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The REAL Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen

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The real Marie Leveau, voodoo queen

The real Marie Leveau, voodoo queen

Marie's Legendary background

In order to understand Marie Laveau, we should take a quick look at the women who raised her- two very different ladies, both headstrong and determined.

Her grandmother Catherine was snatched from Africa at only 7 years old, yet earned her freedom by buying herself out of slavery. Ultimately she became an entrepreneur and bought her own land and house, working toward having her five children freed as well.

Marie's mother Marguerite, owned by the white man who'd fathered her, was freed at the age of 18, immediately entering into an arranged relationship with an affluent white man twice her age. She bore him three children and seemed happy, but Marguerite took lovers as well, including an affair with Charles Leveaux that produced Marie. Marguerite gave birth to her daughter at her mother's home before returning to her relationship, leaving the baby girl with Cathrine.

These were illiterate, uneducated but tenacious women, navigating the very separate worlds of white and black in New Orleans, but it would take Marie Laveau to figure out how to play the races against each other to earn the respect and fear of the entire city..

This painting is said to be of Marie Laveau, but those who knew her said it looked nothing like her.

This painting is said to be of Marie Laveau, but those who knew her said it looked nothing like her.

Marie Laveau's mysterious start

Marie's childhood was spent quietly at her grandmother's cottage, until at age 18 she married Jacques Paris, a Haitian immigrant. Little is known about Jacques or their marriage, because in less than a year, he disappeared and Marie began calling herself the "Widow Paris."

Did her husband return to Haiti, abandoning his young wife, or was there something she wasn't telling? No one knows.

A year later, Marie took up with Christophe Glapion, a white man with whom she lived until his death in 1855. Though the law didn't allow them to marry, they're said to have had 15 children together, one of whom was the even more infamous Marie II, heir to Marie Laveau's legacy.

After Jacques disappeared, Marie worked as a hairdresser, building a client base of wealthy women. The affluent didn't go to the salon- the salon came to them, and that gave Marie access to all the best houses and families in town - and their slaves.

In exchange for charms, prayers and spells, the household's slaves would tell Marie their secrets and dirty laundry- and they knew everything, of course! Marie could then impress her client with all of the miraculous things the "spirits" had told her.

Of course, Marie could "fix" the problem - for a fee, naturally.

If there weren't any problems, it wasn't hard to create some- perhaps by putting a beautiful woman in a husband's path or having one of her followers scratch a symbol on your steps so you'd know you'd been "hexed" and be desperate for it to be taken off.

Little by little, word of Marie's gifts spread until she was the accepted Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

Marie Laveau at the Voodoo Museum

On Dumaine Street is the Voodoo museum, which has several of Marie's possessions on display and this painting at their entrance. Again, it's highly unlikely to have been modeled on the Voodoo Queen.

On Dumaine Street is the Voodoo museum, which has several of Marie's possessions on display and this painting at their entrance. Again, it's highly unlikely to have been modeled on the Voodoo Queen.

Marie's Reputation Grows

The most famous story of Marie's power tells how she was offered a house on St. Ann Street in exchange for getting a rich man's innocent son freed when he'd been accused of murder.

The video details the story, which involves Marie holding three hot peppers in her mouth, infusing them with her intentions, then putting them under the judge's seat. The video doesn't go into it, but a cow's tongue with a nail driven through it was also placed under the prosecutor's seat, rendering him speechless and unable to proceed with the case and Marie got the house.

There are a number of obvious problems with the story, regardless of whether you believe in Voodoo or not, starting with the idea that nobody noticed a massive tongue lying on the floor?

More to the point, Marie lived in the same house until she died- the one that records prove was purchased and built by her grandmother Catherine. Her neighbors and friends knew this, and so did her detractors, but once the story took hold it became universally accepted.

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One part is true- Catherine's house was on St. Ann Street, and the tour guides point to the right lot, but tend not to mention that the original house was torn down in 1907.

Congo Square Fest

Modern day Congo Square

Congo Square persists. Remembrance rites are periodically performed and it's reverted to its original name and the video shows Congo Square Fest, an annual free event each spring

Congo Square persists. Remembrance rites are periodically performed and it's reverted to its original name and the video shows Congo Square Fest, an annual free event each spring

Marie Conquers Congo Square

The greatest indication of Marie Laveau's growing power was that she ruled over the rites in Congo Square.

Once Mass was over the slaves had the rest of Sunday to themselves, and thousands spent it each week in Congo Square, on the outskirts of town.

