Voodoo is one of many things New Orleans is famous for. Many tourists travel from all over to New Orleans to experience this mysticism, to buy voodoo dolls and potions, and to hear strange stories of possessions and curses. One of the most enduring stories related to the New Orleans voodoo culture is that of Marie Laveau, New Orleans very own voodoo queen.
Though she has been dead for more than a century, Marie’s legend lives on. Until today, there are some who claim she still holds power over the city. Not much is known about Marie Laveau. There are many so stories here and there about this mysterious woman that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Was she really a master at her arts, and capable of summoning spirits to do her bidding? Could she use the mystic arts to solve the problems of those who came to her for advice? Did she have connections with judges and other elite members of society as some critics claim? Where was she born? Where was she buried? It’s hard to say for sure. To add to the confusion, many people mistake her daughter, Marie Laveau II for her! Her daughter was a well-known practitioner of voodoo too, but it was the mother who was considered the queen.
There is disagreement over when Marie Laveau was born and where. The general sentiment is that she was born in 1794, but there are claims that she was born in 1796 or 1801. Her birthplace is equally disputed. Some claim she was born in Saint Domingue which later became Haiti, and migrated to New Orleans. Some however, claim that she was born in New Orleans itself. Her official father, Charles Laveau was white and a carpenter while her mother, Darcantel Marguerite, was a former African slave. However, it is widely believed that she was an illegitimate child of mixed heritage, with some claiming that she descended from royalty! There’s almost nothing known about her early life before her marriage except that she was very close to her two sisters who were both named Marie.
Even her appearance is unknown; people have described her using various colors. Some say she was dark-skinned while others said she was white, and yet others claimed she was somewhere in-between. But everyone agreed one thing: she was beautiful, and like all young beautiful women, she found herself in the arms of a suitor. His name was Jacques Paris, a man who came from Haiti. When Haiti gained its freedom from the French, many migrated to New Orleans which had a strong French and Spanish background. Their marriage took place on August 4, 1819. Their marriage though, would be cut short; her husband Jacques would disappear in just a few years. No one knows what happened to him, and there are many conspiracies. One of these conspiracies claims he went back to Haiti. Officially, he was proclaimed dead, and Marie gained the title ‘Veuve Paris’ (Widow Paris).
After the disappearance of her husband, Marie had an affair with another man from Haiti, Louis Christopher Duminy de Clapion. They never married, but Marie had fifteen children with Christopher. The two remained lovers until Christopher’s death in 1935. Marie also worked as a hairdresser for the wealthy elite. By that time, Marie already had a considerable reputation in New Orleans.
During Marie’s time, voodoo was widely practiced in secret, especially among the blacks. Marie supposedly learned her craft from John Bayou, a voodoo doctor known as Doctor John. Under Doctor John, Marie learned how to create gris-gris bags. These were small pouches where Marie would put anything inside such as animal skin, stones, herbs, or dried beans. What she placed in the bag would depend on what kind of charm or curse she wanted to produce. There were many voodoo queens competing with each other, but when Marie began practicing her craft, the others lost their influence. It was said that Marie’s voodoo was more powerful than all the other’s. Marie opened her services to include all customers regardless of race or social class. But she did have a big heart for the poor and those who were still slaves. This led her to give free services to them at times. Many believed Marie could do anything with her voodoo; she could make two people fall in love, kill a terrible person, give good fortune to those who were mistreated, and even magically convince judges to decide in her favor.
There is a common legend associated with Marie where she used voodoo to convince a judge to declare innocent a man who allegedly committed murder. The legend says that the father of the man gave Marie a house for her help. But while many believed in her voodoo powers, there were detractors as well. These detractors claimed that Marie’s ‘powers’ were political, and not magical. They said Marie knew people in high places due to her job as a hairdresser. It was also claimed that Marie owned a brothel which she used to get information.
Marie died on June 16, 1881, and was buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery. Until this day, many visit her tomb to ask for guidance, or to give her offerings. It is a custom nowadays for those who visit her tomb to make a wish.