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home > articles > The voodoo queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau

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The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Marie Laveau

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

The streets of the New Orleans French Quarter hold the tales of dark history the likes us Canadians cannot know. Many of the stories belong to the Voodoo Queen of Louisiana, a woman so shrouded in mystery that facts of her life are now lost forever.

Mansfield Reformatory
Portrait, 1920 by Franck Schneider
On display at the Louisiana Museum

Marie the Saint
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Her “magic” was steeped in positive Catholic and African concepts. These are the roots of traditional Voodoo, the kind of hacked magic that found its way into Louisiana by way of the slave population from the small island of Haiti.

Even though it was demonised by many religions, you could take Marie Laveau as an example of why Voodoo could do good as easily as it could do bad.

One of the biggest mysteries about Marie Laveau was her knowledge. She was aware of many secrets kept from the slave quarters to high-society. It seemed like nothing was unknown to the Voodoo Queen. This started the rumours that Marie Laveau could see into your soul… but the real truth was much craftier.

One of Marie’s first jobs was as a hairdresser for many high-society women, which lead to her hearing gossip about the powerful of New Orleans, and making contacts within their houses. Marie would talk regularly slaves and servants and offer rewards for information.

It could be said that during the years of the (1830 until her death in 1881), that Marie Laveau knew more about the citizens of New Orleans than even the government. This made her the centre of attention, and with these “powers” it’s no doubt that the citizens would turn to her in times of trouble.

During the worst breakouts of Yellow Fever and Cholera, Marie was a saint who saved many, and helped make the transition to death a comfortable one. She was there, in the worst hospital wards, using her knowledge of herbal medicines and Voodoo prayer to save the dying. This was frowned on by the local church, but nobody could stop her.

Contrary to popular belief, Marie Laveau was a religious woman, and even turned to Catholicism after the death of Christophe. It didn’t stop at dedication and prayer. She became an advocate of the church and converted many people over the years.

Turning to the popular church didn’t stop Marie Laveau from turning away from the popular view. She (obviously) wasn’t an advocate of slavery. Being a free woman of color meant that Marie was free to own slaves. She took advantage of this… but not to make life easier on herself, but instead to make more free people of color.

A slave woman named Alexandrine came to the Laveau household. She was purchased by Jean Jacques Christophe Paris, a fake name using Marie’s two husbands. The fake name was used to secure ownership of the slave for just ten days. Alexandrine was sold to Mr. Dumartrait, a plantation owner in town, in exchange for 1000 Spanish piasters (currency), which would secure the slave woman’s freedom. The loop-hole was found in that piasters no longer existed in modern New Orleans, so no money could be passed and Alexandrine was now free.

Mr. Dumartrait was a real man, in love with a slave named Alexandrine. She was now free and any children she had with her new husband were free too, all thanks to Marie Laveau.

Marie the Devil
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The dark consultation of Marie Laveau was sought by the many great men of New Orleans. They would visit with Marie at her St. Ann cottage, sit with her and discuss business matters. After fully understanding the situation, Marie would give them advice on how to proceed.

She was always right.

After time, many questioned how a “simple free woman of color” could know the business of great men. The mystery was so grand, that the only solution was Voodoo, a practice long condemned by the Catholic Church as satanic. Were these men selling their souls to the devil for wealth?

Some might be insulted by this, but Marie wasn’t. She accepted the rumours for the respect and fear they bought her. This sealed her strong reputation in the superstitious French Quarter and so began the reign of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen.

Marie disappeared for a time. It’s said she went off to train with a famous Voodoo priest named Doctor John. He was believed to be a free man of color with so much experience in dark magic, that he’s never been discovered because of this power.

Who better to train the Queen… only question, did Doctor John really exist?

Some accounts of Doctor John’s age have him born in 1800. This would make him only 30 years old when he trained Marie, and 6 years younger her junior. Many years later, Marie the Second was heard referring to Doctor John, but not as a person, instead as an African spirit that could assist with rituals.

Others say Doctor John’s true name was Jean Montanet, a man born in Senegal in 1785. That he was a real Voodoo priest that practice in a historic slave meeting spot called Congo Square (now part of Louis Armstrong Park).

If Doctor John was real, then connecting Marie Laveau with this man could explain her connection to evil. John was known for his dark magic, even though it was sometimes used to provide justice.

In 1830, Marie returned as a Voodoo Queen, and she loved the reputation and publicity this brought. To support it, she played the part with rituals, a snake named Zombi, and her eternal youth.

Voodoo is a mix of Catholicism and African religions, both using snakes for different reason. This connecting factor made snakes an important part of traditional Voodoo. Marie had a pet snake named Li Grand Zombi (or just Zombi to his friends). She was witnessed during rituals by many, swaying and dancing about, Zombi lovingly wrapped around her shoulders.

Marie the Second

Marie the Second is a name given to the daughter of the true Marie Laveau. One of the greatest tricks played on the people of New Orleans was to make them believe Marie was eternally young. It helped that Marie’s first born daughter looked exactly like her. From the moment that she was old enough, Marie the Second took over many public duties for her mother.

Marie Laveau was bedridden starting in 1873. That’s when Marie the Second started showing up to public events. She told everyone that she was Marie Laveau, and when asked why she looked so good (or young), she would just smile. People believed her, and knew that Marie Laveau had found youth again through her powerful magic.

Marie the Second was also a Voodoo priestess, some rumoured almost as good as her mother. This helped sell the lie. She died in 1897, and because of the confusion, it’s said in some places that Marie Laveau lived to be over 100 years old.

The Fiction

Today’s view of the “evil” Marie Laveau was helped along by many writers who passed their fiction off as possible fact. One of the most famous was Robert Tallant, a columnist for a local New Orleans newspaper in the 1940’s.

In 1946, Robert released a book on Marie Laveau called The Voodoo Queen: A Novel. This was called a “fictionalized biography”, and conveyed the Queen as the conductor of many violent and bloody rituals, and even describing her as the leader of a satanic cult.

Robert Tallant died in such a strange fashion, that if were still alive, he would have considered it the work of Marie Laveau. He mysteriously dropped dead while drinking a glass of tap water in his New Orleans apartment. This occurred ten years after the book was published. The coroner deemed the death to be of natural causes; no other explanation was given.

 

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