There they'd trade the goods they'd made or raised, barter, and visit family members who'd been sold to other masters. Most importantly, they worshiped together in the old ways. Sounds of their chanting and drums carried throughout the city from dawn until dusk, and although newspapers often carried stories of the "horrid savages" and their behavior, the gatherings were never broken up by the authorities.

At the center of it all was the Queen, leading the chants, selling her cures, getting the latest gossip from the slaves while outside the cheers and screams for "Queen Marie! Queen Marie!" could be heard far and wide.

Whether you used her services or not, it was impossible not to know who Marie Laveau was, even as the newspapers railed about the "ignorant darkies" and their "superstitions."

The banks of Bayou St John on a foggy morning.

The banks of Bayou St John on a foggy morning.

Marie Grows Young Again

Yet the biggest trick up Marie's sleeve was yet to come. As Marie grew old and frail, she participated less in Voodoo rituals and focused more on her less vigorous Catholic faith. She went to mass every day and worked with condemned prisoners to convince them to repent before they went to the hangman.

At the same time, a woman began emerging from the St. Ann house every day, dressed in Marie's clothes, greeting people and doing all the things people were accustomed to Marie doing- yet she was decades younger! She spoke to people by name, mentioning topics they'd had private conversations about. Soon the word had gotten around- Marie Laveau was so powerful that the lwa had granted her eternal youth!

Surely not everyone believed that, since Marie was constantly walking back and forth to St. Louis Cathedral, but perhaps they didn't want say do anything to anger the powerful Voodoos.

Regardless, this "new" Marie was about to take their faith to a whole other level.

St. John's Eve tradition continues

The Bayou St. John Spectacular

Marie II wanted to capitalize on her mother's success and gather a much wider audience. The celebrations on the Bayou were the easiest way to do that, and Marie II went to work.

As the night before St. John the Baptist's birthday, St. John's Day is the most important night of the year for practitioners. The night before there was a celebration on the swampy banks of Bayou St. John.

Bonfires were lit all along the bayou where people would picnic, dance, pray and give thanks to the saints for their intervention. Groups would walk and mingle in the early summer air, talking with their neighbors.

Until Marie II started making sure that tourists knew about it, St. John's Eve was strictly a local event. Within a decade it had grown to nearly incomprehensible proportions with tens of thousands of spectators crammed together along the waterway to see Marie rise from the waters surrounded by floating white candles and beginning the chant that was picked up all along the shore.

Even that wasn't enough, though. There was a second celebration- this one at Maison Blanche, Marie II's cottage on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, half a mile away from the crowd.

Only a lucky few were invited to this much more intimate celebration, and by some strange coincidence, it happened that those guests were able to make large donations and/or people of great influence.

Those private parties are where tales of bacchanalian orgies originate- or at least what people imagined went on there- like Tuesday night at a dive bar when Brad Pitt stops in, everybody says they were there when it happened.

Marie sat on her throne, with her feet resting on a crate holding her massive python, Zombi. From there she directed the ceremony with a dozen or so lovely young mulatto ladies and a couple of fierce dark skinned men, all dressed in thin white linen. As they chanted and danced to the drums, they would be overtaken by the spirits- a form of possession the faithful call being "ridden" by the lwa. Their dancing would grow more frantic, their clothes becoming transparent as they worked up a sweat, eventually devolving into an orgy involving participants and viewers alike.

Marie Laveau's Tomb

Marie Leveau's tomb marked with xxx's

Marie Leveau's tomb marked with xxx's

The end of an era

Ironically, Marie II seems to have died several years before her mother, and perhaps because of the legacy of the family name, was quietly buried, though exactly where her remains are is a mystery. Some say in a wall vault in St. Louis No. 1, some say in the family tomb above, but the most likely place was in St. Louis No. 2, in a vault that was destroyed to make room for the sexton's cottage. The remains would have been moved to Girod Street cemetery, also now destroyed.

Marie I died in 1881, and the writeup in the paper was tender and kind, despite the many negative things they'd written about her over the years. It concludes:

All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not flag in her work. She always had the cause of the people at heart, and was with them in all things. During the late rebellion she proved her loyalty to the South at every opportunity and freely dispensed help to those who suffered in defense of the "lost cause." Her last days were spent surrounded by sacred pictures and other evidence of religion, and she died with a firm trust in heaven. While God's sunshine plays around the little tomb where her remains are buried, by the side of her second husband and her sons and daughters, Marie Laveau's name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.

And that's true- she's never been forgotten- but what we think we know of her from the legends that have sprung up around her and who she really was are woefully different. Today that 'little tomb' is constantly being marked with an "xxx" by tourists, who then knock three times and whisper their wish into the tomb, hoping Marie will answer them from beyond the grave.

Some things stay the same, though: the way to make sure Marie will listen to your plea is to leave a donation at the foot of the tomb.

Voodoo Saints & Sinners

statue of Papa LaBas aka Legba

statue of Papa LaBas aka Legba

Papa LaBas

Altar to Papa LaBas (aka Legba, and counterpart to St. Peter), with images of Catholic Saints.

He likes candy, toys, alcohol and shiny coins & favored colors are red and black. He's said to be quite mischievous.

Like St. Peter he's the gatekeeper and you have to appeal to him to gain entry into otherworldly realms.

Contradiction: Devout Catholic AND Queen of the Voodoos?

France and Spain both had versions of the "Code Noir-" the rules and regulations slaves and their owners had to abide by.

While still horrible, these rules were considerably kinder to the slaves than those in the American South, requiring the slaves be given Sunday off, allowing them to earn their way out of bondage, and requiring they be given small plots of land they could cultivate on their own.

Owners were required to baptize their slaves and make them attend Catholic mass- and not allow any other religion.

Voodoo is a religion of specialization- it holds that there is one god who has many helpers called "lwa," each with a distinct personality, preferences, and specializations. It didn't take long for the slaves to match up the lwa with Catholic Saints, neatly resolving the religious conflicts.

Since the beliefs meshed so well, it's not surprising that Marie Laveau was as dedicated to her Catholicism as to Voodoo.

But how did it work?

So here's the question: how did she continue to get business? Many of her clients had real problems that she was charging big money to solve. Presumably, if the situation wasn't resolved, that would be the end of her reputation.

But business boomed and her reputation quickly spread. Was she somehow coercing the slaves to act behind the scenes? Was the power of belief so strong that the women subconsciously resolved the problems themselves?

Or could some otherworldly force have been at work after all?


Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on February 24, 2019:

I deleted a comment for saying that none of this was true, and that it was strictly about female empowerment and herb lore and I made up the rest. As I attempted to make clear here, it did involve those aspects, but it is not the entire truth. Voodoo was also used by the powerless to gain power, and as a tool to level the playing field, as a way of incorporating the African religions into the Catholicism forced upon them in the new world.

You can believe or not in the aspects of the practice as a religion (not to mention how they've been used in pop culture), but the actual practitioners have explained over the years what they've done and how they've gone about it. Even then the rituals were filmed, covered in the newspaper, and continue to this day.

I know practitioners in real life, not just theory, and if you can't believe the people who incorporate this into their lives, who can you believe?

There are those who believe Marie was an angel and those who believe she was a devil. The reality, as far as researchers have been able to determine, is that she was an intelligent, brave and above all determined woman who did her best in a culture set against her.

Tazzie Mae on February 18, 2019:

Actually all of this is true because i am her.

aeostenths kaust cean on June 06, 2018:

my family goes back to 1000 ad on the french side so very interesting time will tell

Tammy Clarvoe on September 25, 2017:

I'm wondering if my family is somehow kin to her family .... My family is from the French quarter's and has many secrets... I'm seeing our last names are very similar and I know over time names change slightly... how can I find out?

really7777 on October 21, 2014:

Thanks Paige Pixel,

You what made me think about that? In New Orleans, especially in the Creole culture, you were known by your Middle name, my grandmother we thought all over life was named Ann called by her friends and family but on her birth certificate was Frances, so I'm saying maybe Marie Laveaux was named by her middle name and La means she/her andVeaux spelled really Vou meaning Voodoo, just a thought, and thanks for the respond.

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on October 20, 2014:

I've never really thought about that- but I guess one of the perks of being a powerful person is that there's no need to hide? Also, she gained authority slowly over the years, so by the time she was the "Queen" everybody already knew her.

Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it!

really7777 on October 19, 2014:

Loved reading this but I have a question: Marie Laveaux was a Voodoo Powerful person, right? Why would she use her real name?

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on September 18, 2014:

I re-read this in Au fait's Prunednewz, I came back.

Congrats on HOTD.

C E Clark from North Texas on September 13, 2014:

Very interesting story. Enjoyed learning about the Maries. Definitely deserving of HOTD.

Becki Rizzuti from Indianapolis, Indiana on February 10, 2014:

Incredibly well done. People speak so ill of Voodoo (and Hoodoo as well), but that's mostly because it's so occult and misunderstood by the majority of people. The Catholic connections are incredible, and an entire hub could be written on that topic by itself.

Very nicely done!

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on February 10, 2014:

I had a book about Marie Laveau, which was fascinating and I loaned it to someone and never got it back.

