Who Owns the Dead?

Who Owns the Dead? February 3, 2015

Cemetery 2014 photo by MJS all rights reserved.
Cemetery 2014 photo by MJS all rights reserved.

There is a lot of controversy brewing lately over the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans. Last week I wrote about the announcement to restrict access to the cemetery to licensed tours only, and the issues that arise. For tens of thousands of people- including Voodoo/Vodou practitioners, Pagans, and spiritual practitioners alike, Marie Laveau is a magickal icon. In the 1800’s she opened her rituals and her divine spirit to the community, and she soon became the legend she is today.

Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau's Tomb photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.
Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau’s Tomb photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.

Everyone seems to want a piece of this woman, literally. Many claim ancestral lineage to her, and in actuality St. Louis Cemetery Number One, where her body is believed to rest, is owned and managed by the archdiocese of New Orleans. So who gets to decide ? The short answer, for now, is the Archdiocese. They own the land, they can do what they want with it. When I brought up this issue many of my Celtic pagan friends suggested the Church should set up something similar to what is in place at the sacred site of Stonehenge. where ritualists can be given access under certain guidelines.

While most religions carry a reverence and respect for the dead, in traditions such as New Orleans Voodoo and Vodou, La Regla Lucumi (also known as Santeria,) Candomble, and Palo Mayombe contact and communication with our ancestors and the spirit world is a central aspect. This is obviously an issue for those who love and worship the spirit of Marie Laveau. Here on Voodoo Universe, the post Would you go to a Voodoo Funeral Home ? Brings up questions about physical ownership of the dead as well. It saddens me that these ancient religions are not afforded the same protections their more traditional counterparts.

Both of these instances bring up important questions- who and when are we allowed to claim rights over the dead? In many ways this is the macro-cosm of the issue that arises when anyone passes. The Pagan community has lost many leaders in recent years: Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell, Isaac Bonewits, and others. For those of us who knew them personally, our loss is great… and to be honest the behavior of some in the wake of tragedy is downright insulting. In the case of my dear friend Isaac the amount of people who came out in support for his funeral was almost double what had shown up for his healthcare fundraiser a few months before. What is wrong with people? My children both biological and spiritual have explicit orders to assault anyone I hate if they show up at my memorial feigning sympathy and kindness. Am I wrong in thinking we should give these things wholeheartedly while a person is alive, the connection only deepening and changing after someone has passed? I did a teary eyed tarot reading last week for someone who had lost a close relative. I tried hard to explain that while their loved one was gone, in a way that persons’ ability to be close had changed and while it may be a less familiar connection it can be just as helpful.

People are calling for all kinds of action in the matter of Marie Laveau from calls to petitions to protests. Time will tell how best to proceed. After discussing the matter with one friend we quickly came to the conclusion that while the current situation was indeed difficult, these religions of Voodoo, Vodou, and Lucumi (Santeria,) have always been made to take a backseat to more mainstream practices. When I began writing about these religions in my newsletter Oshun over two decades ago it was so people would begin to understand and hopefully eventually accept practices that are different than what they were used to seeing. My work here on Voodoo Universe is a continuation of that dream, please check out the words you can find on these pages, push the buttons and share them, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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