One of the most popular women in New Orleans history, Marie Laveau, voodoo queen, is also one of the least understood. Myths about her life and death. In fact, there is disagreement even as to where and how she died and where she is buried.
From the writing of local historians two Marie Laveaus emerge; one is a free woman of color born in New Orleans in the mid 1790's. The other is a woman considerably younger than the first and believed to have been the elder Marie's illegitimate daughter.
There are countless stories about the power of Marie Laveau as a voodoo queen, sorceress, healer, and psychic, but none of these are documented historically. Voodoo, brought to New Orleans by African slaves and immigrants from Santo Domingo and Haiti, has been practiced since the 1700s. Even today some people have voodoo altars in their homes and participate in voodoo rituals.
The voodoo queen, unlike the voodoo doctor (male) was in charge of ceremonies and dances in the 1800s and held a powerful position in black, quadroon and white society because of her reputed ability to use the occult. The profession of hairdresser gave both Marie Laveaus access to the private lives and secrets of the women's hair and dispensing ample advice. Some of the Laveau magic may have been common sense and homespun psychology.
In time the name of Marie Laveau became distorted. Mothers threatened their children that she would put a curse on those who didn't behave. She was thought of as an evil witch, capable of causing unimaginable trouble. But there are also reports of her as a nurse. Others mention that small children went to her home every Saturday morning for the brown sugar sticks she would hand out.
When Marie Laveau discontinued voodoo after the Civil War, Malvina Latour took over as New Orleans voodoo queen for another twenty years, but she never gained the notoriety of her predecessor. The cult began to disintegrate, and in the past ninety years there has been no acknowledged queen.
Whatever the truth may be about Marie Laveau, the concept remains of a strong, independent woman who earned the fear and respect of an entire city.
Excerpts from FrenchCreoles