I hope you enjoyed reading the exciting stories about the great city of New Orleans.
Thank you for visiting my site.
|Union Fleet in New Orleans, 1862|
|Admiral Farragut 1863 by Mathew Brady|
|Celtic Cross monument for the Irish workers|
|New Basin Canal at left, West End Park 1915|
|New Orleans in 1834|
Voodoo -- or Vodu -- was originally a spiritual religion from Africa. It was brought with the slaves to the West Indies -- especially to St. Domingue which was later called Haiti -- and then to New Orleans. As the religion travelled to New Orleans, it changed. From being mainly animism (or a nature/spirit religion) when in West Africa, it developed oddities such as zombies while in Haiti. Zombies were called the living dead, and it was believed these were people who had died but returned to life, more or less, as soulless beings who followed the will of a witchdoctor. In reality, we now know that "zombies" were living humans who had been drugged and were under the psychological influence of a Voodoo Queen or Voodoo Doctor. The "power of suggestion" plus drugs from nature (sometimes derived from the puffer fish) were the real causes of zombiism in Haiti.
Zombies, however, were never really popular in New Orleans voodoo. What was more common was magic -- white magic (which could be positive like a love potion) and black magic (which could be deadly). But the most powerful magic of all was the one used so well by Marie Laveau; this was "gris-gris". This comes from the French word for grey (gris) and was a mixture of both white and black magic. Much like the "power" to create zombies, the power of gris-gris (pronounced in New Orleans as "greeh greeh") was the power of suggestion and the gullible disposition of the voodoo believer. Gris-gris bags were created to help with magic spells. These were very small sacks into which various herbs and natural items, such as hair, were placed. Marie Laveau would make these gris-gris bags, tell a voodoo believer that they had magical powers, and her followers would believe it.
Backing up her power was her ability to know secrets about people in positions of wealth and influence in Old New Orleans, usually these would be white Creoles, descendants of French and European Spanish heritage. Marie would obtain these secrets, she claimed, through voodoo. In reality she learned these secrets from her network of voodoo-believing slaves who worked for the Creoles or from her personal work as a hair dresser to the wealthy people in the city. Foolish wealthy people would chat away while Marie worked on their hair, oblivious to her presence. Marie kept her ears open and learned a multitude of secrets from financial information to aspects of personal lifestyles.
In a world that was male dominated and white dominated -- slavery still existed in America then-- Voodoo was dominated by African-American women. There were some males who were voodoo practitioners, like Doctor John; but women were the most powerful. Marie Laveau became the most powerful of them all.
Marie was not a slave. She was what was called a "free woman of color"; her mother was African and her father French. She was most likely part American Indian as well on her mother's side. St. Domingue (Haiti) was the scene of a violent and bloody slave revolt when Marie was born in New Orleans. Her exact past is uncertain. Some historians actually claim she was born in Haiti. But most believe she was born in New Orleans and that her father, a wealthy French planter, possibly fled Haiti because of the revolt there. Marie lived in the Vieux Carre' (the "old quarter" or the French Quarter today) and married a free "mulatto" or a person of mixed heritage named Jacques Paris. According to some historical accounts, her marriage was performed by Pere' Antoine, the chaplain of the St. Louis Cathedral. (Today there are two very famous alleys alongside of the Cathedral. One is "Pirates Alley" named after Jean Lafitte's pirates, and the other is called "Pere Antoine Alley" named after the chaplain. )
After Jacques Paris died, Marie lived with --and possibly married-- Christophe Glapion and had many children -- some accounts say 15 children! (Years later, people would often confuse Marie with her daughter, who resembled her; and they would conclude that Marie Laveau could appear in two places at once through her voodoo magic.)
In one of her most famous voodoo spells, Marie Laveau took possession of a cottage on St. Ann Street in the French Quarter. A prominent white Creole sought her help when his son got into serious trouble with the law and was on trial for murder. His lawyers told him his case was basically hopeless. But Marie Laveau saved the son by allegedly using gris-gris bags placed under the judge's bench. The more probable explanation is that Marie discovered some secret information about the judge through her spy network of voodoo-believing slaves and used this to "influence" the judge's judicial decisions. With his son now freed, presumeably from Marie's voodoo, the grateful Creole father gave Marie the cottage on St. Ann Street. This case made Marie immensely influential in New Orleans as now even some in the white Creole community began to believe in her magical powers. So, whether it was a love potion or something more sinister, Marie was highly sought after.
Another amazing story about Marie Laveau was her work as a nurse. Her knowledge of herbs allowed her to actually help the sick, and she often volunteered her time bringing homemade gumbo (a seafood soup) to prisoners in jail in New Orleans. Sometimes she would spike the gumbo with special herbs to help calm or heal her patients. It is also claimed that in her youth she worked as a nurse at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
In those days in New Orleans, slaves were sometimes allowed to hold dances at Congo Square which was behind the French Quarter. Although Voodoo was not encouraged by the white rulers of the city, it was tolerated to some degree. Marie would hold spectacular voodoo events on the shore of Bayou St. John in New Orleans. She did this mainly for show and to promote a belief in voodoo, and hence a belief in herself. She would sometimes dance there holding a large snake named Zombi. It was just for show, however, and these dances were often very sensual and enticing. That also attracted many influential visitors from higher levels of society who snuck away to see these spectacles.
Marie's real voodoo practices were done in private homes. Sometimes she would mix Catholic religious beliefs with voodoo --using statues, candles, etc. It was said that Marie Laveau would frequently attend Catholic mass at the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter while also being a Voodoo Queen, even though Catholicism was clearly opposed to voodoo beliefs.
Marie Laveau lived to be over 90 years old, and she was given a Catholic funeral and buried in a very old and famous cemetery called St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 on Basin Street in New Orleans. Later in her life she renounced voodoo and publicly accepted Catholicism. Nevertheless, to this day she is known for her voodoo practices. Many tourists and voodoo believers go to her grave and some write an "X" on the grave and invoke her spiritual powers.
Marie Laveau remains one of the most famous and controversial persons in the history of Old New Orleans -- perhaps the most famous.
A wonderful traditional Jazz tune -- played so well by the Olympia Brass Band -- is a song about the life of Marie Laveau. Another famous New Orleans musician named Dr. John also has a fine version of this same old tune simply called "Marie Laveau". Some of the words go like this:
"There lived a conjure lady, not long ago, in New Orleans, by the name of Marie Laveau.
"Believe it or not, strange as it may seem,
"She made a fortune selling voodoo and interpreting dreams...
"Folks would come to her from miles around,
"To see her put that voodoo down...
"To the voodoo lady they all would go,
"The rich, the educated, the ignorant, and the poor,
"She'd snap her fingers and shake her head,
"She'd tell mighty lovers, living and dead...
"O, Marie Laveau,
"O, Marie Laveau,
"Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.
"She got rich from Voodoo in New Orleans..."
Yes, that is so true. She got rich -- and famous -- from voodoo in Old New Orleans.
To read more about Marie Laveau, see this article I wrote over 10 years ago for http://www.parascope.com/ now hosted at http://dagmar.lunarpages.com/~parasc2/en/articles/voodooQueen.htm --"The Voodoo Queen."Also see Great Characters of New Orleans by Mel Leavitt and Robert Tallant's book Voodoo in New Orleans.