A LIVING WORKING ALTAR & SHRINE TO VOODOO QUEEN MARIE LAVEAU
Queen Marie Laveau by Rev. Severina
I have kept a working living altar to the great Queen of New Orleans Voodoo since the 1970s. In 2014 - in honor of my 40th year in Louisiana, I have dedicated a second living, working altar & shrine to Marie Laveau which contains tiny material pieces from her house and from her tomb, such as relics, in a beautiful special container.
This altar to Queen Marie Laveau is a permanent outdoor place to her liking, where offerings can be left with special prayers. Occasionally we pilgrimage to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, directly across from where she herself dramatically performed her most important rituals. There we let go of the prayers entrusted to us, that she may receive them through the arms of the great Ma' Okwatta whom she knew so well.
QUEEN MARIE LAVEAU was the greatest Voodoo Priestess who lived in New Orleans and her fame has traveled far and wide since she left the body in 1881 thus becoming one of the most beloved Spirits of New Orleans Voodoo. In Voodoo, the term Queen is used to denote great respect and honor for one who was a great priestess of Voodoo and of immeasurable service to her community. It is always only attributed to a person after her death.
Today although many people speak or Queen Marie Laveau or even ask for her blessings, few understand how important her role was in the context of the historical times she lived in, or how to continue to serve her so her blessings may be brought forth. There was a time when you could go to the Saint Louis cemetery on any day of the year and there would be people at her tomb, bringing offerings and plying her with requests. Tour guides began to bring their groups there in the early 1980s and many divergent stories began to be told about her. But which of these make sense when measured against the laws, mores and customs of the times she lived in?
I began knowing about Queen Marie Laveau as soon as I landed in the Crescent City in 1974. A friend had given me a copy of her death certificate. Later I would learn that we do not have a birthdate for her - but it is my belief that she was born in 1794, just prior to the big fire that certainly eradicated the otherwise scrupulously kept records of the Catholic church. Indeed in Louisiana, we have records of all that were baptized, that is everyone, including the slaves in faraway plantations, and thus Louisiana has a comprehensive record of its people that begins in the late 17th century and is quite accurate. As the child of a white planter and his concubine, Marie would indeed have been baptized in the church in the French Quarter and her birth would have been duly recorded. 1794 also ties in with the fact that many Vendeens had fled that part of France during the previous years of the Terror - Vendee was subjected to horrific reprisals because of its staunch royalism - and it makes sense that Charles Laveau would have come to Louisiana, a Catholic Spanish colony since the royal family of Spain was also Bourbon. Indeed the streets of the French Quarter kept their names (for the most part) under the Spanish authorities. So we have every reason to believe that Marie Laveau was born shortly before the 1794 fire.
My second introduction to Queen Marie Laveau came in the form of a Voodoo priest by the name of Mustapha who found me at Jackson Square after 'his cousin told him I was there" (his words). When I inquired as to whom his cousin was, I was told she was Marie Laveau whom he'd just visited at her tomb. Mustapha encouraged me to learn all about her and her Spirit. He told me to "walk in Her footsteps". He introduced me to other local (and mostly underground) voodooists. And so I continued to work at my altar and to receive her guidance in all things, practical and spiritual. I believe it is She who led me to my abode in the country and consistently helped me and guided me forward. In return I have sent my Queen Marie Laveau dolls all over the world and people have set up altars to her, sometimes referring to her as Marie the Magnificent. She has introduced them to zydeco, New Orleans cooking and music. I have at times referred to myself as 'her humble ambassador". A drummer and spiritual friend and I took her to Paris with us (in the spirit and through the drums), which we documented in "Voodoo at Cafe Puce" in 2004.
My madrina and her father, then Voodoo King of New Orleans, taught me more about her and she led me to my receiving the asson as priestess during an Easter service. They both gave great respect and honor to their predecessor and spiritual ancestor Queen Marie Laveau. My madrina, a Queen in her own rights, never began any of her awesome spiritual work without offerings to Queen Marie and the Voodoo King always began his explanations by invoking Her Spirit and speaking in praise of Her. Again I was reminded to 'walk in her footsteps' but not to 'tire her with nonsense!" (futile prayers or ego-driven requests and ceremonies).
Marie Laveau was raised a Catholic and remained a devout Catholic during her entire life. This is a well established fact since we know that she was allowed by the priest of the Saint Louis church to conduct some rituals in his private garden (Pere Antoine's garden on Royal Street). In Marie Laveau's time, this garden was also a medicinal garden, planted with beneficial herbs that could be used in potions as well as cooking. The priest and Marie may have found much in common to discuss around the garden plots.
