ON THE QUEEN
OF THE DEAD
THE FACTS ABOUT THE MARIE LAVEAU LEGEND
The following is excerpted from
the book City of the Dead: A Journey Through
St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, Louisiana
by Robert Florence © 1996, The Center
for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern
Louisiana, @ pages 60-63:
Marie Laveau Offerings
“Marie Laveau (c. 1794-1881)
Marie Laveau was the reigning
Voodoo priestess of the nineteenth century.
New Orleans Voodoo as a social phenomenon
came into its heyday during the 1800’s.
Under Marie Laveau’s guidance Voodoo
thrived as a business, served as a form of
political influence, provided a source o[f]
spectacle and entertainment, and was a means
of altruism. But what Voodoo is in its pure
form is religion: forms of worship brought
to Caribbean and American colonies through
the slave trade.
Due to slavery, the entire life
of the transplanted African was tragically
altered. Naturally the religious beliefs and
practices would change. This mutation of West
African religion under the strain of slavery
ultimately gave rise to the New-World phenomenon
known as “voodoo.” More than any
one person, Marie Laveau transformed the religious
practices of African slaves into a major social
and cultural institution of nineteenth-century
New Orleans. On many levels, her life was
an embodiment of New Orleans Voodoo.
To begin with, New Orleans Voodoo
is steeped in Catholicism. Marie Laveau, the
most renowned Voodoo figure in the history
of North America, has been buried in a Catholic
cemetery which has a separate section for
Protestants. She was a devout Catholic who
attended Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral nearly
every day. First public record of her appears
at the Cathedral, where she was married to
Jacque Paris on August 4, 1819. To a greater
extent than her predecessors, Marie Laveau
would mix holy water, Catholic prayers, incense,
and saints into the African-based Voodoo rites.
New Orleans Voodoo, like New
Orleans culture, is a mixture. Marie Laveau
herself was a mixture: She was a free person
of color, born to Charles Laveau, a wealthy
French planter, and a mother who sources indicate
could have been a mulatto slave, a Caribbean
Voodoo practitioner, or a quadroon mistress.
Marie may also have been part Choctaw. The
objects and actions employed in the practice
of New Orleans Voodoo are called “gris-gris.”
“Gris” is the French word for
grey, signifying a mixture of black and white
magic, magic which can be used for different
purposes. Gris-gris, the basis of New Orleans
Voodoo practice, is a concept which is based
Marie Laveau’s gender
is indicative of New Orleans Voodoo. Hers
was a matriarchal sect, like the African religion
upon which it is based. Marie Laveau also
embodies New Orleans Voodoo as an impresario.
Voodoo ceremonies in Marie Laveau’s
day were looked upon by some people as entertainment;
she was the one who introduced this show-biz
element. She understood theatrical staging,
possessing a good sense of what people would
line up and pay to see. These performances,
and her general voodoo practice, were highly
lucrative. Aspects of nineteenth-century New
Orleans Voodoo were also business-oriented,
and she was a consummate businesswoman.
Marie Laveau could very well
be the person who eternally solidified the
connection between the City of New Orleans
and the practice of Voodoo. But despite her
historic significance, much confusion surrounds
her life, and this tomb. For example, the
commemorative plaque states that this is the
“reputed” burial place of this
woman. Some of the information on the headstone
corresponds with what is known about her:
Marie, nee ‘Laveau’, married carpenter
Jacques Paris. He dies within six years and
she has become the “Widow Paris.”
She thereafter became common-law wife to ship
captain Christopher Glapion, who had distinguished
himself in the Battle of New Orleans. The
names Laveau, Paris and Glapion are all accounted
for on this family tomb.
Yet the date of death, 1897,
is not hers, but closer to her daughter’s,
Marie Laveau II. So the question is, which
one of them is buried here? Some say they
were both buried in this tomb; others believe
neither are here. Many people think their
remains were switched between the St. Louis
#1 and #2 cemeteries. The answer to this question
is unclear and perpetually debated, as there
are endless discrepancies in recorded information
about her, much of it being legend. Yet even
if Marie Laveau had been buried here, her
remains would not necessarily be inside. Since
bones are one of the most popular forms of
gris-gris, it is likely that a Voodoo practitioner
cleared them out of the vault shortly after
In a sense, it does not really
matter if Marie Laveau was buried here, because
the tomb has been accepted as her final resting
place and for generations the devoted and
the curious have been visiting this site,
conducting all kinds of rituals, leaving all
kinds of gris-gris. You never quite know what
you will find upon visiting this gravesite,
anything from a statue of a monkey and a cock
to a wedding cake couple circled in coconut,
cayenne, and honey, to a freshly dead rat
wearing Mardi Gras beads.
But you will always find the
innumerable “X’s” blanketing
this tomb and several others. The origins
of this proverbial New Orleans Voodoo practice
are unclear, but contrary to popular belief,
it is not rooted in age-old local ritual.
Judging from the sheer amount of X’s
scrawled throughout the cemetery, it would
appear the legions of Voodoo practitioners
make their way through the City of the Dead
on a regular basis. Although more Voodoo is
practiced at this one tomb than any single
tomb in the United States, many people who
worship through Voodoo and genuinely live
it as a lifestyle have never left a mark on
the structures of the City of the Dead.
