19th Century Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Sometimes referred to as the Widow Paris, Marie's life is shrouded in legend. Once a hairdresser, Marie rose in power and influence to become one of the most feared women in antebellum New Orleans.

One of the more common legends tells how Marie got her house on Rue St. Anne in the Vieux Carré (Now called the French Quarter). When a young Creole stood trial for murder, his father begged Marie for her aid and promised her a house if their son went free. Marie said that he would go free. On the day of the trial Marie spent the morning at St. Louis Cathedral in prayer holding three Guinea peppers in her mouth. Then she entered the Cabildo, the seat of government and courthouse adjacent to the Cathedral. Marie persuaded a worker there to give her access to the then empty courtroom. Then Marie hid the peppers under the judge's chair and departed. After some time, the Creole gentleman exited the Cabildo with his son at his side; the young man had been found innocent and released.

Marie was known in her later years as a devout Catholic who spent much of her time working with the sick in Church hospitals. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetary #1, where even today the faithful leave her offerings and mark her tomb with hex marks.

Marie's life was the subject of a Historical Novel by Jewell P. Rhodes entitled Voodoo Dreams.

"Much evil dies with her, but should we not add, a little poetry as well?"
--The Democratic Times, on Marie Laveau's death.

"Tho' she'll never return, all the Cajuns knew
A witch-queen never dies."
--Redbone, "Witch Queen of New Orleans."

Marie Laveau's life (1794-1881)1 has been the subject of much speculation. Her exact year of birth remains a mystery, though we have her wedding certificate. She married another free Creole, Jacques Paris, on August 4, 1819. He died a year later, and she became a hairdresser and later dabbled in occult matters. The Witch Queen of New Orleans also leads a full and mysterious afterlife.

She continued to practice in New Orleans long after her supposed death. Since people (including some who would have known her) encountered the voodoo shaman well into the twentieth century, it seems likely that someone else continued to use her name. Marie Glapion, one of her daughters, would have been middle-aged at the time of her mother's death and usually gets identified as the second Marie Laveau. Robert Tallant claims in Voodoo in New Orleans that the younger Marie took over her mother's position in the 1870s, when the elder became too frail to practice. Sightings continued even after the second Marie Laveau's death, but these take the form of twice-told tales and ghost sightings.

The Widow Paris also lives on in popular culture.

She has appeared as a character in a number of novels, including Francine Prose's Marie Laveau and Neil Gaiman's American Gods. She sporadically turns up in Marvel Comics. Marvel's Laveau was originally a youthful-looking Caucasian, though later artists depicted her with more biographically accurate skin-tones.

Songs also have been written in her honour. These include the country song "Marie Laveau" by Baxtor Taylor and Shel Silverstein, popularized by Bobby Bare. "Witch Queen of New Orleans" by Pat and Lolly Vegas proved a major hit for Redbone. More haunting is Oscar "Papa" Celestin's "Marie Laveau," a jazz number from 1954, later covered by Dr. John. Its lyrics also have something to do with the historic Laveau; the other songs make her into a rather generic Halloween witch from New Orleans.

Laveau's legend lives on throughout New Orleans, promoted by the tourist trade. Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo does a brisk business. People continue to visit her tomb-- although debate continues over which Marie Laveau, if any, is actually buried there.

1. Her year of birth has been identified also as 1801.

Emily Dick. "Mysterious Marie Laveau." http://www.artsci.lsu.edu/phil/faculty/payne/Projects/LaRel/EDick/MLaveau01.html

Joe Nickell. "Secrets of the Voodoo Tomb." Skeptical Inquirer. http://www.csicop.org/sb/2001-12/i-files.html

Robert Tallant. Voodoo in New Orleans (1946). Gretna: Pelican, 1990.

Michael Ventura. "A Plastic Rose for Marie Laveau." Austin Chronicle March 20, 2000. http://weeklywire.com/ww/03-20-00/austin_cols_ventura.html

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