We also know she ministered to the condemned at the end of her life and we know she ministered tirelessly to the sick and dying during the yellow epidemics which wreaked havoc in the small city most summers. She certainly would have easily gotten herself invited to the rich planters and merchants houses in the more salubre countryside when they themselves escaped the fetid and polluted environment. The wealthy would have welcome her useful presence as much in the country as they did in the city. But again, she teamed up with the church priest for this charitable work in spite of the dangers to herself and her family. Finally, should one need any additional proof, she was after all buried in the Saint Louis cemetery, owned and overseen to this day, by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Nowadays the cemetery has restricted access to her tomb but for those who seek her truly and without false pretense, her spirit is alive and as strong as ever. One must remember her great faith and devotion while invoking her since it is certain that in her spiritual practice Marie used prayer and service to the Angels and the Saints as well as the more practical aspects of her knowledge, the use of plants, roots, oils and unguents.
To this day most Voodooiens are Catholic and continue to blend the spiritual practices that unite the feast days of the Saints with services to the Lwa and/or Orisha, to attend churches and do good works in their communities. This is true in the Caribbean islands as it is in Louisiana, whereas in other parts of the deep South, we see many Voodooists coming out of the Spiritualist churches. There is a reason that our Obatala altars are the highest in our Temple rooms!
In the last 20 years or so, much as been written about Queen Marie Laveau. Some people have embarked on painstaking research to elucidate the facts from the legends and document new facts to make their book different and renew interest. They have disputed commonly accepted beliefs about her powers and miraculous works. They have debunked long held beliefs and commonly repeated "facts" about her person and her life as myths, superstitions and outright lies.
Well, that is all well and done, but the life of Marie Laveau cannot simply be explained in matters of records, documents and the dubious memories of old folks (as recorded in the 20's and 30's by the WPA), who claimed to have known her and know things firsthand about her. Whenever I read such things as "so and so, who was 70 years old at the time of this interview and remembered Marie Laveau as an old..." I am reminded of the time my daughter and I went to Montgomery, Alabama to see Zelda Fitzgerald's house. Everywhere we stopped to ask, some person absolutely and surely knew of Zelda, but invariably they remembered her as a distant cousin, a hairdresser, the one who married the garage owner etc.. Actually they hadn't a clue as to whom we spoke about. It was quite amusing and entertaining. When in doubt, Southerners create stories that they feel comfortable with, that could easily have happened in their midst, and would feel familiar to them. They do not lie, they tell tales of southern life!
Indeed many facts about the life of Queen Marie Laveau cannot be proven. Many things we, priests and priestesses of Voodoo, know about her cannot be documented in records or archives or expected to have come down through the memories of would-be neighbors and distant relatives. Her life and works were too great, too impenetrable for ordinary people to carry intact into their memories. What I know and tell of Queen Marie is not only what I have been given by my Madrina and Padrino, and other Voodooists of repute which I was blessed to meet, but what has transpired to be true, in the fullest sense of the word, as shown to me by Spirit. And which I have myself measured against the facts of history - how things were during her historical times.
Marie Laveau was born in a French and Spanish city, a bilingual city, where the Church ruled and dominated the lives of the citizen. 1794 was also a time of awesome changes for the city: the cotton gin had been invented, and the process to make sugar loaves out of the sugar cane juice perfected. The scene was set for two huge commercial empires to begin growing by leaps and bounds. All the products from the entire Mississippi valley had to be shipped out through the port of New Orleans. In turn everything that needed transported to the plantations up river (including slave labor) also had to go through the port at the French Quarter. Money was flowing both ways as well as an increasing amount of goods and people of all sorts.
The little city had suffered those two major fires, one in 1788 and one in 1794. So on the year we believe Queen Marie to have been born, a giant reconstruction of the French Quarter had begun. This also coincided with the arrival of many refugees, planters, craftsmen and others from Santo Domingo, where the Haitian revolution was in full swing. The Spanish administrators had encouraged immigration from other Catholic countries. (The Acadians also arrived from 1752 through 1770). So in 1794, several elements came to the help of the ailing New Orleans, the fledging new Queen of the South: the emergence of the cotton and sugar empires, a very competent Spanish administration, a skilled labor force and a cultural melting pot. The scene was set for Queen Marie to emerge and take her place in this climate of change, unlimited growth and opportunities.
