New Orleans is known for many things such as, lavish parades, mouth watering gumbo, and historically beautiful buildings. However, one thing New Orleans is the most famous for is Voodoo. Voodoo is said to be a mix of West African religion mixed with Catholicism. It was common practice for many free people of color as well as slaves in the early 1800's. One woman stood out from the crowd managing to make herself infamous for this practice of magick. Marie Laveau was her name, but you might know her better as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.
Marie Laveau was born in 1801 as a free woman of color in New Orleans, though there is much speculation about her race. While some believe her to have been a mix of white and African, others believed her to have been of creole descent. She was described as statuesque and beautiful with flowing black curls in her hair. That made it no surprise she caught the eye of Haitian man Jacques Paris who she married at 18. Not long after their marriage the romance was cut short. Jacques had mysteriously disappeared, making Marie start addressing herself as the 'widow Paris.'
She began her adult life as a hairdresser. She had a a wide array of clients coming to her for much more than just a haircut. A majority of her clients were in the upper class making her business that much more lucrative. Her clients found her to give wonderful advice and sought her counsel often in daily affairs.. The wealthy would often pay for the hairdressers to come to their house. This gave Marie limitless access to the mansions of socialite society. This is where her gift begins to reveal itself.
A year or so after Jacques was declared dead Marie met a man by the name of Christophe Glapion. Christophe was a white man and devout catholic. This meant that Marie and him would never be allowed to marry, but that didn't stop them from have at least 15 children together before his death in 1855. One of these children is believed to be Marie the 2nd whom took over the voodoo practice after her mother got older.
Voodoo is believed to have been practiced in Now Orleans ever since the first ship of slaves came from the Caribbean in the early 1800's. The rituals were often times held deep in the bayous where they danced, drank, and worshiped a snake god they called 'Zombie.' The rituals included about 1/3rd white people, hoping to receive some of the power from the priests and mambos of the ceremony. Hearsay and rumors spread about the meetings which made its way back to the slave-owners. They believed the slaves were planning to cause an uprising. In 1817 the mayor listened to the slave owners and banned the practice of Voodoo anywhere but Congo Square on Sunday.
This action didn't thwart the plans of the Voodoo practitioners, but instead gave them a wider audience. People came from all around the city after Sunday mass to watch the rituals. In the 1830's mambos began to fight over control of the dances and worship that took place on the square. This is where Marie stole the show. She gained popularity by entering before the other dancers while carrying her snake with her. She would spend her time at the Congo dancing and selling her spells and potions to patrons. She was the center of the show having people chanting her name through the crowd. Marie could see the Voodoo movement growing throughout New Orleans and used it to her benefit.
The wealthy whites of the era would pay her handsomely her for elixirs and spells, while the Africans saw Marie as a powerful leader for their movement. Judges even came seeking her help in winning cases. One famous legend states that a man came to her seeking help in his sons trial. She was promised a house for the completed job. She accepted and then preformed a ritual using three hot peppers. She stuck the peppers in her mouth for hours in excruciating pain. Once she was finished she took them out and placed them under the judges seat for the next day at trial. She then took a cows tongue and nailed it to the floor beside the peppers. The next day at the trial the judge is rendered speechless. He had no idea how to proceed without his voice so he dismissed the case. This is of course just speculation, but it doesn't change the fact this was considered every day work for Marie.
She helped not only the wealthy, but anyone who would come to her in need. Any person of African decent she helped was charged nothing for her service. She considered it a way to give back to her people, for example she spent a lot of time in her older years preaching gospel to prisoners who were on the way to the gallows.
Once Marie Laveau turned 74 she decided it was time for her last performance as a voodoo queen. She announced after the ritual that she would be moving into her old house on St.Ann street and retiring. At her home she still took the occasional client until around 1875 when she had gotten to old to practice.
In 1881 Marie Laveau died peacefully in her home surrounded by family. The newspapers who had written awful things about her in the past were making her out to be a saint. No one talked about her trying to help bring prisoners to god, or the wonderful things she did for the black community. They only wanted to focus on the fact she practiced Voodoo. Now that all changed. They were printing stories of the amazing things she accomplished, and how she will be forever remembered in New Orleans history.
The story of the mysterious Marie Lavaeu doesn't end at her death. Shortly after Marie died a beautiful young woman emerged from Marie's house, donning the same turban and outfit as Marie would wear. To further add to the confusion of onlookers this woman somehow knew all the stories and secrets that Marie did. She was well versed in Voodoo and appeared to have the same beauty and knowledge of Marie. People started to wonder if Marie was so powerful that she managed to make herself immortal. This was all found to be hearsay. A woman with Marie's appearance and skills did emerge from the Laveau house, it was her daughter whom was also named Marie. She looked almost identical to Marie the first, with only one major distinction between them. While Marie the first was a kind warmhearted woman, Marie the second ruled with fear at her helm. She took over operations all of Marie the first work until her own death in the early 1890's.
Marie was buried at St. Louis cemetery where her body remains to this day. It is believed that she still lurks around her tomb in the cemetery. Her monument is covered in rows of three X's at a time. The reasoning for that is a legend that sprung up after Marie's death. It is said that if you write three X's on her tomb, knock three times, and whisper your wish into the tomb that Marie will hear it and possibly grant your wish. To better the chances of it working people bring her an offering. Some people even believe the theory that Marie never died. She could be walking around the city of New Orleans; watching as her loyal followers still come seeking her magick to this day. The world of Voodoo is certainly still alive in New Orleans. I'm sure that if you're ever there you'll hear some kind of whispers about the infamous Voodoo Queen.