The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Witchcraft Hall of Fame
Marie Laveau was a Voodoo priestess, medium, diviner, and spell-caster. She is credited with formalizing and establishing the tradition of New Orleans Voodoo. She has been called the Queen of Conjure; she proclaimed herself the Pope of Voodoo and few would disagree with her.
Marie’s life is somewhat mysterious. She was born a free woman of color in New Orleans. Her date of birth is variously given as 1783, 1794, and 1801. She was of mixed African, European, and Native American ancestry, born to a family allegedly well versed in Hoodoo and Voodoo.
A “free person of color” was a legal classification of status in French colonial North America. French law distinguished between enslaved and free people of color. A free person of color was forced to carry papers proving their status so as not to be pressed into service as escaped slaves, as no doubt many were.
In 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris, a free man of color from Saint-Domingue, now modern Haiti, but Paris disappears from history within a few years. There is no known record of his death but Marie became known as the Widow Paris. She then entered into a relationship with Louis Christophe Dominic Duminy de Glapion until his death in 1855.
Legend had it that he too was a free man of color from Saint-Domingue, but historian Carolyn Morris Long, author of Spiritual Merchants (University of Tennessee Press, 2001) claims that based on death certificate and property succession records he was born in Louisiana, the legitimate son of white parents. He was allegedly related to the Haitian ruler Henri Christophe via his paternal grandfather, the French nobleman Chevalier Christophe de Glapion, Seigneur du Mesnil-Gauche.
Marie Laveau worked as a hairdresser, a position of tremendous power for a magical practitioner and not just because she was privy to intimate gossip, as has been suggested, but because she had access to hair. This is a powerful component in a vast variety of magic spells.
By approximately 1850, Marie Laveau was recognized as the leader of the New Orleans Voodoo community. She worked from her home, offering personal consultations and leading rituals. The Glapion-Laveau family lived at 152 St Ann Street. Marie’s cottage was demolished in 1903. The site is now 1020—1022 St Ann Street.
Interviews with those who knew her describe her home as filled with lit candles. She had a statue of St Anthony turned upside down to make him “work” more efficiently and images of St Peter (Elegba?) and St Marron, an unofficial Louisiana saint. She also maintained an altar in the back of her house that featured statues of a bear, lion, tiger, and wolf.
Marie presided over annual St John’s Eve (Midsummer’s Eve) ritual celebrations on Lake Pontchartrain where she famously danced with her snake, the Grand Zombi. (Not zombi like the living dead; zombi as in a corruption of the Vodou magician lwa, Simbi. See DIVINE WITCH.)
A famous legend of Marie Laveau suggests that when she was elderly, she entered the lake, submerged and re-emerged as if she were decades younger. Devotees considered this proof of her power; skeptics believe this was how she retired and passed power to her daughter, also named Marie. Some believe Marie Laveau died on June 15, 1881. Others believe she never died but kept regenerating herself and her power.
Marie’s grave is in New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, St Louis Cemetery Number One. It is visited annually by thousands who come to pay tribute to Mamzelle Marie Laveau, as she is known, and to beg for the favors she allegedly grants from beyond the grave. (There are also rumors suggesting that the Marie in the grave attributed to Marie Laveau is really High Priestess Marie Comtesse, a Voodoo Queen in late nineteenthcentury New Orleans, known as La Comtesse.)