As the city grew and the port of New Orleans developed, as the Americans arrived to take control of the Territory of Louisiana (1803) and New Orleans became the busiest port in the South as well as the Queen of the South - the first steamboat, the Fulton, arrived in New Orleans in 1812- likewise Marie Laveau emerged from her humble beginnings as a hairdresser and maquilleuse extraordinaire who was invited into the bourgeois' houses for her most competent services, to become the confident and spiritual helper and healer of the most powerful members of society. By the time New Orleans, now flanked with her emerging suburbs or "faubourgs" became the richest city of the South, between 1830 and 1850, Marie Laveau had also reached the top position among the many priests and priestesses practicing in the city.
She presided over the drumming and dancing feasts that took place on Congo Square, during the free time according to all people of color on Sunday when they bartered goods and gossip alike. Her dominance was established over all ranks of this multi-racial and diverse society. So it is quite fitting to accept the year of Her birth as 1794 - for like her city, She was to rise out of the ashes to soar to the greatest of heights.
Marie Laveau was certainly raised at home, a Creole of color, a quadroon, in a rigidly established society where all was decided by one's ascendance.
As ruled by the Code Noir of 1724, Marie's father would have been responsible for the welfare of his city concubine and their child. By law he was required to assume the responsibility of a suitable lodging for them, food and apparel. By law he would also have made every effort to educate the child. It is absolutely certain that Marie knew how to read and write, It is certain that her father made every effort to teach her about business as well. We have every reason to believe that Marie remained close to her father. When she married around the age of 25, he gave her a pair of gold hoops earrings which she always wore. By then, of course, she already had a reputation for her healing and spiritual works. Marie Laveau was already an independent business woman of great repute. Most girls in those times were married very early on and their lives were determined by the station and fate of their husbands. Not so with Marie.
Her husband was Jacques Paris, a free man of color, who left on a ship shortly after his marriage to Marie and never was seen again. In time she was declared a widow and for the rest of her life was known as La Veuve Paris - the widow Paris. She would have spoken French and Spanish, most likely English later in her life. We know her today as Marie Laveau, or Queen Marie, but this is not how she was known through her life and throughout the city of New Orleans and its faubourgs. So this again goes to the point of not entirely believing the recollections of people who "knew Marie Laveau very well way back when" when in fact, she was known under a completely different name. Not even as the Widow Paris, but in French as La Veuve Paris. I bet some of those researchers would have gotten some very different answers if they had asked 'what are your recollections from La Veuve Paris?". As I said, it must make sense within the parameters of the history of the period, even if her story is full of wondrous events and miracles.
We know that Marie began using her awesome knowledge of herbal products, oils, potions and medicines which she had acquired from her mother, in her work as a visiting beautician. In 1810, the young Marie would have gone into the fancy homes of the French Quarter bourgeoisie to fix hair, dye hair roots, and erase scars and blemishes on the skins of the ladies. New Orleans was the most unhealthy city in all of North America, smallpox, yellow fever, malaria, and other diseases of mosquitoes and refuse were prevalent and left the white and black faces readily marked by age and disease. A young woman of great talent such as Marie was, would soon become very prized and in hot demand. The Creole society (at that time, Creole were the white people of French and Spanish descent, Creoles of Color were people of mixed heritage such as Marie), fancied itself a cultured people of very refined tastes. With the arrival of money, the building of theaters and operas began and parties, soirees, and elaborate balls multiplied.
Creoles of color had ample opportunities in New Orleans and to set up their own business, learn a trade and enter into the liberal professions. Again this was in part the result of the Code Noir which encouraged the European fathers to educate the children born of dalliances and relationships with free women of color. A rigid class structure existed in New Orleans which was unique in the whole of the South. Degrees of color were carefully recorded and Creoles of color made every effort, through their work, relationships and investments to better their lives and raise their social standings for themselves and their children.
Marie's mother, whose first name was Marguerite, was herself a free woman of color, whose family most likely had settled somewhere outside the city. Marguerite was also of mixed heritage, carrying Indian blood as well as African blood in her veins. She was certainly the descendant of some laborer from Santo Domingo and a Louisiana Native American, her family certainly established outside the city, near or in some tribal land. She was versed in a Dahomey style practice of Voodoo which incorporated roots medicine, the spiritual entities of Voodoo and their relationship in nature such as Damballah, AND Catholicism. This would also pass onto Marie and become the extent of her schooling from her mother.
This made Marie, Marguerite's daughter with the planter Charles Laveau a true Quadroon (a quarter African, a quarter Indian, half French) and Creole of color, who was raised speaking French, schooled to read and write and in the ways of business, probably by her own father, and in the way of the Spirits, Voodoo and the use of plants and herbs on her mother's side, Catholic from birth in a staunchly Catholic environment, raised Catholic by both her parents.
