Marie LaVeau was born a free woman color in 1794 or there abouts. (The records are very sketchy) She would become the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen, New Orleans and America had ever seen. Marie was the illegitimate daughter of a rich Creole plantation owner and his mistress Marguerite. Not much is known about her until she was about the age of twenty five when she wed another free person of color, a carpenter named Jacques Paris. Paris soon went missing and was presumed dead. Mam’zelle LaVeau referred to herself as Widow Paris as was the custom. Our Voodoo Queen was a hot blooded Cajun miss and soon entered into a common law marriage with a gentleman by the name of Christophe de Glapion with whom she had fifteen children. (Yep, I said fifteen. Girls, how you feeling right about now??) During her life she worked as a hairdresser and purveyor of spells. This will come into play later, I promise.
Mam’zelle learned her craft from a Voodoo Doctor or witch doctor named Dr. John, John Bayou, and many other norm de plumes (Yes, I am doing a Creole accent as I type this. Accents help with research. I promise. It’s not just something fun for me to do…much.) By 1830 she was one of several Voodoo Queens working NOLA , New Orleans. However, Mam’zelle was not happy with sharing the spotlight and soon demanded dominance. She achieved this by taking charge of rituals held at Congo Square and distributing gris-gris throughout the social classes. (Gris-gris is more than just spells it can be a bag filled with essential items to the spell which may be worn on the person or maybe something to pass to another. Voodoo dolls fall under the category of gris-gris)
Because of her position as a hairdresser, Marie was given admittance to the homes of many of the affluent ladies in the Quarter, thus allowing her to spread her Voodoo magic to whites, blacks, and mixed races. (United Nations of Magic) It also gave her the ability to set up a network of informants throughout those same homes. The intel provided by housekeepers, scullery maids, chambermaids, and cooks allowed her “insight” into her customer secret lives. She could easily tailor the spells and gris-gris bags to their specific needs. She parlayed her knowledge into a position of great importance. She was the high queen of voodoo. “No event in any household in New Orleans was secret from Marie LeVeau” She told fortunes, gave advice on love, prepared custom gris-gris to effect cures, charm, or hex. (Side note the s is silent in gris-gris)
If anything Mam’zelle LaVeau was a colorful show woman and astute businesswoman. At Congo Square she would stage ceremonies in which people would dance naked before bonfires under the thrall of loas(Voodoo spirits of high regard) She, herself would also dance with her snake, Zombi. Marie was also known for seeming to be able to stay perpetually young for over a century until she died in 1881. Historians explain this longevity in LaVeau’s life with the fact that her daughter, who shared her name and voodoo training, simply took over when the elder LaVeau died and pretended to in fact be her mother.
There is much controversy surrounding her burial ground. Historians are not even sure if the body in her grave is truly Marie LaVeau. She is believed to be buried in St. Louis 1 cemetery. (There are three cemeteries bearing the name St. Louis in New Orleans) For many years after her death people left silver on her grave out of love and respect. To this day people still go there and put their hand on her grave which is marked with three red Xs on one side, and ask her spirit to grant a wish. The asker is to leave flowers as payment once the wish is granted. In my research for this blog I came across a copy of the spell used at Marie’s grave. I have not posted it here, but if you would like to see it, leave me a comment and I will email it out.
Did Marie LaVeau truly have powers or was her magic a direct result of her brilliant network of spies in the upper echelon and good old fashion belief in the lower classes? Voodoo is a powerful and mystical religious tradition that has been shrouding in mystery for centuries. The power of any religion relies in the strength of its practitioners. For Mam’zelle’s clients they believed she had the power of the Loas and the Lagebas. Perhaps she truly did have magic in her veins. Either way, Marie LaVeau will always remain American’s Voodoo Queen and the ultimate witchy woman.
(If you have questions about Voodoo, drop me a line and I will point you in the direction of literature and blogs that can give you the needed info)