone I would see walking the park; he was an elderly man, gray hair, and usually alone; although, sometimes I would see him sitting on a park bench or standing beneath a tree speaking to someone one on one. There was something about him that drew me to him. I think part of it was that I thought he was homeless; yet, he always seemed okay, despite living on some of the harshest streets in America. I left him offerings of food on a number of occasions; I knew where he spent time, and behind a bank was one such place. So, during holidays I would make him up a plate and leave it there for him.
Once, I mustered up enough courage to approach him. It was 1977 at the time and I had just gotten back from Europe where I had experienced a life changing event. I felt lost and alone. I had met someone who would turn out to be the worst relationship of my life and who was trying to impose an extreme view of what it meant to live life as a Christian. When I approached him, I introduced myself. He smiled and I asked him if we could talk. He nodded affirmatively, and we talked for a while. I shared with him what was going on in my life and told him I was looking to make sense of it all. He said life is full of mysteries, and it is our life experiences that unlock the mysteries for us. I remember him speaking about faith, and walking through life in faith that the unseen spirits would take care of me. Other than that I don’t remember the content of our conversation, it was so long ago. But I can say that he was as real as anyone else I have spoken to on this physical plane.
When we were done talking, I thanked him and turned to walk away. Then, I remembered I hadn’t even asked him his name, so I stopped and turned around and said, “I’m sorry, I never even asked you your name.” He said, “They call me John.”
I walked back to my car, got in and began driving away in the opposite direction from where we were. About two blocks in the opposite direction from where I had left John standing, there he was, walking towards me. I thought to myself, that’s John! But I just left him back there, how could he be two blocks away when he was back there? But that was him and there he was, obviously in two places at the same time. It blew my mind. It was at that moment I knew I had not been talking to a man but with the spirit of a man, a very special man, and his name was John.
Was this John the Doctor Jean Montenee?
According to quantum physics, microscopic systems can be in two or more places at the same time, a principle called superposition aka quantum weirdness. And while it has been discovered since 1977 that atoms and electrons can be in two places at one time, and even molecules in plants and cells in birds share this characteristic, it has yet to be discovered as a trait in human beings. But this wasn’t quantum physics – or was it? Whatever it was, I never forgot the experience.
Many, many years later I was again going through something very traumatic that was playing out in the public arena. Without going into details, he made himself known to my perpetrator in a way that I would certainly recognize it was him. And, he was showing up to me in a variety of ways: I had published an article about him by Alyne Pustanio, someone had special-ordered an altar doll of him, Louie Martinié had told me he had located his grave site, and someone had sent me an obscure video about the Widow Paris in which he played a prominent character in the storyline. In short, a multitude of coincidental things happened during a short span of time where Doctor Jean’s presence was amplified.
All of these things made me reflect back to my experience those many moons ago in New Orleans when I met that mystical John who could be in more than one place at one time, the one who told me to have faith that the spirits would take care of me and that my life experiences would unlock the mysteries for me. It was at this time that I put two and two together; that John then was the same Jean that lived in the 1800s and the same Jean that is being elevated today, in New Orleans, in this book, by the drummers and the singers and the holders of the mysteries of New Orleans Voudou. I understand now that what is seemingly impossible is very possible, and when we welcome Doctor Jean Montenee, he will come.
Getting to Know Him
Not much is known about Doctor Jean, and I want to know more about him. Other than the infamous obituary written by Lafcadio Hearn called “Last of the Voudous,” there is very little else, with the exception of the work by Louie Martinié. In the book A Priest’s Head, a Drummer’s Hands, there is a prayer to Dr. Jean and an image of a document with his signature on it. I got the idea to try a rather unorthodox method of discovering more information about him. I decided to analyze his handwriting.
Handwriting analysis is a powerful tool for learning about yourself and other people. With a mere signature, we can see what makes a person tick, determine their personality characteristics, and evaluate what potential obstacles stand in their way. Handwriting analysis is routinely used as a compatibility tool for relationships and as a forensic tool for developing criminal profiles and cracking forgery cases. When done correctly, it can be a fabulous supplemental tool for enhancing psychic readings and divinations as well.