Marie attended services at St Louis church in the French Quarter, under the supervision of Pere Antoine whose prot•g•e she would soon become, even as she emerged as a leading voodoienne. At 25 years of age, Marie had climbed high enough in the voodoo society and was held high enough in esteem by the community, poor and wealthy alike that she was titled La Papesse du Vaudou! Several miracles were credited to her, including saving a young man from the gallows. This earned her the title to the little house on St Ann street where she lived for the rest of her life.
Respected by thousands she was also nicknamed the "La vraie Mairesse de la Nouvelle Orleans". Yet, she was also a humble woman who did not shun from attending the sick and dying during the worst of the yearly epidemics, as well as a devout catholic, who attended mass each day and thus became friend and helpers to the priests of the Saint Louis church.
It is easy to see where some would surmise that she obtained the confidences of her rich patrons by becoming more and more involved in helping them out in times of illness, distress in business, love or judicial cases. But it is a far cry to make her into a common blackmailer and conniver. Such a person would have fled the city during epidemics, getting herself invited at the plantation of a wealthy patron, outside the city and its pestilence. But Marie Laveau always chose to remain, her unflagging duty to the poor and needy taking her door to door, often as ally to the priest, the only other soul brave enough to brave the task at hand. Later in life, true to her altruistic spirit, she became a helper and counselor to the condemned, housed in the prison right up the street from her humble cottage. There she manifested what is remembered as her greatest miracle, one that convinced the City Council to abolish public executions forever.
Many believe that she bore fifteen children by her second husband, to whom she was never married legally because he was a white man. This is in keeping with the tradition of the Creoles of her time; though marriage may not be possible, the station of one's children would be improved along the racial lines. It is indeed possible that some of the children were adopted from other family members (on her mother's side for instance), as it would have been common in those difficult times for orphans to be taken in and adopted by a grand-mother, an aunt or other relative. In matriarchal societies all uncles on the mother's side are equally one's fathers and all aunts on the mother's side are equally one's mothers. But we do know that Marie raised and cared for many children. This has been passed down by others who knew her well, priest and priestesses of her lineage. It is quite in keeping with the Spirits who "sat on her head". It is also quite certain that at least on occasion, she gave birth to twin children. This would have been seen among the Voodoos as a very auspicious sign of her great power in this world and beyond. Marie was also no stranger to grief: she lost several of her children and her tomb also holds the remains of some of her youths.
Her youngest biological child, Marie Philomene Laveau Glapion followed in her footsteps and became almost as powerful a voodoo Queen as her mother (known as Marie II). Yet she was much less successful as the times changed and the very social fabric of the society was changed forever. Voodoo lost a lot of its legitimacy during and after reconstructions, Creoles of color lost many of their privileges and finally the practice went underground.
We know that Marie Laveau, La Veuve Paris, died in New Orleans on June 15th, 1881 and the newspaper ran an obituary speaking of her selfless service to the community and mentioning that a sheet was circulating to petition for her sainthood. Again a tribute to her continued allegiance to her Catholic roots.
Our Honored and Esteemed Queen Marie Laveau continues to be feted and honored each and every day of the year by hundreds of people who rely on her guidance and protection and pray to her for continued blessings.
There are many opinions about Her life, Her place of entombment and Her role as a Spirit Guide and Protector of the city She lived in and loved. I am certain more research will be done, more books written, more ideas and opinions discussed and debated. But for those who work with Her Spirit, She comes loud and clear and never fails us, if we only remember to trust in Her judgment and wisdom. We must approach her casually, with a pure and gentle heart, never with ego.
A few times as I was walking through the French Quarter, Her very Spirit came upon me and I saw the French Quarter as it was two centuries ago and I was myself, but I was another as well. She has never guided me on the wrong path but has often manifested in the nick of time to show me the door I was meant to open and walk through.
She has brought me to my house in LaCombe, so that I can make offerings to Her at the Big Branch Marsh which is directly across as the brown pelican flies from Her own ritual grounds, now changed by levee-building.
She has guided my hand and spirit in the fashioning and blending of all of my products, from the wonderful Queen Marie doll to the Ancient Wisdom oil I have named for Her.
I always begin each ritual and spiritual work with offerings and prayers and praises of and to Her, so that She may continue to bless our humble spiritual house. I have a special song for her too, in French appropriately enough.
Finally I was given permission to retell below this wonderful story from my colleague Rev. Kenneth of our sister temple, Temple of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and catechist at a local church. This event, here told by the good Reverend's own great-grandmother is another well known of Marie's miracles, that has been described by others as well. Again it is a clear manifestations of the Spirits who ruled upon Her.
