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Marie Laveau - Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Voodoo is famous for its association to dark magic, zombies, and sacrificing chickens. Most people's only knowledge about it comes from movies and series where it is usually portrayed as such.

The fact is that Voodoo, Vodoun, or Vodou is simply a religion. Fascinating as it is, the darkness of a specific religion is usually more connected to the character of specific believers than to dark beliefs. The same applies to Voodoo.

Originating in the Caribbean, and being heavily tied to the transatlantic slave trade, Voodoo is a syncretic religion. This means that it originated from the blending of multiple belief systems. Most notably, Voodoo's origins lay in the traditional West African religions brought over by the enslaved people, and the Catholic beliefs of the slavers.

Marie Laveau's name is intrinsically linked to the history of Voodoo in New Orleans. Named The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, both by peers and the press, she was certainly a prominent public figure. But, was she also a powerful practitioner of occult magic who channeled spirits and used magic to gain influence?


Marie Laveau - Born Free


Marie Catherine Laveau was born in 1801 to Marguerite D'Arcantel in New Orleans. Marguerite was a single mother, and a free woman of color. She was of mixed heritage, having European, African, and Native American forebears.

Marie's father was not recorded on her birth certificate. Historians can't agree, as is usually the case with them, on who her father was. Several theories have been put forth, all based on the different spellings recorded for the surname Laveau/Laveaux.

Don Carlos Trudeau Laveau was the surveyor general of New Orleans for Spanish Louisiana from 1780 to 1805. Later he served as acting mayor of New Orleans in 1820. He was a white Louisiana Creole man.

The term Creole being a marker of non-racial heritage. Essentially it refers to the descendants of the original French colonists. Those descendants were a mixed bag of race and class. It has in recent years been attributed to only the people of color descended from the French colony.

The other candidate is Charles Laveaux, a free man of color. Little is known about him, other than that he existed around the right time and had the right surname. This is the way of history.

Marie's great-grandmother came from West Africa. There she was captured and sold into slavery. Her daughter and granddaughter would live under the yoke of slavery, though the granddaughter achieved freedom.

Thus, Marie Catherine Laveau was the first woman to be born free in her family in quite a while. Her early life was spent learning from her grandmother, Ms. Catherine.

Regarding her life as a Voodoo priestess, it all began with Ms. Catherine, who was a believer. The young Marie also, allegedly, studied under Dr. John Bayou - a famous Senegalese Root Worker.


Becoming a Legend - Marie's Rise


Marie married a carpenter named Jacques Paris in 1819. Don Carlos, who at the time had officially declared himself Marie's father, attended the wedding and signed her marriage certificate.

Jacques and Marie had two daughters, according to baptismal records found in St. Louis Cathedral. Both daughters disappear from all records shortly after their baptism. Although we know that Jacques was recorded as deceased on their second daughter's baptism document.

No body was ever found, and no death certificate issued for Jacques Paris. He simply vanished, leaving Marie alone with her daughters. She began referring to herself as the Widow Paris.

Louis Christophe Dumensnil de Glapion entered Marie's life in 1826. He was a white man, and while interracial relationships weren't banned, they were not allowed to marry.

Marie and Louis spent the next thirty years together, in common law marriage. They had a lot of children together, many of whom were lost to the Yellow Fever outbreaks that plagued New Orleans in the 19th century.

There is a lot of conjecture about Marie Laveau's life. Some sources claim that at this point she became a hairdresser. Naturally accruing rumors and gossip that would serve her well in her life as a political puppet master. The wealthy white women who went to her felt more than comfortable in sharing their families' hidden skeletons with Marie.

Some researchers believe that the hairdresser in the family was actually Marie's surviving daughter, Marie Laveau II. The truth in this case is very hard to come by. Especially considering how prominent figures tend to be mythologized.

What truth there is to be found lies in her community work. Laveau was a devout Catholic, and it is through her connection to the church that she found an outlet for her generous spirit.

