Friday, May 17, 2013

New Orleans Most Infamous Ghost

By the mid-1850s Marie Laveau had embraced Christianity and attended her favorite Catholic Church regularly. 

She spent much of her time visiting and tending to the convicts that sat on death row at the New Orleans’ city jail. These prisoners eagerly awaited her visits, for she brought kind words, comfort, and food. She prepared her special gumbo for them. She often laced it with natural herbs that soothed these prisoners’ mental and physical pains.

Once she even drugged her gumbo with a concoction that caused one prisoners’ death. She did this out of compassion for he was to be hanged the next day. Her action spared him this trauma. 

Marie known for her excellent works was approached by a group of New Orleans’ prominent citizens during the cities Yellow Fever epidemic in the 1850s. They knew she could help heal many who fought this deadly disease. She did.

However, Marie Laveau is not remembered for her good deeds. Instead, she is known as the most notorious Voodoo Queen that ever lived. 

Born in 1794 in Vieux Carre--not the Caribbean like so many claims--Marie was an illegitimate mulatto of a wealthy planter and a slave. Much of her early life remains a mystery, but it is known she was a “free woman of color” who married a free man of color in the Catholic Church.

Marie, ever beautiful quickly became bored with her husband. Being a hairdresser to many of New Orleans’ ruling class she used one of these connections to her advantage. 

She helped a client with a Voodoo charm called gris-gris (pronounced “gree-gree”). Her charm was basically a magic potion of various crushed herbs concealed in a small bag. Her client was so grateful for her help; she gave Marie a house located on St. Ann Street in the French Quarter.

In the 19th century in New Orleans, many believed in the paranormal. The Voodoo practiced in this city had its roots in Haiti. This belief included zombies and the spirit world, which involved demons and ghosts. 

The locals were so entrenched in these beliefs that in 1782 during the Spanish regime, Governor Galvez banned the import of slaves from Martinique in the Caribbean to New Orleans in the fear that these slaves were too dangerous. Despite this, Voodoo was openly practiced behind the Quarter in Congo Square--now Louis Armstrong Park.

Once independent, Marie Laveau quickly became known for her Black Magic skills. She was ambitious and smart. She actually used a combination of magic, spying, and blackmail to help her clients to get what she wanted. 

When New Orleans’s elite knocked on her door on St. Ann Street for help, Marie knowing most of the servants in their households would obtain inside information to “work her magic.” Along with this devious trick she also did believe Voodoo was real and most who came in contact with her--feared her and the Voodoo she used.

Marie held regular Voodoo meetings on the banks of Bayou St. John. * Large numbers of people, in the hundreds, from all classes and races would attend her sensual rituals in the area she called, “Wishing Spot” on the bayou. 

Part of this ritual included Marie dancing in a very sexually explicit manner--very risqué for that time. She danced with a snake that symbolized the Voodoo God. The blood of a decapitated rooster was also consumed during this ritual.

Marie Laveau died in 1881 and is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Many believe her ghost lives on. Her gravesite is the spot of many superstitions and myths. 

Even today people make chalk marks on her tomb in the shape of an “X” or cross. Some state if you mark an X on her grave and knock three times she will grant your wish. Accounts of her taking the shape of a large crow and flying over her tomb have been reported. Others state that a black phantom dog that is often seen wondering the cemetery is actually Marie in another form.

Marie’s ghost is seen in human form near the street where she lived. There have been many reports that she is seen strolling down St. Ann Street dressed in a long white dress and wearing the white seven-knotted handkerchief she was known to wear while alive. 

She is also heard singing near St. John’s Bayou where she held her Voodoo gatherings. A man witnessed her ghost in a nearby French Quarter pharmacy. He stated that she slapped him across the face and then floated up toward the ceiling.

*  St. John’s Eve celebrates the summer solstice--the beginning of summer. In the early Catholic Church Christians adopted this pagan festival and made it a holy day. It is named for John the Baptist.

No comments: