Queen Marie Laveau
by Rev. Severina
Queen Rose Yaffa Frank
by Rev. Severina
In New Orleans 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.
My madrina, Queen Rose Yaffa Frank was such a person. Her father Joshua Frank was the King of Voodoo in New Orleans. They both practiced in the tradition of New Orleans Voodoo and gave great respect and honor to their predecessor and Ancestor Queen Marie Laveau. Queen Rose never began any of her awesome spiritual work without offerings to Queen Marie and Priest Joshua always began his tours at the Voodoo Museum by invoking Her Spirit and speaking in praise of Her.
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 a worthwhile purchase. 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 first hand 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, such 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.
So, 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 (kept by the Catholic Church no less!!) 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.
So 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 with meeting, but what has transpired to be true, in the fullest sense of the word, as shown to me by Spirit.
What can be proven of Queen Marie Laveau is that to this day, nearly 130 years after Her death is that each and everyday of the week, all year long, hundreds of people come to her tomb to stand, pray, leave offerings and ask for blessings.
Most of these people come out of curiosity and I wonder how many of their blessings are answered, considering they are advised by ill-mannered tour guides (who stand there on hallowed ground to say horrid things about someone they know little about and who should be revered as an Ancestor at the very least) who advise them to leave 3 pennies! What a paltry sign of devotion and respect - 3 pennies!
Bring Her a bottle of French wine for God's sake!
I once took a client on a tour, a fine lady from L.A and when we arrived at the tomb and I informed her of suggested offerings that may be suitable for our Queen, she was crestfallen at having brought nothing, But quite nonplussed she pulled out her gorgeous silver and aquamarine earrings and put them gingerly at the foot of the tomb. Now, that's an offering! I'm sure she was greatly blessed!
So, if all the stories were bunk and fiction and superstition, would such devotion and following continue and grow year after year? In spite of the tour guides and the books "rooted in factual documentation"??
There are some very good tour-guides too and some very good research but I do take offense against those who try and judge the spiritual through singularly restricted temporal tools, such as the recollections and interpretations of old people couched by others (who may or may not have interpreted them in turn) without any benefit of spiritual training or experience.
You know the old adage: when the anthropologists arrive the Gods depart!
So here is what we - Her spiritual followers - know of Her life and times:
We believe her to have been born in New Orleans in 1794, no birth certificate remains, the year of the second great fire in the city of New Orleans . The entire city at that time was under Spanish colonial administration and was entirely contained in what is today the French Quarter. It was staunchly Catholic. The Spanish had taken over from the French in 1767. So Marie 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 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 Haitien revolution was in full swing. So in 1794, several elements came to the help of the fledging new Queen of the South, New Orleans: 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 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's 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.
Many follow in Her footsteps, whether they admit it, give Her honor or not, but none will ever replace Her.
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.
We know Marie Laveau to have been born of a French father, who owned a small plantation south of the city and a free woman of color who was his mistress. I was blessed, again during a tour, to meet some very distant relatives of Her father and they informed me he had come from Vendee in France. As interested if remotely connected relatives, they had traced back the lineage. So again, regardless of what documents say or do not say, I may be the only one to know this for a fact and this is quite what I mean when I say that Spirit allows us to know things apart from records and archives. Sometimes Spirits put someone in our path, with a bit of information for us to receive.
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. It is also known that later, as a young woman, she apprenticed for a short time with the reputed Voodoo doctor, Doctor John, who was illiterate and believed that Voodoo was to a practice that should be restricted to people of black ancestry exclusively. He was not known as a very clever man. As a matter of fact he eventually signed away all his property when tricked by his false friends. Marie clearly understood and demonstrated that she was much smarter than he in all matters and this is probably what created the rift between them. It is also believed by some that she apprenticed with Sanite Dede but we do not know what their relationship became later.
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. At past 20, Marie was already an independant 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.
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?".
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 opportunities in New Orleans 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 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, originally from Santo Domingo. Marguerite was also of mixed heritage, carrying Indian blood as well as African blood in her veins. She was versed in a Dahomey style practice of Voodoo which incorporated roots medicine, nature Spirits and voodoo Gods including Damballah, the Snake Spirit. This would pass onto Marie and become the extent of her schooling from her mother.
This made Marie, her daughter with the planter Charles Laveau a true Quadroon ( a quarter African, a quarter Indian, half French ) 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.
Marie was also raised Catholic and attended church at St Louis church in the French Quarter, under the supervision of Pere Antoine whose protegee 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 by the community, poor and wealthy that she was titled La Papesse du Vaudou! Several miracles were credited to her, including saving a young man from the gallows and having the judge recognize his total innocence. This earned her the title to the little house on St Ann street where she lived for the rest of her life.
Respected and/or feared 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 a personal friend of Pere Antoine, the beloved priest of the Saint Louis church. She even obtained permission to hold certain voodoo rituals in his personal meditation garden, right behind the church. The garden still exists today, on Royal Street behind the iron fence on which local artists hang their works, facing the Rue d'Orleans. This garden was also a medicinal garden at the time, planted with beneficial herbs that could be used in potions as well as cooking. Again Pere Antoine and Marie may have found much in common to discuss around the garden plots.
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 in the company of Pere Antoine, the only other brave soul to share the danger of the task.
Again 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. 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.
Our Honored and Esteemed Queen Marie Laveau continues to be feted and honored at Her tomb, in St Louis #1 . Each and every day of the year - without fail - hundreds of people can be seen who bring offerings to Her tomb to ask for blessings and protection.
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.
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.
I have had the immense privilege to be introduced to Her by Queen Rose and Priest Joshua Frank. Even before that, I was befriended by Her "cousin" Mustapha, a drummer who brought me and introduced me to Voodoo Charlie and thereby began the long series of circumstances that became my apprenticeship.
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, maybe one of her own apprentices? 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 crow flies (or the pelican flies might be more appropriate) 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.
And as shown and instructed by my own Madrina, Queen Rose, 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.
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.
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 park, 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"
There is yet so much more to say about Queen Marie and the Spirits who ruled over Her and who manifested through her known miracles. But that is for my private tour - when we go and visit Her tomb and bring Her offerings and walk the places in the French Quarter which She herself travelled day by day.
Queen Marie Laveau Doll
Queen Marie Laveau Doll
Tall Queen Marie Laveau Doll
LA SIRENA BOTANICA - QUEEN MARIE LAVEAU SPIRITUAL COLLECTION (TM) 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.
||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 has been offered in a signed and numbered special edition. 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.