Marie Ann Laveau

Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo

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(September 10, 1794 – June 16, 1881) was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo renowned in New Orleans. She was born free in New Orleans.

Marie was believed to have been born free in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, about 1794, the daughter of a white planter and a free Creole woman of color. On August 4, 1819, she married Jacques (or Santiago, in other records) Paris, a free person of color who had emigrated from Haiti.2 Their marriage certificate is preserved in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The wedding Mass was performed by Father Antonio de Sedella, the Capuchin priest known as Pere Antoine.3 Jacques Paris died in 1820 under unexplained circumstances. He was part of a large Haitian immigration to New Orleans in 1809 after the Haitian Revolution of 1804. New immigrants consisted of French-speaking white planters and thousands of slaves as well as free people of color. Those with African ancestry helped revive Voodoo and other African-based cultural practices in the New Orleans community, and the Creole of color community increased markedly. After Paris’s death Marie Laveau became a hairdresser who catered to wealthy white families. She took a lover, Christophe (Louis Christophe Dumesnil de Glapion), with whom she lived until his death in 1835. They were reported to have had 15 children including Marie Laveau II, born c. 1827, who sometimes used the surname “Paris” after her mother’s first husband. Very little is known with any certainty about the life of Marie Laveau. Her surviving daughter had the same name and is called Marie Laveau II by some historians. Scholars believe that the mother was more powerful while the daughter arranged more elaborate public events (including inviting attendees to St. John’s Eve rituals on Bayou St. John). They received varying amounts of financial support. It is not known which (if not both) had done more to establish the voodoo queen reputation. Of Laveau’s magical career there is little that can be substantiated. She was said to have had a snake she named Zombi after an African god. Oral traditions suggested that the occult part of her magic mixed Roman Catholic beliefs, including saints, with African spirits and religious concepts. Some scholars believe that her feared magical powers of divination were actually based on her network of informants which she developed while working as a hairdresser in households of the prominent. As she visited her clients (mostly white) she listened closely to their gossip. Some assert that she ran her own brothel and cultivated informants in that way as well. She appeared to excel at obtaining inside information on her wealthy patrons by instilling fear in their servants whom she either paid or “cured” of mysterious ailments. On June 16, 1881, the New Orleans newspapers announced that Marie Laveau had died peacefully in her home. This is noteworthy if only because people claimed to have seen her in town after her supposed demise. Again, some claimed that one of her daughters also named Marie (many of the daughters had Marie within their names due to Catholic naming practices) assumed her name and carried on her magical practice, taking over as the queen soon before or after the first Marie’s death. According to official New Orleans vital records, 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 the casual 19th-century approach to spelling as well as conflicting accounts of Laveau’s birth. Marie Laveau was reportedly buried in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans in the Glapion family crypt This fact is in dispute, according to Robert Tallant, a journalist who has used her as a character in historical novels.7 The tomb continues to attract visitors who draw three "x"s (XXX) on its side, in the hopes that Laveau’s spirit will grant them a wish. Some self-styled researchers claim that Laveau is buried in other tombs, but they may be confusing the resting places of other voodoo priestesses of New Orleans.

Marie Ann Laveau

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