There are many misconceptions of Voodoo, it is said to be evil. Marie Laveau was said to be evil by some and a saint by others. After researching Marie it’s still up in the air whether she is evil or not. But before we get to Marie let’s take a look at Voodoo.
The Fon people of West Africa have a word for spirit, which is Vodoun. Voodoo is how it is said in America. Voodoo is a three tier spiritual system based on god, spirits and ancestors. A single god and creator are very much a part of Voodoo, but god is detached from everyday life.
In Voodoo a host of spirits interacts with humans in all matters of fate and fortune. Deceased ancestors remain a force in life.
In Voodoo lore, god lived on earth among us mortals. He had a servant, a spirit called Legba. Legba was a trickster and one day angered god. God moved to the heavens and wouldn’t allow legba to enter. Instead he made Legba the gatekeeper between the spiritual world and the mortal world.
God made the rainbow to symbolize Legba, because the rainbow is the bridge between heaven and earth. This did not work well for the people, rainbows were not always available. So the people sought out something long and colorful. Enter the snake. The snake became the symbol of legba; it was colorful and could bend like a rainbow. The snake took on many different names in Africa,Llegba, Ellequa, Danballah.
When the slaves were brought to America so was Voodoo the snakes name had changed to Li Grand Zombi or Ouncongo. The use of the snake is very important in Voodoo. The snake also represents with its tail in its mouth, infinity.
New Orleans Voodoo has gone through three phases since it has arrived in America.
Phase One, the African phase: 1719-1830 Voodoo was practiced pretty much as it was in Africa.
Phase Two, Creole phase: 1830-1930 this was the golden era of Voodoo in New Orleans. Creole are persons native to Louisiana. During this phase the Voodoo Queen had appeared. This was the era which Voodoo dances and rituals began to develop unique techniques. This is also when Voodoo began to merge with other celebrations such as Mardi Gras. It is also when Voodoo spirits and Catholic saints became fused together. Gris-gris became very popular, they are the objects used in Voodoo to provoke magic and the act itself. They were a lot like Indian medicine bags.
There were many types of gris-gris but most were used for the following.
Love and Romance- used to attract a lover, keep a lover, or force a breakup of another couple.
Power and Domination- used to gain an advantage over a competitor.
Luck and Finance- usually associated with gamblers but can be used to get a job or a promotion.
Uncrossing- it is used to undo a hex or gris-gris targeted towards you.
Phase Three, American phase: 1930-present in 1932 a movie called, white zombie hit the theaters. After this Voodoo became a popular subject for books, movies and tourist. The demand grew for Voodoo especially among the curious and superstitious. Voodoo soon became big business and now was called Hoodoo. Hoodoo has nothing to do with real Voodoo, its spells, gris-gris and potions. Hollywood, shops, stores and fortune tellers have turned Voodoo into something evil and mysterious. But it’s not Voodoo at all, somewhere in all this horror and tricks the real spirits in Voodoo are now forgotten.
So how did all of this come about, enter Marie Laveau. Did Marie turn a religion evil? Depends on who you ask. On her death in 1881 newspapers wrote of her, some calling her a saint and others calling her down right evil.
One paper wrote:
She was a woman of presence and considerable conversational powers. Her eyes were peculiar in their look and had considerable magnetism about them. It is curious that her demise should have happened within a few days of “ever of good St. John” which is the anniversary of the Voodoos and which has been commemorated by the sect under her agency. She loved charms that brought loves together and fearful of drugs that surrendered loving souls.
It also went on to say Marie was a saint; she was very charitable, helping the needy even if she had to suffer to do it. They also reported that she died with a smile on her face.
The New Orleans Democrat wrote:
Among her people her incantations, fetishes, and charms were suppose to be without fail, and thousands crowded around her to obtain relief, fortune and revenge.
How they were satisfied was neither here nor there, but the believers in the dark superstition and faith covers all faults and lies that made her a sorceress and a queen.