Most graphologists reject the application of handwriting analysis to the supernatural and the occult. What I am suggesting here is not the false presentation of graphology as some sort of mystical, psychic gift or method of fortune-telling. I am suggesting that it can be used as a practical tool for enhancing and confirming or disconfirming information received through more traditional methods. If it works for living people, why can’t it work for someone who has passed?
There are some basic ways to interpret styles, slants, loops, sizes and spaces in signatures and handwriting samples that reveal truths about personality and character. This is because humans project themselves in everything they do. Handwriting is just an extension of the brain and if you know what to look for, you can get a pretty good idea about how a person ticks from observing how they sign their name. According to handwriting analyst Gary Thomas, in addition to creating a complete personality profile from a handwriting sample, you can learn a slew of other things about a person, such as their health issues, morality, past experiences, hidden talents, and mental problems. This type of information lends itself perfectly to spiritual work. I became more and more excited the more I thought about trying this method to confirm what is known and not known about Doctor Jean. Doctor Jean Montanee (Montanet) aka Doctor John, Bayou John, and a slew of versions on a name theme, is the original gris gris man of New Orleans. He is said to have mentored Marie Laveaux in the art of gris gris. He is known to have been quite wealthy at one point with a thriving business as a rootdoctor specializing in herbal remedies and gris gris. Unfortunately, he was not well-schooled in the ways of business legalities, and he was eventually tricked into creating and signing documents that literally gave away all of his property, leaving him penniless.
In a rare document that appeared in Louis Martinié’s (2010) A Priest’s Head, A Drummer’s Hands, New Orleans Voodoo: An Order of Service (also appearing in this book on pages 44 and 46), we have a great sample of his signature at the very bottom. We can analyze the sample and gain a glimpse into aspects of his character that perhaps have yet to be revealed, or may simply reinforce what is already thought to be true about him.
In reality, little is known about Doctor Jean. He is said to have been charismatic, intelligent and driven with an entrepreneurial spirit. Does his handwriting confirm these observations?
Pressure: While it’s difficult to tell for sure from the sample, it appears Doctor John wrote with average to heavy pressure. The amount of pressure applied when a person writes is an indicator of emotional energy. Writers with heavy pressure are usually highly successful. This handwriting sample from Doctor John reveals a person with a high energy level and a propensity for success. This seems to be consistent with what we know about his life.
Baseline: A normal baseline is slightly wavy, almost straight but not perfectly so. This indicates someone with an even temperament who is emotionally stable and grounded. In someone who survived slavery, this characteristic would be evidence of resiliency.
Slant: A right slant indicates a person who is emotional, caring, warm and outgoing and their lives are governed by their hearts as opposed to their heads. From the little that has been written about Doctor John, we know he was quite gregarious, possessed a magnetic personality and had a big heart. It is said that Doctor John regularly distributed gumbo and jambalaya to the poor, and continued this act of kindness throughout his life – during the height of his success, as well as during his lowest of lows.
By some accounts, he was not a very trusting person, particularly of Whites (not surprising). As the story goes, however, he asked a friend of his to teach him how to read and write with the thought that he would be able to conduct business with confidence. Some say that once he learned how to sign his name, he was signing everything put in front of him without understanding what it actually meant to sign something. This type of behavior could be driven by trust in those who he was reportedly doing business with. Perhaps it was simple ignorance. Or, it could be fueled by a sense of grandiosity – “showing off,” as it were. Whatever the reason, when it was noticed that he was signing all kinds of things and making all kinds of deals, some unscrupulous individuals took advantage of him and used this behavior in the orchestration of his downfall. Signing away most of his fortune coupled with a reported fondness for gambling eventually left him penniless, or so it is said.
