The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

by M-Gillies
the tomb of Marie Laveau, New Orleans' voodoo queen

Even today, Marie Laveau’s tomb (on right) is constantly plagued by people who desecrate it with graffiti.

New Orleans is a city of considerable history, from its early beginnings as a French colony to the development of its above ground cemeteries to counter the frequent disinterment of bodies caused by floods and heavy rainstorms. However, among the numerous historical sites of New Orleans, such as the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, lies in the St. Louis Cemetery a tomb of one of the cities most prominent figures known as the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

For several decades this mystic woman of potential notoriety held the city spellbound with her ability to heal the sick, tell fortunes, distribute charms and potions, perform staged ceremonies which left participants possessed by loa’s (voodoo spirits), and saving several condemned men from the gallows.

Perhaps the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of all of North America, the famous icon of Marie Laveau was really a combination of two people, a famous mother and daughter duo, who entranced the city of New Orleans with the mysticism of Africanized Voodooism in the 19th and early 20th century.

Born a free woman of color in New Orleans in 1794, Marie Laveau was of mixed nationality; black, white and Native American with some legends describing her as being a decedent of French & Spanish aristocracies.

Shortly after her marriage to Jacques Paris in 1819, Paris disappeared, and following fiver years without returning, was declared deceased without any certificate of interment. It was during this time that Laveau began addressing herself as the Widow Paris. However, it wasn’t until her employment as a hairdresser for the wealthy white and Creole women of New Orleans that the legends of the Voodoo Queen began.

With her air of confidence, many of the women of New Orleans looked upon Laveau as a confidant, expressing their most intimate secrets and desires about their husbands and lovers, families and estates, and the business affairs and mistresses of their husbands.

From 1826 to his death in 1855 (with some claiming as early as 1835), Laveau began an intimate relationship with Louis Christophe Duminy de Glaplon. While the two never married, Laveau bore 15 children with him in rapid succession, which saw the end of her hairdressing career as she devoted her energy to domesticity.

During this time, tales of hidden and secret rituals circulated throughout the city. Stories of ritualistic dances, drinking and lovemaking frightened many of the citizens as they feared the African Americans were preparing to revolt in much the same way they had with the Haiti slave uprising. To put an end to the secret meetings, where rumors of white men participating in ceremonies worshipping a snake god called Zombi were circulating, the New Orleans Municipal Council passed a resolution in 1817. It was this resolution which forbade African Americans to gather for dancing or any other purpose, except on Sunday, and only in places designated by the mayor.

Restricted to the Congo Square on North Rampart Street, voodooists met, danced and sang in stylized rituals worshipping their gods. By the 1830s voodoo mambos had grown in number, fighting for control of the Sunday Congo Square. However, this soon ended when Laveau appeared, first by controlling the Congo Square Dances by entering before all other dancers and hypnotically captivating fascinated onlookers with her snake.

Knowing of the sensation the rituals at the shores of Lake Pontchartrain received, Laveau began inviting the public, press, police and other thrill-seekers of the forbidden fun to attend, but by admission only, making voodoo for the first time, profitable.

Soon, Laveau’s entrepreneurial abilities branched off to organizing secret orgies for wealthy white men seeking beautiful black, mulatto and quadroon women as mistresses at the Maison Blanche. With Laveau presiding over these secret public meetings, she was able to extend her powers to providing knowledge of spells, charms and fortunes to men of every class.

During the great Yellow Fever epidemics in 1853, Laveau devoted her time to nursing and acting as a spiritual healer (femme traitor), until at the age of 70 she announced her retirement. Moving to a quiet cottage on St. Anne Street in the Old Quarter, it was there were she remained, actively visiting the poor and imprisoned, and giving readings in her home until her death on June 15, 1881.

Upon her death, obituaries claimed she lived a pious life as a devout practicing Catholic. Disregarding her Voodoo past, she was painted as a motherly saint with the press mentioning Laveau as a woman who nursed the sick and prayed with the diseased and condemned.

With Laveau deceased, a similar woman emerged with an equally powerful ability to mesmerize. Her name was Marie Laveau II.

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