Volumes have been written about Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. She was the most famous Voodoo practitioner of all time. Her name is synonymous with the divine magick and mystery of New Orleans. There is a huge amount of information to sort through, and I humbly recommend my book Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism as a resource. In it I mention the “mythic tales surrounding Mademoiselle Marie. They include her walking on water and her drowning and resurrection.” However, I would also like to share a few other books that are worthy of note for various reasons.
Most of what has been written on Marie Laveau has occurred in the recent past. There are but a few works from two or more decades ago: Mysterious Marie Laveau by Raymond J. Martinez; Voodoo in New Orleans by Robert Tallant; and Jambalaya by Luisah Teish. For newspaper and contemporary accounts of Marie Laveau some helpful sources are Inventing New Orleans writings by Lafcadio Hearn, and the historical accounts given in Carolyn Long’s A New Orleans Voodoo Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau.
Voodoo in New Orleans was originally published in 1946, despite it’s strong review from the New York Times, this work, while helpful falls short on many fronts. This book, written by Robert Tallant, is full of great stories. The chapters even have extreme titles like “Skin a Black Cat with Your Teeth,” “Knock on My Tombstone,” and “Snakes Jumped Out Of Her Mouth.” Now New Orleans Voodoo is an extreme religion that has survived and thrived under extreme circumstances since it’s arrival hundreds of years ago. This work however, needs a little less sensationalism and a little more substance. The reader does however get the feel that Tallant wandered from house to house in the French Quarter, Storyville and beyond collecting these colorful tales, so that’s worth the read alone.
Folklore comes to the fore again in Mysterious Marie Laveau by Martinez. This book quotes several news sources of the time, as well as Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott. Again this is less fact than fiction, but we do get an interesting portrait of the Voodoo Queen. Martinez claims to be questioning the information that was already written on the legend that is Marie Laveau, and even takes a poke at the Times-Picayune and it’s editor over Marie’s inaccurate obituary. He then goes on, ironically, to tell us a story. A tale of an old man desirous of a young woman who does not return his advances. Martinez speaks of this man’s visit to the late, great Voodoo Queen. Laveau apparently sold him charms, and kept candles burning surrounded by his undergarments. The man was impatient, and the story tells us Marie Laveau even offered to give him his money back. He had faith however, and eventually he got what he wanted, his heart’s desire. Unfortunately, in typical Voodoo fashion he dropped dead at the wedding, leaving his young widow much better off for her trouble. The book tells us Laveau knew this was going to happen, she had promised merely a wedding, nothing more. Like most Marie Laveau stories we may never know if this really occurred, but we are definitely left smirking.
When I first began my academic study of New Orleans Voodoo, Jambalaya was “the book” to be had. I found a signed copy of it in a used bookstore of Magazine Street almost twenty years ago and it is one of my prized possessions. It has long been one of the books I recommend to Wiccan practitioners who are interested in finding out more about the tradition. Luisah Teish beautifully presents a complex religion in it’s sacred simplicity. She was born and raised up in New Orleans. Her role as Lucumi priestess of Oshun also provides the reader with a uniquely genuine perspective.
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