Size: The oversized first letter of his signature, presumably a “J”, shows Doctor Jean took great pride in his family. It also indicates a sense of importance or “larger than life” life. We know that Doctor Jean reportedly had 15 wives, married according to traditional African ritual by some reports; others say he procured his wives by purchasing them as slaves. As he was a freeman, he was able to own slaves legally.
Shape: The shape of Doctor Jean’s signature is quite interesting and rather flamboyant. The first letter is not only large, it is also circular. Large first letters show a strong desire to appear in public and a need to be in control. Large letters written in an original style also signify an innovative personality and someone who possesses strong leadership abilities.
Legibility: Dr. Jean’s signature is not very legible. This may be because he wasn’t someone who wrote his whole life and only learned to sign his name as an adult. From the sample, my educated guess is that he signed his name Jean – likely using the French spelling of John given he was in New Orleans at a time when French was the dominant language. But, the image is not clearly legible by any stretch of the imagination. When someone signs an important document illegibly, it could be construed that they do not consider the signature to be of much importance and signing their name is purely a formality with little meaning. The actual spoken agreement is important, not the signature on a piece of paper. I cannot say with certainty that this is the case with Dr. Jean, but I rather suspect it is not far from the truth.
Placement of the signature: Signing a document in the middle, as opposed to on the left or right side, indicates someone who wants to be noticed as important. Dr. Jean signed his name pretty close to the middle of the document, and given other revelations about his self-image and sense of self-importance, it is consistent with the profile developed.
Summary of Dr. Jean’s Personality Profile
Before I draw my picture of Dr. Jean, it is only fair to disclose that I am highly trained in psychological projective testing and diagnostics, and this background no doubt informs my suggested profile. Still, it is the information I observed from his signature that forms the basis of the profile.
After examining Dr. Jean’s signature, I suggest that he was a driven and industrious man, who had a desire to not only do well and adjust to the events of his life - as someone who was stolen, sold as a slave and forcibly moved to a different country (Cuba) as a result – but, to do exceedingly well. He no doubt suffered from terrible trauma, and his way of dealing with it was to master whatever task it was he was told to do. It is said he was either a Bambaran prince or the son of a Bambaran prince, and if this is the case, the effect on him, his ego, and his sense of importance would have been devastating on a different level than someone who was not a leader with a huge responsibility to his community. I am not suggesting that his trauma would be more than another African stolen from their family and homeland, just different with an additional layer.
Sometimes when a person becomes legendary they cease to be human beings and instead become the legend themselves. Dr. Jean is remembered according to his legend, as a powerful gris gris man who was rich, got a lot of women and who was the teacher of Marie Laveaux. The whole context of the trauma of the Diaspora is left completely out of his-story, and this is not only unfortunate, but it is highly disrespectful. My belief is that his goal from the onset of becoming a slave would have been to reclaim his personal power and power within the community (whatever community he ended up in), and to do so using his strength and charisma. This internal fortitude was enough to achieve his eventual freedom from slavery; it is said that his West Indian master taught him to be an excellent cook and grew quite fond of him, and eventually gave him the gift of freedom. As a result, Dr. Jean left Cuba to be a cook on a ship and eventually ended up in New Orleans where these characteristics of strength, charisma and fortitude landed him as a gang leader of cotton rollers. Within that community, he began to be known for his apparent supernatural powers and fortune telling abilities. This set the tone for his eventual great success in New Orleans. All through the various narratives of his-story, we can see his ability to transcend the normal performance of a given task and exceed all expectations.
Dr. Jean was likely a man who liked to make grand entrances in an effort to make his presence known. But, he more than likely retreated from this showy demeanor to a very warm and gregarious human being. People probably liked him more than not and he likely had many friends, and at least as many acquaintances. He would have been someone who would have started a family as soon as possible and given the culture from which he came, would likely have had more than one wife and many children. Family would have been very important to him and he would have taken his role as provider very seriously – yet another mechanism to drive his entrepreneurial spirit.
