American Ghost Stories II - Marie LaVeaux
Marie LaVeau's Crypt
The Strange Tale of an American Voodoo Legend
Marie Laveau was born in New Orleans' French Quarter as a free person of color in around 1794. She was a woman of mixed race whose father was a wealthy French planter. Accounts vary on her mother, who was either also a free woman of color, or a biracial slave.
In 1819, Marie married a free man of color, Jacques Paris, who had emigrated from Haiti. He died under mysterious circumstances in 1820 after which time Marie took up with Christophe Glapion, with whom she lived as common law wife until his death in 1835. Together, it was said that Marie and Christophe had as many as 15 children, including Marie LaVeau II, who had taken the last name of her mother's first husband, probably because of the fame her mother had achieved using this name. Both Marie I and Marie II were accomplished voodoo queens. It is still in dispute today, which had more power and influence.
In addition to her voodoo career, Marie was known to have owned her own brothel and also worked as a hairdresser to wealthy white families.
It was not Marie's love nor family life that made her famous. Marie was considered to be America's first voodoo queen. She was born a Roman Catholic, and incorporated many Roman Catholic beliefs into her voodoo practice. She believed in saints and prayed to saints as well as to African spirits. Her brand of voodoo combined elements from both Catholicism and African spiritual practices. Seeing Marie at the altar, praying to her voodoo spirits, with her snake companion Zombi slithered around her, was certainly a site to behold.
There was a large Haitian immigrant population in New Orleans during this time in history, and the superstitious people were fervent in their belief that Marie could make things happen by applying her unique brand of black magic. Such things included curing a variety of ailments, influencing public officials to do her bidding and more.
As with any person of power, rumors circulate about the true nature of Marie's abilities. Some say that Marie's influence came, in fact, from informants who worked as servants within the households of the wealthy public officials that Marie helped with her black magic. The implication is that in exchange for information that she could use to extort the wealthy, Marie would cure the servants of their various ailments. She was also rumored to have used fear and intimidation against the superstitious servants to extract the desired information.
Marie LaVeau's Crypt
Marie Laveau was said to have been approached by a wealthy businessman whose son had been imprisoned for a serious crime. The man wanted Marie to use her voodoo powers to encourage the judge to set his son free. The night before the hearing on the son's fate, Marie entered the church with a plate of hot peppers. She placed three of the peppers in her mouth and left them there for several hours. She believed that by taking on such great suffering, the voodoo gods would reward her cause and the boy would be set free. On the morning of the hearing, Marie entered the courtroom and placed the peppers that had been in her mouth, under the judge's chair. That morning, against all odds, his ruling was to set the boy free.
Marie carried a talisman of "gris-gris" around her neck which was believed to contain a charm or spell. She manufactured gris-gris for others consisting of magical symbols written on parchment in dragon's blood and then sewn into cloth or leather bags. Patrons paid thousands of dollars for such charms and insisted that they were genuinely effective at warding off bad luck, illness and evil spirits. Because of her powers, Marie was often summoned during outbreaks of devastating illness such as yellow fever and cholera. She would nurse the sick, who consistently returned to good health. While her methods included the use of herbs, other plants, oils and prayer, those of a more superstitious nature thought her methods to be evil, and possessed a great fear of her.
Marie LaVeau Voodoo Doll
Gris Gris Bags
Despite her mystical leanings, Marie's influence over both secular and religious figureheads had its advantages. Marie was allowed to perform her voodoo ceremonies and rituals on the altars of the largest church in New Orleans, an act that would have been considered blastphemous had anyone else attempted to do so. And when she did so, she achieved a great following.
Since Marie's death, people continue to feel her spirit down in the bayou. Superstitious persons continue to request favors of the long-dead Marie and a tradition has arisen out of this practice. Prior to asking a favor, one must knock three times on the door of the crypt in which her remains are held. Once the favor has been granted, the individual must return and mark the crypt with three X's using either chalk, or a chipped brick. It is also customary for people to leave coins, alcohol or flowers at her crypt door. Others leave original handmade voodoo items that are thought to please Marie's spirit.
Many believe that Marie's spirit returns on St. John's Eve, June 23rd, and attends the spectacular Voodoo Ritual held on the Bayou St. John by a high priestess at which voodoo faithfuls are baptized into their new religion.
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