Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans

Marie Laveau, shes the subject of rumors, mysteries, of comic books, horror movies and television series. I can't remember when I first heard her name. I grew up a fan of comics and horror movies. To some extent Marie has always been with me. Lately Marie Laveau has become even more widespread, with a fictionalized version of her starring on the television series American Horror Story: Coven.
Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau

Coven the third season of American Horror Story was set in the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. To not have Marie a part of the show would almost be a slight. However people of New Orleans, people who live with her legacy weren't that happy with her portrayal. It's not that Angela Basset didn't do a good job with the role itself, but more the way Marie Laveau was presented. American Horror Story took the worst of the stories and rumors and amplified them. Their voodoo priestess was a sadistic murderer and baby killer. While there is a lot of mystery about Marie's life, and death, this scenario seems far from the truth.
St. Louis Cathedral from the Mississippi River
St. Louis Cathedral in the New Orleans French Quarter, home of Marie Laveau

True, not a lot is known about Marie Laveau, and a lot of what we thought we knew, is often brought into question. So when talking about her, always realize it could be true, only part of the truth or legend. What we know, or believe as of now, is that Marie was born the daughter of Charles Laveau (or Laveaux) and Margeurite. Marguerite was the daughter of a freed slave, and Charles, according to different sources was either a wealthy white plantation owner, a free person of color, or even the fifth mayor of New Orleans. The fifth mayor of New Orleans was named Charles Laveau Trudeau, so it's easy to see where some would claim him to be Marie's father, but it's likely not true. In fact the free person of color seems most likely.

In 1819 Marie Laveau married Jacques Paris, in a ceremony that was believed performed by Father Antonio de Sedella, who is also known as Pere Antonio. No one knows exactly what happened to Jacque, but he disappeared and was believed to have died (at this point, several hundred years later it is pretty safe to say he has passed away), and Marie became officially known as the Widow Paris. While it is believed the couple had no children that survived, one of Marie's daughters at times used the surname Paris.

After her marriage ended, Marie became he mistress of Christophe Glapion, a white veteran of the Battle of New Orleans. Marie stayed with Glapion until his death in 1885, and reported never took another male companion after his death. The couple reportedly had between 7 and 15 children in their 30 years, and descendants of the couple are still alive today. Their first child, widely known as Marie II was born in 1827. Legends said she looked very much like her mother, and many think this contributed to the legends of Marie. When She walked the streets of the French Quarter, were the people seeing Marie II, or her ageless mother, kept vital by the black arts.

Most of Marie's involvement with Voodoo is rumor and conjecture. She is believed to have been a successful hairdresser and to have gained information from her wealthy clients that aided her Voodoo practice. She regularly held ceremonies and performed on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, or was that her daughter Marie II? Almost everyone agrees that while being the High Priestess of New Orleans, she was also a devout catholic. Local guides will tell you she attended Mass every day.
House from American Horror Story: Coven with Marie Laveau
The Coven house from American Horror Story: Coven, which featured a version of Marie Laveau

She is also credited with healing and lending aid to victims of the many Yellow Fever outbreaks alongside Pere Antonio. When most New Orleanians of the time tried to avoid the sick and dying, these two took them in and cared for them. Unlike her character in American Horror Story:Coven, Marie, at least according to locals voodoo practitioners,used her voodoo for healing and good, not evil. She is revered almost as a saint to many in New Orleans. It's believed in the later part of her life she turned away from voodoo, more fully embracing the catholic faith. She continued in her charitable doings. Over her life she took in indigents and orphans, feeding them and giving them a home if needed. She even allowed those with no place to be buried, find final rest in the Glapion family crypt. There they lay alongside her beloved Christophe, her children and eventually Marie herself.

In 1881 Marie Laveau passed away, peacefully in her sleep in her home on St. Anne street in New Orleans. She was buried in St Louis Cemetery #1 with a traditional catholic ceremony. You can visit her tomb now, with a tour, the cemetery is closed to non licensed tour groups die to vandalism. A lot of the vandalism, unfortunately involves the tomb of Marie itself. Vandals have taken to desecrating the tomb with X's as a way of contacting Marie, as well as spray painting the tomb. Please don't do this. It's disrespectful, it's callous and it's very illegal. Beyond showing disrespect to the dead it can actually damage the tomb.
tomb of Marie Laveau
Final Resting place of Marie Laveau

So who was Marie Laveau, beyond the fact that she was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. It kind of depends on who you ask. New Orleans locals for the most part see her as a kind woman, a loving mother and devout catholic. Still some whisper there was a darker side. No one will ever know for sure, but it's almost certain her legacy as an evil person was highly inflated, by Hollywood, and those who didn't understand Voodoo. Her generous side is likely inflated to some extend as well, like I said, the real truth is only known by the dead themselves.

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