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Voodoo Queen

Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau

Martha Ward
Copyright Date: 2004
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    Voodoo Queen
    Book Description:

    Each year, thousands of pilgrims visit the celebrated New Orleans tomb where Marie Laveau is said to lie. They seek her favors or fear her lingering influence.Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveauis the first study of the Laveaus, mother and daughter of the same name. Both were legendary leaders of religious and spiritual traditions many still label as evil.

    The Laveaus were free women of color and prominent French-speaking Catholic Creoles. From the 1820s until the 1880s when one died and the other disappeared, gossip, fear, and fierce affection swirled about them. From the heart of the French Quarter, in dance, drumming, song, and spirit possession, they ruled the imagination of New Orleans.

    How did the two Maries apply their "magical" powers and uncommon business sense to shift the course of love, luck, and the law? The women understood the real crime--they had pitted their spiritual forces against the slave system of the United States. Moses-like, they led their people out of bondage and offered protection and freedom to the community of color, rich white women, enslaved families, and men condemned to hang.

    The curse of the Laveau family, however, followed them. Both loved men they could never marry. Both faced down the press and police who stalked them. Both countered the relentless gossip of curses, evil spirits, murders, and infant sacrifice with acts of benevolence.

    The book is also a detective story--who is really buried in the famous tomb in the oldest "city of the dead" in New Orleans? What scandals did the Laveau family intend to keep buried there forever? By what sleight of hand did free people of color lose their cultural identity when Americans purchased Louisiana and imposed racial apartheid upon Creole creativity?Voodoo Queenbrings the improbable testimonies of saints, spirits, and never-before printed eyewitness accounts of ceremonies and magical crafts together to illuminate the lives of the two Marie Laveaus, leaders of a major, indigenous American religion.

    Martha Ward is the author ofNest in the Wind,A World Full of Women, andA Sounding of Women: Autobiographies from Unexpected Places, among other books. She is University Research Professor of Anthropology, Urban Studies, and Women's Studies at the University of New Orleans.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-481-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Introduction: At the Beginning
    (pp. IX-2)

    It is a prime-time story when free women of color use their spiritual gifts to confront suffering and injustice, and white men in power accuse them of witchcraft. Marie Laveau, the legendary founder and priestess of American Voodoo, was in real life two women with the same name—a mother and her daughter, both Creoles of New Orleans. Yes, they worked their magic on a city’s soul, and year after year thousands of visitors make pilgrimages to the famous tomb said to hold their remains. Yet, until now, the story of their spiritual and historic lives has been unavailable, and...

  4. Chapter 1 Who in Heaven or Hell, Africa or France, Was Marie Laveau?
    (pp. 3-20)

    The drummer started a slow beat; a trumpet made from an animal’s horn sounded four long notes. The gathering had begun. As Marie Laveau crossed Rampart Street and neared Congo Square, the multi-leveled roofs of the French Quarter and the spires of St. Louis Cathedral rose behind her. At the entrance to the dance plaza, she passed market women selling their wares—pecan pies, spruce beer, Louisiana rum, and pralines filled with peanuts, coconut, or popcorn. Marie had left the corsets, petticoats, and heavy undergarments she wore to church that Sunday morning at home. In their stead, she chose a...

  5. Chapter 2 Catholic in the Morning, Voodoo by Night
    (pp. 21-33)

    On the Saturday afternoon before Palm Sunday in the spring of 1819, a group of women like the young Marie the First, then seventeen years of age, carried three boxes of graduated sizes into St. Louis Cathedral. They stacked them up in the downriver aisle, lifted a heavy painted arch to the top, and nailed it in place. When the construction was complete, the women covered the platform with a shimmering white cloth. On two of the stepped sides of the shrine they placed wax dolls about the size of a five- or six-year-old child and draped silver banners about...

  6. Chapter 3 Working Wife, Widow, Mistress, and Voodoo Divorcée
    (pp. 34-48)

    The candles on the high altar of St. Louis Cathedral burned with spellbound brilliance, as candles were said to do in the presence of Marie Laveau. Flowering vines flowed across the communion railings and around the ends of the pews where Marie’s two half-sisters, also named Marie, had draped them in the custom of the day. A multicolored cross-section of the Creole community—women in rainbowtignons,men in formal French coats and cravats—gathered that August in front of the tall tapers of the Cathedral to stand witness to Marie’s social achievements.

    Marie’s mother, a free woman of color...

  7. Chapter 4 Marie Laveau Brings the New Orleans Saints to Town
    (pp. 49-64)

    For three days in January, in the year 1829, all businesses in New Orleans closed their doors. TheLouisiana Couriersuspended publication and the legislature adjourned; flags on public buildings flew at half-mast. Creoles, Protestants, Freemasons, Voodoos, foreign dignitaries, soldiers, slaves, the governor, the full Supreme Court, the Senate and House of Representatives of Louisiana, and all manner of mourners—every age, class, color, and condition of servitude—filed past the mortal body of Père Antoine as it lay in state at the front of St. Louis Cathedral.

    The Widow Paris, two months pregnant with her second daughter, no doubt...

