Marie Laveau is known to many as the Vodou Queen of New Orleans. Vodou is an Afro-syncretic religion, blending elements of West and Central African religion, Native American spirituality, and European Catholicism. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when enslavers trafficked West African peoples to the Americas, they banned enslaved people from practicing their traditional religions. In order to continue to practice their traditional religion, while avoiding punishment or death from French and Spanish enslavers, Africans used elements of Catholicism to “mask” their religious practices.
Marie Laveau, perhaps one of the most contested and debated figures in New Orleans history, has no shortage of admirers and doubters. How and why did Laveau, a black woman and religious leader in 19th century New Orleans, become so renowned that her tomb is now one of the most visited gravesites in the United States?
With so many myths, legends, and exaggerations surrounding Marie Laveau’s life, it can seem that very little can be accurately stated about her. But what can be said with certainty is that she was a woman that defied standards placed upon her by society. Laveau was a free person of color in a slave society. Laveau was a successful woman in a patriarchal society. Laveau held on to and continued African religious practices in a white Catholic world. Laveau was a daughter, mother, grandmother, healer, counselor, nurse, and friend. This tour is only a brief glimpse into her life and legend. Everyone is encouraged to read further to learn more about one of New Orleans’ most famous spirits. (See the related resources section at the bottom of each tour site.) Ainsi soit-il, Ayibobo!