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Marie Laveau

Updated on May 2, 2012

Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau (1801? - June 16, 1881?) was an American practitioner of voodoo.

Very little is known with any certainty about the life of Marie Laveau. She is supposed to have been born in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1801, the daughter of a white planter and a free Creole of Color (a multi-racial combination of African, Native American, and French (or Spanish)). She married Jacques Paris, also a free Creole of color, on August 4, 1819; her marriage certificate is preserved in Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

Jacques Paris died in 1820 under unexplained circumstances; after his death, Marie Laveau became a hairdresser who catered to wealthy white families. She took a lover, Luis Christopher Duminy de Glapion, with whom she lived until his death in 1835.

Of her magical career, little definite can be said. She is said to have had a snake called Zombi. Oral traditions suggest that the occult part of her magic mixed Roman Catholic beliefs and saints with African spirits and religious concepts. It is also alleged that her feared magical powers came in fact from a network of informants in the households of the prominent that she developed while a hairdresser and that she owned her own brothel. She excelled at obtaining inside information on her wealthy patrons by apparently instilling fear in their servants whom she "cured" of mysterious ailments.

On June 16, 1881, the New Orleans newspapers announced that Marie Laveau had died. This is noteworthy if only because she continued to be seen in the town after her supposed demise. It is claimed that one of her daughters by M. Glapion assumed her name and carried on her magical practice after her death.

According to the list of deaths recorded at RootsWeb.com, a certain Marie Glapion Lavau died on June 15, 1881, aged 98. The different spelling of the last name as well as the age at death may result from inaccuracies during entry of the cited text file.

She is buried in Saint Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans, in the Glapion family crypt. The tomb continues to attract visitors who draw three crosses (XXX) on its side, hoping that her spirit will grant them a wish.

Marie LaVeau

Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau's Tomb

Marie Laveau's Tomb
Marie Laveau's Tomb

Exploring Saint Louis Cemetery

voodoo alter

voodoo alter
voodoo alter

Marie Laveau In Modern Fiction

Marie Laveau appears as a character in numerous novels, especially those that touch on the occult. New Orleans journalist Robert Tallant featured Laveau in two novels: The Voodoo Queen: A Novel and Voodoo in New Orleans. These are considered standard tales of Laveau and New Orleans and can be found in many New Orleans stores. She is the main character in the 1977 eponymously titled novel by Francine Prose, and figures in works of fiction including Neil Gaiman's SF novel American Gods, "The Arcanum" by Thomas Wheeler, Voodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Isabel Allende's romance Zorro, and Midnight Moon by Lori Handeland, among others.

As a character, Marie Laveau appears in other genres as well, including children's literature, comic books, and short stories. She is an enemy of both Doctor Strange and Dracula in Marvel Comics.

In the film Cry of the Werewolf, Marie Laveau is the ancestress of a werewolf. The character of Queen Mousette in the film Blues Brothers 2000 was modeled after Laveau. Marie Leveau is a complicated and fascinating figure in New Orleans history. Though she is famous even today as one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses who ever lived, few hard facts are known about her life. Close scrutiny reveals many contradictions and fantastic legends about Marie Leveau, but even tales which a skeptic might find difficult to accept pale next to the proven facts of this remarkable and powerful woman's life.

Born in the 1790's, details of her exact parentage and origin are uncertain. She moved to New Orleans in her youth and was raised a devout Catholic - later becoming friends with Pere Antoine, the chaplain at St. Louis Cathedral. At the age of twenty-five, Marie joined a local freeman Jacques Paris in what was by all accounts a happy marriage. Later after his disappearance and presumed death, she lived with Cristophe Glapion. Between the two men, Marie bore fifteen children including her daughter Marie who bore a striking resemblance to her mother and eventually became a Voodoo priestess as well.

Marie Leveau's best documented exploit involved the murder trial of a young Creole gentleman, a trial which was almost certain to end in a guilty verdict for the young man. His powerful (and skeptical) father approached Marie and promised her anything if she could rescue his son. Marie agreed, asking for the man's New Orleans house in return. He agreed, and Marie secretly placed several charms throughout the courtroom. When his son was declared not guilty, the gentleman gave her his house as promised, and Marie Leveau gained the instant attention of the city's elite.

Later in life, in another well-documented event, Marie is known to have helped the wounded during the Battle of New Orleans and was so noted for her efforts that she was invited to the state funeral of General Jean Humbert, a hero from that battle.

It is certain that Marie Leveau was a feared and respected figure. Though apparently adept with charms and potions of all kinds, Marie's real power came from her extensive network of spies and informants. The New Orleans elite had the habit of carelessly detailing their most confidential affairs to their slaves and servants who then reported to Marie out of respect and fear. As a result, Marie had an almost magical knowledge of the workings of political and social power in New Orleans. When her daughter, with her uncanny resemblance to Marie, became a priestess, legends of Marie Leveau's power only grew. Now she was ageless and could appear in more than one place at a time.

However, Marie was no charlatan deceiving her followers with tricks and intimidation. She clearly had a great passion and devotion for Voodoo. Her most famous religious mark was probably the rituals on the banks of Bayou St. John held every June 23, St. John's Eve. Voodoo rituals were also held occasionally on the shore of nearby Lake Pontchartrain at Marie's cottage, Maison Blanche. It was said that sometimes Marie Laveau herself would dance with her large snake, Zombi, wrapped around her. Voodoo worshipers believed that even the snake possessed great powers.

Marie's Voodoo was about power but it bore no resemblance to Voodoo as fictionalized by the films of Hollywood. To her, and many of her followers, Voodoo's beliefs were not incompatible with Catholicism and Christian charity. Indeed, Marie frequently visited the sick in New Orleans' prisons, and she was called upon by the city's elite to help combat the Yellow Fever epidemic of the 1850's. Finally late in life as her power began to wane, she stopped practicing Voodoo and once again became Catholic solely.

Marie Leveau is a figure shrouded in mystery. She was a Voodoo priestess and a devoted Catholic. She weaved spells and charms but wielded even more influence through her earthly network of spies and informants. She ruthlessly wielded her power yet went to great pains to help the injured, sick, and downtrodden. In the final analysis, we will never know her true character, but it seems a mistake to try to choose between these disparate sides of Marie Leveau: this fascinating and complex woman was all of these things and more.

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