The thousands of X’s are
largely the result of tour groups, who have
paid to learn how to practice Voodoo. Their
instructions always include breaking a brick
off of other tombs (notice the neighboring
tombs depleted of their bricks) and a combination
of steps which involve spinning around three
times, scratching three X’s on the tomb,
knocking on it, or rubbing a foot on it or
hollering at it or kicking it, etc., (everyone
does it slightly, if not very, differently
from everyone else) and then leaving an offering
to get a wish granted.
So is this or is this not real
New Orleans Voodoo? It is, in that there is
no doctrine or reasonable dictionary definition
of Voodoo. Practitioners create ritual as
they practice. However, the Glapion family
who owns the tomb does not call this “Voodoo”
but rather “vandalism,” and have
complained that they can no longer read the
inscriptions through what one family member
considers “graffiti.” There are
also tourist brochures and hotel concierges
instructing wish seekers to scratch three
X’s on her tomb, and even travel books
which recommend the practice. But one of the
most striking accounts of this practice appearing
in a major supermarket tabloid, the story
of a woman winning two million dollars in
the Missouri State Lottery after scratching
X’s on Marie Laveau’s tomb.”
Note: In recent days a controversy has arisen
regarding the legend and practice of marking
the alleged final resting place of Voodoo
Queen Marie Laveau with X’s in the infamous
“wish spell” ritual popularized
throughout the past several decades by certain
companies, groups and individuals working
in the New Orleans tourism industry.
the center of the controversy are attacks
on this web site for posting stories about
the legacy of Marie Laveau and the enduring
legend of the "wish spell" X-marking
practice. We have been repeatedly accused
of encouraging what has now been designated
a criminal activity. To clarify, the threats
have only come from one individual within
the industry who is not a native of New Orleans
or the South, yet who, ironically, makes a
living by the daily exploitation of the legends
and folklore of this City.
The X practice is now so well-known, having
been documented in hundreds of books, newspaper
reports, web sites, local histories and travel
books and brochures over the years, that what
began as well-intentioned attempts to stop
what some see as desecration have been given
more "teeth" with the threat of
arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
caught in the act of marking on the Laveau
tomb, or any other edifice within the historic
New Orleans cemeteries, may be subject to
markings are, understandably, frowned upon
by the owners of the tomb -- the Glapion family
-- who have complained literally for years
for the appropriate authorities to put an
end to the activity. Now that regulatory action
has at last been taken in response to the
family's ongoing appeals, the local tourism
industry seems to suddenly be singing a different
no time has this web site or any member of
its editorial staff encouraged or endorsed
the marking practice that is associated with
the infamous alleged burial place of Voodoo
Queen Marie Laveau. The goal of this web site
is foremost to help record and preserve the
colorful local legends and folklore that make
our region so unique; we do this in a manner
that is deliberately entertaining and light-heartedly
informative. This web site and our associated
sites are envisioned as a supplemental "virtual
tour" providing visitors with unique
alternatives to add to their schedule when
they visit this City. With our many offbeat
stories, we also appeal to many "locals
in exile" who now live in other cities
across the US and who enjoy "revisiting"
their hometown whenever they get online.
great legend is based in fact and a responsible
folklorist or story-teller will acknowledge
this, even when the legend is more colorful
than the truth. To admit this would be folly
to many of the people whose stock and trade
is tourism for the sake of tourism, but in
the interest of true preservation, the facts
should not be forgotten and wherever possible
should be provided so that the Intelligent
Traveler is able to better appreciate the
merits of a really good tale -- and will know
when he or she is hearing just that.
with this page, and on other pages to come,
wherever possible, we will provide not only
the legend and lore as it has been passed
down through generations of Old New Orleans
folk, but also the facts, where known, that
formed the root of the legend to begin with.
In this way we honor not only our goal to
inform and entertain but we also demonstrate
a respect for you, our virtual and perhaps
one day real-life visitors, and for the legends
and lore that have made the City of New Orleans
so beloved the world over.
choose to inform rather than defend. You may
be the judge of whether or not we have been
J. Wichers, Editorial Director
Orleans, May 2005.
grave in New Orleans is visited daily
by curiosity seekers and true believers
of voodoo. Legend has it that you should
make three "X" marks with
red brick found nearby, place your hand
over the marks, close your eyes, and
knock hard against the tomb three times.
still as of November 2006 it is suggested
by many New Orleans tourist guides that
the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans still
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In Search of
The following are some places of interest that
any fan of Marie Laveau must include for a perfect
visit to the haunts of this most famous Voodoo
1801 Dauphine Street Marie -Laveau's Father's
1900 block of North Rampart Street (in Faubourg
Marigny) - Dowry House
1016, 1028, 1022, 1020 St. Ann (originally
152 Rue St. Ann)
St. Louis No. 1, Crypt No. 3 - Alleged Burial
Site of Marie Laveau
723 Rue Dumaine - New Orleans Historic Voodoo
729 Bourbon Street - Marie Laveau's House
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