Now Marie Lavaue is gone, the least graceful or poetic of these strange personations of the past, but undoubtedly the most powerful, and we can say that with her the embodiment of the fetish superstition and the last representative of that class whose peculiar indiosynvrocies were derived from the habits of old Louisiana. Much evil dies with her, but we should not add poetry.
There is very little really known about Marie Laveau. Marie was the illegitimate daughter of Charles Laveaux and his mistress Marguerette, who was reportedly half black half Indian (Choctaw). Charles was a rich planter, who was prominent in all public affairs and even served in the Legislature of his state.
Marie was born a free woman in 1794. 1819 she married Jacques Paris though the marriage was short, Paris disappeared after six months. Then she became common law wife of Christopher Glapion, they had 15 children one of which was named Marie.
Marie learned her craft from voodoo doctor, Dr. John or John Bayou. At the same time she was learning from Dr. John. Tales quickly circulated of secret rituals being held deep in the bayou. Worship of a snake called Zombie and orgiastic dancing, drinking and love making. Whites also took part in these rituals desiring the power to regain a lost lover, a new lover, eliminate a partner or enemy.
White masters feared these meetings, thinking the blacks were planning an uprising. In 1817 New Orleans Council forbidded black to gather for dancing or any other purpose except for Sunday. The place of worship would be designated by the mayor, the place ended up to be Congo Square.
There were many Voodoo queens at that time. Soon Marie dominated and took charge of these rituals held in Congo Square. Selling gris-gris and having them work. By 1830 Marie was New Orleans Voodoo Queen. She told fortunes, gave advice on love prepared custom gris-gris for anyone needing to effect a cure, charm or hex.
Marie could keep anyone from harming you, she could do anything you wanted done to somebody. She could easily help you get a lover, keep a lover, or get rid of a lover.
She is also accredited with the blend of Voodoo,Voodoo spirits and Catholic saints.
Others claim Marie knew things others didn’t, and not spiritually. She took up hairdressing, she would go to a lot of, well to do, white folks homes. As she visited clients she would listen to gossip. Some say she ran a brothel and cultivated informant in that way. She knew all the rich folks secrets and bribed folks to get what she wanted.
Ghostly tales of Marie
During the depression a drunk fell asleep atop a tomb in the cemetery. He was awaken by the sounds of drums and chanting. He said he saw ghostly men and women dancing naked, led by a tall woman wrapped in the coils of a huge snake. The tomb, Marie Laveau’s.
Marie has been seen walking down St. Ann Street in a long white dress. This phantom is allegedly the first Marie because she wears her unique tignon, a seven knotted hanker chef tied around her neck. But it is said that Marie wore a large white head wrap with seven folds representing a crown.
It is said that Marie and her followers practice wild voodoo rituals in her old house. Her home 1020 St. Ann Street was the scene of weird secret rites involving various primitive groups. Fact the house on 1020 St. Ann Street was never occupied by Marie, her home which was demolished in 1903. The home on 1020 St. Ann Street is the approximate site of her home.
Elmore Banks had an experience near St. Louis Cemetery No 1 in the mid 1930’s. Banks recalled, one day an old woman came into the drug store where he was a customer. For some reason she frightened the proprietor who ran in the back of the store, like a fool.
Laughing the old woman asked, don’t you know me? When Banks replied no, she became angry and slapped him. Then Banks said she jumped up in the air whizzed out the door and over the top of the telephone wires. She passed over the graveyard wall and disappeared. Banks then passed out, finally the proprietor awakened him and told that was, Marie Laveau.
Another legend is that Marie never died, but changed into a large crow which still flies over the cemetery. Both Maries are said to haunt New Orleans in various human and animal forms.
In Voodoo it’s believed that when a voodoo queen dies her spirit enters the river of life and moves to the next realm, adjacent to this one. Her spirit will always be in New Orleans.
To this day people from all over the world visit her tomb asking and hoping she grants their wishes.