Marie Laveau

Voudou Queen of New Orleans


I can’t remember where I found this but here ya go. If you know please let me know and I will share it if they are willing.


How are legends made? One whisper at a time. Or at least such seems to be the case with New Orleans’ most famous practitioner of Voodoo, Marie Laveau. Her name is known worldwide and, while verifiable facts of her life are scarce at best, there is no shortage of stories about the woman New Orleans came to both fear and love.
Marie Laveau or Marie Laveaux?
While the difference of a mere “X” added or subtracted from a name might seem trivial that one letter represents a larger pattern in Marie Laveau’s life. That is, no one can seem to agree on even one fact of it.
Some accounts put Marie’s birth in 1783, 1793 or 94, or in March of 1801. Likewise, at her death, some put her age at 98 while others maintained she was far younger. Whenever she was born, and whatever her age when she died, the things that are known about her are these: she was a Roman Catholic and a Voodoo Priestess. She was a free woman of color, owned slaves, and nursed the sick during several outbreaks of yellow fever in New Orleans throughout the 1800s. She had many children (accounts vary on exactly how many) but only two survived into adulthood, two daughters, both also named Marie.
She married a Haitian immigrant in 1819 with the last name of Paris and their marriage certificate is still housed in St. Louis Cathedral. She bore him two children, but both died young. In 1820, she began calling herself the Widow Paris, although no one can say if her husband died or abandoned her and returned to Haiti. She inherited a house on St. Ann Street in the French Quarter from her grandmother and lived there all her life. Marie later entered a common-law marriage with Christophe Glapion which lasted nearly 30 years and, after his death, didn’t seek out another man in the remaining three decades of her life.
The Legend Begins
The life described above doesn’t sound particularly remarkable, does it? But it's the unverifiable parts of Marie Laveau’s existence that make it exciting. Various accounts say after her 1 st husband’s death, Marie became a hairdresser to keep her family afloat. It was through this hairdressing business she learned secrets of wealthy households by giving gifts to the slaves living there. When meeting with the wealthy women for appointments, Marie would disclose what the “spirits” had told her and posit a solution. For a fee, of course.
But there are others who say that Marie Laveau’s powers were legitimate. She could cure the sick with the same power she used to curse wrongdoers. Many believe she studied Voodoo with Dr. John Bayou, a man reported to be both a root worker and an African prince. Marie’s powers had people of all social statuses and races coming to her for help with everything from keeping/losing a lover to being sure a relative was acquitted of murder. Whatever the outcome to these problems, people throughout the city were sure Marie had made things work out exactly as she wanted them to.
The Legacy of Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau reigns in New Orleans in death as she did in life. Her name is everywhere and her image, in the form of an oil painting, can be seen in the Cabildo in Jackson Square. Or can it? There is no consensus on whether or not the portrait is actually of Marie Laveau. Those who knew her in life claim she never wore the traditional Creole headscarves, or tignons, as the lady in the portrait does.
Of course, there’s also controversy over where exactly Marie was laid to rest. Some say she resides in the city’s oldest cemetery, St. Louis No. 1, while others maintain she is in St. Louis No.2. Tombs reported to be Marie’s can be found in either, so you can travel to both before making up your mind.

