But priestess Ava Kay Jones is trying to stay neutral, and she remains angry at the Saints for a tiff before a game with the Rams last month.

Football and faith long have mingled. Players point to the heavens after scoring touchdowns and after games drop to their knees in prayer.

Leave it to this city, which cozies up to its quirky, mysterious side like its red beans smother rice, to come up with a slant on this pattern.

In a city where some Saints fans might be pulling more for the New England Patriots than the Rams, a hated divisional rival, a voodoo priestess is not against the Rams.

Actually, priestess Ava Kay Jones also is pulling for the Patriots. She insists that she is neutral. But the priestess has sensed good vibrations from the Rams. And for that, the Rams owe the Saints - if you believe in voodoo. Since Jones and the Saints got into a snit in December, Jones has been praying and cheering for the Rams.

"I believe, as a whole, the Rams have spiritually inclined people on their team," said Jones, almost as busy this week as the players fielding questions from reporters. "They're allowing the power of God to work through them more than the Saints were allowing the power of God."

Jones is standing in the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. She walks by shelves of scented candles, voodoo dolls and mojo balls into a room with beads dangling at the doorway and an altar crowded with religious statues, a skull and a bottle of spirits.

The young-looking Jones won't give her age. She says only that she is the mother of a 30-year-old and has a grandson. She is dressed in white, from her wrapped hair to her socks. She is animated, jumping off the couch often to demonstrate how she had been thrust reluctantly into the center of a controversy in New Orleans involving football, her faith and allegedly bad faith.

A longtime Catholic and a 25-year practitioner of voodoo, Jones was ask ed by the Saints in 2000 to help them to reverse a historic skid. The team had no playoff victories in its 34 seasons, never mind only a handful of winning seasons in that time. Superstitious locals speculated the team's unlucky run is tied to the Superdome being built atop a burial ground, displeasing the old spirits who still inhabit the space.

Jones came. She blessed. She asked the ancestors under the dome "not to work against us but work with us."

The Saints conquered the Rams that day and won their division. "The energy was wonderful," said Jones, whose priestly prowess made the national news.

Last month, the Saints came knocking again for help with a game against the Rams. The event was billed by its promoters as "Who Dat Gris-Gris?" What Jones says she didn't know is that 70,000 fliers had been handed out to fans before the game Dec. 17. The fliers referred to gris-gris as a hex, a spell and a jinx. To Jones, the fliers were blasphemous. With all that bad energy, she said, no wonder the Saints lost.

When she found out, Jones was incensed. Jones' version of voodoo, a synthesis of Catholicism and the beliefs of slaves from Africa, never involves the practice of black arts. That's Hollywood, she scoffed. She says she issues blessings rather than curses. Jones fills her mojo or gris-gris bags with positive energy from such things as rose petals and sage. Her voodoo dolls have no stickpins.

The team and organizers of the latest promotion have denied they deliberately twisted Jones' words, saying the fliers should have been scrutinized better.

"I'm gun-shy about the Saints now," Jones said. "They didn't have enough sense to appreciate what I gave them."

A law-school graduate, the priestess is thinking about taking the matter to a higher authority. To court.

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