  8. Chapter 5 Color Schemes and Protection Policies on St. Ann Street
    (pp. 65-77)

    Marie and Christophe made love in a hand-wrought walnut bed—high and small as marital beds were in their time. APicayunereporter who interviewed her as she lay dying left us an account of the distinctive furniture in her bedroom. Marie’s first husband had been a carpenter, and Christophe’s half-brother, Celestin, was a master craftsman in a community full of artisans who made fine furniture from the creamy yellow, rose-red, and rich brown woods of the forests and swamps that surrounded New Orleans. But it is not who made the bed or what it was made of that matters....

  9. Chapter 6 Freedom à la Mode, à la Marie
    (pp. 78-92)

    By sunrise the French Market was in its usual uproar. In the highpitched squeal of unoiled wheels, still drowsy mules had pulled carts up to the curbstones at three in the morning and unloaded their goods—eggplants and alligators, beefsteaks and eggs. At the end of the vegetable market, sellers hung dead chickens head down from the roof; live ones in their coops screeched against the same fate. Thin mangy dogs scavenged for scraps among the limp cabbage leaves rotting on the muddy floors of the market. The smells of monstrous cheeses and the curses of twenty languages filled the...

  10. Chapter 7 Life in the Cities of the Dead
    (pp. 93-107)

    The weather on January 6, 1845, was more like summer than winter. In warm showers and high humidity, the family on St. Ann Street hurried about the duties that death had forced upon them. A neighbor fastened white crepe on the front door—the sign a child had died. Someone summoned a priest. Friends stopped the clocks in the house at the hour death came and covered the mirrors with dark cloth. Fresh-brewed chicory coffee filled the large urns the family kept on hand for such occasions. A member of the benevolent and burial society tacked hand-lettered signs on the...

  11. Chapter 8 At the Altar of Love and Luck
    (pp. 108-122)

    On Monday evenings, Marie the Second sneaked back into Congo Square. On one side a live oak stood, the queen of New Orleans’ trees, a tree whose leaves remained green despite harsh summers and balmy winters. The branches of the ancient tree swooped to the ground. Children walked up them high into its heart, and two grown men could stand inside its hollow core at the same time. On the ground in front of the tree Marie spread a white tablecloth. She lit a candle in each corner, and placed statues in the middle—St. Peter the Protector and St....

  12. Chapter 9 Madame Laveau’s Prayers, Poisons, and Political Pull
    (pp. 123-139)

    The July morning set for the double execution dawned blue and gold. Thousands of people had thronged the streets outside Parish Prison to wait for the noontime hangings. Judges, doctors, reporters, and civic leaders filed onto the wooden benches in the cobbled courtyard below the windows of death row. Marie Laveau, the Widow Paris, stood in front of the gallows.

    The condemned white men—Jean Adams and Anthony Delille—were guilty of the gruesome murder of a slave girl named Mary. Clad in white shirts, pants, and caps, with their arms pinioned tightly with a rope across their backs, they...

  13. Chapter 10 How John, the Devil, and Mam’zelle Marie Hoodooed the Media
    (pp. 140-153)

    Marie Laveau the Second, reigning queen of the Voodoos, stood in the prow of a shallow barge. In her purple dress, rope belt, gold jewelry, and tall whitetignon,she looked as perfect as the weather above the firelit beaches of Lake Pontchartrain that midsummer’s night. Hundreds of people lined the shore, waiting for her. As she stepped from the boat, they clapped and hailed her with the words and rhythms of the conjure song everyone knew belonged to her:Mam’zelle Marie, fe chauffez. Mam’zelle Marie, chauffez ça,which I have translated on the advice of speakers and scholars of...

  14. Chapter 11 A Tale of Two Sisters
    (pp. 154-170)

    The physician from the health department of New Orleans knocked on the door of 152 St. Ann early that September morning. The women who opened the old door to him were dressed in Creole mourning clothes, the linen handkerchiefs they pulled from hidden pockets soaked with their tears. She passed away at four o’clock in the morning, they told him. He questioned them. No, she was not married, and yes, she had been born in New Orleans, they answered. What did she die of? How long had she been ill? To himself he added the silent questions his profession demanded,...

  15. Chapter 12 The Last Queen of the Voodoos Returns from the Dead
    (pp. 171-190)

    In the season when hurricanes mass off the coast of Africa and sweep across the Atlantic, when crepe myrtle trees explode in blowzy balls, and when heat-weary citizens sit on their stoops, the brick-scoured front steps of their cottages, the streets of New Orleans buzzed with enthralled tales of what had happened to Marie Laveau. From Frenchmen and Desire to St. Charles and Annunciation, from the neighborhoods of Tremé and Marigny to the Seventh and the Ninth Wards, the latestgumbo ya-yaspread like the floodwaters of the Mississippi when they escaped their levees.

    Did you hear? “Marie Laveau was...

  16. Postscript: Events in the Lives of the Marie Laveaus
    (pp. 191-195)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 196-225)
  18. Sources
    (pp. 226-237)
  19. At the End: In Recognition and Respect
    (pp. 238-240)
  20. Index
    (pp. 241-246)