In addition to being successful in his various jobs and as a provider, he would have taken his role as a leader of the Voudous quite seriously, as well. As gris gris is a religiomagical system originating in Senegal and practiced by the priests, it makes perfect sense that he would have brought knowledge of the tradition with him to New Orleans. Gris gris is one of the most unique characteristics of New Orleans Voudou and a tradition that persists to this day - his contribution to the New Orleans religion is unsurpassed. He expected to be noticed and he was, as his legacy lives on in the heart of the Mysteries and can be heard and felt in the beat of every drum.
Beyond his need for recognition and the importance of his role in the development of New Orleans Voudou as we know it today, he would have also been a great healer. He was connected to others on a personal level and would have had a genuine concern for their wellbeing. He would have helped people who asked, and would have also figured out how to make money doing the very thing that created an air of mystique around him. Thanks to Dr. Jean and Marie Laveaux, New Orleans Voudou and Hoodoo continues to afford many people the opportunity to make a living today, as it did in the past.
Not much was ever written about Dr. Jean from firsthand accounts, at least that I am aware of. The most well-known piece of written literature was his obituary written by Lafcadio Hearn in 1885. Here is an excerpt of his obituary from An American Miscellany, vol. II, (1924) originally published in Harper’s weekly, November 7th, 1885:
In the death of Jean Montanet, at the age of nearly a hundred years, New Orleans lost, at the end of August, the most extraordinary African character that ever gained celebrity within her limits. Jean Montanet, or Jean La Ficelle, or Jean Latanié, or Jean Racine, or Jean Grisgris, or Jean Macaque, or Jean Bayou, or “Voudoo John,” or “Bayou John,” or “Doctor John” might well have been termed “The Last of the Voudoos”; not that the strange association with which he was affiliated has ceased to exist with his death, but that he was the last really important figure of a long line of wizards or witches whose African titles were recognized, and who exercised an influence over the colored population. Swarthy occultists will doubtless continue to elect their “queens” and high-priests through years to come, but the influence of the public school is gradually dissipating all faith in witchcraft, and no black hierophant now remains capable of manifesting such mystic knowledge or of inspiring such respect as Voudoo John exhibited and compelled. There will never be another “Rose,” another “Marie,” much less another Jean Bayou.
It may reasonably be doubted whether any other Negro of African birth who lived in the South had a more extraordinary career than that of Jean Montanet. He was a native of Senegal, and claimed to have been a prince’s son, in proof of which he was wont to call attention to a number of parallel scars on his cheek, extending in curves from the edge of either temple to the corner of the lips. This fact seems to me partly confirmatory of his statement, as Berenger-Feraud dwells at some length on the fact that the Bambaras, who are probably the finest Negro race in Senegal, all wear such disfigurations. The scars are made by gashing the cheeks during infancy, and are considered a sign of race. Three parallel scars mark the freemen of the tribe; four distinguish their captives or slaves. Now Jean’s face had, I am told, three scars, which would prove him a free-born Bambara, or at least a member of some free tribe allied to the Bambaras, and living upon their territory. At all events, Jean possessed physical characteristics answering to those by which the French ethnologists in Senegal distinguish the Bambaras. He was of middle height, very strongly built, with broad shoulders, well-developed muscles, an inky black skin, retreating forehead, small bright eyes, a very flat nose, and a woolly beard, gray only during the last few years of his long life. He had a resonant voice and a very authoritative manner…
The picture Hearn paints of Dr. Jean is consistent with the characteristics exhibited in his signature. While certain aspects are more than likely exaggerated in true Lafcadio Hearn style, the underlying truth is there. Dr. Jean was a strong, successful and highly influential man who has since risen to the status of loa in the very religion he helped to create. Dr. Jean Montanee is the Father of New Orleans Voodoo.
Gardner, R. (2002). Instant Handwriting Analysis: A Key to Personal Success (1st ed.), Llewellyn Publications.
Martinié, L. (2010). A Priest’s Head, A Drummer’s Hands: New Orleans Voodoo; Order of Service. Black Moon Publishing.
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