Your article about her is very interesting. I understand she is buried in a New Orleans cemetary and in the book I had, it showed the marker for her grave.

Voted up, +++ and shared.

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on October 14, 2013:

@Mklow1- yes, the best modern book by a MILE is by Carolyn Morrow Long. Hope you enjoy it!

Mklow1 on October 07, 2013:

Thank you for your response. Can you recommend any modern books on the subject? You seem to have a knack for research.

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on October 07, 2013:

Yes, that's a classic! Unfortunately, it's more hyperbole than fact. There were several writers of the time who retold the same stories, trying to outdo each other, and it's actually kind of funny - if you're interested, look into Lyle Saxon, George Washington Cable and Henry Castellanos. Their books were taken with a wink and a nod, but now that it's easier for John (or Joan!) Q. Public to get a hold of actual records, it's easier to see what thin source material some of it is.

No matter- it's amazing how often the truth is actually more interesting!

Thanks so much for reading!

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on October 07, 2013:

Thanks for reading!

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on October 07, 2013:

Yes, that's a very popular story, and for good reason- it's very compelling! Unfortunately, it's not at all true. Historic records show that Marie's grandmother purchased the land and had the house built years before Marie was born.

W1totalk on October 05, 2013:

Great article clarifying many different facts of Maria Laveau. Thank you paigepixel.

WhiteMuse on October 02, 2013:

I am sure a lot of it was up to people's gossip. The people that do that type of work depend on people needing them. I read that one reason they believed her was the guy that was going to be condemned to prison but she was able to get him set free. There was supposed to be no chance to free him. She asked for the house and got it. He was set free.

Mklow1 on October 02, 2013:

Wonderful read! I have always been fascinated with the history in New Orleans and always seem to learn something new about it every time I turn around. By any chance have you read "The French Quarter" by Herbert Asbury? He is famous for writing "The Gangs of New York".

MysticMoonlight on October 02, 2013:

Fantastic Hub. Marie was such an incredibly interesting woman, her story is just fascinating. Great information and details, very well done.

mohamed on October 02, 2013:

this was interesting!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 02, 2013:

Interesting character indeed. My niece lives in New Orleans and has shared tales of vodoo with us.

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on September 12, 2013:

I've never heard of her, but this was interesting!

ConstantineNguyen from California, United States on September 12, 2013:

:) This is a really interesting hub. I really enjoy reading it. Thank you very much. She looks like a European descendant but Voodoo is originated from Africa....New Orlean must be a melting pot.

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on September 11, 2013:


I have heard about Marie Laveau, but I never researched her. I found her interesting and her name often comes up in movies and books about New Orleans.

You did a great job of research and finding the great videos to go with your story.

This has been my Wednesday night reading pleasure, it was such a treat to learn more about her.

Bobbi Purvis

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on September 11, 2013:

Thanks, Dale, glad you like it! It's funny how sometimes the real history is so much richer than the stories.

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on September 11, 2013:

Thank you for reading, glad you enjoyed it! The series American Horror Story's season 3 about to air (in England, too!) was filmed in New Orleans, and will feature Marie Laveau heavily, as played by Angela Basset. Of course, it'll focus on the more hocus-pocus stuff, which is what the series does, but like you, I love what they were able to do all on their own!

Thanks again, and check out the show if you'd like to see more about her!

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on September 11, 2013:

Thanks for visiting! Voodoo isn't hugely active here in New Orleans much any more, but it is still out there, believe it or not. My next hub is going to be a visit to the Voodoo museum and my local practitioner's shop (really!).

Paige (author) from New Orleans, LA on September 11, 2013:

Agreed- your attitude about anything is going to have a huge impact on what comes next, and now you interpret it!

Thanks so much for reading!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 11, 2013:

What a well-done and interesting article. Brava!

I think VooDoo is more about the power of suggestion and mind over matter than anything else. I tend to regard any religion the same way. People make choices daily that affect their future; whether they attribute that to their religion or their own efforts is a matter of personal belief.

Voted up, interesting and shared.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on September 11, 2013:

How interesting! I have never really delved too much in the subject of Voodoo. This is very helpful!

Nell Rose from England on September 11, 2013:

I read every word of this, it was absolutely fascinating! I had never heard of her before, so this was news to me. Good on her! whether she genuinely believed in Voodoo or it was a trick, she made her way in a time that was just plain wrong, so I totally admire her and her daughter, great read! Voted up and across! nell

Dale Hyde from Tropical Paradise on Planet X on September 11, 2013:

A very well done historical hub! So much here I was not aware of! Thanks for sharing! Voted up, useful and interesting. :)

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