Voodoo Priestess

Her name sounds like the answers to a multiple-choice question on a catechism quiz, but the Reverend Doctor Lady Bishop swears she's all of the above. She is America's premier voodoo priestess, a messenger of a mélange of disciplines including black magic and Mormonism who's here, she explains, to "work with the sin-sick souls that are oppressed, depressed or just in a mess."

The Reverend's theme song, "I Shall Not Be Moved," refers not to her 380-pound frame, but to her personal ministry, which began in Catholic school in the 1950s, where the other kids called her Madame and gave her lunch money to tell their fortunes. She's recently hauled her special gifts — which have taken her from Haiti to Cleveland, and landed her guest spots on Donahue and Larry King Live — to the Valley, where she hopes to heal some wasted souls and read a few palms on the side.

We meet, of course, at the Voodoo Lounge inside Scottsdale's Redfish restaurant, where the former Jo Ann Jennings sips cocoa and occasionally recites Scripture. She's wearing a skullcap dressed in dangling seashells that clink interminably as she talks. And talks. And talks. Ask the Reverend Doctor what time it is, and she's likely to begin her answer with a dissertation on the invention of the sundial. During her hours-long, always-fascinating monologue, the 52-year-old Doctor Lady tells me "more about voodoo than anyone has ever revealed before."

New Times: You're the Reverend Doctor Lady Bishop. You appear to be a lady, but how can you be both a reverend and a bishop?

Reverend: I have a ministry, which makes me a reverend. I'm the bishop of my own church, The Universal Chapel of True and Believing Prayer. And I have an honorary doctorate of Divinity from the Salvation Church and Gospel Ministry.

NT: And you got your name from a roadhouse madam.

Reverend: Her name was Lady Bishop, and she ran an after-hours house in Seaside, California. She was anything but a lady, and she wasn't a bishop, but I loved her name and I decided to make it famous.

NT: According to your media kit, you are America's premier voodoo priestess and an internationally known seer.

Reverend: Voodoo was under the table until 1988, so Phil Donahue had me come on his show that year and he introduced me as America's premier voodoo priestess. So he's the one who gave me that title.

NT: If you're a seer, can you tell me things about myself?

Reverend: Yes. Give me your hands. (Peers into my palms.) I see something about Spain. What does Spain mean to you?

NT: Nothing. Never been there.

Reverend: You've been traveling on three different paths. You need to start reading Matthew Chapter 6. You have a very long lifeline there.

NT: No I don't. Look again. My lifeline is so short, I should have died a month ago.

Reverend: It says in your palm that you're in conflict with your religion.

NT: I'm an atheist.

Reverend: So you used to be Catholic. Did those priests do anything funny to you?

NT: No. I read that you're Catholic, yet you promote the Book of Mormon.

Reverend: I'm a devout Vatican One Traditional Latin Roman Catholic, but I go to the Mormon Church every Sunday. My Mormon books are just as worn as my Bibles. The Mormons don't take any foolishness, and they have the most positive and truest church. If I had my druthers, I'd be Mormon.

NT: What is voodoo? Can you teach me how to make little dolls that I can stick pins into?

Reverend: Yes, I can show you that, but I prefer not to. That's witchcraft, Satanism. Sometimes you have to use black magic rituals to help get people out of the situations they're in. It's a thin line between voodoo and black magic, but I don't do unholy combinations. I won't do anything that will make me lose my soul or my military ID card.

NT: Where does one go to learn voodoo?

Reverend: I went to Haiti. I was living in Pontiac, Michigan, at the time, and it was hard to find any voodoo teachers there. In Haiti I'm called a forehead woman, that's F-O-R-E, which means a woman that's got more than one head, who can help bring finances to you with special baths and such.

NT: Maybe you could do a late-night infomercial about that.

Reverend: I could have had a talk show, I could have had those 900 numbers like Miss Cleo had. But I don't like to do anything where I have to exercise my brain. They've been trying to get me to write a book for many years.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela