to slavery, the entire life of the transplanted
African was tragically altered. Naturally
the religious beliefs and practices would
change. This mutation of West African religion
under the strain of slavery ultimately gave
rise to the New-World phenomenon known as
“voodoo.” More than any one person,
Marie Laveau transformed the religious practices
of African slaves into a major social and
cultural institution of nineteenth-century
New Orleans. On many levels, her life was
an embodiment of New Orleans Voodoo.
To begin with, New Orleans Voodoo is steeped
in Catholicism. Marie Laveau, the most renowned
Voodoo figure in the history of North America,
has been buried in a Catholic cemetery which
has a separate section for Protestants. She
was a devout Catholic who attended Mass at
the St. Louis Cathedral nearly every day.
First public record of her appears at the
Cathedral, where she was married to Jacque
Paris on August 4, 1819. To a greater extent
than her predecessors, Marie Laveau would
mix holy water, Catholic prayers, incense,
and saints into the African-based Voodoo rites.
New Orleans Voodoo, like New Orleans culture,
is a mixture. Marie Laveau herself was a mixture:
She was a free person of color, born to Charles
Laveau, a wealthy French planter, and a mother
who sources indicate could have been a mulatto
slave, a Caribbean Voodoo practitioner, or
a quadroon mistress. Marie may also have been
part Choctaw. The objects and actions employed
in the practice of New Orleans Voodoo are
called “gris-gris.” “Gris”
is the French word for grey, signifying a
mixture of black and white magic, magic which
can be used for different purposes. Gris-gris,
the basis of New Orleans Voodoo practice,
is a concept which is based upon mixture.
Marie Laveau’s gender is indicative
of New Orleans Voodoo. Hers was a matriarchal
sect, like the African religion upon which
it is based. Marie Laveau also embodies New
Orleans Voodoo as an impresario. Voodoo ceremonies
in Marie Laveau’s day were looked upon
by some people as entertainment; she was the
one who introduced this show-biz element.
She understood theatrical staging, possessing
a good sense of what people would line up
and pay to see. These performances, and her
general voodoo practice, were highly lucrative.
Aspects of nineteenth-century New Orleans
Voodoo were also business-oriented, and she
was a consummate businesswoman.
Marie Laveau could very well be the person
who eternally solidified the connection between
the City of New Orleans and the practice of
Voodoo. But despite her historic significance,
much confusion surrounds her life, and this
tomb. For example, the commemorative plaque
states that this is the “reputed”
burial place of this woman. Some of the information
on the headstone corresponds with what is
known about her: Marie, nee ‘Laveau’,
married carpenter Jacques Paris. He dies within
six years and she has become the “Widow
Paris.” She thereafter became common-law
wife to ship captain Christopher Glapion,
who had distinguished himself in the Battle
of New Orleans. The names Laveau, Paris and
Glapion are all accounted for on this family
Yet the date of death, 1897, is not hers,
but closer to her daughter’s, Marie
Laveau II. So the question is, which one of
them is buried here? Some say they were both
buried in this tomb; others believe neither
are here. Many people think their remains
were switched between the St. Louis #1 and
#2 cemeteries. The answer to this question
is unclear and perpetually debated, as there
are endless discrepancies in recorded information
about her, much of it being legend. Yet even
if Marie Laveau had been buried here, her
remains would not necessarily be inside. Since
bones are one of the most popular forms of
gris-gris, it is likely that a Voodoo practitioner
cleared them out of the vault shortly after
thousands of X’s are largely the result
of tour groups, who have paid to learn how
to practice Voodoo. Their instructions always
include breaking a brick off of other tombs
(notice the neighboring tombs depleted of
their bricks) and a combination of steps
which involve spinning around three times,
scratching three X’s on the tomb,
knocking on it, or rubbing a foot on it
or hollering at it or kicking it, etc.,
(everyone does it slightly, if not very,
differently from everyone else) and then
leaving an offering to get a wish granted.
So is this
or is this not real New Orleans Voodoo?
It is, in that there is no doctrine or reasonable
dictionary definition of Voodoo. Practitioners
create ritual as they practice. However,
the Glapion family who owns the tomb does
not call this “Voodoo” but rather
“vandalism,” and have complained
that they can no longer read the inscriptions
through what one family member considers
“graffiti.” There are also tourist
brochures and hotel concierges instructing
wish seekers to scratch three X’s
on her tomb, and even travel books which
recommend the practice. But one of the most
striking accounts of this practice appearing
in a major supermarket tabloid, the story
of a woman winning two million dollars in
the Missouri State Lottery after scratching
X’s on Marie Laveau’s tomb.”
over where Marie Laveau and her namesake
daughter are buried. Some say the latter
reposes in the cemetery called St. Louis
No. 2 (Hauck 1996) in a "Marie Laveau
Tomb" there. However, that crypt most
likely contains the remains of another voodoo
queen named Marie, Marie Comtesse. Numerous
sites in as many cemeteries are said to
be the final resting place of one or the
other Marie Laveau (Tallant 1946, 129),
but the prima facie evidence favors the
Laveau-Glapion tomb in St. Louis No. 1 (figure
1). It comprises three stacked crypts with
a "receiving vault" below (that
is, a repository of the remains of those
displaced by a new burial).
A contemporary of Marie II told Tallant
(1946, 126) that he had been present when
she died of a heart attack at a ball in
1897, and insisted: "All them other
stories ain't true. She was buried in the
Basin Street graveyard they call St. Louis
No. I, and she was put in the same tomb
with her mother and the rest of her family."
That tomb's carved inscription records the
name, date of death, and age (62) of Marie
II: "Marie Philome Glapion, décédé
le 11 Juin 1897, ágée de Soixante-deux
ans." A bronze tablet affixed to the
tomb announces, under the heading "Marie
Laveau," that "This Greek Revival
Tomb Is Reputed Burial Place of This Notorious
'Voodoo Queen' . . . ," presumably
a reference to the original Marie (see figure
2). Corroborative evidence that she was
interred here is found in her obituary ("Death"
1881) which notes that "Marie Laveau
was buried in her family tomb in St. Louis
Cemetery No. 1." Guiley (2000) asserts
that, while Marie Laveau I is reportedly
buried here, "The vault does not bear
her name." However, I was struck by
the fact that the initial two lines of the
inscription on the Laveau-Glapion tomb read,
"Famille Vve. Paris / née Laveau."
Obviously, "Vve." is an abbreviation
for Veuve, "Widow"; therefore
the phrase translates, "Family of the
Widow Paris, born Laveau"-namely Marie
Laveau I. I take this as evidence that here
is indeed the "family tomb." Robert
Tallant (1946, 127) suggests: "Probably
there was once an inscription marking the
vault in which the first Marie was buried,
but it has been changed for one marking
a later burial. The bones of the Widow Paris
must lie in the receiving vault below."
tomb is a focal point for commercial voodoo
tours. Some visitors leave small gifts at
the site-coins, Mardi Gras beads, candles,
etc.-in the tradition of voodoo offerings.
Many follow a custom of making a wish at
the tomb. The necessary ritual for this
has been variously described. The earliest
version I have found (Tallant 1946, 127)
says that people would "knock three
times on the slab and ask a favor,"
noting: "There are always penciled
crosses on the slab. The sexton washes the
crosses away, but they always reappear."
A more recent source advises combining the
ritual with an offering placed in the attached
cup: "Draw the X, place your hand over
it, rub your foot three times against the
bottom, throw some silver coins into the
cup, and make your wish" (Haskins 1990).
Yet again we are told that petitioners are
to "leave offerings of food, money
and flowers, then ask for Marie's help after
turning around three times and marking a
cross with red brick on the stone"
(Guiley 2000, 216).
Note: In recent days a controversy has arisen
regarding the legend and practice of marking
the alleged final resting place of Voodoo
Queen Marie Laveau with X’s in the
infamous “wish spell” ritual
popularized throughout the past several
decades by certain companies, groups and
individuals working in the New Orleans tourism
the center of the controversy are attacks
on this web site for posting stories about
the legacy of Marie Laveau and the enduring
legend of the "wish spell" X-marking
practice. We have been repeatedly accused
of encouraging what has now been designated
a criminal activity. To clarify, the threats
have only come from one individual within
the industry who is not a native of New
Orleans or the South, yet who, ironically,
makes a living by the daily exploitation
of the legends and folklore of this City.
The X practice is now so well-known, having
been documented in hundreds of books, newspaper
reports, web sites, local histories and
travel books and brochures over the years,
that what began as well-intentioned attempts
to stop what some see as desecration have
been given more "teeth" with the
threat of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.
caught in the act of marking on the Laveau
tomb, or any other edifice within the historic
New Orleans cemeteries, may be subject to
markings are, understandably, frowned upon
by the owners of the tomb -- the Glapion
family -- who have complained literally
for years for the appropriate authorities
to put an end to the activity. Now that
regulatory action has at last been taken
in response to the family's ongoing appeals,
the local tourism industry seems to suddenly
be singing a different tune.
no time has this web site or any member
of its editorial staff encouraged or endorsed
the marking practice that is associated
with the infamous alleged burial place of
Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. The goal of this
web site is foremost to help record and
preserve the colorful local legends and
folklore that make our region so unique;
we do this in a manner that is deliberately
entertaining and light-heartedly informative.
This web site and our associated sites are
envisioned as a supplemental "virtual
tour" providing visitors with unique
alternatives to add to their schedule when
they visit this City. With our many offbeat
stories, we also appeal to many "locals
in exile" who now live in other cities
across the US and who enjoy "revisiting"
their hometown whenever they get online.
great legend is based in fact and a responsible
folklorist or story-teller will acknowledge
this, even when the legend is more colorful
than the truth. To admit this would be folly
to many of the people whose stock and trade
is tourism for the sake of tourism, but
in the interest of true preservation, the
facts should not be forgotten and wherever
possible should be provided so that the
Intelligent Traveler is able to better appreciate
the merits of a really good tale -- and
will know when he or she is hearing just
with this page, and on other pages to come,
wherever possible, we will provide not only
the legend and lore as it has been passed
down through generations of Old New Orleans
folk, but also the facts, where known, that
formed the root of the legend to begin with.
In this way we honor not only our goal to
inform and entertain but we also demonstrate
a respect for you, our virtual and perhaps
one day real-life visitors, and for the
legends and lore that have made the City
of New Orleans so beloved the world over.
choose to inform rather than defend. You
may be the judge of whether or not we have
J. Wichers, Editorial Director
Orleans, May 2005.
Baker, Robert A. 1992. Hidden Memories:
Voices and Visions from Within. Buffalo,
N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 274-276.
Baker, Robert A., and Joe Nickell, 1992.
Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts,
UFOs, Psychics, and Other Mysteries. Buffalo,
N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 217.
Cook, Samantha. 1999. New Orleans: The Mini
Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides Ltd.,
"Death of Marie Laveau." 1881.
Obituary, Daily Picayune (New Orleans, La.),
n.d. (after June 15), reprinted in Gandolfo
1992, 38-39. Dickinson, Joy. 1997. Haunted
City: An Unauthorized Guide to the Magical,
Magnificent New Orleans of Anne Rice. Secaucus,
N.J.: Citadel Press.
Gandolfo, Charles. 1992. Marie Laveau of
New Orleans. New Orleans, La.: New Orleans
Historic Voodoo Museum.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2000. The Encyclopedia
of Ghosts and Spirits, second ed. New York:
Checkmark Books, 213-216.
Haskins, Jim. 1990. Voodoo & Hoodoo.
New York: Scarborough House, 59-61.
Hauck, Dennis William. 1996. Haunted Places:
The National Directory. New York: Penguin
Books, 192, 193.
Herczog, Mary. 2000. Frommer's 2001 New
Orleans. New York: IDG Books Worldwide,
Krohn, Diane C. 2000. Personal communication,
Klein, Victor. 1999. New Orleans Ghosts
II. Metairie, La.: Lycanthrope Press, 64.
Nickell, Joe. 2001. Voodoo in New Orleans,
Skeptical Inquirer January/February: 26(1).
Salzman, Jack, et al., eds. 1996. Encyclopedia
of African-American Culture and History,
vol. 3. London: Simon & Schuster and
Prentice Hall International, 1581.
Smith, Susy. 1967. Prominent American Ghosts.
Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Co.,
Tallant, Robert. 1946. Voodoo in New Orleans,
reprinted Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing
Co., 1990. (Except as otherwise noted, information
about Marie Laveau and her daughter is taken
from this source.)
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