Ok, so there is actually quite a bit of information out there on Marie Laveau, a.k.a the “Voodoo Queen,” so I’ll save the extensive history lesson on her life. I do want to dive into her life a little with a hint of Voodoo truths. I don’t know about you, but when I was first introduced to the word voodoo, there was a negative and very evil stigma attached to it. I was conditioned to understand that Voodoo is a Louisiana practice that created the very well-known Voodoo dolls and zombies we see on Halloween and in pop-culture. In actuality, Voodoo is an over-romanticized extraction of the monotheistic religion known as Vodun. Vodun originated in West Africa and traveled during the African diaspora. Vodun thrived predominately in Haiti.
There are many resources to debunk the myths of this Afro-Caribbean religion. For example, Vodouisants (followers of Vodun) do not worship the devil or partake in violet torture. I must specify that the information provided does not reflect the beliefs of all Vodouisants. But, sticking to facts of the Vodoun religion, Vodouisants believe in a single supreme being known as Bondye. Voodoo/Vodun requires more than one week of research, so I must stick to the basics for scholarly reasons. I’ve come across some great resources, but I must fact check and cross-reference before I repeat and share the information. With that being said, I encourage you to dive into that rabbit hole. But here are some interesting quick Vodun/Voodoo facts:
- Vodun is a community religion rooted in healing and doing good. It was used by African slaves to maintain strength as they endured harsh treatments working on sugar plantations.
- The word Vodun comes from the West African Fon, Ewe, and Yoruba people, and it means spirit.
- The Code Noir (1685) forbade African religious practice and required all masters to Christianize their slaves.
- In 2003, Vodou was recognized as an official religion in Haiti. However, a recently amended Article that once protected Vodouisants has been repealed.
Now, onto Marie Laveau. I do wish I could personally ask Marie Laveau some questions. Google can be your best friend, but it can also just get on your freaking nerves. In the case of trying to discover more truths versus myths about Marie Laveau was quite challenging. I continued to come across more myth than reality. So as I did with the Voodoo history lesson above, I must keep it brief and stick to the basic facts of Marie Laveau. Laveau was a free Lousiana Creole woman during the 1800s. Her mother was a freedwoman and her father, a wealthy mulatto businessman. She was raised by her grandmother and she eventually married wealth. She did practice Voodoo and was a serious businesswoman. She owned a beauty parlor and was a hairdresser to the wealthy in the French Quarters during the day. She had two daughters, which helped aide the Voodoo Queen myths at one point in time. Since one her daughters resembled her so much, the rumor that Marie Laveau never aged began to spread.
So how did Marie Laveau become known as the Voodoo Queen? As I mentioned, there are many resources on Marie, and they all provide different answers to this question. I conclude that Laveau learned from her grandmother, who practiced both Voodoo and Catholicism. According to one source, Laveau would gather with her followers in the Congo Square to give advice, sell her gris-gris bags, and perform spiritual celebrations of calling the spirit of Iwa.
I believe she used voodoo for its original purpose, to heal and do good, and she gave people something to talk during this time, and boy-oh-boy did people talk. I came across an interesting source that aided in the Voodoo Queen legend. John Kendall, a local writer in the early twentieth century wrote, “After dark, you might see carriages roll up to Marie’s door, and veiled ladies, elegantly attired, descend and hurry in to buy what the old witch had for sale. An arrant fraud, no doubt, but money poured into her lap down to the last day of her evil life.” Racism and the fear of anything different from the norms helped birth the legendary Voodoo Queen.
Her tomb is highly visited. The belief that she could grant favors from beyond her grave motivated believers to leave offerings or draw three X’s on her tomb. In 2015, the cemetery was declared off-limits to tourists except for those lead by licensed guides.
I would love to keep going about Marie Laveau, but I believe my mission is achieved. I am to simply plant the seed and leave you to water and grow it by doing more research.
People are going to talk about you, but keep smiling. It makes them miserable.