"I had the privilege of living in a large, uptown home with several generations of my Mother's family for the first 12 years of my life. The matriarch of our family was my Great Grandmother - who was in charge and sharp as a tack to the end - which occurred the year after we moved out to the suburbs. My Great Grandmother - Mamere - told me this story several times:
When I was a young Lady we would go to the Millenberg out by Lake Pontchatrain where Big Poppa had a camp. One summer a little before the War (Between the States), your uncles Henry, Louis and me were outside playing when we heard some loud drumming and we went to investigate. As we climbed over the levee by Bayou St. John and the Old Spanish Fort, we saw a big crowd of Negroes and White people standing at the edge of the lake in the water. Naturally, we wormed our way through the crowd to see what was going on. The drumming and singing were in Creole and about St. John. It was so very loud; I could feel the drums in my belly! Everyone was looking at the lake which was a little choppy and pretty.
The music stopped and everything got real quiet. Suddenly, not too far out in the Lake, we saw 7 candles coming up out of the water and each one was lit! The candles kept coming up and were on the head of a lady wearing a long white dress with pretty beads around her neck. She started walking through the water to the people who were all shouting and screaming about "Queen Marie" and other things in Creole.
I made the sign of the Cross, me, since I thought it was the Blessed Mother come up out the lake from under the water! We all got scared and ran away. Your Uncle Louis told me I was silly to think that it was the Blessed Mother and that it had been the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau who Mama always called the Widow Paris. Henry and Louis told me not to tell Mama what we had done or we'd get punished, so I never did. But I saw her come up out that lake with 7 lit candles one her head and walk to the shore. How she did that I'll never know."
Many follow in Her footsteps, whether they admit it, give Her honor or not, but none will ever replace Her.
Don't go to the Queen if you wish to be a Queen, but go as her child and when all seems lost She will take you by the hand.
LA SIRENA BOTANICA
QUEEN MARIE LAVEAU SPIRITUAL COLLECTION™ Presents:
Channelled to me at the time of Saint John's Eve 2010, these hand-blended Flower Essence baths use only flowers, grown and dried by myself and mixed in careful proportions then blessed on Her altar! Click on photo to find out more.
Click on photo to find out more.
Drawing from the long tradition of Queen Marie's herbal beauty and health care, this 5 herbs formula is wonderful to nourish, strengthen and enliven your scalp and hair. It is in a base of organic coconut oil, coconut oil being known for its ability to break down easily and be absorbed into the scalp, hair roots and shaft.
Five specific herbs, known for their special qualities and organically grown by myself, are sun and moon- infused in the oil over a two week period before being strained. I then add of small shot of Lavender or Sandalwood pure essential oil to the hair oil. Lavender is both cooling and enlivening. Sandalwood is purifying and spiritually uplifting. You can choose which you feel is best for you or you can purchase one of each.
Each bottle is 2 fl oz. Each bottle used per instructions once or twice a week will help your hair grow strong, thick and luxurious looking. A tiny bit is sufficient so one bottle will last several weeks or months.
Please be aware that this is produced by myself, one jar at a time so we only have 6-12 bottles prepared and ready to ship at any one time. You may order anytime and if we're out, we'll ship you your wonderful hair oil as soon as it's ready (up to 2-6 weeks).
REQUESTS FOR PRAYERS & DONATIONS
to the Living Working Altar & Shrine To Queen Marie Laveau, Lacombe, Louisiana.
Prayers will be forwarded during a private ritual at the Queen Marie Laveau Altar, please e-mail for details - donations will be used for ritual offerings & each client will receive a signed and numbered copy of Severina's portrait of Queen Marie and a Queen Marie Leveau Spiritual Bath.
+++ VOODOO AT CAFE PUCE - A TRUE STORY OF LOUISIANA VOODOO - LEARN ABOUT THE SPIRITS, THE PRACTICE, THE PRACTITIONERS! +++
In 2004 Rev. Louis Martinie and Rev. Severina traveled to Paris for a week. Their travel log and journal became an essay on Voodoo, the Ancestors, healing the past and the Myth of Sisyphus. Lavishly illustrated with graphics and photographs of Paris and Louisiana. Voodoo at Cafe Puce is now offered as an e-book download. A unique document by two of the foremost Voodoo practitioners in New Orleans today. A must-read for anyone interested in Voodoo and New Orleans culture at the very time when it is endangered. Click here for more info and to order.
LOUPGAROUROAD.COM : LOUISIANA AND VOODOO ART
Paintings, Photographs and mixed media art by Rev. Severina.