Around 1831, Marie's grandmother passed away. She left her house, the cottage on St. Ann Street where Marie grew up, to Marie. Unfortunately, creditors soon followed. They claimed that Ms. Catherine had built up substantial debts, which she had defaulted on. Marie Laveau's house was put on auction.

Glapion, being a man of some means, bought the house for Laveau. The Creole cottage would remain in their family until the end of the 19th century. Today, the cottage is no more, but people still visit its location on tours.

While her community work and support of the burgeoning community of people of color in New Orleans, earned her the respect and love of the community, there were many who disliked her. Contemporary writers called her evil, and conspired to paint her home, a welcome refuge for people in need, as a brothel.

Marie was a practitioner of the Voodoo faith. This is a tradition that is complementary to being a Catholic, so she was both. Traditional African spirits were rebranded as the saints of Catholicism as a way to 'sanitize' the original African faith.

Gris-gris bags are a staple of Voodoo magical beliefs. These are little bags filled with charms meant to protect. In fact, most of the magic performed in Voodoo is based on protection.

Laveau attended the weekly gatherings of the enslaved and free people of color in Congo Square. These gatherings consisted of a market, and traditional dances and rituals.

Legends speak of Marie performing to crowds, conjuring the Great Serpent Spirit, and wearing a crown. She also allegedly became a spiritual leader in the Voodoo observing community. Often leading ceremonies like the Summer Solstice celebration of St. John's Eve.

The press began referring to Marie Laveau as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Her involvement in Voodoo seems entirely apocryphal.

Marie was succeeded by her daughter, Marie Laveau II. Her life's story is often mixed with that of her mother. Legend has it that she so resembled her mother, that people believed her to actually be her mother reincarnated through Voodoo magic.


What does a Voodoo Queen Do?


While there is some historical dispute regarding Marie's level of involvement in Voodoo, the fact remains that she 'reigned' as Voodoo Queen for a long time. For the sake of the story, we'll buy into the idea that she was just that.

Laveau ministered to her community in much the same way as a local bishop oversees their community. Her services didn't end there. She was also known as a clairvoyant, able to communicate with spirits to gain secret knowledge.

The wealthy folk of New Orleans relied heavily on these services. They came to her for advice, or the inside scoop on their rivals. She became so renowned, that, according to rumors, she was an indisposable advisor to the mayor, and nearly every man of business in the city.

Legend has it that she danced during her Voodoo rituals, wearing her snake, Zombi, around her neck while doing so. She performed powerful healing rituals, and treated a variety of ailments with her deep knowledge of herbal medicine.

That, is, if any of her involvement in Voodoo is actually true. She may just have been a devout Catholic woman, hell-bent on supporting her community.

Marie Catherine Laveau died in 1881, at the age of 79. She was interred in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the Glapion family crypt.

Today, her tomb attracts hundreds of visitors. People come to make offerings to her, and to leave three X's marked on her tomb. They hope to earn her favor, and have a wish granted in the process.

Defacement of her tomb has gone so far, that the church has limited visitors to the cemetery. They have also blocked off access to Marie Laveau's tomb directly, and it can now only be visited under supervision of a tour guide.


Voodoo - Maligned Religion



Protestants are a notably intolerant bunch. They denounce Catholicism as idol worship, and most other religions as witchcraft or Satan worship. The same is true of Voodoo.

During her time, Marie Laveau was accused of leading sinister orgiastic rituals and sacrificing to her dark masters. This is all propaganda and fearmongering. Voodoo rituals may involve dancing, but orgies are not part of it. Their deities are not inherently evil, just as no religion is inherently evil.

Voodoo rituals can get rowdy, people dance, and are 'possessed' by spirits who use them as mediums to communicate with worshipers. If that spooks you, just know that the same thing happens at some of the charismatic Christian churches. So, it's all the same to anyone outside those religions.

Marie Laveau is a main character in American Horror Story: Coven. She was depicted as a powerful witch, and Voodoo Queen. This depiction matches with the pop culture depiction of Voodoo.


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