Marie Laveau

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An altar to the spirit of Marie Laveau; the framed print on the wall is from a painting by Wayne Dimitri Fouquet

Marie Laveau was a Lousiana Creole hoodoo practitioner and the most famous of the Voodoo Queens of New Orleans. She was born around 1790 as a free person of colour, the daughter of a White planter and a free Creole woman. Much of her life is shrouded and mystery and legend, but it is known that she worked as a hair dresser and that in 1819 she married a Haitian immigrant, Jacques (or Santiago) Paris, a free person of colour. She and her daughter, who was also known as Marie Laveau, are often confused as the same person.

Breaking the norm of the era, Marie Laveau rose to prominence during the 1800s as a hoodoo practitioner and the most famous of the Voodoo priestess whose power was feared and respected throughout Louisiana. She was reputed to have clients from all social classes, races, and creeds who sought out her powers with spirits to help them in matters of court cases, love, and revenge. She is portrayed as having a snake named Zombi, named after the African creator-deity Nzambi and performing large public religious ceremonies on St. John's Eve that were attended by throngs of people.

As one famous example of her power, it is told that a wealthy tycoon bought her a house in return for her help in getting his son out of prison, which she successfully did. As a further display of the power she wielded, it is said that she performed her magical work to get the boy out of prison inside a Catholic Church, without protest from the parish.

The combination of the religious and magical power with the political authority she wielded, and her role as a Voodoo queen lent Marie Laveau an aura of mystery that continued long after her death and made her into a legend. She passed away peacefully in her 90s, and was buried in Saint Louis Cemetery Number 1, but many eye-witnesses claim to have seen her even after her death. Her daughter took on her mantle, and many women since have taken on the title of Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

In the early 20th century, long after her death, a spell-book was published that bore her name. The earliest grimoire of New Orleans type rootwork, much of it in the Catholic folk magic tradition, it has been revised and released in many variant editions by an assortment of publishers. The contents of these publications -- known under names such as the "Life and Works of Marie Laveau," "Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau," "Old and New Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau," "Black and White Magic Attributed to Marie Laveau," "Revised Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau," "Original Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau," and "Genuine Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau" -- are as varied as their titles.

Today, Marie Laveau's grave has become a shrine for spirit-workers from many Folk-Catholic and African Diasporic religionists, some of whom have taken her on as a spirit guide. People make her burial spot a place of pilgrimage, leaving flowers, coins, alcohol, food, and other offerings in return for her favours. She is also petitioned by making triple "X" marks on her tomb. Knowing her power in life, people call upon her powerful spirit to intervene in their lives.

Hoodoo doctors who work with Marie Laveau often call upon her or make use of her graveyard dirt to aid them in spirit-work, court case work, and to help them gain personal spiritual mastery. In addition, they may prescribe hoodoo and conjure practices from the "Black and White Magic of Marie Lavaeu."


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