Marie’s legacy is diverse and wide-ranging. She’s memorialized by a voodoo shop on Bourbon Street which bears her name, in numerous songs recorded by the likes of Dr. John, Bobby Bare, and Papa Celestin, and was brought to even wider attention by Angela Bassett’s portrayal of her in American Horror Story: Coven. It seems even in death the Voodoo Queen is able to conjure up as many different versions of herself as there are people who hear about her.
As a woman whose reputation always preceded her, I doubt she’d have it any other way. When free women of color use their spiritual gifts to confront suffering and injustice, and white men in power accuse them of witchcraft. Marie Laveau, the legendary founder and priestess of American Voodoo, was in real life two women with the same name--a mother and daughter, both Creoles of New Orleans. Yes, they worked their magic on a city’s soul, and year after year thousands of visitors make pilgrimages to the famous tomb said to hold their remains. Yet, until now, the story of their spiritual and historic lives has been unavailable, and the legends of sorcery and evil deeds that encircle them have gone unchallenged.
            Hysterical reports in the nineteenth century accused the Laveaus of wizardry, heresy, and dancing naked with snakes. Marie the First, the mother, healed those with yellow fever and cheated the hangmen’s noose with her magical powers--or so it is said. Her daughter, Marie the Second, hypnotized the police force and cured domestic violence. The gossips still swear that they knew how to make white women roll on their bellies, work gris-gris on judges in murder trials, and cause husbands to disappear forever. Wealthy white New Orleanians insisted that the wily Maries operated in street-level system of intelligence through which they gained information and exerted backstairs powers over those who stood in their way.
The Laveau women were guilty as charged. Both women led dangerous, secret lives--but not because of midnight ceremonies in graveyards. They were free women in a slave society, French Catholics in an Anglo-Protestant nation, and Creole leaders in the largest and strongest community of color in America. They were gens de couleur libre—free people of color. Both loved men they could never marry. Their families, already linked in illegal love, defied their church and the law to help slaves escape and blacks, bond and free, to assemble and dance together in defiance of the law.
The Laveaus led colorful lives in one of the most colorful cities in the world. Their woman-centered story began in 1803 just as ill-bred foreigners from a nearby, new nation called the United States purchased their territory from France. It spanned the golden years of Creole culture and the glittering but dangerous life of antebellum New Orleans, the moved into the traumas of Civil War. The death of the first Marie Laveau in June 1881, and the disappearance of the second at the end of Reconstruction in 1877 parallel the passing of Creole life. Their embodied visions of justice and mercy died with them.
            Voodoo was not just a religion—it was the raw edge of survival. People dropped dead on the streets as epidemic plagues consumed the city. Slaver-sale houses ringed the French Quarter, and public executions drew Mardi Gras--size crowds. White men with power played racial politics for keeps—but they could not collect the garbage or bury the dead. When things went wrong in the neighborhoods of New Orleans, the civil authorities blamed the Voodoos.
            New Orleans is a place where you invite the dead to your parties, where the smells of a spicy gumbo and the sounds of a jazzy backbeat fill the air. The city was a crucible of transformation that forged a vibrant Creole culture—a New World people whose ancestors were French, West African, Spanish, Central African, Catholic, Native American, and who pinches of many others groups or nations added like spice to a good gumbo, people who created a unique collective culture from the ingredients they had on hand. Voodoo, jazz, the region’s world-famous cuisine, and the dancing ironwork that graces the city’s architecture have Creole roots. The “spirit of New Orleans” that attracts millions of visitors to the smells, tastes, sounds and sensory richness of the fabled city is in large measure the legacy of Creole culture.
~ The many meanings of Creole: People come to New Orleans from all over the world to eat in the famous Creole restaurants of the city. They try remoulade sauce, turtle soup, fried oysters on French bread, crayfish bisque, shrimp creole, and many other tasty dishes, and they ask, what does Creole mean? I tell them that Creole is something or someone who was born and bred in the New World, something or someone who owes more to the unique environmental and social conditions of south Louisiana than to Africa or Europe. Creole is a handy adjective for things native to Louisiana, things of value, like Creole tomatoes or Creole cream cheese, the delicious ingredients in Creole cuisine. I say that Creoles came in every color in the social rainbow, and, in the main, were French-speaking Catholics who tended to marry each other when they could, and, when they couldn’t, invented imaginative solutions to be together and to care for the babies born to them. In Marie Laveau’s time, Creole was a culture more than a color, a culture with distinctive music, cuisine, clothes, and drinking habits.
The drummer started a slow beat; a trumpet made from an animal’s horn sounded four long notes. The gathering had begun. As Marie Laveau crossed Rampart Street and near Congo Square, the multi-leveled roofs of the French Quarter and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral rose behind her. At the entrance to the dance plaza, she passed market women selling their ware---pecan pies, spruce beer, Louisiana rum, and pralines filled with peanuts, coconut, or popcorn. Marie had left the corsets, petticoats, and heavy undergarments she wore to church that Sunday morning at home. In their stead, she chose a loose, low-necked cotton dress that permitted easy movement in the subtropical humidity and allowed the Great Serpent Spirit to enter and use her body. Her gold earrings and bracelets flashed in the sun, and her tignon—a vividly colored madras handkerchief wound as a turban—stood high in seven points.
All the people—white and colored—start sayin’ that’s the most powerful woman they is’. They say, ‘There goes Marie Laveau!” the policemen stationed at the four gates to Congo Square watched the crowd part as Marie Laveau passed. They were waiting for her.
Marie the First was in her early forties in 1843 when city authorities closed Congo Square. She was the practicing priestess whom black men swore they saw mesmerize the policemen stationed there. In the prime of her priestly powers, she lived within earshot of the square and had been a regular visitor through its peak years in the 1820s and 1830s. Her daughter, Marie the Second, was eighteen, and beginning to build her own spiritual powers within Voodoo circles.
When the two priestesses danced in Congo Square and at other places in New Orleans, they shouted—Voudou, Voudou. Through the sacred word, a widespread African name for spirit or deity, they invited or invoked the sprits to enter their bodies, to be incarnated in them. After 1820 local newspapers used the word to describe the social group—a cult of primitive superstition, idolatrous rites, and snake worship, they insisted. Regardless of the low value placed on the religion by members of the press, practitioners, then as now, tell us that the word Voudou in all its spellings translates best as ‘those who serve the spirits.”


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